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?