Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

21 Feb 2012

Book Note: James Dunn's Baptism in the Holy Spirit (2nd ed.)

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James D. G. Dunn. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today. Second edition. London: SCM Press, 2010, xxi + 248 pp.

This second-edition of Baptism in the Holy Spirit represents Dunn’s latest revision of his oeuvre. In the book (originally his thesis), Dunn asks whether or not Pentecostalism is right in separating Spirit-baptism from “conversion-initiation” (Dunn’s now-famous neologism) and, related, whether or not Pentecostalism is right in separating Spirit-baptism from water baptism—or whether, in fact, the “sacramentalists” are right in virtually equating the two. Dunn’s answer—and for that matter, argument and bibliography—remains largely unchanged in the new edition (cf. his “Preface to the Second Edition”): all Christians are Spirit-baptized at conversion-initiation and Spirit-baptism is distinct from—even though it must and will lead to—water baptism (thus, the hyphen in “conversion-initiation”). Or, to state the latter positively, water baptism is a “necessary expression” of the faith that is itself the necessary condition for Spirit-baptism (see, e.g., p. 228).

At one or two places, Dunn’s argument feels slightly heavy-handed, as, e.g., in his insistence that the Samaritan’s faith (Acts 8) was deficient before the arrival of Peter and John, which is to say, before their reception of the Spirit (ch. 5). Overall, however, the argument is convincing and written with Dunn’s characteristic clarity. It will repay a careful reading.