Pentecostal Theological Suffering And Healing

Pentecostal Theological Suffering And Healing

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Pneuma 41 (2019) 535–603

Book Reviews

Pamela F. Engelbert,Who is Present in Absence? A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of

Suffering and Healing(Eugene,OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019). 199 pp. $27.00


In Who is Present in Absence? A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of Suffering and Healing, Pamela F. Engelbert engages a topic that is often overlooked or ignored in Pentecostal Theology. It has been said that Pentecostals often have a robust theology of glory but maintain a shallow view of suffering. Perhaps this is true in certain cases. Notwithstanding, Engelbert writes from a Classical Pentecostal viewpoint that seeks to wrestle with the apparent contradiction that exists between one’s expectations in prayer and his or her experience in suffering. Historically, Classical Pentecostal doctrine has focused much of its attention not only on the immediate availability of God’s presence, but also on the tan- gible benefits of his presence. As Engelbert points out, Pentecostals in general are known for their desire to create “space” for divine encounters in prayer, wor- ship, and other spaces (66). However, as seen in the testimonies of countless Pentecostals, the doctrine of God’s immediate presence does not always result in deliverance from suffering and pain. In fact, discrepancies often arise in cases of modern-day asking and receiving in prayer. For example, many people offer prayer requests to God but receive no response from God (hence, “nothing- ness”). Herein lies the existential dilemma that Engelbert seeks to address.

As such, Engelbert seeks to honor traditional Pentecostal doctrine while being sensitive to those who may, at times, feel betrayed by their own doc- trinal convictions. In order to accomplish this task, Engelbert interviews eight individuals from a Classical Pentecostal background and seeks to ascertain and chronicle their beliefs about God prior to a particular crisis, provides a descrip- tion of their unmet expectations in the crisis, and offers an overview of the pain and suffering they endured through the crisis. In brief, her analysis takes place at the intersection where traditional, doctrinal expectations collide with real- life experience in a manner that is inquisitive, but not insinuating, probing, but

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2019 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04103005



Book Reviews

not pushy, experience-based, but not overly pragmatic, analytical, but still per- sonal. Although her analysis centers on participants from a Pentecostal back- ground, any reader who has struggled with the (apparent) absence of God in the face of suffering will likely resonate with the stories that Engelbert recounts and will benefit from the conclusions that she draws forth.

Engelbert insists that “Christopraxis is appropriate for developing a Pente- costal theological praxis of suffering and healing because it focuses on expe- riences with the person of Jesus in light of Scripture” (19). Specifically, her approach seeks to integrate aspects of the Johannine Jesus into Pentecostal experience. Perhaps most helpful is her laconic analysis of absence and unmet expectations in the Fourth Gospel and the concept of “sustaining presence.” In particular, Engelbert elucidates that Jesus’ presence on earth did not always guarantee his intervention when petitioned; at least not in the manner that some people expected. Yet, Jesus’ presence often became the sufficient answer to a particular problem. To state matters further, Jesus’ presence became the very solution to the problem created by the human will (John 13:36–38; 21:7– 19). Suffering, then, becomes an opportunity for forgiveness, restoration, and divine intimacy.

The reader is reminded that God’s absence is apparent in suffering, but not real because God has in fact become one of us and is always with us (John 1:14). Furthermore, Engelbert points out that Jesus’ ministry continues through person-to-person ministry in times of suffering. Such ministry occurs within the Body of Christ as persons avoid unhelpful individualism and enter into the space of other sufferers through expression of empathy and love. Engelbert writes, “The Pentecostal caregiver through expressions of empathy, then, enters the sufferer’s nothingness in a limited way, and in doing so, God is revealed and the sufferer is healed. Through this act of love, the world will then know that we are Jesus’ disciples. This is Christopraxis” (174).

Moreover, as demonstrated by Engelbert’s research, although the partic- ipants experienced varying degrees of pain and suffering, their testimonies demonstrate how they found meaning in the midst of otherwise meaningless situations. Some of the participants’ “theology of suffering” was enlarged in order to come to grips with their loss. Specifically, one participant’s view of God shifted from, “if you love me, this this is what you’ll do,” to “he still loves me even if I don’t see an intervention” (99). This remark is perhaps one of the sim- plest, yet most profound insights presented by the participants. In this model, petition-making is not offered to gain God’s presence but is offered in God’s presence. It is not offered to gain God’s love but is offered because one is loved. Accordingly, as Engelbert research indicates, some of the participants not only found meaning in God’s love, but also found meaning by embracing uncer-

Pneuma 41 (2019) 535–603


Book Reviews


tainty, ambiguity, and mystery.Trusting God through uncertainty precludes the notion that one can make complete sense out of suffering in this life and looks forward to complete healing in the next life. Oftentimes the answer to prayer is delayed. Yet a delay in God’s answer is not a denial of his love; he is always with his people by the Spirit in the face of pain, suffering, and apparent “noth- ingness.”

Finally, striking to the reader is the “absence” of a meaningful discussion of John’s Farewell Discourse (John 13–17) that centers on the topic of God’s pres- ence in Jesus’ physical absence through the agency of the Holy Spirit. An analy- sis of these chapters in general and the work of the Spirit-Paraclete in particular (14:26; 15:26; 16:7–11) would have only enhanced and expanded the author’s arguments. This is especially true in light of the pneumatological emphasis of Pentecostal theology and praxis. Notwithstanding, this book is a clear and cogent contribution to Pentecostal Theology that will benefit the church for years to come.While more work needs to be performed on the topic addressed in this book, Engelbert’s work is written with ministerial finesse and engages both the mind and the heart.

Scott Adams

Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma [email protected]

Pneuma 41 (2019) 535–603


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