Scholarship And Christian Faith Enlarging The Conversation

Scholarship And Christian Faith Enlarging The Conversation

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Pentecostal Theology, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005

“Wonder and Scholarship”: Reflecting on Jacobsen and Jacobsen’s Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation

David D. Daniels III

Widening the conversation between scholarship and faith as well as between learning and hope and learning and love is an intellectual pur- suit necessary in order to advance knowledge. Through the active partic- ipation of Pentecostals of all races in this project, the Christian scholarship movement and Pentecostalism would be enriched. The Jacobsens are to be commended for crafting the fine dialogue that constitutes their volume.

If Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship is to be a serious interlocutor within the Christian scholarship movement, the pol- itics of race must be confronted. As race profoundly shapes the Christian scholarship movement and North American Pentecostalism, the contours of Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship will be defined by race. With the Christian College Coalition as one of the institutional bases of this movement, the Christian scholarship movement reveals its racial commitments, since the vast majority of these colleges are pre- dominantly white institutions. While a number of church-related black colleges do exist, the racial politics of U.S. evangelicalism resist allow- ing these institutions to affiliate with the Coalition. Although church- related black colleges are absent from the ranks of the Christian college movement, predominantly white Pentecostal colleges have joined the ranks. How race and racialization function in the Christian scholarship movement has a bearing on the productions and reception of Pentecostal- based African American Christian scholarship.

The sociology of Pentecostalism affects the way in which black and white Pentecostals participate in the Christian scholarship movement. The orbit of white Pentecostal accredited colleges differs from its African American Pentecostal counterparts. The existence of Lee and Vanguard Universities within a wider circle that includes Oral Roberts and Regent Universities creates a Pentecostal arena of higher education. No institu- tions equal to these exist in the African American Pentecostal world. The financially and institutionally less viable world of African American Pentecostal colleges includes West Angeles College, Charles Mason University, and All Saints Bible College.

© 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden pp. 110–114


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The racial realities of Christian scholarship and African American Pentecostal educational institutions, therefore, affect the viability of the emergence of Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship produced by scientists, humanities scholars, social scientists, philosophers, and theologians. The lack of a strong institutional base hampers the devel- opment of such a movement from this quarter. The number of black Pentecostals as professors at Christian colleges is also limited since these institutions tend to be predominantly white, with minimal African American presence on their faculties.

Beyond the racial politics of the Christian scholarship movement, Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship must locate itself intellectually. The intellectual terrain in which African Americans and other people of color traverse is constructed by the concept of Other- ness. As a concept, Otherness has historically served an emancipatory role in dismantling hierarchies of culture, race, and gender. Otherness as a concept has a distinguished pedigree, as evident in the works of Edward Said, Simone de Beauvoir, Paul Ricoeur, R. Laurence Moore, Michel Foucault, and Charles Long. Otherness as a concept created space for pluriformity by rejecting hierarchies of culture, race, or gender. The space for pluriformity was constructed by accenting difference, especially through comparative difference. Currently, Otherness with its obsession on dif- ference has masked overlapping. Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship needs to go beyond Otherness as a defining con- cept. It must resist the embrace of frameworks that limit relationships to center and periphery or majority and minority status, frameworks constituted by Otherness. The diversity across Christian scholarship should be highlighted instead of uniformity being imposed and white Christian scholarship designated as the norm. The pluriform character of Christian scholarship as an intellectual enterprise must be empha- sized. While Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship should thus resist serving as the Other to the established Christian schol- arship project, it should function as a participant in the production of Christian scholarship. The heterogeneity of Christian scholarship must be paramount.

Is it possible to go beyond Otherness as a concept to construct dis- cursive space for heterogeneity and pluriformity by accenting intersections, intermingling, or interpenetrations? Here the scholarship of Roger Bastide, Eugene Genovese, Mechal Sobel, and Judith Weisenfeld would be illus- trative. While these scholars acknowledged difference in their work, the focus is on what is being constructed as a result of the intersections of



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these two or more discourses or communities. Central is what is generated by the intersections, such as the widening of the discourse. Thus the het- erogeneity of scholarship is deepened.

The sociology of African American Christian scholars itself affects their involvement in the Christian scholarship movement. With the majority of African Americans earning doctorates in education and the humanities and only a few in the sciences, and with African American Pentecostals mirroring these statistics, there are only a few people available to foster a conversation, for instance, within the sciences, and only a few people who currently step outside their disciplines to explore their subject mat- ter as Christians. The possibility for such a conversation exists, especially since the Jacobsens contend that “Christian scholars and Christian schol- arship can flourish” in various venues. They identify these venues as colleges/universities at colleges and universities with one of the following types of ethos: (a) explicit Christian mission and identity, (b) church- related tangentially, (c) intentionally secular. What is the setting in which Pentecostal-oriented Christian scholarship is best lodged? The major thrust will come from a conversation among African American Pentecostals who serve on intentionally secular faculties within colleges and univer- sities, since these schools are the primary employers of African American Pentecostals.

What might be the ethos of Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship? It will probably be devoid of the secularization thesis that dominates the evangelical-based Christian scholarship movement. The reason for this absence is that the secularization thesis does not dominate African American general or religious scholarship in any significant manner. Considerable attention is often given to racial analyses or liberationist themes among African American Christian scholars. With the prominence of African American Christians such as Cornel West and Michael Dyson as North American public intellectuals setting the national and African American debate, Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholars will more likely situate themselves in this arena, an arena in which theses other than secularization reign.

The participation of African American Pentecostals in the further development of the Christian scholarship movement would seek to inter- rogate the “existing vocabularies” and “expanded metaphors” alongside enhanced strategies that would “enrich Christian scholarship” in order, as Sawatsky suggests, to yoke “hope and learning” so that Christian schol- arship will aim “not only to understand and to celebrate as it is but also to participate in God’s work of restoring and transforming the world.”



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The emancipatory project of African American scholarship would orient the work of African American Pentecostals.

The emancipatory project most likely challenges the integration of faith and learning. Each of the definitions of integration noted in the book would be considered suspect because they lack emancipatory commit- ments. Ian Barbour utilizes weaving as a metaphor and vision/worldview as the frame, contending that “integration refers to the process of weav- ing the insights of faith and science into new, creative, and scientifically contemporary visions of God and the world.” George Marsden, drawing upon Ernest Boyer, employs truth as the frame, proposing a twofold task: “to critique the premises of modern learning when and where they directly conflict with Christian truth, and to discover the ways modern learning at its best might either reinforce or refine the truths of faith.”

Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship could find affinity with Crystal L. Downing. Her project provides space for eman- cipatory commitments in proposing imbrication as a metaphor in place of integration. Imbrication entails “overlapping discourses that make up the self” and “registers awareness that we are made up of multiple vocab- ularies, some of which overlap, others of which do not, but all of which are manifestations of the self.” She critiques the aim of integration as weaving or truth as modernist. Quoting Lyon and Beaty, she contends that integration valorizes “the autonomy of the individual, who within him- self melds faith and scholarship into a unified, almost monumental, form— like modernist architecture.” Further, she notes that it “autocratically” enforces the “conglomeration of peoples who were suddenly supposed to share a common vocabulary” and fits “their [every] sensibilities into the dominant white discourse.”

Within black Pentecostalism, a fecund concept can be found in the texts of Charles Harrison Mason that could provide the rudiments of a Pentecostal paradigm of knowledge; this paradigm would advance Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship. For Mason wonder is more than curiosity, fascination, or discovery. Mason employs the term wonder to characterize the “how” of God’s dynamic activity: the divine act of creation, divine activity in creation, and God’s transfor- mative actions within human creatives. A Pentecostal paradigm of knowl- edge accenting wonder would support the Jacobsens in the quest to crack open space for “the real” to be present in the discourse. Drawing upon George Dennis O’Brien (following Jacques Lacan), the Jacobsens contend that “the real” is the “mysterious totality of life in all its messy, wonderful, and troubled complexity.” They then embrace Martha



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Nussbaum’s distinction between the inability of “abstract, logical think- ing by itself . . . ‘to offer us the type of self-understanding we need’ because it cannot ‘grapple with the messy material of grief, love, anger and fear,’” and “upheavals of thought” or emotional eruptions, recognizing these emotions eruptions as “essential elements of human intelligence.” For Mason wonder would encompass the “real” in the self as well as the “real” in society with its “messy, wonderful, and troubled complexity,” and the “real” in nature with its catastrophes and cacophonies.

A Pentecostal paradigm of knowledge that accents wonder could also possess the potential to yoke Sawatsky’s “hope and learning” in order to intertwine understanding and celebrating with participating in “God’s work of restoring and transforming the world,” heightening the “communal dimension of scholarship” that is grounded in the “communally oriented” Christian virtues of love, reconciliation, and liberation. A Pentecostal par- adigm of knowledge that accents wonder is compatible with Downing’s imbrication metaphor as a substitute for integration because wonder is not exhausted by multiplicity, pluriformity, overlappings, or non- overlappings of vocabularies that are manifestations of the self and the world. Thus wonder, being akin to imbrication, would resist the con- glomeration of peoples as Downing notes.

A Pentecostal paradigm of knowledge that accents wonder could draw upon Bakhtin’s heteroglossia along with Land’s and Solivan’s orthopraxis and Loder’s transformations. The “divergent tongues—wherein the indi- vidual is defined by the multiple vocabularies not only of, but also out- side of, the self, vocabularies that are constantly interrogating and qualifying the each other,” capture the dialogic and emancipatory dimensions of Pentecostal-based/oriented Christian scholarship. This would be supportive of a style that engages faith-love-hope and learning that is conversational, dialogical, cooperative, and emancipatory rather than argumentative and competitive, with a focus on imbrication. Equally ambitious is for Pen- tecostal-based/oriented Christian scholarship to function like a discipline, as characterized by Imre Lakatos, by containing its own research project/ program constituted by its set of “core theories,” “bodies of relevant data,” and “aesthetic criteria of plausibility and attraction.”

The widening of conversation of scholarship and faith-hope-love- liberation as an intellectual pursuit is vital if knowledge is to be advanced and the world changed. Confronting the sociological realities and dis- cursive parameter will assist in the establishment of Pentecostal-based African American Christian scholarship.



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