Book Review: “Poured Out” By Leonard Allen

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If you grew up in Churches of Christ, this is the book on the Holy Spirit for you. In “Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God” Leonard Allen does what he does best – church history combined with biblical theology. When you add in his own personal story in Churches of Christ and his developing understanding of the Holy Spirit, I believe our fellowship needs to be aware of this book and familiar with its contents for several reasons in line with the main thrust of the book which is that Christianity began on the margins, moved to the center (Constantine and Christendom), and now is moving back to the margins in the West. This means it is as important as ever that we move to our missional purpose and that purpose necessitates a better understanding of the work of the Spirit to inform and empower us.

This book illuminates the person of the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinitarian Godhead who is on equal footing with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has not solely been contained by the pages of the Bible and is not a “tame” Spirit that we have somehow “nailed down” (p.19).

In the first chapter, “Uncontained,” Allen demonstrates the historical shifts that created Christian culture in the Western world that seemed to tame the Spirit and disconnect us from our Spirit-given missionary impulses. He recognizes that there has been a shift in our world to things of the spiritual realm, although often biblically uninformed, this shift is an opportunity for Christianity to engage in a more proactive and healthy dialog with our non-Christian friends due to their spiritual openness. Some of this shift has happened in Western culture but a lot more of it has happened in the Global South, “where Christianity has been expanding at breakneck speed, mostly in Pentecostal/Charismatic form.” (p.23). In rapid succession, Allen lays out the historical framework of this shift up to our current culture of postmodernism. All of this means that we are on a mission field whether we know it or not. This chapter gives a big-picture historical-cultural view of the Holy Spirit.

The second chapter, “Traditions,” works through various views on the Holy Spirit throughout Christian history. Dr. Allen traces five streams of Christianity including the Anabaptists, Pietists, Methodists, Restorationists (Churches of Christ), and Pentecostals. This is where he is at his best, illuminating various traditions and their theological emphasis that helps us understand how we got to where we are today. Cessationism and Word-onlyism are explained and set against various other traditions in helping us see the strengths and weaknesses of various traditions (including our own). What we find is a series of pendulum swings from hyper-rationalism and “Spirit universalism” where a more open and universalist view is maintained (p.49). This chapter puts the theology of the Holy Spirit into a historical-doctrinal framework.

The third chapter, “Trinity” is where Allen begins a heavy emphasis on connecting the relevant scriptures. I have read more of Leonard Allen’s church history than I have his theology and was very impressed with his ability to interpret the relevant scriptures and tie together various threads of the best theologians we have at our disposal both from ancient church history all the way up until today. This chapter not only gives a scriptural backing for the Trinity but also gives us some of its historical roots out of the first 400 years of church history (p.63). A considerable amount of space is devoted to the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus, tracing the Spirit’s work from Jesus’ conception to his baptism, through his ministry and ultimately to the work and power of the Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus (pp. 66-68). Because the idea of Trinity is relationality within God himself, Allen uses this idea to push back against legalism and moralism, “The Spirit counters all moralism and legalism by inviting us into the intimacy and joy – the ecstasy – of God’s life, indeed, by being the bearer of that life” (p.73). This is a needed corrective in our fellowship and one I hope people will consider.

Chapter four, “Kingdom” fleshes out a point Allen makes in the last chapter, that we are to live into the story of scripture. Chapter four fleshes out that story, Israel’s story through the Spirit’s role in establishing and advancing the kingdom. I have heard N.T. Wright on many occasions refer to our need to connect Isaiah 40-55 to the Gospel and second temple Judaism’s understanding of the Messiah, resurrection, and so much more. This chapter is the response and filling out of Wright’s point. He works through the kingdom as Israel’s story through three main parts of Israel’s national identity:

First, he draws on the “New Exodus.” Jesus’ journeys back from Egypt through the water into the wilderness temptations and then into a Spirit-empowered ministry per Luke 4. This liberation/deliverance theme is now about God delivering us to salvation from sin and death.

Second, he draws on the “New Temple.” Once again, he works off of some of our greatest theological minds like Wright and Beale. The temple shifts from tabernacle to temple to Jesus to us. I do wish he had worked off more of Beale here going back not just to the tabernacle but to Eden itself. He also goes right to John 2 where Jesus parallels himself with the temple. It is interesting to note that the temple discussion actually starts in John 1, with temple references with Bethel and angels ascending and descending on the son of man. This is at the same time Jesus calls Nathanael a “true Israelite” a Jacob-guy who was the same guy in the same story where the angels were ascending and descending after which Jacob called the place “Beth-el” (house of God = temple). I am sure Dr. Allen is familiar with this information. There is only so much you can include to make the point!

Third, he draws off Paul’s language of “New Creation.” The Spirit is working to make us new people with a new way of being/existing and living/behaving. It is in this section of chapter four that Allen engages the idea of already and not yet (p.90).

Chapters 5 and 9 are both on mission. Chapter 5 lays the foundation for chapter 9. I appreciate the double emphasis on mission and on concluding the book with a chapter on mission. If we take the Holy Spirit seriously we will end up on mission and we will regain our relevance, not as a nationalized/politicized entity but as God’s people and presence in this world to pour the Spirit out and shine a light on the nations. Allen does an admirable job of tracing the empowerment of the Spirit in both the mission of Jesus and the mission of the early church. The Spirit does this through gifting the church. That gifting is graceful and powerful and the end goal is to make us more like Jesus (p.113). He ends this chapter as he does in several of the other chapters by talking about how this emphasis has been lost over the years and now more than ever needs to be restored and reclaimed.

Chapter 6, “Formation,” may be the most important chapter in the book. This chapter fleshes out what he said in the previous chapter, that the Holy Spirit’s goal is to shape us to be, in a sense, Jesus. One of the greatest contributions of this book is its apologetic against Christian gnosticism. That phrase should be an oxymoron but sadly it isn’t. Allen joins the chorus of recent voices who are encouraging us to revisit what the scriptures have to say about the material world (the creation itself and our own bodies as part of that creation). Body and Spirit are intricately and intimately connected. They are inextricably linked. This has not been the popular view but it is the biblical view and Allen makes as fine a case for this as anyone in chapter 6. The second great contribution of this chapter is Allen’s theology of cooperation. How does God graciously do so much for us that we haven’t merited and yet in a sense require our participation in His ongoing work? I am not going to give you his answer to this but I will tell you he draws very effectively from Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright on this on pages 129-132.

Chapter 7, “Soaring,” marks a turn in the book. Now it gets personal. The Holy Spirit wants intimate connection with us. The Spirit is personal and so his work is personal. The Spirit, then, as a person also draws us into relationship with God and with each other. As we are adopted into the family of God by the work of the Spirit we take on a new identity (not just in an intellectual way but in a familial and relational way). When you become part of a new family it isn’t just something inside your head, it is also something inside your heart and is constantly being informed by a change in your experience as you transition to your new family. With God as Abba/Father we experience a new identity and a new reality. The Spirit is at work making those things reality and then working in our hearts to confirm that reality to us so we can have confidence in our new selves. All of this is done so we can invite more people into the family (mission).

Chapter 8, “Groaning,” is about suffering and the Spirit’s role in our suffering. This chapter is a mini-theology of suffering. Why do we suffer and how do we participate in the life of Christ when we suffer? The Spirit plays a role strengthening and empowering us in our weakest moments and in our most difficult situations. This is part of our formation. The Spirit did the same thing with Jesus, being present in his suffering, and so some of our deepest spiritual union with God happens in times of trial. This chapter also ends with a note on martyrs and mission. The early church often went on mission as a result of suffering and persecution. The scattered people of God took the message with them and the Spirit who empowers the message with them everywhere they went.

Chapter 9, as I mentioned above is “On Mission” and concludes the book. It serves as much as a summary of the ideas presented in the book as anything else. This chapter is the most pastoral of all of the chapters in the book. Here, Allen challenges us to be open to the Spirit and in doing so to shift our attention and our presence “out of the house” to be out among the people God wants us to be in contact with.

This book is something I wish everyone in Churches of Christs would read but even if you aren’t in our fellowship I encourage you to read it because the history, culture, theology, and pastoral nature of this book will bless you. Thank you to Dr. Allen for taking his amazing intellect, ability to write, and passion for the Spirit to share these thoughts with the rest of the body. In doing so he has made incarnate many of principles embedded in the ink on the pages of his book.

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