Friday, May 11, 2007

Pent-emergence and the Poor

I have been considering the issue of the poor, and their identification with the Kingdom of God as it relates to this Emergent/Pentecostal connection.

The Pentecostal church has been perhaps the greatest Christian force among the poor in the 20th century, and still remains a fast growing movement (particularly in poorer nations) today. With the emphasis on global concern, and social justice in the Emergent conversation, it seems to me that a dialogue about the benefits of Pentecostalism to the poor deserves some airtime.

What is it about Pentecostalism that speaks to the hearts of the poor, even though social concern is not as high on the list of it's concerns as it is for some other movements? and even though it is often a movement among local people with few financial resources? Is there something in this simple, yet passionate movement which has something to offer the Emergent Church, yet remains relatively misunderstood, or overlooked?

I suppose one can quickly presume that the poor run to Pentecostal evangelists for false promises of wealth, but can we be so sure that the movement of such a large flock to Pentecostal traditions is as easily explained as that? There is obviously something more significant than false hopes of riches considering the size, and variation within the movement? What lessons can we learn about the power of Pentecostal traditions to draw, and to empower, and to encourage the poor? and how can this become a source of challenge to the Emergent conversation?

19 comments:

g13 said...

i suspect that pentecostal traditions are "misunderstood or overlooked" within emergent because there are relatively few people within the conversation that are or are still a part of pentecostal church life.

i realize that because emergent is often portrayed as a movement with distinct beliefs and patterns of worship that can be distinguished from other theological and ecclesiological movements such as pentecostalism or traditional evangelicalism. however, we need to remember that emergent is not a movement, does not prescribe a perspective on "orthodoxy" and is not seeking to produce believers or churches who believe what the primary movers and shakers in the emergent conversation believe.

instead emergent is a conversation that is as intriguing, amorphous and, sometimes, as frustrating as the individuals that are involved in the discussion. so the best way to ensure that the social service legacy of pentecostalism is valued by emergent or to keep emergent minds open to the unexpected operation of the Spiritual gifts is to remain in the conversation.

i hope this makes sense. i'd be more than willing to talk it through if it does not.

much love.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Phil,

Holy crap! There's so much here I'd like to comment on. Where to begin?

First, I also posted on the poor today over on Igneous Quill. My focus was primarily on how the church deals with the poor and homeless, but it's interesting how we both hit on the same sort of topic on the same day without meaning to do so.

Second, from my time in Brazil as a missionary (not Pentecostal) I can say that the stories of how popular Pentecostalism is there are true. All successful religions in Brazil, gauging "success" by ability to attract adherents (I know, not a good measure) appeal to the heart and the miraculous. Catholicism there has a big focus on "graces" granted by saints, Pentecostalism offers either health and wealth or spiritual empowerment (but generally not both at the same time) and Spiritism promises healing and contact with the dead.

Third, a Brazilian Pentecostal friend was just observing the other day how more upper class Pentecostal churches in his country tend to be quieter than the fiery poorer churches. The wealthier churches tend to think things out, whereas the less wealthy churches tend to go to extremes that push the limits of what is Biblical or orthodox. Still, my friend is critical of upper class congregations, saying they tend to be "cold" and lack the Spirit.

People need to see signs of God's reign breaking into our world, especially people who lack a sense of empowerment or who feel that they don't have the freedom or ability to change their circumstances alone. Pentecostalism offers this, though I think there are even more profound ways that the God can demonstrate signs of the New Creation in our world today.

Anonymous said...

Pentecostal churches are loud and full of 'excitement'. They offer a chance for escapism that, perhaps the more sedate and meditative churches don't have, or rather don't have in such an all encompassing way. It's a bit like going to a rock concert as opposed to going to hear a recital of chamber music.

Broad generalisations there I'm afraid.

BB

Mike

carl said...

I agree that one of the draws the poor have to a pentecostal expression of faith is a type of escapism. A sensationalism that can numb the pain of poverty and all it's hardships.

I would add that I believe God comes to everyone where they are and with words that speak to our hearts the most. I think it's OK to accept the fact that the poor need a form of escapism but it should not end there. This pentecostal experience should be followed up with a deeper call (something that doesn't always happen). Perhaps emergence can add depth, quality, maturity and true community between classes to the pentecostal experience.

Agent B said...

i don't know how to relate this to the emergent thing yet. "Emergent" is too new to me now.

I haven't noticed that the poor were attracted to pentecostal leaning churches. But that makes sense. Probably because the poor might be more likely to believe in various supernatural giftings as they have no material wealth to put their trust in...?

I don't know. Good questions.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Papa-G,

I agree with Pentecostal voices needing to be in the Emergent conversation, and of course that is why I post a question like this. Being in the conversation also means adding ideas from a Pentecostal perspective, and challenging concepts which appear to belittle things from a Pentecostal tradition - idol breaking as Tony Jones called it.

Yet, there is another aspect which is necessary for a full "conversation" to occur (and I use the word "conversation" in an archaic KJV fashion.) There must be more than words, but also a place of spiritual discipline practice - this is not to say that non-pentecostals must somehow speak in tongues, but there are issues of acceptance of the values of Pentecostal worship practice which need to be discussed, and perhaps considered - but I will have more to ask about that at another point. ;-)

Pastor Phil said...

Adam,

I think your experience in Brazil, and your friend's identification of the value of the passionate poorer churches offers insight into this very question of what Pentecost has to offer the poor, which is not necessarily found in the richer and more educated churches.

These things can be conversed about only so deeply, and then at some point they must be experienced. Although in saying this I do not want to go so far as to say that everyone has to become Pentecostal or Charismatic. I do mean to say that an honest conversation recognizes great value in the spiritual disciplines of a movement, which despite all its blemishes, has benefited the world significantly for the last 100 years.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Escapism is a point of interest to many people, but I wonder if we can consider the run to Pentecostalism simple escapism. Perhaps that is a moniker we place upon it because our middle class perspective assumes it is an escape to become emotionally charged, when we see that it is easier for the poor to do it than it is for ourselves. Could it be that poverty imposes a simpler life, and perhaps even a more childlike lifestyle than we who are educated, and "better off" are living. Could it be that we are the jaded crowd who more desperately need the escape point?

Your question truly made me think Mike - thanks.

And I also wonder whether Kingdom experiences of ecstacy are really escapism - might they be explosions of heaven happening in our midst instead? Hmmm - another post.

Pastor Phil said...

Carl,

I agree. The Emergent conversation can add depth to Pentecostalism. Yet perhaps I am even thinking the reverse - that Pentecostalism can add a depth to the Emergent conversation. This is perhaps harder for a greater number of people to imagine, and that in itself would be a point to be challenged.

Your point about "words to the heart" is well taken, and yet I might add to that, that Pentecostalism might go beyond the issue of words speaking to the heart, and consider indescribable experiences as having a place to speak to our hearts. Is there perhaps something postmodern about that thought? or no? hmmmm...menotsureyet.

Pastor Phil said...

B bro,

Miss you man. Texas is too far from Salem. Your trust point is one which perhaps needs a deeper conversation. Obviously poverty stretches our need for the practicality of the Gospel more than wealth does. Does this mean that the poor may have a more direct access to a simpler, more practical, and somehow still more profound faith than a middle class white guy like myself?

Your experiences in poverty in Abilene may touch upon that very directly.

Anonymous said...

'Could it be that poverty imposes a simpler life, and perhaps even a more childlike lifestyle than we who are educated, and "better off" are living. Could it be that we are the jaded crowd who more desperately need the escape point?'

I think you might have something there, although I'm not sure I'd actually use the phrase 'escape point' for what the jaded crowd need. It is interesting to look at the fact that the vast majority of faiths present some kind of simpler life as a source of deeper spirituality. For Pagans it is a 'back to the land' kind of thing. Within Christianity it is that concept of giving everything up to follow Christ. There are parallels in other faiths too. Certainly something to consider. :)

'And I also wonder whether Kingdom experiences of ecstacy are really escapism - might they be explosions of heaven happening in our midst instead?'

That kind of thing is a heart knowledge thing. I wouldn't presume to suggest that it can't or doesn't take place. I DO wonder if it takes place as much as it is suggested to. Thinking abut the ecstatic nature of shamanic journeying, sometimes the ecstacy can be the thing that people go for. I suspect that an awful lot of people getting in to the trendy practise of shamanism are in it for the ecstatic buzz rather than a deeper spiritual experience.... not that one can't go hand in hand with the other, you understand. Just that I suspect many people stop at that 'feel good' state. :)

BB

Mike

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

I'm tracking with you on the trenines of the ecstatic buzz, and obviously there are leadersin Pentecost who take advantage of the fact that it is "trendy" to experience the ecstatic. But, the trendiness is likely to have started, and even still be working among some groups, out of something more honest and primal than we see on TV. ;-)

Great thoughtful response.

I used "escape point" a reference to escaping our jadedness, and perhaps even our dog-eat-dog world - a different kind of escape than we might typically think of.

carl said...

I agree, good point. Pentecostalism can add a depth to the Emergent conversation. When I see congregations from all kinds of traditions and denominations with charismatic overtones it makes their expression of faith that much fuller.

Anonymous said...

'But, the trendiness is likely to have started, and even still be working among some groups, out of something more honest and primal than we see on TV. ;-)'

Without a doubt. :)

'I used "escape point" a reference to escaping our jadedness, and perhaps even our dog-eat-dog world - a different kind of escape than we might typically think of.'

I'm not sure that is too far from the typical thinking on escapism. Just that the focal point has a slightly more spiritual angle to it. :)

BB

Mike

carl said...

Emergence and Pentecostalism both tend to accept the unexplainable as well as the new and different. The emergent conversation tries to do it an intellectual way(if that makes sense)while pentecostals like to run with it.

Is this also the mind and heart of the poor community?

Out of the few homeless people that I have met and had real conversations with a large percentage of them were very smart and intellectual yet with hints of mental illness. Just a random observation.

Agent B said...

"Your trust point is one which perhaps needs a deeper conversation."

The "trust point" is a theme I'm constantly trying to explore on my own blog. And it's a cultural priority in the poverty realm that I keep a close eye on.

Note: Eight years ago my wife & I approached the poverty culture as just that, a foreign culture. Like traveling abroad, there's new social rules, priorities, etc.

The poverty culture always lives in the "now". There is no storing up or planning ahead like in the middle class.

There really is an obscure level of "faith" when you live with no plans beyond the next hour from now.

I could write volumes on this. Better quit while the night is young...

Pastor Phil said...

Carl,

If only fulness were the regular experience in all Charismatic traditions! It certainly always has that potential.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

I think the focal poit n is what determines easy escapism versus realistic and beneficial escapism, and this is a critical distinction for all of us.

Pastor Phil said...

B Dude,

I look for your volumes someday.