Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Pentecostalism = Old Theological Liberalism

In The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harold Bennett, dean of the Charles Harrison Mason Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, reports that there is a "new Pentecostalism" on the rise in African-American communities. Like the old Pentecostalism, the new one retains an emphasis on core Pentecostal beliefs: justification by faith alone; the authority of scripture; sanctification; Spirit baptism; speaking in tongues; divine healing; and miracles.

But the "new Pentecostalism" possesses an important improvement. According to Bennett, it is no longer anti-intellectual. Where the old Pentecostals were seen as "ignorant, religious Holy Rollers," the new Pentecostals seek to "combine faith grounded in classical Pentecostalism and rigorous theological education, and... illuminate the responsibilities of being Christian in the modern world." The new Pentecostals seek to embrace "the importance of informed, critical thought about religion...."

Well, I nearly celebrated the claims to a newfound theological rigor among Pentecostal brethren. That is, until I read Bennett's description of the theological education and practice he proposed:

One valuable path to illuminate this new style of Pentecostalism is through understanding and reading of the Bible.

First, the Bible is an artifact that has come down to us from ancient communities, which are no longer accessible. It requires responsible interpretation for determining its relationship to the present human condition.

Second, the reader or scholar assigns meaning to the Bible and gives it any moral authority that it may possess. It is the scholar, preacher, teacher or layperson who identifies acceptable interpretations and discards those that he or she finds unacceptable.

Third, the psychology of the reader is the most important component in reading the Bible. it is important to understand how prejudices and internal and external phenomena will shape how the thinker assigns meaning to a literary piece.

Fourth, an unacceptable interpretation of the Bible is one that abets humankind in maximizing human potential. A suitable reading of a passage in the Bible should provide a basis for liberation. It can support other ideas and claims that improve the circumstances of the people for whom the text is significant.

Acceptable interpretation, then, is grounded in four principles: reconstruction, context, compassion, and justice.

Reconstruction requires that the reader study and understand the circumstances in the biblical community that might have spawned individual passages. It builds on modern biblical criticism, including social-scientific criticism.

Context recognizes the culture of the reader and pays close attention to the psychology of the reader. It invites the reader to be aware of his or her own assumptions and to make sure that the theoretical framework is logical and well-argued. Then the angle of vision on a text is shaped by the concrete, specific circumstances of the moral agent, in this case this new type of Pentecostal, Afrocentric Bible scholar. The Afrocentric scholar embraces how politics and economics affect biblical interpretation.

Well, it turns out that the new, intellectually respectable Pentecostalism is nothing more than the old theological liberalism. The new Pentecostalism appears to be a blend of the old errors of "higher-criticism," personal subjectivism, and liberation theology.

The old Pentecostalism of William J. Seymour, leader of the Azusa Street revival which began in 1906, believed the Bible was the God-breathed, inerrant, sufficient word of God. The old Pentecostals believed its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Those old Pentecostals understood that the Bible as God's word was authoritative. They didn't believe the "reader or scholar assigned meaning to the Bible and gave it any moral authority that it may possess." Rather, they understood that the meaning of the Bible was clear and that its moral authority came from God himself and that it was the duty of the faithful to submit to that authority.

If the new Pentecostalism is the old theological liberalism, and it is, then I pray my Pentecostal friends will call out for that ol' time Bible-believin' religion of their forefathers instead. If the new Pentecostalism is a new valuable path, then I pray that Pentecostal brethren would remember that wide is the way that leads to destruction but there is a straight and narrow path that leads to life. If this is the future of pastoral training among new Pentecostals, then I pray my old Pentecostal siblings in Christ would rise up and demand renewed commitment to biblical orthodoxy and faithfulness. If the new Pentecostalism offers intellectual respectability in the "larger guild," then I pray my Pentecostal friends would opt instead for the foolishness of the cross that confounds the wisdom of the world.

As it is written:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
(1 Cor. 1:18-31)

1 comment:

ajcarter said...

TA, this is a day in which the Lord has warmed my heart. To know that you are blogging and sharing your insightful and biblically literate thoughts with the blogosphere is nothing short of an answer to prayer. Knowing how much I enjoy speaking to you in person, when I read your writings I hear your voice. That is a sign of a man whose heart and mind are in sync. I pray others will read and listen as enthusiastically and with as much anticipation as I will. May God's encouragement be your portion everyday, my friend.