Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Review: The Power of Pentecost by Martin C. Salter

The Blurb:

...biblical scholars, especially those concerned for the welfare of Christ’s church, are in the business of reminding the people of God of what is true, and then what to do.  Salter does this well.  Not everyone will agree with where he lands, but he does land somewhere (which is a feat of sorts in this debate), and his foundation upon clear and thorough exegesis is strong. 

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Martin C. Salter. The Power of Pentecost: An Examination of Acts 2:17-21. Resource Publications (OR), an imprint of Wipf and Stock, 2012.  115pp.  $18.
               
This slim book is an MTh thesis completed at Oak Hill College under the supervision of Acts scholar, Matthew Sleeman.  It is within this thesis that a pastor, Martin Salter, attempts to answer a current debate with an exegetical study of a pericope in Acts.
                 
          One does not often run across a published MTh thesis, so the first question one must ask is what contribution does this monograph make to the current debate? First, what is the debate?  Salter engages the debate concerning the charismatic use of spiritual gifts, noting that “the book of Acts is often cited” in this debate, primarily according to Salter, Acts 2:17-21.  According to Salter, on one side of the debate stand the scholars that argue for the continuation of these gifts (notably, Michael Green and Craig Keener), and standing opposed are the “conservative scholars” that hold the stance that such gifts were revelatory in function “at a particular point in redemptive history and should not, therefore, be considered normative” (including: John MacArthur, John Stott, and O. Palmer Robertson).  Following, John MacArthur, Salter, understands the quotation of Joel 3:1-5 (LXX) in Acts 2:17-21 as the “crux interpretum.”  Of course, the designation of Acts 2:17-21 as the crux interpretum” is debatable.  It could be that in Acts this passage is the “crux interpretum,” but other passages such as 1 Corinthians 12-14 come to mind as other common passages from which “Pentecostals and charismatics develop their theology.”  But a couple things should be clarified, especially to the American reader first before we carry on assessing Salter's discussion.
                 
               First, such terms as “conservative” require more defining, and unfortunately I do not believe I am the one to define them with much clarity.  It seems as Salter, a UK pastor, moves through his book terms such as “conservative” bear similar connotations as they do in America, but I would like to be surer.  While in the UK for my PhD research, I found that I was often speaking in foreign terms, though still in English, when I used the categories, “liberal,” “conservative,” or“evangelical.” 
                 
            Second, this book is very timely for Salter’s setting in the UK.  Again, during my recent research visit to Bristol, UK, I observed as an “outsider” from “the other side of the pond” the resurgence of interest in charismatic gifts.  As I spoke with one professor and former vicar in the Church of England I found that at least for the Church of England, which is not Salter’s denomination, that there was a type of identity crisis occurring concerning charismatic gifts.  Thus the timeliness of a study such as this makes more sense to one in the UK than it may to one in the America, where the debate may appear somewhat stale and passé, as the dates of the works of Salter’s American conversation partners reveal.
                
               Now, to many Salter’s method of pursuing his study may seem like he has put the proverbial “cart before the horse” by exploring exegesis before the context and theology this pericope fits within in Luke-Acts.  But I think he is right in how he pursues his study, as I will discuss below.   

Salter begins his study examining Acts 2:17-21 with very accurate and thorough exegesis.  I will not further comment on his exegesis in this review because I found it to be very well done and helpful for his specific concerns in this study.  Second, Salter looks at Acts 2:17-21 in the context that is laid before it in Acts 1-2, and third what lies after 2:17-21 in the rest of the Lucan narrative of Acts.  In part two one may ask, why does Salter not reach into the third gospel for more Lucan context for such a discussion?  I too asked this question in my first cursory glance overt Salter’s work, though of course this carries with it the whole debate of unity, which Salter seems to assume.  But I was pleased to find when I read Salter’s work that he often refers to the Lucan Gospel when discussing “conceptual and Scriptural allusions, and explicit references.” His brief comments on Luke 24:27 were especially helpful for his study of allusions and conceptual echoes, especially in the broader debat concerning context, namely “Luke himself encourages the search for fulfillment of OT themes in Luke 24:47.”  Fourth, Salter moves to the Lucan purpose of the Joel 3:1-5 (LXX) quotation within the overall purpose of the Acts narrative.  The theme that governs Acts, and thus his study, is the “restoration of Israel in her new Exodus.”  I think he is correct, and his exegesis thus far has made this a plausible theme.  He thus concludes in this section that Luke’s primary use of the quotation of Joel 3 in Peter’s Pentecost speech is to give his auditor/reader “certainty” (Lk. 1:4).  Fifth, and finally, Salter answers the overall question, “Is [Acts 2:17-21] a paradigm for contemporary ecclesiological or missional praxis, or [is it] a unique unrepeatable event in salvation history?”
                
            Salter’s study is very deductive in form, and I believe as I noted above that this is probably the best way of going about such a study.  I would call this study “eth-egetical,” meaning it is an ethics study, that is, how one should live based upon a solid exegetical foundation.  It would seem to be less ecclesiological since it is more concerned with specific application of 'what to do,' and not the marks of the church in the gifts of the Spirit.  Thus, I think Salter is correct to go about his study deductively, first looking at the evidence then begin to draw a conclusion of purpose and application to the church.  So, this is well done.  Unfortunately, in the end, I do not believe Salter’s conclusion, his “third-way,” will be well received or add something new to the debate.  It turns out to be a type of soft-cessationist view, akin to views held by such popular pastors as John Piper or Mark Driscoll.  This view sees the Spirit’s work as not completely ceased in the ways Acts witnessed to, but possible where the Lord seeks to move significant ways, or in cultures that more often give authority to magic or “see increased amount of demon-possession, or the miraculous.”  But this does not render this study invaluable.  I, first, think that Salter’s study is very sobering on the issue.  Studying such a live debate through Luke’s narrative as narrative, and forgoing simple proof texting, is valuable to reminding the church of what it can still learn from narratives in the bible.  And, second, biblical scholars, especially those concerned for the welfare of Christ’s church, are in the business of reminding the people of God of what is true, and then what to do.  Salter does this well.  Not everyone will agree with where he lands, but he does land somewhere (which is a feat of sorts in this debate), and his foundation upon clear and thorough exegesis is strong. 


Other Book Reviews on MosisMose:
The Later New Testament Writings and Scripture
NT Theology in Light of the Church's Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall
The Power of Pentecost

Another reviewer's thoughts on Power of Pentecost 


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