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Becoming All Things, Spoiling the Egyptians, and Occupying Culture till Christ Comes

 

Jackie Johns observes important similarities between Pentecostalism and postmodernism. Both are “holistic, systemic, and purposive.” Each is “growth-oriented, ogranismic, relational, dynamic and open to change.” Consequently, he cautiously concludes that, “Pentecostalism may indeed be a part of the stream ushering in the postmodern era.”43 Nevertheless, there are deep divergences too. Most notably, the Open System Paradigm of postmodern science is susceptible to a process theology that does not align well with biblical theism. Accordingly, Johns rightly warns that it would be “a mistake to marry” Pentecostalism and this emerging worldview. For Pentecostalism to be true to itself requires uncompromising commitment to the God’s presence and sovereignty. Contemporary Pentecostals ought to reclaim an original apocalyptic vision that, as Johns well says, fuses “it to primitive Christianity as a single eschatological community living in the hope of the Parousia.”44

I think this is important. Such a Pentecostalism is able to transcendently adapt and adopt the cultures and concepts of every age through a pneumatological unity with the original paradigmatic Church in anticipation of its teleological, eschatologically realized form in its present authentic experience, existential ethos, and ontological identity. Eschatologically transcendent Pentecostalism is relevant without becoming relative and authentic without becoming archaic.

Additionally, Jackie Johns’ work awakens an exciting suggestion. A frequent complaint is that postmodernism destroys commitment to absolute truth by denying any metanarrative, and, therefore, any universal reality. That seems on the surface to undermine believing the Bible, and the grand story of the gospel itself. The comparison/contrast with post-Newtonian, postmodern systemic science opens up exciting vistas here. It ceaselessly stresses systemic. Prevalent among Evangelicals and Pentecostals is a tendency to take a local narrative, usually our own little story, and elevate it (and idolize it?) to the level of the universal, that is, to the status of metanarrative. Pentecostals, however, are not monolithic; neither is humanity monochromic. A postmodern approach to identity and reality just might encourage us more conscientiously to consider other local, particular narratives and their places in any kind of grand metanarrative. An end-result emerging from that process could be, not an absolute abolition of a metanarrative/great overarching story, but joint authorship of a genuine story inclusive enough to embrace authentically all the little, local ones, that is, to take in and take up all of the many realities in the one reality. The Bible is an excellent model. It is full of numerous seemingly competitive, almost contradictory stories that when woven together in the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ become one seamless garment of grace and truth testifying to God’s Son (John 1:17; Heb 1:1-2).

In the interest of space and time, let us now move toward a pastoral and practical application of our conversation. At this point, I will assume that I have made something like a defensible suggestion that Pentecostal Christians can and should engage postmodern culture with hope and prayer, but without naiveté or as novices.

 

Working with a Worldview on the Rise: Application

For me, the thrust of this discussion correlates to Christ’s command to “Occupy” or “Do business” until he comes again (Lu 19:13, KJV, NKJV). In other words, Christians have a responsibility to employ whatever resources, including cultural or philosophical resources, God places at their disposal in faithful performance of ecclesial ministry and mission to the glory of God until the consummation of all things in Christ at the eschaton. A strong note of accountability to Christ in eventual assessment of faithfulness in stewardship is present in this connection.45 Augustine observes that “The fault of that servant who was reproved and severely punished was this and only this: that he would not put to use what he had received.” Additionally, Origen observes that, though we “engage in business for the Lord,” his generosity assures “the profits of the business go to us.”46 Thus, our task is paramount, involving promissory of eternal reward and punishment. Therefore, in some agreement with Bevins, though with attentiveness to theoria, now I will address praxis.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2009

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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