Doug Hucke’s Review of THE MISSION OF THE TRIUNE GOD: A THEOLOGY OF ACTS, by Patrick Schreiner

Published on February 6, 2023 by Eugene Ho

Crossway, 2022 | 191 pages

A Book Review from Books at a Glance

by Doug Hucke


Patrick Schreiner has written a wonderful little book on the theological themes found in the Book of Acts. This is the second volume in a series on New Testament Theology edited by Thomas Schreiner (Patrick Schreiner’s father) and Brian S. Rosner. It is not meant to be a technical commentary or theological treatise. Instead, it lays out a broader theme “maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus” (7). 

Often people approach Luke’s second volume and reduce the theme to the Holy Spirit or missions. Schreiner argues it is difficult to find a “center” but instead there are seven themes that work together. These themes are “narratized” (25); that is, they are found in the narrative.  The seven themes structure the book as each theme is addressed in a chapter. They include: 1) God the Father orchestrates; 2) through Christ who lives and rules; 3) through the empowering of the Spirit; 4) causing the word to multiply; 5) bringing salvation to all; 6) forming the church; and 7) witnesses to the end of the earth. There are also excurses on Christology (59-63) and the Law (125-132). 

These themes are not independent but work together. The first theme, God the Father orchestrates, is described in three sections of chapter one: the plan of God, the Word of God, and the Kingdom of God. The chapters are generally divided into three parts. God the Father undergirds all of the themes because God has a plan (boulē). Every theme is connected to this plan. Schreiner is emphatic: “Nothing—not a single narrative—falls outside the banner of fulfillment and God’s plan” (36). The word of God is His agent, and the content of that word is not the plan but the Kingdom of God. 

The first three chapters of The Mission of the Triune God lay out a Trinitarian approach to theology in Acts. It begins with God the Father and chapter 2 is “Christ Who Lives and Rules.” While Jesus is certainly absent in form, the geography of Acts recognizes his rule from heaven. Furthermore, there is a logic inherent in Schreiner’s presentation.  Jesus the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit (Ch. 3) proceeds from the Father and the Son.  “The Son therefore precedes the Spirit, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son” (45). 

This provides an opportunity to address one of the great strengths and weaknesses of this book and the series. Dealing with themes from a sweeping perspective can result in a failure to appreciate the significance of a particular theological idea. The idea that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is a case in point. The addition of the filioque (“and from the Son”) to the Nicene Creed in the sixth century resulted in one of the greatest theological controversies the church has ever known. But because this volume and series are moving in large narrative sweeps there is no discussion or reference to this controversy.  Nor is the case made that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.  It is presumed. A work of this nature cannot be expected to address that kind of detail because it focuses on themes. It focuses on the “forest” to the neglect of a “tree.” That is both a strength and a weakness. Schreiner has a commentary on Acts coming out in 2022 and that might deal with these significant points, but this volume is not it.  

Chapter 3 “The Spirit Empowers” addresses the Pneumatology (Spirit) which must be connected to the Patriology (Father) and the Christology (Son). Some scholars see the work of the Spirit as the center of Acts, but Schreiner argues this is not the center but works in a logical progression. For example, God’s plan precedes the Spirit. The Spirit empowers the mission which is the working out of God’s plan.  

Chapter 4 “The Word Multiplies” is an excellent addition to the discussion of theology in Acts. The word becomes an actor and agent. The content of the word is Christological, but it is also an “active force in Acts” (85). The word goes forth from the Father, the content is Jesus, and it is empowered by the Spirit (82).  

Chapter 5 addresses the Jewish-Gentile problem in Acts. Salvation spread to all flesh. This all flesh includes all human beings not just Israel, as Acts works from beginning to end toward that reality. Schreiner makes an excellent observation: “While we have a tendency to think of salvation in individualistic terms, salvation in the Old Testament always includes a new community” (91). Salvation is presented in individualist terms but includes a new community.  This is an important distinction. But Schreiner somewhat confuses this in the conclusion when he writes “He sent Christ into the world not only to save individuals but to save a community of people and to save people into a community” (153). This could be a problematic nuance. Christ certainly saves individuals, but in saving them they become part of a community. The Triune God saves individuals like Stephen, the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, Cornelius, and Lydia, and they become part of the church. Schreiner is an excellent writer but occasionally makes provocative statements that require more unpacking. For example, when he writes “Individualism dies in the book of Acts” (153). I don’t think he means individuals do not come to salvation.  I think he means “Individualism” as a self-centered, autonomous ideology is not part of God’s plan.

Chapter 6 “The Church is Established” is another theme that flows logically and progressively from the themes that precede it. This is a great chapter for looking at the broad contours in the Book of Acts. Renewal beings with Jerusalem and the temple in chapters 1-7. Chapters 8-12 address the spread of the message to outcasts like Samaria, the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, and Cornelius.  In chapters 13-28 the full inclusion of Gentiles is addressed.  The spiritual geography of this section is fascinating. Schreiner writes, “If in Athens Paul takes on the intellectual elite and in Rome, he goes to the political head, in Ephesus he engages in the center of idolatry, where he proves the forces of darkness and magic cannot overpower the name of Jesus” (123-124). Acts 15 is an important chapter which gives evidence that the law is no longer a boundary for Gentiles. The debate is not whether Gentiles should be accepted into the church but how (italics his).   

Chapter 7 “Witness to the Ends of the Earth,” develops this spiritual geography even further. Like the previous chapters, he addresses three points in the form of questions 1) What does it mean to witness? 2) Who were the witnesses? 3) To whom and how were they to witness?  The whole geography moves towards Rome.  “The mission is not over when it reaches Rome, but Rome provides a base for the gospel going to the ends of the earth” (143). The issue of Empire criticism is frequently alluded to in this volume but not addressed at length. That is the nature of a thematic approach to theology.

In conclusion, this is a wonderful book that observes interconnected themes and how they are developed. There are lots of insights as to the order and nature of these themes. Schreiner begins every chapter with an allusion to some music from classical works to rappers like Jay-Z and Drake to Johnny Cash. Some might find those insights helpful, others less so, but they are thoughtful.  Also thoughtful are the wonderful 30 illustrations and tables included in the book. It has to be said Schreiner masterfully uses tables to summarize points and comparisons between passages and themes. Schreiner clearly has an immense appreciation for the breadth and depth of the Book of Acts. Any student of this “hinge book” (Schreiner’s term) should read The Mission of the Triune God


Doug Hucke 

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Crossway, 2022 | 191 pages

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