Archive for June, 2011

Wanted: Pentecostal Theology

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

I have been reading Pentecostal works on systematic theology. I think I read all of them. There aren’t that many. What I am missing is any kind of idea of what exactly is Pentecostal about them. The order of topics, and much of the content, is not different from, say, a Millard Erickson text or a similarly widely used volume. At the same time as I am reading these texts, I am writing on a book that introduces Pentecostalism. “A Guide fo the Perplexed” says my subtitle. What perplexes me is that the things I wish to say, I cannot find in the theology books written by Pentecostals.

Yesterday, I was a discussion of my last book, Beyond Pentecostalism, and I was asked what exactly identifies a Pentecostal theology as Pentecostal. Perhaps the only thing that we can say today, I was told, is that the book is written by someone who is Pentecostal. But in the content we find very little that distinguishes it from other works. I am afraid, I tend to agree with this assessment. It’s not that Pentecostals do not have a particular form of theological reflection and content. It’s that they do not know how to express it.

Just open one of those books and see where it takes you. I wonder, how can a Pentecostal theology have no explicit chapter (!) on Jesus Christ at all (Duffield and Van Cleave’s Foundations of Pentecostal Theology) or put a chapter on Christ in the ninth place (Stanley Horton’s Systematic Theology)? Is a discussion on the unity, clarity, and authority of Scripture really the starting point of Pentecostal doctrine (Arrington’s Christian Doctrine, vol.1)? CanPentecostals afford to look at the table of contents and find no mention of the Holy Spirit (Hart’s Truth Aflame)? In other texts, I find descriptions of theological loci that remind me closely of Reformed teachings (Calvin’s Institutes are a popular model) or some other Evangelical model, but I look in vain for what makes this a Pentecostal text. (All this is not really new criticism; see Terry L. Cross, “Toward a Theology of the Word and the Spirit: A Review of J. Rodman Williams’s Renewal Theology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3 (1993): 113-35.)

What I do not find is a theology that reflects the less vocal Pentecostal majority in the global South; African convictions, Latin American piety, and other non-academic perspectives are absent. The reason for this neglect may be that those Pentecostals do not write a systematic theology. But that should not exclude their voices. If the proper, Anglo-European formulations of Christian doctrine do not fit the Pentecostal ethos, then it is unlikely we can find the heart of Pentecostal theology in such endeavors.

What I do not find is a confidence in being Pentecostla that reflects in the manner doctrines are presented. Pentecostal spend far too much time with apologetics, explaining who they are and justifying their existence in light of the ecemenical traditions (I am guilty of that). It is time that we move ahead and stop apologizing for being Pentecostals and begin to do theology as Pentecostals.

What I do not find is an order of doctrines that truly reflects the priorities of Pentecostal thinking. We continue to adopt the way of ordering theological loci from others despite the fact that several Pentecostal theologians have already shown the negative impact such adoptions have on the preservation of the Pentecostal tradition to the next generation.

What I do not find is a way of speaking (or writing) that reflects a Pentecostal spirituality and cosmology. The way theology is done by Pentecostals most certainly impacts what Pentecostals say and the manner in which they communicate. I am hard-pressed to find a Pentecostal theology that does not seem to be “domesticated”.

To be sure, the reasons for these neglects are not solely found among Pentecostals. Just last week I was told by the senior editor of a major publishing house that Pentecostal texts do not sell very well. At some point, when this was true, Pentecostals found their way into the publishing arena by adopting the conventional way of theology. Today, this convential way has taken the life out of theological texts by Pentecostals. There is, as I was told yesterday, nothing particularly attractive about a Pentecostal book next to a non-Pentecostal book (especially if the other one carries a bigger name). Which one would you choose?

I wonder how the Society for Pentecostal Studies would respond to this assessment. Perhaps we are content with the current state of affairs? Perhaps we do not have the scholars in the field of theology that can write these kind of texts? Did Pentecostals fail to train their own as systematic theologians? Does the Pentecostal leadership in the churches assume that they are sufficiently trained to formulate Pentecostal doctrine? Can we afford to do theology without consulting those Pentecostals without academic training? Where will this lead us? I, for one, am tempted to put out a sign: Wanted! Pentecostal Theology!

Can you help?

In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 by Paul Palma

Amos Yong. In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology. Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010). xx + 377 pp.

Over the past decade, Amos Yong has emerged as a leading theologian of the Pentecostal movement. In the Days of Caesar is his evaluation of the intersection between Pentecostalism and the authoritative societal structures of a post-Christendom world. He contends for a political theology in which Pentecostalism, together with the ecumenical Church at large, discerningly confronts and participates in the public spheres of our world today. This position involves taking a critical stance towards dominant cultural, economic, and civic-societal trends, while at the same time modeling a way of life commensurate with the messianic message of peace. Pentecostalism, he argues, has an essential role to play in political theology, and the “concrete politics and public presence and activity of pentecostalism have much to contribute to the church ecumenical in terms not only of beliefs but also of practices” (pp. 360-61).

The book is divided into two parts. The first three chapters set forth the conceptual framework of the work. Chapter one provides an overview of the politics surrounding Pentecostal Christianity. Yong argues in favor of an alternative, progressive political theology over against an apolitical, sectarian, or conservative stance. Chapter two assesses the history of political theology, highlighting developments across the early Christian, medieval, and Reformation periods. The contemporary scene of political theology is then illuminated, viewed particularly in light of Carl Schmitt’s magnum opus of 1922. Chapter three presents the main thesis of the book that Pentecostalism’s “many tongues” provides a unique and strategic platform for engaging the plurality of political theologies that impact our world today.

Part two appropriates the thesis of  a political theology of “many tongues” to the Fivefold Pentecostal Gospel. Pentecostal salvation is conceived as deliverance from the principalities, powers, and political theologies of the demonic (chapter four). Yong suggests that the biblical language of deliverance extends to the political, economic, and social realms. This is understood in light of Abraham Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty model. In chapter five Pentecostal sanctification (or holiness) is depicted aesthetically, as the Spirit of beauty. Yong argues that a politics of many cultures, on the one hand maintains the kind of Christian marginality associated with John Howard Yoder’s political ecclesiology, Stanley Hauerwas’ colony of Resident Aliens, and the New Monasticism. On the other hand, he states, it encourages a new form of political theology, a “Christian leavening, if not explicit cultural engagement” (p. 201).

Chapter six identifies the function of Spirit-baptism with the Pentecostal power emergent among the plurality of civilian practices. The many tongues of Pentecostalism are especially applicable to the global south, where Radical Orthodoxy, and the Anglo-Catholic leanings of a John Milbank for instance, fall short. In chapter seven, Yong presents Jesus the healer as the “shalom” of peace, justice, and righteousness (p. 310). This provides an alternative healthcare, economics, and way of life, without separatism. For sacramental traditions this means the Eucharist is a time for sharing in community and the formation of the soul. Chapter eight envisions Pentecostal hope as the product of the eschatological imagination. Against the backdrop of St. Augustine’s model of the two cities, the Earthly city can, by reforming their lives, proleptically anticipate and experience the in-breaking of the Heavenly city.

Yong maintains that early Pentecostalism, in the tradition of the first apostles, can be compared to Monastic and other revival movements. Such movements offer an alternative way of life and contrast sharply with the cultural, economic, and social forms of the prevailing world order. Eventually, however, they begin to merge with the larger Christian tradition. That said, the current surge of Pentecostalism brings its own set of problems including charges of apoliticism. Yong suggests that Pentecostalism’s many tongues, and therefore many political practices, provide a contextual approach in which the Spirit can be seen as actively and presently working in the public spheres. The resultant shalom is the eschatological hope of the kingdom of God for many tongues, tribes, and nations.

The author provides a comprehensive and prescriptive political theology with relevance beyond Pentecostal Christianity. His method covers a range of political traditions, through the early Church to present times, effectively integrating a history of church-state relations into a contemporary theological model. It could be argued that Yong’s method reaches too far; however the global applicability of a Pentecostal Christian political theology is also the work’s greatest strength. The position articulated is deliberately exhaustive, because the Pentecostal movement has world-wide representation. The hope and cry of a political theology for a post-Christendom world must have the same applicability.


Words That Transform: Preaching as a Catalyst for Renewal

Monday, June 27th, 2011 by Timothy Lim Teck Ngern

James T. Flynn. Words That Transform: Preaching as a Catalyst for Renewal. Lanham; University Press of America, 2010.

Flynn presents a compelling case for transformational preaching as a catalyst for renewal in a way unlike a number of dominant publications. In four of eight chapters, he focuses on the primary importance of the preacher’s inner journey towards personal transformation (chs. 1, 3-5), two chapters are dedicated to sermon preparation and preaching techniques (chs. 6-7), one chapter on the incarnational ministry of Jesus (chs. 2), and a concluding chapter on experiences and anecdotal lessons. In a way, this structure reflects Flynn’s own conviction that the most effective preaching occurs in the preacher’s inner life, and only twenty-five percent of the labor reflects the external work of the preacher. Most homiletic literature devotes the weightiest part to the technicalities of preparing sermons. In fact, one can rarely find a chapter on the preacher’s inner life. Perhaps the closest sources to Flynn’s emphasis on transformational preaching are Barbara Lundblad’s Transforming the Stone (2001) and James Lemler’s Transforming Preaching (2010) albeit not in an overarching manner as Flynn’s Words That Transform.

The book presents a realistic vision of transformational preaching ministry. Flynn emphasizes that effective transformational preaching depends on the pastor’s experience of God’s transformative message in his or her own life . This includes the influence of irritation, pressure, pain and life’s setbacks as God’s way to mature and shape the preacher towards genuine transformation in order that a ready preacher may become a conduit of God’s message. He calls this a bitter-sweet journey of a preacher’s life as the personal price of preaching! Preachers wrestle with God in many ways – they serve even amidst their own sinfulness, they sometimes fear that God does not speak to them about the message for each Sunday and that life circumstances and the rigors of the pastoral ministry stand as obstacles in the way of the preacher’s preparation. But still, Flynn affirms the calling and undertakings of those who aspire to the preaching ministry and suggests that if a preacher will be open to God’s voice, then God will always show-up to guide the preacher as to what he or she ought to be saying.In this way preaching becomes the power to change lives, alter destinies, renew minds, bring hope and encouragement and a legacy for future generations.

In light of his theme, Flynn develops a theory of transformative sermon preparation according to which the preacher learns to be sensitive to God’s transformational message for the preacher in the course of the preacher’s daily life, and especially by attending to God’s open book and “dazzling theatre” – creation. Nature and life experiences are after all “powerful teachers of truth” and powerful metaphors and bridge-builders for communicating God’s word in preaching (p.86). In this manner, Flynn discusses healthy components of a preacher’s life that aid in the construction of transforming message. These components include the cultivation of virtues, forgiving attitude, humility, creativity, imagination, rest and rejuvenation. As a process in the crafting of sermons, Flynn recommends that preachers pay attention to the art and science of shaping sermons, giving priority the eyes (focus), skeleton (structure), heart (emotive), joints (transitions/connectives), flesh (multisensory experience in stories, testimonies and metaphors), and muscles (that introduces and drives home the point of the sermon) of a sermon. Throughout his book, Flynn never fails to capture his readers with well-chosen stories, metaphors, ideas, backed-up by words and historical studies presented in simple-formats so as to drive home his points! These should entice anyone to read Flynn’s work seriously since so much content and ideas are packed in a 200-page publication.

In order to articulate a broad and transformative vision of life as the context in which God speaks,Flynn would find some assistance in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. The discernment of God is grounded in a healthy distinction of life’s possessions from God including those we love and treasure the most so that everything in life and creation are the context by which God speaks! Nonetheless, I wonder if to some degree Flynn has over-extended the transformational dimension of preaching. Just as we do not remember every good meal we have consumed through the years, it is also unlikely that we can expect transformational preaching to occur each week for every participant (even if I assume that all are walking uncompromisingly and are equally desirous, hungry, and zealous of God). In other words, God’s transformational work can also occur in silence and in ways unknown to the consciousness of the preacher and the receiving audience: sometimes even in the most unlikely settings. Although Flynn shows that God works in mysterious ways, he appears to favor the view that transformational preaching is to be expected. But, can we really expect that God’s transformative work is always manifested in tangible ways ? If not, then the conviction Flynn puts forth needs a slight modification: even messages that appears not to be transformational can be transformational as God would direct in ways unknown to the audience and the preacher. Here we would have to probe more deeply in the dimensions that answer what truly qualifies as transformational. The assumption of what counts as transformational really defines how he frames the preaching ministry. This direction may enlarge Flynn’s own project to the many other facets of the pastoral experience. It is time to expand the Renewal perspective on a pneumatologically-open agenda toward other elements of pastoral ministry.


Reflections on Christian T-Shirts & Bumper Stickers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by Marc Santom

While I was driving up to Michigan from Ohio a few weeks ago, I noticed a giant billboard that read, “Jesus is Real.” Now, as a Christ-follower, I already know that Jesus is real, but seeing it written against a 40- foot high silver backdrop, it actually made Jesus seem less real to me in that moment.  I thought, “If the immeasurably transcendent and all powerful God of the universe is real, then why would He need some tacky billboard to declare what He could not declare, Himself?” That well-intentioned billboard somehow managed to make the reality of Jesus quite artificial.

In that same vein, I’ve been noticing what is actually written on Christian t-shirts donned by fellow followers of Jesus. Here are a few I saw just this past week: “Get Right or Get Left” and “This Blood’s for You” and “Jesus: Tougher Than Nails.”

While I was at it, I observed a few bumper stickers out on the road: “Jesus Is The Answer” and “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace” and, one of my favorites: “Jesus Loves the Hell Out of You.”

We evangelicals really don’t get that there is a lot of truth to the saying that ”the medium is the message.” God knows this; that’s why He orchestrated the Incarnation of Jesus instead of merely sending us a book that informed us about grace, love and salvation. Instead of dropping tablets from the sky declaring the truth of redemption and information about promise of the Spirit and the coming Kingdom, He sent His Son in flesh and blood—the fragile child clothed in humanity who was also the full manifestation of the Father, not to mention the personification of grace, love and redemption. Jesus didn’t just bring the message of God. He was the message of God.

So what does this have to do with Christian t-shirts and bumpers stickers?

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Well, I wanna; But…

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 by Antipas Harris

A Chinese proverb says, “To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.” Life’s challenges often create uncertainties despite our desire to overcome them. However, there is an inner spiritual impetus for us to triumph “certainty” even though the Chinese proverb calls this approach to life “ridiculous.” I call this a divine inspiration to “walk in the ridiculous.”

Challenges that render uncertainties for us include insecurities pertaining to how we might feel that we look in comparison to someone else, measures of success in education, employment, finances, etcetera. As result, we are often tempted to give up.

Life’s changes, moreover, often lead to adjustments, sometimes for life. Normalcy is interrupted in the event of changes in health (illness that debilitates), changes in finances, car accidents, family crises, etcetera.

About six months ago, I was diagnosed with hypertension and fatty liver. My diagnosis came just after my dad experienced kidney failure. In the wake of the family crisis, my diagnosis startled me. Immediately, I changed my diet, began a physical exercise regimen, and paid multiple visits to the doctor to monitor my health progress. Thankfully, I am now overcome the fatty liver and my blood pressure readings are significantly lower. It is amazing, though, how situations and events alter normalcy; fear of the what might happen grips so tight that it is hard to breathe. Read the rest of this entry »

Come, Creator Spirit

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 by Diane Chandler

In the ninth century, the well-known hymn Veni Creator Spiritus was penned in Latin and later set to music.  Since then, this beautiful hymn is sung around the world, most often on Pentecost and at ordinations, signifying the invocation of the Spirit to bless the people of God. Celebrated fifty days after Easter, Pentecost commemorates the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts 2:1-13. This week provides a fresh opportunity to call upon the Holy Spirit to outpour anew in our lives in order to bless the nations.  Later in this blog, you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about the Global Day of Prayer that will take place this Sunday, May 12, 2011.

The author of the Veni Creator hymn is believed to have been Rhabanus Maurus, an Abbot and later Archbishop of Mainz in Germany. In light of this coming Sunday, June 12, 2011 being Pentecost Sunday, Christians (including evangelical and Pentecostal believers who may be unfamiliar with the hymn) might appreciate the richness of the words that breathe out a lyrical prayer to the Holy Spirit to come, anoint, rekindle, strengthen, protect, and draw us into a deeper relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. You can view and listen to one rendition of the Veni Creator Spiritus hymn in Latin, followed by an English adaptation, by clicking here.

Centuries later, composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) used the hymn as the first choral of his eighth symphony, known as Symphony of a Thousand. And the Spirit-filled Preacher to the Papal Household, Raniero Cantalamessa, utilized the hymn as his roadmap to write the book, Come, Creator Spirit: Meditations on the Veni Creator on the dynamism, creativity, love of the Holy Spirit. A Roman Catholic brother, Cantalamessa has the privilege of preaching and ministering to the Pope and others at the Vatican.

The Veni Creator lyrics are sublime in their simplicity (translated into English below and taken from Cantalamessa’s book, p. 5):

“Come, Creator Spirit, visit the minds of those who are yours; Fill with heavenly grace, the hearts that you have made. You who are named the Paraclete, gift of God most high, living fountain, fire, love and anointing for the soul. You are sevenfold in your gifts, you are finger of God’s right hand; You, the Father’s solemn promise, putting words upon our lips. The enemy drive from us away, peace then give without delay; with you as guide to lead the way, we avoid all cause of harm. Grant we may know the Father through you, and come to know the Son as well, and may we always cling in faith to you, the Spirit of them both.”

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