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Precedents and Possibilities: Pentecostal Perspectives on World Religions

Pentecostals may be uniquely called and qualified to help exorcise an assumption of the demonic from Christian relations with other religions. For one thing, Pentecostals tend to take demons seriously. Controversy over the question of relations with other religions cannot be resolved by simply denying the demonic element in religions. A sentimental spirituality that condones all religions also compromises commitment to any religious reality or verity. We need to face the reality of the demonic in perverted forms of religious faith. For another thing, Pentecostals believe in the charismatic gift of discernment of spirits or distinguishing between spirits (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10). Our approach to and relations with other religions must be undertaken carefully and cautiously. We can, however, do so optimistically when empowered by the Holy Spirit to identify and affirm the good or identify and avoid the evil. Finally, Pentecostal experience of and reliance on the Holy Spirit generates a sort of spiritual empathy with his presence and activity wherever they are discovered. Pentecostals then can be gracious and generous toward adherents of other religions without compromising our Christian commitments.

Pentecostals wrestling with world religions know we are not alone in the contemporary effort to establish right relations with religious others. The examples of John Wesley13 or C. S. Lewis14 are perhaps particularly important for many. For others the influence of Charismatics such as Clark Pinnock has been immense.15 Most of all, however, Pentecostals may feel our own impulse toward ecumenism and inclusivism moves us forward in continuity with a central stream of Christian spirituality and theology by the Spirit of God and of Christ.16 As precedents such as J. H. King suggest, Pentecostal theology of religions, though inclusivist, is inherently and inviolably Christocentric and continues the tradition of affirming Christ as Lord and Savior in the context of a culture influenced by the ideology of religious pluralism but is open to insights from dynamic pneumatology.

Definitive doctrinal differences do exist between Christians and those of other religions. Denying or even diminishing these will not contribute to the effectiveness of interfaith dialogue. But some Pentecostals ask, “Is it possible to distinguish between faith and faiths to a certain extent?” Pentecostals have always affirmed that a vital experience with God may transcend articulate theological expression. Is it possible to experience more of God or even of Christ than one intellectually understands? Few would deny it in principle perhaps, but how far it goes may be another matter. Nonetheless, we can be tolerant but not indifferent toward conflicting truth claims.17 Pentecostal reverence for Scripture as the inspired record of God’s self-revelation demands no less. Perhaps most of all, we want to insure that our inclusivism by no means involves even a nascent compromise of Christian integrity or of Pentecostal theology and spirituality. Many of us are assured that an appropriately appreciative attitude toward other religions enables Pentecostals to witness with respect to their adherents of the limitless love of God in his Son and 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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