I grew up in a very rationalistic faith tradition. For most of its history, the Churches of Christ have endorsed a Word-only pneumatology (Note: pneumatology is your doctrine of the Holy Spirit). That is, I was taught that the Holy Spirit only worked through the Bible. The assumption I grew up with was this:
Bible = The Holy SpiritThe bible is "the sword of the Spirit." Thus, if you wanted to be directed, prompted, or guided by the Spirit you simply studied the bible.
Of course, this equivalency between the bible and the Spirit was deeply problematic. First, and most worrisome, it borders on idolatry. Well, it is idolatry. The bible was treated as a part of the Godhead, a part of the Trinity. We, as a church, were worshiping the bible as if it were God.
A second problem was that this belief privileged rationalism. Knowing the bible, in and out, was the mark of being a "spiritual" or "mature" Christian. Being "filled with the Holy Spirit" meant knowing the bible really, really well. Head knowledge was privileged over the body and the heart.
And, truth be told, I thrived in this environment. I'm a thinker. I live in my head. Too much so. So this rationalism suited me. And I still love it. Good preaching is important to me. And I want bible classes to be deep and connected to the biblical text.
But during college I started to worry about the rationalism of my tradition and of my faith. It began to feel like I was reducing God to a multiple choice question. That my relationship with God (and my eternal destiny!) hinged upon me bubbling in Answer C rather than Answer B on a doctrinal test. That faith meant endorsing certain propositions.
So I made a move to emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy. As James 2.24 says: "a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: "If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing...And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Love, I concluded, is what would save me. Not doctrine.
And yet, this shift toward orthopraxy hasn't, as of yet, helped correct the impoverished pneumatology of my youth. That is, my sense of "right practice" is still pretty rationalistic and moralistic. Thus, I have a very good sense of what it means to be a "good person" but I still don't think I know what it means to be "Spirit-led" or "Spirit-filled." And, due to my rationalistic tendencies, I tend to find a lot of the charismatic experience to be prone to excess, irrational, and triumphalistic. Enthusiastic in the worst sense of the word.
But then again, I don't know what I'm talking about. I've never been exposed to the best of the charismatic and Pentecostal traditions. In fact, as a member of the Churches of Christ I've been suspicious of them my whole life. So who am I to judge these expressions of faith?
Why am I telling you all this? Well, as you know, I've started working with a bible study at a local prison. And I've discovered that this community has a more charismatic feel than what I'm used to. To be clear, no one is dancing in the aisles or speaking in tongues. But there is a lot more "Yes Lord!" and "Thank you Jesus!" And more talk about the Spirit being active and moving.
Now, in theory I don't have a problem with any of this. In fact, my suspicion is that oppressed and marginalized communities will tend to gravitate toward a Pentecostal experience. And that in itself is interesting to me. So I want to honor and learn from this experience. Why do the charisms manifest like this in marginalized communities?
And yet, due to my upbringing, I'm finding it hard to turn off the rationalistic switch in my head.
However, I'm slowly finding myself to be more open, intellectually speaking, to this new way of being with God (spiritually speaking, the jury is still out). A part of this is due to finding this lecture by Dr. James Smith from Calvin College to The Society of Vineyard Scholars. The title of the talk is "The Spirit of Knowledge: Outline of a Charismatic Epistemology." A part of what Dr. Smith does in the talk is to suggest that Pentecostalism shares in the post-modern critique of the excessive rationalism of the Enlightenment project. Specifically, Dr. Smith argues that the use of the body and the emotions within Pentecostalism are their own "ways of knowing" which express truths that cannot be captured by reason or intellect. In a similar way, we can think of prayer and liturgy as unique ways of knowing, distinct grammars that allow us to express truths about God, truths that cannot be captured by or reduced to rationalistic discourse.
I find this whole line of argument very interesting. Particularly given that I'm beginning to participate in a more "Spirit-filled" community. At the very least, it makes me want to take one of Dr. Smith's classes.