Spirit Week: Is Progressive Pentecostalism Possible? (A Homebrewed Christianity Discussion!)
My story picks up where this post leaves off. I grew up in a family that came to faith in the early 80s when I was but a lad, in the Southern Baptist milieu. My parents & I became Born Again but we weren’t very happy. Then we were introduced to the Holy Spirit and power! And things really did start to turn around. Literally overnight, my parents’ decades-long smoking addiction disappeared, and they seemed (to my young eyes) to be walking around in greater peace, clarity, and vitality. We spent the years between 1989 and 1996 in an independent charismatic church and an Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) church, respectively – worshiping passionately, praying for healings, speaking in tongues, and believing God for revival. Compared to the earlier years of ‘nice’ but kind’ve country-club-ish Baptist life, it was like moving from Oat Bran to really sweet French Toast – way tastier.
But all was not right in Spiritville. For one, there seemed to be way more scandal in these churches than other ones; pastors running around and cheating, or power-plays within congregations. If we’d received the ‘Second Blessing,’ then where were the fruits of the Spirit? Second, a steady diet of French Toast can lead to indigestion – plus there was a 100:1 ratio between talk of revival, healings, prophecies, signs & wonders to their actual occurrence. These things did happen, but against a backdrop of constant hype and desperation. All of this had the net effect of making a supposedly imminent God, vis-a-vis the ostensibly living and active Holy Spirit, seem surprisingly and achingly distant.
At this fork in the story, so many of us who have tuned into more expansive expressions of Christian faith – be they emergent, missional, or progressive – wonder what to do about our Pentecostal and charismatic pasts. We have no interest in becoming those bloodless ‘cessationists’ – people who think that the age of numinous wonder and startling divine occurrences are a thing of the past (conservative) or fairytale (liberal). So, facing equally unappealing options and seeing no real alternative, we become postcharismatic.
But is there a better, more integrated way? Earlier this week I said that I think the Spirit-saturated faith of Leif Hetland – as exemplified in his book Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes – might show us a way forward. I was privileged to guest interview Leif on the uber-popular theology podcast Homebrewed Christianity. Show hosts Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders (and presumably, Chad Crawford, seeing all from the shadows) were kind enough to interrupt their usual flow of powerhouse theologians like John Caputo, NT Wright, or celeb emergent-y voices like Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans, to bring an interview with this important voice from this parallel universe. Here is our discussion. I found Leif by turns prophetic and pastoral, not to mention a real human being who wrestles with what happens with unanswered prayer like the rest of us.
In the wake of this interview, Tripp and Bo discuss what a progressive charismatic faith might look like – honoring the book of Acts and Asuza Street, and looking forward through the 21st century. It’s one of the best hours of podcast listening I’ve ever heard. Maybe it won’t strike you that way if you don’t have my ‘amphbious’ background of breathing the air and water of Pentecost and Emergence, but if this is even remotely you – or you identify squarely with one of these milieus and are baffled by the other – I strongly encourage you to listen to this episode. It’s a game-changer.
To make matters better, Bo has written a follow-up post that’s engendering all kinds of great conversation – Pentecostals and Progressives. It begins:
What Pentecostals have to say to Progressives
Jesus laid hands on people, the Disciples laid hands on people and the letters of the New Testament tell us to lay our hands on people. If you have bought into a brand of Christianity that does not have you laying your hands of people and praying in expectation that something would happen – you may want to revisit the reasons why.
If your faith is primarily intellectual, abstract, and conceptual … it may not be the religion that the writers of the New Testament called us to. The early church was a hands on movement and prayed with expectation.
What Progressives have to say to Pentecostals
Being delivered from personal demons is great and praying over whole cities to break or bind the ‘strong man’ that holds people in bondage is fine. There is a vital missing element that needs to be added. Its not just about the personal (mini) and the heavenly (meta) – that leaves a gap that must be filled. In the middle is the address of systems, structures and institutions (what Walter Wink calls ‘The Powers the Be“).
If you faith is primarily personal-congregational and supernatural-heavenly, then you might want to revisit some understandings of Scripture and the address of systemic sins (like injustice). Otherwise you are in danger of being so heavenly minded that you actually reinforce and empower that very structures that you say you are praying against.
So what are you waiting for? Listen to this episode of Homebrewed Christianity, then read this post in its entirety – and prepare to be inspired. And please, engage with these questions both at Homebrewed and in the comments here. There is nothing less at stake than a wide-awake, Spirit-attuned, planet-engaged, bodily-grounded faith for our era.