Archive for the ‘Pentecostal Manifestos’ Category

Book Review by Andy Lord: The Holy Spirit and Practical Theology

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 by Enoch Charles

Mark J. Cartledge, The Mediation of the Spirit: Interventions in Practical Theology, Pentecostal Manifesto Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015) xv + 174 pp. Paperback, $29.00, ISBN: 9780802869555

Renewal is inherently practical and theological. It is about how individuals and communities encounter the Holy Spirit of Pentecost and then reflect on what is going on in the light of Scripture. Reflection both motivates and follows divine encounters and move Christians on in the way of salvation. Such reflection takes many forms with different approaches focusing on the historical, biblical, theological and missional aspects. In The Mediation of the Spirit, Mark Cartledge offers us renewal wisdom within the discipline of practical theology. Here is a practical, pneumatological, biblical, and salvational approach that builds on his many years of reflection and writing on the subject. It repays close study and promises fresh life for renewal in the church.

Practical theology as a discipline has its champions and detractors. Personally I’ve enjoyed placing the practice of renewal in local church settings alongside more systematic and mission approaches. Sometimes the lack of depth to the biblical, pneumatological and ecclesial reflection in practical theology limits its help in renewing and re-visioning churches for the future. One of this books great strengths is to articulate clearly such limitations and is addressed to those practising practical theology. It provides “interventions” to that discipline that point ways forward. If followed, it promises a greater renewal contribution that will be of wide benefit both inside and outside the movement.

A divide between practical theology and biblical studies is identified and seen to reflect a similar divide that is being overcome between systematic theology and biblical studies. Divisions between disciplines are particularly problematic for practical theology in which practice is always multifaceted, engaging a variety of disciplines. What is needed is a practical theological reading of Scripture that overcomes the divide. Cartledge argues that this will be hermeneutically reflexive, being up-front about our starting points; pay attention to the explicit or implicit praxis of communities and individuals described or inferred in the text; pay attention to the agency and the relationship between different agents in the text; will treat the text as holistic, hearing the varied voices present; and will bring contemporary questions and issues emerging from lived reality to the text. This is a holistic relational approach that also reminds us that renewal is personal, varied and connected.

Experience is at the heart of practical theology and yet it is a slippery concept to pin down. Cartledge shows that practical theology often has little to say about the theological nature of the experience being examined. This is particularly the case when the experience relates to the work of the Holy Spirit where the narratives used to explain experience in terms of pneumatology are only given cursory attention. What is needed is a more theologically astute and pneumatologically aware approach to reflecting on experience. Without this practical theology is reduced to more practical, secular and humanistic insights that may be of value but miss what those experiencing the Holy Spirit know is the main thing. There is a reminder here that renewal is not simply about experience but also theology which keeps us tied to the knowledge and working of God.

This is where a Pentecostal-charismatic intervention can be most usefully made to the discipline of practical theology. Key to his, Cartledge argues, is the concept of the mediation of the Spirit. This is developed to allow a deeper way into the understanding of “experience” and encourages the situation of practical theology within the intratrinitarian ministry of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Basic to this is the understanding that all experience of the Holy Spirit is mediated rather than “direct and unmediated” as it is often spoken of within renewal circles. Here Cartledge develops a strong case for mediation from within pentecostal and wider Protestant theology, without having to ignore the reality of spiritual power. In this he picks up the notion of concursus, as developed in a pentecostal direction by Joshua Reichard, as a way of affirming both the reception of spiritual power and human agency. This allows for a creative and varied approach to understanding the experience of renewal that is theologically rooted. More than this, Cartledge then engages with Scripture, in line with his practical approach, to examine mediation in Acts. He argues that “in Scripture we have a model for understanding the relationship between religious experience and pneumatology, and that it is inextricably connected to ecclesiology” (89). Thus experience, Scripture, theology and ecclesiology are brought together through the theme of mediation. Key in this are five propositions: that Christ mediates the Holy Spirit to the church; the Holy Spirit mediates Christ and the Father to the church; creation mediates the Holy Spirit to the church; the church mediates the Holy Spirit internally (via individuals, groups, worship and practices); and the church mediates the Holy Spirit externally (via individuals, groups, public worship, and practices) (109). This brings to the fore the study of ecclesial communities and their worship to practical theology as well as the interplay between such communities, Scripture and experience of the Holy Spirit.

This is a big picture approach that seeks to integrate the different threads that are often glimpsed in practical theology studies. It challenges all in renewal to seek a larger and more connected view of what is going on as the Holy Spirit works in our midst. The strength of this work is the broad challenge given to stretch our practices and theological reflection. At the same time it represents a weakness in the books lack of more specific examples. The book clearly aims at giving specific but higher level interventions that challenge the discipline of practical theology rather than being a practical theological study itself. Yet it does seek two more particular examples through re-examining an existing congregational study in the light of the approach to mediation suggested, and through exploring how the vital pentecostal theme of soteriology might be better approached in practical theology studies. Cartledge’s summary of understandings of salvation is of great value in itself as well as being part of this wider study. So although limited in scope these examples give hints of productive ways forward in the consideration of Scripture, pneumatology and ecclesial practices within practical theology. They also challenge renewal to be more deeply Scriptural, theological and ecclesial in practice.

The book finishes with a manifesto on practical theology that gives a strong and varied agenda for future studies. So might I find myself jumping more into practical theology? The evidence mounted here gives strong support that would encourage anyone to get involved. Yet it also gives a strong case for developing biblical, theological and interdisciplinary studies (if less strong on the missional side). So maybe it is more a case of letting the Holy Spirit mediate the call and empowerment for reflection, study and practice as He wills in our lives. This study is an important one and will be fruitful as we allow it to be a vehicle for the Spirit’s renewing work in all that we are and do.

Andy Lord

Nottingham, UK

From Pentecost to the Triune God

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 by Christopher Stephenson

StudebakerSteven M. Studebaker, From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6530-4. $34.00.

Steven M. Studebaker’s pneumatological trinitarian theology undertakes two basic tasks. First, he wishes to demonstrate the implications of pentecostal experience for the doctrine of the Trinity. In this respect, his work stands in continuity with Frank D. Macchia’s efforts to reestablish baptism in the Holy Spirit as the centerpiece of pentecostal theology. Second, Studebaker wants to make the biblical narrative’s witness to the Spirit a primary resource for the doctrine of the Trinity. His methodological move, then, is from pentecostal experience of the Spirit to biblical texts–to the triune God.

Studebaker’s driving theological principle is that in the Trinity “economic activity arises from immanent identity” (3). This indicates reciprocity between the Spirit’s work and the Spirit’s identity. Like many other theologians, he believes that the economic Trinity is the source of knowledge of God. Whereas they usually begin with Jesus Christ, however, Studebaker begins with the Holy Spirit, in part because he maintains that a proper Spirit christology implies that pneumatology conditions Christology.

Much of Studebaker’s thought is funded by the trinitarian theology of David M. Coffey, but this is not an uncritical reduplication of Coffey’s mutual love model of the Trinity. Studebaker does not simply offer a pentecostal deployment of Coffey’s trinitarian theology but an improvement of it. Most notably, Studebaker wisely inverts Coffey’s move from the immanent Trinity to the economic Trinity and bases his claims about the eternal divine persons on their activity within the economy of salvation. What Studebaker calls the liminal, constitutional, and consummative works of the Spirit in creation and redemption suggest that the Spirit plays a constitutive role in the immanent Trinity. The Holy Spirit completes the fellowship of the Triune God, but not simply as the mutual love between Father and Son hypostasized.

The common accusation that systematic theologians sometimes read historical theological texts with little care or precision will find no basis here. Studebaker—himself assistant professor of both systematic and historical theology (McMaster Divinity College)—easily moves back and forth between premodern and modern sources from Gregory of Nyssa to Jonathan Edwards to D. Lyle Dabney. One example of his careful reading comes in the third and most important chapter of the book, namely, his avoidance of the nearly pervasive caricature of Western trinitarian theology beginning with the one divine essence and Eastern trinitarian theology beginning with the distinction of the three divine persons. This foundation gives even surer footing to his legitimate criticisms of Western and Eastern models of the Trinity, one of the most poignant challenges to them since the first volume of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology. In fact, Pannenberg may deserve a little more direct engagement than Studebaker gives him in light of Pannenberg’s similar accomplishments.

Studebaker’s primary concern is that the traditional models do not exhibit the Holy Spirit’s constitution of the personal identities of the Father and the Son in the immanent Trinity, something that must be maintained since the Holy Spirit constitutes fellowship between Father and Son in the economy of salvation. The Spirit completes the economic work of redemption and completes the immanent fellowship of God. Of course, Studebaker does not reverse the relations of origin, but maintains that those relations do not exhaustively define the divine persons. Thus, in the immanent Trinity the Holy Spirit is not merely passive, and the Spirit’s identity is not merely derivative.

Before rounding out the volume with contributions to theology of religions and creation care, Studebaker offers equally insightful evaluations of evangelical and charismatic trinitarian theologies. His theology of religions furthers recent pentecostal discussions and develops an inclusivist account of the soteriological ends of those outside the church. His engagement with ecology provides the theoretical basis for viewing acts of creation care as spiritual disciplines.

This is constructive pentecostal theology at its best: bold, clear, in conversation with multiple Christian traditions, and thoroughly informed by the biblical witness without bypassing the dimensions of speculative theology frequently lacking in pentecostal theology. This book is one of the constructive highlights of the Pentecostal Manifestos series.

The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 by L. William Oliverio Jr.

Nimi Wariboko. The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6697-4. $25.00.

Paul Tillich’s The Protestant Era (1948) spoke of the “Protestant principle” wherein an anathema was placed upon absolutizing truth claims and systems. Perpetual reform corrects finite aspirations to ultimacy and drives a movement between substance and principle. The Pentecostal Principle takes inspiration from the “Protestant principle” while superseding its claims by offering the “pentecostal principle” as a third, dynamic, and kairotic surplus of the interrelationship of substance and reform. Developing a special vocabulary throughout, Wariboko offers a meta-ethical and religious vision in this dense monograph, one full of asides (e.g., a lengthy one on ecstatic language and tongues, pp. 56-65) as well as the use of conceptual images and analogs (e.g., his use of “Apelles’ cut,” the division of divisions, to illustrate something of the “pentecostal spirit,” pp. 143-149).

 The Pentecostal Principle sets out to explain the essence of pentecostalism. In doing so, Wariboko is also explaining something more fundamental than just a religious movement, extending to the question of humanity and reality itself. The book is explaining the essence of the “pentecostal” as a “spirit,” a principle or a transformative creative energy within the materiality of existence. Like a psychologist accounting for a client in the psychologist’s own private assessment, Wariboko is accounting for the underlying historical impulses exemplified in global pentecostalism. By operating with the assumption that he knows the clients better than they themselves do, Wariboko challenges the reader to deep reflection on the nature of the pentecostal.

The book begins with a lengthy introduction followed by five chapters and concludes with an epilogue. The introduction and the first chapter provide readers with the background and framework for understanding the “pentecostal principle,” recounting Tillich’s “Protestant principle” and providing philosophical meditations on scriptural and philosophical themes from which Wariboko derives his own principle. The “pentecostal principle” is understood to be triadic in nature. The “Catholic substance” is met by the “Protestant principle,” which perpetually reforms and critiques the closure of the former. The “pentecostal principle” meets this tension of excess and reform as the kairotic force, breaking in and out from both outside (the transcendent) and within (the immanent). Such a triadic structure notably parallels Amos Yong’s triadic hermeneutics and metaphysics in Spirit-Word-Community (Ashgate, 2002), and this parallel raises the question if a common pentecostal triadic metaphysics is currently developing– despite Wariboko’s denial that he is developing a metaphysics (p. 18).

In the second chapter, he correlates biological emergence and ethical methodology, with the kairotic as it emerges as “pure means” or as “evolving potentialities … eros toward open future …” (p. 100) in the play of the pluralism of human ethical existence. Yet, the third chapter seems to suggest that a precondition for ethical analysis is a telos in the particularities of a given society (p. 118). And for those desperately searching in these pages for a concretization of his ethical proposal, it can be found in the “Flowchart of Ethical Analysis” at the end of the third chapter. The fourth chapter most specifically addresses the nature of the pentecostal spirit itself: spirit is natality (new birth) and attends to the cultivation of identity. Spirit is also play understood as pure means, which is the subject of the fifth chapter. Here, play is not a counterpoint to work but the “deactivation of law and radicalization of saving grace” (p. 164). The ends are open in the pentecostal principle, where religion is not co-opted into the maintenance of order.

As Wariboko moves between social analysis, ethics, continental philosophy and theology, The Pentecostal Principle intertwines and sometimes blends these disciplines together. If there is a moment that epitomizes the book as a whole, it comes in the epilogue. There, the author recounts his own pentecostal conversion and experience, which stands at the root of his conviction that the pentecostal principle is the capacity to begin anew, with “a strong notion of self-transcendence because we served a God of surplus and possibility” (p. 208). Yet, Wariboko looks to illuminate this experience with an interpretation of grace from Slavoj Žižek who draws from Kant and Schelling. How is the former informing the latter? How is the latter being used to interpret the former? In addition, a Barthian critique arises throughout. The interrelation of Wariboko’s sources is questionable.

Nevertheless, The Pentecostal Principle is one of the most significant contributions to the nature of the pentecostal to date. His claim about its kairotic nature nicely correlates with Douglas Jacobsen’s historical claim that early pentecostalism was founded, in the plurality of its theologies, on the notion of God doing new things (see Jacobsen’s Thinking in the Spirit). Still, some may wonder if his “pentecostal principle” really is “pentecostal” enough to claim continuity with the global movement itself. I am inclined to think that, by and large, he has accomplished here what Tillich did. Nevertheless, The Pentecostal Principle will likewise be critiqued on its theological substance.

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 »

Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 by Nicholas Daniels

Wolfgang Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. xiii + 267 pp. $32.00 paperback.

In a well-known verse from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts his disciples with the following: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Sadly, few theologians have followed the Lord’s advice; and theology has grown old, taking the visage of stodgy, European men—dominated by reason and Western ideology—rather than the joyful play of children. This has brought global Christianity to a state of crisis, for Christianity has rapidly expanded around the world, while theology has remained static, dominated by Western orthodoxy, ethnocentrism, and reason.

In response to this crisis, Vondey suggests that theology must return to the playground so that it may be renewed and flourish in its current global space. Inspired largely by Gadamer and Suurmond, he applies the metaphor of “play” to the theological crisis, painting a unique way forward for theology, in which the stodgy ways of performance are traded for childlike play. Thus, theology becomes an “activity done for the joy of doing it and not for any performative, competitive, functionalistic, rationalistic, or utilitarian reasons. Theologically speaking, play is the joy of God in which we participate” (13).

Particularly essential to Vondey’s quest is introducing classical Pentecostalism into global theological play. He recognizes Pentecostalism as a particular manifestation of the contemporary crisis, because its transitional nature challenges established social, cultural, and religious forms of thought and praxis. Consequently, each chapter consists of three parts: the examination of a specific aspect of the crisis, an analysis of classical Pentecostalism as a manifestation of the particular attribute, and a proposal for global Christianity, offering resources from the Pentecostal tradition to overcome the particular element of the crisis.

This is far from a mere call for a Pentecostal revival though. Vondey’s vision is much grander. In fact, he notes that play “seeks to transform everything that existed before and apart from play into something that now exists due to its absorption into the reality of play” (76). Thus, by bringing Pentecostal tradition into play with global Christianity, Pentecostalism is transformed and absorbed. Hence, Beyond Pentecostalism suggests “both that Pentecostal faith and praxis are significant beyond Pentecostal circles and that Pentecostalism, as it engages the global Christian agenda, is in the process of going beyond its own historical, theological, sociocultural, and institutional boundaries” (7).

This is precisely what makes Vondey’s proposal refreshing. The performance-oriented methods of theologians such as Vanhoozer fail to liberate theology from the cognitive-linguistic level of Scripture. This focus continues to favor competition for “right” interpretation and performance, perpetuating the battle among Christian communities for the singular title of “church.” In contrast, Vondey calls for a shift from cognitive performance to imaginative play, allowing orthodoxy and orthopraxy to integrate with orthopathy. Subsequently, theology transcends orthodox structures dominated by reason, challenging them to change, expand, and grow. Therefore, revelation expands beyond the textuality and performance of written text, doctrine beyond the creed as a rule of faith, liturgy beyond its identity as a product of the church, ecclesiality beyond the structures of Western culture, and classical Pentecostalism beyond its own self-identity. Hence, rather than a Pentecostal revival—which often contains separatist tendencies and an interest in self-growth—Vondey desires for a change in agenda to that of renewal—a globally focused agenda emphasizing “changes in religious life, institutions, structures, liturgy, catechesis, worship, preaching, ecumenical relations, and theological parlance” (193).

While Vondey’s proposal for an imaginatively playful theology of the heart maps a joyful and restored Christian theology for the global sphere, his offering does raise a few questions as well. These primarily center on the nature of play and the exclusivity of the Christian message. For instance, he recommends that there be play between culture and the church, wherein spiritual discernment comes from both sides. However, one wonders how global Christianity protects itself against syncretism and a loss of its exclusivity? Moreover, one wonders if play is a sufficient metaphor to deal with more serious issues such as sin and judgment. While play invites areas of nonplay into play, what is to be done with those areas which refuse to play? In the same vein, is it possible that combining elements of performance and play will address these concerns?


Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda

Monday, May 9th, 2011 by Peter Althouse

Wolfgang Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. xiii + 267 pp. $32.00 paperback.

Theology is serious stuff, is it not? After all, theology deals with the God and God in Christ, the necessity of salvation and impending judgment of the world. To define theology as a type of play seems counter-intuitive. Yet the possibility that a theology of play can address the crisis of current theological discussions is the task taken up by Wolfgang Vondey. He proposes that Pentecostalism’s global character is best interpreted through the lens of the theology of play and is therefore in a position to revitalize the ecumenical crisis of theology in late modernity.

Vondey’s concern is an ecumenical one in that he refuses to privilege Western theological perspectives, even Pentecostal ones, while minimizing global contexts. Vondey does not look to the origins of classical Pentecostalism as a golden age, but pushes beyond their boundaries to propose a global and ecumenical theology. Theology is in crisis because a paradigm shift has occurred where the majority of Christians are in the developing world and this shift is creating new theological insights and trajectories. Pentecostalism broadly defined is also a developing world phenomenon, which makes its transnational, transethnic, and multicultural voices important in theological discourse.

The theology of play captures the essence of global Christianity and especially Pentecostalism. Play is understood as an engagement with the divine in liturgical worship that through the subjunctive (“as if”) ritual envisions an alternate reality. Ritual play crosses the liminal boundary from the mundane to the sacred (V. Turner). Modernity however has truncated the “field of play” with its emphasis on the utilitarian use of resources defined by usefulness. The modernist theological project is thus defined by performance, competition, rationalism, and functional concerns. Vondey’s argues the root metaphor of “performance” succumbs to the modernist agenda. When theology is understood as performance, then God’s work is cast as useful, productive and ordered, and privileges purpose over existence.

Play rather than performance is a better metaphor for grounding global theology, argues Vondey, though the terms are related. Performance is a dramatic expression that attempts to correlate the narrative of Scripture with the church’s theological project. Performance gives priority to cognitive faculties in order to define the narrative and creedal boundaries of liturgy and theology. However, performance leaves little space at the margins for the theological imagination to contextualize the gospel in its various cultural situations. Performance also creates a divide between the enactors of ritual (i.e., the ministerial) and the laity who passively “observe” the performance. Conversely, the spontaneous improvisation of play allows for an active kinesthetic embodiment of the gospel though the free play of the Spirit and full participation of the people of God. In liturgical practice, Pentecostals “discern” with the Spirit in unexpected and transformative ways.

The opposition between performance and play is not as sharp however as Vondey suggests. Granted, performance can be co-opted for utilitarian reasons and used as a metaphor for market competition, but performance can also be seen as a subset of play. In Ritual and its Consequences,1 Seligmann, Weller, Puett and Simon propose a fourfold typology of play that either affirms or subverts social roles, and allows the player to either retain or lose self control in ritual: Agôn is a type of play that develops skills in competitive games through ritualized battles or games, such as football or chess, while mimicry is a type of play characterized by simulation or drama with rites of reversal and drama. Performance is a key characteristic of both agôn and mimicry. Alea is a type of play characterized by chance in which the player has no control over the outcome of the game, while ilinx is the pursuit of vertigo (i.e., spinning in circles or riding roller coasters) in acts similar to intoxification and spirit possession. Pentecostal liturgy is predominantly characterized by alea and ilinx with its kinesthetic and emotional expressiveness. Historic liturgy is characterized by agôn and mimicry with its formal mastery of liturgical practice. The point is that performance is a form of play rather than in opposition to it.

Despite this concern, Vondey offers an intriguing proposal for pushing Pentecostal theology beyond its own boundaries to dialogue in the ecumenical field as a prominent player in the theological game. Beyond Pentecostalism has far reaching implications for the negotiation of theology in the global context that liberates and gives voice to the margins.

 

1 Adam B. Seligman, Robert P Weller, Michael J. Puett and Bennett Simon, Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay of the Limits of Sincerity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 76-80