Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God

Written by Gordon Fee Reviewed By Anthony C. Thiselton

This is largely a popularized and abbreviated version of God’s Empowering Presence (Hendrickson, 1994/Paternoster, 1995). It is aimed at the reader who has not studied theology in an academic context and looking for information rather than raising questions. The author has a gift for making even the obvious significant: for example, hymns which are addressed to God also convey teaching material (p. 161); tongues are directed towards God, and Paul holds their private used in high regard (p. 169). There is a welcome reticence about some issues: whether a ‘message of wisdom’ is a ‘spontaneous expression of Spirit-wisdom … can never be known’ (p. 168). Whether ‘tongues’ constitute an actual earthly language ‘is a moot point, but the overall evidence suggests no’ (p. 169). Indeed, whether today’s ‘charismatic phenomena’ replicate the NT descriptions of the Pauline churches is also ‘moot—and probably irrelevant. There is simply no way to know’ (p. 170).

These are brave admissions from someone who acknowledges a Pentecostal background and sympathies. Similarly, baptism in the Spirit is part of the whole experience of becoming a Christian. Hence it might seem petty to quibble with such statements as ‘there is not a hint of a worship leader’ (p. 154); ‘Praying and prophesying … represent the two primary focuses of gathered worship’ (p. 155); and ‘through baptism believers re-enact [my italics] their association with Christ’ (p. 202). But were none expected to ‘chair’ worship gatherings, as synagogue patterns might lead us to expect? Did not the OT serve as Scripture for the Church against which praying and prophesying could be tested? It is surprising that Christology does not have a higher profile in defining what Paul counts as being ‘spiritual’: the ‘body’ controlled wholly by the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:44) will reflect the image of Christ (15:49). But for the most part this is a helpful, clear and readable book based on a close study of Paul.

Anthony C. Thiselton

University of Nottingham and University College, Chester