On May 2, I participated for the first time as dean in the School of Divinity’s 2013 graduation commissioning service. The image that came to my mind was that of Elijah’s “graduation.” The scriptures tell us of course that Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Let me be clear: I was not envisioning that some or any of our graduates would so disappear! (Although I am also sure that for some, if not many, the events of the commissioning service last evening and of commencement tomorrow morning will be nothing short of rapturous!) However, it occurred to me that Elijah “graduated” from a geographically bound ministry to one that has now been cosmic in scope. The New Testament writers document ongoing expectations by the people of God that Elijah would reappear to herald the messianic age; that he did appear with Moses on the occasion of Jesus’ transfiguration; and that, as Christian tradition understands it, he will be one of two eschatological prophetic witnesses who will perform great wonders during a time of great trouble (Rev. 11). What I see is that Elijah graduated from a historical to a cosmic ministry, one that is trans-temporal, spanning dispensations in the Lord’s scheme of things. Read the rest of this entry »
Archive for the ‘Faith & Culture’ Category
This past three days, I have been inspired at the Missio Alliance conference. My own role in the conference was fairly modest: a workshop on mission in a pluralistic world originally slated jointly with Dallas Willard, but given his ill health – pray for him! – with a Willard scholar, Gary Black Jr. from Azusa Pacific University, and a plenary session on mission with Jo Saxton. Jo and I were invited to focus on the role of the Spirit, the gospel, and the future of mission.
The title of our plenary was inspired by Jo, who wanted to foreground how the mission of the gospel oftentimes irrupts in and through our lives, for those of us willing to embrace and live into such, through the unexpected and unanticipated work of the Holy Spirit. While Jo did the “pentecostal thing” of testifying to the Spirit’s intruding work in her life, I did the “theologian thing” by reflecting on the “interrupting Spirit” of Pentecost in Acts 2: a phenomenology of interruption (2:5-13), the unbounded scope of the Spirit’s interruption (2:17-18), the personal identity of the interrupting Spirit as the Spirit of Christ (2:22-24), the diachronic identity of the Spirit from David Israel to Jesus (2:25-31), the radical interruptions of crucifixion and resurrection (2:32-36), the eschatological interruptions across space and time (2:37-39), and the interruptions of our status quo (2:40-47). Those interested in the details of this will need to wait for my extended commentary on Acts 2 (with Vince Le) that will appear in the World Bible Commentary later this year edited by Michael McClymond.
What I found, however, was that my thoughts on the ways in which the Spirit disturbs our conventional ways of life was consistent with the major thrusts of the conference. David Fitch of Northern Seminary, one of the primary organizers of the conference, summarized it well in some ad hoc remarks by saying that Missio Alliance was about finding a missional way between those who take a my-way-or-highway approach on the right and those who adopt an accommodationist stance toward culture on the left. Hence this was not about attempting to find a via media for its own sake, but in order to preserve the missional task of the church in a post-Christendom world.
My own thoughts on the interrupting Spirit from Acts 2 resonate with this missional vision. The work of the Spirit in Acts unfolds the mission of God for our times, if nothing else. Yet it does so precisely by establishing a people of God, indeed a fellowship of the Spirit, that lives into the footsteps of Jesus, himself the paradigmatic exemplar (in the Gospel of Luke) of what it means to lead a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-interrupted life. Jesus proclaimed and embodied the coming reign of God and those upon whom he pours out of his Spirit (Acts 2:33) are invited to participate in that proclamation and embodiment – which means simply living according to the apostolic instantiation of Jesus’ Jubilee message. Doing so will bring about the missional “results” of apostolic obedience: “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NRSV). Focus on the work of the Spirit as inspiring a missional people will cut through the most difficult theological, political, and real-life issues of our time since it has to do with living out the redemptive witness of God in a hurting world. Yet doing so also requires that we be open to the interrupting work of the Spirit? We are ready for such disruption and commotion?
Some say that the renewing work of the Spirit presumes a lukewarmness of sorts or a state of spiritual formalism (one lacking in vitality); only such a condition presumes or requires renewal. Others say that the renewal of the Spirit simply makes new, so that one can go not only from “death” to “life” (a negative to a positive state) but also from one form of life to another (a more or less positive state to another even more positive state). I think the truth is somewhere in between, and this was brought home to me in reflecting on the events of this past Easter weekend.
Jesus’ journey to the cross – was this led by the Spirit or not? Obviously yes – the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness and then from there through to Jerusalem and Golgotha – which suggests that the work of the Spirit is not always along the path of prosperity, peace, and blessing! This is especially the case if we also, as Jesus-followers, recognize that part of the call to discipleship is to walk in his footsteps that led to the cross. Yes, Good Friday brings to our remembrance that Christ took up our sins once for all; however, Good Friday also calls us to a renewed commitment to bear the cross of Christ through the valley of the shadow of death in the power of the Spirit.
Easter Sunday, of course, reminds us of the Spirit’s raising Jesus from the dead, thereby making possible also our rising with him over the powers of sin and death. Simultaneously, Easter Sunday also propels our hearts forward, in eager anticipation of the time when sin will finally subdued and death will be no more. Hence our present life in the Spirit unfolds in the light of Easter, but yet also yearning for its fullness of life at the second coming of Christ.
Often forgotten in the Good Friday to Easter Sunday weekend is Holy Saturday. That the renewing work of the Spirit today neither leaves behind Good Friday nor brings about the fullness of God’s new heavens and new earth means that life between the first and second coming of Christ is like that of Holy Saturday. In this liminal state between the resurrected/ascended Christ and his return on a white horse we experience the victory of Christ over sin while longing for the triumph of Christ over death. That we realize the Spirit’s renewing our hearts despite sin gives us assurance that we will undergo the final renewal of eternal life and union with God through the one who raised Jesus from the bonds of the grave.
The church’s liturgical calendar reminds us each year through Good Friday and Easter Sunday of the work of Christ that strengthens our resolve and emboldens our hope. These are also renewing works of the Spirit. The Spirit makes new as each spring time opens us up to a new season in the year. Holy Saturday meant for the disciples of Jesus that his crucifixion was in their past, although they were unsure of what was in their future. Our Holy Saturday invites us to ask once again for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts so that we can persevere and rejoice in light of the past, and work in expectation of the future. Come Holy Spirit – gives us the means through which to bear witness to the world about why Friday is Good (beyond “TGIF”) but Sunday is coming!
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was announced as the new pope, Pope Francis. He is the first pope from Latin America where the Catholic Church has a long history and represents the largest group of Catholics in the world. Pope Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. He is not a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I am not sure he is sympathetic to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Latin America either.
However, no doubt, his election will bolster the Catholic Church in Latin America. In his home country of Argentina, the Pentecostals had little impact until the middle of the 20th century when Tommy Hicks was granted unprecedented access to stadiums for mass evangelistic meetings. Still, the Pentecostals do not represent a large number of Christians in Argentina. The Catholic Church in many countries is charismatic and the latitude Catholic charismatics are granted in Latin America keeps many within the fold.
For example, priests like Padre Marcelo Rossi from Brazil have large followings. Rossi is known as “the singing priest” holding large gatherings with thousands of Catholics worshiping freely, arms raised and eyes closed. Rossi’s music is easily found on YouTube where the charismatic priest leads large crowds into renewal.
The Catholic Church is global. It is African, Asian, and Latin American. And it now has a Latin American pope. While not a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Latin American Catholics will most likely respond well to Pope Francis. And it would not surprise me to see Catholic Charismatics benefiting from this election. On the other hand, the euphoria surrounding Pope Francis may be brief if Catholic Charismatics find themselves ignored or marginalized by the new leadership.
Visit Michael Wilkinson’s blog Global Pentecostal Studies for a broader discussion.
If you are interested in engaging the discussion of the pentecostal-charismatic renewal in Latin America and among Latinas/os consider participating in the upcoming conference, Renewal across the Americas, hosted by the Regent Center for Renewal Studies.
The mission of God for the 21st century – what are its key features? From the perspective of renewal Christianity – including but irreducible to pentecostal, charismatic, and related renewal movements – the mission of God for the present is also the mission of the Holy Spirit in the past and future, a mission signaled in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost 2000 years ago. I like to consider the past mission of the Spirit also as paradigmatic for the ongoing mission of God. In particular I highlight its interruptive nature.
What precisely does the interruptivity of the Spirit mean for the mission of God? While the original disciples were instructed clearly to wait for the coming of the Spirit in the Upper Room, they had few precious clues about what that would entail. They were still expecting, discernible from their questions to Jesus after forty days of instruction in Acts 1, that this would entail the coming of the messianic reign that would drive out the Roman oppressors from Palestine. Well they were somewhat right about the former, although its manifestations would not include the latter. Instead, the coming messianic outpouring of the Spirit would drive them out from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. Life as they had known it was interrupted.
The Spirit also interrupted their world as they knew it and turned it upside down (Acts 17:6). They had spoken previously in Aramaic, but now they were given the gifts of speaking and even hearing through a cacophony of languages about the wondrous works of God. Their cultural horizons were interrupted through the redemptive work of God among proselytes in their midst. Their social world was interrupted: a patriarchal way of life now included maidservants, and a gerontocratic regime now featured youth. Yet most of the disciples also felt liberated to transgress the class stratifications that governed their world since now they, mostly of the lower classes, were empowered by the Spirit to be living witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Life as they had known it was forever interrupted.
The Missio Alliance conference to be held on April 11-13 in Alexandria, Virginia, is titled “Renewal Evangelical Imagination for Mission.” I am honored to be one of the invited plenary speakers and will speak to this theme from a renewal point of view. My contribution will focus precisely on the interruptions of the Holy Spirit and the ancient-future mission of the people of God, the body of Christ, and the fellowship of the divine breath. We will unpack eight dimensions of the Spirit’s interruptive and missional empowerment from the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2. Besides my presentation, there will be many others who will engage with the conference theme from a wide range of perspectives – each of these, I dare to hope, can be considered to be distinct expressions of the many tongues of the Spirit initiated on that Day of Pentecost. I hope to see many there.
The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) is entering a critical phase of its existence. At its annual meeting this March, the members of the Society will decide whether the SPS should change its “admission policy” and add a particular faith statement as requirement for membership. The nature of the faith statement does not concern me here. Neither am I interested in debating the need for a faith statement or its effects on the Society. Proponents of a faith statement wish to safeguard the Society from admitting non-Christians and non-Pentecostals; opponents to this move wish to protect the academic and ecumenical character of the Society. I consider both perspectives to be valid, even if I prefer one over the other. What does concern me is the manner in which proponents of a faith statement have abused the situation to rally support for their cause.
A number of advocates of a faith statement have voiced their opinion rather loudly, even on the internet (no, I am not providing a link). Some gather signatures, other personal support behind the scenes and among friends for what seems to become a show-down business meeting of the Society. In the interest of “saving the Society for Pentecostal Studies,” these members contribute to the slow death of their own organization. Young and inexperienced members (some with no postgraduate degrees), who have not held any position of leadership in the Society, have the audacity to voice their opinions without respect for the well-being of the SPS, its diverse members, its history, and the opportunities created in recent years to expand the reach of Pentecostal scholarship. Denominational interests and personal persuasions steamroll over relationships, seniority, and scholarship. I certainly have my own opinion on the matter, but I do not believe that trumpeting my own convictions is in the best interest of the Society. And that is what really matters: not the faith statement, not its potential absence or revision, but the life and well-being of the SPS and Pentecostal scholarship. We should not change recommendations of the executive committee in public before these have been presented to the members of the Society and discussed by the body in its official gathering. We should not post our own proposals for a policy of the Society before others with more seniority, experience, and scholarship have had a chance to speak on behalf of the Society. And we should not rally support for our own agenda behind the scenes as if we are running for office before we have first offered our service and dedication to the Society.
The decision to be made at this year’s meeting will inevitably divide SPS. If we adopt a required faith statement, several members who cannot sign the statement (whether for confessional or academic reasons) will have to abstain from the meetings. If we do not adopt a faith statement as required for membership, those who advocate it currently will likely cease to attend the meetings in the future. So what do we need?
- SPS needs a strong, experienced, discerning, and dedicated leadership to face this crisis. The current praxis of a rotating executive committee is perhaps not the best way to give stability to the Society. We need to seek leadership from among those who are dedicated to the SPS and who can provide long-term stability. At the meeting, the members will also vote for a new second vice president who will lead the society in two years. This decision should not be taken lightly, those nominated should ask themselves if their commitment to SPS is sufficient to accept nomination, and those voting should vote not based on personal preference but on character, scholarship, and care for Pentecostal studies.
- Official discussions should always have priority over private opinion. We need a membership that engages in the business of the Society. To encourage such engagement, business meetings should not be the last agenda on the last day of the meeting but be given adequate time to discuss and resolve matters concerning the health of the SPS.
- Members need to keep a proper perspective on the Society and the care for those who call themselves Pentecostal scholars or scholars of Pentecostalism. This small group of perhaps 500 PhDs deserves to treat each other with respect and dignity. Denominationalism and divisions may be a part of Pentecostal history, but it should not divide Pentecostal scholarship–a young and fragile discipline. Pentecostalism deserves better! Pentecostal scholarship deserves better!
The proposal on the table will have to be decided. We will have to take a stand. However, on whatever side we are, the first decision should be for the unity of the body. After almost 20 years with the Society, where I have found a home for my scholarship and many personal friends, I am ashamed of those who use SPS to advance their own agenda, denominational persuasion, or scholarship as much as of those who deny their institutions to attend SPS for confessional or doctrinal reasons. I am afraid of those who feel privileged to voice their opinion before seeking together the council of God and the well-being of the community. The Society for Pentecostal Studies now needs to be rescued. This salvation can only come from all of us, all who have come together year after year, who have developed friendships, scholarly bonds, new interests and passions. The SPS is worth saving! What matters is not a faith statement or the absence of a faith statement. What matters is the unity of its members! Repentance, forgiveness, and love may help bring about this unity. I am willing to stand up for this cause. We will have to see who else is …