Tony Jones is scheduled to present a paper at the upcoming meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Studies. In preparation he is asking “So, what does the emerging church have to learn from Pentecostalism, and what does Pentecostalism has to learn from the emerging church?” As one who may be considered Pentecostal (some Pentecostals may reject this statement), as well as one who at one point was very interested in the development of the emerging church, I think I may have a few thoughts on this matter.
Since I think I have more to say to what the emerging church can learn from Pentecostalism I will limit my contribution to that side of the discussion. There are several points I will attempt to make here that I hope may be found helpful.
(1) Do not allow distinctive characteristics to move you toward anti-catholicity. One of the serious problems with the Pentecostal movement is that she has often become so concerned with her distinctive characteristics, like glossolalia and freedom of expression in worship, that it has made her turn a cold shoulder to identifying with other Christians. This is partially to blame on the fact that the early years of the Pentecostal movement were scarred by partial persecution from other Christians. Nevertheless, our response has left us bankrupt of tradition at times as well as antagonistic to a broader Christianity that for the most part would likely be more welcoming to some of our distinctive characteristics or at least to fellowship in spite of those characteristics.
(2) Do maintain essential, important, reforming characteristics. As the old adage goes, “The most segregated time of the week in the United States is Sunday morning.” At Azusa Street this was not so. Christians gathers in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was our identity. As Pentecostalism aged she forgot about these humble, cross-cultural beginnings and she slowly made racial reconciliation a non-priority. Sadly, Pentecostalism is as racially divided in many places as the rest of the church.
Equally, we noticed that God uses women and that there is “neither male or female” in Christ. Yet over time we bought into older, decontextualized readings of the Scriptures that limited female involvement. In response, some of our independent churches have pushed too hard for female equality which has led to some women pastors who have no doctrinal backbone at all (much like what is seen in some mainstream churches). We should have been more intentional regarding developing our understanding of women in the church rather than reacting to Protestant, Reformed readings of various passages.
The emerging church has made some moves that Pentecostalism made a century before the emerging church was coming into fruition. It is my hopes that the emerging church, if it is not a fad (which is yet to be seen), will at least contribute to our progress in the areas that Pentecostalism intended to contribute at her beginning.
(3) Do not forsake solid doctrine. This is my greatest fear for the emerging church. She seems to be anti-doctrinal. Everyone has the right, at times, to reconsider his/her beliefs. I don’t necessarily agree with Catholic and Orthodox theologians who argue that the Christian must simply adopt what was handed down because the reality of the matter is that in some cases not everything handed down is true or at least relevant anymore. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has the right to deconstruct the content of the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Constantinopolitan Creed. If the emerging church wants to rethink eschatology or ethics, fine. Let what is essential about Christianity remain free from prodding or the heresy tag be inevitable.
As for Pentecostals please consider Gordon Fee. He is doctrinally sound, faithful to the Scripture, dedicated to exegesis and accurate hermeneutics, yet distinctive as a Pentecostal. Our greatest fault as Pentecostals is that we marginalize our most brilliant, biblically faithful theologians whenever they question the nature of our distinctive characteristics (e.g. speaking in tongues, the nature of the gifts in corporate worship).
It would be wonderful to see someone incorporate some emerging church aspects with biblical exegetical faithfulness. At this point I cannot think of that person. Those like Driscoll and Kimball who would be named (or even Andrew Jones) seem to have move away or are moving away from the emerging church label. This could be bad for the movement. If this happens you become simply another form of liberal Protestantism (which is fine, but all this means is that your movement was incorporated into an already existing form of Christianity, once again spelling out the demise of the ‘emerging church’ as something distinctive).
(4) Do continue to push the social side of the gospel (without resurrecting the ‘social gospel’ movement). Pentecostalism began on the other side of the tracks. We have historically been a movement that cared for the poor. Sadly, it seems that once we matured there are some who became afraid of social action associating it with the ‘social gospel movement’. I find this disappointing.
The gospel is the be holistically embodied which includes word and deed. So I applaud the emerging church for speaking about social issues (although at times I am not sure about the direction many have taken because it seems to be simply an anti-Dobson, anti-Robertson, anti-Falwell approach). I just hope that (a) it doesn’t become solely a social gospel movement or (b) ditches that characteristic.
(5) Listen to your critics because it provides balance. Sometimes I wish Pentecostalism would have ignored her critics (racial integration, women in ministry) but other times I wish there would have been more humble listening (sacraments, maintaining order in worship, the importance of tradition). I hope the emerging church will listen to her critics because there are some important things that need to be heard. If the emerging church is to avoid becoming radical for the sake of being radical or irrelevant for the sake of simply become something that already exist (again, I see it moving toward mainline Protestantism, at least as regards capital “E” Emergent) she need to listen to other Christians. Yes, even John Piper and D.A. Carson care about the church which is why I think they (sometimes rightly) attack the emerging church. If you can at least listen to the critiques you may avoid some of the mistakes that Pentecostalism made over the years.
All that being said I am a “Pentecostal” who attends a Baptist church (Imago Dei here in Portland, which is not an emerging church) as well as a non-denomination, yet characteristically Baptist, seminary. As much as I love the Pentecostal movement some of the very problems that I have alluded to here (as well as others like anti-educationalism) have led me to step away for the time being. So maybe I am disqualified to speak to this subject. Nevertheless, I thought I would toss my few cents into the pond. Maybe someone will find value in what was said.