In this inaugural volume to the Pentecostal Manifestos series, Smith presents an unapologetic articulation of a distinctly Pentecostal philosophy. In his trademark manner that marries informal, conversational style with academic rigor and that introduces elements from popular culture to hard-core issues of philosophy and theology, Smith lays out the twofold conviction that Pentecostals have a unique calling and gift in the broader Christian academy, and that this unique quality begs to be articulated. Thinking in Tongues is the articulation of this theological “genius” (xiv) implicit within Pentecostal spirituality and praxis, a map to an imagination shared by Pentecostals that contributes to a larger Christian philosophy and tradition. If you think that this book is but the portrait of a now fashionable Pentecostalism, you are missing the point. Smith’s book is not simply about a philosophy tuned in to Pentecostal sensitivities (although you can find that in the book), nor is it a critique of the dominant philosophical frameworks and operative categories (although that is also in the book), it is not even primarily about “thinking” (even though that is part of the title of this volume)–rather, Thinking in Tonguesis about that which lies ahead of philosophy captured from inside a Pentecostal spirituality: a worldview, epistemology, and ontology that test the limits of the status quo and that foreshadow a different way of envisioning the coming kingdom.
Smith’s manifesto begins in chapter one with an “advice to philosophers,” echoing the now classic text by Alvin Plantinga but here addressed to Pentecostals and placing the book squarely in the midst of a movement that seeks to renew an unapologetically “Christian” philosophy. Plantinga’s program defended the position of the Christian faith commitment for the exercise of philosophy, the consequential autonomy of explicitly Christian reflections, and the need for even more self-confidence among Christian philosophers. In turn, Smith wishes to recognize the right of Pentecostals to engage in philosophy as Pentecostals, that is, from a particular set of “fundamental pentecostal commitments” (11) among which he counts a radical openness to God, an “enchanted” theology of creation and culture, a nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and materiality, an affective, narrative epistemology, and an eschatological orientation to mission and justice (12). In turn, Smith calls for an autonomy and integrity among Pentecostal philosophers that does not simply buy into other existing options but that develops an agenda and perspective uniquely and unapologetically Pentecostal, which benefits the Christian philosophical enterprise at large.
Chapters 2-4 articulate Smith’s proposal in more detail, first unpacking the elements of a Pentecostal worldview and then exploring its implications in terms of epistemology and ontology. Chapter 5 argues that Pentecostal spirituality, worship, and praxis represent a challenge at the borderline to existing paradigms in philosophy, providing Pentecostalism with an aura of liminality (Victor Turner’s term) that leads to a revolution in the methodology in philosophy of religion. This liminal challenge is then presented in its epic form in the final chapter, suggesting that Pentecostal tongue-speech is a sociopolitical critique of the status quo, the language of an eschatological imagination. The heart of this critique, for Smith, is that Pentecostals “imagine the world otherwise.” The Pentecostal worldview is less of an interpretation than a counterinterpretation of the world that involves what Smith terms “thinking in tongues” (25). The heart of this “thinking” is close to what Charles Taylor calls a “social imaginary” or Amos Yong labels a “pneumatological imagination.” For Smith, the roots of this worldview go back to an epistemology that is grounded in an affective way of being and that places embodiment rather than thinking at the core of human identity (54). The result is an embodied aesthetic that babbles forth in narratives a vision of the world otherwise: “a space in which God’s Spirit breaks in to fantastically give a foretaste of the coming kingdom” (85). Pentecostalism thus brings philosophy to its limits; not just the limits of speech (chapter 6), but the limits of self-expression, and hence interpretation. The Pentecostal mode of being is closer to the surreal than the real, not merely in the manifestation of tongues speech but in the imagination that allows that speech to come forth. In the end, then, Smith’s book urges us to capture the essence of Pentecostal spirituality as philosophy, a proposal so radical that it may have to await the forging of appropriate philosophical categories, frameworks, and concpets before it can be fully appreciated.
Smith’s proposal is heartfelt. It is truly a manifesto for Pentecostal philosophy that holds great promise for future volumes in the series. This volume anticipates what we can expect: not the assessment that “Pentecostalism has come of age” but that Pentecostalism has remained unexpectedly young, that it does not want to “grow up.” There is in this volume more of an adolescent rebellion, a passion and excitement about seeing it all there and yet being unable to master it. The “it” in this case is a spirituality and affectivity among Pentecostals that escapes the formalities of language, knowledge, and articulation. Hence, Smith is at pains to capture the Pentecostal “understanding”– a term frequently put in parenthesis because it is really a pre-understanding, a pre-cognitive “knowing” that Smith finds among Pentecostals. The term is forced upon him by the dominant philosophical mindset, but it stands out awkwardly among a crisp, sharp text that persistently tries to imagine(not understand) the world otherwise. “Imagination,” “affectivity,” “aesthetic,” all of those terms used throughout the book capture what is otherwise covered up by the term “understanding.” In this sense, the title, Thinking in Tongues, is only an invitation to let go of the idea of “thought” as the dominant model of philosophy and to fill it with a manner of being that captures the essence of Pentecostalism more fully. Thought is thereby not abandoned but reawakened.
Smith sketches this rich and provocative proposal only in outline form, and the more embodied rhythms of Pentecostal spirituality, worship, and practices need more engagement with primary Pentecostal sources and testimony than Smith provides. To use Smith’s own analogy, the proposal needs more “color” to complete what is found here. But the sketch should be enough to offer more than a “contribution” to Christian philosophy–this is an attempt to re-envision how philosophy can be carried out. Neither Pentecostals or non-Pentecostals are privileged in this task: both have a different path to go before they can walk together.