A Few Thoughts on James Dunn’s “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, His Disagreements with Dispensationals and Similarities with Oneness Pentecostals

Posted: March 4, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Pentecostal/Charismatic Interests, Pneumatology, Theology
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The below are some notes from my research. These quotes are taken from the following:

Dunn, J.D.G. (1974). Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in relation to Pentecostalism today. London, UK: SCM Press

J.D.G. Dunn (1974:47) dialogues directly with dispensational readings of Joel 2:28-32:

Dispensationalists often argue that Peter did not consider Pentecost a fulfillment of the Joel prophecy; e.g. M.F. Unger: ‘ “This is that” means nothing more than that “this is (an illustration of) that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”’ (Bib.Sac. 122 [165] 177). This is special pleading. Luke (and Peter) clearly regard the outpouring on the 120 as at least the beginning of the outpouring on all flesh, and the ‘last days’ in which ‘whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21) have certainly arrived.

Dunn (1974:46) actually thinks that Joeline fulfillment on Pentecost is central to the whole idea of a new age:

…it was only at Pentecost that the Joel prophecy was fulfilled. In the old two-age view of Jewish eschatology the gift of the Spirit was one of the decisive marks of the new age. Certainly for the first Christians the gift of the Spirit was the decisive differentia which marked off the old dispensation from the new…

While J.D.G. Dunn (1974:53-54) makes it quite clear that he rejects the two step emphases of Pentecostal theology, he does highlight the Pentecostal experience as somewhat paradigmatic in a qualitative fashion of what it means to be a Christian:

In one sense…Pentecost can never be repeated—for the new age is here and cannot be ushered in again. But in another sense Pentecost, or rather the experience of Pentecost, can and must be repeated in the experience of all who would become Christians. As the day of Pentecost was once the doorway into the new age, so entry into the new age can only be made through that doorway, that is, through receiving the same Spirit and the same baptism in the Spirit as did the 120.

What I find ironic about Dunn’s pleading is that while he offers correctives to the classical Pentecostal understanding of Spirit Baptism, he seems to almost be saying that a Pentecostal experience of some sort is proof that one is truly a Christian. In Dunn’s fifth chapter, titled “The Riddle of Samaria”, he contends that the Samaritans’ conversion was deficient under Phillip because there was no manifestation of the Spirit. Such reasoning is consistent with Dunn’s overall thesis that conversion was a radical experience that was noted by some sort of manifestations.

I don’t want to lump Dunn’s arguments with those of “Oneness Pentecostals”, but he sounds similar on many points. They take the traditional Pentecostal emphasis of tongues, but rather than tie it with a subsequent work of Spirit Baptism, they instead view it as normative in initiation. Essentially, “Oneness Pentecostals” believe that one must speak in tongues to validate their initiation into the Christian faith. Dunn does not believe that tongues are a singular sign, nor a normative sign for Christian initiation, but when he questions the Samaritans’ initiation because they weren’t manifesting the Spirit in an analogous fashion  to Pentecost, he does seem to argue that one needs to prove their faith by manifesting the Spirit in some radical or extraordinary fashion.

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