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The Spirit and the Prophetic Church, Part 2, by Antipas L. Harris

However, a serious look at scripture suggests that the biblical accounts (particularly in the New Testament) of God dealing with his people seems more relational than evangelical theology purports. This relational approach to theology seems appropriately defined in Don Browning’s Fundamentals of Practical Theology. Browning argues for a practice-theory-practice model for doing theology. Such approach to theology invites situations in everyday life to the theological process, inverting the theological paradigm from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach.

Much of today’s theological education system has been irresponsible in providing a necessary bridge between biblical, intellectual, and practical life in the city.

Pentecostal theology—a theology born out of experience—must be careful not to align itself too closely with top-down Protestant theological approaches and become like them. Pentecostalism is a grassroots movement and provides a revival of the bottom-up theological approaches. So then, Pentecostal churches not only have opportunity to advance ecumenical approaches to ministry but also bottom-up prophetic ministry that cares about what God is doing and aims to do among unassuming common people in society.

There are notable similarities between the first Pentecost experience in Acts 2 and the twentieth century Pentecostal movement at Azusa Street in 1906 that support the bottom-up approach to theology. In both situations people experienced God in a new way. Nothing prior to their experience truly prepared them for this. As a result, many things about the people present for the experience were interrupted. Their theology was interrupted and their lifestyles changed. As a result, they struggled to explain what had happened and what it would mean for them moving forward. One thing they did know was that they had an encounter with God that changed their lives from that moment forward.

As commonly agreed, Acts 2 and Azusa Street are important historical accounts among Pentecostal and Renewal Churches. A close read of these two moves of the Spirit, moreover, reveal that the work of Pentecost is really a bottom-up, practice-theory-practice religious experience that does not fit a top-down, theory-practice paradigm. The first church was born out of this relational encounter. The experience set the platform for the theology of the early church. As a result, theology of the New Testament Church looks different than Old Testament theology. For example, Acts 15 reveals that the apostles extracted a theological precept as a result of the experience of the Spirit among non-Jews. By the Holy Spirit, God saved the Gentiles when Peter preached to them. Following the salvific work of the Spirit, the Spirit also plays a role in ecclesial decisions.41 No longer must Gentiles be Jewish proselytes to be included in the Church of Jesus Christ. The early church’s theology of circumcision has now been challenged by what God is doing on the ground among the non-Jews. A top-down approach would have pointed to the Hebrew Bible and said, “the Bible says that you must be circumcised. So, you cannot be saved, yet.” However, they were open to what seems “good to the Holy Spirit” based on what was happening in experience (practice). So, they had to re-define their theory of salvation as a result of the experience. They returned to practice with new insight for ministry. The Acts 15 example serves as a clear example that the “New Testament way” is one that values people’s experience as important to the theological discourse (practice-theory-practice). Similarly, the Pentecostal experience at Azusa Street was theological as it set the course for new theologies that emerged or (rather) needed to emerge.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”
Jeremiah 29:7, NRSV

A likely critique of this assertion questions whether all of human experience, or in this case—the urban experience, is relevant to the work of the Spirit. However, Yong’s work on the Holy Spirit42 is helpful here. Basing his argument, in part, on scriptures like John 3:8 which states, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (NRSV) and Acts 2:17–18 which states, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (NRSV). There is a biblical sense that the Spirit moves by divine authority providing all sorts of experiences for humankind. Yong argues for God’s uncontrollable presence throughout the universe. I contend more specifically that the Holy Spirit is present in urban centers. The Pentecostal theologian, moreover, must not subscribe to top-down theological paradigms. These approaches are antithetical to the sensitivity of the “move of the Spirit” in ministry as well as people’s everyday life in the city and beyond.

In Sabbath in the City, Bryan Stone and Claire Wolfteich argue for a divine presence renewing the city through the many churches present there.43 They explain that pastors in metropolises tend to work hard. They are often overworked with little human resources and financial resources to sustain support for their own congregations. The need is too great and the resources are too limited for urban churches to continue to minister in isolation. It is essential that they build collegial partnerships with other churches and emphasize mutual sharing and support, a common project or task, camaraderie and communal spiritual formation.44 Churches that do not embrace ecumenical practice of ministry are vulnerable for extinction. This seems evident in the situation of the dying churches in the “turned urban community” in Portsmouth.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), was appointed as the founding dean of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, Virginia in the Spring of 2017. He is the Criminal Justice System Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), president of the Global Institute for Empowerment & Leadership Development, known as GIELD, and he serves as the Director of TheUrbanCircle.Net, a relational network of urban ministries and churches. He has additional experience as an educator, academic lecturer, itinerant preacher, pastor, youth director, motivational speaker, and Christian musician. He is the author of Holy Spirit, Holy Living: A Practical Theology of Holiness for Twenty-first Century Churches (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and Unstoppable Success: 7 Ways to Flourish in Your Boundless Potential (High Bridge Books, 2014). AntipasHarris.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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