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The Apostles and the Spirit's Power

Who is the Holy Spirit by Amos Yong (Paraclete Press)

This new volume in the Paraclete Guide series is designed to take the reader on a journey through the book of Acts in step with the activity and person of the Holy Spirit. The author, Amos Yong, Professor of Theology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, carries the reader on a very insightful, practical, and thoughtful journey through Acts.

Instead of just harboring on a few aspects in the book of Acts (Pentecost, Paul's speeches, etc.), Yong dives into the cultural milieu that the apostles dealt with as they proclaimed the good news throughout the region. For this reason, Who is the Holy Spirit makes a definite point that the message of the kingdom the apostles bore witness to was radically opposite of the prevailing class structure of the Roman Empire. Yong writes in the first chapter, "The Acts of the Apostles are also the acts of the Holy Spirit in the church, acts that are subversive of the empires of this world" (6). Part of his point in laying out this specific statement is that the political, social, and religious structures of the Roman Empire were not friendly to the kinds of people that the early Christians befriended. The social classes excluded those who could not provide material wealth and advantage. In essence, the system was rigged for the upper echelon. The ethic of the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated was counter cultural. Yong writes, "A new people of God was emerging that transcended the common divisions of the first century, brothers and sisters who acknowledged the same Father as did Jesus, as inspired by the Holy Spirit" (74).

In examining the details surrounding Paul's encounter with the slave girl at Philippi, Yong traces the effects of the Spirit's work amongst people that Paul encounters. In a summary statement, Yong writes, "The Spirit is interested not only in saving souls for eternity but in forming new communities of healing and reconciliation from out of entire households that embrace the good news of Jesus and the kingdom" (152). Why is this so important? Well, for one, if the message of the Jesus and the kingdom is to be transformative for the people we encounter, it must meet the needs people face living in a broken and reckless world. Yong is hinting at the vertical and horizontal work of the Holy Spirit in relation to God and people. The Spirit draws men unto God by the application of Christ's work to their lives and yet this change carries with it the obligations to live before others through a life of forgiveness, a life of sacrifice and service. I really think Yong is right here to not divorce the spiritual impact of the Spirit from the social and ethical implications for God's people to act rightly in the world.

One aspect of Yong's book that I was pleased in reading was his chapter on the Spirit and the Eucharist. In talking about the feeding of the five thousand, Yong writes, "...Jesus' blessing, breaking, and giving of the bread and fish is but part of the larger sequence of events in which the disciples are involved in serving the crowd" (182). Although I am not sure we can make the jump from this statement to the next one regarding open table fellowship (I am not opposed to open table fellowship, but this is not the text to build on), I do think the message of service is key to the text. Not only were the disciples called to serve but they were called to meet the needs of the people in both tangible (material needs) and needs pertaining to the heart. Certainly, the feeding of the five thousand should be seen as another example of Jesus' service to the people (to those in the in-crowd and those out), while also realizing that the power of God is on display through this miracle pointing the reader to the special origin of Jesus.

Yong indicates throughout the whole book that the mission of Jesus is closely tied to the renewal and redemption of Israel. Although I think there is partial truth in this statement, I would also add that Jesus embodied in his ministry, sufferings and death the fulfillment of promises of Israel. It would even suffice to say that Jesus was the `true Israelite' in that in his life and ministry he fulfilled the covenant stipulations and commandments given by God in the Old Testament. Even more, in his very ministry he embodied the goal and hope of Israel, to be light to the nations (ex. Jesus' meals with sinners, Samaritan woman, excluding no one). Luke interacts with the idea that Jesus is the heir to the Davidic throne and therefore carries out the mission of Israel in his ministry to Jew and Gentile. The redemption and renewal of Israel brought upon by Jesus was even greater in its political and ethical scope than Jews of the first-century could imagine, for it realigned every relationship according to Jesus being Lord over all things.

Overall, I thought the book was a good work in engaging the reader with the book of Acts and Luke's Gospel in connection with the Holy Spirit. This is a book that provides many good discussion points and healthy interactions for its readers.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book.


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