Friday, December 11, 2009

People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church

I finished reading Graham Twelftree's People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church this past week and I plan on reading it again. When James D. G. Dunn said the book was "challenging and often controversial" he was right. Rarely did I finish a chapter without having to rethink some of my thoughts on Luke and the church. This is not so much a review as a summary of some of the author's conclusions in this outstanding work.

1) The church did not start at Pentecost but with the gathering of the disciples by Jesus.

2) The record of Pentecost as found in Acts 2 is a creation of Luke.

3) There is no evidence for infant baptism but baptism is necessary for conversion.

4) Tongues is not an initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.

5) Luke does not see the people of God as a people of the book but a people of the Spirit. We should therefore give greater weight to prophecy, visions and dreams in seeing God guiding the church "without always requiring legitimation from Scripture." (156)

6) The locus of revelation is not found in ancient documents but rather in the "events and experiences in which all subsequent people of God can now be caught up." (212) Luke, he says, would find our "preoccupation with Scripture” puzzling. (212)

7) The "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42) does not refer to the Lord's supper and Luke shows no real interest in the Eucharist. Neither does Luke have any real interest in the people of God meeting on Sunday.

8) Perhaps most intriguing to me is his insistence that according to Luke the church does not have a two-fold mission: evangelism and social justice. His continued refrain is simple: "Whereas, generally, we preach the good news to each other in our churches and attempt to apply social justice to a pagan world, Luke's view is that the followers of Jesus should present the good news in a pagan world and apply social action and justice to the Christian community." (14, 197, 215) And, "There is nothing in Luke's portrait of Jesus to suggest he was modelling social action towards outsiders." (194) On this point Twelftree cannot be misunderstood: "Social action, in terms of caring for the physical needs of the outsider, plays no part in Luke's view of mission." (203) Indeed, on this issue he admits "the vast majority of the Church would part company with him [Luke] in his seeing neither a political nor a social aspect to the mission." (215)

9) Jesus' primary ministry to those outside the community came in the form of healing and exorcism.

Having said all that Twelftree does not think Luke is trying to create the perfect model for everyone to follow. Given the dependence on the Spirit he says "Luke would agree that development and change are fundamental to the character of the Church." (213) This remark (after #6 above) left me wondering why we were bothering to study Luke so intently or cared what he thought about the church in the first place.

There is so much here to think about and, in many cases, to rethink that I'm going through the book again. Twelftree has made me think hard about many issues. Some are small (To what does the "breaking of bread" refer?) and some are vitally important (What is the mission of the church?).

I don't plan on doing a formal review but I would like to raise some of these issues in some future posts.

1 comment:

Esteban Vázquez said...

Well, this looks intriguing! Why didn't you tell me about this book during the 5 minutes we were able to visit? Now I have to drive all the way back there! ;-)

It was good to see you, my friend.