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Global Pentecostal Renaissance? Reflections on Pentecostalism, Culture, and Higher Education, by Jeff Hittenberger

Both this generally positive orientation toward inquiry, education, and culture, and this generally skeptical orientation toward inquiry, education, and culture have been a part of Pentecostal discourse from its earliest years. I would argue that both have legitimacy.

Some have characterized the skeptical orientation as “anti-intellectual,” but I would suggest that this label oversimplifies what is a more complex response. Given that Pentecostalism was born in the era of the modernist-fundamentalist conflict, the education that Pentecostals were skeptical of was often hostile toward the supernatural in ways that completely contradicted what Pentecostals were experiencing of God’s real and transformative presence in their lives. It should not be surprising, then, that Pentecostals would be skeptical of naturalistic, materialistic, and atheistic orientations in higher education. One could not accurately interpret this skepticism as being opposition to learning, as such, or to intellect, as such, or even to education, per se. This was, rather, being anti-naturalist, or anti-materialist, but not necessarily anti-intellectual.5

Still, this skepticism, while well placed in certain contexts, sometimes became what Crouch refers to as a “posture,” that is an orientation that, while appropriate in response to specific educational trends in particular contexts, gets generalized to education more broadly, toward cultures and cultural phenomena that are not familiar to one’s particular subculture, and even toward thinking, reflection, and inquiry. This can lead to the advice: “Don’t think so much.”

I did not find this advice helpful. In the years that followed my sojourn in Morocco, I was able to walk with God into a deeper faith that jettisoned many assumptions and cultural trappings and became even more profoundly committed to Christ and His Gospel. Had I not experienced the integrated approach to life and learning that was the legacy of my education at a Pentecostal college, the outcome might have been different.

This dichotomy between the generally positive orientation to inquiry, learning, culture, and education, on the one hand, and the skeptical orientation, on the other, is illustrative of the divided attitudes toward learning within the Pentecostal movement, which will be fleshed out more in the next section.

What internal resources make Pentecostalism a learning movement (and what are some possible impediments)?

At its core, Pentecostalism has the resources to be a genuine “learning movement.” Inherent in the Azusa Street revival, for example, are four orientations to life that might enable Pentecostalism to experience a kind of global renaissance. I think of these as the Azusa Street DNA, but they have also characterized other Pentecostal revivals both before and after.6

First, Pentecostalism is exploratory. Pentecostals at Azusa Street, like the first-century Christians who experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, were willing to go out on a limb, to attempt the impossible, to seek God in new ways, to come to fresh understandings, and to challenge conventions.

Second, Pentecostalism is global. On the day of Pentecost, people who had gathered in Jerusalem from every nation heard the word of God being spoken in their own languages as the Spirit fell on the disciples. Three thousand came to faith that day, and millions since, from every nation, have joined. Likewise, Azusa Street was an inter-racial, cross-cultural, gender-inclusive revival that gathered people from many nations and sent them back out to the whole world. This global character brings with it a cultural pluralism that is evident in the indigenization of Pentecostal churches across nations and cultures and the contextualization of Christian beliefs and experiences. Pentecostals have come to many different ways of understanding the world and even the supernatural phenomena that accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit. When Pentecostals met to establish fellowships, they sought common understandings that would allow them to organize themselves in the missionary-sending enterprise, but they were modest even in their claims about their agreements. No one in Pentecostalism spoke ex cathedra, especially when it came to non-essentials. The global diversity of Pentecostalism is such that today there are thousands of distinct Pentecostal groups sharing a common commitment to Christ, to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and to missions, while retaining the right to differ on the subpoints.

Third, Pentecostalism is, at its best, holistic or integrational. The Azusa Street revival encouraged people to engage their emotions, soul, and body with their mind in worship to God and in the quest to know Him. At their best, Pentecostals have attempted to build on their core faith commitments to understand all the dimensions of their lives in terms of the real and dynamic Lordship of Christ.

Finally, Pentecostalism is Christ-centered, rooted in a radical experience with God through the work of the Holy Spirit. This experience of Christ’s real presence transforms and shapes our perspective of the world. All of life is animated by our experience of and core commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This core commitment to Christ inspired in those at Azusa Street, like those who have followed, an enthusiastic desire to know Christ through prayer and other spiritual disciplines, as well as study of the Bible. Pentecostals are animated by a love of Scripture and a commitment to the priesthood of all believers (including women), necessitating personal responsibility for searching the Scriptures and bringing one’s mind into alignment with the mind of Christ. There should be no “secular” domains of life where the Pentecostal believer puts his or her faith on the shelf.7

As an exploratory, global, holistic, and Christ-centered movement, Pentecostalism has encouraged learning and growth for generations of people, many of whom came into the movement and into the experience of the Holy Spirit from backgrounds with limited economic and educational opportunity.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: Jeff Hittenberger, Ph.D. (University of Southern California), serves as Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs at Vanguard University. He previously served as Director of Graduate Studies at Evangel University and as Dean of the School of Education at Vanguard University. He served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at Mohamed V University in Rabat, Morocco, has served as a consultant and researcher in Cameroon, Mali, South Africa, Israel, and Haiti.

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