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Susan Smith


In 1990, Pope John Paul II spoke of the Spirit as "the principal agent of mission," a statement that can provoke a variety of perceptions of the contemporary practice of mission. In this article I wish to show how the mission of the Spirit enjoys chronological and spatial priority over the mission of Jesus through an examination of the work of some contemporary theologians. An emphasis on the chronological and spatial priority of the Spirit opens up, first, new possibilities for those who favor interreligious dialogue rather than an emphasis on proclamation and proselytization as privileged ways of being missionary. Second, it offers support to women who have long experienced the negative impact of androcentric Christologies in both church and society. Third, the universal presence of the Spirit in creation is an invitation for contemporary women and men to redefine their relationship to the rest of creation, for the Spirit's immanence in all creation should call for a retreat from exploitative attitudes to nature. Fourth, the energizing and vivifying power of the Spirit could challenge that institutional inertia that can encourage the church to think of church expansion and growth as the legitimate goal of missionary activity. But to speak of the Spirit as "the principal agent of mission" also requires that we need to redefine our understanding of the relationship between the Spirit and the Jesus of history. This redefinition is important, for to move from a narrow Christocentrism or theocentrism to a theology of mission that could appear to delink the Spirit from the Father and Son in favor of understanding the Spirit as a "cosmic force," a "cosmic energy" is as limiting as the problem it tries to resolve.