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).