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Precedents and Possibilities: Pentecostal Perspectives on World Religions

Pentecostal theology and praxis regarding world religions labor to avoid egocentrism, in the sense of an elitist and exclusivist self-understanding, and to understand idolatry. We remind ourselves repeatedly that we alone do not constitute the entire family of God (cf. Numbers 16:22; 27:16). God is not unconcerned or uninvolved in the daily lives and eternal destinies of anyone the Lord has created. Surely “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9)? We need to see the big picture. We need to look at what is going on not just with us but around us and how we might best respond. To do so we must look beyond our own borders, beyond the borders of Evangelicalism, even beyond the borders of Christianity. We will not (and need not) always agree with everything we see, but we will still need to be aware of (and to an extent) to interact with, the wider world. In the process we may find a few new partners. Like Abraham we may need to honestly and humbly admit we have sometimes missed God’s moving among others because we assumed his absence in advance (Genesis 20:1-11). Without doubt, the Pentecostal appeal to the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh is intrinsically opposed to any and all egocentrism.

Pentecostals do not describe the First Commandment as the First Suggestion (cf. Exodus 20:1-3). Idolatry is a real issue for us. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in short, the God of the Bible, is for us the only God and Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6). We know no other; we need no other. For example, though Bishop King distinguished between religious institutions and individuals, he had no qualms condemning idolatry or immorality wherever he found them—whether in Christianity or Hinduism.18Yet some of us are beginning to believe that idolatry is about much more than names, whether God is called Yahweh or Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or Allah—or even Brahma. The God of the Bible is revealed as one God who demands from worshippers an ethical life of personal and social responsibility and accountability. Is it possible that wherever ethical monotheism is maintained that the God of the Bible is in some sense present and active? Some Pentecostals are beginning to think so. Yet none of this diminishes Pentecostal commitment to Christ or to missions and evangelism. Preeminent scholar on Pentecostalism Walter J. Hollenweger presents “dialogical evangelism”, based on the encounter of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10), as a biblical model for contemporary Pentecostals. Significantly, both participants learn from each other as the Holy Spirit is poured out afresh in the name of Christ.19

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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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