I had an experience almost twenty years ago where I went to Adelaide’s foremost pentecostal church and discovered that they thought I hadn’t experienced the fullness of the Spirit because I hadn’t spoken in tongues. These days at that church, speaking in tongues still features, but it’s not the centrepiece of their life together. Other things like the worship experience and energy in social justice are more prominent. It’s Pentecostalism as the ‘sanctification of the affections as part of an eschatological passion for the kingdom of God to come’ as Steven Land put it.
Frank D Macchia identifies four reasons for why Pentecostals have moved away from seeing ‘baptism in the Spirit’ as their distinctive:
- Pentecostals have found it difficult exegetically to justify a twofold or threefold initiation into the life of the Spirit.
- Historically and globally, there is a diversity of Pentecostal experience and theology, and this has caused a crisis of confidence in the significance of Spirit baptism as the defining feature of Pentecostalism.
- There has been a shift in Pentecostal theology from interest in Spirit baptism to eschatology. The changes in the church in Adelaide I mentioned above are an example of this – they’re shifted their focus from getting people to pray in tongues to bringing the kingdom now with various justice, activism and caring projects.
- With the global growth of Pentecostalism has come a change in how Pentecostals conceive of the theological task. They have moved away from doctrine and towards theological method. In other words, they see themselves as doctrinally mainstream, but being distinctive in how they do theology, with emphasis on oral, narrative and dramatic methodology.
Macchia argues against departure from ‘baptism in the Spirit’ as the distinctive of Pentecostalism. He fears that without this theological content, Pentecostals will only be able to contribute the ‘relish’ to the ‘main course’ of ecumenical theology. He believes that Pentecostalism has a vital contribution to make to global and ecumenical theology, but that it has been obscured by the ‘baptism in the Spirit’ theology which can come across as isolationist and divisive. He believes the solution is not to abandon the notion but to broaden it and that’s what he argues for in his Baptised in the Spirit: a global Pentecostal theology.
I’m looking forward to reading more of his argument. Arthur and I have become convinced in our year-and-a-half in Tanzania that we must come to terms with Pentecostalism as we interact with the Tanzanian church.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.