From Azotus to Auckland: Renewal at the Bottom of the Earth?

By: Amos Yong
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

KiwiAs Philip found himself transported suddenly from the Gaza road to Azotus (Acts 8:40), so also I went to sleep on an airplane out of LAX & awoke in Auckland last weekend. I was here for the “Theology, Disability & the People of God” conference sponsored by Laidlaw and Carey Baptist Colleges, but also preached at Titirangi Baptist Church and then spent half a day meeting with pentecostal scholars, pastors, and leaders here in New Zealand’s largest city. My hosts, Andrew Picard and Myk Habets at Carey and Graeme and Linda Flett and Fiona Sherwin at Laidlaw (among many others), were wonderful blessings, all on top of an already incredibly rich conference. But what about global renewal close to the bottom of the world?

Two major trends emerged for me in discussing the state of renewal here in Kiwi-land. First, the charismatic movement which arrived in the late 1960s has permeated much of the church. It is fair to say that there has been a widespread pentecostalization and charismatization of the churches in the last forty plus years, so much so that there are as many bapticostals and baptismatics – for instance (my nomenclature) – as any other type of Christian. One might even talk about a “Hillsong-ization” of the churches, given the adoption of its music and worship genres in many churches on both islands. On the other hand, the palpable presence of megachurches like Hillsong, particularly through the telecommunicative and other exchange networks of globe-trotting apostles, evangelists, and other “superstar” pastors and preachers, has also brought about a homogenization of renewal in this part of the world. So on the one hand, there is a proliferation of renewal among the different churches, but on the other, there is a growing standardization of these streams according to a few megachurch templates.

Yet I also think there is a wild card that might provide a prophetic edge for Kiwi renewalists to lead global renewal from the bottom of the world, and that relates to if and how the hearts of Maori New Zealanders can be revitalized by the Holy Spirit. The Maori initially became Christians with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 which gave the indigenous islanders rights as British subjects; however, over the next century, more than 90% of Maori abandoned their Christian faith in large part because of what they felt were breaches of the Treaty by the European settlers. The issues remain hotly contested, even today. However, the fact is that the Maori constitute up to 15% of the Kiwi population and may be in the best position of any indigenous or native groups around the world to not only make a substantive contribution to their own future, but also work toward the common good of their country.

Although I am neither a prophet nor the son of one (cf. Amos 7:14), I would not be surprised if it is but a matter of time before the Maori embrace some form of renewal Christian expression, in part because of the depth of their spirituality. When that happens, they will further transform the religious landscape of New Zealand and, perhaps more importantly, rejuvenate Kiwi Christianity so it can become a prophetic exemplar of a post-Western and post-secular way of Jesus as Messiah for the middle of the 21st century. If renewal continues to expand within and across the majority world, why might it not also be reinvigorated by Spirit-filled Maori at the bottom of the earth?

My friends at Laidlaw and Carey are alert to the possibilities and also working hard along many challenging fronts; but perhaps the Spirit of God has some surprises left even here in a thoroughly secular New Zealand – would it be unimaginable if such unfolded along some of the lines intuited above?

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Amos Yong
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