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Five criteria for Pentecostal Theology

by Christoph Email

Reflecting on what criteria Pentecostal theological thinking would need to fulfill in order to be acceptable (or even accessible?) to a postmodern mindset, all the while staying Pentecostal, the following list is what I came up with so far. I'd love to hear your comments...

  1. It must be postfoundational. From a postmodern point of view, this should be number one. This is where postmodernism rightly recognizes the failure of the Enlightenment project. We need to get away from seeking assurance in some mythical objective foundation. Which does not mean there's no foundation to be found at all. After all, there's a reason why I'm signing all my emails with the famous credo ut intellegam (I believe, therefore I am). My faith, and therefore my being related to Christ through his Spirit should be the basis on which I am building.
  2. It must be Christ-centered. I have previously written on Christocentrism as the organizing motif of Pentecostal theology. And I simply think there can't be any "Christian" theology without Christ at the center. At the same time, the definition of a clear center facilitates the move from a foundationalist "bounded-set" system into a more open "centered-set" theology, where truth is defined by its relation to the center, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, such a Christocentric model fends off the dangers of radical postmodernism with its completely relativistic "relational-set" structures, where truth is simply defined by the consensus of the community, no matter where it can be found.
  3. It must be mediated by the Spirit. This seems to be the sine qua non from the Pentecostal side with its major emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as the authority on Truth (with a capital T) mitigates the effect of the subjective elements introduced by Postmodernism. By community we mean the community of Spirit-indwelled believers; by tradition the tradition of that very community, shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Even the Bible we read as the inscripturated work of that Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
  4. It must be supported by the Scriptures. Having said the above, the Bible has to remain the foremost source of truth mediated by the Holy Spirit. It is more than the starting-point of the tradition of a Spirit-indwelled community. By accepting it as the "word of God", we attach to it an authority beyond other sources - all the while remaining conscious of our own limitations in reading and interpreting it.
  5. It must be driven by the community. Postmodernism correctly criticizes the role of the individual "self" in the foundational model. When access to truth becomes more fluid, the community has an important role in mediation. Note that this mediating ability (1) derives from the Spirit who is the source of this particular community, and (2) applies beyond the present also to past members of this same community, which should make us value tradition much more. The Spirit (i.e. the authority on Truth) and the community (a place for construtivist discovery of the truth) form two poles of a continuum, between which the believers find their conception of theological truth.

A model that carefully relates Bible, community, reason, tradition, experience and gives a prominent place to the Holy Spirit behind all of them should be capable of balancing a large part of the postmodern subjectivity while avoiding the pitfalls of foundationalism.

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