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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God

Frank D. Macchia
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010)
345 pages

Reviewed by James H. Railey, Jr., D.Th., Professor of Theology Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

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Justified in the Spirit, by Frank Macchia, is one of the three original publications in the Pentecostal Manifesto series, with James K. A. Smith and Amos Yong as editors. The series, which now has grown to five volumes, is designed to “provide a forum for exhibiting the next generation of Pentecostal scholarship” (p. i). The Pentecostal movement, now in the second century of its existence, is maturing in terms of scholarship, and this series provides evidence of that growth.

Frank Macchia, professor of systematic theology at Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California, is an excellent representative of the growing maturity of Pentecostal scholars. His earlier book, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) argued for the validity of a Pentecostal theology anchored in the experience of Spirit baptism. In his new book, Justified in the Spirit, Macchia asserts that the doctrine of justification should be understood differently from the way either the Catholic or Protestant Churches have done and that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is central to the salvation experience (inclusive of justification, regeneration, and sanctification).

The Catholic understanding of justification, drawn from Augustine in the fifth century and modified through the years, is best seen, Macchia says, through the imagery of the infirmary. The sinful person is debilitated by sin, but “mercifully taken up by the Lord and gradually brought back to health” (p. 9). Thus, justification takes on a moral character as the recovering sinner is increasingly “healed” through spiritual formation. This approach places more emphasis anthropologically and does not give enough place to the divine gifts of Christ and the Spirit.

The Protestant doctrine of justification is best grasped through the imagery of the courtroom. That is, justification is a forensic act of God whereby He imputes the righteousness of Christ to the repentant, guilty sinner. As Macchia phrases it, this understanding “allowed justification to once again function as revelatory of God’s triumphant and reigning righteousness in the world” (p. 39). The flaw in this approach, Macchia asserts, is that it neglects “the gift of the Spirit in embracing the sinners and taking them up into the life and koinonia enjoyed by the Spirit with the Father and the Son” (p. 39).

Macchia, rejecting the idea of merely patching together the Catholic and Protestant approaches to justification, prefers to begin with seeing justification as “rightwising.” This concept is based on the understanding that justification relates directly to the gift of righteousness, or just relation, that the Triune God grants to the repentant sinner. This just relation is grasped best by the concept of koinonia, which is for Macchia the “mutual indwelling of God as Father, Son, and Spirit” (p. 9). Making good use of biblical materials from the creation accounts of Genesis 2 through the eschatological materials of the Pauline and Johannine writings, the case is made conclusively for the inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the doctrine of justification.

Pneumatological considerations, and thus Trinitarian doctrine, become the means by which Macchia contributes to the revisioning of the doctrine of justification. He argues that Pentecostals, with their crown jewel of Spirit baptism, provide a way forward in understanding this doctrine. Seeing Jesus as the “baptizer in the Spirit,” understood as the One who breathes new life into the believer (much as God breathed into Adam causing him to become a living being, Genesis 2:7), allows Macchia to conceive justification in Pentecostal terms as an indwelling of humans by the Spirit of God. He suggests that Spirit baptism is a “root metaphor” for interpreting all soteriological categories, especially justification.

Macchia is very helpful in that he pushes justification beyond the imputation of righteousness to the repentant sinner. While not completely discounting this approach, he breathes life into the doctrine with his focus on the indwelling/baptism of the Spirit, which ushers the believer into the koinonia of the Triune God. His challenge to accept justification as more than personal, but certainly not less, opens the door to a doctrine of the Church created and sustained by the life of the Holy Spirit. Without apology Macchia appeals to the authority of Scripture and interacts with several passages to support his arguments.

Spirit baptism is seen in the book as a metaphor for the beginning of the Christian life, and if the reader is not careful, this could lead to seeing Spirit baptism as merely that. However, Macchia is Pentecostal and conceives of Spirit baptism more in terms of continuation than merely initiation. As one is Spirit baptized, a new realm of life and spiritual experiences become real—including tongues speech, gift manifestation, fruit expression, ministry for the advance of the Kingdom, and involvement in the cause of compassion and justice.
Justified in the Spirit is a challenging read, but one that rewards the reader with an increased appreciation for Pentecostal theology and the contribution it can make to this very basic doctrine.

The other volumes presently available in the series are: James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues (2010); Wolfgang Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism (2010); Nimi Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle (2011); and Amos Yong, The Spirit of Creation (2011).

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:54 AM