Archive for March, 2013

“…the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands…”

Monday, March 25th, 2013 by Amos Yong

This past week/end was a momentous one for Regent University as we celebrated the grand opening of a new chapel and School of Divinity building. Regent University has been operating for over thirty five years (formerly as CBN University), but has never had a chapel. Construction of the new chapel, situated at the center of the campus in Virginia Beach, symbolizes the centrality of the spiritual life in this faith-based Christian university. The beautiful 1000-seat edifice opened with three consecutive nights of worship, praise, prayer, and preaching. Undergraduate and graduate students along with faculty and staff will henceforth have a place of worship on this campus. Although the work of the Holy Spirit has never been hindered by the absence of appropriately named structures, the dedication of this chapel signifies the university’s prioritization of the spiritual life, a commitment long at the heart of a school founded from out of the “fire” of the charismatic renewal movements of the 1960s and 1970s. What is it like to dedicate a new chapel? Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Francis, Latin America, and Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Thursday, March 14th, 2013 by Michael Wilkinson

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was announced as the new pope, Pope Francis. He is the first pope from Latin America where the Catholic Church has a long history and represents the largest group of Catholics in the world. Pope Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. He is not a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I am not sure he is sympathetic to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Latin America either.

However, no doubt, his election will bolster the Catholic Church in Latin America. In his home country of Argentina, the Pentecostals had little impact until the middle of the 20th century when Tommy Hicks was granted unprecedented access to stadiums for mass evangelistic meetings. Still, the Pentecostals do not represent a large number of Christians in Argentina. The Catholic Church in many countries is charismatic and the latitude Catholic charismatics are granted in Latin America keeps many within the fold.

For example, priests like Padre Marcelo Rossi from Brazil have large followings. Rossi is known as “the singing priest” holding large gatherings with thousands of Catholics worshiping freely, arms raised and eyes closed. Rossi’s music is easily found on YouTube where the charismatic priest leads large crowds into renewal.

The Catholic Church is global. It is African, Asian, and Latin American. And it now has a Latin American pope. While not a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Latin American Catholics will most likely respond well to Pope Francis. And it would not surprise me to see Catholic Charismatics benefiting from this election. On the other hand, the euphoria surrounding Pope Francis may be brief if Catholic Charismatics find themselves ignored or marginalized by the new leadership.

Visit Michael Wilkinson’s blog Global Pentecostal Studies for a broader discussion.

If you are interested in engaging the discussion of the pentecostal-charismatic renewal in Latin America and among Latinas/os consider participating in the upcoming conference, Renewal across the Americas, hosted by the Regent Center for Renewal Studies. 

The Problem with Evangelical Theology: A Review of Ben Witherington III

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 by Graham H. Twelftree

Ben Witherington III. The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism and Wesleyanism. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2005. 294 pp. $34.95

For Witherington, Evangelicalism—that “many-splintered thing” (ix)—has three main tributaries: Reformed theology, which contributes the emphasis on soteriology, Dispensationalism, which renews the focus on eschatology, and Wesleyan/Pentecostalism with its stress on the experiential (3). Important for Witherington, in their distinctive elements, each of these systems is “only loosely tethered to detailed exegesis of particular texts” (6).

Witherington applauds the Reformed tradition for its high Christology, its Trinitarian emphasis, its belief in the atoning death of Jesus and its omnipotent God (3–89). It is its TULIP that is dead and ought to be thrown out (167–68). It is not God but human response that limits the atonement: “God’s grace is resistible at the outset and rejectable later” (88).

Dispensationalism (93–168) is certainly not Witherington’s favorite form of Evangelicalism, wed to “the all-too-American gospel of success and wealth” (93). He draws some no-holds-barred-conclusions. “There will be no Armageddon between human armies . . . all divine solutions to the human dilemma descend from above . . . . One should not look to the modern secular state of Israel as some sort of fulfillment of biblical Israel;” from the Christian point of view, all OT prophecies are fulfilled in or by Christ, not apart from him or the church (109). Also: “Unless by rapture one merely means being taken up into the air to welcome Christ and return with him to earth, there is no theology of the rapture to be found in the NT anywhere” (130). For Witherington, much of the Dispensational system collapses.

“Mr. Wesley Heading West” (169–237) focuses attention on Wesleyan concepts. As a cradle Methodist, Witherington admits the difficulty of criticizing his theological parent. Not surprisingly, he is more restrained in his criticism, declaring that to him there appear fewer weaknesses in the Arminian approach to biblical texts than in other systems (171). Witherington concedes that Wesley’s notion of sinless perfection has imperfectly followed the text of the NT. An encounter with the perfect love of God may have a profound effect on a person, but there is no suggestion that perfection, in the full sense of that term, will result (214).

In a glance at “The People of Pentecost” (216–222) Witherington takes issue with consequence or subsequence, which he argues cogently is weakly based, and in some cases distorts the biblical text (218). On the question of there being any particular gift Christians must manifest to demonstrate being Spirit-filled, Witherington is clear: “absolutely not” (220).

In the final part, “The Long Journey Home—Where Do We Go from Here?” (225–54), Witherington argues that the story of God’s people is to be read starting from Jesus. This would involve not only reading the OT, but also ourselves and our non-Christian neighbors, through the lens of Jesus. Indeed, the foundation of Evangelical Christianity, at present apparently a Book, needs to be replaced by a Person, Jesus. For, if we read the Book carefully it points us beyond itself to the incarnate Person. Though, even Jesus is not the ultimate object or, as Rowan William says somewhere, the terminus of our faith.

Witherington also argues that we should “do our theologizing in the very same manner as Jesus and the biblical authors—using stories” (239). However, so far as I can see, the theologizing that comes to us from the NT was not only done “out of various paradigmatic stories” (240). The gospel is neither limited to nor embodied in a message: Jesus did not simply tell stories. A case can be made that he only told stories because something had already happened both in his coming and in his ministry. Without the coming of God in him, without the expression of the coming of God’s powerful presence in his activities (not least the miracles), Jesus would have had no stories to tell. Yes, the early Christians told stories of the Jesus event, but they were also compelled to connect that story with their own stories. For, the power of his Spirit, manifest in events (including the miraculous), required new stories.

If this is right, I would suggest that the way forward in re-conceptualizing (Evangelical) theology is not in finding new ways to do hermeneutical tricks with old stories. Instead, as we look carefully at those stories, I suspect we will want to find new ways to allow the powerful presence of God access to our present. The result would mean—as it did for Jesus and his early followers—that we would then be obliged to explain what was happening, as well as retell the Old story about the One whose powerful presence was being experienced. In short, theologizing is not done merely by interpreting paradigmatic stories. Theology is describing and interpreting God, including both his speaking and acting, in relation to present experience.

Does such an approach put theology at the mercy of experience? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that, from a biblical perspective if there is no experience there is no theology, only history. But no, in the sense that just as contemporary stories (our words) do not replace the message of Jesus—they can reflect on, enliven and enlighten it—so contemporary experience (healings, tongues, prophecy, miracles) does not replace or eclipse the activities of Jesus but, like the stories, can give them contemporary expression and significance as it did for the early Christians.

The problem with Evangelical theology is certainly in the distinctives having poor exegetical foundations. But, if the devil is in the distinctives, the heresies are in what we hide with our present theologies: the person of Jesus and his ongoing powerful presence among us through the Spirit.

Interruptions of the Spirit and the Future of Mission

Saturday, March 9th, 2013 by Amos Yong

The mission of God for the 21st century – what are its key features? From the perspective of renewal Christianity – including but irreducible to pentecostal, charismatic, and related renewal movements – the mission of God for the present is also the mission of the Holy Spirit in the past and future, a mission signaled in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost 2000 years ago. I like to consider the past mission of the Spirit also as paradigmatic for the ongoing mission of God. In particular I highlight its interruptive nature.

What precisely does the interruptivity of the Spirit mean for the mission of God? While the original disciples were instructed clearly to wait for the coming of the Spirit in the Upper Room, they had few precious clues about what that would entail. They were still expecting, discernible from their questions to Jesus after forty days of instruction in Acts 1, that this would entail the coming of the messianic reign that would drive out the Roman oppressors from Palestine. Well they were somewhat right about the former, although its manifestations would not include the latter. Instead, the coming messianic outpouring of the Spirit would drive them out from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. Life as they had known it was interrupted.

The Spirit also interrupted their world as they knew it and turned it upside down (Acts 17:6). They had spoken previously in Aramaic, but now they were given the gifts of speaking and even hearing through a cacophony of languages about the wondrous works of God. Their cultural horizons were interrupted through the redemptive work of God among proselytes in their midst. Their social world was interrupted: a patriarchal way of life now included maidservants, and a gerontocratic regime now featured youth. Yet most of the disciples also felt liberated to transgress the class stratifications that governed their world since now they, mostly of the lower classes, were empowered by the Spirit to be living witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Life as they had known it was forever interrupted.

The Missio Alliance conference to be held on April 11-13 in Alexandria, Virginia, is titled “Renewal Evangelical Imagination for Mission.” I am honored to be one of the invited plenary speakers and will speak to this theme from a renewal point of view. My contribution will focus precisely on the interruptions of the Holy Spirit and the ancient-future mission of the people of God, the body of Christ, and the fellowship of the divine breath. We will unpack eight dimensions of the Spirit’s interruptive and missional empowerment from the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2. Besides my presentation, there will be many others who will engage with the conference theme from a wide range of perspectives – each of these, I dare to hope, can be considered to be distinct expressions of the many tongues of the Spirit initiated on that Day of Pentecost. I hope to see many there.

Conference on the Holy Spirit or Holy Spirit Conference? Why Not Both?

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by Amos Yong

This past weekend here at Regent University, our Center for Renewal Studies hosted a conference on “The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.” Like many academic conferences, there were plenty of paper presentations, high-flutin’ terms, and scholarly jargon. Yet amidst all of the academic stuff, there was also an unexpected, but perhaps also predictable, spiritual energy. Some might say, “Why not, for a conference devoted to the Holy Spirit?” Yet others might ask: “How was this manifest?”

First, the conference included presentations derived from a range of renewal (pentecostal and charismatic), evangelical, and ecumenical voices.  Scholars brought into the discussion Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Wesleyan, classical Pentecostal, charismatic renewal, and a range of other perspectives. Yet even these various ecclesial families are dynamic, with earlier and later expressions providing distinctive twists (so that, for instance, the medieval and early modern Catholic traditions exhibit similar but yet divergent emphases). Scripture clearly indicates that the one body of Christ and one fellowship of the Spirit is constituted by many members, each with its unique gifts. These various traditions are, arguably, diverse synchronic and diachronic expressions of the gifts of the Spirit. Presenters and conference attendees represented the full range of biblical, ecclesial, and theological commitments but yet engaged with one another respectfully.

Second, the conference included a range of disciplinary perspectives. There were those trained in the classical theological disciplines of biblical studies, Christian or church history, systematic theology, and even philosophy. However, many others were practical theologians, attracted to the conference because of the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in and across the Christian life. Papers were presented by pastors, chaplains, and missiologists, as well. Last but not least, others working across disciplinary boundaries like psychology-and-theology and the neurosciences-and-theology added to the richness of the conversation. While readers might wonder how such interdisciplinarity may have contributed to a conference on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life, the scriptures also say that the Holy Spirit leads followers of Christ into all truth. Insofar as the various disciplinary methodologies provide pathways of inquiry, to that degree, scholar of faith seeking understanding ought to deploy various methods to complement their quest for the truth that finally belongs to God.

Finally, here was an academic conference that was also spiritually sustained. Beyond offering only theory, the Holy Spirit was present in the prayers offered; mealtimes together allowed for fellowship in addition to the formal and theoretical dialogue; attendees were not just talking heads but embodied persons engaged with one another in a holistic manner. One of the major themes of the conference, the affections and their roles in the Christian life, was manifest in the give-and-take of the conference interactions. In this way, this was not just an intellectual extravaganza – although it surely was that – but also one which engaged with human hearts, hopes, and aspirations.

That is why I think this weekend I attended not just a conference on the Holy Spirit but also participated in a“Holy-Spirit-conference.” I was blessed to have been with others in a Spirit-inspired and Spirit-filled environment, one in which the Spirit was at work in our hearts, minds, and interactions, with effects lasting beyond the actual meeting itself. Did you attend the conference or one like it?

This was not the first scholarly event the Center has sponsored (see a list of prior symposia and consultations), and next year’s is already on the schedule. Is it too much to hope that next year’s event will not just be about renewal across the Americas but might also participate in the renewing work of the Spirit across the Western hemisphere? What do you expect? Perhaps you will come to the next meeting?

Saving the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Wolfgang Vondey

The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) is entering a critical phase of its existence. At its annual meeting this March, the members of the Society will decide whether the SPS should change its “admission policy” and add a particular faith statement as requirement for membership. The nature of the faith statement does not concern me here. Neither am I interested in debating the need for a faith statement or its effects on the Society. Proponents of a faith statement wish to safeguard the Society from admitting non-Christians and non-Pentecostals; opponents to this move wish to protect the academic and ecumenical character of the Society. I consider both perspectives to be valid, even if I prefer one over the other. What does concern me is the manner in which proponents of a faith statement have abused the situation to rally support for their cause.

A number of advocates of a faith statement have voiced their opinion rather loudly, even on the internet (no, I am not providing a link). Some gather signatures, other personal support behind the scenes and among friends  for what seems to become a show-down business meeting of the Society. In the interest of “saving the Society for Pentecostal Studies,” these members contribute to the slow death of their own organization. Young and inexperienced members (some with no postgraduate degrees), who have not held any position of leadership in the Society, have the audacity to voice their opinions without respect for the well-being of the SPS, its diverse members, its history, and the opportunities created in recent years to expand the reach of Pentecostal scholarship. Denominational interests and personal persuasions steamroll over relationships, seniority, and scholarship. I certainly have my own opinion on the matter, but I do not believe that trumpeting my own convictions is in the best interest of the Society. And that is what really matters: not the faith statement, not its potential absence or revision, but the life and well-being of the SPS and Pentecostal scholarship. We should not change recommendations of the executive committee in public before these have been presented to the members of the Society and discussed by the body in its official gathering. We should not post our own proposals for a policy of the Society before others with more seniority, experience, and scholarship have had a chance to speak on behalf of the Society. And we should not rally support for our own agenda behind the scenes as if we are running for office before we have first offered our service and dedication to the Society.

The decision to be made at this year’s meeting will inevitably divide SPS. If we adopt a required faith statement, several members who cannot sign the statement (whether for confessional or academic reasons) will have to abstain from the meetings. If we do not adopt a faith statement as required for membership, those who advocate it currently will likely cease to attend the meetings in the future. So what do we need?

  1. SPS needs a strong, experienced, discerning, and dedicated leadership to face this crisis. The current praxis of a rotating executive committee is perhaps not the best way to give stability to the Society. We need to seek leadership from among those who are dedicated to the SPS and who can provide long-term stability. At the meeting, the members will also vote for a new second vice president who will lead the society in two years. This decision should not be taken lightly, those nominated should ask themselves if their commitment to SPS is sufficient to accept nomination, and those voting should vote not based on personal preference but on character, scholarship, and care for Pentecostal studies.
  2. Official discussions should always have priority over private opinion. We need a membership that engages in the business of the Society. To encourage such engagement, business meetings should not be the last agenda on the last day of the meeting but be given adequate time to discuss and resolve matters concerning the health of the SPS.
  3. Members need to keep a proper perspective on the Society and the care for those who call themselves Pentecostal scholars or scholars of Pentecostalism. This small group of perhaps 500 PhDs deserves to treat each other with respect and dignity. Denominationalism and divisions may be a part of Pentecostal history, but it should not divide Pentecostal scholarship–a young and fragile discipline. Pentecostalism deserves better!  Pentecostal scholarship deserves better!

The proposal on the table will have to be decided. We will have to take a stand. However, on whatever side we are, the first decision should be for the unity of the body. After almost 20 years with the Society, where I have found a home for my scholarship and many personal friends, I am ashamed of those who use SPS to advance their own agenda, denominational persuasion, or scholarship as much as of those who deny their institutions to attend SPS for confessional or doctrinal reasons. I am afraid of those who feel privileged to voice their opinion before seeking together the council of God and the well-being of the community. The Society for Pentecostal Studies now needs to be rescued. This salvation can only come from all of us, all who have come together year after year, who have developed friendships, scholarly bonds, new interests and passions. The SPS is worth saving! What matters is not a faith statement or the absence of a faith statement. What matters is the unity of its members! Repentance, forgiveness, and love may help bring about this unity. I am willing to stand up for this cause. We will have to see who else is …