the shape of leadership

Getting Real | Book Review

Gary Tyra calls churches to return to the true revelation of Christ

Byron Klaus on May 2, 2018

Observers know that competing narratives have made broad inroads into contemporary Christianity in the U.S. Most daunting of those alternative narratives is moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD). Authors Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean have provided well researched descriptions of how this phenomenon typifies the world of so many teenagers and young adults under the shadow of postmodernity.

For all practical purposes, MTD is a contemporary version of deism (which, sadly, has had regular appearances in American Christianity historically). MTD is religion “lite,” where a creator god exists but doesn’t get too involved in human life unless we need this god to fix a mess we are in. Of course, this god is good and will fix things for us because, according to this view, the central goal of life is to be happy.

In his recent book, Getting Real: Pneumatological Realism and the Spiritual, Moral, and Ministry Formation of Contemporary Christians, Gary Tyra thoroughly describes how this alternative narrative is permeating the very fabric of Christianity here in North America, resulting in a feeble faith.

Some book titles try to maximize book sales: The title piques your interest, but the book leaves you wondering what the title had to do with the contents. Tyra’s volume does the opposite: The title is really a description of the antidote to the problem Tyra describes.

Getting real refers to an everyday phrase that challenges others to take seriously a theme or subject or look at the issue sans smoke and mirrors. Tyra’s Getting Real calls us to take seriously the Spirit’s revelation of the present work of Jesus.

The subtitle includes a phrase that is a mouthful: pneumatological realism. The entirety of the book unpacks what pneumatological realism is. In a nutshell, it’s taking seriously the work of the Holy Spirit to develop us as faithful followers of Jesus.

Tyra’s efforts mirror the words of Pentecostal New Testament scholar Gordon Fee, who more than 20 years ago challenged Christians to recapture the apostle Paul’s perspective on the Holy Spirit as “the experienced, empowering return of God’s own personal presence in and among us, who enables us to live as radically eschatological people in the world.”

We are in a desperate struggle for the very soul of Christianity in our nation.

After thoroughly describing the devastating impact MTD is having on Christian faith, Tyra provides specific guidelines on how we can counter its destructive influences in the spiritual, moral and ministry formation of contemporary Christians.

Those specific guidelines, over the course of several chapters, find their foundation in Tyra’s passionate appeal to remember that without taking seriously the presence of the Holy Spirit, (what we might also term the present tense of Jesus), we cannot hope to counteract the impact of MTD or any other challenge to the vitality of contemporary Christianity.

Tyra is essentially asking every follower of Jesus who longs for a vibrant faith to consider whether he or she is living under the enduring impact of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost.

Several things catch my attention as I read Tyra’s antidote to the dilemma he poignantly describes. If you read between the lines, Tyra is a passionate evangelist preaching to the church in Sardis: “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).

While this book certainly has application to any Christian tradition, its stinging rebuke to those of us who call ourselves Pentecostal strikes me. Tyra’s thorough outline of how we become “pneumatologically real” is akin to Paul’s instruction to the Galatians to “keep in step with Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). This should be Holy Spirit 101.

However, the substance of Tyra’s outline on how to “get real” all too often becomes neutralized by our incessant pursuit of the novel, new and supposedly contemporary.

Tyra’s prescriptive section includes few openly Pentecostal references, which may leave some readers wondering about its efficacy. However, Tyra’s writing reminds us that there are folks outside our church family who have also thought about the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit down through the centuries.

Those believers have longed for the infusion of vitality in their church communities and offer keen insights that can enrich even the most fervent Pentecostal. Tyra gleans those insights and frames them in concise thoughts and themes that can benefit any Pentecostal preacher or teacher.

I’ve known Gary Tyra from the time he was a young minister. This book is the passionate appeal of a pastor for his church family to wake up and get real — and if you say you are a people of the Spirit, then act like it and keep in step with the Spirit.

We are in a desperate struggle for the very soul of Christianity in our nation, and Tyra offers a powerful reminder that getting real about the enduring impact of Pentecost is a solution that is central to God’s redemptive mission.

Book Reviewed

Gary Tyra, Getting Real: Pneumatological Realism and the Spiritual, Moral, and Ministry Formation of Contemporary Christians (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018).


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