Confessing At The Altar

Confessing At The Altar

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Pneuma 42 (2020) 201–219

Confessing at the Altar A Call and Response

Yoon Shin

Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida,USA


This article responds to J. Aaron Simmons’ concerns that James K.A. Smith’s method- ology for confessional pentecostal philosophy prohibits philosophical dialogue with the confessional Other. Its responses specifically address Simmons’ proposed personal methodology and his two main concerns about Smith’s methodology: (1) confessional philosophy allows an encroachment of theology into philosophy that threatens the autonomy of philosophy; and (2) confessional philosophy discourages philosophical dialogue with the confessional Other, and promotes insularity and defensiveness by utilizing theologically determinate evidence that act as incommensurable authority structures. The first section of this paper exposits Simmons’ other works that illu- mine the reasons for his concern. Specifically, it identifies Simmons’ Thomistic view of reason and new phenomenology’s commitment to the hypothetical status of God- talk as the reasons for Simmons’ opposition to Smith’s confessional philosophical method. After clarifying Simmons’ own position, the second section addresses Sim- mons’ concerns that confessional philosophy promotes epistemic arrogance, defen- siveness, and dialogical insularity. Moreover, it provides five responses to Simmons’ concern that confessional philosophy utilizes incommensurate authority structures and that it threatens philosophy’s autonomy through the incursion of theology. The paper concludes with a reflection on the current state and future of pentecostal phi- losophy


pentecostal philosophy – theology – phenomenology – James K.A. Smith – J. Aaron Simmons – philosophical methodology – epistemology

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2020 | doi:10.1163/15700747-bja10004




1 Introduction

As a product of James K.A. Smith’s call for pentecostal contributions to phi- losophy, I am honored to respond to J. Aaron Simmons’s article, which could be regarded as a second watershed moment in pentecostal philosophy. On the other hand, I also feel inadequate to address the topic at hand, as my training is in philosophical theology and Simmons’s critique targets this very encroach- ment of theology into philosophy. Yet, while I empathize with Simmons’s call for a new direction in pentecostal philosophical methodology, I see the need for a critical response that challenges Simmons’s proposal. Specifically, I want to address what I consider Simmons’s two main concerns about Smith’s con- fessional philosophical methodology: (1) confessional philosophy allows an encroachment of theology into philosophy that threatens the autonomy of philosophy; and (2) confessional philosophy discourages philosophical dia- logue with the confessional Other and promotes insularity and defensiveness by utilizing theologically determinate pieces of evidence that act as incom- mensurable authority structures. The second concern is related to the first in that the utilization of theologically determinate evidence is made possible by allowing theology to encroach into philosophy through confessional commit- ments.

In place of the Plantinga-inspired confessional methodology advocated by Smith, Simmons proposes a personal method that he argues makes evidence commensurable across confessional commitments precisely because it does not commit to confessional authority structures. While I agree with Simmons that a confessional methodology blurs the line between philosophy and theol- ogy, blurring is not elimination. In fact, this blurring promotes interdisciplinary work. Importantly, I will argue that this blurring of the line does not necessarily hinder philosophical engagement across incommensurate confessional com- mitments.

My response to Simmons will be divided into two sections. The first sec- tion briefly considers Simmons’s view on the relationship between philosophy and theology and his critique of confessional philosophy and highlights the Thomistic and phenomenological grounds for Simmons’s position in order to properly understand his concerns. The second section addresses Simmons’s concerns about epistemic arrogance, defensiveness, and dialogical insularity and then addresses Simmons’s concern that confessional philosophy utilizes incommensurate authority structures. In addressing the latter concern, the section also describes the encroachment of theology into philosophy as the bringing of one’s pretheoretical commitments that are nevertheless open to philosophical critique due to the conditionality of human claims about God.

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The essay then ends with a brief conclusion and an extended reflection on the current state and future of pentecostal philosophy.

2 The Call

With its relatively recent arrival, pentecostal philosophy remains in its infancy. As Simmons noted, its birth was made possible by the monumental roles that Smith and Amos Yong played in the establishing of the philosophy interest groupintheSocietyforPentecostalStudies,indelineatingitsmethodology,and in partaking in sustained philosophical conversations that encouraged oth- ers to join the field. Yet, the field has gone awry from the beginning due to the entrenchment of what Simmons calls “Plantinga-type Christian philoso- phy”1 in Smith’s confessional methodology that set the course for pentecostal philosophy. Its theologically determinate starting point discourages philosoph- ical dialogue and dangerously blurs the line between philosophy and theology. In fact, the evidence is clear. As Simmons correctly indicates, much of pen- tecostal philosophy to date has been philosophical theology, not philosophy as such. While the works may be important in their own right, they merely encourage dialogue within pentecostal and Christian guilds that share similar confessional authority structures while discouraging dialogue with the confes- sional Other.

Although Simmons applies this critique to pentecostal philosophy for the first time, he has held an enduring interest in the topic of the role of faith in philosophical methodology.2 His latest essay should be seen as a direct sequel tohisessaysinChristianPhilosophy:Conceptions,Continuations,andChallenges that acutely applies his concerns about confessional philosophy to pentecostal philosophy. His main points and concerns inChristianPhilosophyhelp illumine his concerns in the essay at hand.3 Confessional philosophy assumes a stable

1 Henceforth called confessional philosophy or methodology.

2 For a list of his publications on the topic, see J. Aaron Simmons, “Living in the Existential

Margins: Reflections on the Relationship between Philosophy and Theology,” Open Theology

5, no. 1 (2019): 147–157 (147n1).

3 I agree with William Hasker’s response to Simmons in the volume, so I will not repeat it

here. Readers are encouraged to consult Hasker’s essay. See William Hasker, “Responding to

Challenges,” in Christian Philosophy: Conceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron

Simmons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 286–304 (297–302). Readers should also

consult Kyla Ebels-Duggan’s essay in the same volume that provides a different, and more

charitable, reading of Plantinga than does Simmons. See Kyla Ebels-Duggan, “Christian Phi-

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Christian identity and philosophical presuppositions, and these assumptions open the door for defensiveness, triumphalism, and insularity.4 While Chris- tian philosophy may have been marginalized in the 1980s, the situation has changed. In fact, Christian philosophy now serves as a major influence in the philosophy of religion.5

Pentecostal philosophy’s following of Plantinga’s sectarian program could contribute further toward the splintering of the philosophical community by establishing incommensurable theologically determinate starting points. Given the current political and economic challenges outlined by Simmons, defensiveness, triumphalism, and insularity are indeed real dangers associated with “rights-oriented” confessional methodology. Certainly, as Merold West- phal warns, the claim to having obtained God’s truth can be dangerous, and the triumphalistic philosophy that arises from such a posture is evident, per- haps best exemplified in the writings of Cornelius Van Til.6

Simmons’s essays inChristian Philosophyare helpful in illuminating his con- cerns about confessional methodology and its relation to Smith’s methodology. Another relevant essay, “Living in the Existential Margins,” builds a case against confessional philosophy, which Simmons correctly identifies as an Anselmian methodology, by relying on the Thomistic account of the universal availability of reason and evidence based on general revelation.7 Methodologically, Sim- mons views philosophy as operating and grounded wholly in general revela- tion, which enables dialogue across various communities. No one is barred from dialogue due to the universal authority structure of reason. Simmons is quick to note that his position does not assume “rationalistic objectivism” because universal accessibility of evidence graspable by reason does not nec-

losophy and the Christian Life,” inChristian Philosophy: Conceptions, Continuations, and Chal-

lenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 55–72.

4 J. Aaron Simmons, “The Strategies of Christian Philosophy,” in Christian Philosophy: Con-

ceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New York: Oxford University

Press, 2019), 187–208 (190–191).

5 Cf., J. Aaron Simmons, “Introduction: Why This? Why Now?,” in Christian Philosophy: Con-

ceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New York: Oxford University

Press, 2019), 1–17 (7–13); and J. Aaron Simmons, “The Strategies of Christian Philosophy,” in

Christian Philosophy: Conceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New

York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 187–208 (198–199).

6 Merold Westphal, “Taking Plantinga Seriously: Advice to Christian Philosophers,” in Chris-

tian Philosophy: Conceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New York:

Oxford University Press, 2019), 73–82 (78). Cf. Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, ed.

William Edgar (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003).

7 Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 148.

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essarily admit of neutral reason.8 Rather, rational adjudication of evidence always occurs within the contingencies of history.9

Against this Thomistic view of universal reason, confessional philosophy assumes the Anselmian starting point of fides quaerens intellectum. By appeal- ing to its confessional rights, Anselmian confessional philosophy cuts off dia- logue by insulating its (theologically determinate) starting point from those who do not share the same confessional commitments. This insularity pro- motes triumphalism because confessional commitments are no longer answer- able “to a disciplinary evidence structure different from one’s theological authorities.”10

We can gain further clarity of Simmons’s view by understanding Simmons as a new phenomenologist. New phenomenology challenges traditional phe- nomenology’s bracketing of religion and determinate beliefs on the one hand while maintaining phenomenology’s rejection of the absolutism of ontotheol- ogy on the other. The delicate balance new phenomenology seeks to maintain is the demarcation of its work as philosophy from theology.

How does new phenomenology accomplish this task? Like the present issue, the balance resides at the methodological level, namely, the evidential author- ity structures to which phenomenology and theology appeal. Theology has at its disposal actual revelation. Phenomenology, to remain properly philo- sophical, considers a religious phenomenon as merely a possibility rather than actuality. Phenomenology’s methodological commitment to the hypothetical status of God-talk stands in contrast to the categorical status of determinate theological starting points assumed in confessional philosophy. In this way, “[T]heology seems to start with answers to the questions that phenomeno- logical philosophy attempts genuinely to ask.”11This categorical starting point of theology hinders philosophical dialogue because it assumes the truth of its starting point. Phenomenology, on the other hand, “is unable to appeal to theologicalauthorities as immediately philosophicallyauthoritative.”12Without this pistic magisterium, philosophers of all presuppositions are free to engage one another because they are no longer bound to that which cannot be phe- nomenologically questioned. Philosophers can address the phenomena, even religious phenomena, as they present themselves to consciousness. This is why

8 9 10 11


Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 150.

Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 155.

Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 150.

J. Aaron Simmons and Bruce Ellis Benson,The New Phenomenology: A Philosophical Intro- duction(New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 94.

Simmons and Benson,The New Phenomenology, 106.

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theologically determinate beliefs hinder philosophical dialogue; determinate beliefs act as constraints to phenomenological inquiry by restricting the given- ness of what gives itself.

Like Simmons, Smith consistently affirms this distinction, arguing that phe- nomenology of religion liberates itself from the “theistic imperialism” of ana- lytic philosophy of religion and opens the space for plurality of religious speech.13Smith draws on Heidegger and argues that a proper phenomenology of religion does not reflect on revelation but on the religious phenomena as “the meaning of a community of faith.”14Theology, on the other hand, is partic- ular and concrete participation within faith communities that does not bracket faith. Hence, phenomenology of religion is able to honor the plurality of facti- cal religious experience across the religions.15

This demarcation between philosophy and theology does not now restrict determinate beliefs for (postmodern) religion, as if we are merely now left with “religion without religion,” a universal messianicity of justice without the determination of messianism.16 First, Simmons argues that this demarcation actually respects theology as theology by rejecting the notion that theology can “be completely reducible to and fully accessible by phenomenological phi- losophy.”17 It also respects phenomenology by acknowledging its limits as a non-totalizing discourse.18 Second, when God is considered phenomenologi- cally, as one who is beyond—even if at least having—being, God may exceed our immanent categories, but this excessive mystery cannot be understood as absolute otherness. For absolute otherness eliminates the possibility of phe- nomenological encounter, making such phenomenological consideration self- referentially incoherent. The excessive givenness of God presents itself on its own terms, but such counter-intentional presentation does not lead to silence.


14 15 16

17 18

James K.A. Smith, “Liberating Religion from Theology: Marion and Heidegger on the Pos- sibility of a Phenomenology of Religion,”International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 46, no. 1 (1999): 17–33 (28). Also, see James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 3–5.

Smith, “Liberating Religion from Theology,” 26.

Smith, “Liberating Religion from Theology,” 27.

In this regard, both Smith and Simmons are in agreement. See James K.A. Smith, “Re- Kanting Postmodernism?: Derrida’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone,”Faith and Philosophy17, no. 4 (2000): 558–571; and J. Aaron Simmons, “Apologetics after Objectivity,” in Reexamining Deconstruction and Determinate Religion: Toward a Religion with Religion, ed. J. Aaron Simmons and Stephen Minister (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2012), 23–59.

Simmons and Benson,The New Phenomenology, 135.

Simmons and Benson,The New Phenomenology, 136.

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We are instead left with the hermeneutic task of speaking about God that is non-totalizing and non-ontotheological.19

Importantly, Simmons stresses that this speaking is possible in epistemo- logical postmodernism, calling his position postmodern kataphaticism. As op- posed to metaphysical postmodernism that views determinate God-talk as off- limits, epistemological postmodernism holds to situated contextuality of all beliefs.20 This epistemic contextuality is critical for Simmons’s opposition to confessional philosophy. The totalizing project of ontotheology as the product of universal reason is rejected by postmodernism due to the contextuality of all knowledge. Being unable to peak over God’s shoulder, we can never obtain Truth with a capital “T.”21This epistemic condition of finitude should engender an epistemic humility in which not only the premises are possibilities, but their conclusions should remain possibilities. This posture of openness is required given the excessiveness of the religious phenomena.22 For Simmons, rejecting this possibility/actuality distinction leads to epistemic arrogance.23 Given this possibility of determinate beliefs within phenomenology, Simmons argues that one can even pursue a postmodern apologetics that does not seek to demon- strate the absolute truth of one’s conclusions through universal, objective, and neutral reason, but one that contends for the truth of one’s determinate beliefs through a “dialogical and humble model in which reason is … [taken] as local, contextual, and invitational.”24Again, this model is humble due to the contex- tuality of knowledge and it invites dialogue with people of varying commit- ments due to the hypothetical-possible, not categorical-actual, status of deter- minate confessions.

3 The Response

There is much to appreciate about Simmons’s reminder for epistemic humil- ity, of the human condition of epistemic situatedness and contextuality, and for the need for hypothetical commitment to confessional beliefs for phe-

19 20 21

22 23 24

Simmons and Benson,The New Phenomenology, 148–150.

Simmons, “Apologetics after Objectivity,” 30–31.

Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), 79–81.

Simmons, “Apologetics after Objectivity,” 33, 40.

Simmons, “Apologetics after Objectivity,” 51.

Simmons, “Apologetics after Objectivity,” 57. For example of a postmodern or phenomeno- logical apologetics, see Christina M. Gschwandtner, Postmodern Apologetics?: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy(New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

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nomenology. However, following Bruce Ellis Benson’s reply to one of Simmons’s essays, we must ask whether Simmons is making a mountain out of a mole- hill. Simmons rightly advises against speaking ontotheologically about God, an arrogant human posture that makes God answerable to our conceptions, while advocating for the place of contextual, humble, and fallible determi- nate beliefs for postmodern religion. However, Benson questions the essence of ontotheology as absolute truth claims about God. While such absolutist, defensive, and arrogant claims are certainly made, perhaps more prevalently in some conservative Christian communities, Benson argues that “when Chris- tians put forth truth-claims about God, they need not necessarily be seen as putting them forth as sub specie aeternitatis claims.”25 For Benson, any kat- aphatic or apophatic claims about God are ontotheological to some degree precisely because they are human claims about what God is really like. While we should avoid strong ontotheological claims, such as reducing God to being or supposing one’s attainment of Truth, we should not identify any universal claims about God as illegitimate.26 Much of Christian history is replete with caution against such strong ontotheological claims, and Benson highlights Paul and Calvin as prime examples of those who make determinate claims about God but nevertheless understand human knowledge and claims about God as fallible and accommodated.27 Neither theological arrogance nor epistemic neutrality are necessary components of speaking ontotheologically about God.

Relatedly, taking religious phenomena as actual does not necessitate philo- sophical or theological arrogance that hinders philosophical dialogue. Yet, this is what Simmons assumes. For Simmons, appeal to rights equates to a defiant, arrogant, insular, and defensive posture. I do not disagree that such postures are symptomatic in certain sectors within Pentecostalism and Christianity. How- ever, the primary audience of this dialogue are academics, and it seems both natural and professional for philosophers to practice both the hermeneutics of suspicion and charity, so that an appeal to rights is not taken a priori as an insular, triumphalistic methodology.




Bruce Ellis Benson, “‘As Radical as One Needs to Be’: A Response to J. Aaron Simmons,” in Reexamining Deconstruction and Determinate Religion: Toward a Religion with Religion (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2012), 61–68 (65).

Marilyn McCord Adams similarly argues that ontotheology does not necessarily assume an absolutist epistemology. Demonstrating through the ontotheological works of Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, and Anselm, Adams argues that their ontotheology is not ultimately grounded in the human (in)ability to grasp ultimate reality, but in divine dis- closure, which leads humans to their knees in prayer. See Marilyn McCord Adams, “What’s Wrong with the Ontotheological Error?,” Journal of Analytic Theology2, no. 1 (2014): 1–12. Benson, “‘As Radical as One Needs to Be,’” 63–67.

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Nicholas Wolterstorff helpfully clarifies how appeal to rights is not neces- sarily defensive. Wolterstorff distinguishes between reactive rights, the rights gained from being wronged, and primary rights, all other rights that are not reactionstobeing wronged.28Primaryrights arethoserights that onehas inher- ently, as they “are grounded in the worth, the value, the dignity of human beings.”29 Related to reactive rights is reactive justice, the call for retributive justice, where the victim gains the permission and/or the obligation to punish the wrongdoer. Primary justice is a call for the righting of wrongs without a call for retribution. It is a call to undo the effects of injustice and for the restoration of primary rights.30

How are we to understand Plantinga’s and Smith’s appeal to the Christian’s right to do confessional philosophy? Is it a call for reactive rights and justice? Do they want to punish non-Christian philosophers who resist confessional methodology or philosophy of religion? Of course not. Their appeal is more appropriately an appeal to primary rights—their right to pursue philosophy confessionally and to pursue philosophical agendas determined by the Chris- tian community.

Does this appeal now necessarily create dialogical insularity? Not neces- sarily. Because primary rights are grounded in the inherent worth of human beings, no one philosophical community has a monopoly on primary rights. To disallow others to do so is to perpetrate primary injustice, opening oneself to primary justice and perhaps even to reactive justice. Therefore, confessional appeal to primary rights must allow others the right to pursue philosophy from their own particular confessions and perspectives and cannot be defen- sive, combative, or triumphalistic without being hypocritical. Such a posture is necessary not only from a Christian confessional commitment that should be kenotic in tone, but also from a sectarian pentecostal identity. While writ- ten from a classical pentecostal perspective, Cheryl Bridges Johns’s remark that humility is the mark of a mature “primal Pentecostal identity” should apply to all pentecostal identities that affirm the global movement of the Spirit.31 For discerning the voice the Spirit that is poured out on all flesh in all its diverse


29 30 31

Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 23.

Wolterstorff, Journey toward Justice, 47.

Wolterstorff, Journey toward Justice, 22–24.

Cheryl Bridges Johns, “The Adolescence of Pentecostalism: In Search of a Legitimate Sec- tarian Identity,” Pneuma 17, no. 1 (1995): 3–17 (16). Simmons and I agree on this kenotic posture of Christianity, but we disagree on the kenotic potential of confessional philoso- phy. See Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 151.

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manifest forms necessitates hermeneutic charity. This posture of pneumato- logical humility is related to the virtue of hospitality. Yong states, “If the Day of Pentecost signifies the gift of God, the Holy Spirit that produces many tongues, and if many tongues open up the life of the church’s ministry to many prac- tices …, then the redemptive and pneumatological hospitality of God must also involve many hospitable practices.”32 As both host of the Spirit and guest of God’s hospitality in the world, Pentecostals must embody divine hospital- ity with the confessional Other. Allowing everyone to pursue philosophy from theirownconfessionalperspectivesfromthiskenoticposturediscouragesinsu- larity, as we are driven (by the Spirit) into the difficult work seeking the voice of God in the voice of the Other in critical ecumenical and dialogical work.

Simmons may retort that the primary issue with insularity is not the attitude of defensiveness, but the incommensurable differences between confessional commitments. Appeals to particular confessional beliefs act as authority struc- tures that are inaccessible to others. However, allowing theological “authorities to function immediately or obviously in relation to our philosophical inquiry” does not make them impervious either to analysis or to critique or even critical appropriation of various ideas without wholesale appropriation.33

First, as surveyed by Simmons, confessionally minded pentecostal philoso- phers and philosophical theologians have engaged and mined those who do not share their pentecostal commitments. At least at one end of philosophical inquiry, then, incommensurable confessional commitments have not deterred philosophical engagement. Moreover, while Smith correctly warns that Pente- costals should not easily adopt philosophies that are disconnected, even anti- thetical, to their pentecostal faith, if we are to take seriously Pentecostalism’s radical openness to God as alterity, then pentecostal philosophy must be open to creative dialogue with the philosophical Other.34

Second, disagreements in fundamental commitments do not disallow cre- ative and constructive inquiry. While my example is theological, the princi- ple remains the same. In Discerning the Spirit(s), Amos Yong alerts us to the christological impasse—the issue of christological soteriology. The answer to this question acted as an incommensurable foundational authority for exclu- sivists, inclusivists, and pluralists alike. Instead of dwelling permanently at this impasse, Yong brackets the christological question and turns to a pneumato- logicalstartingpoint.Whileadmittingthatthechristologicalquestionismerely


33 34

Amos Yong,Hospitality & the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor(Mary- knoll: Orbis Books, 2008), 106.

See his “Prospects for Pentecostal Philosophy” article in this issue, p. 195.

See Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 13–15.

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postponed and not dismissed, he rightly contends that “there is something that would be gained in postponing these discussions.”35Therefore, even if confes- sional authority structures may be incommensurable, productive dialogue can occur in similar ways.

Third, confessional authority structures are not ipso facto barred from philo- sophical critique. If one rightly takes analogical knowledge and epistemic fini- tude seriously, then one’s commitments, whether first-order commitments or second-order beliefs, must always be provisional and open to analysis and cri- tique. In this way, I agree with Simmons that religious commitments should act as conditional premises in philosophical arguments.36 Confessional commit- ments that one takes to be true—that is, actual—should be held conditionally. However, conditionality is different from possibility. As a conditional claim to its actuality, a confessional starting point is inherently open to critique, and thus the dangers of insularity and triumphalism are avoided.

One could also philosophically challenge the claims of a confession’s actu- ality by critiquing the existence of God or the rationality of religion. Even if this philosophical debate may smack of ontotheology, it is philosophical debate occurring between those who subscribe to incommensurable starting points.37 Becauseitispossibletoquestiontheologicalauthoritystructureswhileuphold- ing everyone’s primary rights to start from their confessional commitments, confessional philosophy does not “play [the philosophy] game only if [it] gets to set the rules to favor [its] own team.”38 But even if one arrives at a terminus withnosightof furtherprogress,likethechristologicalimpasse,thisconclusion itself is philosophically valuable and merely proves Michael Bergmann’s point that philosophical (and theological) debates may, in the end, “bottom out” and philosophy may not “resolve radical disagreements.”39

Fourth, confessional philosophy need not be necessarily methodologically confessional—which I maintain is legitimate—but motivational. One’s con- fessional commitments can act as motivations for pursuing particular ideas or arguments without acting as authority structures. This is evident in Sim- mons: “Inhabiting a world in which God’s Spirit continues to work and move


36 37 38 39

Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 58.

Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 153.

Again, see note 26 for a positive view of ontotheology.

Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 150.

Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 231.

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requires that Pentecostals not live in fear but rather exhibit lives character- ized by humility, hospitality, and gratitude.”40Simmons’s confessional commit- mentmotivateshis philosophical methodology of dialogical openness without burdening it with theological baggage. This metamethodology considers con- fessional motivation as still part of its method, included with Plantinga-type confessional methodology.

Finally, we must understand how Smith understands confessional philos- ophy. Is confessional philosophy based on theoretical beliefs—that is, doc- trines—that are closed off to non-Christian philosophers? The burden rests on my shoulders to disprove this notion given Smith’s reminder that “a Chris- tian philosophy must be fundamentally incarnational and cruciform, rooted not simply in theism but in the revelation of the incarnation, the scandal of the cross, and the confession of the resurrection. And it should be just this incar- national starting point that distinguishes Christian philosophy from merely ‘theistic’ philosophy.”41

However, like my presentation of Simmons as a phenomenologist, I contend that a more just hermeneutic strategy to understand this quote requires read- ing Smith as a phenomenologist. Smith is making this proviso to buffer pen- tecostal philosophy from generic theistic philosophy. As a phenomenologist, Smith is aware of the dangers of ontotheology and thus critiques contempo- rary philosophy of religion as ontotheological and reductively rationalist due to its overemphasis on beliefs.42 However, Smith does not bracket theoretical thought. Phenomenology itself is a rigorous theoretical science. Hence, Smith cautions about the possible incommensurable gap between our pretheoreti- cal experience and our theoretical—that is, phenomenological—explanation of the phenomenon.43 Instead of putting the onus on theoretical thought to play the pivotal role for understanding and knowledge, Smith places pretheo- retical knowledge, which arises from “nonrationalist philosophical anthropol- ogy implicit in pentecostal spirituality,” as the ground of theoretical thought.44 Therefore, confessional commitments should not be understood as theological authority structures, if by theological we mean theoretical doctrines. Rather, they are authority structures embedded within one’s historical and situated

40 41 42 43


Simmons, “Prospects for Pentecostal Philosophy,” 184.

Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 11.

Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 110–112.

James K.A. Smith,Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation(New York: Routledge, 2002).

Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 113.

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lived experiences that order theoretical thought.45 Understood this way, con- fessional commitments do not insulate themselves from others but merely reflect the human epistemic condition of thinking from situated contexts. This is why everyone should exercise their primary right and grant others the same right to theorize from their contextual commitments.

I contend that Smith’s quote above should be taken as a type of this prethe- oretical commitment embedded within pentecostal experience. As such, “the revelation of the incarnation, the scandal of the cross, and the confession of the resurrection” do not necessarily act as evidentiary theoretical authority struc- tures. Instead, they act as pretheoretical, affective-kinesthetic commitments rooted in experiencing the incarnated Jesus, the forgiveness and justice of the cross, and participating in the foretaste of the resurrection through baptism. Understood this way, the encroachment of theology into philosophy should not be viewed as the incursion of categorical, theoretical doctrines that direct philosophical reflection. Confessional commitments are more foundationally and pretheoretically affective and kinesthetic. Even though they also contain noetic elements, these noetic elements are not immune to philosophical cri- tique. Furthermore, the conditionality of human claims aboutGod necessitates that these noetic elements are never closed to critique. Therefore, even though confessional philosophy blurs the line between theology and philosophy, the incursion of theology should not be understood as theoretical doctrines that close off philosophical dialogue with the confessional Other. The incursion of theology is instead the involvement of the total being of the confessional philo- sophical inquirer.

Simmons may see in this description between pretheoretical and theoret- ical thought a foundationalist ghost that still impedes the voice of the con- fessional Other by ensconcing itself in the cocoon of religious life. Simmons states:

Specifically, Plantinga-type views depend on the notion not only that one’s religious commitments run deeper than one’s philosophical com- mitments, but also that they are more important due to the existential realities of religious life. In other words, assuming the truth of a specific religious tradition can then become the lens through which to read every- thing else. Far from a recognition of the dynamic complexities of the


Smith himself distinguishes between theology as pretheoretical doxological and liturgi- cal confessions and theology as theoretical reflections on these confessions. See James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 177–178.

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hermeneutic circle, which would motivate robust humility, here we find a situation in which there is no circle at all, but simply a direct line from Christian faith to all other truth-claims, which threatens to motivate tri- umphalism.46

Now that religious life has replaced doctrines as an authority structure, we seem to be at a worse place. At least one could raise conceptual defeaters against beliefs. How can one now communicate with and critique someone without embedding oneself into a foreign religion and sharing the religious life?

Thisisalegitimateconcern,oneexacerbatedinSmith’saffectivefoundation- alism in which beliefs are grounded in the affections. Smith assumes that all cognitive beliefs are theoretical, evidenced in his differentiation between the- oretical cognition and pretheoretical affection. In this model, affective, prethe- oretical knowledge governs theoretical knowledge. But this distinction seems mistaken. Are not noetic basic beliefs cognitive, yet pretheoretical and nonin- ferential? If so, cognitive-noetic belief should also be included in the founda- tion.

We can further distinguish between cognition andnous, not merely between cognition and precognition. According to Robert Solomon’s controversially named cognitive theory of emotion, emotions are “complex of judgments”47 that are not “necessarily conscious—and self-conscious—reflective, articu- late judgments.”48 Judgment requires recognition, and according to Solomon, “recognition is a form of cognition.”49 Humans and even animals make nonre- flective, cognitive-emotional judgments all the time, such as judging whether an activity is dangerous or whether a piece of art is beautiful. Even if emotions are pre-reflective, they require “an advanced degree of conceptual sophistica-

46 47



Simmons, “Living in the Existential Margins,” 153.

Robert C. Solomon, “Emotions, Thoughts and Feelings: What Is a ‘Cognitive Theory’ of the Emotions and Does It Neglect Affectivity?,” in Philosophy and the Emotions, ed. Anthony Hatzimoysis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1–18 (11).

Solomon, “Emotions, Thoughts and Feelings,” 2. Solomon had initially resisted the term “cognitive” to describe his theory due to the ill-defined and variegated usage of the term, see 1–5. Smith also acknowledges the term’s vague definitions and uses the term to describe reflective activity. Yet, this usage creates an unhelpful dichotomy between cogni- tion and emotion. See Smith,Thinking in Tongues, 56n19.

Robert C. Solomon, “Emotions, Thoughts, and Feelings: Emotions as Engagements with the World,” inThinking about Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotions, ed. Robert C. Solomon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 76–88 (79).

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tion.”50Emotional judgment is a value-laden conceptual structure based on its internal, conceptual reasons.51

Solomon’s view here is synonymous with Smith’s account of affective con- strual of reality. However, whereas Smith distinguishes affection from cogni- tion,Solomoncountsaffection—thatis,emotion—ascognition52andpresents afullerpictureof cognition:“Whatiscognition?Iwouldstillinsistthatitisbasi- cally judgment, both reflective and pre-reflective, both knowing how (as skills and practices) and knowing that (as propositional knowledge).”53 If Solomon is right, then affective knowledge is cognitive knowledge. The epistemic foun- dation consists of cognitive-emotional judgments and cognitive-noetic beliefs, whichdeprioritizesthe soleauthority of the affectionsin Smith’saffectivefoun- dationalism.

Importantly, foundationalism as such is not necessarily committed to the unidirectional relationship between noninferential knowledge and inferen- tial knowledge, such that pretheoretical knowledge insulates inferential truth claims from debate. Foundationalism as such is merely “a normative thesis about noetic structures” that delineates the proper justificatory relationship between basic/pretheoretical and nonbasic/theoretical beliefs.54 It does not dictate how these beliefs inform one another. I have argued elsewhere that






Robert C. Solomon,The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993), 181.

Solomon, The Passions, 60. Also, Robert C. Solomon, “The Philosophy of Emotions,” in Handbook of Emotions, ed. Michael Lewis, Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Feld- man Barrett, 3rd ed. (New York: Guilford Press, 2008), 3–16 (11). The structural nature of emotion with its internal reasons point to judgment being constitutive of emotion. This explanation answers the charge by some noncognitive views of emotion that judgment is sometimes absent in the arousal of emotion. For this latter view confuses constitu- tion of emotion as judgment with judgment causing emotion or emotion-as-physiological response lacking judgment. For a survey of some noncognitive theories that critique cog- nitive theories, see Paul E. Griffiths, “Basic Emotions, Complex Emotions, Machiavellian Emotions,” in Philosophy and the Emotions(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 39–67 (43–47).

While Solomon considers affections as physiological feelings, insofar as they are bodily, they “constitute an important element in our experiences of … emotions.” Solomon, “Emo- tions, Thoughts and Feelings,” 14.

Solomon, “Emotions,Thoughts and Feelings,” 16.This view is similarly shared by the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. See Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment,” Psychological Review 108, no. 4 (2001): 814–834 (814); and Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog Gets Mistaken for a Pos- sum,”Review of General Psychology8, no. 4 (2004): 283–290 (286).

Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 72.

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theoretical beliefs can shape and change pretheoretical, affective knowledge.55 While foundationalism is unidirectional regarding justification, so that basic beliefs are not justified by nonbasic beliefs, it can be bidirectional in the infor- mational relationship between the two types of beliefs. If so, even if confes- sional commitments act as a methodological, not motivational, starting point, the confessional Other can debate the merits of philosophical arguments that could then bring about modifications in one’s confessional commitments.56

4 Conclusion

Simmons’s concern about Smith’s confessional philosophy is unwarranted. Indeed, dangers of insularity and triumphalism exist, but they are not neces- sarily antithetical to the identity of Pentecostalism specifically and Christianity in general. Upon identifying Simmons’s main concerns, I argued that everyone has the primary right to pursue philosophy from their confessional commit- ments. Affirming rights-oriented methodology does not necessitate insularity, arrogance, or defensiveness. I further provided five responses to address Sim- mons’s concerns that incommensurable starting points threaten the autonomy of philosophy and dissuade philosophical dialogue. If my arguments are sound, then productive dialogue can occur between partners who do not share the same confessional commitments. I conclude this essay now with some final observations about the current state and future of pentecostal philosophy.

As Simmons has testified about his own difficulty in being accepted as a pentecostal philosopher by the guild, his contention that confessional philos- ophy is a bad strategy in the current sociocultural context seems premature. Perhaps the times have passed Plantinga’s recommendation for Christian phi- losophy in its Reformed and Roman Catholic forms, but the cultural context may still be appropriate to appeal to our primary rights to pursue philosophy



Yoon Shin, “Pentecostal Epistemology, the Problem of Incommensurability, and Creation- al Hermeneutic: The Harmonious Relationship between Affective and Cognitive Knowl- edge,”Pneuma 40, no. 1 (2018): 130–149. Plantinga holds a similar view that basic beliefs rely on other background beliefs for their intelligibility. See Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 83. Solomon also argues that we can “think our way into an emotion.” Solomon, “Emotions, Thoughts and Feelings,” 11. I view the evidential problem of evil as a prime example of this argument. Even though the objector does not share the confessional commitments of the theist, the objector can change the commitments, even leading one to abandon them, if the argument proves suc- cessful.

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from distinctive pentecostal assumptions.57In this way, Simmons, like the mad- man of Nietzsche, may have arrived too early.58 Christian philosophy may be in danger of triumphalism, but an apologetic program for pentecostal philoso- phy may still be needed.59Importantly, I draw this conclusion from Simmons’s own admissions. According to the epistemic challenge that Simmons identifies, pentecostal philosophy still faces suspicion about its intellectual rigor from the broader Christian philosophical community.60 Coupled with this challenge is the “low number of self-consciously pentecostal philosophers.”61While a thor- ough survey is required, it seems that many Pentecostals, including this author, have not pursued terminal degrees in philosophy even after twenty years have passed since the founding of the philosophy special interest group in the Soci- ety for Pentecostal Theology. Moreover, most of the participants in the philoso- phy special interest group can be better described as philosophical theologians, such as myself, than as philosophers.

The low participation and the deliberate method of starting with pente- costal commitments have resulted in pentecostal philosophical dialogues remaining mainly shut out from the wider philosophical conversations. Perus- ing the list of philosophical works that Simmons references supports this view, as many works are published in journals or series within the guild. Simmons is correct that the future of pentecostal philosophy is still uncertain, and his solu- tion for a nonconfessional but personal method is certainly attractive. How- ever, it remains uncertain whether the problem of greater acceptance by the broader philosophical guild is due to the supposedly apologetical nature of the Plantinga-Smith model.62The real problem may lie in the low number of pen-





61 62

Relatedly, due to the sociopolitical ecclesial context that views philosophy with suspicion, confessional philosophy may be a wise strategy to convince the pentecostal church that philosophy is not an insidious and godless undertaking.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff and Adrian Del Caro, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 119–120.

While a thorough survey is still needed, Simmons’s caution of Christian triumphalism in philosophy can also be challenged. Cf. Graham Oppy, “Philosophy, Religion, and World- view,” in Christian Philosophy: Conceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, ed. J. Aaron Simmons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 244–259 (244–251).

Simmons also acknowledges the degreed marginalization of philosophers that do not work within Reformed, Catholic, and analytic philosophy. Simmons, “The Strategies of Christian Philosophy,” 198.

Simmons, “Prospects for Pentecostal Philosophy,” 190.

Yet, there is also nothing “inappropriate about the role of philosopher as apologist.” West- phal, “Taking Plantinga Seriously,” 81.

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tecostal philosophers who think along pentecostal lines, whether confessional or personal, and the reluctance of Pentecostals to engage widely outside the guild.63For those who publish strictly philosophy works outside the guild, they often do so without any uniquely identifiable pentecostal markers.64

The reason for such insular and sectarian dialogue may be due to the nascent stage of pentecostal philosophy.65Amos Yong states, “[T]he days of Pentecostal Theologybeing done byconfessional insidersonly is long over.”66Likewise,Robby Waddell and Peter Althouse state that the expansion of pentecostal scholarship is moving “beyond the synchronic focus on the particularity of historical ori- gins and doctrines” and into wider fields of study.67However, these statements do not apply to pentecostal philosophy. Despite twenty years since its gene- sis, it is safe to say that pentecostal philosophy still remains in a nascent stage, which may necessitate some continual sectarian dialogue about the nature and place of pentecostal philosophy. As pentecostal philosophy experiences growing pains, it will need to address the questions of identity and role of Pen- tecostalism(s) for philosophical purposes, which will involve in-house theolog- ical and philosophical conversations that may not be of interest to the wider philosophical community. Given the lack of wider recognition of pentecostal philosophy at this time, pursuing these questions should involve an apologetic






The difficulty with identifying pentecostal philosophers whose pentecostal identity informs their philosophy is compounded by the fact that only a handful of articles are written by philosophers in pentecostal journals. Upon investigating the last ten years of articles published in three leading pentecostal journals (Pneuma, Journal of Pentecostal Theology, and Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association), only a few articles were written by philosophers. Some other philosophy articles were written by philosophical theologians with terminal degrees outside of philosophy.

The works of these scholars are generically theistic and do not exhibit any noticeable characteristics of Pentecostalism. For example, see Brandon Schmidly, “Philosophical Foundations of Christian Morality,” in Christian Morality: An Interdisciplinary Framework for Thinking about Contemporary Moral Issues (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 11–30; and Richard B. Davis and Paul Franks, “Against a Postmodern Pentecostal Epistemology,” Philosophia Christi15, no. 2 (2013): 129–145. Some others may not be visible to pentecostal scholars for various reasons, such as having no affiliation with pentecostal institutions of higher education or academic pentecostal societies. Simmons’s interaction with Pen- tecostalism is also recent despite his accomplished literature to date. I want to thank Michael Palmer and Amos Yong for drawing some of these points to my attention. By insular I mean that pentecostal philosophers are often talking to one another and not to the wider academy. The topics, methods, and philosophers they engage are not insular. Amos Yong, “Pentecostal Scholarship and Scholarship on Pentecostalism: The Next Gen- eration,”Pneuma34, no. 2 (July 2012): 161–165 (164).

Peter Althouse and Robby Waddell, “The Expansion of Pentecostal Scholarship,”Pneuma 38, no. 3 (2016): 245–249 (245).

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for pentecostal philosophy, however defined, as one of many distinctive philo- sophical programs, not in the sense of defensiveness or insularity, but one that articulates the legitimate contributions Pentecostalism can make toward phi- losophy.

This challenge is consistent with the Plantinga-Smith model, which advo- cates for a pentecostal philosophy that exhibits autonomy, integrity, and bold- ness. Heeding Simmons’s call for plurality and drawing from what I believe is inherent within Pentecostalism, what I call the Shin-Plantinga-Smith model, more precisely the SPS model, calls for wide-ranging philosophical pursuits as we listen to the leading of the Spirit. Although written tongue-in-cheek, the SPSmodel is a testimony to the academic society of SPSthat has displayed the aforementioned academic virtues without being defensiveor insular while pur- suing its scholarly agendas from various and distinctive pentecostal identities and methodologies. However, such pluralistic pursuits cannot occur unless we have Pentecostals pursuing philosophy in and outside the tradition. What of the dangers of insularity and triumphalism if no one is doing philosophy?

Perhaps our current times require philosophical theologians and other pen- tecostal scholars adept in philosophy to carry the conversation forward and engage nonpentecostal philosophy in and outside our guild while encouraging the younger generation of pentecostal philosophers, such as Austin Williams and Phil Kallberg, to pursue terminal degrees and research in philosophy. May the Lord enlarge our numbers and lead us to fresh imaginations through the pentecostal Spirit of openness and plurality.


I want to thank J. Aaron Simmons, who continually embodies the pentecostal spirit of hospitality and openness, for his insightful comments on the first draft of this essay.

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