Gary Tyra’s practical biblical theology book, The Holy Spirit in Mission (IVP Academic, 2011), is a seasoned, pentecostal-evangelical contribution that will help advance North American pneumatology and ecclesiology discussions about the missio Dei. It is poised for envisioning a new ecumenism attuned to the Spirit’s “prophetic speech and action in Christian witness,” as his subtitle suggests.
Tyra’s several decades of pastoral leadership and communication pays off in this 200 page book. For while he is an engaging and adept theological thinker, conversant with the likes of Amos Yong, Christopher Wright, Leslie Newbigin, and Alan Roxburgh, he writes accessibly and winsomely for thoughtful non-academic types. Yet, his footnotes are plentiful and substantive in order to pleasure academically interested readers. Pastors will find him to be thorough and attentive to practical theology considerations, a mark of his ministry, which we discuss in a recent, multi-part interview at jpmoreland.com.
While ordained as an Assemblies of God pastor, Tyra is a small-p “pentecostal” (to borrow from Amos Yong’s descriptor). In recent years, he and his wife have been attending the Anaheim Vineyard (senior Pastor Lance Pittluck is also referenced a few times in the book, along with Bert Waggonner). He teaches practical theology courses at Southern California’s Vanguard University, and has authored three other books, including his popular book, Defeating Pharisaism: Recovering Jesus’ Disciple-Making Method.
In light of the book’s thesis, I find his work to be beneficial for study and use as a pastor:
First, it offers biblically and theologically attentive accounts of the missio Dei. His chapter one alone is a handsome précis of the biblical data and perspective by showing Old Testament (40-50) and New Testament (50-74) accounts of the connection between the Holy Spirit of mission and the phenomenon of prophetic activity.
His chapter two locates explanations of prophetic evangelism (verbal presentations of the gospel and Spirit-prompted acts of compassion), prophetic edification (Spirit-empowered words and words that have the effect of encouraging, comforting and strengthening believers), and prophetic equipping (formed by a sense of ministry direction with requisite ministry skills and wisdom, all enfolded by material and prayer support for fruitful completion of task) within the Acts narrative in order to discern a model of “missional faithfulness” (80-97). Tyra sees Ananias of Damascus as “our prophetic ministry model” in light of the three areas above (98-101; 167-168).
Second, it is conversant with “missional church movement” influencers and offers a contribution to that discussion. Tyra’s contribution is (at least) in these two main ways: it presents global pentecostalism as a compelling case-study of how missional faithfulness is being enacted in non-Western contexts (chapter three); it offers an effectual discussion of the connection of prophetic activity with the role of ministry contextualization and representation of the reign of God (chapter four).
Tyra’s treatment of the global growth of Pentecostals/charismatics, including the data he emphasizes, is not altogether exclusive to his book; for it can be known elsewhere. What is helpful, though, is his explanation that this growth can be understood and appreciated as a powerful expression of missional faithfulness. Moreover, Tyra is offering a more “thickened” view of the process of ministry contextualization by explaining it as not just an issue of theology conversing between two sources (the biblical text and the cultural context) but those two with the “voice” of the Spirit of mission (139ff). The goal: faithful representation of the reign of God effected through community, service and proclamation (149-158).
Third, Tyra’s book can act as a conversation-starter among pentecostal and evangelical leaders regarding Christian witness in and for the sake of the world. When I ponder his missiological pneumatology, I actually become more hopeful about fruitful, interdenominational discussion and action. With Tyra’s contribution, gone should be the days of simply reducing the Spirit’s prophetic activity to the question of “are miraculous gifts for today?” It’s a ministry of Jesus issue. It’s a discipleship issue. It’s a missional issue!
Tyra’s chapter five seeks to show what difference his missiological pneumatology makes for the role of local church leaders (162-176) to even how it can shape the role of denominational officials (176-179) and the role of members of the Christian academy (179-185). Here, Tyra is not intending to necessarily exclude Christian scholars operating in non-Christian academic settings, as much as he’s focusing on how theology faculty can assist in developing and modeling a missiological pneumatology.
I recommend reading Tyra’s account of missional faithfulness not only in view of James Hunter’s “faithful presence” thesis (from To Change the World; my review here), but also in light of Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. I think Sherman’s concept of vocation could wonderfully thicken Tyra’s account of “prophetic speech and action,” just as his work could help articulate a practical biblical theology of what it means to bless others with our Spirit-empowered vocations. In addition, when reading Tyra on evangelism, I encourage an interactive read with The Sacrament of Evangelism, by evangelical writers, Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie (my review here). Although they are not pentecostals, it seems to me that Root and Guthrie are also seeking to envision and minister at the nexus of evangelism and a missiological pneumatology.
Beyond personal study and enjoyment, I recommend that pastors utilize Gary Tyra’s book in some of these ways:
- Form a small group study among pastoral staff in order to consider how his contribution might help shape the public communication message and language of your church’s identity and work in your community.
- Engage non-Vineyard pastors with this book, especially if you are involved in any interdenominational, city-wide discussions about what it means to be the church in your communities.
- For any existing or new ministries through your church, be circumspect about their purpose, motivations, and outcomes, by utilizing Gary’s framework in order to test the values that underwrite these endeavors.
Reviewed by Joseph E. Gorra
Joseph (Twitter @GorraResearch) is the Manager of Academic Programs and Research for Biola University’s graduate program in Christian Apologetics, a Vineyard Bible Institute Bachelors degree Cohort leader, and a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars.