Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Down with the idols!

Observers often point out that, in terms of both race and gender, Pentecostals have been generally more successful than their evangelical counterparts in integrating and recognizing a multitude of gifts across the divides that stratify society. Admittedly, Pentecostals have a number of difficulties to face on both scores, but it is true that, on the American scene, both women and people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds have played significant roles in the Pentecostal movement as a whole. Such developments are not due to any kind of prescience by Pentecostals that led them to be more inclusive and open to nonmajority voices; such a reading would be blatantly anachronistic. On the contrary, something deep within Pentecostal identity and existence has made these developments possible. One of these constituent factors, I believe, is Pentecostalism’s character as a mystical tradition. With the affirmation of such things as worship, the affections, spiritual practices, “the anointing” and others, Pentecostalism has created a space in its contexts for other dynamics besides intellectualization and abstraction, which in turn have allowed for a disruption of the status quo and the true participation of God’s one people in the economy of grace.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 122

<idle musing>
I would detail that a bit and say that because Pentecostalism is a mystical tradition, it is able to be more open to the Spirit's leading, hearing the voice of God calling for the destruction the idols of patriarchialism and prejudice in our society.
</idle musing>

Friday, May 25, 2018

The problem with inerrancy

The implications of this pneumatic epistemology for a doctrine of inerrancy are significant. Pentecostals cannot hold to inerrancy without compromising their distinct hermeneutical vantage point and all that such a move would entail for their understanding of God-knowledge. In the words of Smith, “I think it is precisely this one vestige of Princeton [i.e.. maneucy] . . . which frustrates any Pentecostal theology which attempts to be evangelical. It is not simply that Pentecostalism precludes the doctrine of inerrancy—that is, it is not an issue of errors in the Bible. The doctrine of inerrancy signals a more fundamental relationship to texts—one of textualization." [Smith, "The Closing of the Book," 62] In this article, Smith pits certain accounts of orality and textuality in contrast to one another. In his opinion, the kind of texualization at work in evangelical accounts of inerrancy runs counter to other revelational themes within Pentecostal spirituality, including orality, continuing revelation (in terms of prophecy, illumination), receptivity, and the like. In other words, it is contrary to a pneumatic epistemology as outlined above. This kind of textualization runs akin to Henry’s notion of axiomatization, and in both cases, there is a rationalistic closure involved in the reading and engagement of Holy Scripture.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 115

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What is inspiration, anyway?

"What is the inspiration [of the Bible] can never be properly defined—there is a mystery therein. It is a mystery of the divine-human encounter. We cannot fully understand in what manner 'God's holy men' heard the Word of their Lord and how they could articulate it in the words of their own dialect. Yet, even in their human transmission, it was the voice of God. Therein lies the miracle and mystery of the Bible, that it is the Word of God in human idiom."—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 114–15, quoting Ervin, "Hermeneutics: A Pentecostal Option," Pneuma 3.2 (1981): 17–18, quoting Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing, 1972), 27

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How do you read the Bible?

In this approach to Scripture, Pentecostals are much closer to those of the ancient church, which practiced lectio divina than they are to their fundamentalist and evangelical counterparts. Their similarity is their view that the ultimate end of reading Scripture is not “accounting for the facts” so much as it is hearing from God. This kind of activity would posit its own form of “objectivity,” one anchored in the matrix of communal worship. Given this orientation, one could say that Pentecostals read the Bible as a mystical text; they repeatedly seek to encounter God through this book, making this spiritual discipline a significant feature of their mystical outlook within their wider spirituality.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 113–14

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why do you read the Bible?

Broadly, one could say that Pentecostals read Scripture not so much to encounter the facts or truths of the Christian faith as to encounter the living God of Christian confession. That is, the Pentecostal hermeneutical orientation is relational and experiential to its core, especially when on display within the broader gamut of their practiced spirituality. Pentecostals operate out of an epistemology that in many ways would be complicated by the rationalism at work in the form of evangelicalism surveyed above. In the Pentecostal dynamic, Scripture comes alive in a unique way. Encountering the living God who inspired these texts is not so much a spiritually solipsistic or nebulous form of engagement but rather one that illuminates and grants greater clarity to the reading of the texts themselves.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 112–13

<idle musing>
Reminds me of something that Koskie said in Reading the Way to Heaven: A Wesleyan Theological Hermeneutic of Scripture, which makes sense, because Pentecostalism has most of its roots in the Wesleyan tradition.

Oh, and I think it's the best way to read scripture, too. Not the only way, just the best way. : )
</idle musing>

Friday, May 18, 2018

Arguing in a vacuum

Henry does not go into great detail about the definitional possibilities for mysticism, assuming instead a very specific account and in turn generalizing it to the whole. Undoubtedly, one significant reason why Henry can do this is that he does not speak of the Spirit much, if at all, in his considerations of mysticism. And this critique could be extended even more so to the whole of Henry’s project in God, Revelation, and Authority: the work is pneumatologically anemic, especially in the way it sets up methodological concerns. Henry’s project is first and foremost a theology of the Word. or Logos. Without recourse to a pneumatological idiom at critical points along the way, Henry has constructed a theological epistemology that all too easily defaults to a modern, rationalist paradigm. No wonder, then, that mysticism cannot fit within such a program; the agenda has been constructed so as to exclude it from the very beginning.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 108

Thursday, May 17, 2018

But what if the philosophical underpinning is wrong?

The claim of the Bible’s inerrancy has been defended on the American scene by many evangelicals in a manner that reveals a certain epistemological militancy, one that forces a person to take sides regarding the Bible’s truthfulness, again with the latter being understood in a very particular, modern way. This militancy has emerged in a myriad of ways across a number of forms. One of the most popular cases occurred in the 1970s, when Harold Lindsell published his book Battle for the Bible (1976).Soon thereafter the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) was formulated, a document repeatedly appealed to as a way of building broad consensus. Institutional purgings, denominational divisions, strategic initiatives, and similar efforts have collectively contributed to the sense shared by many that to be evangelical, one needs to subscribe to biblical inerrancy. Otherwise, one would be on precarious footing, slipping inevitably toward heresy and unorthodoxy—that is, caving in to the cultural and worldly pressures to relinquish the fundamentals of the Christian faith.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 89–90

<idle musing>
Yep, Father, Son, and Holy Bible. That's what counts, not the Holy Spirit! Bibliolotry tied to a marriage to the Enlightenment, which, ironically, those tied to inerrancy frequently decry as anti-God. But what if that view is wrong? Your whole doctrinal system falls like a house of cards.

Wouldn't it be better to cling to the traditional Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Then you are free to rest instead of continually battle. But maybe, Roger Olson says, those who tenaciously cling to inerrancy don't want to rest. They prefer to fight and judge and declare who is in and who is out. : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

But what we lose in the process...

The penchant to rationalization betrays itself usually in terms of how the Bible is conceptually viewed as authoritative and inspired. Both groups (and even subsequent evangelicals beyond this particular strand) find it appropriate to speak of the Bible as inerrant because it is assumed that only this kind of affirmation will secure its truthfulness over and against the modern pressures represented in historical-critical biblical scholarship, evolutionary theory, and debates surrounding cosmological and human origins. As many have lamented in the face of such pressures, without something as conceptually, morally, and practically demarcating as “inerrancy,” one is left with the prospect of relativizing the biblical witness through appeals to metaphor, symbolism, literary genre, and so on. And once such a reinterpretation happens with topics such as, say, the historicity of Adam and Eve or the dating of Daniel, it is often assumed that the “slippery slope” effect will lead to questioning the legitimacy and truthfulness of the gospel itself.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 89

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reasonable faith—or Reason instead of faith?

In light of these and other details surrounding the epistemological and methodological forms evangelical theology has taken over the centuries, one could venture the following thesis: the story of American evangelicalism in particular can be told as the tale of how Christian theology was overdetermined by methodology. Of course, American evangelicalism can be narrated in a number of ways, but for purposes of this study, it is important to highlight just how significant epistemological and methodological issues have taken hold within the theological efforts of this strand of American Christianity. Perhaps out of both apologetic and protectionist concerns, American evangelicalism imbibed and adopted a very specific theological methodology, one that was particularly developed with ongoing reference to reason.

For purposes of perspective, Charry proves helpful once again in showing how reason changed from the Middle Ages to modernity in theological reflection (although what we have entertained thus far might nuance this claim further): “The use of reason in theology had started out as assistance to revelation by theologians like Anselm and Thomas. But in spite of their insistence that faith should seek understanding, reason as a tool of absolute knowledge took on a life of its own that bent in the direction of denying the intelligibility of Christian claims unless knowledge of God was empirically or rationally demonstrable.” [Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds, 10] American evangelicals embraced and promoted this usurpation of theological reflection by reason, and the signs of this capitulation were very much on display in the developments of the nineteenth and twentieth-century forms of this Christian tradition. Rather than critically and creatively resisting the forces that promoted the marginalization of Christian theology, American evangelicals sought to employ those forces—consciously or subconsciously as a "plundering of the Egyptians”—in ways that larnentably have led to a kind of intellectual unraveling. That effort was largely methodological, driven as it was by an implicit account of reason that framed Scripture as an epistemological foundation that cohered on the basis of a given account of truth—one that was modern to its core.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 84–85

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Study in Translations

I was reading in Matthew 8 this morning in my currently favored translation, the Common English Bible, when I noticed that all the references to the "sea" were changed to "lake."
23 When Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A huge storm arose on the lake so that waves were sloshing over the boat. But Jesus was asleep. 25 They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, rescue us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?” Then he got up and gave orders to the winds and the lake, and there was a great calm.

27 The people were amazed and said, “What kind of person is this? Even the winds and the lake obey him!” (emphasis added)

That's also true of the NIV (although they change the last "lake" to "waves") and NLT, but not the NRSV, ESV, or HCSB (those are all I checked). I've noticed it before, but it never really hit me the way it did this morning.

So what's the big deal, you ask. After all, Jesus still showed his power over the water— and the "Sea" of Galilee really isn't a sea, it's not saltwater, so it really is a lake.

Ah yes. The old dilemma of how to translate rears its ugly head. The NRSV, ESV, and HCSB chose to stick with the philologically correct "sea" while the CEB, NIV, and NLT chose to be geologically correct, but philologically a bit off. But if I were a betting man, which I am not, I would wager you that all six translations missed the theological point of the passage.


Yep. Why is it so important that Jesus calms the θάλασσα (thalassa)? If you rummage back through the posts of this blog as far back as 2016, you will find excerpts from a snappy little book by my British friend Robin Parry. On March 30, 2016, referring to the walking on water, not the calming of the sea, this is what he said:

We all know the story of Jesus walking on water. And for most of us it is simply a great show of his power and authority but, truth be told, we don’t really see the point of it. However, Jesus did not actually walk on water. You did read that correctly. Jesus did not walk on the water . . . he walked on the sea. There’s a difference and it is important. (emphasis original)
Follow the link to read the rest. But the point is that the sea represents chaos and destruction. Everything God isn't. By Jesus calming the sea, he is showing that he is Yahweh, God, incarnate.

But, if you read the excerpt from Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition today, you will know that modern Christianity has a problem with the supernatural—well, you probably already knew that!—but that excerpt just exemplifies it better than most.

Once again, to quote that old saw, traduttore tradittore, the translator is a traitor. And as I said, I doubt the NRSV, ESV, HCSB stuck with "sea" because of the theological import of the passage. They are just as captive to the naturalistic mindset as the CEB and NIV.

So, perhaps I shouldn't have called this post "A Study in Translations" as much as "A Study in Preconceptions" or some such. Anyway, it's just an
<idle musing>

A prisoner to Modernism

[T]he Christian life on the whole trades on holy mysteries, the American evangelical movement, although citing Scripture as its one true authority, has significantly failed to account for the mystery-laden qualities of this life. Much of this failure is attributable to epistemological matters. We have already seen indications of this difficulty even in such a promising work as Boyer and Hall's The Mystery of God. Despite their appeal to mystery, which they claim must transcend reason because of the superabundance of God’s life, they nevertheless feel compelled to give reason some kind of prevailing acknowledgment, saying awkwardly that, even while transcended, reason still must operate. Of course theological reflection is reason-oriented; we as creatures are rational and use our rational capacities in our theological efforts. The reference to reason in Boyer and Hall’s presentation, however, is awkward by its inclusion as a postscript of sorts, as if its presence was necessary to register, even if in terms of an afterthought. Their implicit assumption is that whatever theology amounts to, even theology surrounding the mystery of God, it needs to be affirmed as rational in some sense. One could hypothesize that a fear is operative in Boyer and Hall in particular and within evangelicalism in general, one that has to do with avoiding certain methodological alternatives. If this hypothesis is true, then some options are simply to be avoided and others maintained at all costs.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 84

<idle musing>
Ouch! That is too true. Evangelicalism sold out to Modernism long before it sold out to Trump and the Republican Right.
</idle musing>

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Encounter as transformation

In this chapter I have sought to situate the language of mysticism within Christian theological discourse so that it could be of use for the narration of Pentecostal identity. Pentecostalism can be identified as a mystical tradition within the church catholic, but only if we recognize the mystical features of Christianity that hold the knowledge of God to be both intellectual and relational. Once we do so, we can recognize that Pentecostals implicitly operate out of mystical sensibilities in the ethos they sustain regarding worship and how it in turn reflects their belief that God engages and encounters those who thirst after God. The ultimate goal is a sense of the divine that is, in short, transformative. As Warrington remarks, “One experience with God can be more life changing than an encyclopedic knowledge of God. . . . Thus, Pentecostals value experience-based encounters with God because they have the potential to transform believers. They believe that if God initiates an experience, it must be in order to positively transform the individual concerned.” [Pentecostal Theology, 26] In this particular sense Pentecostals can be identified as modern-day mystics. The mystical dimensions of ancient Christianity are not dead for those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear" otherwise.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 82

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Teresa of Avila a Pentecostal?!

For Pentecostals, the theme of encounter involves an implicit theological realism. Rather than going deeper within, Pentecostals typically urge seekers to “get more of God” by pressing deeper into God’s reality. Therefore, in their corporate worship settings, Pentecostals strive to create the space for people to encounter and (more fittingly stated) be encountered by the God of their worship. The assumption at work is that God is available and in turn can act and surprise through a kind of “event” in which ane’s creaturehood is overwhelmed by the sheer glory of the Creator. It is no wonder, then, that many Pentecostals fall prostrate, are “slain,” shake, scream, or cry at such moments. Genuine cases of these experiences do not represent psychological contortions or expressions of pent-up frustration or despair; rather, these happenings are simply signs of a body overwhelmed by the “touch of the living God.” If Pentecostals were familiar and comfortable with the language, they could join Teresa of Avila in calling this sense of the divine “mystical theology."—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 80

<idle musing>
Definitely! This is Pentecostal worship at its best. Unfortunately, it frequently degenerates into a "me-first" encounter. : (
</idle musing>

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Now that's church

Both Pentecostalism and features of the Christian mystical tradition emphasize dimensions of formation, growth, and maturation. In both of these currents the spiritual life is cast as something lively and in need of attention and care. Rather than manipulation or construction, the favored actions in these schemes are attentiveness and devotion. Activies such as praising God through music, the sharing of testimony, responsive preaching, altar tarrying, laying on of hands, and “praying through" collectively contribute to a kind of modality of knowing and being that is both spiritually and theologically productive. In short, Pentecostal spirituality facilitates and inculcates a specific account and form of God-knowledge, one that is personal, demanding, humbling, and enriching. On the whole, participation is crucial, for the deepest registers of the self are engaged in this Christian tradition.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 80

Monday, May 07, 2018

An answer to self-destruction

At the same time, if Pentecostalism is to be called a mystical tradition of the church catholic, it needs to be so within its own context and theology. In this sense, Pentecostalism is unique. For Pentecostalism appears to exhibit premodern characteristics, and yet it emerged in late modernity. How can we account for this combination? Broadly, the rise of Pentecostalism can be read … as a kind of indictment of some of the most difficult happenings in the modern Christian West. The movement has also helped usher a global Christian revival, which few people could have anticipated a few decades ago. The Pentecostal ethos draws people from all walks of life with a message of God’s presence in the mundane, God’s power among the poor and the oppressed, and God’s hope for a world suffering the stifling weight of its own self-destruction.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 77

Friday, May 04, 2018

Lively theology (is that an oxymoron?)

As noted previously, Pentecostals want to see the spirituality-theology divide be lively and interactive, which is definitely not the case in the modern Western theological tradition. Therefore, whatever use they make of the language of mysticism, it would have to fit within a framework that would allow for this kind of interaction. They would want to avoid both a scholasticizing tendency within theology (in which it is abstracted from the very realities of lived Christian experience) and a privatizing tendency within spirituality (in which it is fostered through techniques and patterns that improve focus and push consciousness toward interiority so as to find God already present in the soul). It is no wonder, then, that scholars have from time to time noted that Pentecostals fit better within a premodern worldview, for within contemporary issues and debates, they at times exude a particular kind of eccentricity; on many registers they are simply out of step with several currents in Western theology.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 76

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Is spirituality a "mechanical quest"?

McIntosh notes that around the twelfth century the term spiritualitas shifted from being concerned with "the power of God animating the Christian life" to characterizing a privatized quality, one referring to a "highly refined state of the soul, with the focus on how one achieves such states of inner purity and exaltation." McIntosh further adds that, by the time of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the term "spirituality" in both the Latin and the vernaculars came to signify inner dispositions and "interior states of the soul." Put another way, "spirituality" gradually became an anthropologically oriented category in the West, in the sense that human interiority and maybe even a "technology of the self" (even if treated through explicitly theological categories such as "sanctification," moral theology," or even "mystagogy") became the focus. McIntosh concludes that " the mystical dimension of Christian spirituality, that transforming knowledge of God which early Christian writers often saw as the very foundation of theology, grew ever more estranged from theology" by gradually focusing on the "mechanics of the spiritual quest." [MacIntosh, Mystical Theology, 7, 8.].—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 71–72

<idle musing>
I find that a terrifying thought! Yet, I see it in all kinds of books: 10 Steps to this or that, How to become such and such a person, How to grow your faith, etc. Everything in me resists that. Over the years I have reacted here to some of those books, which while correctly identifying the problem with the Western church, have simply prescribed a different medicine of the same sort—you don't get better, but some of those nasty side affects disappear, only to be replaced by other equally nasty side affects. No thanks!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

On thinking too highly of oneself

Scholasticism always ran the risk of overestimating the power of reason securing knowledge of God. As Pieper and many others have highlighted, William of Ockham (ca. 1287–1347) represents the consequence of this overestimation; in Pieper's words, one of Ockham’s hypotheses was that “belief is one thing and knowledge an altogether different matter and that a marriage of the two is neither meaningfully possible nor even desirable.“ The perceived intellectual integrity of God-knowledge could not help but be affected as a result of reason's rising place of privilege.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, pages 70–71

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Why all the Greek terms?

The issue, then, did not revolve around whether Christians were going engage the wider culture, thereby choosing either to separate from it or capitulate to it. Rather, for Christianity to have emerged in the context that it did meant that philosophical terms, sensibilities, and inclinations of the time period were appropriated by those Christians who wished to pursue public accounts of their identities as Christians.—Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition, page 59