Leonard Allen. Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2018. 208 pp. Paperback. $16.99.
Leonard Allen, Dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University, has written a beautiful book describing the interrelatedness of a theology of the Holy Spirit and the mission of God. It is a contribution to studies in both pneumatology and missional theology. Though the footnotes of the book point to the best scholarship in both fields, it is a clearly written and accessible presentation that will serve both church and academy well. I have already required Poured Out as a graduate level text and recommended it to a variety of church leaders.
For traditions like Allen’s own Churches of Christ and others shaped by modern, Enlightenment sensibilities, Allen extends an invitation to consider in new ways how giving attention to the Holy Spirit makes a practical difference in the life of congregations, opening up the full range of possibilities for churches living in the Spirit’s power. His insistence, on the other hand, that the Holy Spirit’s work be understood as ecclesial, embodied in structures and practices, also invites those traditions borne of the modern Pentecostal movement to consider again what it means to be a people of the Holy Spirit. Here he adds his voice to those of Pentecostal scholars like Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Amos Yong, who are among those Allen characterizes as more “self-critical” (24). Taken together, Allen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit is orienting, full of both adventurous challenge and reassuring wisdom.
In the missional church literature, little has been written so focused on pneumatology. While trinitarian themes are prominent in the missional literature, this has yet to translate into much focus on the Holy Spirit. Craig Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Baker, 2007) is a notable exception, but Allen’s book distinguishes itself in terms of its more comprehensive treatment of pneumatology and in the way it ties the developments of a renewed interest in the Holy Spirit with the emergence of a post-Christendom missional theology. These side-by-side developments form the thesis of the book. As Allen states it in the opening chapter, “The diminishment of mission and the Spirit’s work in the Christendom centuries went hand in hand; so it is that after (neo-)Christendom the recovery of mission and of the Spirit go hand in hand” (28; italics original). Allen continues, “The Spirit of God empowers and guides the mission of God. In this book I want to show how one relates to the other” (29).
Allen does this primarily by focusing on pneumatology, highlighting different aspects of the Spirit’s identity and work, making sure to note the connections to the mission of God. Along the way, the reader is treated to pictures of the Holy Spirit as an empowering presence, as a gift giver, as a community builder, and as a life bringer. These pictures are anchored in the significant theological categories of the Triune God, a cruciform christology, and the eschatological theme of the kingdom of God.
Allen is adept at enumerating complex topics in digestible points. Time and again, he guides the reader with helpful summaries: Five reasons pneumatology and mission have resurfaced simultaneously as themes (24–28), three phases of the Spirit’s imparting to Jesus (67–68), four dimensions of the Spirit’s work in prophetic/eschatological perspective (87–88), three ways the New Testament refers to the work of the Spirit (89–90), and the list could go on. These lists have a wonderful way of orienting the reader to Allen’s argument, even if they’ve lost the line somewhere along the way in the prose. This adds to the impression that, while the book is a learned treatment, Allen is writing for a broad audience, which places certain limitations on the depth of the argument.
Given the nature of the book, I was left wanting more in a few places. I’ll note only two. I agree for the most part with Allen’s historical analysis of Christendom and the way it restricted categories like mission, eschatology, and the Holy Spirit. The heroes in this telling are not the reformers Luther and Calvin but members of the radical tradition of “baptists,” who emphasize the church as a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” and “expected the preaching of the gospel to produce visibly reformed congregations” (42–43). Later in the book, Allen describes the church “on mission” as “God’s contrast society, an alternative community modeling a new humanity and called to be a ‘light to the nations’ ” (174), a view of the church very much in keeping with the “radical tradition.” There are those, however, who find the church “on mission” not first as a “contrast community,” but as more directly world engaging, precisely on pneumatological grounds—because the Spirit always precedes the church in the world and may be discovered beyond and outside of the confines of a contrast community. These are often Roman Catholic liberation movements who see the church formed by praxis with the Spirit at the margins. This is not an either/or distinction, as Allen demonstrates, but may be an important primary/secondary distinction, or even a methodological one. At any rate, I wanted more discussion along these lines.
On a more positive note, I was struck by Allen’s discussion of Jesus’s dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was not a self-possessing, autonomous actor but was precisely the “exact imprint” of God as a person imbued with the Holy Spirit—a porous self, a person constituted in relation to another. This has immediate implications for theological anthropology, blurring the lines between the individual and the communal, changing our understandings of being filled with the Spirit, making greater sense of the participatory language related to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and on and on.
A good book has you scribbling in the margins, sparking the imagination, because there is a surplus of meaning. This is a very good book.
Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry
Rochester Hills, MI, USA