More simply stated, pentecostal spirituality is "rooted in the heart and traffics in the stuff of story."
As we know, pentecostal spirituality is very emotional. And as I described in the very first post of this series, this was the part of worship at Freedom that took a lot of getting used to. Historically, the Churches of Christ have been very rationalistic and wary of emotional displays. So a shift to a more charismatic and emotional style of worship was a big change for me.
The worry with such emotionalism is that it is antirationalistic. But according to James Smith the better way to see the situation isn't to see charismatic worship as antirational but as a critique of excessive rationalism.
The heart has ways of knowing that the head knows nothing about.
Once again, I've seen all this play out in my own experience at Freedom. Before my life at Freedom I'd say I was trapped in my own head. My faith, such as it was, was very cerebral, rationalistic, intellectual, and propositional. But when I encountered the spirituality of Freedom I quickly realized how stunted and limited this rationalism was.
I'd look at my brothers and sisters at Freedom and say to myself, "I have a PhD. I have written three theology books. But these people know something about the faith, about God and Jesus, that I know nothing about." Intellectually, I knew many things. But on another level I didn't know a thing. Despite my intellect and education I felt like a child among spiritual adults.
This is why James Smith describes pentecostal spirituality as an "epistemic practice," as a way of knowing. And as James recounts, modern psychology has pointed out to us that our emotions often function as pre-cognitive filters in how we interpret and ascribe meaning to the world. Emotions, in many ways, are primary. Cognition is often secondary, given the task of making sense of the emotional data. You have to explain to yourself, in a post hoc fashion, why you feel the way you do. You have to "make sense" of your feelings.
This has huge implications for spiritual practice and formation. As James writes,
[I]f our emotions construe the world before and more often than our intellectual, cognitive perceptions, then the shape of our emotions makes our world most of the time--in which case, discipleship would be more a matter of training our emotions than of changing our minds. It is this intuition that I think is inchoately central in pentecostal worship and spirituality.That's a pretty important insight. Emotions make our world. And if emotions make our world then attending to the emotions is a critical, perhaps even the central, task of Christian discipleship. Discipleship is more a matter of training our emotions than of changing our minds.
Consequently, as a result of my life at Freedom I've come to focus more and more on orthopathy (right affection) than upon orthodoxy (right belief), and even upon orthopraxy (right practice).
For a progressive Christian like myself this has been an important shift. As we know, many progressive, liberal and emergent Christians have shifted focus toward orthopraxy over orthodoxy. I've done this myself. It's a move I highly recommend, especially if you struggle with doubts.
And yet, I've discovered two inter-related problems with this focus on orthopraxy.
First, when progressives think of "practices" they tend to think of social justice. As they should. But they don't, as a rule, think of praying, fasting, and worshiping, the practices of what David Kelsey has called doxological gratitude, which I consider to be key to the formation of a loving, Christ-like spirit (see The Slavery of Death for this argument).
This is why, in my estimation, many progressive Christians, despite their focus on social justice, still struggle with being kind, gentle, forgiving and loving human beings. If you aren't attending to the affections in your pursuit of social justice you're prone to becoming harsh, angry and judgmental. Or just burnt out. Joy rather than righteous indignation has to be what carries you forward.
This lack of attention to the practices of doxological gratitude is also why I think progressive Christians chronically struggle with spiritual dryness, listlessness and cynicism.
Which brings me to the second issue, the role of the church. The practices of doxological gratitude, the rituals that shape our affections, are often practiced corporately. That is, when progressives think of "right practice" they don't often think of the practice of the church. Because, on the surface, there's not a lot going on at the church that has anything to do with social justice. And that's true. But as I've experienced Freedom Fellowship I've come to see how the practices of doxological gratitude in our charismatic worship, which privileges the emotions, are shaping my affections and, thus, fueling and supporting my interests in social justice. Orthopathy is supporting orthopraxy.
Concretely, given how my affections are being shaped by the charismatic worship at Freedom I'm more joyful and at peace. My heart has grown softer and more tender.
In short, by eschewing the church and the practices of doxological gratitude I think progressives have often failed to attend to the heart. To be clear, progressive Christians are amazing theologians. In the pews they may be the best theologians in all of Christianity. But theological sophistication can be a trap. It trapped me. In my head.
But as I learned in the charismatic worship at Freedom, the heart has a way of knowing that the head knows nothing about.