WE PROBABLY don’t know much about the Free Methodists, but they are active in the United States and Central Africa and have affinities with elements that have fed into Pentecostalism. Daniel Castelo is professor of dogmatic and constructive theology at the Free Methodist Seattle Pacific University, and his subtle and learned theology is informed by these affinities.
As a Mexican-American, he is uncomfortably aware that non-Catholics are easily lumped together as “los evangélicos”; but he also has a strong intuition that Pentecostalism does not conform to the assumptions of the world of American and English-speaking Evangelicals. It simply cannot be characterised as Evangelicalism with tongues, even though that was its original cultural background.
He takes off from the difficulty, born of a sense of inferiority, that Pentecostals have had in articulating their identity. I put that in the past, because today there are impressive Pentecostal theologians well able to give “an account of the faith that is in them”, several of whom he cites — for example, Amos Yong.
Castelo believes that it makes sense to see Pentecostalism as a modern manifestation of the mystical tradition as practised in the first Christian millennium, not the much later tradition of generalised mysticism. For him, this “Catholic” tradition is to be understood as a sub-theme within spirituality. Pentecostals emphasise the dynamics of faith rather than the kind of conceptualisation found in systematics. This is where they start, and where we, too, should start in understanding them.
This is precisely the context in which they have come under the critical scrutiny of Mark Noll in his well-known castigation of the state of the Evangelical mind and its poor scholarship. Castelo vigorously rejects this as unfair to Pentecostals, because it brings to bear “modernist” criteria of intellectual systematisation which are inappropriate. The Pentecostal paradigm is being dismissed from the viewpoint of an antithetical paradigm.
Of course, Pentecostals do emphasise a biblical meta-narrative that might conform to the modernist paradigm, and Castelo points to some difficulties in locating them in post-modernism. But the crucial point is that Pentecostals take off from a position that closely integrates the life of the mind with a very specific life of the spirit.
Castelo, of course, is well aware of the innumerable varieties of Pentecostalism all over the global South — where Christianity has a confidence lacking in its Northern representatives. But he presses his argument home: Pentecostals are modern mystics.
The Revd Dr David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.
Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition
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