another week in paradise: Faith healers

sick of talking about myself, but for those of you interested in my health I was allowed up today. Yippee! The bottom is almost clear (to hairy for me to say it is as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but you get what I mean – and are now grossed out).

I’m writing this post in response to a comment made by Lee – anne Bryant in her discussion of my earlier post on prayer. Lee – anne suffers from scoliosis and so has been in a wheelchair for much of her life (actually, I should get Lee -anne to tell her own story because I’m probably getting it wrong). In any event she often feels singled out when she attends Pentecostal and charismatic church conferences, especially when the altar call relates to healing. She recounts one experience as follows:

  • I visited a smallish church once and the pastor asked if he could pray for me. I said sure, why not? Ensue fifteen+ people surrounding me, casting things out of me, telling me to repent and be healed. Two of the ladies and one of the guys literally picked me up by the arms and made me stand, I had bruised biceps for three weeks and strained back muscles from being stretched standing straight with scoliosis. It went on for around fifteen minutes, and every time I yelled at them to let go of me they yelled back at my ‘demon’ to shut up. After this adventure they gave me a copy of Jonie Erickson-Tada’s book – Totally contradicting themselves. So I never visited again. I’m really nervous around conferences, prophetic stuff etc now because I really don’t want that to be repeated. I hate being made a fuss of at the best of times, and crazies just seem to enter their element when they see me coming.

I am somewhat sheltered in hospital and, with an injury only six months old, I have not had experiences this disturbing. I do have one of my night-time attendants tell me regularly that if I have enough faith I will be healed. He is a Pentecostal who encourages me to read books by Kenneth Hagin. anyone who knows me will appreciate that my theology is a long way from that of Hagin and the faith healers of his ilk, but it is not my purpose to debate the point now. I actually love this night-time attendant, with his straight forward faith and encouraging personality, and just nod my head and say ‘yes, yes’ to his encouragement. He and his wife pray for me regularly and I welcome such prayers.

I actually enjoy all the different sorts of prayers that have been spoken over my life. I appreciate people with faith that is stronger than mine (perhaps stronger is not the right word. I probably mean different to mine, more outspoken).   I have been prayed for by people believing in my total healing, by others who pray God’s will be done, by others whose faith stretches to littler things (such as pressure marks rather than total healing) still others pray that I will be able to cope with whatever God’s will for me is.  I’ve been prayed for by tongue-speaking pentecostals, and by more formal Anglicans and Catholics.  I’ve even been prayed for by an Imam.  And I love it all!

As for me, I have to admit that it seems likely that I will remain in a wheelchair.  This may seem to be a position of lesser faith, and it may well be.  But I can only deal with life as it is and trust that God is with me.  I am sure that a miracle is possible (so if you’re so inclined, please keep praying for one).    Right now, however, my wife and I just need God in the little things of everyday life.  As the tag line of my blog says, ‘we are just taking life as it comes, the same as everyone else’.


Church Unity

On Friday, I was invited to participate in an ecumenical symposium put on by the National Council of Churches in Australia, Faith and Unity Commission.  Held in Canberra, the event celebrated 100 years of the ecumenical movement, which traces its origins to the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh.  Its goal has been a vision of a united church in mission and, to this end, visible unity.

Although i have been involved in various ecumenical events, i have not been a participant in formal ecumenical dialogues or World Council of Churches and Faith and Unity Commission forums.  In this i am typical of our movement and my invitation to the event in Canberra to speak for Pentecostalism provided the ‘novelty’ factor; the strange pentecostal academic amidst the traditional churches!

This is not to say that Pentecostals have been against ecumenism, as is sometimes assumed.  It is noteworthy that global Pentecostalism traces its origins to around the same point in history as the ecumenical movement – to a series of revivals that occurred throughout the world in the first decade of the twentieth century which were ecumenical in spirit.  The early history of Pentecostalism involved the pursuit of revival, believing that the Holy Spirit was capable of breaking down the divisions that plagued the church. Pentecostal revival, thus, brought together black and white, poor and (occasionally) rich, women and men and people from diverse church denominations.  There was a strong desire to reject ‘tradition’ and ‘creed’, since these were understood as being both stultifying and divisive.  The founder of Australian Pentecostalism, for example, a women named Sarah Jane Lancaster, had as one of her driving motivations the goal of ‘non-doctrinal unity’- a unity in the Spirit that transcended creeds. Half a century later, the charismatic movement, with its roots in Pentecostalism, elicited a similarly ‘spiritual unity’ – a unity that set aside the formalities of doctrine and church structure, a unity that was informal and grassroots in its orientation, a unity that was grounded in the pursuit of the Spirit whose work it is to bring diverse people together.

Of course, i should not paint to much of an idealised picture. Pentecostalism has been far from perfect in its pursuit of church unity.  As is well known, the movement has become as denominationalised, as doctrinal, as divisive as any other.  It also tended to avoid the ecumenical movement, and few Pentecostal groups became members of World Council of Churches.  I have my own opinions as to why this was so – but i am interested in any suggestions.

TD Jakes and the Trinity

The Bishop is back at Hillsong conference again this year**. Pastor of the Potter’s House in Dallas Texas, TD Jakes is not only an extraordinary communicator but the pastor of a church with an extraordinary missions program addressing issues of social and economic injustice.

While I am one to celebrate Jakes’ ministry, his invitation to preach in Australia has not been without controversy, largely because of his doctrine of the trinity, described on his website as follows:

For those familiar with trinitarian theology this is a fascinating doctrinal statement.  In using the word ‘manifestations’ rather than ‘persons’ it echoes the modalism traditionally considered to be heretical.  What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the attempt that has been made to mediate between Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostalism.

Jakes’ himself was raised a Baptist but became a Pentecostal when joining the Greater Emmanuel Apostolic Church. A Oneness Pentecostal church, it is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Churches, a movement that explicitly rejects the doctrine of the trinity.  Its statement of belief notes:

  • In distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity, the UPCI holds to a oneness view of God. It views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one. The UPCI teaches that the one God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah revealed himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ was and is God. In other words, Jesus is the one true God manifested in flesh, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (John 1:1-14; I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9).

This position clearly reflects modalist perspectives, although it is not true to say that Oneness Pentecostals merely repeat ancient modalism.  In recent years, there have been formal dialogues between Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals, reports of which have been published in the Society of Pentecostal Studies journal. It is beyond our purposes to comment on this dialogue, except to applaud the move toward mutual understanding between these two movements with a common heritage and shared spirituality – whatever the extent of theological disagreement.

Back to Jakes.  The Potter’s House is an independent church that is not affiliated with the UPC.  As Jakes’ preaching became more public and ecumenical, he recognised the need to move away from the UPC rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, but in doing so he sought to retain a friendship with the movement that shaped his ministry.  His doctrine on the trinity (see above) is thus an attempt to mediate between trinitarian and oneness pentecostals – taking on the form of the former but avoiding wording that would offend the latter (i.e. Trinity and Person).

Whether or not he is successful I will leave for you to decide.  In Feb 2000 Christianity today published a response by Jakes to charges that he was a “heretic”, My Views on the Godhead.  It is a fascinating read, reflecting a number of elements common to pentecostal theology.  These include

  • the restorationist tendency to avoid theology and tradition and “go directly to the bible” (from my perspective, an unfortunate method, since presumes we have little to learn from theological tradition and naively presumes we can access an unmediated biblical theology.  Unfortunate, but not heretical – and common to Pentecostal and conservative evangelical communities)
  • Efforts to affirm trinitarian theology without using the word ‘person’ – e.g. “My views on the Godhead are from 1 John 5:7-8, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”
  • Some unusual attempts to describe the trinitarian mystery.  e.g. “Many things can be said about the Son that cannot be said about the Father. The Son was born of a virgin; the Father created the virgin from whom He was born. The Son slept (Luke 8:23), but the Father never sleeps (Psalm 121:3—5). The Son took on the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), but God is a spirit (John 4:24). Likewise, several characteristics are distinctive to the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit alone empowers (Acts 1:8), indwells (2 Timothy 1:15), and guides the believer (John 16:14). In spite of all the distinctives, God is one in His essence. Though no human illustration perfectly fits the Divine, it is similar to ice, water and steam: three separate forms, yet all H20. Each element can co-exist, each has distinguishing characteristics and functions, but all have sameness.”

The Christology implicit in this latter assertion is unusual indeed, since it makes a basic category error.  That is, it fails to distinguish between the two natures of Jesus, his full deity and full humanity.  In trinitarian terms, it thus makes no sense to say that the Son differs from the father because he was born a virgin and sleeps, since these are part of Jesus’ human nature not his deity.  Notwithstanding this, what is clear is that Jakes is attempting to affirm a trinitarian perspective by distinguishing between the (persons) of the trinity.  Whatever criticisms might be made of how he goes about it, this is NOT the view of a oneness pentecostal.

As a Pentecostal theologian, it is something of a disappointment to me that a public figure of Jakes’ stature does not seem to understand the insights church tradition.  If we are honest, however, Jakes is not alone in this; many (most) Christians would struggle to explain the doctrine of the Trinity or makes sense of the distinction between the two natures of Christ.  That does not make them (or Jakes) any less ‘saved’, any less in relationship with Jesus’, or any less effective in ministering the grace of the gospel.

To conclude.  I dare anyone to assert their own superiority over Jake’s in the things that matter most.  I might be better equipped to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, but i have more important things to learn from his dedication to the preaching of the good news of Jesus to the lost, poor, outcast, addict, abused etc.

Obviously, i believe that theology is important and that theological study helps enrich our proclamation of the gospel.  But Jake’s is surely also correct when he observes:

  • I look forward to the day when Christians do not judge one another by the diversity of our associates, nor the distinctives of seman­tics. Rather by the love of Christ we reflect, the integrity of our personal convictions, and the sweet fruit of both in our lives. There are a few things I would die for; a few more I would argue strongly; after that I am too busy trying to preach the Gospel to split hairs. People in my generation are lost, hungry, in prison, wounded, and alone…. Many of our generation are dying without knowing God — not dying for the lack of theology, but for lack of love.

** DISCLOSURE** I attend Hillsong South Western campus.  While I believe this does not colour my opinion, readers should be  aware of the potential conflict.

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.

Does Julia Gillard Have Balls?

The day after her election as the first Australian Prime Minister, all the talk is about the nature of gender and its relationship to power.  On the one hand, people on the left are celebrating the rise to power of a women who is strong, independent, unmarried and has no children (and is apparently an athiest).  On the other hand, people on the right are lamenting the thought that a women has to become like a man to get the top job.

This latter assumption, however, is based on a false premise.  The principal of Alphacrucis College, Steven Fogarty (his colloquium presentation on this topic at this link), has recently been doing doctoral research in the relationship between gender and leadership.  It has sometimes been assumed that men are more likely to take hierarchical and power based approaches to leadership, and women relational and participative approaches – in formal terms, that men are more likely to lead transactionally, and women transformationally. Yet Fogarty’s research, along with other sociological studies, has rejected these gender based assertions.  In fact, what he has concluded is that the style of leadership is determined not by gender but, rather, by the requirements of the role.

Fogarty’s point can be illustrated by Gillard’s ascendancy.  To become Prime Minister, a person needs to be able to exercises power, to manipulate political situations, and to do so decisively and sometimes brutally (just ask Kim Beasley about Kevin Rudd’s skills in this regard).  No doubt there are other characteristics necessary for the job, but these are the ones that are traditionally described as “masculine” and that will be used to disparage the femininity of our new Prime Minister.  Fogarty’s research, however, reminds us that Gillard’s skills as a leader (and as someone capable of stabbing a colleague in the back) are no indication of gender but, sadly, are just the prerequisites needed for anyone who wants to get the top job in politics.

Aside from the research, i should also say that, as a man, i take offense to the suggestion that such capacities are necessarily or exclusively male – as do my female colleagues at the assertion that women cannot be feminine AND powerful, decisive (and unmarried and childless).  Just because all previous  decisive Prime Ministers have been men, it does not mean that strength, determination, ruthlessness etc. are male characteristics – that is a non sequiter (a leap in logic).

So does Julia Gillard have balls?  Only her partner can answer that question, but i think we can safely presume the answer is no.

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.