ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Smith. Evangelical, Sacremental, and Pentecostal, 2017

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•17

Smith, Gordon T. 2017. Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three. InterVarsity Press. Pages: 135, ISBN: 978-0-8308-5160-7.

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9780830851607The general trends show that the contemporary church is mostly post-denominational. This means that for most people denominations and traditions do not matter much. Moreover, the charismatic movement has brought the churches closer to each other since there is the ‘unity of the spirit’ felt across denominational barriers. Many free and independent traditions are getting much more disciplined and organized in their worship, thus slowly warming up towards the liturgical traditions. It is in this context that the book by Gordon Smith becomes very relevant. The title exposes the main argument: ‘Evangelical, Sacramental and Pentecostal. Why the Church Should Be all Three.’

Smith presents his arguments in six chapters. In the first chapter, he exposits John 15:4: Jesus’ command to abide in him. Then he explores how the evangelical tradition, the sacramental tradition and the pentecostal tradition understand this principle of ‘abiding in Christ.’ While the evangelical tradition experiences the abiding through the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, the sacramental tradition does the same through the sacramental actions of baptism and the Lord’s supper. The Pentecostals understand it as the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of the individual. Smith goes on to conclude that, ‘all three in tandem are the divinely appointed means by which God’s people live in union with Christ.’

In the second chapter, he establishes that all three, the Word, the Sacraments and the experience of the Spirit, are equally important for the Church to be truly Church. This leads the reader to the third chapter where he explains the three distinct understandings of the ‘grace of God.’ The three traditions have different understandings of the concept of the grace of God and the appropriation of it. However, he suggests, ‘that whether one comes to this question from a sacramental, evangelical, or pentecostal heritage and perspective, the bottom line remains: ‘… the biblical witness and the historic witness of the church consistently call the church to be a fully orbed embracing of the vital means by which the grace of the risen and ascended Christ is made present in the life of the church.’

In the next three chapters, he goes on to explain what is characteristic of each tradition. Then in the last chapter, he concludes with some observations and suggestions. First of all, he observes that ‘the Spirit, the Word and the sacramental life of the church’ are housed within the Christian community. Secondly, he suggests that the three festivals of the church namely, Advent-Christmas-Epiphany offers us three distinctive perspectives of grace. He suggests that these festivals must be used to give ‘focussed attention to the three expressions of grace of the ascended Christ in the life of the church.’ Thirdly, he critiques the modern trend of downplaying the importance of the worship space. This happens by replacing the pulpit with a lectern or a barstool, communion being very casual, etc. He suggests that ‘the visual dimensions of worship complement the words spoken and the prayers offered.’

His last observation and suggestion have to do with Christian initiation. In his opinion, Christian initiation has three aspects. First, a focus on the preaching and study of the Word. Secondly, the invitation to baptism. Thirdly, chrismation, the anointing with oil which represents the ‘intentional appropriation of the gift of the Spirit.’ He suggests that a baptism service should have all these three elements.

He concludes as his title suggests that, ‘… the Christian would be evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal. And the evidence of such would be that they live with a deep and resilient joy, the fruit of a life lived in dynamic union with the ascended Christ.’

Smith’s analysis of the three traditions is quite innovative. He does convince the reader that though these emphases are distinct they are not disuniting, but have tremendous potential for unity. I think this work is a great contribution towards ecumenical discussions in our generation.

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