Poured Out (Leonard Allen) -- A Review

POURED OUT: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God. By Leonard Allen. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2018. 208 pages.

The Stone-Campbell Movement was born on the American frontier, but it was influenced by the Enlightenment ethos that influenced the founding of the United States. In its origins, this movement was both Biblicist and rationalist, leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to work. Yes, Barton Stone hosted the Cane Ridge Revival, which was known for its spiritual phenomenon, but for Alexander Campbell and many of his followers, the Holy Spirit was enshrined in the pages of the New Testament. This was the perfect spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13, which led to the closing of the age of miracles. Now the Spirit worked through the Word. Miracles, tongue-speaking, prophesy—they were things of the past, not the present. That rather narrow vision of the Spirit has begun to change. Across the movement, whether in the Churches of Christ, the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, or the Disciples (my tradition), there have been efforts made to explore the ways in which the Spirit is at work today.  As a Disciple, I have written my own book on the Spirit—Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakeningand am always looking for new expressions of interest in the work of the Spirit, both inside and outside our movement. Thus, I am pleased to see the publication of Poured Out, written by Leonard Allen. Allen comes out of the Churches of Christ, and thus he adds another layer to the story of the work of the Spirit within the Stone-Campbell Movement. While this book emerges out of Allen’s own context, it is not just a book for members of his branch of the movement. This is an offering to the broader church of Jesus Christ.

In the preface to the book, Allen, who is Dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at David Lipscomb University, notes that the book has its origins in two lectures given in 2015 as part of Rochester College’s annual Streaming Conference in 2015. I want to take note of this, because I was at the conference and got to talk with the author about how our movement has understood the Holy Spirit. I appreciated what he had to say in his presentations, and even though we come out of two different branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, I found that our views coincided. Therefore, I am glad that he followed up on those lectures and wrote this book, which I hope will have wide distribution.  

Although this book is deeply rooted in scholarship, it remains a very accessible book that should merit close reading by pastors and interested laypersons (I use these terms loosely as clergy/laity distinctions are not as prevalent in the Churches of Christ as they are in the Disciples). In his preface, he speaks of the four elements that mark the book. First, he wants to make clear that "the Holy Spirit is not a junior member of the Trinity." This is important to note because our Movement has shown a strong ambivalence toward the Trinity. His chapter on the Trinity is brief but thorough, and by itself is very helpful. The second area of focus is his belief that the "Holy Spirit is the power of God's inbreaking reign or kingdom." There is a chapter on the Spirit and the Kingdom, but the chapter on mission, which closes the book is also an expression of this belief. The third point is one that parallels my own work, in that he emphasizes that the Spirit is not tame. The Spirit is not the "'shy member'" of the Trinity, but is active in our midst, today and not just yesterday. Finally, he emphasizes the role of the Spirit as the "giver of life." We see this expressed in chapters titled "Soaring," which explore the role of the Spirit in empowering believers, while in the chapter titled "Groaning," he notes the role that the Spirit plays in moments of suffering and difficulty. 

I greatly appreciate his focus on mission, and more specifically Allen’s belief that the Spirit is the initiator of mission. It is a call to our common Movement to pay attention to the Spirit as we engage in mission, and that as we go forth in the power of the Spirit, we are to do so in a way that is reflective of a Trinitarian theology. As a Trinitarian myself, I agree that the Spirit gets lost when we do not speak of God in Trinitarian terms. True to the Movement, Allen makes sure that he grounds this Trinitarian vision in the New Testament. He writes that "the explicit doctrine of the Trinity that gradually emerged in the first four centuries was not simply a philosophical construct imposed back upon Scripture but rather a result of the necessary work of filling out the New Testament's pervasive triadic language about God as the gospel mission engaged Greco-Roman culture" (p. 63).  For a movement that is non-creedal and that is dependent on the witness of Scripture, it is important to ground one’s Trinitarian theology in the biblical record, and he does this quite well.

When it comes to mission, Allen recognizes that there is a place for traditional cross-cultural missions, in which missionaries are sent out to proclaim the Gospel. At the same time, he reminds us that what were once mission-sending countries are now mission-receiving nations. It is important that we understand the work of the Holy Spirit in a missional sense. That is, we are all participants in God's mission—"wherever we are, we bear witness to the forgiving, healing, freeing, and justice-bringing power of the Gospel" (p. 179). I believe this vision of Spirit-initiated and empowered mission, that Allen speaks of is one that Disciples, who are considered more liberal than the Churches of Christ, can embrace. I also parallels, I believe, my own work on the Spirit—as noted earlier, I believe that the two of us are of similar mind on many aspects of the work of the Spirit.

As for the Spirit’s role in the life of the Christian, Allen warns us against pursuing a mind-body/spirit-matter dualism. He reminds us that the message of the Gospels is one of incarnation, not excarnation. He writes that in the biblical view, the physical world is good and that the “Spirit is not opposed to material things and to human bodies” (p. 123). Worship is at the center of this Spirit-filled life that he speaks of, as is mission, both of which are reflections of God’s presence in our midst. This might involve groaning, for life in the Spirit is not a guarantee of freedom from suffering or of success in life. As he writes, “in the Spirit we share in the groaning and travail of creation, but this groaning is filled with hope because the Spirit assures that we are adopted children of God and heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:14-25)” (p. 171).  

Again, having been present at the inception of this book, I am thankful for the publication of Poured Out. I believe it has much to offer members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, who struggle with the idea of the Spirit moving in a dynamic way. But, I also believe that this book should have an audience well beyond the Movement that gave it birth. Thus, I highly recommend it to all who would desire to consider what the Spirit is doing in our midst!

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