A dangerously widening chasm?

Anthony Thiselton, Professor Emeritus of Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham and author a bunch of important books, talks about ‘a dangerously widening chasm of church practice’ between Pentecostals / Renewal Movement and other Christians in older established churches.

Those words come in his preface to his newly published magnum opus with the snappy title of The Holy Spirit – in Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries and Today.

If you are seriously interested in any of the three areas named within the title, you need to grapple with this book. It’s the fruit of a lifetime of teaching and is, as far as I know, unique in its scope. One of his aims is to open up dialogue and understanding with Pentecostals / those within the Renewal Movement and other Christians outside those streams.

So to come back to that line in his opening paragraph – what do you think?

Is difference over church practice around the Holy Spirit – in worship, theology of ‘Spirit Baptism’, gifts, theology of healing, expectation of encounter with the living God, church organisation, and so on becoming (or has the potential to become) a ‘dangerously widening chasm’ within global Christianity?

To put it another way, do Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals (for want of a better description) increasingly speak a different language (no pun intended) in how they express their Christian faith? In church worship and in personal spirituality?

Pentecostalism, we are routinely reminded, the fasted growing sector of Christianity on the planet. The stats are astonishing, especially in the global south. It’s also a very young movement just over 100 years old.

Only recently is there a growing self-reflective theology emerging within Pentecostalism – a movement traditionally suspicious of, and reacting against, intellectualism and rationalism. See journals like Pneuma and Journal of Pentecostal Theology. See authors like Gordon Fee, Frank Macchia, Robert Menzies, and Renewal scholars like Max Turner.

At 565 pages, I don’t plan to blog through the book. But what I hope to do is to pick up on some of the key theological and hermeneutical points of debate and difference among Pentecostals / Renewal and others Christians.

To kick off – some general questions:

What for you are the key points of difference between Pentecostals and non-Pentecostal Christians? What lies behind those differences? Are they more surface differences than anything really substantial? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of Pentecostalism? What have other Christians to learn from Pentecostals?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

4 thoughts on “A dangerously widening chasm?

  1. I wish I had time to read this and more from the author, but am grateful for your summary of this. This does remain a contentious issue, an ever contentious issue, I suppose. Another question: Were NT churches different, or can we recover enough material from the records, namely the New Testament, to really know? Were the manifestations of the Spirit named in 1 Corinthians common in churches during that time? Of course the work of the Spirit, as Fee points out, is considerably more than that. One author when pastoring in the area I live wrote a book entitled something like, “The Corinthian Catastrophe,” in which (as I recall) he belittles what is said of the gifts/manifestations in 1 Corinthians, since that church was not a model of maturity in Christ. I don’t think consideration of the New Testament, and even the letter itself would allow such a judgment to stand. But looking forward to your thoughts on this.

    • Thanks Ted. Yes, the issue of paradigm is the crucial one at the heart of the hermeneutical debate. How paradigmatic is Acts? How does Luke related to Paul in terms of determining a NT paradigm? Or, as you describe, what paradigms are there in the Corinthian church letters?

  2. Very interested in this “issue”. In fact, I’m still revisiting Fee’s work on my living room shelf when I get a free minute.

    For me, one — among a few — of the noticeable differences has to be the “experiential” HEART side to pentecostal theology and worship. It tends to be more about “me” and my experience with God than “us” and God. It seems to have a simplistic good news story, accessible, and inviting.

    Consequently, I think, this may run the danger of having a smaller, more individualistic, and to use a word, an anthroprocentric gospel – something vastly different than some of the more, theologically comprehensive, more stoic “sovereignty of God”/ word-centred HEAD camps.

    Both appear slightly extreme and unbalanced weighed against the teaching and message of the servant King and His subversive Kingdom.


    • Hi Norman. Keith Warrington (a Pentecostal as you know) has a book on how Pentecostalism is a ‘theology of encounter’. I think that’s spot on.
      While Thiselton’s book demands work, its valuable in how he brings brings Pentecostal & Renewal theologies into dialogue with others, both historical and contemporary. Rather than go our own ways, can all sides learn from one another …?

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