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Summer 2006 | Volume 29, Number 3 | Books & Film

Wall Champions Acts’ Relevance

Salvation and calling

CALLED TO BE CHURCH: The Book of Acts for a New Day (Eerdmans, 2006) grew out of an unlikely friendship. From opposite sides of the theological tracks, its two authors — Robert Wall, Seattle Pacific University Paul T. Walls Chair in Wesleyan Theology, a Holiness Wesleyan with Pentecostal roots; and Anthony B. Robinson, a pastor in the United Church of Christ — have taken on arguably the most provocative and polarizing book of the New Testament outside of Revelation.

Called to Be Church took shape during Winter Quarter 2005, when Wall and Robinson cotaught a class on Acts. “We were writing it as we taught it,” explains Wall. Their book discusses Acts from two perspectives. First, Wall interprets the text as Scripture, basing his exegesis on his acclaimed, book-length interpretation of Acts in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon Press, 2004). Then Robinson adapts Acts to the issues facing today’s church.

Exploring what Wall calls the “core thematics” of Acts — community, the role of the Holy Spirit, the authority of Scripture, conflict resolution, multiculturalism, the redistribution of goods, how to listen and watch for God at work in the world — Called to Be Church champions Acts’ relevance in our time. “These are necessary themes for today’s church to lay hold of,” the SPU faculty member contends, “and they become the prompt to act in certain ways.”

Wall and his co-author together argue that Acts is more about calling than about salvation. “In Acts, you are saved and immediately given a task,” says Wall. “The endgame is ministry and witness. People do not get saved to do nothing except go to heaven. People get saved to be about the hard work of ministry. But a lot of people don’t understand that. That’s why Acts is in the Bible.”

Taking a stance that has earned Wall “some heat” from scholarly colleagues, Called to Be Church suggests that Acts should be read not as volume two of a two-volume narrative that begins with Luke’s gospel, but as a bridge between a fourfold gospel and Paul’s epistles. “I believe the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit put together the Bible to be read sequentially,” says Wall. “The problem, however, is that most Protestant Christians start with the Pauline letters, which cannot be properly understood outside the context of the fourfold gospel and Acts.”

One colleague who agrees with Wall is Richard Hays, Duke Divinity School Ivey Professor of New Testament and author of The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Hays, who will be the featured guest for a November 2006 President’s Symposium at SPU, says, “The narrative coherence, or narrative linearity, of the biblical story, and the argument that the canonical placement of Acts between the gospels and the epistles is actually theologically significant, is one of the themes in Wall’s work that is very important for students to grasp — and for preachers to grasp as well.”

Editor's Note: Called to Be Church can be purchased at or

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