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Daniel Castelo: Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition

Pentecostals are more than merely Evangelicals who speak in tongues.

I should provide some critique on how Castelo primarily nuances the negative (apophatic) theological themes of the Christian mystical tradition. Negative theology stresses human cognitive and linguistic limitations towards theological articulation. Granted, as Castelo argues, there are facets of negative theology very applicable towards expressing pentecostal spirituality, especially with reference to tongues-speech, and the trans-rational orientation of pentecostal spirituality. But I feel that the negative theology themes that Castelo has stressed, moves too far towards abstract, non-embodied reflection, which is precisely one of the things that makes the practice of theological reflection ill-fitted for many non-scholarly Pentecostals. He could have rectified this simply by more substantially surveying other aspects of the Christian mystical tradition, which I believe would provide a far better resonance with grassroots Pentecostals, thus better establishing the congruence between the two traditions. These would include bridal mysticism motifs, the missiological notions of mystical “union” language, and recent ecumenical work towards establishing the broader presence of “union” (“in Christ”) theology themes (a major theme in the mystical tradition) across Christian traditions, including Pentecostalism. To Castelo’s credit, he does suggest that the Three Ways narrative of the salvation journey (purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways) is a helpful scheme for articulating pentecostal notions of life formation (pp. 77-82). Finally, also helpful would be to ground the term “mystical,” as some approaches do, to the New Testament term “mystery,” thereby strengthening the missiological meaning to Christian mysticism.

Does abstract theological reflection fit pentecostalism? Does the Christian mystical tradition fit better?

Fortunately, the argumentative density I earlier alluded to, gives way to a very pleasant read in the last two chapters. Castelo’s final chapter (“The Spirit-Baptized Life”) helpfully suggests practical ways on how retrieving Christian mystical themes can address problems commonly identified with pentecostal spirituality, and conversely, better clarify those features of pentecostal spiritualty at its best. In all this, Castelo approaches the pentecostal chief metaphor of Spirit baptism not just as a one-time event, but better, as a category descriptive of the whole Christian life and journey. He then outlines how three Christian mystical themes would negotiate these aims: 1. Christian salvation as an upward ascending journey towards union with God (“Sweet Journey from Glory to Glory”); 2. Acknowledging seasons of adversity/”experiences of defeat”/desolation as divinely structured into the upward ascent towards union (“Steadfastness in the Midst of Spiritual Aridity”); and 3. Recognising that not everything in this upward ascent can or even should be readily understood (“Ignorance as a Dynamic of Grace”).

Spirit baptism is not just as a one-time event, and is better understood as a description of the whole Christian life and journey.

Notwithstanding the concerns I have raised, I therefore highly commend Castelo’s work as a valuable help towards demonstrating the ecumenical roots and resonance of pentecostal spirituality with the broader Church Catholic, rather than simply as “Evangelicals who speak in tongues.” He moreover provides practical suggestions towards retrieving historical mystical themes for better articulating pentecostal experience. Hence, Castelo provides apt warrant to fellow Pentecostals, to look beyond North American Evangelicalism for understanding who they are, and how they may best express their spirituality as a unique Christian tradition. More specifically, Castelo’s work should encourage Pentecostals to look towards Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicism for apt theological resources. For we can and should do so, insofar as these traditions provide us open doorways into the historic Christian mystical tradition that in so many ways, better mirrors our pentecostal experience and spirituality.

Reviewed by Monte Lee Rice


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Category: Fall 2017, In Depth

About the Author: Monte Lee Rice is a Pentecostal minister based in Singapore who served in churches and Bible colleges as a pastor, church planting director, and theological educator. He has ministered within some 15 nations in Southeast Asia and Africa, and graduated from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary with a M.Div. in theology (summa cum laude, 2002). He is an independent scholar in Pentecostal theology, co-administers the Pentecostal Theology Worldwide Facebook group, and is impassioned towards the global renewing of Pentecostal spirituality, its theological tradition, and its ecumenical promise for the Church worldwide. Visit his blog at: LinkedIn Twitter: @MonteLeeRice.

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