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Justo Gonzalez: Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit

Given that my native culture is not Hispanic, I have asked Orlando Terrero to review the work as well. His comments follow.

The book of Acts is about the Holy Spirit leading his people in the world as a Church of love, mission, and unity; heavenly minded, but active against the forces of injustice, evil, and the challenges of a world system that opposes the Gospel. Surely the values given by the Holy Spirit to God’s people in Acts transcend race, color, or geography. Yet at the same time, the experiences of the early community of faith speak especially to Hispanics who today seek insight into the Holy Spirit’s standards of true success at home and abroad.

The Pentecostal experience and the work of the Spirit in Acts take place in a world in many ways similar to Latino countries where the masses suffer oppression and injustice from the powerful, who often hide under religious umbrellas, but always oppose anything that challenges their established structures. It is a world that exploits the unlearned, takes their lands, mistreats women and children, and diminishes reverence for human life where it is needed most. Rampant hunger, malnutrition, and sickness dominates the lives of many, while the rulers of the land are too sick themselves to carry out honest handling of the wealth entrusted to them for the common good. Amidst such reality, the Holy Spirit comes to fill the masses with the hope of the Gospel, creating a worshipping community that is united by love, and thus accomplishing his mission through people considered nothing according to society’s standards. He transforms them into anonymous apostles who are filled with praise and gladness, rather than methodology and schooling. These establish churches and turn the world upside down.

The rapid growth of Hispanic Pentecostal Churches is not primarily due to Western missionary work, but to the work of these unknown witnesses who without technology and media have gone from place to place to work with the poor, and to become transformers of history. Their power comes from the divine Spirit rather than from intellectual scales of social values. Their message, like the message of the early Church, challenges established structures and systems amidst many sufferings and persecutions. While some may think that González‘s use of the word subverting is too strong, it is undeniably biblical to say We will obey God rather than men when describing the Christian response to systems that oppose the gospel.

In the excitement of their mission as a Church, many Latin American Christians have missed Acts. The title Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit speaks especially to the present Hispanic Christian community. In the beginning, the message of the kingdom of God to the masses of Hispanic people, already disappointed by their economic and political situations, offered hope and prosperity only in heaven. Since then, millions of people have embraced a Pentecostal experience that separates them from the world on earth, so that eschatology and issues of the end have taken precedence. But the Spirit of Acts does not lead God’s people to a spirituality which ignores what is physical and material. Such religion only increases the evil in what González calls a hemisphere burdened by poverty. Hispanic Christians who hope for heaven as the only place of prosperity, create a life with nothing to give to those who live in poverty and injustice.

I will add that the reason why democracy is a failure in Latin American countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, is because Christians do not get involved in the political affairs of these nations, not even in prayer. González calls Latino Christians to live in the world realizing that material resources are also signs of the presence of the kingdom of God on earth, rather than unimportant and detached from the gospel. Here, González corrects a deadly theological error. The book of Acts proves that the kingdom of God is effective in shaping the world, and that Christians do effect the social, political, economic, and religious systems in which they live. The Holy Spirit is in control of history, active against injustice in leading his people to help the poor and the widows as Stephen did when he served the tables. The message of the Spirit is as much a call to deal with the powerful, the poor, and the dispossessed, as it is to wait for the second coming of Christ. The Church must address injustice. It should not hesitate to do like Paul, who actively participated in the political process to advance the cause of Christ in asserting his rights as a Roman citizen.

The Spirit in Acts also leads his people at the local Church level. Hispanic-Pentecostals can no longer blame past conflicts and errors on the Catholic Church since Pentecostals have polarized their own structures and caused their own blunders. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit does not limit the role of women, misuse the gifts to manipulate authority, oppress other Christians, limit the baptism to those speaking in tongues, gossip and spread rumors, prevent the preaching of the gospel because of cultural barriers, cause doctrinal divisions, forbid theological training, etc. Rather, the Holy Spirit leads the Church to take the gospel to the kingdom into new heights regardless of language and cultural barriers. There is no partiality with the Spirit, and he does not try to raise one culture over another. The Spirit leads a pluralistic Church that seeks for new understanding of evangelism, and finds new ways to bring the message of the kingdom to others. The Hispanic Church is called to preach grace even if it means praying for the conversion of those who persecute them. They must see missions as the pivotal role of the Church, understanding that faith may deliver from evil, but it can also result in martyrdom, as the examples of Peter and James. The Spirit in Acts prepares the Hispanic Church to prepare disciples, produce new leaders, find grounds of cooperation, and fulfill its mission amidst peaceful or difficult times. Hispanic leaders must be flexible to new methods for the sake of missions, move forward when dialogue is not possible, and preach the gospel no matter the outcome.

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: James B. Shelton, Ph.D. (University of Stirling, Scotland), M.A. (Oral Roberts University), is Professor of New Testament at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (Wipf & Stock, 1999 reprint) as well as numerous essays in scholarly journals, books, and biblical commentaries. Faculty page

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