Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God

By: Nimi Wariboko
Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Frank D. Macchia, Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. x + 345pp. $32.00 paperback.

“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!

Tags: ,

Nimi Wariboko
This entry was posted by on Saturday, January 8th, 2011 at 6:00 am and is filed under Book Reviews, Pentecostal Manifestos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God”

  1. Frank Macchia says:


    Thanks for the review. On the positive side, your opening description of my central intent was spot on. You rightly noted that I use the typically Pentecostal metaphor of Spirit baptism to work towards a larger trinitarian understanding of justification, especially within the context of divine koinonia. This larger trinitarian context of my pneumatological interest, which significantly includes a prominent place for the faithfulness of Jesus as the man of the Spirit, is missed by Mark Seifred’s review (forthcoming in the Religious Studies Review) when he wrongly labels my position “Osianderan” (meaning for Seifred “idolatrous”), not a very accurate or insightful reading of either Osiander’s argument or mine in relation to his. Essentially what I’m after is a vision of justification as God’s gracious embrace of alienated and ambiguous life in Christ and by the Spirit of koinonia, an embrace that is both transformational and forensic. This divine embrace finds ultimate fulfillment (and vindication) in the resurrection of the dead and the new creation (including the communion of saints).

    What follows from your insightful beginning, however, are a few generalized criticisms that lack appreciation for the major accents and strengths of my work against the background of current discussions on justification. For example, I don’t know why you felt the need to inform me that justification involves our communal life together and the social dimension of our existence, given the fact that I devote an entire chapter to making the same point (entitled, “The Spirit and the Other: The Justified Community, pages 258 – 292). I then follow this in my climactic chapter by viewing justice (and not only love) as characteristic of the triune koinonia, thus grounding the social doctrine of justification dogmatically. My goal in part was to accept the recent work being done among the new perspectives on Paul to develop a social doctrine of justification beyond the narrow Western interest in our individual status with God and towards the larger covenantal and social themes that couch the doctrine biblically. My task, however, was to note that both sides of the Catholic and Protestant traditions (including their coming together ecumenically in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) reach for something more, namely, a pneumatological and, ultimately, trinitarian integration (usually lacking among new perspective advocates). It occurred to me that trinitarian koinonia seen from the lens of justice as characteristic of the divine life can provide a way of bringing these new perspectives on Paul and Catholic-Protestant ecumenical concerns together. In a way, mine is a social doctrine of justification but developed from within the indwelling Spirit’s eschatological task of bringing creation into the embrace of trinitarian koinonia.

    In the light of the above discussion, I find it even more puzzling that you would criticize me for insufficiently engaging contemporary voices that might nuance or balance stereotypical Catholic and Protestant approaches to justification! As I noted above, how Catholics and Protestants sought precisely this kind of nuance and balance is at the very heart of the book. Though I do attempt in my early chapters to describe how the stereotypical divide between Catholics and Protestants evolved historically, I am far more interested in showing how voices on both sides of the debate have reached across the division of “transformational” and “forensic” to at least imply a pneumatological (and even trinitarian) integration. The nuance and balance that you seek is apparent in my engagement with a number of significant voices across the spectrum, both historic and contemporary, including what I regard as the most significant mediating voices and ecumenical documents of recent.

    Lastly, you criticize my pneumatology as deficient (not “robust” enough) without much explanation other than that it is “Western.” My pneumatology is not developed abstractly but rather within the Spirit’s mission through the Christ event (including the atonement) to turn all of creation into the dwelling place of God in conformity to Christ and to the justice and love of divine koinonia. If you can develop the Spirit’s work in justification within a more robust theological context than that, I am genuinely interested.

    On a more positive note, I did appreciate your remark about the value of engaging non-Western models of the Trinity. By way of clarification, allow me to note the obvious, namely, that justification is a typically Western doctrine (most prominently developed from the Augustinian/Lutheran stream). It thus seemed appropriate to take another look at the trinitarian doctrine that originally framed that stream, especially since I myself am writing from a Western theological context. I am of course aware of non-Western models of the Trinity. But my goal was not so much a thorough re-evaluation of the doctrine of the Trinity on a global scale, but more modestly an indication as to how insights into the justice of trinitarian koinonia can enrich our understanding of the larger framework of interpretation used in current discussions on justification. My remarks on the Trinity in the book, however, are not merely Western (in the ecclesiastical sense of the term), since my appreciation for such things as participation in the triune life and a critical evaluation of Augustine’s psychological model of the Trinity reveal a sensitivity to Eastern concerns as well. But I admit that the trinitarian chapter could perhaps have been more ambitious.

    New Year’s Blessings.

  2. Amos Yong Amos Yong says:

    Ah, what I see above is Nimi the Nigerian pentecostal social-theological ethicist meeting Frank the classical pentecostal-ecumenical theologian; the former sees in _Justified in the Spirit_ all the potential and possibilities for engaging what might be called “the social teachings of the global renewal movement as it meets the church catholic” precisely because the latter had framed such a powerful bridge from a conversation lodged deep within the heart of the western theological tradition through a revisioning of the doctrine by which the (occidental) church stands of falls to one in which the whole creation now becomes the dwelling place of God in the Spirit of Christ! At least this is how I now read the comments as unveiled in this context. Nimi’s own book in the pentecostal manifestos series, coming in one year or so (its not that I’m all that prescient – just that I’m the series co-editor!) will certainly tease out some of the aspects of global pentecostalism’s theology of the socio-ethical methodology, presuming and, at places, explicitly indebted to Frank’s work. And, perhaps shortly after that, it remains to be seen if Steve Studebaker’s scheduled book on the Trinity will have the kind of global scope that is gestured toward in the above exchange (Steve, are you “listening”?!). In any case, readers of this blog will need to read _Justified in the Spirit_ to see that “all this fuss” is indeed funded by the spectacular trajectories opened up by the book (if I may say so myself)!

    • Steve Studebaker says:

      I think Nimi’s point about engaging the global voices raises an important issue for theology in a global context. In order for a theology to have value for a global audience, does it need to address directly global voices? Let’s say, for sake of discussion, that Frank’s book engages only western voices and traditions of thought, but does that mean his constructive argument has nothing to say to a global audience? I don’t think so. I agree with the trend to engage and recognize the value of global voices and work with theologies that emerge from non-Western sources. But I do not think every theological project needs to do so nor that such engagement is necessary for the project to speak to a global audience. My project will address major trinitarian patterns of thought in the Western and Eastern traditions and offer a contribution to these based on theological insight from the Pentecostal tradition and approach to Scripture. I am writing as a North American Pentecostal and interacting with the major traditions that form the context of North American Pentecostalism. I think my work will be useful to theologians working outside the West even though it may not be a global trinitarian theology per se.