Book Reviews / Pneuma 35 (2013) 87-156
Nimi Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012). xii + 247 pp., $25.00 paper.
This book is a veritable explosion of ideas and unexpected interdisciplinary connections. Nonetheless, Nimi Wariboko develops one master idea to which he returns throughout the book to reveal its several facets: the pentecostal principle. Taking his cue from Paul Tillich’s well-known “Protestant principle,” in Chapter One he argues that the pentecostal principle better captures the pentecostal spirit and describes the conditions and possibilities of human flourishing in late modern globalized society. Tillich understood the Protestant prin- ciple to go beyond any concrete historical manifestation — it is manifested as prophetic protest against making contingent structures absolute, as willingness to rethink received wisdom in the light of new situations — semper reformata. As such, Wariboko observes, its function is primarily critical. By contrast, the pentecostal principle is understood as “the capacity to begin.” (1) Suggesting that the negative moment of the Protestant principle is also profoundly positive, a possibility to actualize something better, the pentecostal princi- ple above all signifies the creative realization of novel structures.
In Chapter Two, Wariboko presents the theory of emergence, arguing that it constitutes a “methodological pillar” (95) of the pentecostal principle: it is a question of attending to new possibilities — biological, social, spiritual — causally irreducible to prior constellations, and of foregrounding the element of freedom in all of life. Given the pneumatological per- spective, Wariboko also wants to say that these processes are driven by the Spirit towards increased human flourishing, which generates an elementary tension for his project: “How can I engage the language of teleology without betraying emergence as a pure means?” (73) Though he gestures at ways to alleviate this tension, it seems to me that this crucial issue is never resolved; it calls for a sustained philosophical discussion on the compatibility of emer- gence and freedom with directionality and telos. Nonetheless, Wariboko points out an excit- ing avenue for further exploration.
Emergence also has ethical implications: “emergence is a paradigm uniquely suited to address the uncertainties of modern social life in an open, globalizing world and to inform an ethical theory.” (83) In an unpredictable emergent world, Wariboko argues, what we need is not so much predetermined ethical codes, but people who rely on the “spirit” for guidance towards an open future. Again, the pentecostal principle is intended to capture this ethos, affirming a plurality of possibilities, where a directionality towards human flourishing can be discerned.
In Chapter Three the foregoing theoretical reflections are transposed into a more practi- cal key, as Wariboko discusses the construal of policy-making in a pluralist society and the role of the theological ethicist. Here we get a sense of Wariboko’s understanding of theono- mous ethics: “. . . an avenue to show how the creative principles at work in human coexis- tence and the larger cosmos can be harnessed for human flourishing.” (115) One also finds a description of how to actually do ethical analysis. Wariboko’s exciting agenda, which should inspire ethicists with Pentecostal sensibilities to reflect on ethical solutions for the common good of pluralistic societies, is “to present arguments that promote greater inclusiveness, greater justice, and higher levels of human flourishing that spur on men and women to transformative praxis.” (129)
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341294
Book Reviews / Pneuma 35 (2013) 87-156
How does all of this relate to historical embodiments of pentecostalism, which is after all what justifies talking about a pentecostal principle? The task of Chapter Four is to describe “the pentecostal spirit” and how it relates to the principle. Wariboko offers an original inter- pretation of pentecostalism in terms of natality (new birth), cultivation of the self, and play- fulness in relation to the sacred. His claims made for a playful spirituality are most important, a theme that continues in Chapter Five, in conversation with pentecostal theologians Jean- Jacques Suurmond and Wolfgang Vondey, who have made similar claims. However, Wari- boko radicalizes the notion of play he finds in pentecostal spirituality; play turns out to be the essence of grace and hence of true religion. “The historic task of pentecostalism is to abandon the institutionalized form it [religion] has built over this essence and let Christian- ity as pure means, as play, emerge as a gift to all of humanity.” (186)
Interesting claims are being made here, and this is not the place to enter into a critical discussion of finer points. However, in anticipation of future discussion, let me indicate a couple of concerns: First, is it plausible to describe the essence of pentecostalism as “pure means,” that is, as play with no inherent telos? Is it desirable? At the very least, we need a clarification of how to combine this playfulness with some kind of teleology. Second, if the pentecostal principle can be read as a restless desire for novelty, it underwrites what many see as the inherent problems of (certain forms of) pentecostalism, providing justification for ecclesial divisiveness and a shallow spirituality that is always moving on to the next emo- tional fad. Wariboko is not unaware of these issues, but it is hard to see how the pentecostal principle itself could provide a corrective. Instead of focusing on the restless creative impulse, one approach would be to foreground the goal of human flourishing, which is also part of the principle. But that raises the issue of teleology once more, and begs the question of what human flourishing is really understood to be. Is the pentecostal principle enough to answer such questions?
The Pentecostal Principle contains many other discussions: Wariboko’s important criti- cism of Tillich or his take on specific points of pentecostal theory and praxis together consti- tute an open invitation to creatively imagine what pentecostalism contributes “toward a theonomous connection of culture with the divine depths of existence.” (5) This is an origi- nal intervention deserving to be widely discussed among scholars of pentecostalism, theolo- gians and ethicists concerned not only with understanding human social existence but with the possibility to transform it.
Reviewed by Andreas Nordlander Teacher in the Philosophy of Religion Lund University, Lund, Sweden firstname.lastname@example.org