The Pentecostal and Science Promise

November 17th, 2011 / 9 Comments

The Pentecostal tradition offers one of, if not the, most exciting conversation partners in the science-and-religion dialogue. Pentecostalism brings several assets to the conversation table.

I will be meeting friends Craig Boyd, Joshua Moritz, LeRon Shults, and Amos Yong to explore the work of Yong and Pentecostalism as it relates to science. Yong has written or edited several books on science and theology, and I consider him a creative theological epicenter for what is best about Pentecostals engaging the science-and-theology interface.

The Pentecostal tradition has the potential to turn the science-and-religion dialogue into a mutually transformative engagement. Such an endeavor could transform the way we think about and do science, and it could transform Pentecostalism and its theology.

Here are five reasons why Pentecostalism and Pentecostal theology can be game changers in a big way:

A Large “Membership” Base

The sheer number of Pentecostal Christians makes Pentecostalism distinctive and potentially influential in the science-and-theology interface. An estimated 250-500 million Pentecostals live on planet earth.

In a world that increasingly seems to want democratic forms of government and decision-making, large numbers of people who have a shared vision have the potential for greater influence.

Many who work in the science and theology interface do so because they think the questions and possible solutions can affect the overall well-being of life on planet earth. They believe the common good is in some way at stake as we seek to find the most plausible answers to some question we ask about science and theology.

No Authoritative Tradition

Pentecostals have no established canon of Pentecostal tomes and authoritative intellectuals. This may seem like a disadvantage. And in many ways it is. But I see it also as advantageous, because it allows scholars like Yong to draw from a diverse and rich set of resources when pursuing answers to questions raised by the science and theology interface.

Those who think carefully about issues in science and theology sometimes tire of appeals to authority. I can’t tell you, for instance, how many times I’ve heard scholars quote Aquinas that grace perfects nature rather than destroys it!

Of course, appeals to authority have their proper place. None of us exists in a vacuum, and the science and religion fields have a number of authoritative voices from which it can draw. I happen to like some of what Aquinas says, for instance. And there are many scientific voices of authority we must heed.

But Pentecostals have greater freedom to think afresh about issues. Such fresh thinking is always needed in the complex field of work that reflects on the interface between science and theology. There’s more to be said than what Aquinas thought 800 years ago!

God is Doing Something New

Pentecostal theology emphasizes the surprising, unpredictable, and miraculous. Pentecostals often say “God is doing a new thing,” and they expect to encounter the unexpected. Let’s call this the “Pentecostal hermeneutic of surprise.”

While science requires nature be in some ways consistent, science is, in principle, always open to discovery and surprise. The science-and-theology dialogue is complex enough to be always in need of some promising new proposals.

An obvious example here is those events Pentecostals call “miraculous.” The conversation about miracles might prompt scientists to think more carefully than David Hume about how to account for the extraordinary. And it might prompt Pentecostals to think more carefully about what they deem supernatural or interventionist.

The Spirit is Active in Creation

Pentecostal theology stresses a pneumatology that says the Spirit is active in all creation. Because of this, pneumatology has the potential to capture the imaginations of Pentecostals.

Christians rightly reflect on the incarnation of Jesus Christ as central to faith. But they sometimes focus so much on Christology or visions of the Father God would create the universe long ago that they forget the Spirit is active and creating today. Pentecostals can help remind us of this important truth, and their theology may be especially instrumental in the reemphasis upon creatio continua.

Pentecostal Use of Technology

Pentecostalism makes for an exciting conversation partner in the science-and-theology interface, because Pentecostals are often at the fore of using science and technology to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The history of Christianity in the 20th and early 21st centuries reveals that Pentecostals often took the first steps – and often risky steps – to incorporate media technology in their evangelistic efforts. This includes the use of radio, television, internet, etc.

The reasons Pentecostals give for using the latest technology are often pragmatic in nature. Pragmatism can sometimes conflict with but other times promote the theological presuppositions of Pentecostal theology.

A theology that rejects pragmatism en toto will likely to be blind to how the Spirit moves throughout all creation to call forth fruit. A theology that embraces pragmatism en toto will likely be blind to how what some call “fruit” does not fit well in the establishment and rationale of the Kingdom of God.

Sum

I’m excited about the future contributions Pentecostals can make to the multi-faceted task of learning the revelation of God in creation. And I’m impressed with the work Amos Yong and other Pentecostal scholars are doing already.

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Comments

Jeff Clarke

I particularly appreciate your thesis in part two that “Pentecostals have greater freedom to think afresh about issues.” I think this is a very important component within Pentecostalism that can and should allow it to maintain a ‘spirit’ of creativity in all of our theological endeavors.

Thanks, Tom for your recommendation and reflections.

http://jeffkclarke.com


Bev Mitchell

Tom,

Very encouraging! All the best in your upcoming deliberations. I’m almost through Paul D. Molnar’s “Thomas F. Torrance, Theologian of the Trinity”, and can’t help thinking that this reform giant would be fully behind your project. Molnar’s treatment is wordy, but many things do need to be said in many ways, and often. As a Pentecostal, most of what I have learned so far from Torrance’s work resonates. On the Holy Spirit, there would be no better introduction than a combination of Gordon Fee and Torrance.

Blessings,
Bev


DinkyDau Billy

I am not clear on how you arrive at the conclusion that Pentecostals form a ‘base’. They are like Republicans. There may be a set of core values there, if you can see those values for all the fractured dogmatic obfuscation. They are so divided among themselves they cannot provide a united front. If they were not so divided then their numbers may be significant. As it is, they are not only insignificant, their in-fighting causes damage by driving people away.

From my favorite authoritative research resource, Wikipedia:

“Pentecostalism is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of different theologies and cultures. For example, many Pentecostals are Trinitarian and others are Nontrinitarian. As a result, there is no single central organization or church that directs the movement.”

Perhaps they should take a page from the SEIU organizational playbook?

I agree with your views regarding The Ancients and the not-so-Ancients. Saint Tomas viewed it all from the perspective of his medieval world. Moses viewed it all from the perspective of his Neolithic patriarchial society. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John saw it all colored through their own cultural glasses. John Wesley saw it from his own unique and now relatively irrelevant perspective. All of which is not to say that there are some universal truths in all of their views; there is the old saw about giving a few thousand monkeys typewriters and they are bound to eventually bang out something that makes sense.

What amazes me is how almost any theological argument will sooner or later – usually sooner – go back to citing some ‘expert’ whose views range from merely archaic to downright prehistoric. It is one thing to draw upon these ‘authorities’ in a philosophic sense, for those interesting and entertaining discussions around the lunch table in the university cafeteria, but to base one’s view of the sciences and our existence and the existence of the universe on the prattlings of ‘authorities’ who are essentially clueless about such things seems the essence – essentially – of ignorance.

Good point about Pentecostals and the use of technology and science to spread the Word. It reminded me that I need to write some checks to Benny Hinn and John Hagee.

Interesting article, Doc. I’m still hashing it out with Leece as to whether or not it is a troll … a very skilfully done troll, but a troll nonetheless. Equally as interesting is the lack of response.

Here’s hoping you and yours have a great Thanksgiving. We have much for which to be thankful.


John W. Dally

Hello Tom

As I read your post I was wondering if we were talking about the same Pentecostals.  I was among the Pentecostals for a while as well as Pentecostal Lite, the Charismatics. I found it very judgemental. In the Foursquare church you did not have the Holy Spirit unless you spoke in tongues. In the Charismatic church a leading pastor said, “If you take all the theologians in the world and lined them up end to end…we would all be better off.”  I found that the Bible was used to promote isolation and elitism.  They not only disagreed with other faiths they felt that those who followed them to be ignorant and misguided people who are to me mocked. Pentocostals were the only true faith.

As far as science they followed the Creation Institute in San Diego that held anything contrary to the Genesis account as a lie. I was compelled to disavow science.  I was to see all that I leaned and observed as a test of my faith, would I believe science or God. It was not until I came across Dr. Hugh Ross that I saw that I could accept science and have faith in God.

Another view I got was the meaning of a holy life. I saw people who lived worldly lives all week long but, as long as they could demonstrate a physical manifestation of the Gifts of the Holy spirit, mostly tongues, they were holy.

My experience supports the view of Wesley that we should avoid “enthusiasm” and Bresee’s decision to distance himself from the Azusa street movement.


Rachael Yacovone

I find this really interesting and a good new perspective. I could not help but think of Paul Young and his book “The Shack.” Though there were lots of questions asked, he used fiction to remind us of the larger role the Holy Spirit plays in the trinity. Like you said, sometimes I think we do tend to forget the significants of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and that can be so defeating. No wonder there is excitement and numbers growing within this community which is embracing that. Like you also said, I think there are some disadvantages and advantages to every faith group, but it is refreshing to take time and appreciate them.


Jakob

Interesting…
However, I don’t agree with your idea that Pentecostals were, er, how you say, “coexistent.” As a Pentecostal myself I must say that the entire faith is extremely divided. Sometimes I go to a church and I can’t wear a ring or else I’ll be told I’ll die and go to hell. Sometimes I can’t mention I watch TV because, as the pastor’s of those churches say, “It’s nothing but filth.” Other times I’m told that women can wear pants but only as night clothes, something that would be blasphemous to the next Pentecostal church.
I’ve been to a lot of Pentecostal churches and the only thing they all have in common is speaking in tongues.
In my opinion, we all need to come together, but with all the arguing over technology, science, jewelery, modesty, and holiness I don’t see how we could. The fact that I incorporate science into the Bible is enough to have me thrown out old a large chunk of the churches.
We are constantly driving away members and we’re slowly losing those who are left.
I’m afraid that my beliefs are quickly becoming a “dead” belief and that I’ll be thrown into an effort to keep the belief alive as our members begin to dwindle.


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