My tentative research title is: "The baptism in the Holy Spirit as understood through the paradigm of an imago Dei ecclesiology." In plain English: Spirit baptism is what makes the church (and each Christian) to be the image of God in the world. Traditionally, Pentecostals have taught that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience subsequent to conversion (i.e. salvation) that empowers the Christian to be Christ's witness in the world. Non-pentecostals (particularly of the Reformed stripe) have responded that Spirit baptism occurs at the point of conversion, at which God gives the Holy Spirit to the believer, initiating the believer into the New Covenant (i.e. into relationship with himself, see Ezek 36:26). Both parties read the book of Acts, in which the giving of the Holy Spirit is clearly a key theme (1:4, 8; chaps. 2, 8, 10, 19 are key points of discussion). One says it's all about empowerment for mission. The other says it's all about salvation, or covenant-initiation. Which is it? Could it be both?
The enigmatic assertion in Genesis 1:26-27 that humankind was created in God's image is another question of interest - one more broadly discussed. We all know that it makes a fundamental statement about what it means to be human. It has something to say about our basic identity, and we rightfully perk up our ears, straining to take it in. But just what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Is it some feature of our ontological/structural make-up? (Is it reason? Is it personality? Spirituality?) Is it some task we were made to perform, or some role we are to play? (Is it about taking dominion, ruling over the earth, etc.?) Is it about relationship? (Is it about being covenant partners with God? Is it about being male-female counterparts?) What does the doctrine of the imago Dei have to offer in understanding the New Testament theme of Spirit baptism?
Here is a tentative, simplified thesis statement:
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the event that incorporates and constitutes the Church and her members, by virtue of their union with Christ, as the imago Dei, the embodied revealer and mediator of God's work in the world.
I hope to achieve two things with this:
First, I hope to offer a mediating position that will both honour and make sense of the history and experience of Pentecostals and non-pentecostals alike. I believe that we can find common ground without compromise on the doctrine of Spirit baptism.
Second, I hope to give clarity and breadth to our understanding of Spirit baptism in such a way that will speak of our identity and mission in the world as Christians and as the Church.
I realise there is much to unpack here. I would invite you to take the journey with me.
1. What are your initial thoughts about the baptism in the Holy Spirit? How do you understand it? What do you do when you come across (the few) references to it in Scripture?
2. What are your feelings about Spirit baptism as a topic of theological discussion? In particular, how do you feel about the place of this doctrine as a Pentecostal 'distinctive' - one that in some sense marks Pentecostals as believing differently from other Christians?
3. Other thoughts and comments?