High Lights from Tony Jones at the Society of Pentecostal Studies

This past Friday Tony Jones presented a paper to the academic guild of theologians – the Society of Pentecostal Studies.  Despite my friendship with Tony, I was very impressed with his generosity toward Pentecostals and Charismatics and his candor toward the youth and limitations of the church emerging. Several times during his talk, I felt honored for my Charismatic background. I was comforted to hear Tony echo my own heart in expressing the need for an increased dialogue regarding the Holy Spirit within the emerging church. I found his  criticisms of  both movements to be more constructive than obstructive.  I could easily quote the whole paper and I encourage you read the whole thing in context  (I believe Tony is drip-blogging the paper in its entirety).  The following are some of the high lights. Jone’s topic was:  Emerging Spiritualities: What Pentecostalism and the Emerging Church Movement Have to Learn from One Another.

  • Jurgen Moltman ha said that hearing someone talk about theological method is akin to listening to a person clear his throat. But, I must confess a personal weakness for prologema. It is, in many ways, my favorite part of theology. It’s a bit like an auto mechanic who spends his day organizing his tools, but never gets around to fixing the car.
  • …he (Motlmann)  pens one of the most theologically significant statements I have ever read:  “Behind all this is the conviction that, humanly speaking, truth is to be found in unhindered dialogue.  Fellowship and freedom are the human components for knowledge of the truth, the truth of God.  And the fellowship I mean here is the fellowship of mutual participation and unifying sympathy.” The influence of this theological method on the emerging church cannot be overstated – it is what emergent is all about.
  • …Further, those of us involved in the emergence Christianity have a particular antipathy toward rubrics, labels and categorizations. The seem to us convenient ways of boxing someone in, which all to often leads to writing someone off.
  • Please allow me a tangent: Was Thomas Aquinas a “liberal” or a “conservative”?  Well, we might at first paint him a conservative, for he rescued orthodox Christianity from a particularly stagnant period by recovering – i.e., conserving – scripture and tradition.  But how did he do that?  By entering into a thoroughgoing dialogue with the Aristotelian philosophy of medieval Islam.  I daresay that if a theologian today were to admit that he or she was dipping into the wells of Muslim philosophy in order undergird Christian theology, that theologian would be condemned as having slipped off the slippery slope.
  • The lack of consensus on terminology betokens both the youth and the fluidity of the (emergent) movement.  Imagine, if you will, that you were at the Azusa Street Mission in 1906, and in 1916 you were asked to address a guild of Presbyterian scholars and give them some sort of definitive description of your nascent movement, and you might be able to understand my reticence.
  • For what binds emergents is not unlike what binds Pentecostals –  it’s an ethos, a posture. In fact, I might describe it as a posture of openness to the movement of God’s Spirit in the world.
  • God gratefully and graciously uses us in Kingdom-building work. I think that we talk about it differently – you’re unlikely to hear too much overt Holy Spirit-talk from emergent; instead, it is usually God-talk…But I do believe that we mean the same thing.
  • In yesterday’s theological session on the emergent church, there was much talk about the need for emergents to develop a “robust pneumatology.” I agree, in part. For I think that emergents have a robust pneumatology, but I don’t think we’re very good at talking about it.
  • As I argue in the The New Christians, I think that most American Christians are “binitarians.”  That is, while they profess a belief in all three persons of the Trinity, their practice of the faith betrays that the Father matters to them, and so does the Son, but the Spirit is an afterthought. As reflected in hymnody and praise songs, sermon titles and prayers, the Spirit gets far less than one-third of the time in the spotlight in most churches.
  • I think that emergents know, in our guts, that the Holy Spirit needs to make a comeback in our churches. But we’ll need some brothers and sisters in Christ to show us the way. I ask you who are Pentecostal and Charismatic to help us in that way.  Give us guidance in putting words on and legs to that pneumatology that lies latent within our movement. i do believe you will find willing dialogue partners in this endeavor.
  • …it came as a shock to be exposed, first in college and then in seminary, to Charismatics and Pentecostals who spoke easily of the Lord’s word to them for the day – heck, they even received words for me for the day!
  • I consider theology to be reflection on and articulation of the nexus of divine and human interaction. And I have a suspicion that Pentecostals are more viscerally aware of this nexus than most.
  • I can tell you that I and other emergents experience God’s activity today, but we need help in finding the language to articulate that experience.
  • 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 PhD’s to those of us with GED’s. 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.
  • …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 to the community is neither enhanced nor hindered by the number of letters after one’s name, how much is in one’s bank account, or which set of genitalia one has.
  • 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 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 to think theologically.
  • …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 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.
  • 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.
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About johnmusick

revealist, writer, speaker, consultant, life-coach, polymath
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4 Responses to High Lights from Tony Jones at the Society of Pentecostal Studies

  1. Kansas Bob says:

    Enjoyed the read.. especially liked:

    It’s a bit like an auto mechanic who spends his day organizing his tools, but never gets around to fixing the car.

    I think that we talk about it differently – you’re unlikely to hear too much overt Holy Spirit-talk from emergent; instead, it is usually God-talk…But I do believe that we mean the same thing.

    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.

  2. This was really good – thanks for sharing those highlights!

  3. Craig Mathison says:

    Thanks for this summary. Makes me look forward to getting the paper (& response) in its entirety.

    Many (if not most) major readjustments to the Church began reactively and w/o a settled nomenclature. Early 20th century Pentecostal renewal certainly was.

    Is our “mainstreaming” and settled lexicon now hindering us from effectively changed us into gatekeepers resistant to ongoing renewal?
    I am a functional pentecostal but I do wonder about this. Tony makes me wonder more about it.

    • johnmusick says:

      Thanks for visiting Craig.
      I definitely think language is important.
      But one thing Tony did not touch on was how Pentecostal culture may also negatively affect the movements mission, that deserves some introspection as well. But it’s good to wonder. It’s never a bad thing to take personal inventory from time to time. Not bad for people and not bad organizations, denominations or even movements.

      In the event that you are unable to obtain a hard copy of Tony’s presentation, I believe it is available in its entirety spread out over several posts on his blog beginning here: http://tinyurl.com/ye5pv65

      Come back and visit again sometime – Godspeed,
      John

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