Dr. Amos Yong provided this reflection on Pentecost for our June 2014 TWI Newsletter. You can sign up to regularly receive our monthly newsletter here.
Life and work in the twenty-first century is more complex than ever. In our so-called “information age,” what to know and how to act upon what appears to be dynamic knowledge databases paralyze even those who are most dedicated to living well and bearing faithful Christian witness in our time. Not only is there so much to know, but there are so many modalities of coming-to-know and so many perspectives from which knowledge is communicated.
It’s not only what there is to be known (with an ever-expansiveness that exceeds the grasp of any of us), but also how we might understand what we can known out of the many voices of the moment. In our shrinking global context, location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers—religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential. How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?
In anticipation of Pentecost Sunday this year (June 8, 2014), a look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated.
What are the implications of such a “Pentecostal” perspective for Christian vocation in the present time? I can think of three possible lines of response. First, we might want to take time to observe – really see – the people we interact with and who contribute to and shape our own lives. Our neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances (like the cable guy, the handyman, and the cleaning lady, which have come to replace the proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker) probably come from very different walks of life than us, if we only cared to notice. Rather than ignore or overlook this differentiatedness, perhaps we might begin to appreciate them for who they are and for what they represent. We must prayerfully seek to see them beyond their functionality. This invites us to cease presuming they are just like us and taking them for granted. As we begin to notice these differences, we might be more alert to how we can work better toward common cause, and relate more hospitably to others who may neither think like us nor live like we do.
Beyond appreciation, there is the further task of valuing the differences that do exist. This next step is more risky, since to value such otherness requires us to be open to changing our minds, to adjusting our behaviors, and to living otherwise ourselves. To do so, we must go beyond “encountering” the other to engaging with and relating to the other as other. Might the perspective of the other challenge our own perspective? Might our openness to living, working, and walking with another result in our own transformation? Is this acceptable? The deeper question is whether it is unavoidable given that we do not live in a bubble and are increasingly interfacing with others.
Our pursuits of genuine, open relationships with others will certainly influence us but also be a possible catalyst for others to reconsider who they themselves are. This results not just from the mutuality that characterizes all authentic relationships but also from the fact that, as Christians who are shaped deeply by the image of God in Christ, finally our witness will be, as it was on the Day of Pentecost, both cruciform and theocentric. It may even involve a parting of ways.
But the promise of Pentecost is at least threefold: 1) we will be able to bear adequate witness to the living God in surprising relationship to others; 2) others may well be invited to repent and reconsider their life trajectories in light of our relationship; and 3) whether or not that happens, there is no relationship in the Spirit of Christ that will not also transform us in the process.
Can we achieve these ends on our own? No. We are too wrapped up in ourselves and too fearful of others. But can God achieve these in our lives? Yes, through the Holy Spirit who continues to be poured out on all flesh and remains available to every human heart.
Come, Holy Spirit, renew our vocations in the public square.
Dr. Amos Yong is currently the J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology and Dean of the School of Divinity, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia. In July 2014, he will become Professor of Theology and Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has authored or edited over thirty volumes, which we encourage you to explore further. His scholarship has been among the foundational work done in Pentecostal theology, interacting with both traditional theological traditions and contemporary contextual theologies. His varied studies ranges from from the theology of Christian-Buddhist dialogue, theology of disability, political theology, and theology of hospitality to, most recently, theological method and theology of the mission of God. He and his wife, Alma, reside in Pasedena, California, and have three adult children.
Photo: Subhadip Mukherjee