In the Marvel Universe, the Hulk demands attention. His alter ego, Bruce Banner, exercises a genius mind in his humanity. Yet, the over-whelming, brute power of the Hulk stirs anticipation of excitement and all one wants to scream is “Hulk SMASH!” Both characters bring exercise their gifts in the Marvel universe. Banner exerts his intelligence and the Hulk operates with force. Still, they are distinct. When the frail humanity of Banner disappears, the raw power of the Hulk emerges.
Many Christians, including J. Rodman Williams, perceive the baptism of the Holy Spirit within a similar dichotomy. They live in their own intellectual abilities and limited humanity. They read and study the Scriptures but the real power lies in a spiritual force that seizes complete control over mind and body. Like Banner resuming his humanity, so the Christian resumes his own limited humanity when the event is complete. Is this a correct understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Another view, held by Dr. Gregg R. Allison and Dr. Wayne Grudem, that baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift given at once upon salvation rather than an out of body experience. The Holy Spirit is not a force that overtakes the body to give an experience but a person who indwells the Christian. He empowers the Christian as a gift proceeding from God the Father and the Son.
Is the doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit describing an out of body experience as understood by Williams? Or, does Scripture teach the understanding of Allison and Grudem? Williams’ view of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is worth an inquiry. His interpretation of Scripture, especially in the book of Acts, will be examined. Then, his application of the Scriptures observed will be reviewed. The alternate view of Allison and Grudem will be considered as well by observing their interpretation and application of the same passages used within William’s argument. Both seek to follow the Scriptures in obedience and faithfulness. With the correct context of the Scriptures in mind, the view held by Allison and Grudem attains the better interpretation and application of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Williams begins his argument by giving the background that leads up to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He lets his readers know that the Holy Spirit was promised by the Father and promised only after the exultation of His Son, Jesus. In discussing John 7:39 he states, “Since the word ‘glorified’ in John’s Gospel signifies exalted, this statement shows that the exaltation of Jesus must precede the giving, i.e., the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Once Christ is exalted, the Spirit does not come on his own initiative but proceeds from the Father through the Son. Finally, the gift of the Holy Spirit is for those who have come to salvation in Christ. Williams has an understanding that the disciples had already come to saving faith before the days of Pentecost. He understands the account of the Samaritans, in Acts 8, as a coming to salvation long before receiving the Holy Spirit. Williams views that Saul of Tarsus had also come to a saving faith in Christ long before he received the Holy Spirit in Acts 22. He states, “It was at the moment of the vision vouchsafed to Paul on the road to Damascus that he became a new man in Christ. As one converted, saved, made new…Paul later received the Holy Spirit.” Williams employs the Caesareans in Acts 10 and the Ephesians in Acts 19 as examples of his argument as well. For Williams, baptism of the Holy Spirit comes subsequent to salvation. However, baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an event that happened at one time but something that happens again and again. Williams states that baptism in the Holy Spirit “depicts vividly the idea of being enveloped in the reality of the Holy Spirit.” It is the mind, body, and soul becoming “imbued with the Spirit of God.” This is according to his interpretation of the Greek word “en” found in Acts 1:5. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is a portal to a “new dimension of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.” This argument for a “dimension of the Holy Spirit” is backed by his understanding of being filled by the Holy Spirit. The initial filling of the Holy Spirit can be experienced along with “subsequent fresh fillings” as well. For Williams, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is Him coming onto people from above, enveloping them into His reality, and activating them in their total existence. It is a dynamic presence, an event that takes place, to manifest the glory of God. However, Williams closes his argument with a reiteration “that none of the New Testament accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit are concerned with salvation.”
Allison and Grudem’s View
For Allison and Grudem, the opposite could not be truer. Allison defines the baptism of the Holy Spirit “as the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Holy Spirit on new believers thereby incorporating them into his (Christ’s) body, the church.” Both Allison and Grudem exegete the same passages in Acts that Williams engages. However, unlike Williams, both also use 1 Corinthians 12:13 to give a basis for the argument that the baptism of the Holy Spirit incorporates new believers in Christ’s body.
For Allison, this baptism takes place at salvation. He uses the illustration of water baptism, consisting of four elements, as a foundation for baptism in the Holy Spirit. Water baptism consists of an agent, the one being baptized, the medium, and the purpose of baptism. Likewise, Jesus, the agent, baptizes the new believer in the Holy Spirit, the medium, for the purpose of incorporating the new believer into the body of Christ. In John 1:33, John the Baptist states that he baptizes with water but that Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This is a foundation verse for Allison’s view on baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Both Allison and Grudem reject Williams’ arguement of continuing subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit based on the passages in Acts. Allison defends a view that two out of the six passages should not to be seen as normative. The other receptions were experienced when the fullness of the gospel was realized and, therefore, salvation took place alongside the reception. Grudem affirms this defense as well and states, “It seems therefore that there are no New Testament texts that encourage us to seek for a second experience of ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ that comes after conversion.”
Both Allison and Grudem also affirm the vocabulary of “being filled with the Spirit” but understand its meaning differently than Williams. This idea is accompanied with the initial conversion experiences but is also a descriptor of people’s lifestyle. It is more understood as a continual living in the Spirit that was given to you at salvation. Allison uses Ephesians 5:18 to prove his point and understands that “being filled with the Spirit” here is a command that is continual and received by the Holy Spirit. It is placing oneself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. Grudem affirms this as well and also believes it could be seen as the process of sanctification. This view holds to the fact that baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs at the time of salvation and, with this gift, Christians are continually being molded to the image of Christ.
In light of the context of the passages reviewed, baptism of the Holy Spirit is best understood to happen at salvation. Careful analysis of Scripture backs this understanding and Scripture is the Christian’s authority. First on the understanding of the disciple’s salvation, it seems best at a closer look to affirm the view of Allison. It is well understood that people can know Jesus and even understand his identity without having been regenerated. With the context of all the passages, Peter’s statement in Acts 11:17 does reveal that it was at Pentecost that they came to believe in Jesus Christ.
The account of the Samaritans in Acts 8 would be confusing if it weren’t for the explanatory clause found in verse 16. In agreement with Allison and Grudem, this clause explains the abnormality of the delayed reception of the Holy Spirit. It also states that they believed in the word of God given by Phillip and even Simon believed. When Simon saw the power of the Holy Spirit, however, he offered money to receive this power. This makes one wonder if the belief followed by Phillips exposition was one of facts while the regenerative work of the Spirit was later which then gave way to the baptism of the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid hands on them.
In understanding the abnormality of Saul’s baptism of the Holy Spirit, all the accounts of his testimony must be considered. The fact that Saul encountered Jesus in his vision does not necessarily mean that he was converted at the encounter. Rather, it seems to be that upon further explanation of the gospel by Ananias Acts 22 that brought about Saul’s salvation and initial baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is also true for the account of Cornelius in Acts 10. It seems that a fuller explanation of the gospel by Peter brought about the salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Also, the Ephesians in Acts 19 had understood the message of John the Baptist but had it been further explanation of Jesus that brought about salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
If a person were to say that they received a baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion, it would probably be best to acknowledge that the Spirit does work mightily within the life of a believer. If time permitted, asking poignant questions of what they mean by this phrase and what Scriptural basis they base this experience upon might be helpful to have a fruitful conversation.
Passages on the baptism
of the Holy Spirit are limited. However, upon careful examination the views
held by Allison and Grudem find themselves more faithful to the text than that
of Williams. The Holy Spirit is powerful and empowers those in whom he
indwells. Christians should live in thankfulness that He is poured out upon
salvation and that they can live in the fullness of God’s Spirit. May all
followers of Christ live in the fullness of this baptism.
J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 185.
Williams, Renewal Theology, 188.
Williams, Renewal Theology, 198.
Williams, Renewal Theology, 200.
Williams, Renewal Theology, 202.
Williams, Renewal Theology, 205.
Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16, no. 4 (2012): 5.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 775.
Allison, Baptism, 15.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 782.