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Precedents and Possibilities: Pentecostal Perspectives on World Religions

 

An introduction to theology of religions:  Pentecostal/charismatic leaders cannot afford to ignore the fact of religious pluralism. How should we engage people of other religions in such a way as to share the love of Jesus without compromising the message?

Editors Notes: The Pneuma Review editorial committee asked Brother Richie to tell us about this paper and he said: “This article is a non-provocative but informative piece designed to introduce readers to the theology of religions and invite further reflection. I’ve done quite a bit of work in this area, including a forthcoming article in Pneuma: The Journal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies (Spring ‘06) and an American Academy of Religion panel discussion and presentation (Nov 21 ‘06). I know about the generally cautious attitude of many Pentecostal/charismatics toward ecumenism and/or theology of religions. In a sense, I am sort of that way myself. One of the reasons I thought of sharing this piece is because of its easy going but informative approach. Theology of religions is, whether we like it or not, forcing itself upon us in the face of rampant religious pluralism. We will have to deal with it sometime somehow.”

 

Introduction

When I was growing up in a Pentecostal preacher’s family we pretty much had two groups of people in our community: Christians and non-Christians. Basically, that meant churchgoers and non-churchgoers because even the non-Christians had a more or less Christian belief background. Now I am a pastor myself but my how things have changed since Dad’s day! My church members have neighbors and co-workers who have religion enough all right but it is not Christian. Some of my parishioners even have friends or family of other faiths. Increased immigration and cross-cultural homogenization have helped make the United States a religiously diverse nation. 1 Religious pluralism, in the sense of the reality of a plurality of religions among us, is a fact that must be faced by pastors and church leaders if we are to equip our people to deal with the religious diversity they encounter in their daily lives. The price of Pentecostals ignoring the problem of pluralism is too high to pay. We cannot afford the lost souls that could cost.

Developing a Pentecostal approach to Christians theology of religions has quickly become not only essential but also urgent. A seasoned Pentecostal scholar supplies a helpful definition of theology or religions, particularly Christian theology of religions.

Theology of religions is that discipline of theological studies which attempts to account theologically for the meaning and value of other religions. Christian theology of religions attempts to think theologically about what it means for Christians to live with people of other faiths and about the relationship of Christianity to other religions. 2

Though extreme approaches unacceptable to most Pentecostals and Evangelicals do exist, the basic thrust of Christian theology of religions need not threaten us. Quite to the contrary, we need to account theologically for the existence of other religions and outline practically a manner of relating to their adherents. In this paper I overview our past attitudes and advance some options for the future if we are to face the challenge of religious pluralism in a mode that has compatibility with our Pentecostal identity.3

Some Precedents among Pentecostals Regarding Other Religions

SPS2014-TRichie&RMock

Pneuma Review Editor Raul Mock with Tony Richie at the 2014 Society for Pentecostal Studies convention.

Pentecostals have historically tended to exhibit a decidedly evangelistic approach to members of other religions.4 As staunch supporters of the missionary agenda of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we have mainly viewed adherents of other religions mostly as potential Christians to be won over by our witness of Christ. Unfortunately, sometimes this has degenerated into demonization of non-Christians and of their religious faith and values. Biblical texts warning against the demonic elements of idolatry and false forms of religion (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:20) have sometimes been indiscriminately applied to all world religions. Accordingly, Pentecostal attitudes toward relations with other religions often have not been very positive.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2006

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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