Pentecostal Christians and their public lives.
Over ninety church leaders and teachers, most from across Africa and Asia took part on January 11 in a lecture on “Pentecostal Christianities and their Public Lives” by Professor Amos Yong, Dean of the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and hosted online by the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (www.ocrpl.org).
Dr Yong reviewed apolitical, political and alternative representations of Pentecostal engagement in the public sphere. The latter was presented as the ways in which, within their own communities, Pentecostals equipped and enabled their members to develop their own political and economic structures such as community banks.
He proposed a correlation between the emergence of the Prosperity Gospel and the communities of the poor who responded to the message of Pentecostal Christianity. While the substantive “Prosperity Gospel” is “another” gospel, it clearly sought to express how the life of the mind plays a role in the well-being and success of some Christian groups. Nevertheless the ideas expressed in the Prosperity Gospel were significant in enabling, encouraging and equipping Pentecostal communities to navigate the transition from rural to urban life and invest in entrepreneurship in the market economy. Christian communities had been equipped with business skills to encourage them in upwards social mobility.
He noted that in the USA some Pentecostal communities shared some of the political commitments of the Republican Party for religious freedom, the state of Israel, the place of the family and appointments in the judicial system. This had led some of them still to support the outgoing President.
In biblical interpretation he drew attention to the framing of Luke’s narrative of Jesus in his two volume work, which begins in Luke 2:1 “In the days of Caesar Augustus” and ends in Acts 28 “When we got to Rome”. In this way Jesus’ ministry and that of the early Christian community is presented as how the politics of Jesus is expressed in a messianic community under the Roman Empire. For Pentecostal biblical interpretation, “That is This”: the biblical narrative is also to be our experience in the present. The scriptures provide a template for the good life.
Jesus’ commission that his followers would be “My witnesses” was an empowerment by theone clearly presented as filled with the Holy Spirit in his life and ministry to be his witnesses in the public sphere as the community and its messengers proceed under Caesar’s rule on the way to Rome. The power to bear witness emerges from the public witness of the people of God.
Professor Amos noted that the experience of the Spirit by the first Christian community in Acts predated the articulation of the report and their beliefs by Luke. Thus the report that the Apostolic community shared everything in common, Acts 2:42-47 predated the articulation of their beliefs. Since “That is this”, clearly the question is raised that there are many possible forms of Christian practice and therefore belief according to the different public and political contexts. How might those that are life-giving be discerned from those that are not?
Joseph Buertey, a senior Pentecostal leader from Ghana, took up this point in his response. In Ghana, salvation was expressed in many cases as salvation from the powers of darkness due to the cosmological understanding of African culture. How does this relate to being saved from sin? This calls for a review of the correlation of Ghanaian Pentecostalism and cultural innovations.
Over twenty searching questions were posted in the online chat which were sent through to Professor Amos. It is hoped that these will stimulate a fruitful discussion among those who attended the lecture.
Professor Amos is the author of “In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology” Eerdmans 2010