Conversations on Pentecostal Spirituality: Interview with Gary Tyra
Gary Tyra, author of a new book on spiritual development, shares what makes Pentecostal spirituality unique.
Editor's note: Gary Tyra, a Professor of Biblical and Practical Theology at Vanguard University, was recently asked to author a book as part of a series on Pentecostal faith formation titled Introduction to Spirituality: Cultivating a Lifestyle of Faithfulness. With the purpose of the series being academic in nature, Tyra says that he wrote the book with both lay people and pastors in mind. Tyra spoke with AG News and offered a birds-eye view of what he hopes will be a tool for further spiritual development and discipleship for those in the Pentecost movement.
AG News: Would you please briefly describe your spiritual journey?
Gary Tyra: Sure. To start, I wasn’t raised in the church. My parents were essentially professing but not church-going Pentecostals whose lifestyles taught me to fear God, but not really be at peace with him. This produced some confusion and anxiety in me. Though as a child I asked Jesus into my heart one night with my mom’s assistance, I didn’t know how to cultivate a relationship with him. As I grew into my adolescence, I continued to have a lot of anxiety surrounding God and religion so I just stayed away from it all.
I started college at Fresno State University as a pre-med chemistry major when a cute girl, whom I would later marry, asked me to go to church with her. That night, the Lord really got ahold of me. I continued attending church, praying, reading my Bible, and engaging in various ministries. Eventually, a lot of people began to tell me they thought I had a call to ministry on my life. I started to realize that I wanted to preach and minister the gospel. So, I transferred to a Christian university and earned a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) degree in pastoral ministry. When I graduated, I moved to Southern California and started pastoring my first church at the age of 25 while working towards my M.Div. (Master of Divinity) degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Over the next 28 years, I would pastor 3 churches. I also earned a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry) degree (from Fuller). I began teaching at Vanguard University as an adjunct professor in the late 1980s. Eventually, in 2002, the opportunity presented itself for me to come on as a full-time professor and I felt like it was what I was supposed to do.
AG News: You have authored several books. How did you become involved in this project series?
Gary Tyra: I have had nine books published, all of which focus on the spiritual, moral, and ministry formation of university students and church members. Recently, the AG co-editors of a new book series in the works at Baker Academic, approached me about writing an introduction to spirituality for it. The aim of the series, which is titled “Foundations for Spirit-Filled Christianity,” is to create a collection of introductory textbooks from a Pentecostal perspective on various theological and ministry topics that can be distributed globally to train ministers. Since the topic of spirituality falls within my wheelhouse, I was honored to be asked to contribute this particular volume.
AG News: There are a number of books on spirituality available for Christians to consume. Why did you feel that it was important to write about spirituality specifically related to Pentecostalism?
Gary Tyra: The kind of spirituality the Apostle Paul practiced and promoted requires a pneumatological (Holy Spirit) focus. Ephesians 5:18 reminds us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, and in Galatians 5:25 Paul calls for us to “keep in step with the Spirit.” The Bible and Christian experience reveal that the Holy Spirit routinely provides Christ’s followers with both lifestyle and ministry promptings. A Pauline spirituality calls for us to take the promptings of the Spirit seriously. In the global south, Pentecostal Christianity is extremely popular because church members become filled with the Holy Spirit and then begin obeying the Spirit’s prompting to go and talk to their neighbors, family members, or anyone who will listen, and the faith spreads like wildfire. As they are experiencing the love and forgiveness of Jesus, it prompts them to live a lifestyle continually fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit and it is creating a movement of modern-day, missionally active disciples.
When you think of it, being filled with the Spirit, and then surrendering to His leading are the most primary spiritual practices prescribed by Paul in his letters. Paul understood that the Holy Spirit is how we experience not only new life in Christ but an ongoing mentoring relationship with him, becoming empowered thereby to become truly missional in our Pentecostalism. The Spirit’s empowerment is how we speak and act on behalf of Christ, taking His presence into our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, and communities.
You see, for Paul, spirituality wasn’t simply an occasional engagement in certain spiritual practices; it was a lifestyle, a way of being in the world that helps others experience Christ in and through his disciples. We can do this; we can cultivate a lifestyle of spirituality. Indeed, doing so is crucial if we want to be truly missional in our faith.
AG News: You emphasize the importance of relationship with a triune God. Why is the triunity of the Godhead vital to spirituality?
Gary Tyra: The Bible portrays our eternal God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, God is a communion of divine personages eternally engaged in a loving, other-preferring relationship. Therefore, it is apparent that God is inherently relational in his being; it is part of who He is, not just what He does. If we understand that He is inherently relational, it gives us a better picture of why He is so intentional on having personal intimacy with His image bearers. God is not satisfied with his people merely obeying rules and observing rituals. His aim is a relationship with us: an intimate, interactive, life-transforming relationship. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit into the world to make this possible. His triunity works together to bring us into that personal relationship with Him through the redemption effected by Christ the Son, and the spiritual, moral, and missional empowerment provided by the Holy Spirit. All of this is what pleases God the Father, our Abba.
AG News: Why would you encourage readers to dive deeper into the topics we have discussed today?
Gary Tyra: These things are fundamentally important for Christians. The things we have talked about, the Holy Spirit, spirituality as a lifestyle, and the triunity of God, are game changing realities. Once we become aware of them, begin to understand them, and embrace them, we are opened up to a whole new way of being Christian.
When we move past mere techniques into truly becoming more like Christ, we will be able to communicate Christ in a way that is intriguing to non-believers. We are called to be vibrant witnesses for the Lord and I hope our conversation today serves as a strong motivation for others to explore the possibility that true Pentecostal spirituality can be as impactful as my Introduction to Spirituality contends.