Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dead or Alive?

Jeff Clarke outlines 4 reasons that he chooses to remain in the Pentecostal tradition. I resonate to a large degree with Jeff's perspectives in his blog postings, particularly his analysis of where the tradition needs to address some serious areas of concern. I can appreciate his 4 reasons for staying, too, but I can't help but wonder, when I read an aside at the end of reason #2, if some of the less-than-positive features of the tradition's shaping influence are peeking through in spite of Jeff's best efforts to set them aside. Specifically, he characterizes a service he attended at a church of another denomination as "dead," as "lifeless and irrelevant."
Here's how I take issue with that bit of Pentecostal baggage:
1. This is irretrievably a subjective judgment. What one person pronounces dead will be seen by another as appropriately sober-minded.
2. What is the assumed opposite of "dead"? (I'm sorely tempted to reference Mad Max in "Princess Bride" here, and fellow fans already know what I mean.) I get the impression that the adjective/antonym is not "alive," in the sense that the Holy Spirit is actively bringing the life of Jesus to the congregated saints, but something more like "lively," which translates as, "I really feel the presence of the Spirit here today." The former is a matter for us to affirm as God's work in and among us, the latter is about the level of our emotional engagement; which of these two is more in line with the otherwise very helpful tenor of Jeff's usual posts? I attempted to make a similar point in a reply to Andrew Gabriel when he spoke of "a living experience of the Spirit."
With Jeff and Andrew, I recognize the value in a truly Pentecost-shaped theology. At the same time, though, I expect that nothing short of a Pentecostal-type miraculous intervention is what it will take to move the tradition to shed some of this kind of baggage. Sadly, I think, features such as the appetite for emotional stimulation are the sorts of things that 20th-century Pentecostalism has "bequeathed" to the wider church, when the bequest could and should have been--and still can be--so much richer.
So, kudos and blessings to scholars like Jeff who are staying. The tradition needs you and your input. May the positive influence of the tradition in your direction be strong and the negative rub-off be minimized through the gracious work of the Spirit, who is--and who makes the church of the Lord Jesus, including its worship services--most certainly alive!

1 comment:

Jeff K. Clarke said...

Thanks, Randy, for your positive comments and ongoing interaction with my blog. And, I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

First, I really wouldn't add much weight to my slight-of-hand comment about the 'dead' church service I attended. I only meant to use it as a simple illustration to help my readers better understand where I was coming from; primarily, that enthusiasm, even if it is sometimes a little extreme, is better than none at all. I'm sure those saints were not spiritually dead (who am I to judge), but that morning service made me appreciate my own tradition a little more.

In other posts, I have argued for Pentecostals to embrace an 'informed enthusiasm' as a way of stabilizing their experiential bent. We need to experience God (He is after all, alive), but to do so within the framework of the biblical witness that points us all toward a more informed understanding of the living God.

So, thanks for bringing this sidebar to my attention. I'll continue to give it more thought in the future.