“To be justified is to participate in the fullness of pneumatic existence, which means the risen and glorified Christ as well as communion of love enjoyed among Father, Son, and Spirit” (14-15). This is the kernel of the book, the beginning and the end. In this one move Frank Macchia (a noted Pentecostal systematic theologian at Vanguard University, California) renders suspect the stereotypical-historic Protestant and Catholic approaches to justification. He renders inadequate, moves pass, and incorporates the Protestant legal, forensic overtones of justification as well as the Catholic emphasis on habitual grace and infused virtues, and then reconciles them within “the Sprit’s embrace and witness” (pp. 293-321).
From now on all rigorous and valid thinking on justification must start and end in the fullness of life in the Spirit. This is the demand Macchia rightly makes on justification theology as he pushes for a Trinitarian understanding of salvation. His is a distinctly Pentecostal theology of justification that accents indwelling or baptism in the Spirit as its core and essence. Macchia’s quest redefines the contours of the very Pentecostal theology from which it sallies forth to significantly revise and upgrade the received wisdom on justification. The received wisdom is impacted and infused with the impress of the Holy Spirit (pp. 6-11).
This impress is set within a perichorectic and koinoniac model. As he puts it: “the substance of divine justification is based in the communion of divine love, which is opened to creation through the Christ event and the embrace of the Spirit’s indwelling that leads to the eschatological fullness of life in resurrection and glorification. Life in the Spirit is at the core of justification and is thus communal as well as individual, while it involves a faith that is expressed in love and is nourished by hope” (p. 12).
Macchia’s overall achievement in this book is that for the first time a theologian has been able to seamlessly knit together the imputed righteousness of Protestants and impacted righteousness of Catholics in a tight trinitarian framework by placing the indwelling Spirit at the very substance of justification. The Spirit is essential to the Father’s and Son’s work. The Spirit is essential in the believers’ participation in the crucified and risen Christ.
In the very strength of the book lies its weakness. Macchia’s conception of the Spirit is not robust enough to accommodate indigenous, non-Western understandings of spirit (entity and non-entity) within the Trinitarian framework he has built. Pentecostalism is a global phenomenon and the conception of the Spirit or even Trinity (and trinitarian principles) must seriously consider non-Western ideas.
As helpful as Macchia’s discussion is, one still asks for more. Macchia does not point us to “how we should live.” Pentecostal theology is about helping us to live well in the fullness of life in the Spirit. The Pentecostal understanding of salvation and justification as borne by the root metaphor of Spirit baptism is never only about the liberty of the proclaimed word of God or infusing of virtues into condemned life, but also about how we should live together, play in the joyful presence of God, and surpass ourselves and reach for the new. Pentecostal theology of justification succeeds not only because it has unified imputed and impacted righteousness in a integrated Trinitarian framework founded on Spirit’s embrace, but also because it crafts into its core the Pentecostal principle of social existence. Are individual lives justified apart from the sum of their lives, how they hang together in social structures, and how they “indwell” one another by their liberating participation in the indwelling Spirit?
Finally, the book mainly engages the stereotypical (historic) Protestant and Catholic approaches to justification but insufficiently engages with the contemporary varied, more nuanced, and appropriately balanced theologies of justification. The theology of justification cannot be easily dissected into historic Catholic and Protestant branches, ethical (in nobis) and non-ethical (extra nos), or Christological and pneumatological emphases.
The preceding three critical comments should not distract us from the singular importance of this work. Macchia conceived his project well and executed it beautifully. To read this book is to encounter a mind that is sharp, perspicacious, a mind that has depth, breadth, nuance, and is nimble enough to soar, see, and follow the subtle and finest turns and twists of beautiful ideas. It celebrates beauty. This is beauty in the old fashioned sense: balance, harmony, neatness, clarity, precision, fitness, content, and purpose sculptured into ancient Greek art. Macchia has made Pentecostal theology beautiful!