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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Acts 1-14

The Acts of the Apostles is the sequel to Luke's gospel. As I pointed out in our meeting this week, one can wonder why the final order of the books in the New Testament separated these two volumes by putting the Gospel of John in between - it seems a strange choice. But the emphasis on the gift of the Holy Spirit that drives and shapes John's account of the Last Supper, and therefore in many ways shapes his gospel as a whole, actually makes it a great lead-in to the agenda of Acts. For while Luke's gospel is concerned with the person of Jesus Christ – his life, teachings, death and resurrection – this book is focused on the efforts of the believers to figure out what to do next. The risen Christ has left the scene; now what?

The answer, gloriously made evident in the second chapter, is Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. This event makes the assertion that the disciples' message, their mission, their choices and decisions, are all being guided not by their own desires and hopes but by God. This underlying statement of faith shapes all of Luke's further narrative. For the second answer to "now what?" is the creation of the Christian Church as a community of faith that is linked to but distinct from its Jewish roots – and that is impelled forward by the same Spirit.

The early chapters focus on the disciples in Jerusalem slowly expanding the community of believers; the center here is the leadership of Peter, though with lovely episodes featuring Stephen's preaching and martyrdom and Philip's fabulous encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Then Paul enters the story, and slowly takes center stage. Though he is to become the preeminent missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jewish population), the widening of the mission field is attributed here to Peter's vision that "what God has made clean, you must not call profane." All people are capable of receiving God's mercy, of receiving God's grace, of receiving God's salvation. Christianity thus begins to emerge as something radically different: not a Jewish sect or reformation or renovation, but a separate entity, a body of believers centered on Jesus Christ and powered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God's plan. The Trinity as a means of understanding God takes shape not as a theological concept but as an embodied reality. This movement is not yet complete - the arguments still need to be made and settled and acted upon in the chapters to come - but the movement is inexorable.