Luke’s Charismatic Theology, Pt. 3

Image Christi Himmelfart
The fantastic iconography of the Ascension!
Hans von Kulmbach [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Chapter 3 of Roger Stronstad’s Charismatic Theology of St. Luke focuses on highlighting Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Luke, and how that positions Jesus as a charismatically-empowered figure, who will then charismatically empower the church.

Stronstad sees the gospel as, in essence, the indispensable background to Luke’s account of the missionary travels that give the church its initial impulse towards growth.
“In order to write the complete history of this mission, however, he had to begin with the origin of this apostolic witness – namely, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Moreover, in order to explain Pentecost, he necessarily had to prefix the story of Jesus, the gospel, to the story of this apostolic witness.”1
In so doing, Luke structures the gospel and the acts account according to a similar plan, from beginning through “inaugural proclamation,” “confirmatory miracles,” “success” and “opposition,” “travel,” and “arrest and trial” to “consummation,” which in the Jesus story Stronstad identifies as “the cross” (although I might be inclined not to forget the resurrection!), and in Acts “Rome” (38). Come to think of it, maybe both resurrection and the subsequent (post-Acts) history of the church form the post-consummation parallel?

Luke emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit far more than the other two synoptic authors: Mark refers to the Spirit six times, Matthew 12, Luke 17 (39). Stronstad discusses Luke’s deployment of the Spirit in three structured situations within the gospel: the infancy narrative, the inauguration narrative, and Jesus’ subsequent ministry.

In the infancy narrative, he points out that the role of the Spirit is to confer prophetic witness on specific individuals: Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Simeon. The Spirit “comes upon” and “overshadows” Mary. Stronstad points out the parallels there to the action of the Spirit in Genesis 1, and the suggestion that “the conception of Jesus has an importance that is similar to that of the earliest creation of the cosmos.”2 Otherwise, the Spirit confers prophetic power and authority on the individuals involved, echoing the perspective on the Spirit in the inter-testamental period, when the Spirit “is almost always the Spirit of prophecy,” is perceived to have ceased with the major writing prophets, and so signals, in its revival, the arrival of the messianic age. That is, Luke’s emphasis on the role of the Spirit in this context acts as a messianic affirmation (42).

Then he diagrams the carefully structured Lukan account of Jesus’ ministry, which is inaugurated with a theophany at his baptism, punctuated and shifted from its focus in Galilee to the travel narrative with a theophany at Transfiguration, and concluded – at least, in the form of the person of Jesus – with the theophany at ascension.

Luke identifies Jesus as “Son of God” in the course of the infancy, inauguration, and genealogical sections. Stronstad identifies this as the most important affirmation of the gospel – but then goes on to demonstrate at much greater length the ways Luke identifies Jesus as “the eschatological anointed prophet” (44). He identifies 5 prophetic models that are carefully affirmed through Luke’s narrative presentation: the prophet like Isaiah, the prophet like Elijah & Elisha, the rejected prophet, the prophet like Moses, the prophet like David. Like Isaiah, he is anointed by the Spirit, and blesses or liberates the categories of captives identified by Isaiah. Like the [eschatological] prophets Elijah and Elisha, he heals lepers, controls natural elements, multiplies food, and raises the dead. He experiences rejection in his hometown, and predicts – and experiences – rejection in Jerusalem. The parallels with Elijah and Elisha, in particular, confirm Jesus’ claim to prophetic status, as they are tangible acts paradigmatically associated with charismatic prophets in the tradition.

Stronstad argues that Jesus’ birth status – royal – and anointed status – prophetic – come together in Luke’s narrative at the beginning of the travel narrative, when the story pivots on the event of the Transfiguration. As one like Moses – the prophet who brings the people out of bondage and into covenantal relationship – he commissions “the 70” (echoing Moses’ commissioning of 70 elders), re-states the two-fold commandment to love God and love neighbor, and – hello – leads his people on a journey which will culminate in passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus will get farther than Moses did, and will pick up the mantle of David as he recapitulates the Mosaic journey and gets through Jericho – at which point, he’ll be identified as “Son of David” by a blind beggar (51).

Ultimately, as the eschatological anointed prophet like Moses (and his successors) Jesus is the prophet without peer or rival. And his successors will carry on and extend his incomparable prophetic ministry.3

Jesus makes promises regarding the Spirit (of prophecy) to his followers: God gives the Spirit to those who ask, the Spirit will help you speak when you need it, and will give you power for witness, and you will be baptized with the Spirit (53).

What happens on the day of Pentecost is a transfer of the Spirit from Jesus himself to his disciples (Acts 2:33). By this transfer of the Spirit Jesus’s disciples become a community of Spirit-baptized, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-filled prophets (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4, 17-21).4

1 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012, 37.
2 Ibid., 41.
3 Ibid., 53.
4 Ibid.

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