A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Thomas Haviland-Pabst
Frank Macchia, Professor of Christian Theology at Vanguard University in California, writes from a Pentecostal perspective that is particularly shaped by the theology of Karl Barth. He is the author of a number of books such as The Spirit Baptized Church: A Dogmatic Inquiry (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2020) and Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God (Eerdmans, 2010).
As one might suspect given the subtitle of this book, Macchia’s aim is “to view all the events of Christ’s life and mission through the lens of their fulfillment at Pentecost” (p. 6). Given this focus on Pentecost, “Pentecost … will be granted a privileged place as the horizon toward which the story’s trajectory is directed” (p. 6). In his exposition of a “Christ from above” approach, Macchia writes:
At Pentecost, the heavenly Father imparts the Spirit to all flesh through the mediation of the faithful Son. As divine, the Son can impart the Spirit; as human, the Son does this through the sacrament of his faithful and glorified (vindicated) flesh (p. 15).
The book is divided into three parts. The first part (chapters 1 and 2) is methodological in nature. The second part (chapters 3 and 4) walks the reader through Christ’s incarnation, baptism, and earthly ministry. The third part (chapters 5 and 6) gives attention to Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and impartation of the Spirit at Pentecost.
The first chapter, ‘Christological Method,’ discusses the vexing issue of ‘Christology from above’ in contrast to ‘Christology from below.’ Here, he draws especially from Wolfhart Pannenberg and, to a lesser extent, Karl Barth, arguing for a ‘Christology from below’ that “highlights Christ’s impartation of the Spirit at Pentecost as the point of culmination and clarity” and thus not at odds with a ‘Christology from above.’ The second chapter discusses four challenges that attend Christology in our modern theological context: (1) metaphysical; (2) scriptural; (3) anthropological; and (4) pluralist. Macchia sees “the Christ of Pentecost … who alone imparts life in the Spirit and on behalf of the heavenly Father” (p. 120) as the solution to the problems raised by these four challenges. The remainder of the book consists of the practice of theological exegesis of biblical texts, or, perhaps better, a reading of Scripture that draws out its theological import as it pertains to the question of Christ in light of Pentecost.
This work is characterized by a number of strengths. Aside from its attempt to root its exposition in the teaching of Scripture and its overall (with some qualifications, which will be noted below) soundness and fidelity to orthodox theology, Macchia makes the helpful point that “Pentecost is the transition between the economy of the Son and” that of the Spirit; thus, Pentecost is “as much a christological event as a pneumatological one” (p. 56). Closely connected to this is Macchia’s sound contention that a bridge is created between a “Logos Christology” that emphasizes Christ’s “incarnation as the divine Son” and a “Spirit Christology” that focuses on the activity of the Spirit in Christ’s “human life” (p. 4) when one takes into account the role of the Spirit in Christ’s incarnation and ministry. Intriguingly, in his discussion of the aforementioned ‘metaphysical challenge,’ Macchia draws an analogy between the assumption of humanity by the divine Son and God’s grace: just as grace “liberates and enables human response” rather than cancelling or limiting it, so the “Incarnation fulfills the humanity of Jesus” rather than cancelling or diminishing it (p. 76).
Speaking to the ‘anthropological challenge,’ Macchia draws the reader’s attention to the fact that we are not made to find in ourselves “our own fulfillment,” independent of God; rather, it is only in Christ that we receive new life in the Spirit who incorporates us “into his life … the liberating life of the triune God” (p. 112). Drawing out the implications of Pentecost to the incarnation, the author suggests that, since the giving of the Spirit is given through and thus mediated by the incarnate Christ, Christ’s flesh is the medium and thus “sacrament of the Spirit” (p. 127). This insight could provide further grounding for those who understand the sacraments of the church as in some way communicating (though not reduced to) a spiritual reality.
In addition to these positive contributions of this work, Macchia treats Scripture as authoritative and essential for theological reasoning; he does not forego or deny such ideas as God’s impassibility (and, consequently, immutability); and, while I was holding my breath, awaiting the moment when Macchia would follow other theologians who follow after Barth by undermining or in some way denying classic Christology as defined by Chalcedon, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he does not see his project as antithetical to this definition.
One significant problem emerges in the reading of this book. In his discussion of the relationship between God’s love and wrath, Macchia pushes against an articulation of penal substitution that would offer a full-throated statement of the propitiatory aspect of the atonement, preferring instead to emphasize the more expiatory aspect; that is to say, his focus is on the removal of humanity’s enmity toward God not God’s enmity toward a sinful humanity.
In this connection, he writes, “rather than say that the Son satisfied the Father’s wrath, one should say that the Son satisfied the Father’s love” (p. 279), While his desire to defend a substitutionary approach to the atonement by appealing to God’s love is laudable, it would have been more persuasive had he not given unnecessary credence to feminist scholars who paint the caricature of penal substitution as divine child abuse and instead described God’s wrath as an expression of God’s love since God loves himself supremely and is therefore actively opposed to anything that is opposed to him (Rom. 1:18) and yet has provided a way for us to have life with him by sending his very own Son to die the death that we deserved, bearing the full penalty of our sins against him. On a more minor note (since it is not a major feature of the work), Macchia’s assertion that God is preferentially disposed to the poor and oppressed will not be compelling for some readers.
Aside from these deficiencies, Macchia has provided the reader with an excellent work of constructive theology. Even if the reader will not agree with all of his assumptions, it is safe to say that his attempt to understand Christ’s person, incarnate life, and work in light of the Holy Spirt is simply brimming with insights and offers much food for thought. Though clearly writing from a Pentecostal persuasion, he is conversant with biblical scholars, church fathers, and modern, non-Pentecostal theologians. Macchia, I would argue, has established himself as a first-rank Pentecostal theologian with this work. This book is accessible to anyone interested in a thorough, if unique, exposition of Christology that is theologically rigorous and, as such, it is worthy of consideration for Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal readers alike. Highly recommended.
Buy the books
JESUS THE SPIRIT BAPTIZER: CHRISTOLOGY IN LIGHT OF PENTECOST, by Frank D. Macchia