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Precedents and Possibilities: Pentecostal Perspectives on World Religions

Furthermore, signs of a perceptible shift toward a more inclusive attitude regarding other religions may be growing among some Pentecostals today (as it is among Evangelicals, too). In efforts to articulate a missionary enterprise that seriously considers cultural context, some contemporary Pentecostal thinkers are advancing toward more inclusive or appreciative approaches to relations with other religions. Indigenous forms of Pentecostal Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America appear to be successfully capitalizing on existing religious mores (such as belief in the spirit world or spirit beings, occurrence of the miraculous and divine healing) without succumbing to the dreaded dangers of rampant religious syncretism (in the sense of indiscriminately mixing that which is ultimately inconsistent). Consequently, some suggest that the ardent Pentecostal emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit may be applied globally to all peoples in some sense. In other words, the Spirit of God may be at work in the whole world not just in so-called Christendom—at least on some level. Accordingly, Pentecostals are now getting noticeably involved in inter-religious dialogue. Umbrella organizations such as the Society for Pentecostal Studies now have representatives sitting on the Inter-Faith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Office of Interreligious Relations & Dialogue of the World Council of Churches—unimagined a generation or two ago. Significantly, a few Pentecostal theologians today are addressing issues of spiritual discernment in an effort to identify the presence of absence of God or the demonic in the religions and are beginning to outline contours of a Christian theology of religions from a Pentecostal perspective.10

While Pentecostals are definitely still in the conservative camp and certainly are not advocates of the ideology of religious pluralism by any means, a day may be dawning in which we are moving toward a more moderate view of other faiths. On the one hand, Pentecostals are uncompromisingly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as absolute and universal Savior. On the other hand, Pentecostals, of all people, recognize that the Spirit of Jesus may sometimes be present in surprising places and ways. Keeping these two inviolable ideas together may represent one of Pentecostalism’s most important contributions to Christians relations with other religions.11

Some Possibilities among Pentecostals Regarding Other Religions

An honest look at the biblical, historical, and theological background of classical Pentecostalism finds the pervasive theme of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our midst. In the Upper Room Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit the gift of tongues symbolized unity among all peoples, reversing the curse of Babel (Acts 2). The great Azusa Street revival launched modern Pentecostalism as a worldwide movement, and was heavily influenced by non-Christian African and Christian African American spirituality and theology and intentionally emphasized the power of the Spirit to bring together people of different colors and creeds. Global Pentecostalism today is characterized by, arguably, a primal spirituality that resonates with the religious faith and values of many indigenous peoples in a powerful manner while remaining uncompromisingly Christian.12 All of this strongly suggests an inherently ecumenical and inclusivist impulse in the Pentecostal appreciation and experience of the Holy Spirit.

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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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