The Holy Spirit in Mission: Interview with Gary Tyra (Part Two)

April 20, 2012

With this blog post, we continue our interview with pentecostal-evangelical scholar, Gary Tyra, regarding the contribution and implications of his book, The Holy Spirit in Mission, which J.P. endorsed here:

I am hungry to read biblical and theological works that are authored by people with extensive pastoral leadership experience. For that reason alone, I would read your book. For you have over 25 years of pastoral experience! How has your leadership experience informed your approach to The Holy Spirit in Mission? How did that experience factor into your imagination for the writing of this book?

While I would not want to say that the theology of the Spirit I put forward in the book is completely owing to my personal ministry experiences, I will acknowledge that some of the stories I present in the book as contemporary examples of missional prophetic activity do predate the scholarly work that eventually led me to my pneumatological conclusions. I choose to think of this as my formal thinking about the Spirit (my pneumatology) eventually catching up to the actual missional activity he’d been inspiring me to engage in all along.

To be a bit more specific, I suppose that, more than anything else, it was my missional activity as a church planter that made me aware of the need for an approach to Christian ministry that is earmarked by a commitment to both the Word and the Spirit—to being biblically informed and Spirit-empowered. Even though your desire as a church planter is to reach non-Christians with the gospel, you do have seasoned Christians looking for a new church home who wander your way. I found that some of my most perplexing, frustrating pastoral interactions occurred not with new believers, or even non-believers, but with veteran believers who were averse either to the “moving of the Spirit” in the worship services or to my insistence that all spiritual gift expressions be evaluated on the basis of theological, missiological principles provided in God’s word.

Thus, it was, at least in part, this desire as a missional church pastor to see some evangelicals become a bit more open to spiritual experience, and some Pentecostals/charismatics become more committed to a thoughtful, disciplined approach to the study of Scripture, all with the idea of mission in mind, that I went back to the Scriptures in order to forge an understanding of how a biblically informed pneumatology should affect a missional ecclesiology. What resulted from this study was The Holy Spirit in Mission.

In my estimation, substantive literature about the ‘missional’ significance of the Spirit’s work tends to be either an account of the Spirit’s work in creation and redemption OR the Spirit’s work in prophetic speaking and acting. But for you, it is both/and, and so I am wondering if you have a concept of ‘vocation’ that integrates these areas of significance? If so, what might that account look like?

A principal assumption of mine is that the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit who “proceeds” or is sent into the world by both the Father and the Son (Jn 14:26; cf. 15:26). It’s my contention that the fact that both the Father and the Son are responsible for the sending of the Spirit into the world does more than connote the idea of mission, it veritably demands it!

But, for what purpose was the Spirit sent on his mission?

While the Bible clearly indicates the Spirit’s role in creation (Gen 1:2) and the provision of natural life to all of God’s creatures (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4; Ps 104:24-30), the Scriptures go on to indicate that the Holy Spirit also figures prominently with regard to the dynamic of spiritual life.

In the book I refer to many New Testament passages which, when considered collectively, indicate that being filled with, or led by the Holy Spirit is a very important part of the Christian life, from our being convicted of our own need for a savior, to our being empowered to engage in our own witness to Christ.

It occurs to me that what is needed is a missional pneumatology that does justice to both the soteriological pneumatology we seem to find in the writings of Paul, and the vocational/charismatic pneumatology so prominent in Luke-Acts.

So, in the end, I suggest that the biblical record as a whole points toward the reality that the Spirit’s empowerment in our lives will not simply be about boundary marking—who is in and who is out—but about mission.

The Holy Spirit is all about the enablement of Christ’s followers to glorify the Father, in the name of the Son, in such a way as to encourage lost and hurting human beings to accept the invitation to join the divine dance that is going on among the members of the Trinity, experiencing justification, sanctification and empowerment for ministry themselves in the process.

In contemporary ecclesiology literature, sometimes the distinction between the “church gathered” vs. the “church scattered” is made. The distinction can be helpful for realizing that being “the Church” is not only a congregated experience. How does your pneumatology and ecclesiology address or even reshape that distinction?

I’m glad to be able to respond to this question since it provides me an opportunity to underscore a point I make in the book, but only by way of a footnote. Most missional authors will draw a sharp contrast between the attractional/institutional and incarnational/missional ministry models. Since the missional pneumatology I am promoting works toward an empowered church membership enabled by the Holy Spirit to speak and act into the lives of hurting people in homes, neighborhoods, and the marketplace in ways that demonstrate the reality and love of the risen Christ, the emphasis upon the incarnational/missional is very much welcomed.

At the same time, I’m concerned that reading some missional authors can give the impression that if a church spends any significant amount of effort conducting worship/teaching gatherings to which the unchurched are invited, this is an indication that the church is de facto still rooted in an “attractional” versus “missional” ministry paradigm. In other words, the impression given by some missional works is that one must choose between being missional and conducting worship/teaching events to which the unchurched are invited to attend. I view this as a false antithesis.

Along with other missional authors such as Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, Ed Stetzer and David Putnam, I want to suggest that a church can invite community members to some “attractional” gatherings in the hope that they might experience there the convicting, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, while still functioning in an essentially missional (non-institutional) manner within its community. I fully realize that old habits die hard and how that the two paradigms can seem mutually exclusive. However, my personal pastoral experience has been that it’s possible to successfully encourage church members to become more incarnationally engaged in the lives of people outside the church building while also conducting some “attractional” gatherings.

Yet, for many, “ministry” mostly often refers to some activity or role “at the church.” But given your thesis, it seems to me that “ministry” and its “location” becomes more whole-life integrated, if I could put it that way. What do you think?

For sure, my thesis—that the message of Luke-Acts overall seems to be that all Spirit-filled believers possess the capacity to live an “Ananias-kind-of-life” (Acts 9:10-20), will suggest that the primary location for missional ministry will be outside the church building rather than within.

To render to God a missional faithfulness in our homes, neighborhoods and the marketplace is much more than a ministry technique; it’s a lifestyle earmarked by an ongoing sensitivity and obedience to the subtle ministry promptings of the Spirit of mission. As such, it really does require a pretty significant paradigm shift in order for it to be realized in the day-to-day lives of Western Christians who tend prize certainty and control.

The embrace of the missional pneumatology calls for an acceptance of the idea that our days are not necessarily ours to do with as we please, and that the Christian life can and should be an exciting, everyday Spirit-led adventure rather than something we do only on Sundays.

Although your book is not an ethics book per se, I do think there could be some interesting work articulated for Christian ethics that could stand, theologically, on the accounts of the Spirit and mission in this book. What do you think?

In a future book I hope to explore how passages such as Ps 32:8-9 open the door to the idea of an approach to ethics that, informed by a theological and pneumatological realism, takes seriously the possibility of a moral discernment and empowerment provided by the Holy Spirit within the context of sincere Christian discipleship.

As I see it, the problem is that, when facing a moral dilemma, many Christians either simply go with their gut like most non-Christians do, or, if they do engage in some sort of ethical reflection, do so in an unbalanced manner: the focus is rather exclusively on either moral rules or desired consequences; the process is rather exclusively on either the study of Scripture or prayer. Too few Christ followers understand the crucial importance of engaging in a study of Scripture and prayer at the same time, while also doing that which is necessary to put themselves in a position to experience the Spirit-empowered moral discernment that is key to rendering to God the moral faithfulness he deserves and that a missional fruitfulness requires. Thus, the book I have in mind, if it’s ever written, will put forward an approach to ethical decision making that is informed by both the Word and Spirit, and that takes seriously rules, results and roles—an approach I refer to as the ethic of responsible Christian discipleship.

Speaking of ethics, I want to connect readers with an earlier work of yours, Defeating Pharisaism: Recovering Jesus’ Disciple-Making Method (Paternoster, 2009). Specifically, how might ‘Pharisaism’ (as you define it) be an obstacle to the missional, Spirit-empowered vocation of the church?

The ultimate message of Defeating Pharisaism is that once evangelical church leaders recognize how that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount functions in Matthew’s Gospel as a disciple-making polemic against the Pharisees, they can and should better utilize it as the core component of a contemporary disciple-making curriculum and environment that mitigates the presence of Pharisaism in our churches.

Toward this end I argue in that book that:  (1) the earmarks of New Testament Pharisaism are such negative attributes as dogmatism (“I’m right, you’re wrong!”), judgmentalism (“You are such a sinner!”), and pugilisim (“I love a good fight!”); (2) New Testament Pharisaism is alive and well within fundamentalist, evangelical and neo-evangelical expressions of contemporary Christianity; and (3) the presence of these negative attributes is literally destroying the ability of evangelical churches to reach and keep many of the post-Christian members of our society, especially those belonging to the emerging generations. Despite any research that might suggest otherwise, conservative Christianity does indeed have an image problem, as anyone who works with university students can attest.

Now, moving on to The Holy Spirit in Mission, it’s my contention that a spiritual renewal on par with the one currently at work among Pentecostal-charismatics in the Majority World/Global South can happen here in the West should sufficient numbers of evangelical church members (of all stripes) become more responsive to the genuine promptings of the Spirit of mission to speak and act in loving ways into the lives of hurting people all around them. It’s hard for someone who’s just experienced the reality of the risen Christ to continue to ignore or relativize him as just another famous religious leader! However, if these same evangelicals end up engaging in this prophetic activity in a super-spiritual, mean or manipulative (i.e., Pharisaical) manner, all bets are off. So, I deeply appreciate your drawing attention to this earlier work. Absolutely, the manner of our ministry matters, prophetic or otherwise!

Would you say that an intentional ‘missional living’ in the power of the Spirit can be a catalyst for Christian unity among groups that might otherwise be doctrinally splintered in their associations? Are you seeing this happen?

I never tire of repeating my contention that one of the things that both evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have in common is a commitment to the mission. I’ve spent over three decades ministering as both a pastor and academic within the missional nexus between these two theological orientations, absolutely convinced that one doesn’t have to choose between the two.

Before its publication, I presented academic papers based on material that would later appear in The Holy Spirit in Mission at regional and national meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. I’m happy to say that the ideas I presented were enthusiastically received in both settings! Moreover, the very fact that a top-tier publisher with evangelical roots (InterVarsity Press) would publish a book like this could be considered telling. I’d like to think that all this might be an indication that the book can serve as a catalyst for Christian unity around the theme of a missional faithfulness empowered by the Spirit.

The timeliness of your book is evident on a variety of fronts. Not the least of which is your intent to try and integrate something of James Davison Hunter’s “faithful presence” thesis from his latest book, To Change the World (for those that haven’t yet read this, I offer my little review as a way to enter the discussion). What do you see in Hunter at the level of his social theory about “Christian engagement in the world” that resonates with your missional pneumatology?

The main point of resonance for me is his emphasis upon faithfulness. While Hunter challenges the idea that cultural change will result from such things as Christian evangelism, mission, and revivalistic endeavors, I would add the qualifying phrase “as commonly conceived.”

Look, I’m no expert on cultural change theory, but Hunter’s bold analysis and critique of the way the various Christian communities have tried and failed to effect a transformation of culture tends to ring true for me. His encouragement for Christians to, instead of fighting the culture wars, strive to manifest a “faithful presence,” acting as “agents of shalom,” throughout the culture—in their homes, neighborhoods, the marketplace, the academy, the arts, etc.—is one I can heartily support.

However, I would simply add that according to the Scriptures, a principal component of a truly faithful presence can and should be a missional faithfulness that takes the shape of a prophetic evangelism, edification and equipping engaged in by rank-and-file evangelical church members.

I want to talk further about some of the important implications of your thesis. First, given what you say about the “Holy Spirit in mission” should pastoral leadership change, both as a concept and as a practice? If so, how would you articulate the contrast?

First of all, with regard to the concept of pastoral leadership, a major change (for some) might entail a shift toward a serious embrace of not only the concept of the priesthood of all believers, but the prophethood of all believers as well.

I’m convinced that most evangelical church leaders, whether they self-identify as Pentecostal-charismatic or not, are familiar with the phenomenon of prophetic activity—of having the Holy Spirit “take over” and begin to speak and/or act through them as they engage in such pastoral activities as preaching, teaching, counseling, visitation, planning, conducting meetings, etc.

I’m equally convinced that most of these church leaders, knowing how exhilarating, ennobling and effective this experience of “anointing” is, would love to see this Spirit-empowerment at work in the everyday lives of their church members as well.

Who wouldn’t want to see rank-and-file church members living Ananias-kind-of-lives—hearing God’s voice, receiving ministry assignments, speaking and acting at the Spirit’s prompting into the lives of hurting people, making disciples and building up the church in the process? The missional pneumatology asserts the possibility of just such a scenario. This assertion is borne out by the prolific growth of Pentecostalism around the world.

Secondly, with regard to the practice of pastoral leadership, it’s my contention that if the above shift toward the priesthood and prophethood of all believers is to occur in evangelical churches here in the West, the senior leadership of these churches will have to personally embrace the new pneumatology and become intentional about its promotion.

As I indicate in the book, this will call for such things as:

  • sermons that justify prophetic activity over against any philosophical presuppositions, theological positions and psychological perspectives that are contrary to it;
  • the creation of discernment processes and accountability structures that encourage prophetic activity while mitigating the very real potential for abuse;
  • a willingness to encourage church members to gather in small groups in order to pray for spiritual renewal in the church;
  • a concomitant willingness to trust the Holy Spirit with their congregational outcomes.

This is why, in chapter four of the book, I acknowledge that what we’re talking about here is a ministry paradigm shift of major proportions. Still, I’m convinced that all this is doable here in North America precisely because God is in it, and, at the end of the day, most evangelical church leaders really want what God wants.

If there’s to be a shift in how pastoral leadership is conceived, would there also be a need for seminaries and other outlets of theological training and formation to shift how future leaders are trained (and I don’t merely main future ‘vocational pastors’). If so, what might that shift look like? Any leading institutional models on the horizon?

I also include in the book a discussion of how the members of the academy can serve the evangelical movement well as it relates to the topic of the missional pneumatology. In that discussion I refer to more than the obvious need for academicians to inculcate within their ministry-bound students an understanding of the concept of missional ministry in general and the dynamic of missional prophetic activity in particular, and to provide future church leaders with the preaching, teaching and leadership skills they will need to be successful at encouraging their congregants to live their lives in an Ananias-like (i.e., missionally faithful) manner.

I go on to speak of the need for Christian university and seminary professors to provide their students with the intellectual tools they will need to: (1) steer themselves and their peers away from unbalanced, extreme expressions of the Christian faith and congregational life; and (2) to actually present to the members of an increasingly post-Christian culture a witness to Christ that is both coherent and compelling. I go on in this section of the book to boldly call for my fellow academics to actually model for their students some of the cardinal components of the missional pneumatology, and a personal commitment to an orthodoxy that, while faithful to Scripture, is humble (rather than dogmatic and arrogant) in the manner in which it’s presented to others.

As for leading institutional models on the horizon, the response the book has received already from several Christian theologians and church leaders in various parts of the U.S. and Canada provide me with hope that the message I’m attempting to convey in the book will catch hold not only in the academy, but in church-based discipleship and ministry training schools as well.

What are you most excited about when you think about the phenomenon of the global Pentecostal movement?

I see the global growth of Pentecostal/charismatic churches in the majority world as a contemporary expression of the same kind of missional faithfulness that was at work among the earliest Christians as recorded for us in the book of Acts.

In the book I explore what a similar expression of missional faithfulness would look like here in the post-Christian West, influenced as it is by the epistemological, moral and religious relativism that a deep embrace of the postmodern turn to language tends to produce.

I’m convinced that the phenomena of prophetic speech and action, grounded in a stalwart embrace of a theological realism, is integral to each the expressions of missional faithfulness just referred to. In other words, I believe the biblical and historical evidence points to the fact that because of the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, the Christian gospel can be faithfully and fruitfully contextualized within any socio-cultural context, be it pre-modern, modern, or postmodern!

Thus, I’m confident that the same kind of missional fruitfulness currently being experienced by the global Pentecostal movement can be replicated here in the West should sufficient numbers of evangelical church members become responsive to the Spirit of mission’s ministry promptings.

What do you see are some opportunities and challenges for self-identified North American evangelicals contributing to the global Pentecostal movement?

What a great question! I hope my response to it is what you have in mind. While I obviously can’t speak for the principal leaders of the movement, I can suggest that, rather than criticizing or nay-saying the growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, North American evangelicals can voice their support for the founding of theological schools and seminaries in the Majority World/Global South—schools and seminaries that can help ensure that those leading the burgeoning numbers of Pentecostal-charismatic churches and ministries possess the raw biblical knowledge and theological acumen necessary to steer their prolific ministries away from the ever present dangers of syncretism and an embrace of the prosperity gospel.

With this thought in mind, North American evangelicals can also write scholarly books and articles with the express purpose of seeing them contribute to the intellectual life of these Pentecostal-charismatic communities—books and articles that, while affirming spiritual experience, also model and seek to inculcate the kind of exegetical skills necessary for these ministries to be informed by the Word as well as the Spirit.

Finally, since so many of these Pentecostal-charismatic ministries overseas are engaged in relief work as a means toward the proclamation of the Gospel and disciple making, North American evangelicals might give some serious consideration to the possibility that these particular ministries may end up being the best place to invest their financial as well as prayer support.

Who are some other ‘evangelical-Pentecostal scholars and statesmen’ that you admire?

In addition to Russ Spittler and Mel Robeck, I’m proud to be able to refer to Dr. George O. Wood and Dr. Jim Bradford—two prominent leaders within the Pentecostal movement—as personal friends. I very much admire the thoughtful yet passionate leadership these two men have provided for my own denomination (Assemblies of God) the past few years.

Furthermore, in addition to my appreciation for the work of famous Pentecostal scholars such as Gordon Fee, and the late William Menzies, I’m quite humbled by the fact that many of my current scholarly “heroes” actually agreed to read and then endorse The Holy Spirit in Mission. I’m speaking here of prominent scholars such as: Frank Macchia, Amos Yong, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Roger Stronstad, Murray Dempster, Doug Petersen, Byron Klaus, Jesse Miranda, Michael Wilkinson and, yes, J. P. Moreland.

Finally, though I’m sorry that John Wimber was not alive to see this book come to life, I’m pleased that the book was able to garner the endorsement of another Pentecostal-charismatic luminary I have long admired: Jack Hayford. In fact, meeting Hayford for the first time recently, I was able to convey to him how much his preaching/teaching and writing ministries contributed to my spiritual formation as a young Pentecostal minister. Having a Pentecostal-charismatic statesman of his stature read and then express approval of my own pneumatological work was pretty much a fulfillment of Proverbs 13:12 which talks about the blessedness of a “longing fulfilled.”

I want to end this interview by having you do some dreaming and envisioning. In the next 5, 10 or even 15 years, what are some collaborative endeavors that you’d like to see among evangelicals and Pentecostals (and their respective institutions and resources) in North America?

I do have a dream, one that is still emerging, that envisions some serious collaboration between scholars who labor in universities that possess a Pentecostal-charismatic heritage (such as Vanguard University, the school at which I work) and those that do not, such as Biola. What a powerful indication this would be of the fact that in the academy we’ve finally moved beyond the Spirit-wars of yesteryear—debating back and forth about boundary-marking and boundary-reinforcing pneumatological doctrines—and are now working together to advance a scholarship that can enable the evangelical movement as a whole to manifest in our day and place the kind of missional faithfulness our missionary God desires and deserves.

As for timing, a first step might entail a conference, jointly conducted by schools of each stripe, which would focus on what all evangelicals (those who self-identify as Pentecostal-charismatic and those who don’t) have in common: a commitment to the mission and a devotion to the Book! Such a conference could go on to explore how a missional pneumatology might provide some common ground toward a mutually shared devotion to the Spirit of the Book, and what such a mutually shared sensitivity to the Spirit of mission would look like in terms of concrete missional practices.

Perhaps flowing out of such a conference would be a co-edited collection of essays that, once published, could serve as a manifesto of sorts for this new, galvanizing missional pneumatology.

Could it be that an eventual blurring of the boundary lines between all Pentecostal-charismatic evangelicals and those who are not might begin in the academy and then make its way into the local church? Such a development would likely take longer than even 15 years. But you know what they say about the journey of thousand miles . . . . Anyway, this is my dream.

May it be. Amen.

You can learn more about Gary's ministry by going to www.garytyra.com. A review of Gary's book is available from Joe Gorra at the Vineyard Scholars website.


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