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The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Review Article, by Paul Elbert

In the third section, Issues Facing Pentecostalism in a Postmodern World, the unsubstantiated assumption that the world in which we evangelize is somehow delineated by “Postmodernism” is uncritically accepted without adequate definition.  To make such a claim for the world without clarification of the implications it raises is staggering.  It might have been observed, for example, that the postmodern concept can be viewed as a superficial theory, replete with moral arrogance, originating in French word games and taken over willy-nilly by some scholars in English and Religion departments in America.  The theory often denies the intentionality of authors, denigrates meaning of texts, applauds relativism, and is definitely detached – both intellectually and methodologically – from the great liberal arts in the natural sciences.  A minority of insular scholars, scholars in a tiny minority in academia who identify with these views, often denounce the creation of wealth and the scientific method, while enjoying the benefits thereof, and are currently perceived by many as undermining the undergraduate underpinnings of the disciplines they inhabit (like English and Religion), as well as some of the social sciences.  These insular scholars might learn about religion in an age of science (not about religion crafted in a supposed “postmodern” era) or about science apologetics, which is currently demonstrating how experimental findings in modern science are supportive of the non-rational, of the existence of God, and of the possibility for divine interaction with physical reality.  And scholars overly enamored by the philosophical ruminations and gratuitous characterizations of postmodernism might do well to peruse the mainstream approaches, for example, set out by Polkinghorne in his Belief in God in an Age of Science and in Faith, Science & Understanding.[40]

Pentecostals and Evangelicals in particular would do better to begin to correctly understand reality in the present world in the logic of premodernity as Dembski does for his agenda.[41]  Then, they might go on to incorporate a historical appreciation of science and engineering in a more balanced characterization of the real world.  Then, they might go further still and contemplate the theological significance for their traditions of the momentous paradigm shifting discovery in 1965 when the cosmic radiation left over from the beginning of the universe was finally found.  In 1965 mankind entered into an intellectual revolution where, for the first time in their existence, human beings were able to know, based on secure experimental findings of modern science, that the universe began.  In 1965 mankind entered an era where a Beginner was glimpsed and the world’s media has remained abuzz with the theological implications ever since.  The post-1965 era dwarfs any philosophical conceptualization, any self-conceived rational epistemology, any definition of how mankind’s thought processes are supposedly changing to more relativistic or less materialistically accommodating modes. Postmodernism had and has little or nothing to do with this paradigm shift, which is not at all a useless shift to fuzzy relativism; the rigor of the scientific and technological methods that benefit and are integral to human life in so many ways remain vigorous and productive.  When the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 1978 for the discovery of the relic radiation, it was clear that there was a discernible and mysterious anthropic principle at work in the physical construction of the universe that favored the eventual appearance of modern man.  Events of the new epoch, which may rightly be called the Era of the Glimpse of God (the post-1965 era) continue to send reverberations throughout the world’s media.  In 1992, when a similar discovery about the details of the beginning of the cosmos was made, it was immediately dubbed by atheists and agnostics as “the greatest discovery in the history of mankind” and like “looking at the face of God.”  In this new era of religion in an age of science the impersonal is being replaced by the personal, the interaction with the divine is replacing the sanitization of the supernatural by the secular, and the relational with a God beyond the cosmos is being accepted as an intellectually respectable human activity.  In addition, the fine-tuning of the physical variables in the cosmos is lending support to the idea of a personal God, the impersonal god of rational order conceived by Einstein and Spinoza being no longer in fashion.  It is then in this current Era of the Glimpse of God, when God is allowing mankind to peal back just a little of the mystery of His invisible presence, that Pentecostals and their experiential piety have an opportunity to influence, as never before, various versions of stiff rationalistic piety and various visions of theological cessationism applied to New Testament characters and to New Testament narrative themes of prophetic fulfillment (as one finds, for example in Luke-Acts).  With the existence of God more acceptable than ever because of great discoveries of modern science, the interactivity or relational source of experience with the divine as described in New testament texts – something Pentecostals have always emphasized – is now more appealing than ever before to other Christian traditions.

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About the Author: Paul Elbert, physicist-theologian and New Testament scholar, teaches theology and science at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. He is co-chair of the Formation of Luke-Acts section in the Society of Biblical Literature and is a research advisor to the Dominican Biblical Institute, Limerick, Ireland. His writings have appeared, for example, in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft and in Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He served as editor of two anniversary volumes for Old Testament scholars, Essays on Apostolic Themes (1985) and Faces of Renewal (1988).

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