I half-anticipated your stormy response to my first letter. You are upset by the accusation that Pentecostals are anti-intellectual and at the same time you know it to be true. Pentecostals become scholars (and sometimes the other way around) but continue their work only with a sense of uneasiness amidst the ivory tower of the educational and academic system so dominated by the ideals of Western pedagogy that they reflect little (if anything) of a Pentecostal ethos. If I continue, it may sound like a defense of Pentecostalism; but I must try to be honest with you, with myself, and also take an authentic look at Pentecostals. I promised you more thoughts on the nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism. I hope I can answer some of your questions and stir up some new ones.
The nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not readily fit the stereotypes, and Pentecostals cannot simply be judged as fundamentally opposed to the life of the mind. An evangelistic and eschatological pragmatism centering on the life in the Holy Spirit motivates a hesitancy to engage in existing forms and institutions of education without thereby rejecting the intellect entirely. At the same time, even with the fading of eschatological urgency among contemporary Pentecostals, the establishment of Pentecostal schools, and the rise of Pentecostal scholarship, a form of anti-intellectualism persists across the movement in the form of what I would call a skepticism towards culturally and socially dominant models of Christian pedagogy.
Some scholars have argued that the dominant pedagogical model that connects Christian faith and scholarship advocates a restrictive view of Christian learning, teaching, and research and is therefore ill-fit for Pentecostal concerns. Others say that Pentecostals themselves possess a genuine pedagogy emerging from their own worldview and spirituality, which, however, are not easily integrated in the dominant liberal arts curriculum and the research university. Again others see the problems in the shift from modernity to postmodernity and describe Pentecostal beliefs and practices as standing in conflict with the intellectualism and rationalism of the modern world (and hence as a postmodern phenomenon). What is the result? As I see it, we either arrive at a rather uneasy relationship of scholarship and Pentecostalism or at an opportunity for Pentecostals to enrich the existing philosophy of education. On the one hand, Pentecostals are struggling to emancipate themselves from the dominant but ill-fitting educational paradigms; on the other hand, I wonder, could the Pentecostal commitment to signs and wonders not help reform the current world of academic scholarship? Of course, as long as we keep Pentecostal scholarship locked up among Pentecostal audiences, the difference remains under cover.
But what if you lifted that cover for a moment? Would we not discover that Pentecostal scholarship arises first and foremost from the affections rather than intellectual ability? At the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, where I received my Pentecostal training, it was as if we rejected the sole rule of the intellect while attempting to integrate the right thinking (orthodoxy) with the right affections (orthopathy) and the right practices (orthopraxy). Pentecostal ‘thinking’, if I may call it that, takes place at the affective, unconscious, predeliberative level (where it is aimed at witness and worship) before it enters the cognitive, deliberate world of understanding. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not deny the importance of the intellect, but it rejects its claim at supremacy to the full pursuit of knowledge.
What else would you see? Would it not be that Pentecostal scholarship is dominated by the imagination rather than by reason? As I said elsewhere, the imagination questions the dominance of a universal, scientific reason; it is more improvisational, more playful than the performance and instrumentality demanded by the traditional institutions, disciplines, languages, and methodologies. This critique is directed more explicitly at the pessimism and failure of modern scholarship to speak to the hope and transformation of the world, to the concrete life of faith, to the practices and embodiment of the Christian life. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject rationality, but it questions the dominance of reason alone as a proper and sufficient instrument for the discernment of truth.
Finally, it seems to me that Pentecostal scholarship operates more comfortably on the level of oral rather than written discourse. Here we find Pentecostal testimonies, stories, songs, and preaching rather than the definitions, theses, concepts, and systems that govern the scholarly world of research, writing, and teaching. Does this emphasis on orality signal an inherent inability for the Pentecostal imagination to function in the dominant mode of the intellectual world? Perhaps to some extent, since Pentecostal tongues resist the function and categorization of language and form a rather messy, noisy, and untidy pedagogy when compared to the clean and orderly models of liberal arts and scientific knowledge. Glossolalia are the flagship of the Pentecostal resistance to the sole rule of the intellect. Where the mind fails to grasp their meaning and purpose, the Pentecostal relies on the affections and the imagination to allow the utterances to stand. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject rational language, but it questions the ability of reasoned discourse to capture the world in its manifold dimensions.
In the end, I believe that the depiction of Pentecostalism as anti-intellectual is appropriate as long as it is true to the heart of Pentecostal concerns and places them in contrast to the dominant models of scholarship and learning. As long as we also look at the progressive nature of Pentecostal scholarship, as I tried to do recently. Pentecostals cannot be stereotyped as rejecting scholarship, education, academia, and the intellectual dimensions of life. At the same time, the uneasiness, skepticism, and resistance to purely cognitive, rational, and scientific modes of knowing should be acknowledged among Pentecostals. It is here where Pentecostal scholars struggle, not because we can’t conform to existing demands of the academy but because we want to go further. In my last letter I told you about five stages in the emergence of Pentecostal scholarship. When I have time, I will share with you how Pentecostals learned to engage the academic world.