Review: The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke
Dr. Roger J. Stronstad is a Canadian Pentecostal Bible scholar and a well-known theologian. He is an Associate Professor in Bible and Theology at Summit Pacific College (formerly Western Pentecostal Bible College) in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He has also published six books. He served as the president for the Society of Pentecostal Studies in 1994 and is an adjunct faculty member for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
Stronstad begins his book with a challenge to the traditional methodology and hermeneutics that have been used to interpret Luke-Acts. Traditionally the church has associated the baptism of the Holy Spirit with conversion, a belief Stronstad wishes to challenge. Stronstad highlights the independence of Luke’s theology and challenges the methodology of interpreting Luke’s data on the Holy Spirit through Pauline lenses. Roger Stronstad shows that since Luke is a historian and theologian in his own right that his perspective on the Holy Spirit differs from Paul’s.
Stronstad also displays that throughout the Bible God has a charismatic Spirit. From the foundation of Israel in the wilderness to the New Testament Period, God works through charismatic activities. The author also shows that Christ himself was charismatic and conducted a charismatic ministry of healings, exorcisms, and raising the dead to life. Once Pentecost occurred and the 120 were filled with the Spirit they too carried out charismatic ministries and saw many others baptized in the Holy Spirit as they themselves experienced beforehand.
The final portion of Stronstad’s writing challenges proponents of reading Luke-Acts in lieu of Paul’s didactic theology. The author also challenges those who wish to interpret Luke through dispensational lenses as well. Stronstad believes those who interpret Luke through the above lenses reveal more about their attitudes than their biblical scholarship.
In this paper, I will be reviewing The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke by Roger Stronstad. The thrust of the book is found in its foreword. The following statement gives the purpose for the writing, “Until now people have had to recognize Pentecostalism as a powerful force in the areas of spirituality, church growth, and world mission, but they have not felt it had much to offer for biblical, theological, and intellectual foundations.” Thus, the purpose of the book is to give solid evidence stating the contrary in support of Pentecostal doctrines, in particular the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues as the initial physical evidence. In order to do this Stronstad attempts to show that Luke should not be interpreted through Pauline lenses because Luke too, emphasizes theological themes; Luke’s writings are not just a history of the church, to call them as such is to discount his theological acumen.
Chapter One. According to Stronstad, Luke is seen as either a historian or theologian depending on the scholar consulted, a fact to which I am in complete agreement. The thesis for the first chapter is whether Luke is to be seen as a historical writer or merely a theological one; this is a topic surrounded in great controversy. Stronstad states, “It is the difference between narration and theology in the New Testament literature which raises the fundamental methodological issues for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” It was this difference that caused many splits in Protestantism through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stronstad mentions that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was traditionally viewed as incorporation into the body of Christ. In this chapter Stronstad identifies three egregious errors: (1) the literary and theological homogeny of Luke-Acts, (2) theological character of Lukan historiography, and (3) the independence of Luke as a theologian, but for the sake of brevity, only the first will be delved into in the below.
The theological homogeny of Luke-Acts largely goes unquestioned, but in his book, Stronstad seems content dispelling any objections to Luke-Acts being a single theological work with two volumes. He places a great deal of this defense on the theological homogeny of Luke-Acts with particular interest to the Holy Spirit. Stronstad quotes J.E. Hull as follows:
Elizabeth and Zechariah were, in Luke’s view, momentarily filled with the Spirit. In other words, they could only be aware of His (seemingly) fleeting presence and His (seemingly) fitful and necessarily limited activity. The disciples, on the other hand, were permanently filled with the Spirit.
To dispel this charge, Stronstad quotes theologian I. Howard Marshall:
What is significant in his [Luke’s] combination of the story of Jesus and the story of the early church in one account. Thereby he testified that the two stories are really one, and that the break between them is not of such decisive importance as that between the period of the law and the prophets and the period in which the gospel of the kingdom is preached.
To be clear, Stronstad did a fairly good job rebutting this assertion that Luke and Acts be treated as different theological works, but he could have gone further. For example, the argument Hull gave in the above makes known logical fallacies. He is claiming that the infilling of the Spirit that Elizabeth and Zecheriah received was temporary, but no text states this, apart from this there are not in any other narratives. J. H. E. Hull has made an argument from silence (argumentum e silencio); that is to say, his conclusion is based on a lack of evidence, rather than existential evidence. Stronstad’s refutation was good, but he should have gone further to display the philosophical errors as well. Overall the first chapter fulfills what Roger Stronstad sought out to do, dispel any arguments about the homogeny of Luke-Acts.
Chapter Two. In chapter two, Stronstad explains the “charismatic activity of the Spirit of God.” Stronstad’s use of Charismatic is not the use of the word in today’s vernacular, which references the Neo-Pentecostal movement, which permeates through historical denominations. Rather, he uses it in terms of a “functional and dynamic sense.” The approach Stronstad’s investigation in this chapter is two-fold; he investigates the Old Testament charismatic activity of the Spirit of God and also investigates the same activity during the Intertestamental period.
Stronstad provides significant evidence to support his thesis that throughout the various offices of the Old Testament there was charismatic activity. He cites five periods in Israel’s history that experienced charismatic outbursts. In the wilderness workers were endowed with craftsmanship skills through the Spirit of God. In the period of the Judges, many of the Judges were charismatic. Following the period of the Judges was the United Monarchy and the charismatic activity was focused on Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David. Later the charismatic character returns again when prophets such as Elijah and Elisha are on the scene trying to encourage Israel to return to the Lord. The last period charismatic activity was experienced was during the Babylonian Exile; Ezekiel in particular was filled with the Spirit. Thus, Stronstad provides solid evidence supporting his thesis that charismatic activity can be found throughout the Old Testament.
Stronstad states, “In contrast to the Hebrew Bible, the classical literature of the Intertestamental period is singularly devoid of the charismatic, vocational, and experiential activity of the Spirit of God. Stronstad cites several pieces of Intertestamental literature to include II Baruch, Josepus, and a rabbinic tradition that all attest to the writer’s belief in discontinuance of charismatic activity. Again, Stronstad admirably supported his claims with indisputable evidence. He also points that the authors of the Pseudepigrapha could not attach their own names to their works because they had no authority to do so for the lack of not being indwelt by the Spirit of God. This is why these Intertestamental authors chose to write pseudonymously by taking biblical heroes names as their own. It was after this period—Inertestamental—that the charismatic gift was restored and showcased in Luke-Acts.
Chapter Three. The thrust of chapter three is that the gospel of Luke contains the history-of-salvation theme and charismatic activity of the Holy Spirit. To emphasize the latter, Stronstad contrasts Luke with Mark and Matthew. In Luke there are seventeen charismatic occurrences whereas there are twelve in Matthew and just six in Mark. Luke clearly emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more than Matthew or Mark and the above evidence clearly shows this. Thus, Stronstad provided ample evidence in support of his view that Luke contains charismatic activity.
In contrast with the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Luke’s emphasis is own the charismatic mission of the Holy Spirit. The author points out the charismatic activity in the infancy narrative of Christ (Luke 1:5-2:52). Also, he demonstrates Christ’s inauguration into public ministry (Luke 3:1-4:44). Further, in the temptation narrative, Stronstad demonstrates that it was the empowering of the Holy Spirit that led Christ into the wilderness to be tested. The author again demonstrates that in Luke there is a different emphasis on the Holy Spirit; in the temptation narrative it is only Luke that records Christ as being “full of the Holy Spirit.”
Chapter Four. In this chapter Stronstad focuses his attention on the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:1-4, Peter’s interpretation of the gifts of the Spirit, and Peter’s application to his audience regarding this Pentecostal reality. Stronstad states, “The gift of the Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost is not an isolated and unique event.” Stronstad backs this claim up detailing nine separate charismatic events between Luke and Acts. The author also makes the claim that “The experience is the same whether it is Zecharias or Peter who is filled with the Spirit.” It seems to me that this is an argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). That is to say, Stronstad is asserting that Paul’s experience was the same as the others due to a lack of evidence to the contrary. In the very chart Stronstad uses to show the charismatic activity it displays that there is no mention in the narrative that Paul spoke in tongues, prophesied, or witnessed at the occasion of his initial Spirit infilling. Thus, unfortunately Roger Stronstad’s argument is logically fallacious.
Stronstad also goes on an excursus in this chapter on Peter’s interpretation of the experience at Pentecost. Out of Peter’s statement (Acts 2:14-21) Stronstad identified three elements: (1) the gift of the Spirit is eschatological, (2) the gift of the Spirit is prophetic, and (3) the gift of the Spirit is universal. I agree that the gift of the Spirit is eschatological and universal, however from the evidence provided in the book I am unsure as to whether speaking in tongues is inspired prophetic speech or not. Stronstad just asserts that Peter identified tongues as prophetic and uses Acts 2:11 and 2:17 as proof texts. Though I think there is a case to be made for tongues being prophetic, Stronstad does not make a compelling case, especially when considering his very loose exegesis of the passages mentioned. Thus, chapter four does not make a significant impact on the overall flow of the book; the chapter is there, but the evidence used in its support is not very convincing, overall its impact is nil. This is unfortunate because I agree with most of the conclusions drawn by Stronstad, it is just his philosophical acumen is not up to par to make the arguments compelling.
Chapter Five. In the fifth chapter, Stronstad presents a case for the baptism of the Holy Spirit being subsequent to salvation. In support of his view he presents the narrative of the Samarian believers in Acts 8. These people believed and had been baptized in the name of Jesus, but the Spirit had yet fallen upon any of them; a fact Stronstad aptly points out. This narrative in Acts clearly demonstrates that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to salvation. Stronstad states, “in Acts the Spirit is given to those who are already Christians, that is, to disciples (19:1) and believers (8:12; 19:2).”
Stronstad also focuses on the gift of the Spirit to Saul. The future Apostle was blinded on the road to Damascus and was subsequently healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Again Stronstad demonstrates that Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit is not conversion, but rather empowerment for mission. Also Stronstad uses this very narrative to refute two other possible interpretations regarding Spirit baptism. For instance, some interpret this narrative in a way as to show that the infilling of the Spirit is at the moment of water baptism, but Stronstad demonstrates it was through the laying of hands from Ananias that Saul was Spirit baptized. Also, there are those that interpret this narrative (Acts 9:17-18) to show that Paul must have spoke in tongues during his spirit conversion and they use 1 Corinthians 14:18) as a proof text. Again, Stronstad refutes this interpretation as well. He states, “While it is true that all of these suggestions are possible, none is demonstrable.” Stronstad also embarks on an excursus into a couple other narratives in Acts, but for brevity’s sake, these will not be discussed. Suffice to say, Stronstad’s work in chapter five is more than sufficient. The author makes up for the mistakes made in the previous chapter; he provides sound conclusions based off of solid biblical evidence.
Chapter Six. The thrust of this chapter is that Luke-Acts comes from a different tradition than any of the other books in the New Testament. To prove this point Stronstad points to Luke’s vocabulary, which is derived from the Septuagint (LXX) or at least speaks of the same type of charismatic experiences in the Old Testament. He—Stronstad—shows that Luke used charismatic motifs in Acts were programmatic just as in the Old Testament. Moses and Elijah were both unique OT bearers of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was in the NT. Also, the Spirit was given from Moses to the seventy and from Elijah to Elisha; in the same programmatic manner Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to those in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Stronstad also emphasizes that once the Spirit is given the result is partaking in missions.
In the final portions of chapter six Stronstad addressed hermeneutical methods that some use to justify there being no genuine charismatic activity at the time of his writing. These objectors—according to Stronstad—assign dispensational limits to the activity of the Holy Spirit in an attempt to limit them to New Testament times. Stronstad states:
To interpret Luke’s charismatic theology as dispensational, abnormal, and secondary, however, reveals more about the attitudes of the contemporary interpreters and the theological and ecclesiastical traditions which they are defending than it does about the activity of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts.
This work is not just a valuable academic text, it could also serve as a great small group study, particularly to individuals or groups who are uncertain about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and if they are valid for today. Of special benefit of this text is the discussion of hermeneutics, which delved into whether to interpret Luke on his own, or in lieu of Paul. Stronstad clearly shows that Luke had vocational purposes in mind in his mentioning of the baptism of the Spirit whereas Paul’s emphasis was soteriological. This will be of tremendous value to both the student and scholar.
Although my commendation on this book is overwhelming, I find Stronstad’s attitude toward those who differ from Pentecostals as somewhat stereotypical and he uses straw-man argumentation more than engaging in serious discourse at times. I agree with most of his conclusions, but hope that a future edition will acknowledge the logical fallacies of others as well as his own. I also hope that a future edition will clear up all the generalizations in regards to other approaches to hermeneutics.
. Roger Stronstad. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1984), vii.
. Ibid., 2.
. Stronstad, 4; J. H. E. Hull, The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles (London: Lutterworth Press, 1967), 68-69.
. Stronstad, 2; I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), 91, 93, 159.
. Ibid., 13.
. Exodus 28:3 NASB
. Stronstad, 15; Judges 3:10.
. Stronstad, 15; 1 Samuel 10:1-10; 1 Samuel 16:13.
. Stronstad, 16.
. Ibid; Ezekiel 2:2.
. Stronstad, 27.
. Ibid., 28.
. Ibid., 35.
. Ibid., 35.
. Ibid., 41; Luke 4:1
. Stronstad, 50; Acts 2:14-21; Acts 2:27-39.
. Ibid., 53.
. Ibid; Acts 9:17
. Stronstad, 64.
. Acts 9:17-18.
. Stronstad, 66.
. Ibid., 76.
. Ibid., 80.
. Ibid., 82.