Pentecostalism and Emergence: Theology

Pentecostalism and Emergence: Theology February 22, 2010

More about my reflections in advance of the Society for Pentecostal Studies at which I am presenting a paper on what emergence and Pentecostalism have to learn from one another.

My friend, Dallas Gingles, who also knows something about Pentecostalism and about emergence recommended that the one book I need to read is Amos Yong’s The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology.  I can see why he pointed it out to me, because of paragraphs like this:

A pneumatological soteriology understands salvation to be the work of both Christ and the Spirit from beginning to end.  To use Pauline language: the Holy Spirit enables the proclamation, hearing, and understanding of the gospel, justifies through the resurrection of Christ, provides for the adoption of believers, accomplishes rebirth and renewal, sanctifies hearts and lives, and provides the down payment for eschatological transformation.  In all of this, the Spirit is not an appendage to Christ in the process of salvation, but saves with Christ throughout. (p. 82)

In this, Yong has bound himself too closely to the traditional ordo salutis for my taste, but you gotta start somewhere! 🙂  I’ve written myself about the American tendency toward “binitarianism,” in which the Spirit is even less than an appendage — she’s often left out of the economic Godhead altogether.  We lead with Jesus, we pay homage to the Father, and we forget about the Spirit.  (A thought experiment: Of all the sermons you’ve heard in your life, and give a percentage to the number about which the Father, the Son, or the Spirit has been the primary divine subject.  I’m guessing that, unless you’re Pentecostal, the Spirit comes in a very distant third.)  So I’m fond of Yong’s quest for a robust pneumatological theology.

And I can see why Dallas thought that Yong would be a good read for me in preparation for my paper, because Yong is sympathetic to my own theological leanings, and, most significantly for me, my preferred theological method.  For example:

The road is wide open for the development of a world pentecostal theology that is in via (along the way); more aptly put, it will be a pneumatological theology of quest.

That last line is money.

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  • Kimberly Ervin Alexander

    Tony, I’ll make sure you get to meet Amos next week at the SPS meeting.

  • ever wonder if it’s because protestantism broke from Catholicism?

    I wonder if it would be the same if we were heirs of the Orthodox tradition–if we wouldn’t have “filoqued” the whole thing away…

  • Edward Green


    Although all sacramental traditions have an understanding of epiclesis, not just in the Eucharist, but in the other sacraments too, that more reformed traditions lack.

    In the CofE 1662 prayerbook the work of the spirit is veiled and not mentioned by name – rather we have ‘heavenly benediction’. So even the more moderate reformed catholicism of the English state church was binatarian.

    I often joke that the reformations rejection of the sacraments in context is as if the church today started to reject the trinity as both being doctrines that make sense of scripture rather than being explicitly taught.

    But now I suspect they are almost the same thing!

    I know some pentecostals look to Wesley as an inspiration. He was sacramental in his theology.

  • Nice to see this being pursued. As you remember, I was asking how Pentecostals fit into the emerging dialogue a couple years ago. Of course, the experiential nature of Pentecostalism necessitates more than academia, but also some consideration part they play in transforming church life in praxis through their (okay I really mean “our”) rather eclectic desire for spontaneity as almost necessary element of Spirit encounter.

    Looking forward to seeing your reflections and thoughts, and how they incarnate in the Emerging community.

    Until then, I am in London right now with Cuban cigars and Welsh Ales. 🙂 How’s that for getting Pent-emergence, or Emergamatic or whatever it’s called?

  • I don’t know Amos Yong personally. But I know he’s from Malaysia! 🙂

  • Tony, that’s definitely a good read. I’d also recommend Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology by Frank D. Macchia

  • Does “robust pneumatological theology” mean calling the Holy Spirit a she?

  • Edward Green


    Who’s she? The cat’s mother?

    Her first name is Sophia.

  • Ben – funny.

  • “Tony mentioned his approach to the Traditional churches was to challenge them on their authoritarian governmental structures, and the need to move toward an egalitarian balance in the church.” I found this quote on Pastor Phil’s blog and needed to comment. It’s a very telling perspective thats common from some one who has not grown up inside of a “traditional” church or what I believe you mean to be a church with an “episcopal” government not to be confused with the Episcopal Church USA which is a church with an episcopal government (deacons, priests, bishops). To help Tony understand the necessity for this type of church government, I will first mention that I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church which I absolutely loved but left due to the problems that transpired in the 70s and now I am a member of a liturgical Anglican church, no not the Episcopal Church USA. I am non-aligned currently. But I digress. The traditional church government is biblically based. You have got to really do a good study of the Book of Acts which establishes the Church and its primitive structure. As time goes by, the structure becomes refined as things do for if everything stayed as it was then we’d all be walking around in rough animal skins and still living in mud huts or caves. Some change and growth is a necessary part of church development especially as a group gets larger and larger. So my encouragement to you Tony is to really dig in to the Book of Acts on this one. The second thing I must comment on is the word “egalitarian.” There is no need to use this word except in two instances; 1) God loves all of us equally 2) all sin is equally bad, or sin is sin. No Christian is equal to another Christian. We all are given gifts and abilities different from one another and some more or less than another. In that we are unique and special in God’s eyes and in each other’s eyes. How bland it would be if we were all equal. I really love snow flakes, one of God’s nifty little creations that just happen to keep my simple mind entertained in between the recitation of my daily prayers – if you can look at enough of them for a long enough time – ahhh you know whats coming — none of them are equal to one another – they are all different!! Beautiful isn’t it!? That’s God! And that’s great! Thanks Tony!

  • Tony,

    Just discovered your blog. Love what you are doing. It’s inspirational to young students like myself. I just met with Amos Yong Tuesday morning, and brought your blog to his attention. I’m sure you’ll connect at SPS. He is a great guys and has been instrumental in my growth as an aspiring theologian. I noticed some have mentioned the orthodox tradition. Yong has recently been in dialogue with James K.A. Smith and “Radical Orthodoxy” in the past couple years and it’s become quite an interesting conversation. here is Amos Yong’s “Pneumatological” challenge to RO and Smith’s response, if any are interested:


    Smith’s Response:

  • T


    I’m a little late in noticing, but I’m so glad you’re raising this issue. Look forward to hearing how your presentation goes. I guest-posted on this theme at Scot McKnight’s blog a couple of times but around “missional” and essentially Vineyard practices.

    The comments to your first post were really encouraging and impressive! I really loved Makeesha’s comments as well as the ones that mentioned the overlapping missio dei and dedication to Jesus themes, the historical (and ongoing) success of Pentecostals in empowering the poor and marginalized (including women & cultural aliens), etc. Every time Scot raises the issue of women in ministry, I want to say how much these issues would start to melt if more of the Church would make a serious effort at practicing just the prophetic the way we see it in the NT via the Spirit. Even ‘sola pastora’ problems are best addressed, I think, via a robust theology of and practice with the Spirit. And in some ways, emerging/missional priorities offer a door to a second holiness/consecration to Jesus and his mission; a chance for Pentecostals to get back to those roots but sans the judgmentalism and current addictions to culture. Both groups need a better wedding of head and heart and could match up well there.

    All the best.

  • ben,

    you might find it interesting to know that the holy spirit is most often referred to as a feminine person in the original languages. see here from this baptist school:

    all about the holy spirit

    the holy spirit in the OT–a word study

  • just to clarify, it’s like how in spanish one uses amigo to refer to a male friend whereas they use amiga to refer to a female friend.

    from the word study link:

    in the OT:
    9 out of 89 occurrences of the Spirit of God are masculine.
    44 out of 373 occurrences of spirit (of whatever sort) are masculine.

    9/89 = 10.1 % masculine
    44/373 = 11.8 % masculine

    so, it’s more than acceptable to use “she” for the holy spirit

  • linda, just from going through Acts in my Greek bible it looks like most of these are neuter form. So it’s incorrect to say that 10 to 11% masculine means 90-89% feminine…

  • By the way, I find it telling that most folks who argue for the femininity of the Holy Spirit try to take the personification of wisdom in the Proverbs (Sophia) as the Holy Spirit itself, then interpret with absolute certainty that the wisdom is not only the Holy Spirit, but that the gender overrides every other place where the Holy Spirit is masculine or neuter.

    It seems the the eisegesis that is unfortunately typical in most of the feminist writing I have seen.

  • ben, where i said “in the OT” i was referring to the old testament. you must not have seen that. it’s true that spirit is neuter in the NT greek. actually, i reread the article i linked to and then emailed the author last night. he said in the OT hebrew, spirit can be either masculine or feminine. this is determined by the verb endings and the adjectives. since there is a choice of choosing gender he believes they intentionally chose the feminine to designate the feminine for the spirit. honestly, i’m not quite as convinced as i had initially thought. i don’t know hebrew so i don’t have enough knowledge to really know if that is significant linguistically.

    that said, we know that God incorporates the feminine just as much the masculine and we typically call God “He” understanding that to include the feminine. so, personally i tend to think it is acceptable to also use She in the same way. to be honest i’m still quite uncomfortable doing that and haven’t thus far, but i have prayed and asked God about it because i most definitely pray about what to believe theologically, and postcharismatic that i am once when praying “mom” came totally unbidden out of my mouth. i was completely surprised, shocked really, but the holy spirit has done things like that before in my life where i’ve said things in prayer i wasn’t even thinking or intending to say. it throws one for quite a loop when it happens but obviously God is trying to make a point. this happened about a week or so after i’d sought God on the matter of using She. take it for what you will. i’m sure most will think that’s nuts and couldn’t possibly be of God, but hey the holy spirit happily cannot be controlled and i am unapologetically a postcharismatic. since i don’t want to hijack these comments any further i’ll leave it at that.

  • I’m involved in a rese4arch project on the charismatic renewal movement in Southern Africa, and where it disappeared to (if you’re interested, you can read more about it here Charismatic Renewal: Khanya). It was linked to Pentecostalism in its early days, and one of the places it disappeared to was into Neopentecostalism. A Pentecostal wrote a few years ago that with the globalisation of Pentecostalism, the Pentecostals are becoming more like Neopentecostals, and the Pentecostal distinctives are in danger of disappearing. One of those distinctives is that Pentecostalism is missional, Neopentecostalism less so.

    Ny impression is that the Emerging Church movement is at least to some extent emerging from Neopentecostalism, at least in its megachurch variety, so perhaps there is a lot to talk about with Pentecostals.

  • I’m no expert on pentacostalism but very familiar with the penticostal and charismatic movements and streams in the UK. It saddens me that they’ve joined with the rest of the evangelical church to beat up on the emerging church and particularly emergent and often directly on Brian. It annoy’s me most becuase it wasn’t very long ago that they were the one’s getting the beat downs from the mainstream, rather than remeber those years of being charicatured, derided and misrepresented they’ve joined the ranks of their accusers.

  • mmmb

    What interesting plans and comments. I appreciated linda’s sharing and I wish you well in the days of writing ahead.

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