A Response To The Pneuma Essays On Faith And Scholarship

A Response To The Pneuma Essays On Faith And Scholarship

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PNEUMA 27,1_f8_156-160 8/17/05 7:56 AM Page 157 PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005 S SP Response A Response to the Pneuma Essays on Faith and Scholarship Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen The preceding essays demonstrate that there are many resources within the global Pentecostal Movement for reflecting on the ways in which scholarship and Christian faith might relate to each other. There is clearly a wide variety of well-articulated opinion within the Pentecostal community, including international voices. That in itself moves the conversation beyond its normal North American confines in a very healthy and mean- ingful way. There are three themes that seem to surface in nearly all the essays, sometimes as an essay’s main point and sometimes as a presupposition: hope, realism, and transformation. Concerns about hope, realism, and transformation are obviously not unique to Pentecostal faith and scholar- ship. They are often discussed by scholars from other Christian traditions and by non-Christian scholars as well. But their prominence in these essays, and the way these themes are tied to one another, suggest that hope, realism, and transformation may be important loci for continuing reflection in future Pentecostal discussions. The theme of hope seems a natural fit. Pentecostalism is about look- ing forward and not looking back. It is about plumbing the fullness of what God offers in Christ and the Holy Spirit, not about dwelling on the problems of the past. Pentecostal scholarship seems, then, to be naturally optimistic, rather than pessimistic and dour. As Cheryl Johns puts it: “A Pentecostal philosophy of education is first and foremost a philosophy of re-creationism.” It is forward looking and hopeful. This natural Pentecostal optimism seems, if anything, to be energized by the rise of postmodernity. While some Christian scholars have decided that postmodernism needs to be resisted as the latest threat to the gospel, many Pentecostal scholars have taken a different tack. Rather than seeing © 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden pp. 157–160 ========1========PNEUMA 27,1_f8_156-160 8/17/05 7:56 AM Page 158 PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005 postmodernism as a threat, they view it as an opportunity. Gordon An- derson, for example, says he is “truly excited about the possibilities for Pentecostals in a postmodern world” because postmodernity opens space for orality and non-propositional discourse to be valued along-side rational argument. Similarly, Peter Gräbe advocates a renewal theology that does not force a choice “between a ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’ perspective.” A corollary to this theme of hope is the lack of any serious fear of sec- ularism in these essays. This is especially noteworthy, given the manner in which so many evangelical publications continue to make fear of “the slippery slope toward secularism” their point of departure. What is dif- ferent about Pentecostalism? One factor may be its internationalism. Thus Paulson Pulikottil, who writes from India, says that the attitude of the larger academy toward Christian scholarship “has been one of neutrality and even toleran[ce].” Another may be its multiracial character. David Daniels says that African American Pentecostal scholarship, in particular, has been “void of the secularization thesis.” Whatever the cause, many Pentecostals do not see the academy as inherently dangerous and secular turf. Instead they see it as a relatively hospitable place where they, along with other Christians, can hope to have a positive impact on scholarship in the various disciplines. The theme of realism seems equally central to a Pentecostal vision of faith and scholarship. Pentecostalism grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and in the rough section of town. Virtually all the essayists are aware of that fact. Gordon Anderson says Pentecostals scholars are “right at home” in the “untidy… market place of street level experience” and in the “messy and noisy non-Western, non-modern world.” But it is not just self-awareness that matters. These Pentecostal edu- cators assert that realism—attention to the rough and messy dynamics of life on the street and in the neighborhoods—is a moral requirement for Pentecostal scholarship and faith. This is not a matter of remembering roots, but rather of knowing one’s calling. And, according to these essay- ists, the Pentecostal academic calling is a summons to scholarship under- taken in the midst of real life as most people in the world know it. That “real” life involves pain, struggle, and injustice as well as love, beauty, and community, and Pentecostals want to pay attention to that whole pack- age of concerns. William Kay says Pentecostals need to take the scholarly conversation out of the “senior common room… [and] move it out into the rougher public spaces within Western society.” It should also be noted, however, that neither Kay nor any other essay- 158 ========2========PNEUMA 27,1_f8_156-160 8/17/05 7:56 AM Page 159 A Response to the Pneuma Essays on Faith and Scholarship ist finds it necessary to turn this commitment to realism into a glib cri- tique of the academy at large for being an “ivory tower” removed from ordinary life. And that is to their credit. Knowing one’s own calling frees one from the need to criticize everyone else. Much of what some people disdain as “ivory tower” scholarship is, in fact, important work that ought to be respected and encouraged even if it is not immediately evident how that work applies to the lives of “real” people. Thus, Pentecostalism’s concern for realism serves as an important contribution to the larger acad- emy rather than being viewed as a condemnation of the rest of the academy. Transformation is the third theme we see in most if not all of these essays. Borrowing language from Harvey Cox, Cheryl Johns says that the goal of Christian scholarship in general and of Pentecostal scholarship in particular is to alter “the ways we all think, feel, work and govern.” She describes Pentecostal faith and scholarship as being characterized by “wild wonder” and by an approach to knowledge that “calls for human praxis.” The purpose is not merely to gain new knowledge, but to be transformed— to develop new ways of seeing the world, feeling the world, and acting in the world that are all tied together. Johns call education a “powerful process” that changes who we are and not merely what and how we think. Pentecostal scholarship and teaching ought to transform. David Daniels says much the same thing, tying wonder to hope and yearning and then linking all three with scholarship. He concludes his essay by saying that the widening “conversation of scholarship and faith- hope-love-liberation is a vital intellectual pursuit” that will both “advance knowledge and change the world.” Transformation is not merely personal, but social as well. Paulson Pulikottil underscores that point with his empha- sis on love. He writes: “The most important Christian virtue that a scholar has to uphold is that of love.” It is love that most helps Christian schol- ars see “the interconnectedness and the overlaps” in the world and between their work and the work of others. And it is love that drives Christian scholars into the larger academy where they can help “one another under- stand and interpret reality better.” So the essayists see many positive trends in the academy, and they call for positive contributions like hope, realism, and transformation. On the other hand, a number of the essayists also express insightful and appropriate concerns. Cheryl Johns worries that the revolutionary power of earlier Pentecostalism is in some camps hardening into ideology. Her plea is for both more liveliness within the tradition and more “epistemological and ecumenical humility so that the dialogue may be creatively carried into the next generation.” She wants the Pentecostal Movement to be deeply 159 ========3========PNEUMA 27,1_f8_156-160 8/17/05 7:56 AM Page 160 PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005 rooted in its own traditions of faith and practice, but simultaneously deeply in conversation with others so that Pentecostal scholarship can be a source of hope and inspiration within the academy and can avoid being restricted to the “Pentecostal ghetto.” David Daniels offers a similar critique, worrying that mainstream white Pentecostalism seems too locked within the homogeneity of the Christian college movement and not sufficiently concerned about the heterogene- ity of faith and the world. Can Pentecostalism as a whole and Pentecostal scholarship in particular fully embrace the pluriformity of human expe- rience so that no one is any longer “Other” and everyone is equally part of the conversation? Daniels says this is the world in which most African American Pentecostal scholars already exist. He seems to suggest that other Pentecostals may need to become more intellectually “black” if they are truly to enter the messy scholarly conversations that the church and the world so desperately need. Finally, William Kay says we live in a politicized era, and he fears the potential politicization of the discussion of faith and learning. He says, “politicization leads to polarization and polarization can harden into prej- udice.” So he hopes that Pentecostals can continue to define their reflections on faith and learning in terms of “the civilized word conversation with- out degenerating into bad-tempered squabbles and over-inflated rhetoric.” That is all to the good, but Kay also fears the opposite: our conversations may become too “civilized.” After all, it is in the “rougher public spaces” that the intersections of faith and learning really take on consequences, and in those public spaces the “conversation” is not always so polite. So Kay helpfully suggests that Pentecostal scholars chart a careful course between polarization and overly polite conversation. There is a rich feast of material in these essays, and we are excited about the hopeful, realistic, and transformative future conversations they may spawn. We are convinced that the academy at large is more open to the work of religious scholars than it has been in several decades, and we hope that Pentecostals will make their voices heard in the space for con- versation that now exists. We have much to learn from one another and much to regret if we let this opportunity pass. Our hope is that the discussion that appears in print form here will be expanded and enriched in the years ahead as Pentecostal scholars reflect more deeply on the scholarly resources of their tradition and as they enter more fully into the broad conversation about scholarship and faith that is taking place in the larger academy. 160 ========4========

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