It is inevitable that every year near Pentecost Sunday I revisit my Pentecostal roots. I came to Christianity through Oneness Pentecostalism, which is a sectarian branch identified by their rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, their emphasis on the name “Jesus” being pronounced during baptism, their insistence that someone must speak in tongues to receive the Holy Spirit (which for some means to be “saved”), and their emphasis on particularities of appearance which they call “holiness standards.” Obviously, I am not this type of Pentecostal.
I don’t think I am the Assemblies of God (AOG) type either, especially since they retain the “tongues as initial physical evidence” doctrine. The AOG teaches that Christians must speak in tongues to have any “physical” evidence of the Holy Spirit’s infilling. I think this is misguided exegesis of the Book of Acts where particular groups of people are described as speaking in tongues as a way of depicting integration and catholicization, but never as a way of depicting what is necessary for every individual who becomes a Christian. There are other doctrinal peculiarities emphasized by the AOG that I deny, e.g. their understanding of the “rapture” and their outright denial of annihilationism as an eschatological possibility.
Yet I cannot deny that I am shaped by Pentecostalism. I know many Pentecostals would never label me a Pentecostal (like many Calvinist would never label me a Calvinist), even if I share much common ground with their views. I understand why they would be uncomfortable with including me in their ranks. Often I am uncomfortable with aligning with one group anyways since I fear I will be like those in Corinth who were “of Paul, of Peter, of Apollos.” I use the label “evangelical” (small “e”) because it means “of the Gospel” and I am comfortable with saying I am a Christian who finds my identity in the Gospel proclaimed to me and by me to others. Yet there is much about evangelical culture that concerns me–not only politically, but at times theologically (e.g. see Peter Enn’s “Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical”). I do not identify with Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy (see Peter J. Leithart’s “Too Catholic to be Catholic”). As much as I appreciate N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, and many other Anglican thinkers I don’t find Anglicanism all that appealing. I don’t connect to Lutheranism, Methodism, or many of the dozens of -isms of Protestantism.
I agree with Jonathan Martin that Pentecostalism tends to be a middle ground between Catholicism/Orthodoxy and Reformed/Protestantism (see Rachel Held Evan’s interview post “Ask a Pentecostal…”) because it provides a “third way” by being grounded in Pneumatology. But Pentecostalism proper is identified with particular views on glossolalia that I find problematic and I don’t know if Pentecostalism without those views on glossolalia remains Pentecostalism. If so, how? I’ve asked myself many times, “What is the center of Pentecostal theology?“
I affirm the Pentecostal ideas of Spirit empowerment and Spirit-centered ecclesiology. This Spirit-centered ecclesiology is why I am not “high church” (though I acknowledge that “high church” and Spirit-centered are not contradictory), why I affirm women having equal standing in the church, why I think we should be open to signs and wonders, why I am a continuationist, why I think a truly “high view of Scripture” opens the door for the guidance of the Spirit (I think the Apostle Paul’s view of the Spirit’s interaction with Scripture was much closer to Pentecostalism’s than evangelicalism’s). But I don’t think a liturgical or more reserved church has “less” of the Spirit (something many Pentecostals have argued). I don’t think the work of the Spirit is always (or even most often) seen in dramatic form. The fruits of the Spirit are far from dramatic. I don’t think every Christian has to function in one of the gifts listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians (because I think there is a broader, often evolving diversity of gifts that goes beyond what Paul mentioned). I don’t think the only “physical” sign of the Spirit is glossolalia (what about prophecy, healing, etc?) and that has been one of the main points of contention.
So as you can see there is a sense in which I am Pentecostal and not Pentecostal. Maybe it is the same as my evangelicalism? Maybe it depends on who’s asking?! Maybe some Pentecostals would accept me as one of their own? Maybe others would prefer to see me as a charismatic evangelical (who has not been in a “charismatic” church since moving to Oregon)?
I do know I am thankful for much of what I have received from Pentecostalism. I read Gordon D. Fee, and I realize someone can be a scholar who appreciates and participates in education while retaining some sort of Pentecostal identity. Then I remember the many times Pentecostals have rebuked me for seeking “the wisdom of the world.” I read books like Harvey Cox’s Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century and I feel like my heritage and tradition is being explored. Then I see Benny Hinn or Ken Hagin and I run back to my evangelical friends. I am excited to hear that most of global Christianity has been “Pentecostalized,” but like many North American Pentecostals I have been “Evangelicalized.” It is as if I have ecclesiastical dissociative identity disorder!
Maybe this will always be so? Maybe I will always be a bit Pentecostal and a bit not Pentecostal?