Posts Tagged ‘play’

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.

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?