Spirit Empowered Theology: a book review

With over 65 years in ministry and with conviction and experience of the Spirit moving in power Charles Carrin, D.D. has compiled a one-volume resource aimed at helping ordinary Christians understand, articulate, and experience the Christian life.

9780800798178  Spirit-Empowered Theology is comprised of 300 questions organized under headings which are roughly reminiscent of a traditional systematic theology. Carrin discusses who God is, who we are, the nature of Scripture, the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection,  the Kingdom of God, the Church, the five-fold offices of the church, Spiritual gifts, deliverance ministries, the foundations of faith, doctrinal variations, various heresies, God’s plan for Israel, significant events and people in Christian history,  Creationism, the Covenant and the meaning of various terms.

As this is a concise overview of the Christian Faith, theology, history and practice (from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective), the answers to the 300 questions Carrin poses are brief. Carrin has an index but no bibliography or footnotes (though he obviously referenced a number of works in compiling this resource).  His consulting editors include John and Carol Arnott, Bill Johnson, Stephen Chitty, R.T. Kendall, Randy Clark, Michael Peterson, Leif Hetland and Jack Taylor (19).  This list favors pastors and practitioners who are open to manifestations of the Spirit (Kendall may be the one theologian in the mix). Notably absent from the list are folks like Amos Yong, Wolfgang Vondey, Frank Macchia, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen or other scholars from a maturing Charismatic/Pentecostal academia. Even Wayne Grudem’s charismatic friendly Systematic Theology is never referenced. This isn’t so much a criticism but an observation. This may be a ‘theology’ but it is conceived as a practical resource, not an academic tome.

Carrin’s theology affirms traditional Christian doctrine: God is One and Three, revealed to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. Salvation comes through trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord and the efficacy of his death and resurrection, the Bible is God’s Word and contains the truth about God, Jesus, us, the world, and the coming Kingdom.  As a ‘Spirit-Empowered’ resource, Carrin emphasizes the experiential dimension of the Christian life (i.e. signs and wonders, prophesy, healing, Spiritual gifts, deliverance, etc). This Charismatic perspective pervades and there is no pretended objectivity on this point.  For example, after a matter of fact summary of What cessationism is (146-47), Carrin writes, “This is religious absurdity. Ignore it.” (147).  It is also pretty clear that he favors an Arminian perspective over Calvinism (207-209).

The Christian history sections (Part 14 and 15) are underwhelming for me. Carrin does a nice job of highlighting significant moments in Christian history, but with 1-5 paragraphs per entry, these events are brief sketches without much color. The profiles of significant figures in Christian history are even briefer (a paragraph apiece). You could find out more about these events and people from Wikipedia (and in many cases actually have footnotes to chase down for research). There is more a chronology of events/people as good historiography would give more in the way of context and analysis. As a lover of Church history, this section of the book is a disappointment, though it was interesting to see which events/people Carrin chose to highlight.

There are other aspects of the book where I didn’t find myself in complete agreement with Carrin (i.e. his discussions of science and Israel come to mind). However, I think a resource like this which provides Charismatic laity with practical and pastoral answers to theological questions is to be applauded. With the brevity of answers, this almost a ‘bathroom reader’ of Charismatic theology.  It is also an at-a-glance resource when particular questions arise. I appreciate Carrin’s summary of (his perspective on) demonology, demonism and Spiritual warfare.

I give this book three-and-a-half stars and recommend it for Charismatic lay folk. If theology and church history is your jam, you will find Carrin overly brief, and lacking in nuance on a number of points. However, if just want a quick resource which is traditional, responsible and friendly to a charismatic worldview (and open to the Spirit’s movement), this is a good book for you.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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