Friday, September 2, 2016

Thinking in Tongues: A Response

Before I even read it, this book was significant to me. In part because of who gave it to me and under what conditions, but more to the point, because it's a book of pentecostal philosophy by a heavy-weight contemporary thinker (and one I have a lot of respect for).

I struggled throughout college trying to reconcile my experience of charismatic or pentecostal Christianity (note the smaller case "p" -- neither Smith nor I are talking about Pentecostal, denominational Christianity, but rather a worldview that stretches across traditions) with some of the riches of discovery I found in academic and intellectual life. But I never thought the two were incompatible (they really aren't, despite the far-reaching notions), but seeing that they're not incompatible and doing the heavy lifting required to figure out all the nuance of how they fit together are different matters (not entirely different, as the one precedes the other, but the second remains far more difficult). That didn't stop me from doing a lot of it over the last four years, but there remains a long, long road ahead. Some days, on those where you feel like (and you do) see farther and clearer than usual, I think "I totally got this!", and on others I want to put my head in my hands and never think again.

I often felt alone in this endeavor at my Southern Baptist school (as awesome a place as it is, there aren't exactly a plethora of pentecostal intellectuals hanging around there). I guess if I had actually stopped to think about it, I would have realized that there had to be others out there who were doing the same task as me, but isolated as I was, it often didn't feel like it. (Bill Johnson, while not academic in the least, is a great thinker, and I've found a lot of help in his teaching and books -- but my specific need was someone who would help me connect more intellectual dots than Bill bothers with).

So Jami's book came as something of both a comfort and a thrill. In it not only does he do some of the actual heavy lifting of pentecostal thinking, but he also tries to articulate five factors that he believes tie together all pentecostal practice regardless of geography or tradition (drawing out the implicit factors latent in pentecostal practice). He also raises a rallying cry for pentecostal philosophers to stand up and unapologetically and boldly do pentecostal philosophy (following in the vein of Alvin Plantinga's "Advice to Christian Philosophers" that deeply affected his own life). On top of all that, being an academic book, he points to plenty of other resources of pentecostal scholarship, making me aware of a whole host of resources I didn't know about before.

Being someone who considers himself a thinker and a pentecostal, this book meant a lot to me. It's one thing to struggle to do something you believe to be possible (integrating these two parts of my life) and another to see someone else actually doing it.

And as someone who loved university life, it almost makes me want to look into gradschool and pursue becoming a pentecostal philosopher on the professional level and answer Jami's call. (Though, admittedly, before that I would love to witness him praying for the sick, or prophesying, or possibly even being struck with holy laughter and rolling on the floor -- disclaimer: my juxtaposition of praying for the sick and holy laughter is not meant to imply they're on the same level of importance).

But questions of gradschool and whether or not I could ever get paid to think about and teach these things aside, the ongoing drive within in me to make sense of the world and understand it better in the light of Christ means I will always be a pentecostal philosopher. And I'm thoroughly grateful that besides giving me some tools to help articulate details of a pentecostal worldview better, Jami also showed me that indeed, I'm not alone in the endeavor.

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