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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
Berserk

My Ambivolent Relationship with Pentecostalism

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I was born in Winnipeg and raised in a Pentecostal Church for my first 21 years before I moved to the USA to attend Fuller and Princeton Seminaries and to get my doctorate at Harvard in New Testament, Judaism, and Greco-Roman backgrounds.  I was a Theology Professor at a Catholic university for 12 years and retired in July, 2015 as a United Methodist pastor.  I bemusedly like to describe myself as a walking theological zoo without a cage, who emits middle-of-the road Evangelical vibes.

I have what might facetiously be described as a paradoxical love-hate relationship with my Pentecostal past, and yet, that is my primary personal Christian identity. 

Here are 4 of my odd claims that will kickstart discussion on this thread.

 

(1) I found Pentecostals to be pathetically anti-intellectual, especially about their faith, and yet, my experiences of the gifts of the Spirit have played a far greater role in sustaining my faith in times of crippling intellectual doubt than the best of Christian apologetics.

 

(2) I encourage Christian seekers to find a good non-charismatic evangelical church, and yet, I believe no such church has greater potential to enable seekers to find Christ real than a church that manifests authentic  charismatic gifts.

 

(3) In my experience, about 90% of speaking in tongues is "of the flesh," and yet, I believe that the pursuit of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues) is the most important denominational distinctive.  [The Gospel if not a denominational distinctive.]

 

(4) I reject the Pentecostal doctrine that speaking in tongues is THE unique and indispensable sign of Spirit baptism, and yet, I would probably not have remained a Christian without an unbelievably life-changing involuntary experience of tongues at age 16.

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11 hours ago, Berserk said:

I found Pentecostals to be pathetically anti-intellectual

Interesting, I think most Christians that begin with a heart after God in some way lack the transformation of the mind. If you will there's a disconnect between the heart and mind as they take time to bridge together. What I find amusing about your comment is that you too allude to some sort of "deliberate ignorance" which attempts to obstruct necessary bridge building.

 

I've seen lots of Christians come through over a decade. For example, it always amazes me when I hear someone profess the Christian faith but they remain Liberal in not only theology but also politics. They can be heard arguing for LGBT and Abortion etc., which makes me wonder whether there is an obvious lack of application in their lives or that disconnect I referred to.

 

There's a saying some Reformed theologians make towards others such as John Wesley. I've often heard him described as a man clearly with a heart after God but one that lacked a transformed mind. Of course when I muse on that statement I wonder if one truly loves God is there any limit to how much they care to know God? I've heard some say it isn't about knowledge but show me how anyone can love someone they know nothing about! To the extreme it's like me saying I love you Berserk, but I refuse to read anything you write, meditate on what you say and apply it to my life. Even go further, I care not to know those that meant most to you that sacrificed very life or limbs throughout the last 2000 years in your name, building your church as well as developing your Apostolic doctrine.

 

To me, that'd be a kind of "special" love. I don't try to figure out who is "worthy" to be called Christian. I am Reformed and Calvinist and from my theological perspective we are all equally worthless in God's eyes. When I hear people boasting or meriting salvation I often say to myself, tell me about God (Christcentric) rather than about yourself or other men's behavior (mancentric). On that point we try to be more theologically minded here rather than religious. Looking forward to further engagements with you Berserk and welcome to CF.

 

God bless,

William

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I resonate with a lot of this, and yet none of it is a precise match for me.

 

1 hour ago, Berserk said:

I was born in Winnipeg and raised in a Pentecostal Church for my first 21 years before I moved to the USA to attend Fuller and Princeton Seminaries and to get my doctorate at Harvard in New Testament, Judaism, and Greco-Roman backgrounds.  I was a Theology Professor at a Catholic university for 12 years and retired in July, 2015 as a United Methodist pastor.  I bemusedly like to describe myself as a walking theological zoo without a cage, who emits middle-of-the road Evangelical vibes.

I was raised nominally Lutheran (ELCA), but I and my immediate family were almost completely non-practicing.  (My paternal grandmother was more faithful, and my maternal aunt and cousins were and are pretty committed.)  I was "born again" at college in early 1980, a few months before turning 20, and soon started attending a (rare, I learned later) Charismatic campus branch of the C&MA.  My "home" C&MA church was "normal" (i.e. non-Charismatic).  In early 1984, I was "filled with the Spirit" and began attending the Full Gospel (according to the sign out front) or Pentecostal church several of my friends attended.  About ten years later, I became disenchanted with the "Faith" and "Toronto" stuff and left.

 

These days I still call myself "Pentecostal," even though I disagree with some of the traditional "Pentecostal distinctives."  (I figure it's good enough for Gordon Fee, so it's good enough for me.)

 

 

1 hour ago, Berserk said:

I have what might facetiously be described as a paradoxical love-hate relationship with my Pentecostal past, and yet, that is my primary personal Christian identity. 

Here are 4 of my odd claims that will kickstart discussion on this thread.

 

(1) I found Pentecostals to be pathetically anti-intellectual, especially about their faith, and yet, my experiences of the gifts of the Spirit have played a far greater role in sustaining my faith in times of crippling intellectual doubt than the best of Christian apologetics.

I wouldn't go that far, but I do think many apologists come across as worshiping "reason" and theological "systems."

 

The anti-intellectualism of the "run of the mill" Pentecostal is disheartening.  "A Ph. D. is just a post-hole digger."  To some extent it's understandable.  The early Pentecostals were not erudite trained theologians, and were from the "wrong side of the tracks."  They got plenty of mockery from "traditional" Christians.  A lot of the current generation remains suspicious of, and averse to, the segments of the Church that has always despised them, or that they perceive as such.

 

 

1 hour ago, Berserk said:

 

(2) I encourage Christian seekers to find a good non-charismatic evangelical church, and yet, I believe no such church has greater potential to enable seekers to find Christ real than a church that manifests authentic  charismatic gifts.

I could never encourage a seeker to avoid Charismatic and Pentecostal churches.  A church with decent doctrine overall but poor theology and no practice of the "gifts" is to me no better than a church with some goofy theology but decent practice of the gifts.

 

1 hour ago, Berserk said:

 

(3) In my experience, about 90% of speaking in tongues is "of the flesh," and yet, I believe that the pursuit of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues) is the most important denominational distinctive.  [The Gospel if not a denominational distinctive.]

I hesitate to make such a judgment about tongues-speaking, no matter how it "sounds" to me, because Paul never did so.  Even though the gift was being misused and over-used, he never suggested any of those doing so were fakers.

 

I think it's interesting that prophecy, and secondarily tongues-praying, were, AFAIK, the only gifts Paul explicitly suggested were intended for all believers.

 

1 hour ago, Berserk said:

 

(4) I reject the Pentecostal doctrine that speaking in tongues is THE unique and indispensable sign of Spirit baptism, and yet, I would probably not have remained a Christian without an unbelievably life-changing involuntary experience of tongues at age 16.

I agree that it is not the "initial physical evidence," as it is often expressed.  FWIW, I also believe "baptism in the Spirit" as Pentecostals use the term is not consistent with the way the term is used in the Gospels and in 1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 1-2 does lean to the Pentecostal view, and Acts 10-11 is... inconvenient.

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It's frustrating that my Pentecostal friends tend to like Joel Osteen or Joseph Prince (I keep wanting to call that mook "Freddy Prinze," because to me he resembles him).  I prefer reading and listening to Gordon Fee, Ben Witherington, and Craig Keener.  Not a ton of common ground, even though all are practicing Charismatics or Pentecostals.

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My adult ambivalence to Pentecostalism and the gifts of the Spirit need to understood is perhaps best understood in terms of its roots in 3 early childhood experiences:

 

(1) I was born with congenital glaucoma in my right eye.  My distraught parents were impressed by a famous faith healer named William Branham, who held healing crusades around North America.  What set him apart was his clairvoyance.  Before he laid hands on people, he accurately described one of their recent past experiences in awesome detail and he did the same for my parents.  Mom and Dad were poor, but they spent their savings on a trip to Elgin, Illinois to bring me to a Branham crusade there.   When I (age 3) finally made it onto the stage, Branham looked at my introductory note that said, "blind in the right eye," and shouted, "This boy is blind!"  He then laid hands on my eyes and waved them in front of me.  When I blinked, he yelled, "This little boy has been cured of blindness!"  The huge crowd went wild but my parents were sick.  Of course I blinked because I could see out of my good eye.  This fraud devastated and disillusioned my parents.  All this attention to getting me healed made me feel like they regretted my birth and ultimately created a deep desire in me to justify being born!  It also sowed the seeds of a lifelong determination to discover whether miracles and divine healing were ever real and whether the Bible was trustworthy.   God used those events to shape my calling in life. The seeds created by this traumatic period of my life eventually blossomed into a paradoxcal blend of deep skepticism and a passionate quest to experience

 

(2) By the time I was 6 I had learned to hate church.  There was no children's church or Sunday school for my age and Church bored me because I couldn't relate to much of the 1  1/2 hour services, especially the sermons.  So I squirmed and protested in our pew and made myself a nuisance to my parents.  My parents were weekly attenders, but one Sunday they stayed home for reasons I never understood.  I suspect the nightmare of dealing with my hissyfits was part of the reason!  I was so glad to escape church that sunny and clear July morning!  God was the furthest thing from my mind. To celebrate I zoomed up and down the sidewalk to the ends of our block on my little tricycle.

 

Then I noticed the big new blue Chevy with huge tailfins parked behind the Jewish shoe store salesman's building.  Evidently he had just waxed and polished it and it just glistened as it reflected the brilliant sunlight.  To me it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen; so I constantly road back to it to stare in wonder.   Once, when I returned, I had my first life-changing God moment.  For some strange reason, my attention was directed to a patch of  blue near the sun.  As I gazed at it, wave after wave of liquid love surged through my being.  Suddenly I became acutely aware of the presence of a God who loved me and I just basked in that love!

 

I told my parents about my experience, but they didn't seem very interested.  That all changed a few days later when neighbors came over to tell my parents how impressed they were that I was excitedly sharing my embryonic new  faith with my little playmates.  I knew little about God and the Bible and I have always wondered what I was saying about God and my experience to my little playmates.

This experience didn't make me want to sit through church, though.  Now Dad sang in the choir and my parents now let me sit by myself.  This was fortunate because it allowed me to I sneak out of church to buy lifesavers at the little grocery store across the street from the church.  As I ate them, I browsed the comic books on the store shelves.  The owner eventually got annoyed by my regular presence and shooed me out his store.  So I ate my lifesavers outside and began to meditate on the meaning of my life.

 

(3) At age 11, I realized that I should be baptized to please my parents and obey the Gospel.  I had to attend a few preparatory catechetical classes and I was the only child among about 11 adult male candidates.  The classes appalled me because the lecturer used poorly explained jargon like justification, propitiation, and sanctification which produceded excruciation in the mind of this young boy who couldn't grasp the meaning of these big words.  Quoting Colossians 2:11 , the lecturer informed us that we needed to be "circumcised in spirit."  That might have been helpful if I knew what physical circumcision was and if he explained this jargon.

 

I would be the last of the 12 to be baptized by immersion in a large tank behind the platform before a crowd of about 1,400 people.  I was petrified because I learned I was expected to share a personal testimony in front of that huge crowd and because, blush, the bottom of my baptismal robe seemed to float up, exposing my nakedness!  All the men gave a formulaic personal testimony that I can recite even today.  Then I nervously waded out to the pastor and he asked me, "Donny, would you like to share a word for the Lord Jesus?"  I shook my head in the negative.  So the pastor continued, "OK, let me ask you some faith  questions."  I felt publicly humiliated as the only one not to share a testimony and at that point I just wanted to get this ordeal over with to please my parents. 

But after the pastor dunked me, something amazing happened as I emerged from the water.  I suddenly had a vision of Jesus, smiling at me, radiating love and conveying the feeling that He found my predicament rather amusing.  I sensed His empathy for my confusion over all the poorly explained catechetical jargon and my groundless fear about my nakedness being exposed by the floating bottom of my robe.  And years later when I became a theology professor, I reflected that Jesus must have found it amusing that a motormouth like me would be utterly tongue-tied at my youthful baptism.  My first and only vision in my life transformed an unpleasant baptismal ordeal into one of the most sacred and treasured memories of my life!

Edited by Berserk
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