Friday, August 23, 2013

Rationality or Exuberance? Both?


Yesterday, at a Disciples of Christ related Facebook Group site, there was a rather vigorous discussion about the presence of Charismatic/Pentecostal elements with the Disciples.  Although there is a revivalist dimension to the Disciples tradition (Founder Barton Stone hosted the famous Cane Ridge Revival that featured a variety of spiritual phenomena), we have understood ourselves as a rational people.  Born on the frontier, the Disciples have roots in the Scottish Enlightenment.  Logic, facts, proof -- they were the watchwords of the day.  This embrace of reason, exemplified in the work of Alexander Campbell, who among other things was a noted debater, tended to put limits on the Spirit.  It was assumed that the Perfect spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 had come in the form of the New Testament canon. Therefore, there was no longer a need for extraordinary gifts such as tongues-speaking or healing.  Pentecostalism was deemed inappropriate.  

God has spoken.  The words have been written down.  Now, we are to live accordingly.   It's not a matter of liberal versus conservative.  Both ends of the spectrum frowned on charismatic phenomena.  We may revel in Cane Ridge, but we have tried to distance ourselves from the more dramatic elements of that revival.  We will insist that it was a one time thing -- the result of people getting out of control and not the Spirit of God at work.  

One of the reasons I wrote my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening,(Energion 2013) was so that I could make sense of my own experience with God.  I spent about six years of my late teens and early twenties (high school/college) hanging out with Pentecostals.  I was a member/participant with two Foursquare Churches (the denomination founded by evangelist/healer Aimee Semple McPherson).  I experienced what folks call speaking in tongues, for the first time at a revival meeting at my church shortly before heading off to college.  I attended (and graduated from) a Disciples-related college.  There I was introduced to the rationalism of the Stone-Campbell movement.  By the end of my college career I found myself attracted to this faith community.  To be honest I found elements of my Pentecostal experiences to be anti-intellectual and I increasingly found the need for an infusion of something different.

So, for these past thirty plus years I have tried to make sense of this dual legacy.  Seminary provided me some of the resources I needed to make sense of things.  I took a class on spiritual gifts taught by two Fuller professors -- Russ Spittler and Mel Robeck -- who happened to be Assemblies of God ministers.  That class provided the foundation upon which I built my book.  

In the title of the post I posed a question -- rationality or exuberance.  I posed this as a set of opposites, but is that necessary?  Do we have to set mind and spirit as opposites?  Or can we, should we seek to attend both to the possibilities of the Spirit and be true to our rational selves.  

Let me give you an example.  I would say that much of life is lived according to reason.  I'm not Mr. Spock, but I try to reason things out.  I pursued higher education for this very reason.  But over my lifetime there have been moments when I simply didn't know how to pray.  I didn't know what to say to God.  And so I set aside my rational side and let the Spirit go free.  I would begin to utter what sounds like gibberish, and yet as I did so my own spirit was lifted.  I experienced a sense of peace.  

I value my traditions embrace of the mind.  I am on the left side of the center of the theological/political spectrum.  But I have come to recognize that there is great value in my Pentecostal side.  Last fall, I invited Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong to be the speaker for our church's annual Perry Gresham lectures.  I had shared the book manuscript with Amos and on the way to the airport as we talked about the book, I spoke of being a former Pentecostal.  Amos asked me why I used that term?  In other words, why be a former, just acknowledge that this is part of who I am.  I am both a Campbellite and a Pentecostal! (Barton Stone helps with the latter!)  

2 comments:

rick green said...

I have experienced many similar feeling on both sides. Growing up in the independent stream of the Stone-Campbell movement and years starting with college being in the charismatic circles, I now feel gives me a diversity of experience that is valuable in the church today, especially in the Disciples of Christ.

Jeff Gill said...

Our reason co-exists with our insanity. / And though we choose between reality and madness... / It's either sadness or euphoria.
~ Billy Joel, "Summer, Highland Falls"