Monday, February 7, 2011

Ian Rennie and Jamie Smith : Perspectives on pentecostalism

Back in the day, when I was at Regent College in Vancouver, I was privileged to study "History of Christianity" under Dr. Ian Rennie. Dr. Rennie was a brilliant and personable pastor/scholar with a deep commitment to the entire Church and to his Presbyterian heritage. He left Regent College and had moved to Ontario and had since become Dean of Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.
Dr. Ian Rennie
I say that to say this: He wrote a letter to a friend ,which was later published, that resonated with what I knew of the man. I provide the link below. Speaking as someone who had been birthed into the Kingdom by God's power and who struggled to integrate this with "the academy" I found his words both helpful and challenging.

Specifically, this article is about Pentecostalism...... by a Presbyterian.

Further, I would like to commend a book to you by James K.A. Smith ,   Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College and (among his many hats) the executive director of the Society of Christian Philosophers. It is entitled “Thinking In Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy”. There are a variety of reasons I would recommend this to people on the inside and outside of the Pentecostal/charismatic stream of Christianity. For the record, while being a renowned neo-calvinist , Smith also defines himself as a small p “pentecostal” which means that, in light of the breadth of our movement,  he sees himself connected to this stream of spirituality without being having to be defined as such in any denominational manner.

From the introduction onward, I resonated with so many aspects of this book that I don’t know where to begin.  He not only provides a robust apologetic for pentecostal spirituality ( although that is not his goal) but the philosophical implications for working from pentecostal  presuppositions ( which he roundly affirms). In other words, he was determined to break fresh ground into areas where pentecostals have things to say that need to be heard by the broader Christian community. In fact, he makes a powerful case that the broader Christian community is empoverished by not bringing pentecostals to the table.
In doing so, he has described his book as a “Manifesto”. Indeed, this is but one volume of a series of pentecostal manifestos he plays a significant role in editing. It unsettles and clears the ground in order to open up new areas of dialogue. Towards this end, it succeeds admirably.

I work in an adjunct capacity at Redeemer University College, where there is a strong Reformed foundation and emphasis. I very much appreciate its strength in its broad, all encompassing vision for redemption and education. I see much in their approach to academics to admire and appreciate. Yet, I can see the invaluable ( although often unrecognized ) contribution of pentecostal spirituality to the school. Indeed, the chaplain, Dr. Syd Hielema is very aware that the spiritual leadership provided by pentecostal students is all out of proportion to their numbers. I can see the impact of our movement in everything from the 24/7 prayer vigils to the "Hot Spot" worship events and calls to corporate fasting and respentance.  As the 'pentecostal guy' on staff, it is very apparent to me that everyone is impoverished if we are excluded or if we simply allow others to misunderstand or define us. This is exactly Smith’s point.
James K.A.Smith
While he may lose the reader at certain points ( he has a chapter on “a Pentecostal Contribution to a Philosophy of Language” that I guarantee will be slow reading ), he makes for fascinating reading. Let me just hint at one of his points:. When he describes characteristics of authentic pentecostal spirituality and worldview, he writes “ that is why I think Pentecost is really about radical openness to God – especially an openness to a God who exceeds our horizons of expectation and comes unexpectedly ( p. 34)“ . While he is not unaware of controversy, he is adamant that our thinking be freed up from the implicit Enlightenment naturalism that has rigidly controlled our theological categories, and that we allow for “openness and surprise”. Indeed!
Why do I include this: Well, because I really do believe that there is a Kingdom opportunity,here. There is an opportunity to learn from the broader body of Christ and an opportunity to share that which is valuable in our heritage without feeling we need to be apologetic for doing so. There can be a mutually beneficial "cross-pollination" that will benefit the body of Christ as we engage a culture in the midst of seismic flux. The fact is: it is already happening. However, I believe we need to be more intentional about it. We are of the greatest blessing to the Body of Christ when we are what God has called our movement to be....
As we begin a missional movement on our campuses, we want to draw from the wealth of our own spritual heritage, rather than downplay it for the sake of conformity. We need to be very careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bathwater......

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