by Patrick Schreiner
How does the theology of the Book of Acts tie together? Is it all about the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Samaria and Judea, and then to the world? In The Mission of the Triune God, Patrick Schreiner is going to make the case that the purpose of Acts is to reassure “Christians of the nature and plan of God” (Location 283). It is a book of encouragement meant to help in the renewal process of a church that was growing, but in fits and starts.
Schreiner makes his case by highlighting seven themes in Acts that “summarize Luke’s main theological aims…” (location 325). These themes are, “(1) God the Father orchestrates; (2) through Christ, who lives and rules; and (3) through the empowering Spirit; (4) causing the word to multiply; (5) bringing salvation to all; (6) forming the church; which (7) witnesses to the ends of the earth” (328).
The rest of the book unpacks each of these themes, tracing them through the Book of Acts and explaining how they contribute to the overall purpose and intent of the author. Schreiner argues that God the Father is often let out of discussions about the theme and purpose of Acts. But the entire mission of the church starts with the Father and His orchestration. “This is his symphony. This is his masterpiece” (525). Christ gives the resurrection life that is needed, and the Spirit empowers the church to take the message of that life to the world. The result of this is that the Word multiplies and increases and salvation begins to spread to all flesh. The result of this is that the church is established and the witness of the church is taken to the ends of the earth.
Schreiner’s work has a lot of strengths. He has clearly thought through the structure of Acts, and his documentation of texts to support his structure is strong. The trinitarian emphasis is one that readers, pastors, and churches need to seriously consider. Too many sermon series on Acts focus on “the acts of the apostles,” or “the further acts of Jesus Christ.” These are not wrong, but they are incomplete. We can do better. There is a glorious conductor orchestrating the events of this book, and nothing happens by mistake. I especially appreciated Schreiner’s emphasis on the seven major themes in Acts. While the author acknowledges that other themes could be used, the seven that he chooses clearly and easily tie the content of Acts together, and help the reader see the flow of the book in a way that is clear and consistent with the intent of the author.
The book does have some weaknesses. There are multiple statements in the book about the “purpose” or “intent” of Acts. I found myself making several notes about the purpose of Acts, then having to go back and try to figure out which purpose statement was the overarching one. There are also a few places where I feel Schreiner overstates his case in order to make each part of Acts fit his thematic structure. Around location 1044, the author argues that “Jesus is painted in eunuch hues.” Maybe this is accurate, but I found the textual support to be lacking. This is often a weakness of works that are developing a theology of a certain biblical book. The author puts together a tremendous structure, but maybe tries too hard to make each element of the biblical book fit that structure.
Schreiner also brings up some thoughts that I had never worked through and that I’m just not sure fall under strengths or weaknesses. He makes the case that the 3000 who died in Exodus 32:28 are remade at Pentecost in response to Peter’s message. He also makes the statement that Christ’s sacrifice is actually applied to those gathered in the upper room at Pentecost, seeming to indicate that those gathered were actually saved at Pentecost? It’s hard to understand the line of reasoning here, as the author does not explain in any detail what he is thinking. I’ll mention one other question that was raised. Schreiner argues that Ananias and Sapphira’s lie and death in Acts 5 is actually an “improper temple offering in contrast to the Levite’s gift.” While I guess this argument could be made, at a certain point you have to ask again if the text is being molded into the desired theological structure.
I don’t want to close on a down note. There are some truly excellent moments in this book. Schreiner’s explanation for the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit after being saved (but not immediately after) is very insightful. Overall, the author has made a strong contribution to the field of theology, especially understanding the theological flow of a particularly challenging book of the Bible. The strength of the work is it’s overall structure and flow, which are excellent. The reader will have to decide if the details that seem to be falling short are truly that or if the author is correct in his decisions. Either way, you will come away with a deeper appreciation for our triune God, and how He is at work in the early church.