Reflecting and confessing in the spirit: called to transformational theologizing.
The Arusha, Tanzania, 2018 World Mission Conference theme, "Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship, " can be read from one perspective as acknowledging the continued growth and expansion of pentecostal and charismatic movements across the world Christian stage, especially in the majority world. Such ongoing developments beg the question of whether pentecostal and charismatic renewal has anything to contribute to global mission theology and theologizing in the present time. This essay suggests that the Spirit-filled and empowered life invites a pneumatological imagination, hermeneutic, and theological method that carves out a via media between a fundamentalistic scripturalism that neglects the ongoing work of the Spirit on the one side, and a subjectivistic experientialism that is untethered to the biblical and theological tradition on the other. Such an approach will be exemplified--not just laid out propositionally (or "scientifically," in the old tradition of hermeneutics, understood as the science of interpretation)--in light of the Day of Pentecost narrative as recorded in the book of Acts.
Some might argue that pentecostal and charismatic Christianity (1) presumes a fundamentalistic biblicism that has so far resulted in an underdeveloped hermeneutics and theological method that is literalistic about what they presume to be the scriptural worldview so as to collapse the world of the text and the world in front of the text in a sometimes naive sense. Others might counter-argue that pentecostal and charismatic Christians rely too much on what they perceive to be the Spirit's leading, or at least legitimize what is no more than their own assumptions with pneumatic inspiration, and in that sense, justify their biblical interpretations even if these seem to go far beyond what the text might allow or what the Christian tradition might sanction. As a pentecostal theologian, I recognize that both of these perspectives identify worrying tendencies of charismatic spirituality, but precisely for that reason, I have devoted significant effort over the last two decades to articulating a hermeneutical posture and theological method that are not viewed as provincially pentecostal-charismatic but might also be representatively Christian and even normative for Christian faith.
The following outlines what might be called a pneumatological hermeneutic and methodology that takes seriously the Day of Pentecost narrative as described in the book of Acts as a starting point for biblical and theological reflection. Such a pentecostal approach is no doubt informed by my life experience as a participant and member in the modern pentecostal-charismatic movement, yet as articulated herein, I invite consideration of how it presents a more robustly trinitarian perspective that all Christians would or should desire to embrace." In brief, I suggest that hermeneutical imagination and theological method after Pentecost ought to proceed in the Spirit following the apostolic community. I unpack this thesis in three steps in dialogue with the apostolic narrative, especially in the book of Acts: regarding the experience of the Spirit, in relationship to the missio Dei, and with reference to apostolic theologizing. As I trust will become clear, Christian theologizing consists not only in the recitation, retrieval, and repetition of biblical and apostolic teachings, but in taking seriously encounter with the Spirit and then following earnestly the Spirit's guidance as normed by apostolic belief and practice.
Surprised by the Spirit: when the living God shows up
I begin with the Day of Pentecost narrative, given my conviction, informed by a modern Pentecostal perspective, that a fully trinitarian theological vision is centred on the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Son of God, but that access to this personal reality comes only through the Holy Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:3), (4) whose outpouring and gift to the people of God is recounted in Acts chapter 2. In that case, then, I suggest that Christian knowing and reason is not just post-Easter (after the risen Christ) but also always post--Pentecost, meaning via the Spirit's surely unexpected raising of Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1:4) and through the then obscurely anticipated, via the prophetic scriptures, pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit of the living God upon all flesh (Acts 2:17, drawing from Joel). (5)
In that respect, one might argue that the book of Acts provides the interpretive frame or point of entry into the biblical narrative as a whole. (6) While such a pentecostal thesis can be variously understood, for our purposes, I suggest that it is no less than or at least Christological, pneumatological, and eschatological.
First, the pentecostal hermeneutic and theological method is resolutely Christological, not only in that the Spirit poured out on the Day of Pentecost comes from the risen Christ at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-33), but also that the Spirit bears and enables heretofore inexplicable witness to the Jesus as Messiah. Thus the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost inspires Peter's message (2:14-40)--as recorded by Luke--that culminates in proclamation about Jesus of Nazareth (2:2236), in particular so "the entire house of Israel [can] know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified" (2:36). (7) Yet Jesus's messiahship is constituted in his anointing with the Spirit. Later in Acts, Peter tells Cornelius and his household about how "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (10:38), and this is consistent with Jesus' own self--understanding as preserved in Luke's (first-volume) gospel account wherein Jesus' public ministry is inaugurated at Nazareth as the Spirit's messianic work: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Is. 61:1-2a). (8) Thus even the instruction of the risen Christ proceeds "through the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:2). The point is twofold: that a pentecostal hermeneutic and theological method both lifts up Jesus who is Christ and messiah precisely through the anointing of the divine Spirit and enables apostolic witness to Jesus' messiahship through that same Spirit.
More expansively, the apostolic experience as a whole is Christological because it is pneumatological: the experience of the resurrected Christ is recounted as good news after Pentecost. The former appearance was startling and terrifying (see Luke 24:37) and needed the descent of the Holy Spirit (24:49) for appropriate perspective and comprehensible witness (Acts 1:8). Yet such reorientation also was not achieved except through further disorientation. The promised Spirit given on the Day of Pentecost thus reordered the apostolic imagination and thinking through its cognitive dissonance, catalyzing bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, and perplexity in those who had followed Jesus for three years (Acts 2:6, 7, 12). (9) In large part, the confusion assuredly was "because each one [among the large crowd gathered from around the Mediterranean] heard them speaking in the native language of each" (2:7), and yet through that cacophony, "in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power" (2:11). Without minimizing this communicative miracle of speech or hearing (either is warranted from Luke's text), I want to focus also on the fact that this experience of the Spirit cannot be reduced to either the oral or sonic register. Rather, this was a fully embodied, inter-subjective, and interpersonal confrontation with the transcendent. Note that the wind is not merely heard sonically but felt, "like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting" (2:2), and further, that the descent of the Spirit was not just felt as precipitative of speech, but also perceived palpably and tangibly, "as of fire," again not just appearing as if visually to (and therefore over and against) them but touching upon and resting on each of them (2:3). (10) The point, central to the thesis of this essay, is that meeting the living God by the Spirit transfigures human cognition precisely because it is wholly transformative of human knowing and perceiving in its multiple dimensions of tactility, affectivity, and emotions. (11) We think and live differently after the Spirit because we have been changed.
Historically, however, the Pentecost narrative has been treated as a one--off event, usually understood as founding the church as the people of God. Without denying this inaugural aspect of the people of God as the fellowship of the Spirit (hence also introducing a more trinitarianly articulated ecclesiology), (12) my claim is that there is a normative character to the pentecostal outpouring witnessed to in Luke's account, as the promise of the Spirit "is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39). This is why pentecostal hermeneutics has long stressed, consistent with other restorationist and baptistic approaches, a this--is--that connectivity between the contemporary horizon of Spirit--filled involvement with the living God (this) and the apostolic account of the same (that). (13) Yet the issue is not just epistemological, as if the Christian knowing of generations subsequent to the apostolic age is presumptively the same as that of their ancestors; rather, the claim is more ontological, actually theological and trinitarian: that this promise persists because we remain in the eschatological age between the then of the initial coming of Christ (incarnation) and his Spirit (Pentecost) poured out from the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33) and the that of their future return (the Parousia and the end of this age). Hence it is in this eschatological time of the "last days" (2:17) that pentecostal hermeneutics unfolds. Mention of the "last days" is an interpolation, even interpretation, of Joel 2:28, which simply says, "Then afterwards ..." (after the plague of locusts). (14) This apostolic hermeneutic, one shaped by being face to face with the living God, invites consideration of how "all who are far away," whether geographically and temporally--both dimensions, it should be noted, are included in the "ends of the earth" (1:8), which maps the entire Acts narrative (15)--are also to read scripture in light of the experience of the Spirit.
The preceding Christological--pneumatological--eschatological trajectories are interwoven and, for our purposes, foreground the triadic character of a Christian hermeneutic after Pentecost. The centrality of Christ is pneumatologically understood, even as the pneumatic and eschatological nature of Christian understanding in this time between the times is not marginalized. Hence, Christian interpretation in the footsteps of the aposdes engages scripture dynamically as they did, in and through perceiving the risen Christ by the power of the Spirit, and the latter always leads back to a fresh reading of the scriptural testimony.
Pentecostalized by the Spirit: the trinitarian Missio Dei as normative telos
We will return in the final section (below) to address the questions of hermeneutics more explicitly, but in the meanwhile we have to ask pointedly: Towards what ends is such pentecostal rereading and reflecting directed? This is the important question, since anxiety about pentecostal subjectivity in hermeneutics is, rightly, driven by the disquiet that we can always justify our own preferences and desires by appeal to scripture. On the other hand, to historicize the scriptural message in a positivistic sense is to open up a chasm between the that of the biblical world and the this of any contemporary generation which seemingly cannot be crossed, at least in hermeneutical traditions that prioritize the historical--critical method. I will argue here that interpretation presumes guiding goals and that the telos of pentecostal hermeneutics is normed by the mission and coming reign of the trinitarian God. (16)
How does Luke, the author of Acts and also of the prequel, the gospel that bears his name, characterize this trinitarian mission? Certainly, Jesus himself was motivated to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:19), which in effect was understood according to the jubilee model in the Pentateuch. (17) Yet the more prevalent description of the central core of Jesus' message is as the "good news of the kingdom of God" (4:43; cf. 8:1, 9:11). Jesus urged his disciples to declare this same gospel of the reign of God (9:2, 60, 10:9) and also to pray for its soon arrival (11:2; cf. 12:32), even as he understood his exorcisms as indicative of the divine reign breaking through (11:20). Yet his teachings suggested multiple perspectives: that "the kingdom of God is [already] among you" (17:21) on the one hand and that it is delayed (19:11; cf. 22:16) on the other, along with the admonition that "the kingdom of God is near" (21:31) and is in that sense coming.
In Acts, it is not that the disciples never proclaim the reign of God-there are a few indications that this constituted their account of the gospel (Acts 8:12, 14:22, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31) (18)--but when asked by the disciples about its imminent arrival (1:6), Jesus promised the gift of the Spirit instead (1:7-8). (19) That his response is central to the book of Acts, not only its message but also in how it structures the book's arc, suggests that the Pentecost account frames the unfolding of early Christianity not as a descriptive history but as a normative telos, one that involves the expansion of the faith from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth as being at the heart of the mission of the triune God as carried out through the pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit.
I suggest that pentecostal hermeneutics follows pentecostal praxis, which is oriented teleologically towards realization of the reign of God to the ends of the earth. Against any colonial, imperial, or triumphalistic rendition of such a hermeneutical and missionary posture, (20) I counter that apostolic border crossing from Jerusalem through Samaria to Rome (the ends of the earth from a Jewish perspective that is Jerusalem--centric) is marked by mutuality and dialogical humility. Hence the many tongues on the Day of Pentecost represent not only others receiving the witness of the apostles, but "God's deeds of power" (2:11) resounding in the languages of those from around the Mediterranean world. In fact, even before the apostolic delegation had stepped foot beyond the Judean countryside, Hellenistic Jews "from xevery nation under heaven" had already been gathered in Jerusalem (2:5) so that, in fact, one might argue that apostolic proclamation from the beginning went forth on the terms and conditions defined by "the ends of the earth." Not surprisingly, perhaps, it would be Hellenist believers who later took the gospel to Samaria when the apostolic leaders hunkered down under persecution (see Acts 8:1-4).
That apostolic mission praxis continued to be marked by mutuality and reciprocity is seen in the remainder of the Acts narrative. Peter's visit to Cornelius featured mutual conversion: the latter came to repentance, baptism, and reception of the Spirit according to the apostolic preaching (cf. 2:38 and 10:44-48), while the former arrived at a new awareness (of the purity of Gentiles; see 10:34-35) and a transformed community (consisting of Jews and Gentiles). (21) Later, both when dealing with the heathen at Lystra and Derbe and when interacting with the philosophers of the Areopagus, Paul resorts to natural theological arguments (14:15-17) and to citing and referencing pagan poets (17:28). In both of these cases, I proffer that Paul is being consistent in following the Pentecost principle that invites, if not insists, that witnesses to the Messiah "become all things to all people, so that [they] might by any means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). Last but not least, observe Pauline mission among the Maltese barbarians (from Greek: barbaroi in Acts 28:2) in the final chapter of Acts. After their shipwreck on the island, it is the natives who "showed us unusual kindness" (28:2) and who "entertained us hospitably for three days" (28:7b), and there is actually no verbal proclamation of the gospel recorded in the account. Christian mission to and in Malta thus unfolded from out of apostolic praying as guests of the hospitality of others and the Spirit's healing intervention instead (28:8-10), rather than from any authoritative pronunciations. (22)
The end of the Acts narrative has Paul in chains awaiting a hearing before Caesar, yet given full freedom even under guard to share his faith. So Luke ends his story of the gospel's arrival to the ends of the earth rather unpredictably and abruptly, telling of Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:31). If the reader asks what happened next, the text invites the ongoing performative proclamation in the spirit of mutuality and reciprocity instead. Pentecostals have said that the inconclusive and open-ended character at this juncture urges new permutations of Spirit-inspired and empowered witness to and from the ends of the earth, as if to fill in a 29th chapter of the book of Acts. (23) Thus the pentecostal this-is-that approach would connect the missional efforts of every succeeding generation to the apostolic efforts, all as being Spirit-driven towards the coming divine reign.
So far I have suggested that Christian hermeneutics and theological method are furnished pneumatologically: through responsiveness to the initiative of the Spirit poured out on all flesh, and as oriented towards the mission of the Spirit to establish the reign of the triune God. These reflections thus provide a trinitarian alpha (source) and omega (goal), as it were, for Christian theological reflection, which presumes that what happens in between, after Pentecost but before Parousia, involves boundary crossing to and from the ends of the earth in and through the Spirit. In these respects, the present and ongoing pentecostalization or charismatization of world Christianity observed by various scholars is suggestive also of a similar pentecostalization (also charismatization) of Christian hermeneutics and theological method. (24) Scriptural reading and theological reflection are precipitated by encounter in and with the Spirit and oriented towards the Spirit's mission to bear witness to the gospel of the Messiah to and at the ends of the earth. However, such undergirding still leaves obscure how biblical interpretation might proceed, or how theological methodology might operate. The next and final section of this essay probes into the Acts narrative more deeply to see if there is apostolic exemplarity in this regard.
Reflecting in the Spirit: from apostolic theologizing to Christian confession
Methodologically, this essay has proceeded on the assumption that any contemporary pentecostal contribution to hermeneutics and theological method does not originate from the parochial experiences of modern pentecostal believers (no matter how many there are), but are established normatively from the scriptural witness. In brief, Christian biblical interpretation follows the apostolic example in receiving and reappropriating their scriptures in light of their experiences and with regard to their communicative goals in their first-century contexts." (25) Yet at the same time, their, and our, biblical arguments are never only textually funded but, as I have portrayed, derived from out of contact with the Spirit of the living God. So also then, with regard to the question at hand about the how of scriptural engagement, we shall see that biblical hermeneutics and theological reflection after Pentecost can only be pneumatically charged. We will consider three accounts of this thesis of scriptural retrieval via pneumatic or pneumatological interpretation and reflection: that manifest with St. Stephen, depicted at the first Jerusalem council, and portrayed in the ministry of St. Paul." (26)
I am drawn to Stephen the martyr for this task for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he provides the first instance of someone not part of the Twelve whose sermon is recorded. (27) He is a Hellenist, said to have been "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5; cf. 6:3, 10), who is also said to be "full of grace and power, [who] did great wonders and signs among the people" (6:8). As the "word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith" (6:7), other Jews from the synagogue of the Freedman (6:9) were no doubt then stirred to charge him with "saying things against this holy place and the law" (6:13).
I have argued elsewhere that, "filled with the Holy Spirit" (7:55a), Stephen's apologetic for a Messianic faith that was foundationally based upon but not reducible to narrow Jewish concerns itself was informed, at least in part, by his Hellenist experience and perspective beyond the borders of Judea." (28) Thus Stephen's own sojourns from around the Mediterranean world (we are not informed about where specifically he hailed) enabled his appreciation of Abraham's journey from Mesopotamia, through Haran and the land of the Chaldeans, not to mention the dynamic history of the Abrahamic brood leading up to and then settling through Egypt (7:2-19). His Greco-Roman education may also have allowed him to accept that "Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds" (7:22). Later on, Moses settles in Midian for 40 years (7:29-30), thus effectively becoming a Midianite. Read from the perspective of the Pentecost narrative of witness going to the ends of the earth, Stephen presents a remarkably cosmopolitan understanding of ancient Israel, one continuous with his own experience of the messianic way and community itself constituted by those from around the known world.
If the Freedman then desired to limit authentic Jewish practice to that of the temple and according to a stricter interpretation of the law, Stephen counters that "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (7:48), and appeals on this point to a post-exilic messianic prophecy regarding the living God having the entire earth as his temple (7:49-50; cf. Is. 66:1-2). (29) Hence, while these observant Jews could not grasp how messianic faith might reconfigure divine presence beyond temple precincts, apostolic leaders after Pentecost realized that the people of the Spirit were drawn from many cultures, languages, and regions of the world. In short, the pentecostal gift that reconstituted the people of the temple as the fellowship of the Spirit led Stephen to a reconsideration of ancient Israel as similarly constituted by encounters with others and incorporation of their contributions. For our purposes, Stephen becomes an exemplar of the pneumatological imagination post-Pentecost.
The lesson from the Jerusalem Council for our purposes is no less important for a pentecostal and pneumatological hermeneutics. (30) The major question concerned how the young messianic community with a majority Jewish cast ought to respond to the "reported the conversion of the Gentiles" (Acts 15:3). Despite Peter's own newfound realization (see above), there was "no small dissension and debate" that it was nevertheless "necessary for them [the Gentiles] to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses" (15:2, 5b). How, then, would this nascent apostolic community adjudge the issues?
Experientially, scripturally, and pneumatologically, it seems. The apostles and leading elders first heard, again, Peter's testimony (15:6-11), in particular about how God had given to the Gentiles "the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us" (15:8b). Then Barnabas and Saul also "told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles" (15:12), in effect reiterating that apart from these developments, there would be no issue to dispute or contest. Then, James recalls a prophetic word to the effect that there would come a messianic time when "all other peoples may seek the Lord--even all the Gentiles," and that this promise had come from "the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago" (15:17-18; cf. Amos 9:11-12). In their letter to the fledgling Gentile congregations, then, the apostolic leaders provide theological guidance and practical resolution believed as pneumatically merited. Their recommendations ensued, they underscored authoritatively, as "it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28a).
It did not matter that the prophetic text appealed to could be said to have been, at best, partially fulfilled and in that sense only somewhat applicable to the contested situation. But even if "the remnant of Edom" (Amos 9:12) had not yet been restored, at least not in any literal sense--and this is not referenced in the Acts version--from the apostolic perspective after Pentecost, this prophetic passage provided scriptural warrant for receiving the Gentiles onto the messianic Way and into the Spirit-impelled community. (31) Within the wider scheme of the apostolic experience, it should also be noted that the experiential, scriptural, and pneumatic judgment rendered at this first council was consistent with the mission of the Spirit to establish the divine reign to the ends of the earth.
The final set of apostolic considerations for a pneumatic hermeneutic and theological method that I will briefly discuss are St. Paul's retelling of his own conversion experience when speaking to the crowd at Jerusalem (22:4-16, within 22:2-21) and to King Agrippa (26:12-18, within 26:2-23). (32) The significance of these Pauline testimonies is that they unfold and can be compared and contrasted with the narrated account earlier in Acts (9:1-19). There is neither time nor space here to go into the scholarly discussion of these three passages. (33) My interest is in reading these subsequent recollections in light of the Spirit's empowering apostolic witness to the ends of the earth. From this perspective, Luke's more descriptive initial narration provides the basic plotline later variously accentuated by Paul.
For instance, in his apology before the Jews in the Jerusalem temple area, Paul emphasizes his Jewish credentials (22:3-5) and acknowledges the assistance of Ananias, "a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there" (22:12). The former Jewish backdrop is not altogether absent in his explanation before Agrippa, but it is subordinated comparatively to highlighting the more theoretical and philosophical questions, like that concerning the plausibility of the idea of the resurrection from the dead (26:6-8) and focused on Paul's commissioning as apostle to the Gentiles (26:15-18). If in the former speech there is a preoccupation with the blinding light from heaven (thrice mentioned: 22:6, 9, 11; cf. 9:3), then in the latter, emphasis is placed instead on the apostle's empowerment to turn Jews and Gentiles from darkness to light (26:18, 23). (34) Hence the parallel accounts spotlight diverse aspects of the conversion related to the audience and purpose of the testimony. These can thus be understood as contextualization cases that foreground the Spirit's enabling witness in different arenas.
What is to be emphasized in this discussion is that a post-Pentecost hermeneutic and theological method involves revisiting the received tradition afresh vis-a-vis every new visitation with the triune God. Such thinking in the Spirit is holistically experiential and communally adjudicated, albeit in and through wrestling with the inherited scriptural and authoritative traditions in light of new circumstances. (35) In a post--New Testament context, then, the pentecostal way of the Spirit invites not just a recitation of the apostolic writings, but revitalized testimonies to and innovative confessions about the work of the Spirit in every subsequent place and time.
I wish to make three final points. First, there is no denying that the most vigorous vanguard of the world Christian movement is being carried by pentecostal and charismatic-type churches, communities, and movements. These include not just the so-called classical pentecostal denominations with historic links to the Azusa Street revival in the early 20th century, but also charismatic renewal movements from out of mainline Protestant as well as Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions in the last 50 years plus, along with indigenous spiritual churches, especially in Africa but also prevalent across the majority world. (36) Adherents of these communities might presume special divine favour as sparking such expansion and growth, but a more sombre assessment should ask what this means and what it demands from participants or those so associated. Here, the earliest modern pentecostal convictions ought to be reiterated: that even among those come outers, the point was not mere sectarianism but to consider how best their own newfound brush with the Spirit of God might be conduits to the revitalization of their churches.
As a pentecostal theologian at the front end of the 21st century, I present with some trepidation the preceding as part of the fruits of pentecostal and charismatic spirituality, now submitted back to the church catholic as a pneumatic hermeneutic and theological method that might perhaps be what is needed for such a global time as this. (37) If before the charisms of the pentecostal-charismatic movement were its accents on the spiritual gifts or evangelistic zeal or missional energy, the question must be posed: What are the hermeneutical and methodological correlates both that can be made explicit from such pentecostal-charismatic practices and sensibilities on the one hand and that can be discerned as having stimulated the scriptural imagination towards such contemporary performances of the biblical narratives on the other hand? In other words, what kind of hermeneutical and methodological presuppositions precede and follow from pentecostal-charismatic praxis, mission, and spirituality?
This essay proposes a pentecostal hermeneutic and theological method: not one that is merely insular to the modern pentecostal movement, but one that seeks to live substantively into and out of the apostolic way initiated by the Day of Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. (38) Such a pentecostal and pneumatological imagination belongs to all followers of Jesus, the messianically anointed (by the Spirit), who live in every place and time subsequent to the era of the first disciples. Yet those who have come later, including us in our own generation and our children, are not bereft of the apostolic witness, not only because we have their written convictions in the New Testament, but because we have available to us the same Spirit that was given to them by the risen Christ. Hence we also have met the triune God and are enabled to walk in his Spirit to receive and reappropriate the scriptural and theological traditions in light of our unique experiences, circumstances, and challenges. Thereby we also are called, as they were, to the kind of transformational theologizing that connected their unique experience of and encounter with the living God with the record bequeathed by their ancestors on the one hand, but that also sought, through Spirit-led theological reflection, to both regulate and vulnerably hasten future transformations on this apostolic way. The church ecumenical--the fellowship of the Holy Spirit--in the second decade of this third millennium is obligated to do at least this much in order to witness to the world now and leave a legacy for those coming after.
Amos Yong (Ph.D. Boston University) is professor of theology & mission; director of the Center for Missiological Research, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and the author or editor of over 40 books.
(1) Pentecostal is capitalized when used as a noun or when referring to the group of people related to this movement, but uncapitalized when used adjectivally; pentecostal-charismatic are used relatively synonymously in this essay, although there are also important distinctions that are elaborated upon in my The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 14-18.
(2) Starting with Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective, New Critical Thinkingin Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies Series (Burlington, VT and Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002), and, most recently, Yong, The Dialogical Spirit: Christian Reason and Theological Method for the Third Millennium (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014). If some of my readers tire of what seems like an excessive self-referencing in what follows, I apologize in advance; those looking for further explication as well as for insights into my prior research and other conversation partners will not need to guess where to search next.
(3) My trinitarian theology is not exclusive of those who come from Oneness Pentecostal traditions; see how I navigate the issues in my The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, ch. 5, and Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity, images and commentary by Jonathan A. Anderson (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), ch. 11.
(4) I have learned about this pneumatological priordzation from, more than anyone else, articles and essays by D. Lyle Dabney, including the lead chapter, "Starting with the Spirit: Why the Last Should be First," that is one of four he contributed in Stephen Pickard and Gordon Preece, eds., Starting with the Spirit: Task of Theology II (Hindmarsh, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 2001), 3-27.
(5) In another essay--Yong, "The Science, Sighs, and Signs of Interpretation: An Asian American Post--Pentecost--al Hermeneutics in a Multi--, Inter--, and Trans--cultural World," in L. William Oliverio, Jr., and Kenneth J. Archer, eds., Constructive Pneumatological Hermeneutics in Pentecostal Christianity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), forthcoming--I argue such to be a post--pentecost--al hermeneutics in the sense that it is a modern pentecostal construct but derived from the Day of Pentecost narrative; in this chapter, such a post--pentecost--al approach is understood synonymously as a pentecostal hermeneutics so as not to overly complicate things.
(6) For more on Acts as the pentecostal canon--within--the--canon and its ramifications for Christian hermeneutics, see my In the Days of Caesar Pentecostalism and Political Theology--The Cadbury Lectures 2009, Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age series (Grand Rapids and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2010), ch. 3.
(7) Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture references and quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
(8) My book Who Is the Holy Spirit? A Walk with the Apostles (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011), thus reads Luke's Christology (in the Third Gospel) through his pneumatology (in Acts).
(9) I get this characterization from Michael Welker, God the Spirit, trans. John Hoffmeyer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), ch. 5.
(10) I explore in more detail such textual clues in conversation with orality studies and African pentecostal perspectives in my "Understanding and Living the Apostolic Way: Oral Culturality and Hermeneutics after Pentecost," plenary presentation at international conference "Pentecostalism and the Catholic Church: Challenges in the Nigerian Context," Abuja, Nigeria, 14-17 November 2016; see also Vinson Synan, Amos Yong, and J. Kwabena Asamoah--Gyadu, Global Renewal Christianity: Spirit--Empowered Movements Past, Present, and Future, vol. Ill: Africa (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Publishers, 2016).
(11) For more on a pneumatology of affective transformation, see my Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), part II; cf. also Dale Coulter and Amos Yong, eds., The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016).
(12) I develop further an ecclesiology of pneumadc fellowship in Yong, "Renewed and Always Renewing: Pentecostal Ecclesiologies," in Paul Avis, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), forthcoming.
(13) More on pentecostal this--is--that hermeneutics can be found in my essays: "The 'Baptist Vision' of James William McClendon, Jr.: A Wesleyan--Pentecostal Response," Wesleyan Theological Journal 37:2 (Fall 2002), 32-57, and "Reading Scripture and Nature: Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Their Implications for the Contemporary Evangelical Theology and Science Conversation," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 63:1 (2011), 1-13.
(14) For further discussion of Joel 2 in relationship to Acts 2 and vice versa, see Larry R. McQueen, Joel and the Spirit: The Cry of a Prophetic Hermeneutic, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 8 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995).
(15) See further Yong, Renewing Christian Theology, ch. 2.3.
(16) In earlier work--e.g., Spirit--Word--Community, ch. 7, and Hospitality and the Other Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor, Faith Meets Faith series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), ch. 2--I wrote of hermeneutical and methodological teleology in terms of pragmatic performance; here I complement these more philosophical and formal accounts from a scriptural perspective.
(17) See Robert Bryan Sloan, The Favorable Year of the Lord: A Study of Jubilary Theology in the Gospel of Luke (Austin, TX: Schola Press, 1977), and Sharon H. Ringe, Jesus, Liberation, and the Biblical Jubilee: Images for Ethics and Christology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).
(18) See further discussion of apostolic preaching regarding the reign of God in my paper "Apostolic Evangelism in the Postcolony: Opportunities and Challenges," Mission Studies (under review).
(19) Antonio Ziccardi Costantino, The Relationship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God According to Luke--Acts (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 2008), argues that although explicit references to the reign of God are much less common in the second Lukan volume, this is because the kingdom is defined by Jesus as Son of God and messianic Lord and the fact that this is the focal point of the apostolic kerygma in Acts.
(20) All of which are certainly ever--present dangers in pentecostal circles, as superbly diagnosed by David J. Courey, What Has Wittenberg to Do with Agusal Luther's Theology of the Cross and Pentecostal Triumphalism (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).
(21) On this mutual conversion, see VanThanh Nguyen, Peter and Cornelius: A Story of Conversion and Mission (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012).
(22) For more on the apostolic mission to Malta and other accounts of missional mutuality in reciprocity in Acts, see my The Missiological Spirit: Christian Mission Theology for the Third Millennium Global Context (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), ch. 6.
(23) One version of this Acts 29 perspective is by pentecostal feminist theologian Pamela M. S. Holmes, "Acts 29 and Authority: Towards a Pentecostal Feminist Hermeneutic of Liberation," in Michael Wilkinson and Steven M. Studebaker, eds., A Liberating Spirit: Pentecostal and Social Action in North America (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), 185-209. In more conventional exegetical terms, Howard Clark Kee, Good News to the Ends of the Earth: The Theology of Acts (London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), 106-07, puts it this way: "Rome is not the end of the story, even though it is the literary conclusion of Acts.... [T]he open nature of the new community excludes no one on the basis of present condition, but is open across all humanly-established boundaries. The world is open. God is in control, and has provided the message and the means to communicate it..
(24) On the pentecostalization and charismatization of world Christianity' see, e.g., Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Cephas N. Omenyo, Pentecost Outside Pentecostalism: A Study of the Development of Charismatic Renewal in the Mainline Church in Ghana (Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: Boekencentrum, 2002); and Jakob Egeris Thorsen, Charismatic Practice and Catholic Parish Life: The Incipient Pentecostalization of the Church in Guatemala and Latin America (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015).
(25) Dean Flemming, Contextualisation in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), is the most extensive argument of this thesis.
(26) Consider the following a (minor) assist to the efforts of Kevin L. Spawn and Archie T. Wright, eds., Spirit and Scripture: Exploring a Pneumatic Hermeneutic (London and New York: T Sc T Clark, 2012).
(27) The following expands on an earlier discussion of Stephen (in Yong, Renewing Christian Theology, ch. 7.1), where I focus on his contributions to apostolic ecclesiology.
(28) See Yong, Who is the Holy Spirit? ch. 16.
(29) On Isaiah 61 as a post-exilic writing, see my The Spirit and the Missio Dei: Trinitarian Mission in Canonical Perspective (work in progress), ch. 4.3.
(30) Another pentecostal reading of the apostolic council in Acts 15 as pneumatological, hermeneutical, and methodological model is provided by John Christopher Thomas, "Women, Pentecostals and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 2:5 (1994), 41-56.
(31) For further discussion of Amos 9 in relationship to Acts 15, see James A. Meek, The Gentile Mission in Old Testament Citations in Acts: Text, Hermeneutic, and Purpose (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2008), ch. 4; Meek's wider argument is that Luke, the first testament for a variety of purposes relates to contested aspects of the apostolic understanding of the gospel witness, including to buttress the rationale for the Gentile mission.
(32) The standard study of these parallel passages is Gerhard Lohfink, The Conversion of St. Paul: Narrative and History in Acts, trans. Bruce J. Malina (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1976); Lohfink's predominantly form critical approach comes to conclusions that are not unamenable to my own pentecostal consideration.
(33) Charles W. Hedrick, "Paul's Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts," Journal of Biblical Literature 100:3 (1981), 415-32, suggests these are three genres, for instance; we need not adjudicate the scholarly issues for purposes of this article.
(34) Our discussion here proceeds as if the Pauline apologies are strictly historical over and against Luke's own telling when, in reality, even the Pauline testimonies are unfolded by the Acts author; hence it is important to keep in mind, as Lohfink, The Conversion of St. Paul, 89-91, reminds us, that Luke's own purposes are to undergird the Gentile mission of which he presents Paul as the foremost exponent.
(35) More philosophically articulated is James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2010).
(36) I provide a cartography of these developments in this essay: "Global Renewal Christianity and World Christianity: Treks, Trends, and Trajectories," in Jonathan Y. Tan and Anh Q. Tran, SJ, eds., World Christianity: Perspectives and Insight--Essays in Honor of Peter C Phan (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2016), 48-65.
(37) The emphasis on the hermeneutical contribution in this essay complements that proposed on the theological method front in my "Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology," in Chad Meister and James Beilby, eds., The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought (New York and London: Routledge, 2013), 636-46.
(38) This essay encapsulates the book-length argument in Yong, The Hermeneutical Spirit: Theological Interpretation and the Scriptural Imagination for the Third Pentecostal Millennium (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).
(39) I am grateful to Rev. Dr. Jooseop Keum, Director of Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, for inviting my contribudon to this issue of the International Review of Mission that he edits. Thanks also to Joshua Muthalali, a Keralite pentecostal PhD student here at Fuller Seminary who is working on a postcolonial pentecostal hermeneutics (which final results I am eager to see) and on whose doctoral committee I serve, for proofreading carefully and providing extensive comments on an earlier version of this essay. Responsibility for the final draft remains my own.
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|Publication:||International Review of Mission|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2016|
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