Bird, Evangelical Theology
Bird, Evangelical Theology

As I mentioned yesterday I will be participating in the Koinonia Blog’s Book Tour for Michael F. Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. My responsibility is to evaluate Part 6, The Promise and Power of the Gospel: The Holy Spirit. Theoretically, all that was expected of me is one blog post, but since Pneumatology is my shtick I’ll do three!

Today I want to provide an overview of Bird’s Pneumatology. Let me begin with an important caveat: I read the first 150 pages which includes Bird’s summary of the Gospel, his theological Prolegomena, and the beginning of his theology proper, specifically the doctrine of the Trinity. While this is a good place to begin, and it prepared me to understand how my section fits into his overall project, there may be something I missed between pages 151-610 or in pages 649-811 that if I would have read I would have understood things better.

Part 6, The Promise and Power of the Gospel: The Holy Spirit covers pages 611-648. It is one of the shorter sections. As an Evangelical who has been influenced by Pentecostalism I must admit I wasn’t surprised to see a section on the Spirit receive a disproportionate evaluation, but to be fair to the author the Spirit receives attention elsewhere. In other words, Bird doesn’t neglect Pneumatology in the early pages and I presume he won’t elsewhere in sections discussing Christology and  Ecclesiology, for example.

What does Part 6 discuss? The following:

  1. How the Spirit is understood in light of the Gospel.
  2. The “Person” of the Spirit, which is obviously Trinitarian, Creedal language. This includes discussions on the Spirit as Personal (not a “Force” like Star Wars) and equal with God/God.
  3. The “Work” of the Spirit, where the Spirit is depicted as Creator, agent of New Creation, empowerment of Israel and her rulers, the one who brings the divine word to prophets, the one who anoints, empowers, and resurrects the Messiah. The Spirit relates to the Church as the one who will resurrect, regenerate, empower, sanctify , illuminate, teach, and unify her.
  4. The implications of Pneumatology as it relates to our understanding of miracles and the charismata, ecclesial offices, and Spirit-baptism.

Bird discusses three important subjects in this section that are quite relevant for the modern Church. First, as noted above, he addresses the charismata and the relevance of “spiritual gifts” for the Church. Bird is neither a cessationist nor a continuationist in the strict sense (in fact, his views remind me a bit of those I espouse in Chrismata: five views and Reframing Charismata). He writes, “some of the gifts will carry on until Christ’s second advent.” [1] Two “gifts” he argues to have ceased are the offices of apostle and prophet. [2]

Second, Bird addresses the difference between classical Pentecostalism’s “Initial Physical Evidence” Doctrine and Evangelicalism’s argument that there is one baptism of the Spirit, not “a second work of grace” as some Pentecostals call it.

Third, he places the inspiration of Scripture under Pneumatology noting that the Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture, so this is where it belongs. He juxtaposes four common views of inspiration: (1) Intuition theory; (2) Dictation theory; (3) Dynamic theory; and (4) Verbal theory. Intuition theory proposes that the Spirit did inspire Scripture, but doesn’t differentiate this sort of “inspiration” from say the Spirit giving creative energy to Picaso. Dictation theory has God speaking word-for-word dictation into the ears of the writers of Scripture. Verbal theory is similar, but slightly weaker in that God still determines each word, just not via dictation. Finally, Dynamic theory is Bird’s position: there are divine and human elements in Scripture.

What does this mean for the “inerrancy” and “infallibility” debate. Bird dances a bit here. He doesn’t deny inerrancy, but argues that for the most part global Christians use “infallibility” because “inerrancy” is a uniquely American idea shaped by the liberal v. fundamentalists controversies. Bird prefers “veracity,” but from my angle I can’t see how his bibliology differs pragmatically from inerrantists in the United States and elsewhere. When Bird discusses how Christians should address challenges to the “veracity” of Scripture he downplays apologetical efforts as secondary, preferring what seems to be a sort of presuppositional apologetic (Scripture’s veracity is a given for Christians, let’s go from there), but it doesn’t answer the very real concerns of critical scholarship. Instead, Bird uses Evangelical speaking points such as Scripture’s veracity being dependent on “the integrity of God” and “not dependent on our abilities to demonstrate an absence of error.” [3] Bird writes, “…epistemologically speaking, the way that we know Scripture is true (not the basis on which it is true, which is God’s faithfulness) is not the testimony of the church or our best apologetic arguments, but it is primarily due to the Spirit’s testimony.” [4] OK, but what does this mean? Bird ends the discussion by moving toward a Vanhoozerian statement about Scripture’s truthfulness being about “biblical authority” in that we learn to obey God’s Word in Scripture. I like this, but it doesn’t settle some things, things I’ll discuss tomorrow.

__________

[1] p. 630

[2] p. 631

[3] p. 645

[4] Ibid.

This book was provided for free by Zondervan in exchanged for an unbiased review.