Archive for September, 2011

The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 by Aaron Yom

Amos Yong. The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination. Pentecostal Manifestos 4. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. 237 pp.

Yong is part of a small group of Pentecostal scholars who have taken the lead in finding areas of consonance between theology and science particularly from a charismatic-pneumatological perspective. He has published widely and edited several books on this topic, and now finally produced this monograph. His goal and commitment are explicitly stated as the provision of “pentecostal-charismatic perspectives [that] … are important for the wider theological discussion as well as the ongoing dialogue between theology and science.” To this end, Yong gives us historical, theological, philosophical, scientific, and socio-psychological dimensions of Pentecostal engagements with science. Should pentecostals heed his call? Three topics may suffice to illustrate his proposal: divine action and miracles, emergence theory, and plural-spirit cosmology.    Read the rest of this entry »

Where are the Prophets — The Real Ones?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 by Antipas Harris

Today is a very sad day in South Georgia. After a long fight to prove his innocence, Troy Davis faces the death penalty tonight. From my view of the television, largely Caucasian American Law Enforcement Officers are on post to maintain order outside the chambers with tons of people, appearing to be mostly  African Americans, standing in protest, awaiting the Supreme Court’s final decision whether to execute him or acquit him.

Then, word comes back — “The Supreme Court Denies Davis Appeal.” Gosh! The scene on the television screen is way too reminiscent of the scenes from the 1960′s Civil Rights Movement. Some scenes and situations need not be repeated — this is one of them!

Davis is accused of murdering a police officer is 1989. The evidence has been weak to prove that he is guilty. Yet, he has found it difficult to prove his innocence. It is not surprising that Davis is African American. Researchers like University of Iowa law professor, the late David C. Baldus  has proven that racism permeates the death penalty and has done so since it was re-instated in America.

I have no desire to protect the guilty at the expense of the violated. Yet, the death penalty is problematic on so many levels. I cannot address all of them here.  However, I will say that research proves that the practice of the death penalty represents strands in American fabric that are racist at the core. There are similar racist strands that seem to weave through the educational system, job markets, Plan Parenthood’s abortion clinics, and more. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering 9/11 (10th Anniversary)

Saturday, September 10th, 2011 by Diane Chandler

We will never forget the moment we learned of the 9/11 terrorist attacks ten years ago.  The destruction of the four hijacked US airliners carved out an indelibly memory in our minds – the two burning infernos prior to the collapse of the Twin Towers in NYC, the section of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. ablaze, and the mammoth hole left by the fractured airplane of United Flight #93, after it dove into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at over 500 m.p.h..  Unadulterated evil crashed into our doorstep.

During the time of the attack, I was driving to a meeting to discuss my upcoming publication related to strengthening Christian leaders in their mission to share the love of Jesus around the world.  What complete irony, considering that destructive leadership had invaded my homeland.

As I was stopped at a traffic light, news on my car radio announced the collapse of the South Tower (2).  After arriving at my destination, I learned that the attacks were likely attributed to terrorists.  My host and I questioned if we should postpone our meeting.  Considering the nature of our discussion, we decided to shorten the meeting in our feeble attempt to fight evil with good, and then spent considerable time in prayer.  

Within 72 hours, all of the 19 hijackers had been identified as being associated with Al-Qaeda, the militant group founded by Osama bin-Laden; and since that time we have learned their stories.  Their worldview, contorted into religious knots of extremist Muslim ideology, deception, and hatred, so contrasted with the scores of people who sacrificed their lives for others on that 9/11 morning.  The psyche of the American spirit, as well as the conscious of the world, was forever shaped by their terror.  But it has not been overcome by it.

The true heroes who risked and sacrificed their lives include the valiant flight attendants and passengers of United Flight 93, who knew that this fourth plane was headed for the Capital or the White House. Also included were the hundreds of fire fighters, police personnel, and everyday people who ran into harm’s way to save others, not destroy them.  Notable among them, were the brave firefighters from NYC’s Ladder 6 who risked their lives to save 60-year old Josephine Harris.  Their story is told on this week’s Dateline NBC special, America Remembers.

A few days ago, the Washington Post featured the untold story of Maj. Heather “Lucky” Penney, one of two pilots flying unarmed F-16 fighter jets dispatched to down United Flight 93.  Given the 60-minutes needed to equip the jets with weapons, both she and her colleague, Col. Marc Sasseville, made the snap decision to enter a suicide mission of a different nature – to ultimately save lives.  They never had to complete that mission.

With September 11, 2011 being tomorrow, I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and prayer after being crucified on the cross for the sins of the world, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:20).

The heart of being followers of Jesus Christ is infused in these verses.  Last evening, for the first time in 10 years, I forgave those 19 terrorists.  Have you?

Women in Pentecostalism: Prophets or Priests?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

The gender paradox in Pentecostalism is no secret. There are many more women in the movement than men, and yet women are not allowed into visible positions of authority (you can reverse this paradox). To put it differently: While Pentecostalism maintains to be an egalitarian movement, women are only as equal as men allow. Some would say it differently again: female Pentecostals can be in any position of authority they want as long as it does not include authority over men. What is wrong with this picture?

The literature on the gender divide in Pentecostalism is large albeit still new. We can certainly blame the neglect of the Pentecostal gender paradox by the social sciences (both the neglect of women and the neglect of Pentecostalism). We can also blame the predominance of theories that silence women’s experiences and marginalize women (not only among Pentecostals). We can also blame a fundamentalist reading of Scripture that purportedly justifies male authority and the submission of women, especially in the church. But these blatant issues are not constituting the paradox. How is it that Pentecostalism is a religious movement largely made up of women, when women are not allowed into visible positions of authority?

I suspect that it has to do with an undeveloped ecclesiology among Pentecostals (and this may include an undeveloped anthropology). The charismatic movement in the mainline churches finds its own problems in the often uncritical adoption of hierarchical (read: patriarchal) patterns of the mother church. For some reason, charismatic manifestations do not seem to challenge institutional structures. Classical Pentecostals, on the other hand, have falsely adopted the Protestant idea of the “priesthood of all believers” in addition to a more genuinely Pentecostal notion of the “prophethood of believers.” (Roger Stronstad has long warned that the Protestant paradigm is ill-fitting for Pentecostals). I have elsewhere suggested that Pentecostalism should not be confused with Protestantism. More so, however, Cheryl Bridges Johns has frequently lamented that the gender divide in Pentecostal leadership is to be blamed on the dominance of the priestly image of ministry and a restricted image of prophethood. She sees an abundance of “priestly pentecostalism” characterized by a male dominated hierarchy and institutionalism while women are placed in the position of prophetic pentecostals that co-exist with the priesthood albeit without challenging the patriarchal authority. I think Johns is on to something that needs further development.

There are to my knowledge no studies on the juxtaposition of priesthood and prophethood in Pentecostalism. If Stronstad is correct, then Pentecostals traded their prophetic heritage and calling for a Protestant mindset of the priesthood that is ill-fitting and misleading. Certainly there is the image of the church as a royal priesthood, and I would not insist as harshly as Stronstad on the false choice made by Pentecostals. I do concur, however, that the prophetic dimension of Pentecostalism has suffered since the beginnings of the modern movement. Evidence to the latter can be found frequently and with particular intensity in regions like Latin America and North America, where the patriarchal heritage and male dominated image is still strong. The emphasis on women as prophets instead of priests is coupled with the relegation of women’s authority to the household instead of the church. The prophetic gift has consequently moved to the family (where it encounters other obstacles). In the Pentecostal churches, prophecy holds no significant ecclesiastical authority. And that is the crux of the matter: the idea and office of the priest has been severed from the image and anointing of the prophet. I am talking strictly in terms of leadership structures here. The barring of women as prophetesses from the priestly office has backfired in ways I am not competent enough to analyze at this time. Certainly a blog is not the place for such analysis. But this is the place to call attention to such matters, especially in light of the ongoing heated discussions in general assemblies among many Pentecostal denominations. I believe these discussions will go nowhere quickly unless we face the theological problem of juxtaposing priesthood and prophethood in Pentecostal churches. A more developed anthropology and ecclesiology might indicate that men and women are called and equipped to be both prophets and priests. At least in my reading of Scripture, prophets and priests are not mutually exclusive. In the very least they coexist in the exercise of authority among the people of God. In the Spirit-filled church, they should be one and the same.

African Christology: Jesus in Post-Missionary African Christianity

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 by Valerie Landfair

Clifton R. Clarke, African Christology: Jesus in Post-Missionary African Christianity (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick, 2011). ix + 190 pp.

One of missiology’s long-standing questions is whether African indigenous religions should be included or excluded within the taxonomy of Christian movements. With African Christology Clifton Clarke continues the inquiry while also focusing on the inclusion of African Independent Churches (AICs) in Ghana into worldwide Christianity in general and Global Pentecostalism in particular. In contrast to Ogbu Kalu, a native Nigerian Pentecostal historian, who argues against the inclusion of AICs into African Pentecostalism, Clarke, along with John Mbiti, a Kenyan theologian, emphasizes the interdependence of indigenous pneumatology and older African religious revivals. Using one of Ghana’s indigenous people groups – the Akan – Clarke ultimately argues that Akan AICs belong not only within the worldwide Christian movement, but also within the circle of Pentecostal churches.

With his in-depth study of Akan AICs, Clarke contributes to the ongoing dialogue among Pentecostals from the global South, who desire a Christology shaped in their image and not in the image of western Christianity. He posits that in the emerging field of global Christian studies, personal experience and cultural environment are important in the interpretation of an authentic faith in the person of Jesus Christ. In the instance of Akan AICs, Clarke shows how they retain aspects of their traditional religious worldviews while embracing the Christian faith.

The author constructs his Christology using source material specific to Akan AICs, including the Bible, hymns and songs, prayers, personal testimonies, and sermons. Through a methodology based on questionnaires, focus group sessions, and interviews with leaders and lay people, he appropriates the primary mode of expressing religious sentiments: orality. Clarke defines oral theology as the “encounter of God through the language that is heard and spoken by the visible and invisible participations of the African universe” (p. 132). The recognition of Akan oral theology by the Catholic Church is also an acknowledgement of the rich heritage and traditions of African Independent Churches.

In contrast to a formal propositional Christology, Clarke’s oral Christology is based on the African encounter with God through language.  Theological reflections are interactive and dynamic, occurring within and outside of the Church. The voices of African proverbs, myths, names, songs, stories, folklore and biblical texts serve to express the activity of God, Jesus and humanity in the overarching realm of visible and invisible realities. Clarke’s study reveals crucial areas of an Akan traditional religious ethos: Onyame (God), Sunsum (Spirit), Abosom (lower spirits), Nananom (Ancestors), and “symbolic power.” The notion of Christ however, does not have a clear correlation with an Akan indigenous worldview. Without an adequate concept of Christ, what are the implications for the Christology of Akan AICs? Would the AICs seek to understand Jesus Kristi as Sunsum, a Spirit made flesh or incarnate, who is ultimately from Onyame?

Another area of concern addressed by Clarke is the connection between culture and religion. He argues that the Christology of Akan AICs maintains a vital, reciprocal relationship between an authentic Christian faith and traditional African culture. His analysis calls for the removal of western theological lenses so that the theology and praxis of the Church at large – and the African church in particular – can be heard in their various contexts.  The term “inculturation,” favored by Clarke and other theologians, means the “on-going creative and dynamic relationship between Jesus Christ and culture” (10). In Theology Brewed in an African Pot, Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, a Jesuit priest from Nigeria, provides a more robust understanding of inculturation, positing that this dynamic process would engage equal partners with equal power. Therefore, these historically unbalanced relationships between indigenous culture, African religion and tradition, and Christianity are all transformed into new creations. These partnerships actively engage in the ongoing pursuit of balance and harmony.

Missiological issues of culture and religion, inclusion and exclusion, universality and particularity will continue to be debated. Clarke’s work offers a “grassroots” approach that incorporates each of these dimensions within the specific context of Akan AICs. In addition to being a much-needed corrective in the field of missiology, Clarke’s book is also well suited as a scholarly supplement for upper level seminary coursework in the same field, as well as in church history, contextual theology, and renewal studies.