I don’t know that we’re far enough into this thing called emergence Christianity to proffer any definitive statements in the other direction, so I tender these suggestions humbly and tentatively.
First, while Pentecostals have, as I said, excelled at listening to the voice of God open the scriptures, particularly to individuals, the emergent church has worked at listening to God’s voice in corporate environments. As my own community of faith, Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis, the weekly sermon is both prepared and presented communally, with contributions from those of us with PhDs to those us with GEDs. Every member of the community is considered an “expert,” albeit one is an expert in Greek or Hebrew and the other in lawn mower repair.
Yet there is a presupposition that all voices are valid and important. To put it another way, each individual believer is equally capable of being used by God’s Spirit and a vehicle of God’s truth. God’s ability to use an individual to speak truth the community is neither enhanced nor hindered by number of letters after one’s name, how much is in one’s bank account, or which set of genitalia one has.
It seems to me that this egalitarian sense of God’s activity among humans, this “communal hermeneutic” would resonate among Pentecostals and would even hearken back to the early days of your movement.
Second, and also related to the genesis of modern Pentecostalism, is the emergent church’s commitment to a fully-orbed gospel, encompassing both kerygmatic proclamation of the salvation message and activist transformation of the sinful structures in our society that oppress so many of our fellow human beings. From what I understand, early Pentecostals were groundbreaking in their commitments to racial diversity and harmony, women’s suffrage, and care for the poor. Much of the power of Pentecostalism, and what seems to be driving much Pentecostal growth in the Global South, is the fact that Pentecostalism has always appealed to those in society who are often overlooked and taken for granted by the older (and stuffier) versions of Christianity. I believe that the emergent church will be a willing partner with you in this commitment to the poor.
Third, emergent can challenge you to develop a populist theology. A Reformed theologian once complained to me that, in the Global South, liberation theology “lost,” and Pentecostalism “won.” He thought this was tragic because, although he had issues with some aspects of liberation thought, at least it was a “theology.” He considered Pentecostalism to be a/theological.
The very existence of this group tonight defies that opinion. However, you all have a massive and daunting task on your hands: You have to provide modes of theological reflection (not to mention philosophical and epistemological reflection) for the fastest growing movement in the history of Christianity. Although on a much, much smaller scale, the emergent church has excelled at provoking theological conversation far beyond the walls of the academy, and we’ve seen an overwhelming interest across the board in deep theology.
My challenge to you is to learn from the mistakes of your Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist forbears: Don’t let your theology migrate north – and by “north,” I mean up, from the heart to the head, from the streets to the ivory tower. Forget about trying to impress the Ivy Leaguers – they’re the past, not the future. And forget about “trickle-down” modes of theological education, where the smartest person in the room teaches the next one down, and so on and so on. That, too, is the past. Instead, learn how to blog. Tweet your theology. Write popular books instead of monographs. In other words, teach everyday people how to think theologically.
Fourth, and finally, I think that the emergent movement might serve as the conscience of Pentecostalism. I know that it hasn’t always been easy to be Pentecostal over the past century. Often, Pentecostals have been misunderstood, caricatured, and even sinned against by the rest of the Christian church. I imagine, for instance, that it’s harder to get tenure at a public university if you speak in tongues. And I bet it’s harder to get elected to political office. I know that recently, the Southern Baptist Convention has attempted to purge itself of Pentecostals. And it doesn’t take much time in Google to discover that the very elements of faith that you consider spiritual gifts, others within Christendom regard as marks of the devil.
To me, this kind of behavior among fellow Christians borders on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I take Jesus’ admonition against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12 extremely seriously, as should all Christians. So much so, that I think our default response to novel movements within the church should be that they are of God, not that they are diabolical. Because if we get it wrong – if we point to something that is the work of the Spirit and instead claim that it’s the work of the devil – well, I don’t need to tell you that kind of mistake comes with consequences.
And yet, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding my invitation, it doesn’t take long for those who were once excluded to become the new gatekeepers. In only a century, the tables have turned, insofar as some from outside this group, self-appointed “theology police” it seems, attempted to interfere with the academic discourse fostered by SPS. It’s just ironic to me that it wasn’t so very long ago that the “tongue-talking holy rollers” would have been the ones moved off campus. In other words, don’t forget your roots, and don’t forget what the experience of being the outsider, the misunderstood one.