Define: Pentecostal

Defining Pentecostalism is a task that is yet before me in my dissertation research. Already in the first part of the dissertation, I will need to define a set of criteria that any proposed methodology will have to meet in order to be acceptable to both Pentecostals and a Post-modern world. So what is it that really makes someone or something “Pentecostal”? With the enormous size and the multiple contexts of the Pentecostal movement of today, this answer is not easy. However, a number of criteria do emerge on a closer look:

  1. Orthodox: Pentecostalism stems from an Evangelical mainstream which has continually upheld the central beliefs of orthodox Christianity as set forth in the great creeds of the Early church. Any proposed method of theology cannot be incompatible with these core components of our faith.
  2. Christocentric: Although the Pentecostal movement as a whole is far from having any kind of unified theology, a look back into the beginnings turns the focus onto a clear-cut Christocentrism that is at the heart of Pentecostalism: The essence of the “full gospel” is contained in the message that Christ acts as savior, healer, baptizer, and coming king. Everything in Pentecostal theology is centered on Christ and any theological method has to take this focus into account.
  3. Biblical: Pentecostals have always held to the primordial significance of the Bible as the number one source of theology. Although a clearly defined method of theology may add other sources, the position of the Bible as true written Word of God and therefore primary source for theological truth needs to be emphasized in any proposal.
  4. Transrational: Even though reason is a valuable, even indisposable instrument in our approach to the Bible and to theology, Pentecostals have always been reluctant to limit themselves to reason alone. Such a limitation would exclude the transrational dimension of God’s speaking even in our times, and is therefore not permissible for a truly Pentecostal method for theology.
  5. Pneumatic: In fact, the transrationality of Pentecostal theology finds its foundation in perhaps the most emphatic element of Pentecostalism, the belief that the Holy Spirit is acting in the same way today is he did in the times of the Early Church. God is still speaking to his people today, and, although any claim to divine revelation needs to be carefully balanced and checked against established criteria, any theological methodology has to be open to include this possibility.

2 Antworten zu “Define: Pentecostal”

  1. this is difficult – does one define pentecostal theology, pentecostal spirituality, socio-political dynamics? some of the aspects you list here can fall into several of these categories. if the question is one of ‚identity‘ (what qualifies one as pentecostal), more than theological definition is needed, no?
    again, i think your work is going to be helpful in a lot of these areas that need some clarification.

  2. one more thing – defining often depends on how and why one is defining. so, for instance, jamie smith wants to define pentecostalism in terms of being anti-modern, and thus a worthy dialogue partner for radical orthodoxy:

    „I would propose five key elements of a Pentecostal worldview and theology: (1) a positioning of radical openness to God, and in particular, God doing something differently or new. I take the central point of the narrative of Acts 2 to be Peter’s courage and willingness to recognize in these „strange“ phenomena the operation of the Spirit and declare it to be a work of God. To declare „this is that“ (Acts 2:16) was to be open to God working in unexpected ways. In postmodern terms, we might describe this as an openness to alterity or otherness. (2) Because of this, Pentecostal communities emphasize the continued ministry of the Spirit, including continuing revelation, prophecy, and the centrality of charismatic giftings in the ecclesial community. (3) Included in this ministry of the Spirit is a distinctive belief in the healing of the body as a central aspect of the Atonement. This central belief is an indication of a Pentecostal deconstruction of fundamentalist dualisms. (4) Because of an emphasis on the role of experience, and in contrast to rationalistic Evangelical theology, Pentecostal theology is rooted in an affective epistemology – undoing just the kind of dualisms that [Radical Orthodoxy] seeks to deconstruct. And finally, (5) contrary to common assumptions about the „otherworldliness“ of Pentecostals, the movement is characterized by a central commitment to empowerment and social justice, with a certain „preferential option for the marginalized“ tracing back to its roots at Azusa Street as a kind of paradigm of marginalization – a revival in an abandon stable, led by an African-American preacher.“
    “What Hath Azusa Street To do With Cambridge?: Radical Orthodoxy and Pentecostal Theology in Conversation,” PNEUMA: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 24 (2002)

Über Christoph

Christoph Fischer (* 1978) ist Pfarrer der Evangelischen Landeskirche in Württemberg auf der Pfarrstelle „Erlöserkirche“ in Albstadt-Tailfingen.

Christoph ist verheiratet mit Rebecca. Gemeinsam haben sie drei Töchter.