The Judgement of Pentecost(als)

Tony Sig

I’ve been known for periodically maligning “Evangelicalism” and even “Pentecostalism” in various blog posts.  But, as I feel quite strongly about a potential future in Anglican/Orthodox and Anglican/Pentecostal work, I am far from having a uniformly small opinion of Pentecostals.  Indeed, I think it would be rather blind not to believe that, despite certain evil manifestations (“Health & Wealth” or various Trinitarian heresy), God has indeed given the Church a “wind” from the Spirit.

So I wanted to make mention of a few things that Pentecostals have to teach us, keeping in mind that I attempt to use “Pentecostal” in such a way as to describe Pentecostalism understood through historical churches rather than as anybody who expresses Charismatic gifts.  Always remember that Charismatic Christians of various denominations from Catholics to Anglicans are growing along with Pentecostals (which leads me to believe that Charismatization need not accompany bad eschatology, but I digress)

  • I am not an Evangelist, or at least I’d make a poor one and I’ve always been uncomfortable with it.  But churches that grow are churches that evangelize and/or send missionaries.  With the globalization of Christianity it is to be preferred that evangelism be done by the local church rather than by us Westerners, but the huge priority of Mission (almost never connected to lame trendy words like “Missional”) in Pentecostalism is a judgement on those Churches who feel no need to evangelize, or worse, find such a thing intolerable or unnecessary.
  • Pentecostals were post-critical before it was cool or justified epistemologically.  It forces us to attend to the Texts instead of “spiritualizing” bits of the NT which grate against rationalist nerves.
  • Pentecostals aren’t afraid to go all Amos 5 on our liturgical asses
  • Prayers for healing and manifestations of the “charismatic” gifts are something that all churches should practice (don’t choke the Holy Spirit)
  • Pentecostals don’t neglect “the laity”
  • Pentecostals have played a significant role in reminding us that God is Trinity – “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver or Life, who proceeds from the Father (and the …?), with the Father and the Son s/he is worshipped and glorified.”
  • Pentecostals are unafraid of not just “helping the poor” but “being the poor.”  Go into inner cities and who’s doing a most of the work with “minorities” and immigrants?  There is a sort of slight embarrassment for me in being in what is often thought of as the white religion of the bourgeoisie in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Pentecostalism has a LOT to learn from the church Catholic and historic.  One hopes that as a movement it will be incorporated into the historic bodies, but that’s another list.  Until then…Go Pentecostals!

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14 Comments

  1. Go all Amos on our asses. That is funny for two reasons. One, it is true. Two, amos rhymes with a certain part of our asses. I’m 12, I know.

    We should seriously collaborate one of these days. I did my master’s thesis on the stereotyping of Pentecostals by the film industry, mostly because I thought it’d be fun to rile up some good old-fashioned Berkeley liberals. 🙂

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  2. And being poor. Wow. So tough to hear. It’s interesting to consider that when Jesus talks about the “least of these” he was kind of being self-referential. What does it say that Christians usually aren’t in this country one of the least of these.

    I’ll quit commenting now.

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  3. Great post, Tony! Only question: “One hopes that as a movement it will be incorporated into the historic bodies…” Why? Given the growth rate of Pentecostalism vis-a-vis the historic bodies, why shouldn’t they be incorporated into it?

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    1. George,

      Well, we could put it a slightly different way as well: Pentecostals should incorporate the larger Christian tradition into it’s life-blood and in this way it would in significant ways accomplish renewal within itself. I want at some time to post on a couple ideas I have; one is that Pentecostalism is Catholicism in search of tradition; and the other is that Pentecostals are quite good at evangelizing, but they tend to lose people to either “seeker” churches or historical churches. Or at least this is what Simon Chan has said and the migration of evangelicals into the Mainline evinces this to a certain degree.

      To neglect history seems to me to be ironically anti-Spirit. It is to refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit was perfecting the Church in those periods before 1900. Did the Spirit lie dormant for the overwhelming majority of the “Years of our Lord?” (I know I’m preaching to the choir here and there are many growing exceptions, I’m speaking generally and allow for exceptions)

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  4. Don’t forget that they were also pacifists before they started struggling with their identity within the broader evangelical tradition. (BTW – this was the point of Paul Alexander’s PhD dissertation)

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  5. Were Pentecostals ‘post-‘ or ‘pre-‘ critical?

    There is a strain of Pentecostalism that speaks about their beliefs as if they are actually true. But sometimes that can be credited simply to an experientialist understanding of Christianity.

    I’ve been around plenty of Pentecostals that think critical thinking…or worse: doubt…are demonic.

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  6. Were Pentecostals pre- or post-critical? They may have been critical. Why, for example, did the early Pentecostals insist on tongues as initial physical EVIDENCE? Part of the reason is that this is what they found in the Bible. But it’s hard not to believe that they also had drunk deeply from the well of the foundationalist epistemology au courant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In my opinion, this doesn’t invalidate their perspective, of course. It does situate the way they expressed their theological norms in their own cultural context, however.

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  7. AD,

    Love this. As a (liturgically and doctrinally unreliable) Pentecostal, I found your judgments charitable, and – well, true (the truth is always only discerned charitable, after all)! The debate in the comments previous to mine about whether the Pentecostals were pre- or post- critical is more or less beside the point, I believe. Pentecostals, at least many of them, were used by the Spirit – regardless of what they might’ve believed they were doing – to disturb the critical readings of the text that enthralled both self-styled liberal and conservative xians in the mid to late 20th century, and continue to bedevil many so-called evangelicals today. I’m not naive about the many abuses that resulted from Pentecostal hermeneutic(s), but I nonetheless think it wise to recognize how the Pentecostal readings helped to break the hegemony of historio-critical exegesis.

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  8. I’ve written a Dmin project on Pentecostal anti-intellectualism, and the truth is much more complicated than most imagine. First, there is no such thing as Pentecostalism, per se; there are Pentecostalisms. Second, categorizing Pentecostal beliefs is particularly difficult, because as Hollenweger, Dayton, Land, et. al., have noted, there has always been a gap between what Pentecostals have said about themselves and what they’ve actually done. Third, as Grant Wacker has argued, and Doug Jacobson, too, the early Pentecostals were deeply concerned with doctrine, and were not in any sense unconcerned with intellectual matters. They were, by and large, poorly educated by the standards of most denominational clergy, and many of them had at most a poor knowledge of the larger Xian dogmatic tradition. Nonetheless, they were intellectuals of a type. One can – and I would say, should – contend that much of their theological work needs re-visioning (again, see Land), but it is simply erroneous to claim that they didn’t care about thinking, generally, or theology, specifically.

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  9. A final word. I’ve found plenty of what I might call anti-intellectual Pentecostals, but that is not so much a reflection on Pentecostalism as it is on those particular persons, and my interaction with them. I’ve learned that often those people are simply reacting against what they perceive to be a threatening implication of my teaching, or – this is probably the heart of the matter – against me, personally, because of the way I carry myself.

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  10. Chris,

    Thanks for visiting the site and commenting!

    You were certainly serious about that “charity stuff.” I think you are being very charitable about the obscurantism found in Pentecostalism. However, I am inclined to agree with you on at least one point.

    You said, “it is simply erroneous to claim that they didn’t care about thinking, generally, or theology, specifically.”

    I agree, in a qualified way, that it is erroneous. However, you have to juxtapose the Pentecostal predilection for doctrinal scrutiny with the Pentecostal need for experience. It is an experientially driven movement. So, where some are inclined to think, they are not inclined to think deeply. As a matter of Pentecostal identity, the need to have a deep experience always overrides the need to think deeply.

    If you don’t mind sharing, where have you been doing doctoral work?

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  11. I did the DMin at ORU a few years ago; I’m completing the PhD (theology) at Bangor Univ now, under the direction of John Christopher Thomas. (For what it’s worth, I’m writing a Pentecostal theology of the Eucharist.) I was born and raised as a Pentecostal, and, believe me, I’ve always been a bit of an odd member. I say all of this to give some context to my comments.

    Yes, there is an ‘experiential’ dimension to Pentecostal life and thought, but – and here the work of Jamie Smith is helpful for me – so is that of any and every Xian tradition! The problems with the many Pentecostal traditions – and there are many (problems and traditions), of course – aren’t directly results of the fact that they are experientially-driven. I’m not an apologist for Pentecostalism(s), but I don’t think we gain anything by oversimplifying the issues. Not that I’m accusing you of doing that. I’m only trying to make my position as clear as I can.

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  12. Chris,

    I’d be interested to hear your take on Simon Chan, in that case.

    It’d be silly to deny the orthopraxic nature of Christianity in all its iterations. Nonetheless, it seems that the doctrinal concerns of Pentecostals have always been a matter of explaining or proofing an experience they had. If I remember my A/G indoctrination correctly, the (f)athers of Pentecostalism read the promises of the NT and prayed accordingly. They had wonderful revival including the onset of modern Pentecostal “tongues experiences” and worked on doctrinal explanations and ecclesial polity afterward.

    Again, I agree with you that the problems weren’t, “directly results of the fact that they are experientially-driven.”

    Though, I wonder if they aren’t directly results of being experientially driven AND being predisposed to obscurantism that originates from the kind of “incarnational” notions of Christian criticisms of culture – due to the fact that those criticisms are informed hugely by Wesleyan Perfectionism.

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  13. Magnificent site. Magnificent dialogue. Refreshing all. Thank you for being.

    That’s me in the corner, a former Catholic, former Charismatic Catholic, charismatic evangelical, formerly satisfied charismatic evangelical. That’s me in the spotlight, in search of my traditions. In search of the rest of my body, my roots. The rest of my family. Seeking to break out of my (our) own little historical Truman Show, and fully see, acknowledge, embrace – as one who self-defines vis-a-vis a high belief in the Holy Spirit, his work in generating, empowering and shaping Christ’s body throughout all of history.

    Hope you don’t mind me sneaking in the pub for an occasional mug.

    Btw, “go(ing) Amos on . . .” That’s not like “going medieval” is it?

    Reply

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