Guide to Acts Looks Anew at Persecuted Missionaries, Community & Miracles

Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts by Matthew L. Skinner (Brazos Press, 2015) addresses the challenges and even the commotion caused by the Gospel message as delivered in the book of Acts.

Skinner, a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., has provided a road map for navigating 26 important passages from a book that is often passed over in sermons and personal study due to the unique challenges it presents for today's Christians.

"Whether by sending people out to declare the good news about Jesus, preserving a shipload of desperate travelers during a violent storm, miraculously liberating persecuted missionaries from imprisonment, or creating communities where people gather together to worship, learn, and care for one another, the intrusive God who inhabits the pages of Acts repeatedly engenders 'no little disturbance' [Acts 19:23] in the lives of Jesus's followers and the wider population," Skinner writes in his book.

In his preface, Skinner said he anticipates his work "kindles for [readers] deeper reflections and ongoing conversations with other people about who God is and how we know God."

This awareness of community among believers is something that marks Skinner's work; while it is addressed to a reader, it is full of consciousness that believers belong to a body, the Church, and that understanding the presentation of the Gospel in Acts has an effect on a believer's perception of himself or herself within the context of other believers.

In an endorsement of Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel, Walter Brueggemann of Columbia Theological Seminary wrote about the new study's importance in a Christian context. "Matthew Skinner probes the book of Acts in an impressively effective way," Brueggemann said. "His study shows the way in which the narrative text of Acts continues to be compelling for the church's self-understanding and mission."

One of the challenges of Acts that Skinner immediately discusses is the miraculous signs of God's power as portrayed in healings and other ministries performed by the apostles.

Skinner echoes many Christians' doubts about a lack of miracles in their understanding of Christianity today.

"Maybe, then, our question shouldn't be, 'Has God changed since Acts was written?' but instead, 'Have our imaginations and expectations about God become too confined? Too one-dimensional? Too cautious?'" Skinner argues.

"Acts might prompt us to ask deeper questions about what is real, and about what God might make possible in our lives and our neighbors' lives," he writes.

Jaime Clark-Soles, associate professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University, said about the book: "[W]hat is a twenty-first-century Christian to do with such an unusual collection of stories about the early years of our faith?" Acknowledging the difficulty that Acts can present to contemporary Christians, Clark-Soles expressed confidence in Skinner's experience with Acts scholarship.

"Chapter by chapter, Skinner teaches us, raises crucial questions—the raw, complex questions that we real readers have—and then offers bold conclusions born from his observations as both a scholar and a Christian," Clark-Soles said.

Of himself on his website, Skinner said, "I'm interested in what the Bible says and how people continue to interact with it today."

"Understanding the Bible involves knowing something about where it came from, the ways it tells its stories, and its ability to fuel people's imaginations about God and what God makes possible," he continued.

Two complementary forces Skinner identifies as inherent in Acts is the book's disclosure of who God is, how He acts, and how He grows His church, while at the same time conceding Acts does not seek to explain in detail the mystery of God's character and behavior.

Holding these two apparent contradictions in harmony while showing the reader practical theology revealed in Acts is one of Skinner's great achievements in Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel.

The academic tone of the book would make it suitable for both classroom or church use, while the short, text-based chapters also make it fitting for personal or small group study.

Skinner's book was released in late September. An excerpt of the introduction and first chapter may be downloaded from the publisher here.

This article was originally published in Christian Examiner. 

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