According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Web Links to Christian Interviews with People of Differing Faiths and Beliefs


An Introduction

Rachel has done a phenomenal job interviewing people of differing faiths and beliefs in an attempt to show Christians of whatever persuasion the "human element" of those different from themselves. Lately it seems that to be a "Christian" one must be critical of other people's faiths and beliefs while vigorously "fighting or contending" for one's own faith and beliefs. However, an emergent Christian should be one who patiently listens to others unlike him/herself; who does not feel threaten in being with other people of differing persuasions; who can enjoy others "as they are" without wishing to "change" that person into their own image but into God's image.

This is the basis of God's love. It is patient, kind, non-judgemental, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking nor easily angered. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres with others, but does not allow one to be "used by others for their own selfish purposes;" it does not "enable others who are toxic in their relationships;" it does not "condone wrongs, hurts, unkindness, or intolerance;" nor does love in its desire to protect, trust, hope and persevere with others allow itself to be willfully naive, ignorant, blind, or indifferent to those it comes into relationship with. It walks a delicate balance between wisdom and sound judgment requiring prayer, acts of mercy, forgiveness, a desire to speak truth to one-another (but not one's biases or prejudices). It requires a supportive fellowship actively involved in each life seeking to make Jesus' call to love one another a consistent habit of life. A habit that is unnatural and does not come easily (if at all) to the flesh (our past sinful nature now redeemed). But in Christ can love become a reality (or characteristic, trait, intention, a mindfulness or attitude) that only the Holy Spirit can groom everyday to be lived out and tested.

What Love Is and Isn't

God's love is a divine act requiring the work of Christ's atonement in a person's life which is in the process of "being made new everyday" through the Holy Spirit. Consequently, and quite unnaturally it seems, Christianity is not a faith that is condemnatory or judgmental. But one that is less protective and territorial of itself. Less good at eviscerating another person's faith and beliefs. Of bringing harm and destruction into people's lives. This is not a mark of God's holiness. A holy person is one who seeks to love, to forgive, to serve others. Holiness is self-sacrificial service. It is kind. It is thoughtful. It shuns the deeds of the flesh. The criticisms of the heart. Fears, tyranny and oppression of others.

However, by bearing this persuasion in our attitudes and willfulness does not mean that we do not speak truth to one another. If anything this web blog is a testament to that.... As Christians we seek to know and understand God. To do that we must listen to the world around us - to science in its many disciplines; and to other religious perceptions (or conceptions) of God that might orientate us away from our own cultural preferences and biases. But most importantly, overall, we seek God through His Word, the Bible. And in seeking God through Scripture we must learn to discern the Bible - not on the basis of protecting our traditions and dogmas - but on the basis of using good, solid hermeneutics that "opens the Bible" up in new ways to be explored - not in new ways of shutting down conversation or exploring a theology that could teach us of God, of ourselves, of God's plans and purposes for this world. And through this process must come the discipline of learning to listen. To study. To examine life with others who hold differing opinions from our own; differing sets of knowledge and experience that we might learn from; and to cultivate good wisdom and judgment within Christian doctrine and practice. Do you want to be a good theologian? Learn to listen. Want to preach? First allow God to preach to you. Want to minister? Earn it from others. In every way learn humility, patience, kindness, and love. These attitudes and acts serve best those who would serve God. And without which there can be no effective service.

The Apostle Paul Made Mistakes Too

Curiously, the very apostle Paul (known as Saul in Acts) who wrote of "God's love" in 1 Corinthians 13, was a self-righteous, bigoted, harmful, zealot committed to persecuting, oppressing, perhaps even murdering (Stephen?) anyone teaching that Jesus was the risen Jewish Messiah. And it was this very Jesus whom he persecuted that came into his life on the road to Damascus. Making him to understand that God's Torah became incarnate in Jesus' life and ministry as God's Incarnate Word and Resurrected Messiah. Then, and then only, was the apostle Paul willing to cast away his religious zealotry, his passionate judgments and condemnations made against Jewish Christians seeking obedience to Jesus' lordship.

Paul was a man of Torah. A well-versed student of the Hebraic Law. He was a Pharisee's Pharisee.A Scribe's Scribe. Who mostly likely was unreceptive to Jesus' teachings in the Temple and throughout the land of Israel during Jesus' time of ministry. And if so, had built up quite a few convictions about this newer Jewish faith. Convictions that were wrong-headed and mis-leading. That couldn't hear what Jesus was saying about this Torah that he thought he knew so well. So when Paul came to God, he came as one finding for the first time the true faith of his father Abraham. And like John the Baptist, the last of the OT prophets (besides Jesus!), who announced the Messiah's coming, and was used of God to baptise the Anointed One of God, so too would Paul, as a Jewish man of letters-and-learning, find repentance come to his blinded heart. Repentance to turn from his former training and dogmas to receive Holy Spirit illumination understanding for the first time God's truth in Jesus.

The scales fell off Paul's eyes and he knew then that Jesus was the Messiah King, the Holy One of Israel, who had come to bring God's kingdom to earth, through His people Israel through a new institution called the church. One not requiring tribal affiliations but a faith commitment. God smote Paul's blinded heart with a perception so clear that he would trade in his dead, Messiah-less religion for a "stateless religion." One committed to a Person and not a Cause. To godliness and not self-righteousness. Or to a dead tradition. To real truth and not a truth of intolerance to others created by his own cultural preferences and traditions, fears and dreads. And that he was to use the humbler trade tools of Messiah Jesus until He come again. That of faith, hope and love.

To be a Christ follower is hard. It is not easy. The cost is high and requires much. Each of Jesus' disciples (turned apostles by God's calling to build His church) discovered that cost as they learned to be fishers of men in Christ's absence. Servants of God who once were served by the God of heaven. Followers of the Way when no other way could bring such stirring conviction. By their examples we know that polishing up our doctrines is not enough unless those doctrines breath life and love into the heart and word of God. Without those elements a Jesus follower cannot minister. Cannot witness. Cannot serve. They have become like Paul in his former religious life. Full of wind with no blessing by God. Sowing seed with no root. Casting pearls among the swines of intolerance and zealotry. Setting a table that cannot feed those who are starving and needing food and wine.

Simply said, Christians need to relax in God's truth and trust that we can lead others to God's truth, but not through unloving dogmas. It is God's doctrine we are charged to teach, and not ours to unteach through poor judgment and darkened wisdom. That it is God's Spirit who fights evil, and not our own spirit to bring evil. It is God's problem to communicate His will-and-word, not ours to mis-communicate and confuse. It is God's responsibility to make His revelation plain, not ours to darken with hollow words. For the key to learning, and teaching, and ministering is love. And by this love God urges us to use our spiritual gifts. If to serve, then serve. If to teach, then teach. If to witness, then preach Jesus. But to do all in a way that will glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And to do it through l-o-v-e....  For these things we pray, Our heavenly Father. Amen.

R.E. Slater
April 14, 2012


1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.



You guys asked some really tough questions of Scott Sabin for “Ask an environmentalist,” but Scott rose to the occasion with some wise, winsome, and informative responses. Scott is the Executive Director of Plant With Purpose (formerly Floresta), a Christian nonprofit organization that reverses deforestation and poverty by transforming the lives of the rural poor in six countries. He is the author of the recent book, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God&rsq... read more

Ask a Nun...(Response)
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Nuns have certainly been in the news lately, and today we are privileged to welcome one to the blog, answering your questions! Sister Helena Burns is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of Roman Catholic Sisters founded to communicate God's Word through the media. She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy Education, has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from St. John's University, NYC, studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood, and holds a Cer... read more

Ask a Pentecostal...(Response)
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As expected, our friend Jonathan Martin responded to your questions for “Ask a Pentecostal” with incredible wisdom, grace, and insight. This is definitely one of the best installments of our interview series yet! Jonathan is third-generation Pentecostal preacher and the founder of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation in Charlotte, North Carolina and Fort Mill, South Carolina. Jonathan sees himself as a bridge figure between seemingly conflicting Christian trad... read more

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Last week, over 100 questions rolled in for the latest installment of our interview series, “Ask a Pacifist...” These were tough questions, but our friend Tripp York responded with wit, wisdom, and grace. Tripp teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Virginia Wesleyan University and is the author of The Devil Wears Nada: Satan Exposed!, an entertaining book about whether proving the existence of Satan might, in turn, prove the existence of God. Tripp is als... read more

Ask a Christian Progressive...(Response)
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Today we return to our interview series, which in light of election season, has been politically-focused for the last few weeks. We’ve already interviewed Caryn Rivadeneira for “Ask a Christian Libertarian” and Matthew Lee Anderson for “Ask a Christian Conservative.” Today I’m pleased to feature the responses of Tim King for “Ask a Christian Progressive.” Tim King is the Director of Communications at Sojourners. He is a graduate of N... read more


Ask a Christian Conservative....(Response)
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At the beginning of the year, when I asked what sort of people you would like to talk to via our interview series, one of the most popular suggestions was to interview Christians who identified with various political parties. So last week, we spoke with Caryn Rivadeneira, a Christian Libertarian. For this week, you submitted over 120 questions to Matthew Lee Anderson, a Christian Conservative. Next week, we’ll interview a Christian Democrat. (After that, we’ll return to the usual f... read more


Ask a Christian Libertarian...(Response)
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At the beginning of the year, when I asked what sort of people you would like to talk to via our interview series, one of the most popular suggestions was to interview Christians who identified with various political parties. Well, today I’m pleased to launch a series of political interviews with Caryn Rivadeneira, a Christian libertarian. You asked some tough, heartfelt questions last week, and Caryn has risen to the challenge. Caryn has been a Libertarian for more than... read more


Ask a Unitarian Universalist (Response)
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Our friend Ellen Cooper-Davis really outdid herself in her response to your questions about Unitarian Universalism for our interview series. You asked some great questions, and Ellen provides some great, thoughtful answers. If, like me, you don’t know much about Unitarian Universalism, I guarantee you will learn something new. Ellen is the minister of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. She writes a blog for the Houston Chronicle on liberal religion cal... read more


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Today I’m thrilled to share Khurram Dara’s response to your questions about his Islamic faith as part of our ongoing interview series. Khurram is an American Muslim from Buffalo, New York, and the author of The Crescent Directive: An Essay on Improving the Image of Islam in America. Khurram graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, and is currently studying law at Columbia University in New York. If you frequent CNN’s Belief Blog, you may recognize him for his re... read more

In a wonderful addition to our ongoing interview series, Frederica Mathewes-Green has responded to your questions about Orthodox Christianity with all the grace and wisdom that has made her such a respected figure in the religious community. Frederica began her faith journey as a Roman Catholic, dabbled in Hinduism, then converted to Anglicanism, before finding her home in the Orthodox Church. She is the author of nine books, including the critically-acclaimed and beautifully-written Faci... read more

So far, our interview series has included an atheist, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew, a humanitarian, a Mormon, a Mennonite, a theistic evolutionist, a Calvinist, and a gay Christian. On Thursday I’ll introduce Frederica Mathewes-Green as our Orthodox Christian! But today we’re talking with a Quaker. Robert Fischer is a master’s student at Duke Divinity School and a member at Durham Friends Meeting. He’s on the board of Quaker House of Fayetteville, a group th... read more

In our interview series so far, we’ve featured an atheist, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew, a humanitarian, a Mormon, a Mennonite, an evolutionary creationist, and a Calvinist. When I asked who you wanted to hear from next, many of you requested an interview with a gay Christian. I’m so glad you did! Last week I introduced you to Justin Lee, the director of The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit organization serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians a... read more

It is perhaps serendipitous that yesterday’s post spoke of the “accidental fences” we build between one another as people of faith, because today’s interview highlights something that can spark emotional divides within the Christian community: the theology of Calvinism. Justin Taylor is a popular blogger and leader in the modern Reformed movement. The vice president of book publishing and an associate publisher at Crossway, he has edited and contributed to several ... read more

Today I’m thrilled to share biologist Dennis Venema’s responses to your questions for “Ask an Evolutionary Creationist.” Dennis has a PhD in genetics/developmental biology from the University of British Columbia. He teaches at Trinity Western University, and his research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling. Dennis is part of the BioLogos Foundation, an organization committed to promoting a perspective on the origins of life that is both theolog... read more

  • Sep 06, 2011
The interview series has been such a success, I’m planning to extend it through the fall! Thanks so much for bringing these interviews to life with your thoughtful and respectful questions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve really learned a lot. Today Kurt Willems responds to our questions about Mennonites and Anabaptism. Kurt is writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Semina... read more

I’m back from Bolivia! I’ll be sharing a little more about my trip in the weeks to come, but today I need a break. Thankfully, Jana Riess did a fantastic job responding to your questions about Mormonism as part of our summer interview series. Jana is the author or co-author of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do? and the forthcoming memoir Flunking Sainthood. She has a Ph.D. in American religious history from Columbia University and an M.Div. from Princeton Theol... read more

On Sunday morning I’ll board a plane in Chattanooga, Tennessee at 9 a.m., and after stops in Atlanta and Miami, I’ll end up in La Paz, Bolivia at 9 p.m. (Is it any wonder James reminds Christians to preface their travel plans with “…if the Lord wills it”? That’s a lot of planes to catch!) I’m going to Bolivia with World Vision and a team of bloggers whose directive it is to be your eyes and ear on the ground as we get an inside look at Worl... read more

Last week we had over 100 questions come in after I introduced my friend Ahava as this week’s guest and invited you to ask her your most pressing questions about Orthodox Judaism. Ahava has been a fantastic source of information and friendship as I’ve trudged through my year of biblical womanhood; I’m so happy for the opportunity share her with you! *** Thanks so much for joining us today, Ahava. I mentioned in my introduction that your explanation for how the Jewish communit... read more

I must say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of our summer interview series! We had over 200 questions roll in after I introduced Devin Rose as this week’s guest and invited you to ask him your most pressing questions about Catholicism. I hope you will be as impressed with Devin’s response to these “top 10” as I was. He did a remarkably thorough and thoughtful job of explaining his positions, and I’m so grateful for the time he spent... read more


Ask an Atheist…(Response)
We had over 200 questions and comments roll in after I introduced Hemant Mehta, aka “the friendly atheist,” and invited you to ask him your pressing questions. It was tough picking the best ones—(we relied heavily on the “like” feature and questions that appeared to overlap with one another)—but I think these represent a good start to a healthy dialog. Hemant is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay. His blog, FriendlyAtheist.com, was the winner of the 2... read more



Ask A Pentecostal

April 10, 2012
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jonathan-martinAs expected, our friend Jonathan Martin responded to your questions for “Ask a Pentecostal” with incredible wisdom, grace, and insight. This is definitely one of the best installments of our interview series yet!

Jonathan is third-generation Pentecostal preacher and the founder of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation in Charlotte, North Carolina and Fort Mill, South Carolina. Jonathan sees himself as a bridge figure between seemingly conflicting Christian traditions, both the product of southern campmeeting services and Duke University. As a 33-year old pastor, he embodies the concerns of a younger generation of leaders. But as a product of a parsonage himself, he often jokes that church life has “aged him in dog years,” giving him a deep respect and appreciation for the Church’s history and tradition.

Jonathan lives in Charlotte with his wife of 12 years, Amanda, and a 10-pound shih tzu named Cybil. He is the author of the forthcoming book Prototype from Tyndale House. Be sure to check out his blog here.

Enjoy!
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From Rhea: Do you use the terms Pentecostal and charismatic interchangeably? Why or why not? In a nutshell, what do you think it means to be a Pentecostal?

Rather than a lengthy description of phenomena associated with Pentecostalism, first and foremost, I would say this: to be Pentecostal is to be a Christ-like witness empowered by the Spirit. This always has to be the baseline. If being Pentecostal is primarily about believing in a handful of supernatural gifts or experiences, those gifts and experiences will be detached from a larger understanding of Christian mission and thus distorted.

Pentecostals are not fundamentalists who speak in tongues. Pentecostal spirituality is a distinct way of being in the world with God, a distinct understanding of the kingdom of God. Pentecostals are people with an apocalyptic sense of urgency, because they believe the Holy Spirit is empowering the Church in dynamic ways in preparation for the return of Christ. But we are not just a people anticipating the consummation of the kingdom, we are participating in the kingdom already being established on the earth. This apocalyptic expectation is hardly a pie-in-the-sky, detached, other-worldly escapism. Pentecost is about the Spirit falling to the earth to particular people in particular places—and where the Spirit touches ground, the kingdom does too.

renovatusIt’s not surprising that when Pentecostal power is at work in communities, it brings disruption, for this is the future reign of God breaking into the present. There is no racial division because that’s not the way of God’s future. There are no gender barriers because male and female, slave and free only made sense before the terror of Pentecost disrupted everything. Now sons and daughters alike prophesy, whomever the Spirit chooses to use. It’s not surprising that Pentecostal communities have brought justice to the poor and oppressed—that’s the future breaking into the present. Neither is it surprising that there are accounts of divine healing—as it was in the early church, this is only a foretaste of the wholeness that is coming when creation is restored. Neither is it surprising that there is speaking in tongues, because this is eschatological speech—this is future talk. In the account of the tower of Babel, language divided the human race. No wonder, then, that Pentecostals needed new language—it’s a marker of a future where one language of adoration covers the earth.

People aren’t Pentecostal just because they speak in tongues, they are Pentecostal because the trajectory of their entire lives has been re-oriented by the power of the Spirit. As Steven J. Land contends in his landmark Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom, “There may be Pentecostal-like experiences, but Pentecostal spirituality is another matter.”

So you can see how Pentecostal spirituality is not garden variety evangelicalism with spiritual gifts clumsily added in an eccliesial game of pin-the-tail-on-the- donkey. It’s a whole way of life, a whole perspective on being the church in the world, a whole vision of being human. It’s unsurprising that early Pentecostals were marginalized within the broader church when the future started crashing into their present. As it was on Mt. Sinai and as it was on the day of Pentecost, the presence of God is cataclysmic, violent and disruptive. In the Pentecostal revivals of the early 1900s (most notably at Azuza Street), people of different ethnicities were worshipping together, women were preaching, poor and marginalized people were being empowered. On the day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit was first marked by “violent rushing wind.” Once again, the disruption of Pentecost was sweeping the Church.

pentecostal-spiritualityI’m aware that sounds idealistic. Naturally, wherever there is an authentic move of God, there will be people who “confuse the spectacular for the wonderful.” There will be carnality and confusion and conflict. We can’t expect a contemporary move of God to be any more tidy than it was for the early Church. There were church conflicts in the book of Acts; there were abuses of spiritual gifts at the church of Corinth. But none of that mitigates the fact that Pentecostals bear witness to something very real and very powerful that has happened to them, even while the implications of this newfound power has to be worked out in broken human vessels.

While Pentecostals and Charismatics are naturally lumped together because of their similarities, the terms are not interchangeable. Classical Pentecostals trace their origins back to revivals of the early 1900’s (from Azuza Street to rural North Carolina and Tennessee). The Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Foursquare, and Pentecostal Holiness bodies are all classical Pentecostal denominations. The Charismatic movement was a spiritual renewal that took place within existing Christian communities, from Catholics to mainline Protestants. Beginning largely in the 1960’s, people from diverse corners of Christian tradition began to experience New Testament signs and wonders like healing and prophesy and speaking in tongues—and even the expressive nature of Pentecostal worship within established institutional churches. Today, the term Charismatic is sometimes used more broadly to identify Christians who testify to the Pentecostal experience but are simply not part of one of the classical Pentecostal denominations.

I think Pentecostals should understand the unique contours of their tradition and embrace the distinctions that go along with it. But I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is given merely to validate or set apart one particular part of the Church over and against another—there is a very real way that the entire church is Pentecostal. The outpouring on the day of Pentecost is the birthday of the whole Church; the power of the Spirit is the birthright of the whole Church. The culture of Pentecostal churches may be unique, but the substance of Pentecostal spirituality—wherein the lame are healed, and sons and daughters prophesy, and peace and justice come to the marginalized—is not for a sect. Those aren’t the marks of a denomination; those are the marks of the kingdom, and they are available to all who call Jesus Lord.

From Trisha: I read your recent post, "The Pentecostal Elephant in the Middle of the Room." I thought it was interesting when you said that you see the Pentecostal movement as no more Protestant than it is Catholic. I guess I've always seen Pentecostalism as a charismatic form of evangelicalism. Can you explain what makes it unique/separate from Protestantism?

The Protestant tradition as a whole, in reaction to perceived abuses, downplayed virtually all mystical aspects of the Christian life—there was little if any room for miracles/supernatural gifts of the Spirit. The Pentecostal movement has a prominent place for mystical experiences in the life of the Church. As Land notes, Protestants have historically emphasized salvation as forensic, legal justification, whereas Pentecostals, in line with their Wesleyan roots, have emphasized sanctification and transformation.

The role of Scripture and the relationship of Spirit to Scripture is also very different in Pentecostal tradition. I don’t think you could have a higher view of Scripture than what you find among Pentecostals, where the Bible is understood (in the words of my friend Dr. Cheryl Johns) not as an encyclopedia or fact book but the mystical, supernatural Word of God. But it’s a long way from Sola Scriptura. There is no way within Pentecostal tradition to even make sense of a phrase like “Scripture alone.” For Pentecostals, Scripture has no power detached from a dynamic, lively, interactive relationship with the Spirit who breathed upon it.

In many ways, the Pentecostal movement (and the Wesleyan tradition that underwrites it) has more similarities to the Eastern church rather than the Western church in its Protestant or Catholic forms. As it is in the Eastern Christian tradition, there is a greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit from the ground floor of Pentecostal theology, whereas in Western traditions, pneumatology (theology of the Spirit) can be a bit of an afterthought. Pentecostals also are more Eastern than Western in that, as it was for John Wesley, there is an emphasis on sin as a sickness that needs to be healed, as opposed to just a legal problem to be dealt with in judicial terms.

From Eric: Many people associate Pentecostalism with some (shall we say) excessive but very visible aspects the movement, e.g. people barking like dogs "in the spirit," faith-healing charlatans, snake-handlers, and televangelists of dubious repute. How do you deal with this stereotyping, especially for people who might have concerns about your church or assume that everything to do with Pentecostalism is like that?

That’s an interesting question, especially since both of our current worship experiences take place in spaces that have a bit of local infamy. Our Little Rock Road location historically had one of the worst examples for our city of Pentecostal ministry imaginable, and our Fort Mill services are in The Broadcast Group, which is still known to many in our region as the former Jim and Tammy Bakker studio! But while we deal with Pentecostal stereotypes some at Renovatus, it’s honestly pretty minimal. That’s probably because, even though we are very comfortable with our Pentecostal identity as a congregation, we don’t wear it (or our denominational badge) on our lapels.

pentecost-artI think our church is deeply Pentecostal in practice, but doesn’t have a lot of the cultural markers that people associate with Southern Pentecostalism. When we call people down to receive prayer for healing or to be anointed with oil, for example, we are very low key about it. We don’t get overly demonstrative in those settings. Our worship is appropriately emotional and expressive, but never out of control. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being demonstrative and have a deep love and respect for some of my wilder brethren, but it’s really important to me that people can have deep, experiential encounters of the presence of God without being alienated by some of the cultural baggage we have in the South. Our church recites the apostles creed and/or the Lord’s prayer every Sunday morning and does frequent communion, which is far more likely to be suspect to people who share my classical Pentecostal background!

From Shane: Pentecostals have a reputation for being anti-intellectual. What role does the life of the mind play in Pentecostal spirituality? What could Christians who primarily approach their faith cerebrally learn from Christians who approach faith more experientially?

Given our characteristic concerns that faith is always grounded in experiential reality, there is an understandable anti-intellectual bent in some Pentecostal communities—especially toward those of us who have been to “cemeteries” (I mean, seminaries!) I think some of that suspicion has been well-founded, insofar that Pentecostalism began as a movement from the margins, from outside the walls of the academy and institutional religion. The Pentecostal movement has, in fact, been a critique against the idea that authority and power is derived merely from ecclesial titles or academic degrees, and I think that’s necessary.

That said, I don’t think there is anything implicit in Pentecostal tradition that necessitates anti-intellectualism per se. I do think that some of those sentiments probably correspond to Pentecostals becoming cozier with their fundamentalist counterparts after the early years of the movement (ironic, since Pentecostals experienced the most rejection from fundamentalists). At any rate, as more and more Pentecostals have done formal theological training, those attitudes have changed substantially.

pentecostal-formationI don’t see any reason for tension between head and heart in Pentecostal spirituality, and every reason why life in the Spirit should be radically integrated. In her great book Pentecostal Formation: A Pedagogy Among the Oppressed, Dr. Cheryl Johns uses the Hebrew word yada as the basis for the Pentecostal understanding of “knowing” God. Yada is a “knowing more by the heart than by the mind, a knowing that arises not by standing back from in order to look at, but by active and intentional engagement in lived experience.” Significantly, yada was used as a euphemism for love making and the past participle of yada used for a good friend or confidant. This is not just a Pentecostal understanding of what it is to know God, but a biblical one. It is not truly possible to love God without loving Him with “all your mind” and “all your heart.”

At Renovatus, we have a document we really live by called the Renovatus manifesto. It doesn’t replace the apostles’ creed as a doctrinal statement (which we confess every week), but it is very much what we believe is particular to our call as a community. One of those statements is “We will practice the liturgy and the primal shout: We will incite worship that engages both intellect and emotion, believing that the head and heart are to be integrated and not divorced.” I think embracing diverse aspects of liturgy and the shout ensures that both head and heart are nurtured.

We have another statement that says: “We will reach out without dumbing down (I borrowed that phrase brazenly from Marva Dawn): We will challenge you to think hard about God, Church and culture. We will not treat you like a consumer, but as a co-conspirator in the re-imagining of the world.” I once saw a bumper-sticker that said “If you won’t pray at my school, I won’t think at your church.” In our Pentecostal church, you won’t last long if you aren’t willing to think, because we take the business of being the church very seriously—and that requires deep, sustained reflection. Caesars and empires do everything than can to keep people from thinking, and in our culture I see challenging people to think deeply about their faith to be an act of resistance. At Renovatus, we attempt to model an integration of head and heart, belief and action.

From James: I know Pentecostals who are dogmatic about God speaking to them. The thing is, God appears to tell different people different things, so I wonder if God actually is speaking to them. What are your thoughts on God speaking to people? How can one avoid abuses that come from that claim?

Here’s the truthful answer: on one hand, the idea that God speaks dynamically through Christian community has been the thing that I’ve most cherished about my Pentecostal tradition. Some of the most powerful, life-altering moments of my life have come through the gift of brothers and sisters speaking to me on God’s behalf. The idea that anyone in the Church can be a vessel for divine speech is especially beautiful to me.

It is also extremely dangerous. And alternately, some of my worst experiences within Pentecostal tradition have been through people running amuck giving out “words.” We have had to step into situations pastorally on a couple of occasions where we felt like individuals within our community gave words that were manipulative or misleading. I have had a number of personal “prophecies” delivered over me that could have been faith shattering. My wife and I have been married for over 12 years without children (another story for another time). I have literally lost count of the people who have spoken over us that we would have a baby within some kind of a specific time frame. That’s a sore spot for me.

pentecost-artBut here is what it comes down to: you cannot create space for the real without creating space for the immature and even the fake. I think it’s fascinating that in the context of lengthy instructions on how to ensure that tongues and interpretations operate in an orderly way in I Corinthians 12-14, Paul comes back around to say “Forbid not to speak in tongues.” Because the most natural response to abuse of a gift is not to use the gift at all. And for as deeply Pentecostal as I am, as a pastor now I completely understand this instinct. There are moments in the heat of that kind of pastoral correction where you would just as soon (where I would just as soon!) shut the whole enterprise down. But ultimately, you have to ask yourself the question: is it worth shutting down the authentic voice of God in an attempt to root out the fake? I think the risks of that are far greater.

So like many Pentecostals, I do share a strong belief that we can hear God speak to us. But I also believe there are some necessary safeguards. We have an elder couple in our church, Jim and Mims Driscoll, who teach a class for us on “Receiving and Giving Revelation.” They have had a lot of experience counseling/training/rehabilitating misguided “prophetic” people. One of the things I love most about their approach is that they stress, over and over again, that the primary function of speaking God’s heart in Christian community is to share His love. While it is possible that a corrective or instructive word could be given, this will not usually be the case. Usually, when God speaks to His bride, He speaks with tenderness. Prophecy or words of knowledge in the Church should be a direct extension of the love of God. The Driscolls counsel people that words should not generally be given in private—but normally with 2 or 3 others present so there is some accountability. This simple practice circumvents a world of problems.

For my part, I have become quite suspicious of the kind of “word” where somebody gives instruction to go and sell your house or get a different job or go on the mission field or make some radical life change. If such a word confirmed something an individual already sensed God saying to them, that would be one thing. But I am not likely to change course completely on something just because of an alleged prophetic utterance. I’ve seen that go wrong too many times. Because I do believe so strongly that each of us has the capacity to hear and discern the voice of God, I just don’t think that much weight is typically going to land entirely on another person.

From Marty: A friend of mine grew up in a Pentecostal church and told me the story of the pressure to speak in tongues. Apparently in that church he couldn't be fully accepted until he had the Spirit and was able to demonstrate that verbally. So as a kid, he would go home and practice when no one was listening. He was successful at some point and everyone was happy. Now as an adult and part of a different tradition, he still has that skill and is quite convincing, but it is a skill he developed and not something else. My guess is that my friend's childhood impression is not quite where the tradition is at. So what does it mean to "speak in tongues"?

I sighed when I read this, as stories like these are still painful for me to hear (even though I know plenty of them). The doctrine of Spirit baptism with accompanying speaking in tongues has been the lynch pin of the Pentecostal movement, and I never want to minimize that. But all too often, tongues are treated as some sort of merit badge, and that is unfortunate. I think many people who sincerely want to operate within that gift are unable to, precisely because too much pressure is put on the experience. Instead of “you may kiss the bride,” it can feel like a chore or something to check off on some sort of list. As Jack Hayford stated so well years ago, there is a fundamental beauty to spiritual language that is often lost when people put too much pressure and/or hype around the experience.

Like most Pentecostals, I believe that speaking in tongues is first and foremost a prayer language, a language of adoration and worship and intercession, between us and God. In the context of public worship, a tongue that is given in the assembly (not in a corporate time of prayer or worship) should be interpreted by someone with that gift for the edification of the church. If there is no interpreter, Paul says the person should “speak quietly to God.” While I strongly believe in the interpretation of tongues, and even in the capacity of someone to speak in a foreign natural tongue they have not been taught (a la Acts 2), that experience is far less common than that of tongues as a prayer language.

From Sara: Many experiences I have had with members of Pentecostal churches and their leadership believe and teach that the Catholic church (and other liturgical Protestant denominations) are not Christian churches. What is your view? If you agree, where are you getting your information from? If you disagree, how are you challenging this stereotype?

pentecost-fireI absolutely consider Catholic and mainline Protestant churches to be Christian churches. As I mentioned earlier, at Renovatus we recite the Apostles’ Creed weekly, so it is ever before us that we are part of “the holy catholic church.” (Though I end up having to explain in the South frequently that we mean “one universal Church comprised of all who call Jesus Lord,” which of course includes Catholics but does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church explicitly.)

Now to be truthful, in the churches where I grew up, traveling prophecy preachers and teachers taught us that the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon and that the Pope would be the antichrist! As I got older, I rejected not only that notion but the entire dispensational eschatology on which those ideas are based (I will save my rant for later on why dispensational in any form should have no place in Pentecostal churches).

In terms of challenging the stereotype, I can tell you that my primary focus with my ThM at Duke was in Catholic Moral Theology. I published a piece in the Journal of Pentecostal Theology a few years ago called “Spirit, Apocalypse and Ethics: Reading Catholic Moral Theology as a Pentecostal.” I don’t know exactly where this fits in with my current day job and writing obligations, but I would love to do a PhD at some point that articulates a constructive Pentecostal approach to ethics in dialogue with Catholic moral theology, as I think there are significant connections. While Pentecostals have significant differences from Catholicism, we do have our own quirky catholicity mediated through our Wesleyan roots. While John Wesley was not Catholic, the Methodist/holiness movement that later gave rise to Pentecostalism certainly had tendencies more in line with Catholicism than the magisterial reformers, and I’d like to explore those further.

From Charity: I went to a pentecostal church as a teenager and two things I noticed was that prophesy and casting out demons were big to-do's. I was always afraid of having a demon, and afraid someone was going to prophesy something bad about me. Now, I realize not all pentecostal churches are the same, just as no two churches are the same, but I wonder what you believe is appropriate for keeping order within the church. I understand the importance of letting the Holy Spirit work, but when does this become a dangerous thing that could allow people not really under the influence of the spirit to hurt and manipulate others?

Anything that is powerful is dangerous, and power that legitimately comes from God is especially volatile. Both testaments are full of examples of people who have legitimate gifts but misuse the power. Combustible things are always going to happen when you mix genuine spiritual authority with broken human vessels, so structure and order are absolutely critical. As I referenced earlier, we have a number of safeguards for these practices at our church.

I do believe that there is a force of evil in the world that is greater than the sum of its parts, and that in the normal course of life in the kingdom, real resistance will be encountered. So I do believe there are times and places where demonic influences must be confronted. But I am also highly suspicious at this point of the over preoccupation with spiritual warfare that has become common in many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. I find a lot of the “demon-busters” rhetoric to be overblown and in some cases destructive. On a pastoral level, I’ve had to deal with individuals within our community who have kind of jumped the shark with all of that. I like to remind people that, first and foremost, submission to God IS resistance to the evil one. Most of the time that will be enough.

I also lived in dread that certain evangelists would “call me out”—um, especially when I was going through puberty! At this point in my life, I am so convinced of the tenderness of the Father’s heart that in those times when a public “word” is given from a person who understands the function of these gifts in the body of Christ, edification will be the aim.

From Matthew: Thanks for coming Jonathan! Let's assume that I was to come to your church with no knowledge of Pentecostal church tradition. I know I want to follow Christ, and I have heard great things about your church--what books do you recommend I read? What passage of Scripture do you recommend I dwell on? What conversation do you give to introduce me to Pentecostal faith?

I know I referenced it already, but Steven J. Land’s Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom really is the definitive work for me on the nature and character of Pentecostalism, and certainly the resource that has most shaped me. The more recent Signs and Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World’s Fastest Growing Faith by Paul Alexander is a more accessible introduction. Rather that recommending particular “Pentecostal texts,” I would suggest a close reading of the Book of Acts on the whole. Acts frames the work of the Spirit in the broader context of Christian mission in precisely the same way Pentecostals do today. Thus there is not a sense of Pentecostal experiences as isolated or disconnected events, but deeply connected to the broader story of the kingdom of God advancing in the world.

From James: I'd like for you to interact with the issue of healing. If God heals today, why are there so many people who are sick? Do you believe it's due to lack of faith?

There is no way I can do justice to this issue here, but this is my short take: as it was in the ministry of the incarnate Son of God, healing serves as a sign of the wholeness yet to come when “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.” Sickness and disease is a reality of a fallen world, but never part of God’s intention for the creation.

I do not by any means think that people are generally not healed because of a lack of faith. I see the “word of faith” notion in some Charismatic circles (that all who have adequate faith will be healed and all who are not healed have inadequate faith) to be a destructive caricature of the doctrine of divine healing. In these systems, God is no longer the object of faith—faith is the object of faith. That’s a disastrous move.

I have seen many people healed, I have seen many people pray and fast and seek God and not be healed. Ultimately, the question of why some are healed and others are not is beyond my pay grade. There is great mystery to this, and I cannot attempt to resolve the tension prematurely.


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To Read More from a modified-Pentacostal point of view please refer to:

The Holy Spirit & Pentecostal Teaching