The Restorationist Theology of Acts?

I am reading I H Marshall’s Tyndale commentary on Acts at the moment, and under the heading of the “Theology of Acts” he discusses the theme of “the continuation of God’s purpose in history”. Underneath that, he makes the fascinating four points (on p24). Interestingly, I feel they reflect an understanding of the church that is very similar to the “Retorationist” outlook.

“First, the events recorded in Acts are seen as being brought about by the will and purpose of God”

This included not just the death and resurrection of Jesus, but even the opposition that the church faced. A robust belief in the sovereignty of God will give a church faith to boldly do what he has called them to, knowing that they need not fear consequences that God will not enable them to handle. We are not just trying to survive, we are actively fulfilling God’s purposes in our day and generation.

“… secondly, … the life of the church was regarded as taking place in fulfillment of Scripture.”

In other words, the second coming is not the only Biblical prophecy yet to be fulfilled, but the very spread of the gospel is to be understood as fulfilling Scripture. How long has it been since you heard prayers pleading for fulfilment of prophecies of a worldwide spread of the gospel? Have hermenutical doubts made us afraid of to ask (“that promise isn’t for us”). And maybe a drift to premillenial or a pessimistic amillenial eschatology has lowered our expectations.

Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Jer 31:34 “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”
Num 14:21 “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
Isa 9:7 “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end”

“Thirdly, the life of the church was directed by God at crucial stages.

By this Marshall refers to the direction of the Spirit though angels, prophecies and visions. To be sure, the Bible does give every church its mission and values. However, every church must choose between a million possible good works, and potential ventures of faith, and here is where the charismatic element comes in. Supernatural guidance gives us faith that will cause us to attempt things that seem humanly impossible or foolish. Churches that are open to the present-day prophetic leading of God are in a position to be used to accomplish his kingdom purposes in ways that we would not dare to believe otherwise.

“Fourthly, the power of God was seen in signs and wonders …”

Marshall’s point here is that “the work of the Christian mission can be said to be carried out by God”. The signs and wonders thus served as reminders that the growth of the church was not down to human gifting or good strategy, but the favour of God himself. We are God’s co-workers (1 Cor 3:9). What we achieve is done by the working of his mighty power within us. This realisation causes us to value prayer more, as we realise our total dependence on him, calling on him to work in us and through us. Some charismatics have exaggerated the number of miracles in Acts, as though every Christian performed at least one miracle a day. But correcting that should not result in an anti-supernatural attitude, where we our expectation of God working in power drops to zero.

2 thoughts on “The Restorationist Theology of Acts?

  1. Hi Mark,

    Good post. Interesting thoughts. Appreciate the devotional angle and agree with your observations. Interested to see your title. Having been part of the restorationist/charismatic movement I am very well aware of the way in which Acts is preached over and over to justify the ‘new church ekklesiology’ (have even preached such sermons myself!).

    But does Acts underpin ‘Christian Restorationism’?

    I’ve been thinking some more about the concept of ‘Restorationism’ and have had this thought…

    …that, the ‘restoration’ which we see going on in Luke/Acts is principally the ‘restoration’ of Israel and then the ‘restoration’ of creation (since Israel represents, and has a priestly-mediating vocation for, the World). In Luke/Acts we see this progressive reformational movement of Jesus > Israel > Gentiles, of which the ‘church’ becomes a redefinition (around Jesus) and thus a fusion of the last two steps = Jews who follow Jesus + Gentiles who follow Jesus!

    This one new humanity is part of the core promise of God (c.f. Ephesians) and stands as the prime example and foretaste of the New Creation age-to-come. Within this context ‘miracles’ (mighty works) of healing, resurrection, control over creation etc…become the direct outworking of this disease-free-and-deathless age in which mankind is restored to stewardship over God’s creation and which, starting with Genesis/Abraham, was a very Jewish expectation of God’s plan for the whole world (the gentiles had nothing like this in their theological schemes!).

    The core (and I propose, biblical) idea within ‘restoration’ is thus of transformation/transfiguaration/metamorphosis even re-formation of all creation and life (and not church structures!). The shape and function of the ‘church’ is thus to embody this transformation and become it’s agents (c.f. 2 Cor ‘being the Justice of God’).

    So…if there is no movement towards healing (by whichever process), wholeness, peace, justice, love, reconciliation, wise stewardship, loving marital/parental/family relationships etc…then there is both no transformation and no restoration. This helps provide ‘balance’ for the miracle-obsessed amongst us!

    One can thus talk of the ‘church’ being the embodiment AND agent of restoration/transformation (of the cosmos), but to talk of ‘restoration of the church‘ doesn’t really make sense!

    We need, therefore, to be very careful with our hermenutical lens as we approach Acts. Rather than turning out to be a ‘manual’ of structural ekklesiology (what shape, what form, what leadership), or even a ‘type’ of the ‘true church’ which we need to restore towards – it, instead, challenges us to re-imagine how the Spirit of the transformational Triune God might inspire us to work, live and restore within our own spheres/families/relationships.

    The Jerusalem church appears to have been VERY sacrificial in their giving in the early years – but we later read about the ‘poor church’ in Jerusalem from Paul, along with his advice to keep at your work, earn an honest wage and generally maintain the status quo. Could it be that an early over-realised eschatological hope had led to knee jerk decisions which caused later problems??? Certainly an over-realised eschatology was the problem in Corinth, ‘You are already on your thrones….’ to which Paul has to say, ‘Stay as you are and where God called you’.

    One of my concerns about the restoration movement is that it encourages people to think about life (and eschatology) in the most ‘imediate’ terms which can see people make rash and hasty decisions which they later regret. Certainly Jesus may return any time, but when he does he must find us ‘about our business’ – living our lives, studying at college, marrying, eating, laughing and within all these things embodying the new creation – one step at a time.

    Rather than trying to re-invent (or restore!) the wheel I see the task for the church being how to take the ground covered during the 1st Centuary and move on with it in new, fresh and creative ways. Ways, to be sure, that are in alignment and continuity with the NT era of churches (the ‘apostolic’ era) but being allowed to invent, improvise and allow the mission to define the structures rather than believing that it’s the shape of the structures primarily which provide the success. The so called ‘mission shaped church’ rather than vice-versa.

    When (and if) we start to do this we might just realise that the ‘church’ becomes much broader than we thought and that missional transformation just might be going on in all those so called ‘dead churches and structures’ after all…..

    All the best,


  2. Hi Richard,

    You’ve made a lot of interesting points. I only noticed yesterday that Acts 1:6 is the verse where Andrew Walker’s book title, “restoring the kingdom” is from. Perhaps house churches can at least take heart that they haven’t been the first to “miss the point” when it comes to the exact details of how and when restoration will take place!

    The more I read the NT, the more I think that a properly balanced eschatology (neither ‘under’ nor ‘over’ realised) is key to making sense of a lot of theological issues. We are ‘kingdom’ people – the resistance movement, loyal to the world’s true king while living in a rebel planet. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, praying “thy kingdom come” and crying “Maranatha”. The kingdom is near, here, and yet to appear 😉

    I do like N T Wright’s idea of an “improvised 4th act” you seem to be referring to (or was it 5th?). Acts certainly is not a manual on ecclesiology, but as Marshall has highlighted, it is not lacking in theology either.

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