The Pentecostal and science promise

November 17, 2011

The Pentecostal tradition offers one of, if not the, most
exciting conversation partners in the science-and-religion dialogue.
Pentecostalism brings several assets to the conversation table.

I will be meeting friends Craig Boyd, Joshua Moritz, LeRon Shults,
and Amos Yong to explore the work of Yong and Pentecostalism as it
relates to science. Yong has written or edited several books on science
and theology, and I consider him a creative theological epicenter for
what is best about Pentecostals engaging the science-and-theology
interface.

The Pentecostal tradition has the potential to turn the
science-and-religion dialogue into a mutually transformative engagement.
Such an endeavor could transform the way we think about and do science,
and it could transform Pentecostalism and its theology.

Here are five reasons why Pentecostalism and Pentecostal theology can be game changers in a big way:

A Large "Membership" Base

The sheer number of Pentecostal Christians makes Pentecostalism
distinctive and potentially influential in the science-and-theology
interface. An estimated 250-500 million Pentecostals live on planet
earth.

In a world that increasingly seems to want democratic forms of
government and decision-making, large numbers of people who have a
shared vision have the potential for greater influence.

Many who work in the science and theology interface do so because
they think the questions and possible solutions can affect the overall
well-being of life on planet earth. They believe the common good is in
some way at stake as we seek to find the most plausible answers to some
question we ask about science and theology.

No Authoritative Tradition

Pentecostals have no established canon of Pentecostal tomes and
authoritative intellectuals. This may seem like a disadvantage. And in
many ways it is. But I see it also as advantageous, because it allows
scholars like Yong to draw from a diverse and rich set of resources when
pursuing answers to questions raised by the science and theology
interface.

Those who think carefully about issues in science and theology
sometimes tire of appeals to authority. I can’t tell you, for instance,
how many times I’ve heard scholars quote Aquinas that grace perfects
nature rather than destroys it!

Of course, appeals to authority have their proper place. None of us
exists in a vacuum, and the science and religion fields have a number of
authoritative voices from which it can draw. I happen to like some of
what Aquinas says, for instance. And there are many scientific voices of
authority we must heed.

But Pentecostals have greater freedom to think afresh about issues.
Such fresh thinking is always needed in the complex field of work that
reflects on the interface between science and theology. There’s more to
be said than what Aquinas thought 800 years ago!

God is Doing Something New

Pentecostal theology emphasizes the surprising, unpredictable, and
miraculous. Pentecostals often say “God is doing a new thing,” and they
expect to encounter the unexpected. Let’s call this the “Pentecostal
hermeneutic of surprise.”

While science requires nature be in some ways consistent, science is,
in principle, always open to discovery and surprise. The
science-and-theology dialogue is complex enough to be always in need of
some promising new proposals.

An obvious example here is those events Pentecostals call
“miraculous.” The conversation about miracles might prompt scientists to
think more carefully than David Hume about how to account for the
extraordinary. And it might prompt Pentecostals to think more carefully
about what they deem supernatural or interventionist.

The Spirit is Active in Creation

Pentecostal theology stresses a pneumatology that says the Spirit is
active in all creation. Because of this, pneumatology has the potential
to capture the imaginations of Pentecostals.

Christians rightly reflect on the incarnation of Jesus Christ as
central to faith. But they sometimes focus so much on Christology or
visions of the Father God would create the universe long ago that they
forget the Spirit is active and creating today. Pentecostals can help
remind us of this important truth, and their theology may be especially
instrumental in the reemphasis upon creatio continua.

Pentecostal Use of Technology

Pentecostalism makes for an exciting conversation partner in the
science-and-theology interface, because Pentecostals are often at the
fore of using science and technology to proclaim the gospel of Jesus
Christ.

The history of Christianity in the 20th and early 21st
centuries reveals that Pentecostals often took the first steps – and
often risky steps – to incorporate media technology in their
evangelistic efforts. This includes the use of radio, television,
internet, etc.

The reasons Pentecostals give for using the latest technology are
often pragmatic in nature. Pragmatism can sometimes conflict with but
other times promote the theological presuppositions of Pentecostal
theology.

A theology that rejects pragmatism en toto will likely to be
blind to how the Spirit moves throughout all creation to call forth
fruit. A theology that embraces pragmatism en toto will likely be blind to how what some call “fruit” does not fit well in the establishment and rationale of the Kingdom of God.

Sum

I’m excited about the future contributions Pentecostals can make to
the multi-faceted task of learning the revelation of God in creation.
And I’m impressed with the work Amos Yong and other Pentecostal scholars
are doing already.

Originally posted at For the Love of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Love.