Book Review – Fire and Blood (Mark Stibbe)

In this book, Mark Stibbe explores the relationship between the work of the Spirit and the work of the cross. He recognises there is a divide in evangelicalism between those whose primary emphasis is the cross and those whose primary emphasis is the Spirit. Some are after holiness, others healing; some ask for more of the cross, others for more power. Stibbe seeks to show in this book that the two are not necessarily in opposition to one another – the Spirit leads us to the cross, and the cross leads us to the Spirit.

Part One of the book explores the fact of the cross, and in particular highlights the role of the Spirit. The Spirit’s role in the Old Testament was to give the prophets a vision of what was to come – the suffering Messiah and his exaltation. He then moves on to consider the life and death of Jesus. Jesus was not just man of the cross, but man of the Spirit. The Spirit anointed Jesus for works of power and for affliction.

The Jordan experience was an anointing for sacrifice as well as an empowerment for service.

Stibbe argues that the Spirit enabled and empowered Jesus right to his death. Though he was lonelty, he was not alone. He sees evidence of the Spirit’s presence in Jesus’ prayer of “Abba, Father”. Drawing on Gordon Fee’s commentary, he shows how Col 1:10,11 reveals that the power of the Spirit is not always for signs and wonders, but is also power for endurance and patience. This is the power of the Spirit that Jesus experienced at the cross.

Finally in the first section of the book, Stibbe shows how Calvary led to Pentecost, and in particular, how Pentecost marked a new era in how the Spirit relates to believers. He is now universally, internally and permanently available for all God’s people.

The second part of the book explores the life of the believer. How does the work of the Spirit relate to the cross-shaped life? One of the great advantages of exploring the cross with regard to the work of the Spirit, is that it results in a Trinitarian perspective on the atonement. The Father plans salvation, the Son does the work of salvation, and the Spirit applies our salvation.

The Spirit leads us to the cross in revelation. The cross leads us to the Spirit in regeneration.

He then explores the work of the Spirit under three headings: Jesus saves, heals and delivers. Every salvation is a miracle where the Holy Spirit reveals the power of the cross to an unredeemed mind. But also, the evidence of the New Testament is that even after the ministry of Jesus, the Spirit continued to work miracles of healing. Stibbe’s comments on healing are some of the most helpful I have come across. He does not believe that healing is automatic in the atonement, but at the cross, Jesus defeated the power that lies behind human sickness. As we live in the time between the ages, our prayers for healing are either answered with a “now” or a “not yet”.

Interestingly, he then goes on to argue for a trichotomous human nature (body, spirit, soul). So Jesus saves our spirits, heals our bodies, and delivers our souls, which Stibbe defines as the mind, will and emotions. The Spirit brings deliverance to us in regards to bondage in these areas too.

The final chapter starts by pointing out that the book of Mark falls into two halves – one of miracles, and one of martyrdom. From the first half we might deduce a theology of glory, but from the second, a theology of the cross.

the way of discipleship involves suffering as well as glory, martyrdom as well as miracles, the cross as well as the Spirit.

He goes on to apply this to our sanctification, which is also by the cross and the Spirit. Some emphasise the need for self-denial, for taking up the cross. Others simply focus on being filled with the Spirit. Both work together in our sanctification. Stibbe warns that the neglect of the doctrine of mortification has produced consumeristic believers who want the life of the Spirit without the crucifixion of their flesh. He brings the book to a close with some reflections on how the cross and Spirit help us to face our own death in a hope-filled manner.

This book has much to commend it, and should definitely be on the reading list of anyone who has struggled with the tensions between the differing emphases of the charismatic and evangelical camps. Mark Stibbe is a good writer and packs the book full of helpful illustrations, quotations from a wide variety of theologians and interesting bits of historical background. The thing I most appreciate about this book is how he brings some very necessary correction of emphasis to charismatic theology that has lost sight of the cross, but without ever doing so at the expense of the appreciation of the miraculous work of the Spirit. It is a shame this book is not more well known. If there is another book that explores the connection between the cross and Spirit so well, I am not aware of it (let me know in the comments).

Book Review – The Ordinary Hero (Tim Chester)

I’ve just finished my fourth Tim Chester book now, and have to admit up front that I am becoming a big fan of his writings. Here’s my other reviews of his books…

This one, his latest, subtitled “Living the Cross and Resurrection”, seeks to show how the pattern for Christian living is modelled on the cross of Jesus, and our hope for the future is based on the resurrection. The book is broken up into five main sections.

The first section seeks to explain the message of the cross, how it demonstrates God’s love for us, and gives us a new status. He shows how an appreciation of the cross gives us humility and confidence, as we look at God and ourselves in the light of the cross.

The second section then expands on how we live the way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross – a life characterised sacrifice, submission, self-denial, service and suffering. A powerful chapter entitled “Everyday Martyrdom” illustrates very practically what it means to follow the way of the cross each day. Counter-intuitively for our culture, this way of self-denial is actually the way of joy.

The way of the cross impacts on both our big life choices and our small daily actions. It really does include both martyrdom and washing up.

The third section, explores the pattern of the cross and resurrection – suffering followed by glory. There is no route to glory that avoids the cross, and so all evangelism must include the call to follow the way of the cross. Although our mission takes place in the power of the Spirit, it is to be characterised by humility, service and love.

It is in this section that some of his slightly controversial material is to be found. He is strongly critical of the desire to win the world by appearing successful, large, or powerful, and much of what he argues for in these chapters cuts right across the grain of what you might hear in many contemporary evangelical and charismatic churches, especially within the “church growth” movement. In fact, if anything, he seems to be suggesting that being small and weak are an integral part of our witness to the way of the cross.

The fourth section is on the power of the resurrection – power to be weak. Again, this may not be what you are used to hearing, with most teaching on power being related to how we overcome and are victorious in life. Tim Chester points out how often New Testament verses that promise power immediately go on to talk about suffering. We have power to suffer, power to be weak. It is not power for victory over suffering, but power to follow the way of the cross. Again, he is critical of the modern church that has taken its model of leadership from the world, rather than following the pattern of the cross.

The fifth section deals with the promise of the resurrection and hope. Here, he includes a very helpful chapter clearing up some common misconceptions of “heaven”. Our hope is not to go to heaven, but for a future when heaven will come down to earth. Our hope is for a future world characterised by justice, love and joy. This is a world worth living and dying for. It is a world taking risks for. We are to consider ourselves pilgrims, and store up heavenly treasure by being generous with earthly treasure.

Already Not Yet?

There are a few points that will make for difficult reading for charismatic evangelicals such as myself, as he is critical of “power evangelism”, and charismatic “highs and healings”. The difficulty lies in answering the question “to what extent can or should we expect the age to come to break into the future”? Chester does admit to there being a foretaste of what is to come, but seems to have a much lower expectation of God’s power to heal, or even his willingness to relieve us from present suffering, or to bless us in any way that is earthly. I do feel that there are many in charismatic circles who have an “over-realised” eschatology, assuming that we can just claim freedom from suffering and sickness automatically. But I do not believe that there is any problem in our desiring to see signs of the kingdom. As Chester himself acknowledges, the resurrection is not just a future hope, but a present experience.


Despite my slight reservations that he might underplay some of the blessings we can now enjoy through the Spirit, I would say this is another gem of a book from Tim Chester. Seeing the way of the cross as the pattern for the Christian life is thoroughly biblical and it is a tragedy that much of the church has marginalised this message. Also, the call to be a people of hope, based in the resurrection, is too rarely heard, resulting in Christians who live for this age that is passing away, rather than for eternity.