The Most-Sacred Mountain

Mt Cook, New Zealand, Elly Clifton 2007

I came across the following poem in my reading. Well worth a slow meditation (pay special attention to the final stanza) and the question, Have I known such transcendence, or can I know it? Indeed, the mountain is a symbol of transcendence in many faith traditions, and like all good symbols it is best not read literally (the ocean has been my “mountain”), although there is something deeply spiritual about the effort of a hard climb and the revelation of God in nature.

The Most-Sacred Mountain

Eunice Tietjens

SPACE, and the twelve clean winds of heaven,
And this sharp exultation, like a cry, after the slow six thousand steps of climbing!
This is Tai Shan, the beautiful, the most holy.

Below my feet the foot-hills nestle, brown with flecks of green; and lower down the flat brown plain, the floor of earth, stretches away to blue infinity.
Beside me in this airy space the temple roofs cut their slow curves against the sky,
And one black bird circles above the void.

Space, and the twelve clean winds are here;
And with them broods eternity—a swift, white peace, a presence manifest.
The rhythm ceases here. Time has no place. This is the end that has no end.

Here, when Confucius came, a half a thousand years before the Nazarene, he stepped, with me, thus into timelessness.            10
The stone beside us waxes old, the carven stone that says: “On this spot once Confucius stood and felt the smallness of the world below.”
The stone grows old:
Eternity is not for stones.
But I shall go down from this airy place, this swift white peace, this stinging exultation.

And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round.
Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me;
For once I stood
In the white windy presence of eternity.

source: Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. (1869–1948).  The Second Book of Modern Verse.  1922.

Full Gospel and the Environment – Part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post my intention to respond to a review by Rayford Hughes of my article, “Preaching the Full Gospel in the face of the Global Environmental Crises,” published in Amos Yong’s The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth.

Hughes’ overriding concern is that, in my criticism of the Pentecostal failure to develop an eco-theology I have failed “to empathise with the underlying twentieth century Pentecostal context.”  His concern has two elements:

First, he feels that i should not be critiquing Pentecostals for failing to develop an ecotheology when concerns about enviormental issues were not on the public horizon at the time movement emerged preaching the ‘fourfold or full gospel’.  It is, self-evidently, unreasonable to be overly critical of previous generations in the light of more recently emerging perspectives and values.  We could hardly expect early twentieth century Pentecostals to think and act like twenty first century people.  Having said this, it is possible to seek to understand and empathise with our forebears, all the while making important critical judgements that will help frame our own attitudes and actions.  In the case of early Pentecostalism for example, they had the foresight, in the power of the Spirit, to be ahead of the public attitudes on gender,  advancing the place of women in ministry when society and most other churches had not yet addressed the issue.  But, the same prophetic foresight was not apparent in respect to ecological issues,  for the theological reasons I note in the article (and summarise in my previous post).  In particular, I note that the issue is not the fourfold gospel per se, but the impact of fundamentalism on the way in which this ‘gospel’ came to be proclaimed; narrowly focused on salvation of the soul, on healing and baptism in the spirit for the individual, and on an eschatology that looked for the immanent destruction of the earth.  Indeed, my point is not to critique early Pentecostalism per se – or any particular Pentecostal preacher or leader – but to make the vital observation that the current generation of Pentecostals needs to seek for a broader understanding of the gospel, one that recognises that the earth is created by God and that creation itself is a recipient of the good news of the Kingdom.

Secondly, Hughes accuses me of “eisegetical trickery,” for critiquing the fourfold gospel in the light of contemporary insights – again because one cannot read current trends into earlier texts.  This critique would be valid if my paper was simply a historical analysis. This, however, is not the point.  The fourfold (or full) gospel is not simply a historical proclamation but, rather, a way of thinking about the gospel that continues to frame the way in which Pentecostals think about the mission of the church.  Perhaps I needed to make this point clearer in the original article.  My criticism is not of early pentecostalism – i merely use the fourfold gospel as a point of reference – as a way of framing the discussion.  My point is that far too many Pentecostals still today frame their proclamation in ways that lead to ‘anti-green’ rhetoric and climate change scepticism.  Whatever the context of our forebears, this situation is no longer good enough, and continued failure to develop an ecological theology certainly is a failure to preach a full gospel.

I trust that my response is not taken to be overly defensive.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hughes’ review (and critique) of my paper, and i appreciate the time he has taken to respond to my writing.  My purpose has been to clarify my argument, not because my original chapter is perfect but, rather, because this is such an important topic.  In this light, i am interested in any readers comments about Pentecostal theology and its relationship to care for the earth.

Full Gospel and the Environment

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to a chapter to a book edited by Amos Yong, The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth. The chapter is entitled “Preaching the Full Gospel in the face of the Global Environmental Crises”.  Sometime in the next little while I intend to respond to a review of the book, and my chapter in particular, written by Raymond Hughes on the Renewal Dynamics blog.  In the meantime, let me briefly summarise the argument of the paper.

The logic of the paper is based on a critical analysis of the Pentecostal “full-gospel”.  Those of you familiar with the full gospel may be aware that Pentecostals have traditionally proclaimed a fourfold (or full) gospel; Jesus saves, baptises in the Spirit, heals and is coming again. In more recent decades this fourfold gospel has been extended to include a fifth element relating to the gospel of blessing.

My argument, in sum, is that Pentecostal appropriation of fundamentalist approaches to theology – literal six day fundamentalism and narrow views of salvation and end times – has worked against the development of a ‘green’ theology; against any recognition that the message of the gospel is good news for the earth.  This is because presumptions that the earth was created only 6000 years ago, and is soon to be destroyed in the apocalyptic return of Jesus, alonside concepts of salvation that prioritise the soul over and against the body, have meant that:

  • the affirmation that ‘Jesus saves’ has been focused on saving souls, and not on the broader social (and ecological) implications of the kingdom
  • the declaration that ‘Jesus baptises in the Spirit’ has been concerned with individual spiritual experience, and not on the broader work of the Spirit in the world
  • the promotion of the idea that ‘Jesus heals’ has focused on the individual only and not extended to healing of the environment
  • the belief in the immanent the end of the world has entrenched the concern for souls as a priority over and against social and ecological concerns
  • the emphasis on financial prosperity has aligned the movement with the economic systems that have generated the environmental problems we now face.

The paper goes on to argue for a reframing of the Pentecostal message in such a way that we can truly claim to be preaching the “full gospel” – one that recognises  that Jesus saves the cosmos, that Jesus heals a sick creation, that Jesus baptises in the Spirit for the sake of empowering the church to participate in His liberating of all the world (and earth), and that Jesus’ return results in the earth’s renewal not its destruction.