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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Archiv für Christianity

Volunteers in church- how to manage- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Bisher und Bald


Can Someone Please Volunteer?

4 Problems Facing Your Church Volunteer Team

Building Teams That Last………………………………………………………3

Recruitment: The Ingredients for Growth…………………………………….4

Training: The Backbone of Your Team……………………………………..15

Appreciation: The Secret to Making People Feel Valued………………….20

Burnout: The Reality Every Team Faces……………………………………28

The Great Invitation……………………………………………………………37

About Proclaim…………………………………………………………………38

About the Author………………………………………………………………39


Building Teams That Last

Thriving volunteer teams don’t sprout up overnight. They don’t bound up to the stage after the perfect announcement. They don’t line up at your door after reading their bulletins. And whether or not you have one is not an indicator of how clearly your church communicates the gospel.

If you want to build a church volunteer team that lasts, there are two things you have to do: you need to get people on your team, and you need to keep them there.

You don’t necessarily want just anybody to join your team, and you can’t possibly keep everyone from quitting. But the best volunteer programs are the ones that get more of the right people on your team, and that keep more of the right people for longer.

In this ebook we’ve split these two phases of your volunteer program into four pieces—recruitment, training, appreciation, and burnout—so you’ll walk away with the tools you need to build a volunteer team that lasts.


Recruitment: The Ingredients for Growth

Right now, there are people in your church who want to volunteer, but aren’t involved yet.

Some of them are waiting for the right opportunity—the role that perfectly aligns with their gifts. Others are literally just waiting to be asked.

The challenge for your staff is finding the right times to ask, the right ways to ask, and the right people to ask.

If you’re struggling to develop a solid volunteer program, here are 13 tips to help you recruit more volunteers.

  1. Share opportunities in multiple ways

Announcements, newsletters, and church bulletins are a great way to tell your congregation what’s going on in your church. They let you cast a wide net and communicate with everyone at once, and you’re sure to get some of the people you need. But that shouldn’t be the only way people hear how to get involved.

Sometimes it’s better to use a fishing pole than a net.

An announcement to everyone doesn’t have the same impact on someone as a personal invitation. People want to know they’re in the right place, that they belong, and that you really are talking to them specifically. A personal invitation leaves no doubt that this opportunity is for them.

Every two weeks I lead a Bible study with high school students. When I send a group message to all of them at once, I get crickets. At best, a couple of the most actively involved kids respond. It’s only when I personally call, message, text, or talk to each


kid individually that they realize I’m really inviting them and I really want them to respond to the invitation.

The big announcements are an important piece of the puzzle, but you can’t rely on those to connect with every person. Even the people who want to get involved can miss, forget about, or dismiss an announcement.

Each piece of your volunteer recruitment plan should direct people to a personal conversation with a real person.

  1. Define who you’re looking for

If people don’t know what kind of person you need to fill a role, they’re less likely to believe they’re the right person for the job. If you’re desperate for volunteers, you might be tempted to let this slide, but if your goal is to develop a healthy program and get the right people in the right roles, be upfront about what it takes to succeed in a particular role.

If you need friendly extroverts who like to meet new people, ask for them specifically.

If you need someone who can focus on one task for a long time, say so.

If you need someone with experience, or if a particular skill would make someone better suited for the job, let people know.

Defining the personalities, skills, or knowledge people need to succeed will undoubtedly shrink the pool of eligible volunteers—but that’s not something to be afraid of if it means putting together a volunteer program that lasts.

The more specific you are about the type of person you need, the more likely someone in your congregation will realize, “Hey, that’s me!”

  1. Explain the purpose before the task


There are lots of reasons why people volunteer. Most of them aren’t “I really like to say ‘Hi’ to strangers” or “I love the software you use.”

Before you ever get to the specific micro-level tasks a particular role entails, make sure people know why you need them to help.

“We want people to feel like they belong here before they set foot inside our doors.”

“We want every detail of our service to look thoughtfully prepared—because it’s true.”

Whether this happens from the stage, in personal conversations, or in volunteer-interest meetings, don’t miss your opportunity to cast the vision for your volunteers. If they don’t understand why they’re perfectly arranging several hundred pens or folding bulletins or shaking hands, they might quit before they even start.

Share why you need volunteers, what the job is, and how to do it—in that order.

  1. Make it simple to get involved

The more hurdles you put between potential volunteers and the finish line (volunteering in your program), the less volunteers you’re going to have.

A strong volunteer program should be easy to get involved in. If someone checks a box in your bulletin saying they want to volunteer, someone should contact them within a couple of days to find out how they’d like to volunteer and what their schedule looks like.

Don’t place a huge burden on new volunteers—start them out with a limited schedule so the initial burden is as small as possible.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be thorough or that you shouldn’t have a vetting process for particular roles (like children’s ministry volunteers). It just means that whatever your process is, it should happen quickly, and most of the actual work should happen on your end.


If the position requires a higher level of responsibility or higher expectations for knowledge, skill, etc., that should be very clear before someone ever starts the process of trying to be a volunteer.

  1. Let people try it before committing

Even if you clearly communicate what it’s like to be a volunteer, some people are still going to feel like they had no idea what they were getting into.

Maybe they’ve never been in a room full of third graders before. Maybe they didn’t realize how it would actually affect their schedule.

If you let people try something out before they commit to doing it regularly, it’s a lot less stressful to say, “Yes.” It also makes it easier for one of you to say, “No,” if you have to.

You might want people try several different roles before they decide which one they want to do (if you need certain roles more than others, let people know). This helps you and the volunteer to know that they are in the best possible role—which hopefully means they’ll stay longer, and provide a greater benefit to your ministry.

You need volunteers you can count on regularly. Providing a volunteer “test-drive” is a great way to make sure nobody gets stuck in a role they aren’t cut out for—and it helps keep your church from getting left out to dry. It’s also an important part of preventing volunteer burnout before it happens.

  1. Follow up with potential volunteers

Sometimes getting to know a potential volunteer might reveal that someone isn’t the right fit for your ministry. Sometimes, they might just not be the right fit right now. School, weddings, moving, job-hunting, and other major transitions can make it hard to commit to volunteering—but those things don’t last forever.


After getting to know a potential volunteer, you may also find that you don’t feel like they’re ready. Maybe there’s a maturity issue, or you see or hear something else that makes it clear this isn’t the right time. Maybe you know about a better opportunity for this person down the road.

Whether the decision is made on your end or theirs, take note of the people who might make good volunteers in the future. Put a date in your calendar to follow up with them.

Building relationships with the people in your congregation should never feel like a waste of time, and if you personally invest in potential volunteers, more of them will become actual volunteers.

Know the difference between “not now” and “never.”

  1. Create clear expectations

The more defined a role is, the easier it is to get involved. Your volunteer program should have a solid volunteer training strategy, and every volunteer should know these three things:

  1. Where they need to be
  2. What they’re doing
  3. Why they’re doing it

When you “just wing it” through training new volunteers, it can make people feel like their role isn’t as important to you, your church, or your ministry. You’re also bound to miss something important. Meet with your staff and prepare everything you want your volunteers to know. This is your chance to cast the vision for what volunteering looks like in your church.

You should also make it clear what not to do. Volunteers are not the same as employees, but they absolutely represent your church, and you’re inviting them to be


part of your ministry. If someone has a bad experience with one of your volunteers, they’re probably going to associate that experience with your ministry.

Put together a “code of conduct” for your volunteers. You don’t need to scare anyone or preemptively wag your finger—focus on the incredible privilege your team has, and use this as an opportunity to share why their role matters to your ministry.

  1. Pray for volunteers

In the six years I’ve been a volunteer leader with Young Life, not one year has gone by where we didn’t take some time to reflect on Matthew 9:37–38 and pray for more volunteers.

Invite your existing volunteers to be part of this process. They’re some of your best recruiters, and chances are they know other people who could volunteer too. Our Young Life staff gives every volunteer a card with Matthew 9:37–38 on it for us to write down names of people who could be volunteers too.

There are a lot of things you can’t control. But none of those things matter when you ask God for help and remember his sovereignty. Your passionate plea from the pulpit asking for more volunteers can only go so far. Your announcements, bulletins, and flashy videos can’t change someone’s schedule or address every excuse. But long after your words are forgotten, the Holy Spirit continues working on people’s hearts.

Prayer is the most valuable piece of your volunteer recruitment program, and the Holy Spirit is your most valuable team member.

  1. Teach your church about the body of Christ


1 Corinthians 12:12–31 offers a powerful picture of the diversity of the church. Each member of your congregation is unique, and plays a particular role in the body of Christ. This is a passage the church can always benefit from spending more time in, but if your team is hurting for volunteers, this passage is also a great way to show people that each of us is uniquely gifted to serve a particular purpose, and each of us can benefit the entire body.

During or after a sermon on this passage, consider whether it’s appropriate to share about the opportunities available to your church. You may want to talk about some of your partner ministries and highlight some of your greatest needs.

This isn’t about guilting people into volunteering. This is about being the church. Whether or not people are capable of volunteering, they should walk away from a teaching on 1 Corinthians 12 feeling affirmed in who they are and confident in what they’re capable of.

On the other hand, nobody should walk away from this thinking “volunteering is for hands, and I’m more of an eye, really.” There are plenty of very legitimate reasons for


not getting involved in your volunteer program, but that’s not one of them. If you bring volunteering into the conversation, it should be clear that there is a role for everyone.

  1. Help people identify their gifts

A lot of people have no idea what they’re gifts are. They don’t really know what they’re good at, or they feel like the things they’re good at don’t line up with how the church talks about “gifts” and “talents.” For some, the topic of spiritual gifts stirs up questions about their identity. Helping members of your congregation identify their gifts isn’t just valuable to your church or your volunteer program—it’s part of the process of helping people recognize who they are in Christ, and truly seeing that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).


There are lots of different methods for identifying spiritual gifts, but what they all come down to is this: being familiar with the different expressions of the Holy Spirit and being familiar with yourself. There is no substitute for knowing the Holy Spirit and knowing the people in your church.

But not every pastor has the privilege of personally knowing every person in the church—and not every pastor has the time to evaluate spiritual gifts with every member of the congregation. Lifeway provides a free spiritual gift assessment tool you can share with your church. If you can, try to identify volunteer roles in your church that align with each expression of the Holy Spirit, so people can easily see where they fit.

  1. Appreciate the volunteers you have

Volunteer appreciation plays an important role in a healthy volunteer recruitment program. Why? Because your current volunteers are some of your biggest assets.


People are most likely to share a very positive or a very negative experience. You can’t guarantee every person will have a positive experience, but you can do your best to make sure every person knows they are valued.

Public volunteer appreciation also gives you the opportunity to show people what volunteering is like and how your church feels about its volunteers. This isn’t about providing some extravagant gift as incentive to volunteer. It’s about showing your church that it’s an honor to be a volunteer, and to talk about what makes someone a good one. Highlight ways your volunteers are pointing people to Jesus, setting up the gospel, and caring for the people in your congregation.

Any public volunteer appreciation you do should leave people with two thoughts:

  1. That’s so cool that so-and-so does that for our church.
  2. I wonder what I could do to help?
  3. Showcase volunteer testimonies

It’s one thing when a pastor says, “Hey, you should all volunteer. I think you’ll like it.” It’s another thing when someone you know shares how much they love what they do.

When you want to draw people to a particular role, consider letting one of your volunteers share about their experience. This could be a huge growth opportunity for the volunteer, and you might find that their testimony is far more compelling than anything you could say. Help your volunteers put their experience into words. If they aren’t comfortable sharing on stage, see if filming their testimony would be more comfortable.

  1. Highlight the benefits


Your volunteers’ desire to serve shouldn’t be rooted in any form of compensation. But as you probably know, volunteering can be a deeply enriching experience. Highlighting those benefits upfront can help fuel someone’s desire to serve others and be part of your ministry.

I’m not saying you should try to accommodate the person who asks,”What’s in it for me?” Highlighting the benefits of volunteering is a strategy to draw the right people into your program. People who have the motivation to stay involved for the long haul.

If a desire for better relationships with fellow church members, spiritual growth, and the satisfaction of serving others motivates someone to volunteer, they’re probably the type of person you want to have on your team.

Once you get people to join your team, it’s time to dig into the next big piece of your volunteer program: training.


Training: The Backbone of Your Volunteer Program

Nobody likes to feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe more than that, nobody likes to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

If either of those scenarios is the reality for people who volunteer at your church, it might not just be a personal problem—it could be a training problem.

When new volunteers step through the door to your church office (or send the email, make the phone call, etc.), they’re committing to try something.

Some are willing to try harder than others.

Solid volunteer training captures that “I want to help” energy and turns potential volunteers into people you can count on. It also helps people decide if something is really the right fit for them. Poor training, on the other hand, dries up a potential volunteer’s desire to help—fast.

Just because you have a training program in place doesn’t mean you’re covered here. People learn in different ways. If you’re only utilizing one strategy for training your new volunteers, people who would otherwise be a great fit for your church may feel like they “just don’t have it,” and give up.

The more complex a volunteer’s role is, the more important it is that you provide multiple ways for them to learn.

The volunteers who work with your presentation software, for example, are going to have varying levels of technical expertise. Some of them might be able to jump into a program on their own and play around until they figure out what they need to do. Others need to have a clear model they can follow, or one-on-one instruction. Whether they’re putting together the slides or running the presentation, the task will require some people to learn and grow more than others.


Anytime you have a new batch of volunteers, part of getting to know them should involve finding out how they learn best. If they don’t know, then you can default to your go-to training strategy. If they can tell you how they learn best, it’ll help you make the best use of your time together.

In this chapter, we’ll look specifically at training someone how to run your presentations, but the strategies apply to any volunteer role.

Here are four basic strategies for training new volunteers.

  1. “Hands-on” training

One-on-one attention is the most obvious way to train someone how to use a new program, but it’s also the most time consuming. It requires you to give personal instruction to each volunteer, and only you can decide if you have the time to do that.

Hands-on training doesn’t mean you throw a new volunteer into a live presentation and watch over their shoulder while they struggle through the service. The best way for them to practice is in a controlled environment—a no-pressure situation. Guide them through each step of the service, and then see if they can repeat the process without you.

You could walk them through a practice presentation. Maybe have them create a copy of last weekend’s service using the pieces you had—a list of songs, notes from the pastor, events coming up, verses that need to go on slides, etc.

You could also write out step-by-step instructions for them, which is a good test of both their ability to follow and your ability to communicate directions (so you can get better at training, too). Or, have them write down what you ask them to do, so they remember it better (and they can put it in their own words).

Whatever you have them do, the important part of one-on-one training is that an expert (or at least someone who mostly knows what they’re doing) is right there to answer questions or provide correction.


  1. “Hands-off” observation

Similar to hands-on one-on-one training, this strategy allows you to give personal guidance to a volunteer. The difference is, this may not require you to set aside additional time for training. Just do the job as usual, with one change:

Have them watch you work through the entire process start to finish. Invite them to join you when you’re putting together the presentation for the next service. Pull out an extra chair and let them watch you during the actual service. Let them see everything the job requires you to do.

Watching gives your volunteer the freedom to ask the questions they need answered, so you don’t explain things they already figured out through observation, and they don’t feel dumb for not understanding what you’re telling them to do.

If you have steps written out somewhere, show them when you check off each step. Encourage them to take their own notes along the way.

When you’re done showing them the whole process, that may be the best time to switch seats and let them drive. See if they can follow your steps, but encourage them to ask questions, and wait until they ask for help—don’t preemptively create and run the entire presentation for them.

  1. Learn, teach, repeat

Once you’ve trained a new volunteer, see if they know everything they need to be able to teach another new volunteer.

Sometimes explaining a process to someone else helps you understand it better. You’re not just playing “telephone” with detailed instructions—you’re explaining what you just learned in your own words.


This strategy is perhaps the best test of your own ability to train others, and it’s one of the best ways to multiply your expertise and your time. The more people available to answer technical questions, the less burden there is on you.

If people know in advance that they’re going to have to teach someone else how to do what they’re learning, they may ask more questions the first time around and pay closer attention to what they’re doing. They’ll be more prepared to perform the tasks themselves, and they’ll be better equipped to repeat the process for someone else.

If you choose this strategy, be sure you remove other factors that could add to the stress of teaching (don’t use a live presentation in front of your whole church). Be sensitive to the fact that teaching is stressful enough on its own for a lot of people. If someone isn’t comfortable teaching others, it’s okay to choose another strategy—they might just want to understand the process better before they try to show someone else.

  1. Independent learning

A tech-savvy self-guided learner probably doesn’t want you to hold their hand through every step of the training. Sitting through meetings or in-depth one-on-one sessions may actually slow down their learning process. They may prefer to learn how your presentations work by playing with the features themselves.

They still need to know your church’s process—but maybe not how to use the tools. Who knows—they may even discover a better way for your church use a tool or do a job.

These people need a one-stop-shop where they can find out everything they need to know and explore their new role on their own. This could be a page on your website, or something as simple as an email with links to pages, articles, and tools you want them to be familiar with.

That’s one of the ways Proclaim makes it easy for new volunteers to get started. If you’ve got a self-guided learner on your team, they can see all our training videos, step-


by-step guides to presentations, and training on particular features and processes on our Proclaim help page.

Find what works for your church

Even if you’re just getting to know your volunteers, you have a relationship with each of them. Get to know your team, and if possible, be willing to try a few different training strategies. If someone doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to do, it doesn’t always mean that they aren’t a good fit—they might just need you to teach them in another way.

Any of these strategies can be mixed and matched based on your needs and the learning styles of your volunteers. Use training as the time to give your volunteers every opportunity to see if this is the right fit for them—before your church has to count on them, and before they commit to making the role a regular part of their life.

So your team is starting to grow, and you’re figuring out the best way to train your new volunteers. We still need to talk about why people quit, and how to keep them from doing it—but first, let’s make these new volunteers feel more appreciated (so more of them will stick around longer).


Appreciation: The Secret to Making People Feel Valued

I’ve been volunteering as a youth leader with Young Life for six years. Once or twice a year, one of our regular leader gatherings includes a time where volunteers are recognized for their years of service, and the community of people who support us generously provide a small gift of some kind.

It’s something simple to physically accompany the words, “Thank you.” A Young Life shirt, a hat, a blanket, or a mug stuffed full of candy. Gift cards to the coffee shops we call home after countless hours spent in conversation with kids. Vouchers for a free meal at a local restaurant or a service provided by a local business that supports the ministry of Young Life.

A couple of years ago, a friend who was volunteering with me was bothered by the gift.

It was too extravagant. It wasn’t fair to ask people to thank us with their money. And the gift was too impersonal to really feel like sincere gratitude. To him, the whole thing felt inauthentic, forced, and inconsiderate of the people who have already done so much to support us.

I understood how he felt, but I also believed that for these people who only knew some of the volunteers personally, the gesture was sincere effort to show every volunteer that they genuinely support the work they do, whether they know each volunteer personally or not.

But my friend didn’t feel valued as a volunteer, and he hated feeling like people had a financial burden to say thank you to him.

He’s not an ungrateful person. But the thought and effort that went into the gift and the gesture of physically providing something to say thank you was lost on him. It didn’t communicate what it was intended to communicate. And unfortunately, when we use


cookie-cutter formulas to show appreciation, some people are going to feel unvalued every time.

People receive love in different ways. The things that make you personally feel valued, respected, and cared for might not mean much to someone else. That doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful—it might just mean that they’re different than you. (It’s still totally possible that they are ungrateful, but that’s a whole other conversation.)

My friend feels more valued through words of affirmation—a note or personal conversation would’ve meant more to him than that gift ever could. My local Young Life area doesn’t by any means limit the way they thank volunteers to these gifts (they send cards and seize every opportunity to thank volunteers throughout the year in one-on-one and group meetings) but to my friend, the build-up made the gift seem like it was supposed to be the pinnacle of thankfulness, and it fell short.

Making large groups of people feel appreciated is too complicated to try just one thing.

The bigger your church or ministry is and the more volunteers you have, the harder it is to get to know them all on a personal level—and the more important it is that each volunteer feels personally valued.

This is the only formula to make someone feel valued: get to know them.

Learn what makes them feel personally cared for, and then do that. Do lots of completely different things to appreciate them and see what sticks.

Note: one of the best indicators of how someone prefers to be appreciated is how they choose to show appreciation to others.

As you get to know your volunteers and genuinely seek to appreciate them, here are seven ideas for you to try. Full disclosure: most of these come straight from Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages series. While Chapman’s focus is on marriages, the principles apply to any personal or professional relationship that involves communicating you care about another person.


  1. Acts of service

For some of your volunteers, words, gifts, and even time spent together isn’t what actually communicates that you appreciate them.

You can spend time with someone you don’t like.

You can give things to people out of obligation.

You can say things without really meaning them.

Some of your volunteers might feel most loved when people do nice things for them: give them a ride to some appointment they’re dreading, or make a meal for them when they’re stressed or busy. Help them study for that class, offer to babysit, or take care of something else they keep putting off because they’re too busy. (My go-to is usually babysitting).

Acts of service shows people that they are worth making sacrifices for, that you’re thinking of them, and that you care about them enough to help make their lives a little easier.

If you don’t know enough about your volunteers to know what’s going on in their lives and what you can do for them, it may be time to refer to method #2.

  1. Quality time

Some of your volunteers may feel most loved when someone makes a point of spending quality time with them.

Go to a movie or the park, or invite them over for dinner. Bring your families together. Find something to do where you can just hang out with the people you want to appreciate—something that says, “You’re worth spending time with.” It’s not an appointment. It’s not a meeting. And it has nothing to do with the ministry they’re involved with or the role they serve in. It’s two people investing in a personal friendship.


When you like being around the people you serve with, the time you spend serving becomes that much more enjoyable, too.

  1. Words of affirmation

This is me. I’m the guy that constantly wants to know what you think of me. My greatest fear is being misunderstood. And the single greatest thing someone can do to show me they appreciate what I’m doing is to tell me.

When someone tells me I did a good job, it motivates me to do a good job again. When someone calls out a specific thing that they notice about me—something I did or said, how I approached a situation, or how something about me makes me well-suited to my role—it gives me the fuel I need to keep doing and saying those things to the best of my ability.

People who respond well to words of affirmation aren’t constantly looking for a pat on the head or waiting to be singled out for every little good thing they do. But when you notice someone doing an exceptional job, or faithfully and consistently serving your church or ministry in a particular way, tell them. Tell them how glad you are to have their help. If you notice specific things about them and the way they serve that role, all the better.

If your words of affirmation aren’t specific, they don’t mean as much. People can tell when you just said the same thing to four other people. Or when you don’t really know what it is they do for you.

People who respond well to words of affirmation feel cared about when you give them personal feedback. When you can identify particular ways they are succeeding or specific things they are uniquely gifted for.

I’m a writer. And my wife is always looking for new ways to encourage me to keep writing.


The best way she can encourage me is to read things I write and say something about them. It’s specific and personal from someone who knows me and understands why I write. That personal affirmation is all I need to feel like what I’m doing matters.

The best way to encourage your volunteers who respond to words of affirmation is to get to know them, look at the things they are doing well, and to say something about them.

  1. Gifts

For some volunteers, a thoughtful gift says “I appreciate you” in a meaningful way. It shows that you were thinking of them when you weren’t with them, and that you care about them enough to spend time and/or money on them. Whether it’s a treat you baked or a gift card you chose, it communicates that you notice them and the work they do. Like words of affirmation (and really, all of these ideas), the more personal or thoughtful your gift is, the more valued it makes someone feel.

A personal gift that cost you nothing can sometimes do more to communicate your appreciation than one that cost you (or your donors) a fortune.

  1. Cast the vision

Nobody likes to feel like what they’re doing doesn’t really make a difference. If your role is small and you don’t feel like it matters, it’s a lot easier to leave it behind.

Show your volunteers why what they’re doing matters.

This can go hand-in-hand with words of affirmation, but it’s worth covering in volunteer training, too. Everyone who volunteers for your church should know how their role contributes to your church’s mission, makes your services the best they can be, and ultimately points people to Jesus.


  1. Honor their time

Every time they show up to a meeting, training, practice, or event, your volunteers are sacrificing things to be with you. They’re giving up time with friends and family. Time doing the things that help them recover from a long day at work and the wear and tear of life. Some of your volunteers would rather be meeting with you than at home doing something else. But some of them would rather be home, or would like to get home as soon as possible. They’re here because they care about your ministry, they recognize their part in what you’re doing, and because they know that boring or time-consuming meetings are often a necessary part of doing things we enjoy.

Show your volunteers that you appreciate what they do by honoring their time.

A couple of years ago, I was with a group of team leaders discussing how long our volunteer meetings would be for the upcoming year. Some of our volunteers wanted to spend more time together so that they could get to know each other better. Others felt like we already spent so much time together, and asking them to take off another hour for an informal social time was going to be a struggle. The compromise? We established an optional hour for dinner and hanging out before the “official” meeting started (which always lasted at least two hours anyways).

We absolutely wanted to encourage people to get to know each other better and to spend more time together, but we didn’t want that to come at the cost of losing (or discouraging) volunteers who already felt stretched too far for time.

How much you emphasize honoring people’s time will completely depend on the makeup of your team, but it’s important to recognize what people are giving up to be with you. Show them that you appreciate what they are already doing enough that you aren’t going to take up more of their time than you have to.

You don’t have to cancel all your meetings and shush all small talk. Honoring your volunteers’ time can be as simple as starting and ending on time, being where you’ve


asked them to meet you before they arrive, and not letting your meetings have long gaps where nothing is happening.

Clearly communicate any changes to the schedule in more than one way. Don’t just send an email—if people aren’t used to getting last minute schedule changes from you, they may not even check their email. Make sure someone has established contact with each person on your team so that nobody shows up when they don’t have to. As you get to know your volunteers, you’ll get to know the best ways to reach them last minute (which hopefully doesn’t happen very often).

  1. Help them grow

As your volunteers give more of their time to your ministry, they should experience personal growth—or know what they need to do to experience it. This could be closely tied to #5: as they understand more about why their role matters to the ministry, they can grow in their understanding of how God uses them in the lives of others. Help them connect the dots between what they’re doing and what God is doing.

When you meet together, challenge your volunteers to try specific things that could help them grow personally and in their role.

Give your greeters better tools for starting conversations, or something to reflect on while they meet new people.

Give your tech volunteers freedom to experiment or try new things (I’d start with a controlled setting), or a more experienced person they can work alongside and learn from.

Give your worship team members the opportunity to share something they’ve been learning or reflecting on lately—with the team or the congregation.

The specific growth opportunities available to your volunteers completely depends on your church. But for most roles, some of the biggest things that will help volunteers experience personal growth are mentors and community. If you don’t have the capacity


to personally walk alongside your volunteers, find someone (or a group of someones) who has the time and energy to invest in the people that serve with you. Help them recognize their potential and show them they are worth investing time in and developing a personal relationship with.

With respect to #6, giving your team opportunities to get to know each other can go a long ways towards personal growth and ultimately feeling valued.

Know your volunteers

Even the most thorough vetting process doesn’t do much to help you get to know someone personally. And the bottom line is, if you want your volunteers to feel valued, you have to know them on an individual level. Being on a first name basis isn’t good enough (but it’s definitely a start).

And if you’re looking at this list thinking “I don’t have time to do any of these things,” maybe it’s time to bring someone on board who can. Who knows, maybe someone will volunteer?

Maybe you’re already doing these things, and you’re reading this thinking “So why am I still losing volunteers left and right?” If you’re tired of watching your best volunteers walk away for good (or you’re worried they might some day), it’s time for us to talk about burnout.


Burnout: The Reality Every Team Faces

Sometimes volunteers are just going to quit, and there’s nothing you can do to change their minds.

People move. They get new jobs or go through transitions that make volunteering more difficult or stressful.

But sometimes people quit for completely preventable reasons. They’re worn out. They don’t feel like what they do really matters to you or your ministry. They feel stuck in their role. Or they feel like no one cares if they show up or not.

Each of these feelings are personal. But that doesn’t reduce these issues to personal problems or give you permission to dismiss them because you think someone “just isn’t the right fit.” They’re symptoms of burnout, and you can take steps to make sure other volunteers don’t burnout, too.

These are feelings you can address before they ever become problems. And if you don’t take measures to protect your team against them, you could find yourself reading an unexpected resignation letter or having a tough conversation with one of your best volunteers.

Whether you’re experiencing burnout yourself or you’re simply concerned about the health of your team, these 12 methods will help you avoid losing valuable volunteers. A lot of these methods overlap, but they each contribute to helping your volunteers feel more connected to their roles, your ministry, and the people they serve with.

If you’re serious about fighting burnout, see how these 12 tips can help your volunteer program:

  1. Share the impact volunteers have


One of the best ways to remind people why what they do matters is to show them what happens as a result of their work.

We don’t always get to see the direct fruits of our labor, and some roles will see more tangible ways they impact your mission, but you can always remind someone what they are contributing to, and how their contribution affects the outcome. Talk about your mission and how what they do each week makes that mission possible, or fulfills that mission in some way.

If you’re having trouble communicating this to your volunteers, try to imagine your church without that role. What changes?

Imagine your church without greeters. How would visitors feel when they set foot in your door?

Imagine you didn’t have a volunteer running your presentations. Who would that role fall to each service? How would you work around it?

Imagine that nobody in your church volunteered to play or sing in the worship band. What would worship look like each week?

None of these things determine whether or not your church can share the gospel. But every volunteer role has a purpose, and they each empower your church to share the gospel more clearly, with more people, or in different ways. There’s a reason for every role.

Identify that underlying purpose—the reason why your church or ministry depends on that volunteer—and highlight that purpose to your team as often as you can. Help them see how they fit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4–30).

Note: Be sensitive to how your team responds when you emphasize the importance of their role, and the context in which you share it.

In the wrong setting, (like when someone is late to a meeting, or after you’ve just made an additional request) a reminder about the importance of a volunteer role becomes discouraging, and it can contribute to the volunteer burnout you’re trying to prevent.


  1. Give your volunteers rest

If you pay attention to your volunteers and know them personally, it’s a lot easier to tell when they need a break.

Your ministry depends on your team, and they know that, but it should also be clear to volunteers that they can say no when life is too crazy. If you make volunteering an all-or-nothing commitment, you’re going to have less volunteers, and the ones you do have are going to wear out faster.

This isn’t giving people the freedom to be late or to not show up when they’ve said they would be there for you—it’s about giving people permission to tell you when they can’t or shouldn’t do what is being asked of them.

I’m not saying you should bend over backwards for lazy people (although Luke 13:6–9 has always made me more flexible with lazy people). All I’m saying is: pay attention. Sometimes people won’t tell you when they’re unusually stressed—they might even tell you they’re fine.

What “rest” looks like is up to you and your team. For some ministries, summer is the least active time of year, and volunteers enjoy a more casual commitment. But if every volunteer role is equally active year round, you may have to find other ways to give volunteers breaks. Maybe “rest” means you celebrate your volunteers and the hard work they’ve done all year. Maybe it means less meetings, or you find a way to give them a day off from their role.

Obviously, giving people a break is a lot easier when you have more than one volunteer in every role—which brings us to the next big way you can fight volunteer burnout.

  1. Distribute knowledge

When you’re the only one who knows how to do your job, that job can quickly become more stressful. This usually happens in some of the most difficult or important roles—


less people want to do it (or are capable of doing it), so the burden falls on a handful of people (or one person). They have to commit more of their lives to the role, and they feel less freedom to say no.

I’ve never heard a church or ministry say, “We have too many volunteers. Seriously, we don’t need your help.” There are never enough volunteers. But that doesn’t mean we have to look at this situation and say, “Too bad.”

Encourage your more experienced volunteers (or the ones who have more time) to learn multiple roles. Or see if anyone on your staff would be willing to give a volunteer a break now and then. When it comes to the long term health of your ministry, your team has to be able to support each other.

It may seem like you’re asking your volunteers for one more thing, but this gives you the opportunity to show your volunteers that they can lean on each other (and you) when they need to.

  1. Appreciate your volunteers

You can never adequately compensate your volunteers for all the work they do for you. And the vast majority of volunteers aren’t looking for compensation. They’re volunteering. And if they’re volunteering in ministry, they’re probably hoping to get something you can’t hand them—like spiritual growth, or a more intimate relationship with God.

Volunteer appreciation isn’t about compensation. Knowing that should help you decide how to appreciate your volunteers.

Volunteer appreciation is about encouragement. It’s acknowledging the sacrifices your volunteers make for you and your ministry, and helping them see that what they do matters. The ways you show your volunteers that you appreciate them should come from knowing them personally and discovering what makes them feel most cared about.


If your volunteers feel like you care about them personally, it makes it more enjoyable to remain in their volunteer community.

  1. Build a volunteer community

My volunteer team doesn’t just meet together to plan youth group or go over “official volunteer business.” We’re friends. We spend time together because we enjoy each other. Sometimes our “official” meetings take longer than they need to because we hang out and talk about life—even though we’re all tired of meetings and we’re always trying to make them shorter.

We didn’t become friends overnight. We’ve been volunteering together for years. During that time we’ve made an intentional effort to be part of each others’ lives.

Being friends made it that much harder when one of our team members had to quit. We understood her reasons for leaving, but her absence deeply affected our team—and it was harder for her to leave because she knew she’d see us less.

Building community isn’t about guilting people into staying. It’s about developing genuine relationships that lead volunteers to enjoy their role more.

  1. Provide clear goals

Once a volunteer has mastered the basics of their position, what’s next for them?

Doing the same task in the same way at the same place gets old fast. Goals give volunteers direction for growth and can keep “the usual thing” enjoyable. Providing goals can also help your ministry get more out of your volunteers.

Goals could be simple, like learning the names of 10 new people each service. Or they could be bigger, like leading a song for the first time, or preparing a devotional. Give your volunteers the option to challenge themselves to grow.


When people stop growing, that’s when they start getting that nagging feeling that something needs to change.

If you can, you should try to map out a “volunteer career path” for each of the roles your church or ministry offers. Show volunteers that there are opportunities to take their desire to grow even further.

Be reasonable, and don’t push your volunteers into the deep end, but keep fueling their desire to help by acknowledging their strengths and giving those strengths an application.

“You’re great at _____. Have you ever thought about trying ____?”

  1. Prevent burnout, don’t react to it

By the time someone gets around to telling you that they’re quitting, they’ve probably made up their mind already. Unless you have a close relationship with your volunteers (and even if you do), they’ve likely discussed the decision with other people before they talked to you. When they get to you, they may already be too committed to their choice for you to change their minds.

If your plan to fight burnout is reactionary, you’ll almost always be too late.

Burnout doesn’t usually happen all of a sudden. It begins with boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, or fatigue. Over time, those feelings grow into a desire for change, and then a decision based on those feelings.

You can’t prevent every volunteer from burning out. And most won’t stay for life. But if you’re proactive about fighting burnout and you pay attention to how your volunteers feel about their roles, more of them will stay for longer.

  1. Come prepared, every time


Few things are more frustrating to a volunteer than a leader who isn’t prepared.

Your volunteers take time off work, get babysitters, and plan around the time they spend with you and your ministry. When you show up late or unprepared, it can make your volunteers feel like you don’t care—or like you don’t understand what they’re giving up to be with you.

Honor their time, be prepared, and give as much notice as you can when a meeting is going to be shorter or longer than usual. Those changes affect people’s lives.

  1. Remind them why they serve

People volunteer for a lot of different reasons. Some of those reasons—like spiritual growth or a desire to serve God—can keep volunteers going for a long time. Other reasons—like “meeting new people” or because a friend volunteered too—won’t be enough when the going gets tough.

Identify the reasons why your volunteers signed up. If you think those reasons will help your volunteers persevere, reinforce them. If the reasons why they signed up won’t last or stand up to friction, try to encourage them with some of the reasons why your other volunteers have stuck around—or else help them hold onto those reasons when things get difficult.

These reasons are tools for positive reinforcement and encouragement, not ways to induce guilt. Know your volunteers, and pay attention to how they respond.

  1. Find a mentor for every volunteer

One of the single greatest ways you can help a volunteer grow is to get them a mentor. Whether that’s a more experienced volunteer, a pastor or staff person, or another member of the congregation who enjoys developing relationships with people.


There are probably some people in your church right now who are more than capable of mentoring, but they either don’t know it or haven’t been given the nudge they need yet. Find ways to share this need with your congregation—it’s someone else’s spiritual growth opportunity.

When your volunteers have people they can talk to about their personal lives, their relationship with God, and how they feel about their role, it’s easier to address burnout before it happens. A mentor can identify the beginnings of burnout, and you can equip them to help reignite the flame.

  1. Pray for your volunteers

This should be obvious. Your volunteers are your partners in ministry, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for them. Pray for their families. Pray for their own personal ministries. Pray for their gifts. Pray for their jobs, which give them the flexibility to continue working with you. Pray for their personal relationship with Jesus, and pray that he becomes an even greater part of their lives.

Pray that Jesus would give them all the encouragement they need to continue.

The better you know your volunteers, the more specifically you can pray for them. But even if you don’t get to develop a personal relationship with every volunteer, smother them all in prayer.

  1. Train them well

Whatever your volunteer training strategy is, make sure your volunteers are thoroughly prepared to fulfill their roles.

Nobody likes to feel like they’re lost, or to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. A new volunteer doesn’t have to feel that way for very long before they’re ready to be


done. Solid training is one of the best ways for you to proactively fight volunteer burnout.

Know your team

Every single one of these techniques for fighting burnout depends on you to know your team. If you don’t have the capacity to get to know the people who serve with you, or there are too many volunteers for you to manage, assign team leaders for each role, and help them identify signs of burnout, too.

If you don’t know the people who serve with you, you could easily wind up doing more harm than good.

Fight volunteer burnout, don’t cause it.


The Great Invitation

Volunteering truly is an opportunity. It’s not just a hole your church or ministry needs to fill—it’s a chance for the members of your church to grow in exciting new ways. It’s a way to build community with fellow believers and grow closer to the God who made us.

Every role gives a glimpse of Christ and helps advance the kingdom of God. It’s not the only way for your congregation to do that, but it’s an opportunity most have the ability to attain.

If you can successfully recruit, train, appreciate, and retain your volunteers, you’ll find yourself surrounded with a growing number of people who have seized the opportunity to serve, and your ministry will have more hands to lift up Christ.

So go, and invite your congregation to take part in this profound opportunity.



About the Author

Ryan Nelson is a volunteer leader for Young Life and a blogger for Faithlife in Bellingham, Washington. Ryan has led multiple teams of volunteers over the years and he’s come to know them all as friends. He frequently writes for the Proclaim blog

every sqarefeet free- Cultural affairs of christianity- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Every Square Inch

An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians

by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Cover of

Cover of Holy Bible: 10th Anniversary Edition

An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians

Bruce Riley Ashford

Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians

Copyright 2015 Bruce Riley Ashford

Lexham Press, 1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225

All rights reserved. You may use brief quotations from this resource in presentations, articles, and books. For all other uses, please write Lexham Press for permission. Email us at

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NET) are from the NET Bible ® copyright 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-57-799620-0

Lexham Editorial Team: David Bomar, Lynnea Fraser
Cover Design: Jim LePage

For my son, John Paul Kuyper Ashford.
“Children are a heritage from the LORD.”
(Psalm 127:3 ESV)

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Competing Views on Theology and Culture

Chapter 2: A Theology of Culture

Chapter 3: Culture and Calling

Chapter 4: Six Case Studies on Culture

Chapter 5: The Arts

Chapter 6: The Sciences

Chapter 7: Politics and the Public Square

Chapter 8: Economics and Wealth

Chapter 9: Scholarship and Education

Conclusion: The Christian Mission

Appendix: Recommended Reading Summary

I wish to thank Brannon Ellis at Lexham Press and Amy Whitfield at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for their commitment to this project. I further wish to thank Greg Forster and his team at the Kern Family Foundation, whose encouragement and support enabled this project to become a reality. I also express gratitude to my friends Devin Maddox and Dennis Greeson, who helped me take ideas that were conceived as a professor at a graduate school and express them in a way that I hope will be helpful for a broader audience.
I am grateful also for friends with whom I’ve had many discussions about Christianity and culture, including Craig Bartholomew, Dennis Darville, James K. Dew, J. D. Greear, Ken Keathley, Ben Quinn, Heath Thomas, and Keith Whitfield. In addition, I wish to thank Greg Forster, Ken Keathley, Jay W. Richards, and Taylor Worley for providing expert feedback on portions of the manuscript.
Finally, I express love and appreciation for my wife, Lauren, and our three children, Riley Noelle, Anna Katherine, and John Paul Kuyper. Lauren is a constant encouragement in my writing projects—including this one, as she marked off one of our family’s two weeks of summer vacation so that I could write the manuscript for this little book. Riley, Anna, and Kuyper are a delight to me and Lauren, and we pray that they will be able to bring the entirety of their lives under submission to Christ’s lordship, as a matter of love and worship toward him and as a matter of love and witness toward the world.

In 1998, at the age of 24, I left the United States for the first time in order to become a university English instructor in Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim republic in a Central Asian corner of Russia. I had never traveled farther west than San Antonio, farther north than the tip of Maine, farther east than Nags Head (North Carolina), or farther south than Miami. Can you imagine what a never-ending carnival of cultural wedgies the next two years were for me?
My first week in the country, for example, I was introduced to a special drink called “kuhmis,” which my buddies told me “will taste a lot like an American milkshake.” And truly, it was white and frothy just like a vanilla milkshake. But it turns out that it was white and frothy because it was fermented mare’s milk. At some point in history, an entrepreneur had decided to milk a horse, allow the milk to rot, and then bottle it as a delicacy. Later that week, I also was served fish gelatin for breakfast.
But before long—culinary oddities aside—I was immersed in a cultural context that was a mixture of Eastern European and Central Asian, and which had been shaped in various ways in the past by Sunni Islam and Soviet communism, and more recently by global capitalism and postmodernism. These religious and ideological influences shaped everything in the culture, including the arts, sciences, politics, economic, education, entertainment, family life, and even sports competitions. I found myself wondering what it would look like for me to live a faithfully Christian life in that particular context.
This small book that you are reading is written as a little introduction for Christians who wish to live faithfully in their cultural contexts. It shows how all of life matters to God, and how every Christian can serve powerfully as a representative of Christ, even if he or she is not an international missionary or a pastor. It is meant to show that God cares not only about the goings-on within the four walls of a church building but also about the goings-on in every corner of society and culture. He wants us to take seriously our interactions in the arts (music, literature, cinema, architecture, interior décor, culinary arts), the natural sciences (biology, physics, chemistry), the social sciences (psychology, sociology), the public square (journalism, politics, economics, law), the academy (schools, universities, seminaries), sports and competition, and homemaking. Every dimension of our lives relates in some way to Christ and can in some manner be directed toward him.
Theology and Culture

In the space of two years in Russia, I began to realize even more fully the deep and resonant effects of religion upon culture, and vice versa. I was living in a social and cultural context that had been almost entirely devoid of evangelical gospel influence for generations. Conversations with many of my students revealed a deep skepticism about whether God existed, whether life had any meaning, and whether there are any moral absolutes. The institutions of this country—including its government, businesses, marriages, and schools—reflected this deep sense of loss, this sense that its people could no longer believe in a God who endowed their lives with meaning and purpose or who gave a moral law by which all people and institutions should abide.
During this time, I began to read books by Christian thinkers such as Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and C. S. Lewis. (On my journey to Russia, I carried one suitcase of clothes and four suitcases of books.) Kuyper lived in 19th-century Holland and served as prime minister of the Netherlands, founded a Christian university, started a newspaper, and wrote influential books on theology, art, science, and many other topics. His deepest convictions might be summed up in one sentence: Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and because of that fact, every aspect our lives should be affected by the fact that we are Christians. If Christ is Lord, he is Lord over our work and our leisure, our families and friendships, our goings-on inside the four walls of a church building and outside those walls. He is not just the Lord over certain “religious” things, but Lord over art, science, politics, economics, education, and homemaking. Kuyper gave me my first insight into the fact that Jesus Christ is relevant to every dimension of society and culture, and that for this reason we should allow our Christianity to shape absolutely everything we do.
Francis Schaeffer was an American who lived in Switzerland during the middle of the 20th century. He and his wife, Edith, were known for starting a retreat center—L’Abri—which ministered especially to skeptics and freethinkers, and to those who were hurting spiritually. Schaeffer was known for teaching that the Christian worldview—and it alone—could undergird the full range of human life. What a person believed about Jesus Christ affected that person spiritually, morally, rationally, aesthetically, and relationally. What a society believed about Jesus Christ affected that society in all of its doings—economic, political, ecological, and so forth. Francis and Edith’s ministry to seekers and skeptics took place in their own home (L’Abri was founded in their cottage) over dinnertime conversations, evening Q&A sessions, and walks in the Swiss Alps. From the Schaeffers’ ministry, I learned not only that Christ is Lord but that he is love. Their way of showing his lordship over all things involved showing his love to all people.
C. S. Lewis was a British professor and writer who taught at Oxford and Cambridge during the middle part of the 20th century. In the scholarly world, he was known for his expertise in medieval literature. In the more popular realm, he was known as the professor who gave radio talks about Christianity during World War II and who wrote popular science fiction, children’s fiction, and Christian apologetics. In the years after his death in 1963, he would gain the stature of being one of the most influential Christians of the modern world. His writings remain on the bestseller lists and continue in their own way to shape the world in which we live. From Lewis’ life, I learned the powerful effect of Christians shaping their vocations in light of Christ’s lordship. Lewis was not a pastor or a missionary. He had a “secular” vocation as a literature professor, and it was precisely in that vocation that that he was able to speak about Christ and allow his Christian belief to shape his life and work.
Spiritual Awakening

As I read books written by and about these three men, I began to find the answers to questions I had been asking for most of my life. Does my Christian belief “hold water” in the real world? Does it make sense out there in the real world of art and science, of politics and economics? Does my Christianity have any impact on my life other than church attendance, personal devotions, and sexual ethics? How does my Christianity matter to my work and my leisure, to my community and political involvement? From Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Lewis, I began to learn just how it is that Christ is Lord over everything, how Christianity matters for every aspect of life. I began to see how Christianity is relevant to every dimension of culture (arts, sciences, public square, the academy, etc.) and to all of our human vocations (not only family and church, but also workplace and community). As Christians, God wants us to live every aspect of our lives in a way that is shaped by our belief that Christ is Lord.
Aside from my conversion, that was probably the most profound spiritual awakening I have ever had, even to this day. In the years since then, I have slowly but steadily built upon the conviction that the Christian mission includes the outworking of the gospel in every dimension of a given culture, in every human vocation, and across the fabric of human existence. Though I’ve read it or heard it quoted hundreds of times, I am still struck by Kuyper’s claim: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ” In Pro Rege, Kuyper writes, “The Son [of God] is not to be excluded from anything. You cannot point to any natural realm or star or comet or even descend into the depth of the earth, but it is related to Christ, not in some unimportant tangential way, but directly.” God calls us to obey him and witness to him with the totality of our lives.
The Aim of This Book

I write as an American, to other Americans, in our increasingly post-Christian democratic republic. I aim to equip Christians to think holistically about how the gospel informs everything we do in the world. It is my sincere hope that the barrier we have erected in our hearts between “sacred” and “secular” will be removed, so that we will awaken—perhaps for the first time—to the reality that Jesus is Lord over all of creation—not only the things we consider sacred, but also the things we consider secular.
To that end, first, we will examine theological frameworks for understanding culture; second, we will establish a biblical, theological account of culture; third, we will develop a theology of vocation; fourth, we will survey several relevant Christian leaders from history who have made significant contributions to a proper understanding of Christianity and culture; finally, we will discuss various spheres of culture from a Christian perspective.
You’ll notice that, in the first part of the book, we lay a foundation for the type of Christianity that seeks to be both in and for culture. We do so, first of all, by distinguishing our view from other views, which understand Christianity as being primarily against culture or primarily an agent of culture. Next, we show the way in which the Bible’s overarching storyline leads us to hold this sort of view. After this, we discuss some Christians throughout church history whose lives, writings, and cultural products provide us with lessons about how to be in and for our given cultural contexts. Finally, we discuss the various God-given callings that serve as the major media through which we engage our culture. To summarize the message of the first part of the book, we want to live our lives firmly in the midst of our cultural contexts, living in such a way that we shape our words and actions in light of the Christian gospel and direct others to look at the Lord whom we admire. We want to speak of him with our lips and reflect him with our lives so that tapestry of the Christian community’s (cultural) life is seamlessly and beautifully woven with compellingly Christian words and deeds.
One of the questions that immediately arises, however, is how to do that in the diverse arenas of culture in which we find ourselves. How do we apply our view of cultural engagement when we find ourselves in particular situations? Where do we even begin to think through what it means to please God in the realms of art, science, or politics? What does it mean to be a “Christian” teacher, scholar, or economist? The chapters in the last half of this book are designed to give brief but enlightening starting points for Christians who want to begin answering these sorts of questions.
Because these questions are so profound and the answers to them so interesting and so expansive, each of the topics in the last half of the book could easily demand that an entire book be written just to introduce each of them. For that reason, I will not be able to provide a comprehensive introduction to each topic. Instead, I will pick an aspect of each topic that I think will be interesting to a broad audience, and then I will provide a very brief and hopefully helpful discussion about that aspect of the topic.
To aid in our discussion, I have added recommended reading and discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Though this book is suitable for individual use, it is also appropriately read in community with others. Because the Christian life is social in nature, the discussion questions about culture in this book are best discussed with others who are reading it. Furthermore, I hope this isn’t the final book you read on theology and culture. Each chapter is filled with relevant material to guide you to read more deeply on a variety of topics.
To close, I am reminded of a quote by Father John Richard Neuhaus, founder of First Things magazine. Neuhaus said, “Barrels of ink have been spilt in trying to define what is meant by culture, and I do not presume to have the final word on the subject.”
Like Neuhaus, I do not claim to have cornered the market on “culture.” But I do aim to serve you well as you developing your own theological framework for seeing all of life under the lordship of Christ.

Chapter 1: Competing Views on Theology and Culture
My second week in the former Soviet Union, I was introduced to the banya. My buddies told me that it “will be a lot like an American sauna.” And sure enough, it was a square room with a lot of heat. But there were a few differences. One difference lay in the fact that steam was generated by pouring vodka onto a barrel full of hot coals. (I wanted to join in, but as a Baptist I didn’t have any vodka and couldn’t find my bottle of Nyquil.) Another difference lay in the fact that many of these “saunas” have bundles of birch branches in the corner, with which the men whip one another on the back, starting at the heels and working methodically and consistently up to the shoulders. Afterward, they go outside the banya and roll around in the snow. I’m not kidding. I’ve never prayed so hard for the Second Coming.
Aside from a few odd moments, such as the one I just described, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being immersed in a very complex culture, one that was a multilayered synthesis of Soviet-era atheism, Central Asian Islam, global capitalism, and postmodernism. On Friday evenings, I could pay a dollar to attend world-class symphonies and piano concerts at the performing arts center one mile from my apartment. On weekday mornings, I took language lessons in Russian and Tatar, discovering how human languages provide unique categories for thinking and unique advantages and disadvantages for mediating the gospel. On weekday afternoons, I taught at three universities that were cultural legacies of years past. In the evenings, I drank hot tea (the manly drink of choice in Central Asia, best imbibed with a spot of milk and a spoon of sugar) and watched snow fall on a mosque and an Eastern Orthodox cathedral that stood just outside my apartment window. Often, I had a huddle of undergrad or grad students in my apartment, asking me questions about why I believe in God (atheists) or how in the world I could believe that a man was God (Muslims).
As an evangelical, Protestant American living in a part of Russia populated mostly by Central Asian Muslims, I was forced to live in a cultural context that was different in many ways from the one in which I had grown up. There were some aspects of this culture that I preferred to my home context, and some that I did not. There were things that I embraced easily, and things that I did not. The question that kept surfacing, however, was: “How should I, as an evangelical Christian, approach ‘culture’?” In other words, is culture something good or bad? On the one hand, is it something I should try to escape or avoid, or against which I should fight? On the other hand, is it something I should embrace? Or is there some third and better alternative?
When it comes to interacting with culture, Christians face a choice between several options. One option is to live a life that can be characterized as “Christianity against culture,” which views culture as something that a person tries to escape from or fight against. Another option could be called “Christianity of culture,” which views culture uncritically as something that can be accepted wholesale into a person’s life and church. A final option can be called “Christianity in and for culture,” in which a believer seeks to live Christianly within his or her cultural context and for the betterment of that context, while not rejecting it wholesale, on the one hand, or accepting it wholesale, on the other. The remainder of this chapter, and in fact the whole book, will attempt to articulate what it might look like for American Christians to live out their faith in the midst of their particular cultural contexts.
What Is Culture?

Before going any further, however, we should take a moment to discuss what we mean when we talk about “culture.” When some people talk about culture, what they really mean is “high culture,” because they have in mind sophisticated cultural products such as Beethoven’s music or Rembrandt’s paintings. When other people talk about culture, what they really mean is “popular culture,” because they have in mind everyday cultural products such as television shows, movies, or Top 40 songs. Still others use the word “culture” to refer to anything that is against what they believe as a Christian.
Unlike these three senses of the word “culture,” the meaning I have in mind is all-encompassing. “Culture” is anything that humans produce when they interact with each other and with God’s creation. When we interact with each other and with God’s creation, we cultivate the ground (grain, vegetables, livestock), produce artifacts (clothes, housing, cars), build institutions (governments, businesses, schools), form worldviews (theism, pantheism, atheism), and participate in religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Atheism). We produce culture, and at the same time our cultural context shapes us, affecting who we are, what we think and do, and how we feel.
So the concept of culture is very broad, encompassing in one way or another the totality of our life in this world. For this reason, we don’t want to “get it wrong” in figuring out a Christian’s relationship to culture. If we get the relationship right, it will positively transform our lives and the world around us, but if we get it wrong, it will deform our lives and the world around us.
Now that we have a basic grasp of what culture is, we are prepared to outline three models for relating Christianity and culture. As I am describing these models, you will probably be able to place yourself and other Christians you know in one of the categories.
Christianity against Culture

Some proponents of “Christianity against culture” tend to view the Church primarily as a bomb shelter. This is especially a temptation for Americans who realize that their country is becoming increasingly post-Christian—and, in some ways, even anti-Christian. They realize that their beliefs on certain theological and moral issues will increasingly be rejected and mocked by the political and cultural elite and by many of their fellow citizens.
Under such an ideological assault, Christians sometimes have a collective anxiety attack. Their dominant mood tends to be protective, conceiving the Church as a bomb shelter trying to protect believers from aerial assault, or perhaps a monastery where people can withdraw from the contingencies of contemporary existence—or even better, a perpetual yoga retreat where we can empty our minds of certain harsh realities.
Believers with this mentality have good intentions. They want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing that the church is under attack and that therefore we should hold fast to the faith (Rev 3:11). They know that there is a great battle being waged (Eph 6), a battle that plays out both invisibly in the heavenly realm, and visibly in the cultural realm.
However, this mentality is misguided, arising from a timid fear of humanity; it is spurred more by secular wisdom than by biblical faith, more by faithless fear than by Christian courage and vitality. It views the church as a walled city rather than a living being, as a safe-deposit box rather than a conduit of spiritual power. It externalizes godlessness and treats it as something that can be kept out by man-made walls, rather than understanding that godlessness is a disease of the soul that can never be walled out. This mindset tends toward legalism and tries to restrict Christians’ interactions with society and culture. While it rightly recognizes that the Christian life involves war against the powers of darkness, it wrongly tries to wage that war by escaping from the world. This obeys only one half of Jesus’ admonition to be in the world, but not of it (John 17:14–16).
Other proponents of “Christianity against culture” view the Church primarily as an Ultimate Fighter. The Ultimate-Fighter mentality shares much in common with the bomb-shelter mentality, but it deals with its anxiety in a different manner. It tends to see Christians exclusively and comprehensively as fighters, whose weapons are beliefs, feelings, and values wielded in spiritual warfare. Unlike those hiding in the bomb shelter, the fighters venture forth into the surrounding culture, seeking greater awareness of it so that they might assault it with lethal force.
Believers with this mentality are clinging to the biblical principle of waging war against what is evil. They rightly recognize that we must put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12), resist the devil (Jas 4:7), and cast down anything that exalts itself against God (2 Cor 10:4–5).
However, this mentality is misguided to the extent that it wrongly applies the principles above. The fault of the Ultimate-Fighter Church (UFC) is not that it wants to fight, but that it suggests that the entirety of the Christian life is nothing but war. Our social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers—but those unbelievers are not only enemies of God, but also drowning people in need of a lifeboat. The church is not only a base for soldiers, but also a hospital for the sick. The Christian life is surely a battle, but it is no less a journey, a joy, an adventure, and a trust. In other words, Christians must indeed fight, but that is not the only thing they do; their battling is done from within the broader context of the entire Christian life.
Christianity of Culture

Those with a “Christianity of culture” perspective tend to build churches that are mirrors of the culture. Christians with this mindset tend to view their cultural context in very high esteem—perhaps disagreeing with aspects of it here and there, but for the most part finding it to be an ally rather than a threat. They tend to interact easily and uncritically with the dominant philosophical, political, and cultural trends of the day. Unlike those who seek to escape from culture or to fight it with lethal force, they seek to incorporate the dominant culture seamlessly into their lives and churches.
Believers with this mentality rightly recognize that God ordered the world in such a way that humans would make culture, and they rightly recognize that their culture exhibits real aspects of truth, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality is misguided because it fails to sufficiently see the way in which every culture, and every aspect of culture, is corrupted and distorted because of human sin. When Christians adopt a “Christianity of culture” mindset, they take away Christianity’s ability to be a prophetic voice and usually end up sacrificing doctrines and moral beliefs that run contrary to the cultural consensus. This mindset comes at too high of a cost, as it ends up subverting the historical Christian faith.
Christianity in and for Culture

We live in and for our cultural context. A third and better mindset is one that views human beings as representatives of Christ who live their lives in the midst of and for the good of their cultural context, and whose cultural lives are characterized by obedience and witness.
Every culture possesses some inherent goodness. God ordered the world in such a way that people spontaneously make culture, and the very existence of music, art, food, housing, and education represent a fundamental human good. Furthermore, God has enabled all people—Christian or not—to make good and valuable contributions in the cultural realm. But under this view, the Christian also recognizes that every culture is corrupted and misdirected. Since the time of the first couples’ sin, all human beings sin, and our sin corrupts our cultural efforts. We are idolaters—people who worship things that ought not to be worshiped, such as sex, money, and power—and the cultural realities we produce tend to be directed toward those idols rather than toward Christ. So God structured the world so that it would be a cultural world, but we humans have misdirected our cultural realities. Every cultural context is structurally good, but directionally corrupt. For this reason, we must live firmly in the midst of our cultural contexts (structurally), all the while seeking to steer our cultural realities toward Christ rather than toward idols (directionally).
In order to help us think clearly about the cultural aspect of our mission, let me explain more precisely what I mean by “structure” and “direction.” When God created the world, it was a “good” world both structurally and directionally. The way God designed the world (its structures) was good, and the way humanity used his world was good (it honored God and was directed toward him).
After the fall, the world remained structurally good but became directionally bad. The world is still good in its design (structure), but human beings use the world in ways that are oriented toward self-worship and the worship of things rather than God (direction). We live in a fallen world. Our tendency as humans is to worship things like sex, money, and power, rather than worshiping God. And when we worship idols like this, it affects our social and cultural activities. Our activities are misdirected, being aimed toward idols rather than toward God. As Christians, we want to speak out against this misdirection of God’s world. But in speaking out against the world, we are doing the best possible thing for the world. We are being against the world for the sake of the world.
Because of Christ’s redemption, we are new creatures. God has transformed us so that we live in an entirely different manner than we did before. That transformation affects all of the things we do, including our cultural activities. For this reason, our mission as Christians includes identifying the ways in which our cultures are corrupted and misdirected by sin, and then doing everything in our power to help bring healing and redirection to them. When we do this, we are obeying Christ and being a witness.
We do this as a matter of obedience. If Christ is the creator of everything, then we must realize that his lordship is as wide as creation. Nothing in this universe escapes his lordship. And if his lordship is as wide as creation, then our obedience to his lordship must be as wide as culture. The call to be disciples of Christ is the call to bring absolutely every square inch of the fabric of our lives under his lordship.
We do this also as a matter of witness. Every aspect of human life and culture is ripe for Christian witness. Every dimension of culture, whether it is art, science, or politics, is an arena in which we can speak about Christ with our lips and reflect him with our lives. We thank God for the existence of culture and recognize whatever is good in it, while at the same time seeking to redirect whatever is not good toward Christ.
We realize that we will never “win” by transforming our culture in such a way that it glorifies Christ comprehensively or enduringly. God never promises victory until Christ returns and secures the victory for himself. But he does command us to obey him and bear witness to him by doing everything within our powers to direct our cultural activities toward Christ.
A Preview of the Kingdom

When Christ returns, he will return as the victorious King. Until that time, the Christian community should live its life as a seamless tapestry of word and deed. When we witness and obey in this manner, we benefit the world by serving as a preview of God’s coming kingdom. We proclaim Christ and the gospel with our lips (word), and we promote Christ and the gospel with our lives (deed). In so doing, we offer to the world a preview of that future era when Christ rules the new heavens and earth—the era in which all social and cultural realities will be directed toward Christ. In that era, we will have right relationship with God, each other, and the created order, and our social and cultural activities will be perfect and resplendent reflections of Christ.
Absolutely everything in life matters to God. He cares not only about the goings-on within the four walls of a congregational gathering, but also about the goings-on in other corners of society and culture. We must live Christianly not only as the Church gathered on Sunday morning for worship, but also as the Church scattered into the world in our work, leisure, and community life. We must take seriously our interactions in the arts, the sciences, the public square, and the academy.
When we as the Church live our lives in such a way that everything we do and say points to God, our combined witness serves as an attractive preview of God’s coming kingdom. In that kingdom, there will be no more pain or tears, no more sin or the consequences of sin. In that kingdom, we will be in right relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation. There is no greater calling in life than to live as a preview of that kingdom.
While I was living abroad in Russia, it would have been easy to fall in love with my new culture (Christianity of culture). Admittedly, part of the draw of living overseas is the opportunity to experience new cultural realities. But it would have been equally tempting, particularly during seasons of loneliness and isolation or when encountering some aspect of the culture that was hostile to my Christian faith, to despise the culture as a whole (Christianity against culture). My goal—and I hope you share the same goal—was neither to idolize nor to despise the culture I was on a mission to serve. My goal was to reflect the transformative power of God in and for the culture, to the glory of God.
Action Points

• Many of us live “compartmentalized lives,” having areas that we feel Jesus cares about, and other areas that we feel he ignores. What are some areas of your life that you have never considered as pertaining to Jesus and his lordship. Why?
• As I mentioned earlier, the Christian life is often a battle, and yet it is also to be characterized by care for the “sick and wounded.” What are some things you see in your cultural context that Christians are called to fight against? Are there times when it is better not to fight? How do you tell the difference?
• As Christians living in a fallen world, we often face the temptation to be Christians “against culture” who view the church as a bomb shelter or an Ultimate Fighter, or to be Christians “of culture” who capitulate by conforming ourselves to the culture. Can you think of contemporary examples of these two flawed approaches?
Recommended Reading

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. An engaging and persuasive treatise on the Christian community’s calling to “make culture” rather than merely “engage the culture.”
Forster, Greg. Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. A well-written and easy-to-read book arguing that the key to cultural transformation is Spirit-induced joy in God and the gospel.
Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. A sociologist argues that Christians should aim to be a “faithful presence” in their culture.
Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. 1898. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943. In this small book, Kuyper argues that our Christianity should affect every sphere of human life and culture.
Mouw, Richard J. Called to Holy Worldliness. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980. A small book showing how ordinary Christians can honor God in their culture-making and cultural engagement.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: HarperCollins, 1956. This text has become the modern benchmark for discussing Christianity and culture. It has flaws—serious ones—but is worth reading.
Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009. A more advanced book which argues that secular “liturgies” compete with Christian liturgies in order to shape who we are and form our deepest identities and views of the world.

Chapter 2: A Theology of Culture
In the previous chapter, we encountered three different approaches to Christianity and culture and concluded that Christians should be “in and for” the culture rather than primarily “of” it or “against” it. We argued that Christians should try to discern the way in which any cultural reality is corrupted and misdirected by sin and idolatry, and then seek to redirect that reality toward Christ. We do this as a matter of obedience and witness, proclaiming Christ with our lips and promoting him with our lives, in the hope that we can serve as a preview of his coming kingdom.
But where in the Bible is this view of Christianity and culture promoted? In this chapter, I will articulate a basic theology of culture under the categories of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. These four categories are the four “plot movements” of the Bible’s big story, and any view of culture must vindicate itself in relation to these categories.
Why a Theology of Culture Is Necessary

Evangelical Christians often talk about engaging the culture, contextualizing the gospel, and speaking prophetically to our culture. However, from my experience, not many of us have taken the time to build a biblical theology of culture. Although we usually operate (consciously or unconsciously) with some sort of idea of what culture is and what the Bible says about it, often we haven’t drawn upon the major biblical building blocks in order to construct a thoroughly evangelical theology of culture.
When we fail to consciously, actively develop a theology of culture, we operate on whatever theology is closest in proximity. Perhaps it is the theology of culture we have picked up tacitly from popular films. Maybe it comes from a family member. Or perhaps, if one is fortunate, it comes from childhood sermons. Regardless, and without knowing, we make decisions in every sphere of life that are informed by theology that has not been vetted by Scripture and our consciences. It is vital, therefore, that we examine our doctrine for the purpose of faithful living. For this reason, we will now turn to the Scriptures for a basic overview of our topic.

The Bible’s opening narrative tells us about God’s creation, including God’s design for human culture. In the very first chapters, we are told that God created the heavens and the earth. He created out of nothing, he shaped what he created, and he called the work of his hands “good.” At each step along the way, the narrative affirms the goodness of God’s handiwork. Moreover, when God completes his creation by making humanity in his image and likeness, the narrative affirms that God’s creation was “very good” (Gen 1:31).
Humans are the culmination of God’s good creation. They are different from God’s other handiwork. Indeed, the first statement about humans is that God made them in the image and likeness of God, male and female alike. They are like God in many ways, including but not limited to their capacities for spirituality, morality, relationality, language, rationality, and creativity. Man’s likeness to God, John Calvin argues, “extends to the whole excellence by which man’s nature towers over all the kinds of living creatures.” Because of these capacities, God could place the man and woman in the garden to have dominion over God’s good creation (Gen 1:26–27) and to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15).
Pause for a moment to reflect on the fact that God’s command to work was a command to change and even enhance what he had made. Adam and Eve were not supposed to leave God’s creation as it was, but to make something out of it. They and their descendants would be able to “work the garden” not only by cultivating plant life (agri-culture), but also by cultivating the arts, the sciences, or the public square (culture in general).
What, then, does the creation narrative contribute to a discussion of culture? First, human culture is part of the physical and material world, which is part of God’s creation before the fall and therefore is not inherently bad. We must not allow ourselves to fall into a form of neo-gnosticism, treating “spiritual” things as good and “material” things as bad. We may not take a dualist view of the creation, with its attendant impulse toward comprehensive cultural separation and withdrawal; to do so is to adopt a hollow and deceptive philosophy, to denigrate God’s good creation and, implicitly, to undermine the incarnation.
Second, God gave humans the capacities to create culture and then commanded them to use those capacities. God created humans in his image and likeness, thereby giving them capacities for spirituality, morality, relationality, language, rationality, and creativity. Then he commanded them to use those gifts (e.g., Gen 2:15; Exod 31:1–11).

God’s creation of the world is the opening scene of the Scriptures and constitutes the first major plot movement of the overarching biblical narrative. Immediately after this opening scene, however, Adam and Eve rebelled against God, seeking to set themselves up as autonomous. The effect of this sin for them, and for all of humanity, was disastrous (Rom 1:18–32). People no longer live in paradise, but instead live in a world pervaded by sin and its effects. Man’s relationship with God was broken, as well as his relationship with himself, with others, and with the rest of the created order.
In Romans 1, Paul describes the result of humanity’s broken relationship with God, pointing out that people now worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). The image of God in humanity is now distorted and defaced. However, people are alienated not only from God, but also from others (Rom 1:28–31). Rather than loving their neighbors as themselves, they lie, murder, rape, and otherwise demean their fellow imagers (e.g., Gen 9:6). Furthermore, they are alienated from the created order, as their attempts to “work the garden” are full of frustration and pain (Gen 3:17–18). Finally, they are alienated even from themselves, as life becomes meaningless because of their separation from God (Eccl 1:1–11).
The implications of the fall for a discussion of human culture are massive. Sin defiles everything. Spiritually, humans are idolaters, worshiping God’s gifts instead of worshiping God himself (Col 3:5). Rationally, they have difficulty discerning the truth, and they use their capacities to construct vain philosophies (Rom 1:18–21). Creatively, they use their imagination to create and worship idols rather than to worship the living God (Isa 40:18–20). Relationally, they use their power to exploit others and serve themselves (Gen 5:8). As a result, any and all human culture is distorted and defaced by sin. No dimension of culture is left unscathed by sin’s pervasive reach.
The fall and its consequences do not, however, make God’s creation (or, by implication human culture) inherently bad. Even though the world is corrupted by sin, it is still materially good. Recognizing this frees us from false asceticisms and gnosticisms that view the use and enjoyment of God’s creation as wrong. As Al Wolters puts it, God’s creation remains structurally good, although since the fall it is directionally corrupt. Structure refers to the order of creation, while direction refers to the order of sin and redemption. The directional results of the fall, for human culture, are revealed in such things as poor reasoning in the realm of science, kitsch in the realm of art, and hatred in the realm of relationships.
Anything in creation can be directed toward God or away from him. It is this directionality that distinguishes between the good and the bad, between worship and idolatry, rather than some distinction between spiritual and material. We should note, however, that in spite of the fall, things are not as bad as they could be. Without common grace and the Spirit’s restraining work, this world would be an utter horror, and because of God’s grace through his Spirit after the fall, we may continue to produce culture, thereby using our uniquely human capacities.
Redemption and New Creation

The Bible’s third plot movement occurs immediately after the fall. God gives not only a promise of death (Gen 2:17), but also a promise of life (Gen 3:15). He immediately declares that one day the offspring of the woman would destroy the serpent. Paul recognizes this promise as a prophecy of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16), God’s Son who is “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). This declaration, therefore, is God’s promise to send the Messiah. Ultimately, the entirety of Scripture testifies about this Messiah, as its pages declare how God, in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, would fulfill his promise to send this Savior.
God affirms that by the Savior’s wounds man is healed, and upon the Savior’s shoulders the sin of the world was borne (Isa 52:13–53:12). Furthermore, the redemption he provides reaches into every square inch of God’s creation, including the non-human aspects of creation. This redemption of the created order is made clear in major christological and soteriological passages such as Colossians 1:13–23 and Ephesians 1:3–14. In the Colossians text, we are told that Christ the creator of all things is also Christ the reconciler of all things; God will work “by [Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him” (Col 1:20 NKJV). In the Ephesians passage, we are told that we have redemption through Christ’s blood, and that, furthermore, “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Eph 1:10 NKJV). We know that Christ has not yet reconciled all things to himself because creation still groans in bondage (Rom 8:20–22).
For this reason, Scripture points us forward to a new heavens and earth in which God’s kingdom will be realized. At the beginning of the Scriptures, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1), while at the end we see him giving us a “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; Rev 21:1). At the beginning, we are told of a garden, but in the end we are told of a beautiful city that is cultural through and through, replete with precious metals and jewels and the treasures of the nations (Rev 21). Christ’s redemptive work extends beyond God’s people to God’s cosmos, so that in the end “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). This world will be one “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13 NKJV), thus fulfilling God’s good purposes for his world.
Therefore, the final two plot movements tell the story of God redeeming both his imagers and his creation. Two cultural implications are important to notice. First, the doctrines of redemption and restoration are confluent with the doctrine of creation in affirming the goodness of God’s creation. God values his creation, and in the end times he will not reject it. Instead, he will restore it, renewing the heavens and earth so that they give him glory. Furthermore, he promises to give us glorified bodies in that day (1 Cor 15:20–28, 50–58). While God could have promised man an eternity floating around in a bodiless state, in some sort of ethereal wonderland, instead he promises to give man a resurrected bodily existence in a restored universe that shines with the glory of God himself (Rev 21:1–4, 9–11). This promise is yet more reason to view God’s creation as good, and our faithful cultural interaction with it as something that pleases God.
Second, the doctrine of restoration is confluent with the doctrine of creation in its affirmation of the value of faithful culture-work. Because God (in the beginning) values his good creation and commands humanity to produce culture, and because he promises (in the end) to give us a glorious creation replete with its own culture, we ought to live culturally in a manner consistent with God’s designs. “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope,” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “is that the Christian hope sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.” This new way includes glorifying God from within our cultural contexts, providing a sign of the already-and-not-yet kingdom—of what the world will be like one day when all of creation and culture praises him. As we interact within various dimensions of culture—the arts, the sciences, education, public square, etc.—we are called to do so by bringing the gospel to bear upon those dimensions.
In our evangelism and church-planting, we must recognize that the gospel is always proclaimed, the church is always planted, and the Christian life is always lived within a cultural context (through human language, oratory, music, categories of thought, etc.). Instead of chafing against this reality, we may delight in our charge to make the gospel at home in those cultures, and to allow the gospel to critique them and bring them under the scrutiny of God’s revelation. In the words of D. A. Carson:

We await the return of Jesus Christ, the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the dawning of the resurrection, the glory of perfection, the beauty of holiness. Until that day, we are a people in tension. On the one hand, we belong to the broader culture in which we find ourselves; on the other, we belong to the culture of the consummated kingdom of God, which has dawned upon us.”

God restores his creation instead of trashing it and expects us to minister within our cultural context rather than attempting to extract ourselves from it.
Action Points

• Christians are said to live “between two worlds,” recognizing God’s work in the present fallen world and anticipating the full completion of his work in the new heavens and new earth. What are some specific examples of how our lives in this present era can give the world a glimpse of the future era, the new heavens and earth?
• The end view of God’s redemption is the created order as it was always meant to be. In a way, humans will finally be all that it means to be human. God’s redemption has the whole creation in view, including the whole person. How does this affect the Christian life? How should this guide our evangelism and caring for people through the different ministries of the church?
• God declares his creation good. In and of itself, therefore, creation is not evil. However, sin misdirects God’s good creation. What types of things does this realization lead us to affirm? List three elements of culture and consider how they can be directed toward God or away from him.
• If all humanity is created in the image of God, and if that image is not lost in the fall, then what does that means for how we view and treat other people?
Recommended Reading

Goheen, Mike and Craig Bartholomew. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. This book is a fine treatment of how the biblical narrative fosters a worldview that in turn shapes the entirety of the Christian life, including especially culture-making and cultural engagement.
Wittmer, Michael E. Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. A very accessible treatment of the Bible’s teaching about culture.

Chapter 3: Culture and Calling
Has anyone ever asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In a nation of adults who are all former career-day audience members, it’s easy to see why Americans tend to judge their worth based upon their workplace success or the type of career they have.
Or take, for example, the epitome of dinner-party small talk: “So, what do you do?” We introduce who we are by what we do. More times than not, we equate our identity with our workplace vocation.
Now, that’s not to say that what we do is irrelevant to who we are—quite the contrary! In fact, it’s not bad to ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as long as you help them understand that their identity and worth are not bound up exclusively with their 9-to-5 career.
As we noted in the first chapter, “culture” is quite broad as a concept, covering various “spheres” or “dimensions” or “arenas”—such as art, science, business, sports and competition, scholarship and education, homemaking, entertainment, and politics. So the concept of culture encompasses in one way or another the totality of our lives in this world. Closely related to these arenas of culture are vocations, which serve as the medium through which we interact in those arenas. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocatio, which means “calling.” One of Christianity’s most famous pastors, Martin Luther, is known for applying his biblical sermons to his congregation’s vocations. Luther was right to recognize that God gives Christians multiple callings—to churches, families, workplaces, and communities. In this chapter, we will discuss these four callings, which enable us to honor Christ in various arenas of culture.
In an excellent book titled God at Work, Gene Veith takes his cues from Luther and explains that the purpose of each of these callings is to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30–31). We demonstrate our love for God by fulfilling these callings in ways that honor him, bring him glory, and are shaped by his Word. We demonstrate our love for our neighbors similarly, by exercising our callings in ways that honor God and are shaped by his Word. Our love for God leads to love for our neighbors. In fulfilling our callings, we will notice that we are loving our neighbors and they are loving us. Through our callings, we serve our neighbors and they serve us. We depend upon them, and they depend upon us.
Consider the example of a hungry child. When God provides for a hungry child, he usually does not do so by sending manna from heaven, or by instantaneously multiplying fishes and loaves. Although in certain instances he might do such things, ordinarily he does not. Ordinarily, God feeds hungry children through the work of farmers. In the United States, the children’s food most likely is grown on a farm, shipped to a warehouse, and then delivered to grocery stores, where parents buy food for their children. So far, the hungry child has been fed because of the work of farmers, tractor designers, truck drivers, warehouse owners, grocery store clerks, parents, and many others. But if we look a little deeper, we’ll also realize that the grocery store itself was built by engineers, contractors, electricians, and plumbers. The quality of food was (hopefully) overseen by public health inspectors. To summarize, God ordinarily feeds hungry children through a vast network of people who are fulfilling their vocations. The same can be said about the way God ordinarily heals sick people, provides shelter for families, or supplies any number of other necessities and conveniences.
Notice in the example above that these callings are accomplished by human “hands,” but they are also the “gloves” into which God slips his divine hand in order to care for his world. A parent provides for a child’s physical hunger (a parent’s calling to a family) with food that originated at a farm (the farmer’s calling to a workplace) and was purchased with the parent’s paycheck (the parent’s calling to a workplace) from a grocery store located in their town (the parent’s calling to a community), and then the parent teaches that child to learn to fulfill her spiritual hunger by becoming a disciple in a community of believers (the child’s calling to a church).

A child’s first experience of God’s provision usually comes through his or her family. As Gene Veith puts it, in the family we find “the most basic of all vocations, the one in which God’s creative power and his providential care are most dramatically conveyed through human beings.” The Bible’s teaching about marriage and family is rich and profound. Paul compares the relationship between a man and woman to the relationship between Christ and the Church. A husband and wife should consciously strive to make their marriage one that gives their children, and anybody else who might be watching, a picture of Christ’s love for the Church, and of Christians’ love for Christ. The Proverbs and other writings teach us that parents are responsible for teaching their children how to live wisely under God’s lordship. From experience, we see that the way children learn to honor their father and mother also is a step on the path toward learning how to honor their heavenly Father; likewise, children who learn to love their family members are also learning to love other people they will encounter in the world. So the calling to a family is significant, and it shapes a person from childhood until death.

After God raised his Son from the dead, Jesus appeared to his disciples and promised to empower them through the Holy Spirit, so that they could be his witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8). When the Spirit came upon the disciples, as Jesus had promised, the first thing he did was empower them to win people to Christ and to form churches that ministered to them through teaching and learning, worship, fellowship, and witness (Acts 2:40–47). We learn from the New Testament that God’s intention is for believers to be disciples in the midst of these committed communities of believers that we call churches.
The Bible describes the Church by using various images. Peter describes the Church as the people of God, reminding us that we are God’s possession, and that we are a community rather than merely a collection of individuals (1 Pet 2:9–10). Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ. He uses this image to refer sometimes to the Church universal (Eph 1:20–23) and sometimes to the church local (1 Cor 12:27). This image helps us to understand that we are many members but one body (unity and diversity) and that each of us belongs to the other members of the body (mutual love and interdependence). Peter and Paul both describe the Church as the temple of the Spirit. Our body is a temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and we are living stones built into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5). One of the things this image does is remind us that we as believers are held together by the Spirit.
Numerous other Bible passages illuminate for us the way in which our calling to a church teaches us how to be Christian. One example is the “one another” commands. We are told to live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16; 15:5), forgive and bear with one another (Col 3:13), and not pass judgment on one another (Rom 14:1). We must admonish and encourage one another (1 Thess 5:14), care for one another (1 Cor 12:25), and comfort one another (2 Cor 13:11). Perhaps all of the many “one another” commands could be summed up in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “Always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (NET). These commands, which are given to all of the members of the church, show that we are all responsible to one another and ultimately to Christ.
So our calling to a church teaches us to love God and to love one another. It reminds us that we are God’s possession, that we are a community rather than a mere collection of individuals, and that we are a unity-in-diversity that is held together by the Spirit. It teaches us to love one another even when it is not comfortable to do so, and it shapes us through its ministries of teaching and learning, worship, fellowship, and witness. When the church lives and witnesses together in this manner, it serves as a window into which the world can peer in order to see Christ, and it serves as a “boot camp” that equips and trains its members to go out into the world and witness to Christ both in word and in deed.

Some Christians view their workplaces merely as a way to put bread on the table, as drudgeries that they endure in order to provide a paycheck for their families. But the biblical portrayal of work is much deeper and more profound. In the first place, the Bible portrays God as a worker who made the world in which we live and who in fact made us. Because of his work, we exist in this world. But second, the Bible portrays work as essential to our humanity, as his first words to humanity included admonitions to till the soil, name the animals, and manage the world that God had created.
In fact, the Bible portrays God and man as cooperative workers. God continues to provide for the world (God is a worker) and often does so precisely through our human workplaces (we are workers). This sort of cooperation can be seen in Psalm 90:7, which says that God is the one who establishes the work of our hands. The British pastor John Stott writes, “This concept of divine-human collaboration applies to all honorable work. God has so ordered life on earth as to depend on us.… So whatever our work, we need to see it as being … cooperation with God.… It is this that glorifies him.” When we obey God’s calling in our workplaces, we are actively cooperating with him as he provides for the world.
This should come as good news, because most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at our workplaces, whether we work as entrepreneurs, teachers, or homemakers. During those hours, we make many relationships, interact in various arenas of culture, and use many of our God-given abilities simply through doing our jobs. It would be a shame to waste our jobs by doing those things in a merely repetitive manner marked by drudgery rather than by happy obedience to God and in purposeful witness to those who are watching.
When we view our workplaces as “callings” from God, we recognize that they are amazing opportunities for witness and obedience. When we obey God by doing our jobs in a way that glorifies him, we find that our jobs are opportunities to speak about Christ and to shape our work toward him. In other words, our jobs are opportunities to witness about Christ precisely by backing up our words with actions. Not only do we let people know verbally that Christ is Lord, but we also do our work in a way that is shaped by Christ and his Word. This combination of word and deed can be powerful. For many people, the workplace is their best opportunity to meet unbelievers who might have never heard the gospel or seen a Christian living out the gospel in front of their very eyes.

Another calling that we often neglect is our calling to be a citizen of multiple communities—town, state, national, and global communities. Even in a democratic republic, where we have a maximal opportunity to help shape our communities toward Christ, we sometimes don’t take advantage of that opportunity. There are many ways that we might miss the opportunity to be responsible Christian citizens. We might err by not taking seriously the responsibility to have an informed and distinctively Christian view on important social and political issues. We might sin by shying away from speaking out about issues when we are in the minority, or, alternatively, by giving our opinions about issues in a disrespectful, unfair, or uncharitable manner. So there are many ways to forsake this responsibility. On the flipside, the fact that God has placed each of us in certain communities provides an awesome responsibility to witness and obey.
First, we can love our communities by faithfully fulfilling our calling to our families, churches, and workplaces. These institutions (family, church, workplace) are the ones that undergird a community and make it a viable place for people to live and flourish. Second, we can love our communities by being active in certain other nongovernmental sectors. We can serve our community’s schools and nonprofit organizations. We can help shape public opinion about important issues by engaging in neighborhood and coffee-shop conversations, or by writing in newspapers or blogs, and by doing so in a manner shaped by Christian love and conviction. Third, we can love our community by being actively involved in the political process in ways that reflect true Christian conviction and Christian love.
Fulfilling Our Callings

Our vocation as Christians is more than a career. God created his imagers to work in multiple spheres. Putting bread on the table is a noble task, but it is just one part of human vocation. Seeing all of life through the lens of vocation helps us see the significance of things we might otherwise consider mundane.
Our callings are our primary means to bring God glory, loving him and our neighbor, and the primary ways in which our lives intersect with various cultural arenas. If we are seeking to fulfill these callings faithfully and with excellence, we will find ourselves able to witness to Christ with the whole of our lives in every dimension of society and culture.
Action Points

• This chapter identified four callings God gives to his people: family, church, workplace, community. Identify ways that God has called you to love him and your neighbor through these four callings. Be specific.
• These four callings encompass the totality of our lives. We are called to be faithful in our families, churches, workplaces, and communities. Pause for a moment to consider the potential impact on your community if you—and the other members of your church—were to take seriously each of these callings.
• Regardless of context, we run the risk of being out of balance in regards to each area of calling. We can either fall into apathy on one side or idolatry on the other. In what ways have you been out of balance in these spheres? In what ways is this like or unlike the rest of the cultural context in which you live?
Recommended Reading

DeKoster, Lester, and Stephen Grabill. Work: The Meaning of Your Life. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2010. A very short book introducing the Christian understanding of work.
Keller, Timothy. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York: Penguin, 2012. A more extensive treatment of the Christian view of work.
Veith, Gene Edward Jr. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. A short book introducing the Christian’s calling to church, family, workplace, and community.

Chapter 4: Six Case Studies on Culture
Throughout 2,000 years of Christian history, there are many men and women who lived exemplary lives in their cultural contexts, and from whom we can learn rich and profound lessons. If we overlook these men and women, we do so to our own detriment. For this reason, this chapter will offer six case studies in church history—examples of men and women who sought to direct their cultural activity toward Christ. Although the case studies will be concise to the extreme, I hope to offer lessons that can be learned from each person’s life. In this chapter, we will learn about Christians who lived centuries ago, but whose lives are instructive for us in the 21st century.
Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and philosopher who lived during the later years of the Roman Empire. One of his most famous books was titled City of God, and it reveals to us some lessons about Christianity and culture.
Augustine wrote City of God just as the Alarics and the Goths were attacking Rome. The Roman intellectuals and common people scrambled to interpret this event, to make sense of it, in much the same way that Americans scrambled to make sense of the 9/11 attack. Many Romans concluded that the real reason for Rome’s fall was not the Alarics and the Goths, but the Roman gods, who were taking revenge because the Roman people had embraced Christianity.
As Curtis Chang has noted, the Roman intellectuals’ interpretation of Rome’s fall was political, religious, and philosophical. It was political, arguing that the Romans had abandoned their founding story (Romulus and Remus) in favor of the biblical story of the world. It was also religious, arguing that the Romans had abandoned their gods in favor of Christ. Finally, it was philosophical, arguing that the Romans had rejected Plato’s philosophy in favor of the Christian belief that God came down to earth, took on a human body, and was crucified and rose from the dead so that we could be reconciled to God. On the backdrop of these three arguments, Augustine received a letter from Marcellinus, a Christian who was well known among the culturally powerful and elite, asking for help in answering the Roman intellectuals.
Augustine responded to Marcellinus with a letter that is now published in the form of a 1,000-page book, City of God. He argued that the Roman intellectuals’ interpretation was wrong, and that all three of their arguments—political, religious, and philosophical—were wrong. Augustine was well prepared to respond to them; he already had taken the time to understand their political, religious, and philosophical beliefs and was able to respond immediately and compellingly.
His basic move was to point out that the Romans were not at the center of the universe. God, through his Son, Christ, is at the center! He showed how the story of Rome’s rise to power was really only one small story in the midst of a much larger story of God creating the world and then responding to the world’s sin by sending his Son to save us. He explained that Rome (the greatest city in the world at that time) wasn’t even an eternal city. There were only two eternal cities, which he called the “city of God” and the “city of man.”
Each city has a basic love—either God or idols. Each city is symbolized in the Bible by an earthly city—Jerusalem and Babylon. Each city has a telos or end goal—eternal life or eternal death. In making his argument, Augustine not only drew upon his deep knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology, but also used Roman literature, philosophy, politics, and history to make his points. He referred to their great authors and celebrities and quoted them favorably when possible, but he also showed how they fell short of Christian truth.
Significantly, he argued that Rome was an unjust city politically. This was a particularly biting argument, because Romans viewed their city as being founded upon just laws. But Augustine showed that all of their talk about justice and law served only to conceal what they really loved, which was dominating other people. He unmasked their religious pretensions, showing that the Romans had never really believed in their gods; even their best religious historians didn’t believe in the gods. He unmasked their philosophical shortcomings, showing how the deficiencies in Plato’s philosophy could be made up for only by Christianity.
What can we learn from Augustine? There are many lessons to be learned, but we will limit our discussion to a few: (1) Augustine was ready when the challenge came. He had spent a lifetime reading and learning, and he was prepared to give a compelling answer when one was needed. (2) He was able to recognize both the good and bad in Roman culture, and to use both the good and the bad aspects to help him point to Christ. (3) He was able to interpret the Bible masterfully and interpret his cultural context skillfully. As a result, he could diagnose Rome’s disease and use the Bible as a surgeon’s scalpel to lay bare the disease for all to see. (4) He wrote City of God with such power and beauty that it has become an enduring component of culture. In other words, Augustine was a culture-maker.
Balthasar Hübmaier

Balthasar Hübmaier was a forerunner of contemporary Baptists. He lived in 15th-century Europe and is known for preaching the gospel under heavy opposition and persecution. One significant moment in his life occurred when he was imprisoned in Zürich in 1525, and under torture he recanted some of his Christian beliefs. After being released, Hübmaier repented, confessed his sin of recanting, and wrote a Short Apology—in which he pointed out that he was human and had erred, but that he would never be a heretic because he lashed his theology to the Word of God. A short while later, in 1528, he and his wife, Elizabeth, were arrested by authorities, tortured, and tried for heresy. He was burned at the stake, and she was drowned in the Danube.
Hübmaier is probably best known for his conviction that Scripture is God’s revealed word to humanity, and that Scripture is the final court of appeal in any theological dispute. He stated this conviction repeatedly, and his life story supports the weight of his conviction. Both of the imprisonments mentioned above came about because of Hübmaier’s biblical convictions.
From Hübmaier we could learn many lessons, foremost among which are three: (1) Hübmaier, like Augustine before him, sought for Scripture to shape his cultural engagement. (2) He was willing to speak his convictions, even in the face of persecution and martyrdom. (3) In being willing to speak against prevailing cultural winds, he spoke words that were good for his cultural context.
Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper lived in the Netherlands in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was a pastor, a journalist, a newspaper founder, a professor, a university founder, a parliament member, and a prime minister. From these many vantage points, Kuyper sought to work out the implications of the gospel. Both his writings and his life story show us a Christian who, like Augustine, not only critiqued culture but made culture.
Kuyper is known for his teachings about Christianity and culture, some of the most important of which can be summarized in these nine points:

1. God’s creation is good and remains structurally good, even after the fall. This point is significant for a discussion of culture because cultural realities are creational. They stem from God’s created humans interacting with this created order.
2. God’s creation is a unified diversity, an ordered but multifaceted reality. In particular, God designed the world to have diverse cultural “spheres,” such as family life, art, science, church, and business. Each sphere is unique and has God-given principles upon which it is founded. Christians must locate those principles and conform their cultural activities to them.
3. When God told the first couple to have dominion and to work and keep the garden, he was telling them to enhance the good creation he had given them, to bring out its hidden potentials. He was telling them to be culture-makers.
4. In the aftermath of the first couple’s sin, all culture-making and cultural interaction is distorted and corrupted by sin.
5. However, God graciously restrained sin and its consequences, keeping it from making the world an unlivable horror. In other words, he enabled people to continue their social and cultural lives.
6. In response to sin, God sent his Son to redeem his imagers and restore his good creation. He has given his Son all authority in heaven and on Earth. Christ is Lord over all creation and therefore Lord over every sphere of culture. We should bring our cultural activity under submission to his lordship.
7. Christians must draw upon God’s word and upon their Christian beliefs to guide them in their cultural projects.
8. As we enter the public square to work for the common cultural good, we should use reason and persuasion rather than coercion.
9. When Christians leave the gathering of their churches on Sunday morning, they should do so consciously, seeking to apply their Christian faith to their cultural activities.

I agree with Kuyper’s teachings, and each of these nine points serves as a lesson for us today. But in addition to those points summarizing his teaching, here are a few additional lessons gleaned from his life: (1) Kuyper was a savvy and insightful commentator on the culture of his day, knowing his context well enough that he could identify where it was misdirected and corrupted and needed to be redirected toward Christ. He was a skilled interpreter of Scripture, but also a skilled interpreter of his culture. (2) Kuyper was not only a cultural commentator; he was a culture-maker. He founded a university, a church, a political party, and a newspaper and wrote numerous books and articles. (3) Kuyper serves as an example of how we should seek to allow Christ his lordship in every aspect of our lives. Although Kuyper, like the other persons highlighted in this chapter, was an extraordinarily talented person whose life is, in some ways, out of reach for most people, he still serves as an example of the way in which we should try to honor Christ in everything we do and say. For example, we might not have the opportunity to found a university, but we can shape our children’s education toward Christ. Similarly, we might never be the leader of our country, but we can vote and interact politically in a way that honors Christ.
C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge during the middle of the 20th century. During his early years, he fought in World War I and was wounded in battle. After returning from war, he became a professor at Oxford University. During his initial years as a professor, he was an agnostic, but he later converted to Christ after extensive conversations with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien. His conversion was dramatic, in the sense that his Christianity affected everything he did. After becoming a believer, he met regularly with Tolkien and other writers to talk about Christianity and literature.
Lewis’ conversion was transformative in a way that extended beyond his personal spiritual life and into his career as a writer. He wrote more than 30 books, including science fiction (The Space Trilogy), mythology (Till We Have Faces), children’s fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia), theology (Mere Christianity), and literary studies (The Discarded Image). Because Lewis’ conversion transformed his worldview, everything he wrote from that point on was affected by his faith. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” In some of the books, such as Mere Christianity, Lewis was arguing straightforwardly for his readers to trust in Christ. In other books, such as Till We Have Faces, he led his reader toward Christian faith in a more implicit manner, by telling a myth that helps the reader see the beauty of Christianity. In other books, such as his scholarly works including Allegory of Love or The Discarded Image, the Christian influence was even more subtle.
As Lewis scholar Michael Travers has noted, Lewis viewed evangelism as the main purpose of a Christian’s life. Lewis’ literary career can be viewed as an extended exercise in evangelism. Not only in his explicitly theological books, but also in his literature, Lewis wanted to translate Christianity into popular language for ordinary people who were not theologians. In his fiction texts, he tried to create in his readers a longing for God, and to help them “see” the gospel in concrete form. He called this type of writing praeparatione evangelica, or “preparation for the gospel.” So for Lewis, “evangelism” is something that Christians do with their whole lives, not only through interpersonal encounters, but in the work they undertake and the shape of their professional lives.
From Lewis’ life and writings, we can learn many things about Christianity and culture, among which are three: (1) Lewis exercised his Christianity in both the professional and popular realms. As scholar and professor, Lewis witnessed to Christ in the scholarly realm by shaping his professional writings and teaching in light of the gospel, but he also witnessed to Christ in the popular realm by writing books that promoted Christ to ordinary people. (2) Lewis recognized the power of fiction to convey truth via his readers’ imaginations. Instead of limiting himself to arguments made by logical syllogisms, he often made his arguments through stories and analogies. (3) Lewis expended great effort to communicate Christianity in compelling language, to know how to use words and sentences in the most effective manner for the sake of the gospel.
Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was an author, a playwright, a translator of Dante, and an occasional theologian in the first half of the 20th century. During her heyday, Sayers was called the “Queen of Crime” in recognition of her revolutionizing work in the detective-novel genre, work that helped that genre gain legitimacy in literary circles. She had no formal theological training, but she was once offered an honorary doctorate in divinity, which she refused.
Sayers was an Anglican Catholic, more conservative than her father, a country-parish rector. Toward the middle of her career, she got involved with a motorcycle mechanic, who fathered her only child. During this time, her faith was rekindled, and it began to shine through her literary works. Her return to Christianity became apparent, though subdued, in the central character of her crime novels, the religiously skeptical amateur criminologist Lord Peter.
However, for Lord Peter to become a devout Christian would have been out of character, so Sayers pursued other avenues for explicitly Christian culture-making. A significant opportunity arose with a request to write the play for the 1937 Canterbury Festival; it was intended to be a play that accentuated Christian themes, illuminating a doctrine or pericope for the public during the Easter season. The play she wrote for the festival celebrated vocation and service through the arts. For Sayers, vocation was not primarily an economic exercise, but a calling.
Sayers engaged culture as a culture-maker. She was convinced that her work must glorify God by its excellence rather than merely because of explicitly Christian content. During a contract battle over the script of one of her BBC radio dramas—a play about the life of Christ—an editor pleaded with her not to walk away from the contract, writing, “In the writing of these plays the spirit of God would be working through you.” Sayers responded:

I am bound to tell you this—that the writer’s duty to God is his duty to the work, and that he may not submit to any dictate of authority which he does not sincerely believe to be to the good of the work.… Above all, he may not listen to the specious temptation that suggests that God finds his work so indispensable that he would rather have it falsified than not have it at all.

Doing one’s proper job is a most important duty. Subjective demands, such as emotions, must be subordinated to that greater duty. This means that the goal in writing is to express truth. In Gaudy Night, Lord Peter convinces Harriet, the novel’s protagonist, to rewrite a story because the characters are not fully human and thus the story is not true. In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers notes in the preface that the book was not “an expression of personal religious belief.” Rather, she was explaining the creeds of Christendom. These theological truths, she wrote, “claim to be statement of fact about the nature of God and the universe.”23 For Sayers, there was, in a very Augustinian way, reality found in the created order. This reality is undeniably, objectively and discernibly true.
Sayers recognized that God reveals aspects of himself through the created order. However, she also recognized the impact of sin on the world as it disrupts the created order, disorders our loves, and distorts our interpretation of God’s creational revelation. In other words, since the fall, our culture-making and cultural engagement are corrupted and misdirected, and need to be redirected toward Christ. She saw withdrawing from the culture and becoming one with the culture as twin dangers. The first makes Christianity irrelevant, and the other removes the authentically Christian nature. Sayers’ conclusion was that the Church must do the impossible: It must influence culture without becoming identified with the institutions of the culture.26
Sayers’ literary and theological works are exemplary for several reasons, including these three: (1) Her repeated emphasis on doing work for its own sake illustrates the value of the creation and undermines a dualistic view of the world. (2) Sayers’ theological work demonstrates the way in which a layperson with no formal theological training can communicate truth to a wide audience. (3) Sayers points toward the importance of culture and cultural activity while also warning not to be conformed to negative influences. She encouraged attempts to transform culture without being transformed by culture.
Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer was the director of a Swiss retreat center, L’Abri, and became well known as a teacher and defender of the Christian faith. Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, had moved to Europe to work with a Christian children’s ministry, but they ended up founding L’Abri in the village of Huemoz, Switzerland, in a cottage that also served as their home. L’Abri became a place where hundreds and eventually thousands of seekers and skeptics came to have their spiritual and intellectual questions answered.
Schaeffer’s daughter Priscilla remembers the excitement she felt as a university student when she realized that her friends at the university were drawn to the Christian faith through interacting with her father. “There wasn’t anybody I couldn’t bring home,” Priscilla said, “no matter how eccentric, how rebellious, how blasphemous.… I didn’t have to be ashamed.” The seekers and skeptics who came to L’Abri were ministered to at every level of their humanity—intellectual, social, spiritual. Intellectually, Schaeffer presented Christianity as an all-encompassing world-and-life-view that outstripped all other such views. Socially, seekers took part in meals and evening fellowship with the Schaeffer family and other guests. In terms of their inner spiritual life, they were encouraged to read the Scriptures, pray, and spend time in solitude and reflection.
Notably, the Schaeffers viewed those to whom they ministered as important people who were worthy of time and attention. One L’Abri participant, Dorothy Hurley, remarked:

When Mr. Schaeffer would talk to you, there was nothing else in the world that was going on. He was totally focused on you and what you were talking about and was very involved, very interested. It wouldn’t matter who the person was. It could be from the most simple person to the most intellectual—that focus and interest and involvement was the same. I saw it time and time again. I experienced it myself, and it wasn’t anything false. He was really interested in people, and it was something that was very, very striking. I’d never seen that degree of concentration and having that kind of attention, I don’t think, with anybody else.

Schaeffer’s biographer, Colin Duriez, summarized his interviews with L’Abri participants by describing Schaeffer’s approach as one which was marked by kindness:

His preferred medium was talk—conversation, whether with an individual or with a large group of people. He had the uncanny knack of addressing an individual personally, even if one was sitting with several hundred other people. His tapes, books, and films are best seen as embodiments of his conversation or table talk. The overwhelming impression of those who met him briefly or more extensively, particularly in connection with his homely yet expansive community at L’Abri in Switzerland, was his kindness, a word that constantly occurs in people’s memories of him, whether Dutch, English, American, Irish, or other nationality.

As Schaeffer listened to a person’s life story and to their questions, doubts, and concerns, he was able to locate common ground with that person and show the ways in which their (non-Christian) worldview was unable to make sense of things for them. Only Christianity can make sense of one’s inner life, one’s intellectual questions, and of the world at large.
In his efforts to commend Christ, Schaeffer also produced resources. In How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Culture (which is a book and a film series), Schaeffer tries to show how the Christian worldview is the only enduringly viable worldview for sustaining a civilization, and how European and American rejections of that worldview were detrimental. In The God Who Is There, he argues that God exists and is relevant to human concerns. In Escape from Reason, he shows how the rejection of the Christian God causes a person to lose contact with reality and become increasingly irrational. In Pollution and the Death of Man, he addresses ecological issues from a Christian point of view. In A Christian Manifesto, he provided a Christian response to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and to the Humanist Manifesto of 1973.
From Schaeffer’s life and ministry, we learn many lessons, among which are these: (1) Schaeffer expended great effort to understand not only Christianity but also his cultural context. This dual understanding allowed him to be effective as an evangelist and apologist. (2) Schaeffer treated individuals as God’s unique creations, made in God’s image and likeness. Even when—and especially when—he disagreed with their ideas or actions, he treated them with kindness and respect. (3) Francis and Edith recognized the value of Christian community, so they created an environment in their home that would allow unbelievers to share meals with them, to live life together with Christians, and to otherwise experience Christian love.
What We Can Learn from History in Order to Live Faithfully Today

Each of us must live faithfully in the time and place where God has put us. This means, on the one hand, that we cannot be slavishly beholden to the past. The ways that Augustine or Lewis made culture and engaged culture will be different from our ways. For Augustine, faithfulness included taking into account Roman gods and Roman politics. For Lewis, it meant bearing witness to Christ in England in the aftermath of war. For us, however, faithfulness must be accomplished in our own 21st-century contexts. On the other hand, we can and should learn from Christians in the past. As we observe the ways in which they proclaimed and promoted Christ in their contexts, we will find instruction for how to do so in our own.
Action Points

• Augustine argued that Roman civilization was corrupt politically, religiously, and philosophically. Pause for a moment to reflect upon ways in which your own country is corrupt politically, religiously, and philosophically.
• Balthasar Hübmaier was persecuted and eventually killed for the sake of his loyalty to Christ. What are some ways Christians in your country are opposed today? What can we learn from Hübmaier’s example as we prepare to face opposition?
• Abraham Kuyper is known for his emphasis on Christ’s lordship. What are some facets of your own life and cultural engagement that have not been brought into line with Christ’s lordship?
• All the people discussed in this chapter display a creative presence in their cultural context, showing Christ to be Lord of every sphere of life. Who are some people you know to be displaying this same sort of Christ-focused presence?
• Both C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were known for their ability to listen and meaningfully converse with people. In what ways do you hear those around you? What are the marks of gospel-listening, and how should that influence our gospel-sharing?
Recommended Reading

Chang, Curtis. Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. A brief reflection on the way Augustine and Thomas Aquinas engaged unbelief in their respective cultural contexts.
Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. A biography of Francis Schaeffer, written by a man who knew Schaeffer well.
Markos, Louis. Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World. Nashville: B&H, 2003. An exposition of what Lewis can teach us about engaging with art, science, philosophy, and other realms of culture.
Moore, T. M. Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007. A helpful introduction to the ways in which some Christians have engaged their respective cultures.
Mouw, Richard J. Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. An excellent little introduction to Kuyper’s life and thought.

Chapter 5: The Arts
As a young believer and a cultural separatist in the 80s and 90s, I was pretty sure that “the arts” were very bad in some foreboding but non-specific manner. I wasn’t sure why the arts were so bad, but it seemed self-evident that I was supposed to be against them, not for them. During my childhood years, I had a rather limited television intake (“The Andy Griffith Show” was an exception, although the presence of Otis made even this show “iffy”), an almost nonexistent movie intake (except for Billy Graham movies), and a zero-calorie music diet (classical music and hymns only; rock music was Satan’s music, and I knew this because Bill Gothard told me so).
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m happy about the alternatives my parents presented. I read books (lots of them, including biography, history, theology, fiction, etc.), I played sports, and I spent time with my family. But by the time I got to college, I wasn’t sure what to do with the arts, including popular art forms like cinema, television, and Top 40 music. I knew that I disagreed with a lot of the messages that were being put forth through those media, but I also knew that some of it was beautiful and that all of it was powerfully influential.
Because of this recognition that I didn’t know what to do with the arts, in my college and early seminary years I fluctuated between cultural anorexia and cultural gluttony, sometimes within the span of one week. It wasn’t until I met the Christian philosopher L. Russ Bush and read books by Abraham Kuyper, C. S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer that I began to learn what to do with the arts. L. Russ Bush was the academic dean and professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I was enrolled. In his introductory philosophy course, he covered the history of philosophy and, while doing so, illustrated by pointing to movies, music, and television shows that espoused particular philosophical viewpoints. In his Ph.D. seminar on “Christian Faith and the Modern Mind,” he surveyed late 20th-century art, architecture, cinema, and music, showing the philosophical and religious underpinnings of various artists and works.
During Dr. Bush’s courses, he introduced us to Christian art critics such as Hans Rookmaaker (professional art historian and critic) and popular art critics such as Francis Schaeffer (Christian theologian and apologist). Rookmaaker and Schaeffer were friends and influenced each other’s work in the realm of art. In this chapter, I will center our discussion on Schaeffer’s view of art (which depended in part upon Rookmaaker’s) as expressed in his book Art and the Bible, because it has some very important things to teach us and because Schaeffer communicates those things in a way that is easily understood by non-professionals in the field of art. Along the way, however, I will add to what Rookmaaker and Schaeffer said, and even express some ideas differently than they might have.
Before we continue, let’s define some terms that we will be using and then turn our attention back to the Bible’s storyline for a moment. Traditionally the word “art” has been defined as something that imitates the real world (Plato) or as a purposive representation of the world that helps us communicate (Kant). However, the traditional conceptions of art tend to reduce it to one “thing,” when there is in fact a myriad of diverse things we recognize as art. The philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff is onto something when he writes:

Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse actions as praising our great men and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge. Works of art are objects of such actions as contemplation for the sake of delight. Works of art are accompaniments for such actions as hoeing cotton and rocking infants. Works of art are a background for such actions as eating meals and walking through airports.

In addition to talking about art, we will talk about “artifacts.” Artifacts are things made by humans that give evidence of the God-given capacity for creativity, which is part of being created in the image of God. “Artistry” refers to the way humans respond to God’s equipping and calling them to be creative.
The Biblical Storyline

Turning to the biblical storyline, we notice that, in the creation account, God is portrayed as the first artist and craftsman. The world we live in, and we ourselves, are the product of his craftsmanship and artistry. Additionally in those chapters, we learn that he created human beings in his image and likeness—which implies that we will be artful and creative similar to the way God is artful and creative. Good art is art that honors God and causes human beings to flourish. After the fall, however, every dimension of culture, including the arts, has experienced the corrupting and misdirecting influence of sin. Bad art is art that is warped and distorted by sin and idolatry, which arises from a wrong view of God and his good world.
In the midst of this fallen state of affairs, the Son of God came to earth and took on human flesh. He was the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3), the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Describing this biblical teaching, a 20th-century theologian named Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that supreme beauty is the glory of the invisible God radiating in the visible materiality of the world. All art and indeed all culture are measured by the standard of the incarnate Son. Additionally, because of the incarnate Son’s redemption, we now seek to bring healing and redirection to the arts, by producing art that honors Christ and is free from the corrupting influence of sin. We do this as an act of obedience to Christ and as a witness to the world.
Hans Rookmaaker and Francis Schaeffer

In Rookmaaker’s book Art Needs No Justification, he makes a good point when he notes that good art does not need to have Bible characters or church content as its subject matter. God made us artfully and wants us to be artful, so the subject matter of the art doesn’t matter so much. What matters more is that the art is done from within a Christian worldview, for God’s glory, and in a way that helps human beings flourish.
Schaeffer picks up this theme and expands on it in Art and the Bible. At the beginning of the book, Schaeffer makes a biblical-theological argument for the goodness of the arts. He begins by arguing for the lordship of Christ over every realm of culture and specifically over the arts. He continues by giving specific examples of Scripture promoting the arts. He hones in on “religious” art and artifacts in the tabernacle and temple, “secular” art in the Bible, Jesus’ use of art, the biblical writer’s use of poetry and portrayal of music, drama, and dance in the Bible, and finally the pervasively “artful” portrayal of heaven’s beauty.
After having built his theological case for the value of the arts, he begins to show the reader how to evaluate specific works of art. One of the more noteworthy sections is his provision of four standards by which one can judge a work of art. Although Schaeffer had in mind primarily oil paintings, statues, and similar types of art, the standards he articulates are ones that any Christian can use to evaluate other types of art, such as movies, music, graphic design, or home design.
The first category Schaeffer provides is technical excellence. He asks whether a painter’s canvas gives evidence of technical excellence in categories such as color, form, balance, the unity of the canvas, its handling of lines, and so forth. Similarly, one could ask whether a movie director is skillful in his use of sound and lighting. The second category he provides is validity. In order for a work of art to possess validity, it should have been produced by an artist who is honest to herself and her worldview (or does she, for example, sell out for money?). Does the artist explore themes or questions that are within her depth, or that indicate she is merely trying to impress?
The third category is content. Is the artist’s worldview resonant with a Christian worldview? A piece of art gives glimpses of an artist’s worldview, and an artist’s whole body of work will tend to reveal the broad contours of his worldview, even though he may not be aware of this. When a singer sings about love, is his view of love shaped by the biblical teaching about love? When a screenwriter produces a movie script whose theme is the meaning of life, does her treatment of the theme reflect Christianity’s deepest teaching on the matter? The fourth category is integration of content and vehicle. Does this work of art correlate its content with its style? If the lyrics speak to a theme of personal loss, does the music similarly convey a sense of loss? If the lyrics portray the beauty of romantic love, does the music enhance that sense of beauty or subvert it?
After discussing these four categories for evaluating works of art, Schaeffer distinguishes between four types of artists. His first type, and the one that holds the possibility for art that truly honors God and contributes to the flourishing of humanity, is the Christian artist who works from within a Christian worldview. Assuming that this artist is skilled and able to produce art that is technically excellent, valid, and integrated, she will produce the very best sort of art. The second type is the non-Christian who works from within a consistently non-Christian worldview, and it serves as the mirror-opposite of the first type. Even if this artist is skilled and able to produce art that satisfies the four categories above, her art will not be the best sort of art and will in some ways subvert God’s design for human flourishing.
The third type is the non-Christian who works with the remnants and residue of a Christian worldview. This artist does not work consistently from within a non-Christian worldview, but either consciously or unconsciously has adopted elements of a Christian worldview. The fourth type is the Christian who does not fully grasp the Christian worldview and therefore works with elements of a non-Christian worldview. This artist is a Christian whose worldview has not been conformed to Christianity and who therefore is not able to produce art that arises consistently from within a Christian view of things. While the first two types are examples of the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario, the last two types are more of a mixed bag.
Schaeffer was not a professional art critic, and his work has some flaws. However, there is much that a Christian (especially one who is not a professional artist or critic) can learn from him. Building on Schaeffer’s ideas above, and modifying them a bit, we can say that: (1) As Christians, we should strive to produce good art—art that arises from within a comprehensive Christian worldview and contributes to the well-being of God’s people and of the broader community; (2) good, Christian art does not have to be explicitly religious and often is more powerful when it is not; and (3) as Christians, we should pay careful attention to the art arising from our culture, because it is a significant component of the culture and likely reveals something about the predominant beliefs and lifestyles operating in our context.
Embracing the Arts

One of the reasons why Christians have been increasingly ineffective witnesses in the United States is that we have neglected our responsibility to glorify God in the arts. I agree with the great writer Dorothy Sayers when she says, “The church has never made up her mind about the Arts, and it is hardly too much to say that she has never tried,” and with the Christian theologian Colin Gunton, who recently wrote, “Christianity has tended to be ambivalent about the arts, at once fostering and developing them and yet always ready to doubt their true value.”36 Christians have paid insufficient attention to this dimension of human culture—a dimension that is significant in God’s creation-order and that wields great influence over the hearts and minds of humanity.
We would be foolish to continue minimizing the arts. Abraham Kuyper writes, “Understand that art is no fringe thing that is attached to the garment, and no amusement that is added to life, but a most serious power in our present existence.” For this reason, we must accept the challenge recently set forth by the musician and theologian Jeremy Begbie, who wrote, “As the western Churches face the enormous challenge of how the faith ‘once delivered’ is going to be redelivered in a society increasingly alienated from the institutional Church and increasingly ignorant about the Christian faith, to neglect the arts’ potential would be curious, perhaps even irresponsible.”38 Instead of neglecting the arts, we need to encourage our churches to place significance on them and create environments that can produce Christian artists and Christians who engage the arts.
Action Points

• Art is a key element in our discussion on culture redirected toward God, because few things engage the whole person the way art does. What are some of your favorite expressions of the arts? What brings you joy or elevates your thoughts and emotions to the deeper things of life?
• Name some of your favorite artists (be they musicians, painters, photographers, poets, or novelists). In which of Schaeffer’s four categories of artists would you place them?
• Creating beauty and enjoying beauty are unique to humans in God’s creation and are things we are called to do as full-orbed worshipers of God. What are ways that you might use your creative capacities, your artfulness, to enhance your home, workplace, church, or community?
Recommended Reading

Gallagher, Susan V. and Roger Lundin. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. New York: HarperCollins: 1989. An excellent introduction that shows how reading literature helps us interpret our lives.
Godawa, Brian. Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. An engaging book that equips readers to watch films critically.
O’Connor, Flannery. “The Church and the Fiction Writer” in Mystery and Manners, 143–53. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1961. An essay providing insight into the relationship of faith and writing.
Rookmaaker, H. R. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. 2nd ed. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. A modern classic that offers penetrating insight into modern art and the intellectual context beneath it. Advanced.
Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible: Two Essays. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. A small book encapsulating Schaeffer’s approach to the arts.
Seerveld, Calvin. Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves: Alternative Steps in Understanding Art. Toronto: Piquant, 2000. An advanced treatment of how Christians can understand, make, perform, and evaluate the arts.
Veith, Gene E. State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991. A useful introduction to understanding the biblical foundations for art and the broad contours of contemporary art.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980. A Christian philosophy of art arguing that art has a legitimate and necessary place in everyday life. Advanced.

Chapter 6: The Sciences
Christians sometimes think that the sciences are somehow at odds with the Christian faith. Perhaps they remember that their biology professor in college was not a Christian, or maybe they have listened to atheists like Richard Dawkins denounce the Christian faith. On top of this, many Christians think of the sciences as being only those disciplines such as physics, chemistry, or biology, and thus think of the sciences as being far removed from ordinary life and from the Christian mission. But in fact, the sciences are not at odds with the Christian faith, and science is not far removed from the Christian life. Although scientists and theologians might find themselves sometimes disagreeing with one another on certain topics, “science” and “Christianity” are never in conflict. In fact, Christianity ought to have a close working relationship with all of the sciences, including not only biology, physics, and chemistry, but also sociology, anthropology, psychology, and medicine.
In this chapter, we will focus our attention on whether the sciences confirm the Christian faith or call it into question. In particular, we will pay attention to a claim made by certain scientists such as Richard Dawkins: that Christianity and science are incompatible and that the modern “scientific” worldview should replace the outdated “Christian” one.
The Biblical Storyline

Before doing so, however, let’s turn our attention back to the Bible’s storyline, asking how it can illuminate this chapter’s topic. From the creation account, we can infer that God is the first “scientist.” He created the universe that scientists study, and he even reveals certain things about himself through our study of the universe (Rom 1:20). God sustains the universe and holds it together (Col 1:15–20) so that it manifests the unity, regularity, and stability that a scientist must demonstrate when studying the world. Additionally, God created humans as inquisitive and rational beings who have both the desire and the ability to study his world scientifically. In a nutshell, science has a unique and powerful capacity to honor God and to cause human beings to flourish.
In the aftermath of the fall, every aspect of creation and culture finds itself corrupted and misdirected by sin. Science is no exception. Scientific investigation is undertaken by fallen human beings who, for example, make an idol out of the sciences by trusting that science can answer life’s deepest questions and fix its most perplexing problems. In other words, Westerners often worship science instead of God. Additionally, many Westerners view the story of the modern world as a story in which science has made progress precisely because it has proven Christianity wrong in some of its major teachings. For them, the history of science provides a master narrative of the world—one that they often hold to in a deeply emotional and religious manner. This is one way in which science has been corrupted and misdirected.
Because of the redemption we have in Jesus Christ, we seek to glorify God in every dimension of life and culture, including the scientific dimension. We want to bring healing and redirection to science in those areas where it has been corrupted and misdirected. One way we can do that is by retelling the “story” of science, showing the world that Christian theology and natural science are mutually beneficial dialogue partners. In doing so, we are able to correct the misperceptions that many people have and to help them see God as the enabler and encourager of scientific study.
The Christian Foundations of Modern Science

One of the first things we should note is the fact that modern science arose within a predominantly Christian civilizational context. At the turn of the 20th century, the French physicist Pierre Duhem began researching the roots of modern science. He concluded that modern science began, in seminal form, in the Middle Ages, and that Christianized Europe was a conducive environment to scientific inquiry.
Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, in The Soul of Science, argue that Duhem was an astute and perceptive observer of the history of science. They note that modern science could have arisen from China or Arabia, as both civilizations had produced a higher level of learning and more advanced technology than European civilization at that time. “Yet,” they write, “it was Christianized Europe and not these more advanced cultures that gave birth to modern science as a systematic, self-correcting discipline. The historian is bound to ask why this should be so.” Pearcey and Thaxton acknowledge that several factors (e.g., trade and commerce) contributed to Europe’s success in the sciences, but they argue that among those factors the Christian worldview was central.
Pearcey and Thaxton list 10 aspects of Christian teaching that enabled modern science to arise in a Christianized European context, several of which we will now mention. One aspect is the biblical teaching that the physical and material world is both real (unlike the illusory world envisioned by many Hindus) and good (contrary to the negative perspective of Gnostics and neo-Platonists). Furthermore, Scripture teaches that the world is good but not divine, which allows humans to study it as an object rather than revering it as a god.
Additionally, the Bible portrays an orderly world that can be studied (unlike the pagans, who viewed the world as a chaotic arena influenced by the conflicting whims of various deities). Its regularity is such that we have come to speak of “the laws of nature,” which can be stated in mathematical formulas. Finally, Scripture portrays humans as beings who have the rational capacities to study this orderly world. In other words, God created the world in such a way that it can be studied, and he created humans in such a way that we can do the studying.
Christianity, therefore, played a significant role in the rise of modern science and is hospitable to science and scientists. Not all scientists, however, see it that way. Some of them argue that the claims of science and theology are incompatible—that science trumps theology, and that theology is no longer credible in the modern world.
Atheism’s Errant Claims That Science and Theology Are Incompatible

Stephen Barr is a theoretical particle physicist at the Bartol Institute of the University of Delaware. Several years ago, he wrote an important article in which he showed how there is no real conflict between science and theology. Instead of a conflict between science and theology, there is a conflict between materialism and theology. (Materialists believe that nothing exists except matter, and they almost always believe there is no God.43) Barr argues that Christianity is rational, that it actually gave birth to modern science, and that the Bible’s storyline and teachings fit hand-in-glove with the best of science. In the main body of his paper, Barr shows how scientific materialists claim that science makes a Christian conception of the world unbelievable; then he proceeds to overturn each of the materialists’ claims. In the next few paragraphs, I will summarize four of the materialists’ claims and Barr’s response to them.
The first materialist claim is that Copernicus’ discoveries overturned Christian cosmology. They argue that Copernicus’ discovery that the Earth revolves around the sun refuted a Christian belief that the sun revolves around the Earth. Barr responds that Copernicus did not overthrow any distinctively Christian belief. The sun-centered view of the cosmos came from pagan thinkers (Ptolemy and Aristotle) rather than from Christian Scripture—so Copernicus refuted Ptolemy and Aristotle, not Christianity. Barr goes on to make a very interesting point: Contemporary cosmology has recently moved in the direction of affirming Christian beliefs about the cosmos. While the scientific consensus 30 years ago was that the cosmos was eternal, the consensus now is that it must have had a beginning (which is what theologians have argued for thousands of years).
A second materialist claim is that “mechanism” has triumphed over “teleology.” Teleology is the view that the world has a design and a purpose, while mechanism is the view that it does not. Materialists argue that physicists have discovered certain “laws” of physics that hold the world together in such a way that there is no need to believe in a Designer who put it together. Barr argues that this mechanistic view is wrong. Barr is himself a physicist, and he argues that most physicists recognize that deep laws underlie the universe’s operations——laws so profound and elegant that they actually cause physicists to postulate some sort of cosmic design. While materialists continue to assert that the universe could not have had a divine Designer, many physicists now suspect that it could or does.
A third materialist claim is that biologists have dethroned humanity from the high position given to it by Christian theology. Materialists say that biology has led us to believe that humans are merely animals who make up just a tiny part of a huge and hostile universe. If this is true, it must disprove Christianity, which teaches that God created human beings in his image and likeness and set them apart from the animals. Barr’s response is to argue the opposite point: As it turns out, the universe is amazingly (even gratuitously) hospitable to humans. Many features of our universe are fine-tuned in such a manner that minute alteration would leave the Earth uninhabitable for humans. Such “anthropic coincidences” seem to be built into nature—and if they have been built in, there must be a divine Builder.
A fourth materialist claim is that humans are nothing more than biochemical machines, and that this “fact” renders the God-postulate unnecessary. Materialists argue that there is no proof whatsoever that humans have “souls” or spiritual capacities of any type and that therefore we have no reason to believe in God either. However, Barr explains that some physicists are now arguing that the quantum theory in physics is incompatible with a materialist view of the mind. He concludes that research in physics shows the laws of the universe to be grand and sublime in a way that implies design—and, because of that, this research also implies that the universe has a Designer.
Science and Theology as Mutually Beneficial Dialogue Partners

The best way to view science and theology is as “mutually beneficial dialogue partners.” Like Barr, we recognize that God is the author of both Scripture and nature. If so, then there should be a partnership between those whose primary object of study is Scripture and those whose primary object of study is nature. Theologians and scientists should dialogue with one another and partner together in seeking to understand reality. As philosopher David Clark writes:

Reality is complex, human knowers access different dimensions of reality using different methods. This is precisely why dialogue among disciplines is important. Dialogue permits us to adopt multiple frames of reference on reality. Still, if truth is unified as we hold, we must seek connections between and integration of these multiple frames of reference.

Clark goes on to elucidate some ways that theology speaks to science and science speaks to theology. Theology speaks to science by: (1) explaining the origin and destiny of the universe; (2) explaining why it is orderly and can be interpreted; (3) explaining why science matters; (4) helping to guide future scientific research; and (5) helping provide warrant for one scientific theory over another. Moreover, science speaks to theology by: (1) offering conceptual frameworks and analogies helpful for elucidating theological concepts; (2) helping provide warrant for one theological interpretation over another; and (3) illustrating and providing further explanation of biblical teaching on aspects of created reality.
The English physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne puts it well when he writes:

The scientific and theological accounts of the world must fit together in a mutually consistent way. In fact, because I also accept the dialogue description of this relationship, I believe that they can do so—not as a mere matter of compatibility, but with a degree of mutual enhancement and enlightenment.
When Scientists and Theologians Disagree

The discussion of Barr’s article raises a question that many Christians have on their mind: How do we find a resolution when certain scientists present evidence that appears to conflict with Christian teaching? As Christians, we believe that there cannot be any real or final conflict between theology and science, because God is the author of both the “book of Scripture” and the “book of nature.” If there is a conflict between certain theologians and certain scientists, it exists because of human error in interpreting Scripture or interpreting nature. In other words, there will sometimes be disagreement between theologians and scientists, but there will never be disagreement between God’s two books (Scripture and nature).
In light of these convictions, I offer three principles to resolve the disagreements that sometimes exist between theologians and scientists. These three principles are modified from an article written by the Christian philosopher Norman Geisler:

1. Either group (theologians or scientists) can err; for that reason, either group should be open to correction. Both theologians and scientists have made mistakes. On the one hand, centuries ago many theologians thought that the Earth was square, based on biblical texts referring to the “corners” of the Earth. However, scientists have demonstrated beyond doubt that the world is not square, and theologians now realize that the biblical authors used “corners of the Earth” language metaphorically. On the other hand, decades ago many scientists thought the Earth was eternal. However, most scientists now believe in the “Big Bang” theory, which explains that the universe is expanding outward from a point of “infinite density” (which is as close as scientific language can come to saying that it appeared out of nothing).
2. The Bible is not a science textbook. Scripture does make statements that can be investigated and either affirmed or denied by scientists. However, it does not use technical scientific language and it does not give scientific theories. Instead, it uses language that would be accessible to persons who are observing the world from an ordinary human standpoint. When Scripture is interpreted correctly in this manner, we see that God’s written Word does not conflict with science in any real or final manner. Any disagreement we find should be located in human interpretive error, rather than in any real conflict between God’s two books.
3. Science is constantly changing. One generation of scientists might argue that the universe is eternal, while the very next generation argues that the universe emerged from a point of infinite density and therefore had a beginning. For this reason, Christians should be careful not to hurriedly revise a traditional interpretation of Scripture in order to satisfy the demands of contemporary scientists.

God’s revelation of himself gives Christians deep motivation to embrace the sciences and do excellent work in them. Viewed from a Christian perspective, science is the discipline of studying the good world that God has given us. For this reason, we should build into our churches the habit of encouraging those who are gifted to pursue work in the sciences. We should work hard to build world-class research universities that give scientists the freedom to do their work without laying aside their core convictions and the freedom to hypothesize Christianly as they attempt to make sense of the data. Additionally, we should encourage the most gifted and mature of our young people to study science in our Ivy League and major state universities. In so doing, these students will find themselves in places of influence as research scientists or tenured professors of science at those same universities.
Action Points

• Barr retells the story of science, arguing that science is not in conflict with Christianity. Have you ever encountered a person who thought science and Christianity are in conflict? How would you respond to them if you had the opportunity to do so?
• What are some ways we benefit from science and technology? What are some ways we make an idol out of science and technology?
Recommended Reading

Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Touchstone, 1996. A fetching read by a working biochemist about a central problem with Darwinian theory. The book is technical but accessible to the lay reader.
Carlson, Richard F., ed. Science and Christianity: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. This book offers four views on the relationship of science and Christianity: Creationism, Independence, Qualified Agreement, and Partnership.
Davis, John Jefferson. The Frontiers of Science and Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. A terrific exploration of 10 current scientific issues and their intersection with Christian theology and life.
Keathley, Kenneth D., and Mark F. Rooker, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014. This is the best one-stop introduction to the contested question of the relationship between creation and evolution.
Pearcey, Nancy R. and Charles B. Thaxton. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994. An analysis of the way in which Judaeo-Christian thought funds the scientific enterprise, including a look at mathematics and scientific “revolutions,” and the discipline called the “History of Science.”
Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. An argument that there is deep resonance between Christianity and science, and deep conflict between atheism and science. Advanced.

Chapter 7: Politics and the Public Square
As a Christian citizen of the United States, I get the distinct sense that I am living in an increasingly post-Christian country. The majority of Americans no longer consider traditional Christian doctrines (for example, the doctrine of sin) or traditional Christian ethics (for example, biblical sexual morality) to be plausible in the modern world. Christians who do not abandon these beliefs are labeled intolerant and even hateful.
Given the fact that the United States is a democratic republic, the beliefs of the majority affect the lives of the minority socially, culturally, and politically. This reality makes it increasingly important for Christians to figure out the best way to voice their Christian convictions and enact Christian love in the public square. I use the phrase “public square” to refer to our public life—the places where we speak, act, debate, dialogue, and exchange ideas about the best ways to organize our communities, cities, states, and nation.
Certain people—such as politicians, lawyers, and journalists—find that their jobs are inherently oriented to the public square. However, those persons are not the only ones who have the opportunity to participate in the public square. Each of us can be actively involved in shaping public life. As Christians, the question that arises immediately concerns the relationship between our personal religious beliefs and our shared public life: Should we bring our Christianity with us to the public square or should we leave it home?
In this chapter, we will address this significant question about the relationship between religious belief and public life, especially as it pertains to a country like the United States. In the United States, and in many other democracies, Christians find themselves in conversations with citizens who hold very different opinions on the most important matters in public life. In this situation, we must figure out the most appropriate and compelling manner in which to set forth publicly our vision of the good life.
The Biblical Storyline

In just a moment, we will discuss different views about how to relate religious belief and the public square. But first, let’s trace the biblical storyline once again, this time with an eye toward politics and the public square. When we reflect on the biblical account of creation, we realize that Adam and Eve lived in right relationship with God, with each other, and with the created order. This interconnected web of rightly ordered relationships encapsulated God’s design for his people to flourish alongside of one another, experiencing harmony and delight in their common life.
After the fall, God’s creational design was corrupted and misdirected. In the aftermath of the first couple’s sin, humanity experienced broken relationships with God, each other, and the world. Rather than being in loving fellowship with God, we are born predisposed to reject God, competing with him in an attempt to be Lord over his universe. Instead of living in loving fellowship with each other, we experience social brokenness in the form of murder, rape, adultery, ethnocide, slavery, and terrorism, to name a few. Instead of living in perfect mutual reciprocity with God’s creation, we treat his creation badly, and his creation supports our life imperfectly. In other words, sin has created a situation in which we need a governing authority to restrict evil and promote the common good (Rom 13:1–5; 1 Pet 2:13–14).
In the West, most countries are governed by some form of democracy, in which “we the people” have a real say in government. We have the opportunity to gather in the public square to discuss and debate matters of concern to the whole society. And yet, because we are finite human beings and sinners, often we do not achieve consensus. We disagree with one another on many of the most important issues in our shared public life, we have difficulty achieving justice for all, and we wage our debates in the most unhelpful and uncivil of manners.
However, because of Christ Jesus’ redemption, we find ourselves sent back into the public square in a wholly new way. We have been reconciled to God and seek to live in reconciled relationships with each other and with God’s world. We want to put our Christian convictions to work in the political realm, helping to foster justice for our cities, states, and nation. We do these things out of love for the Lord and obedience to him. However, we also do it out of love for our fellow citizens and as a witness to them. As we employ our Christian love and conviction in the public square, we are providing a preview of a future era when Christ will return and reign as King over a new heavens and earth.
A Naked Public Square?

We have just now reviewed the biblical storyline, which gives us the broad contours of God’s design for our shared human life, sin’s corruption of his design, and Christ’s redemption that eventually will heal the corruption. Now, we must try to apply these basic truths to a specific question that the Bible does not address directly: How should Christians—who live in a 21st-century democratic republic populated by diverse religions and ideologies, and characterized by political incivility and injustice—act and speak in the public square? More specifically, should we bring our religious beliefs into the public square or should we leave them at home?
One of the foremost American political thinkers of the late 20th century was John Rawls, who taught at Harvard University. His most influential book, A Theory of Justice, addresses many of the questions we are asking in this chapter. Rawls argues that American citizens should engage in vigorous public discussion about important political issues but should leave their religious beliefs out of it. He suggests that we hide behind a “veil of ignorance.” We should pretend to be ignorant of our own religious convictions (and of other things that could prejudice us, such as our race or socioeconomic class). Rawls thinks that his view will help citizens achieve the most just outcome.
In my view, Rawls’ vision for a naked public square is both impossible and unhelpful. All people are religious, and their religion radiates outward into every part of their lives. Rawls’ religion was political liberalism, and it deeply influenced his public-square interaction. Our religion is Christianity, and it will—and should—influence our interactions in the public square. As believers, we affirm our Christian convictions as the very things that should help us create a good and just society. We should employ those convictions appropriately as we seek to contribute to the common good.
Many prominent Christian thinkers, such as Richard John Neuhaus, Lesslie Newbigin, and John Howard Yoder, have rejected Rawls’ approach in favor of a view that recognizes the need for believers to bring their convictions to the public square. Each of those thinkers offered valuable insights that will prove helpful for Christians who wish to chart a path of Christian faithfulness in our 21st-century context. In the following section, however, we will rely primarily on the insights of Richard Mouw, an American philosopher and theologian who has applied Abraham Kuyper’s insights to our contemporary North American context.
A Convictional Public Square

A core biblical teaching is that all humans are worshipers, either of God or of idols. Our worship is located in the heart, and it radiates outward into all that we do. People who are not Christians are still worshipers, and whatever or whoever they worship radiates outward into all that they do, including their public-square interactions. As Christian believers, we worship the God of Jesus Christ. Because he is the creator and Lord of all that exists, we seek to bring all of our lives, including our public-square interactions, into submission to his lordship. The question remains, however: “How exactly do we bring our public-square interactions in line with Christ’s lordship?” Here are seven points that offer a way forward.
1. We want to avoid a coercive relationship between the church and the state

From Genesis, we learn that God created the world and ordered it by means of his world. This ordering includes various spheres, such as family, church, art, science, and politics. Each sphere has its own creational design, its own way of reflecting God’s glory and enabling humans to flourish. Ideally, each sphere exists directly under God’s lordship, rather than under the “lordship” of one of the other spheres. For example, the church should not seek the authority of the state, and the state should not encroach upon the church.
On the one hand, we should avoid “ecclesiasticism”—a situation in which the church seeks to control the state. There are many instances in history in which the institutional church has sought to exercise power directly over the government. However, Scripture never directs or encourages the church to do so. Although God himself is sovereign over the government and can exercise authority directly over it, the church is not sovereign in this manner. Instead, the church is called to equip its members to live godly lives and to be salt and light in their public-square interactions.
On the other hand, we must avoid “statism”—a situation in which the state encroaches upon the other spheres and especially (for our purposes) upon the church. As Roger Williams, John Locke, and others argued so compellingly in years past, the Christian doctrine of the image of God implies religious freedom. Os Guinness writes, “Freedom of religion and belief affirms the dignity, worth and agency of every human person by freeing us to align ‘who we understand ourselves to be’ with ‘what we believe ultimately is,’ and then to think, live, speak and act in line with those convictions.” Just as the individual person possesses freedom of conscience, so societies should provide a freedom of religion in the public square.
Although the state should not encroach upon other spheres, and especially not upon the church, this does not mean that the government cannot interfere in these autonomous spheres. Mouw follows Kuyper in noting three such instances. The government of any country can and should play the role of a referee when there is conflict between the spheres (e.g., it might restrict an artist from displaying obscene art in public). It can protect the weak from the strong within a given sphere (e.g., it might interfere in a family after an instance of abuse). It also can use its power in matters that affect multiple spheres (e.g., it taxes us in order to build roads that enable all spheres to function). Finally, I add that a government ideally will create an environment in which all of the spheres can operate healthily, enabling society to flourish.
2. We should be active in promoting the common good

In Romans 13:1–7 Paul urges the Roman church to live in submission to its government. However, this passage cannot be employed to justify ultimate allegiance to the government or a passive citizenship in contemporary democratic situations. As Mouw explains:

In modern democracies, the power of national leaders is derived from the populace, which is the primary locus of God-given authority. Built into the very process is the possibility of review, debate, reexamination, election, and defeat. Given such a framework, for Christians simply to acquiesce in a present policy is to fail to respect the governing authorities.

God has always called his people to be a light to the nations, and contemporary democracies provide a unique venue for being just such a light. We can be salt and light not only by calling people to salvation, but also by promoting the common good and looking for ways to restrain public evil.
3. We should be discerning in how we articulate our beliefs

As we are looking for ways to promote the common good and restrain sin and its effects, we will have to provide a rationale for the ways we suggest. When providing a public rationale, we face a choice between articulating that rationale in explicitly Christian language or with more neutral language. If we give a more robust and explicitly Christian rationale for our proposals, we often run the risk of being ignored or misunderstood. If we give a more neutral rationale, we are not able to speak with the same convictional force or precision. For example, if a Christian is arguing against abortion, she might in one instance articulate her rationale in terms of the Christian doctrine of the image of God, but in another instance focus on demonstrating the negative effects of abortion on families and the broader society. Such choices are difficult, and we must pray for wisdom and discernment about the best way to argue our points.
4. We should be discerning in what we say from our pulpits

The gospel we preach is political (we declare that Jesus is Lord and “Caesar” is not), and therefore the church is a political community. We are political in the sense that we are a “contrast community” whose life is ordered under Christ and should be markedly different from other communities. Our power does not come from wealth, social position, or military power. Instead it comes from Christian love, prophetic witness, generosity, and sacrificial service.
One contested issue is whether politics should be preached from the pulpit. This is not an easy question. Mouw is right when he says that we should proceed carefully and pray for discernment when faced with the question of whether to address a political issue from the pulpit. If we decide to do so, we must be confident that our words and concerns arise from God’s words and concerns as expressed in Scripture. If we are confident that our words and concerns match God’s, we might address the situation directly. If we are not so confident, we might merely raise a question about the issue and say that Christians should pray for discernment. A preacher might be confident in addressing the evil of abortion from the pulpit, for example, but likely would not preach about federal regulation of the aviation industry.
5. We should be civil in our demeanor

Public square interactions often become contentious, and Christians should make sure that their interactions are shaped by their love for Christ and for their fellow humans. We should be courteous toward those with whom we disagree. We should represent our debate partners accurately rather than misrepresenting them. We should recognize the good in their lives and their arguments, rather than glorifying ourselves and demonizing them. We should be teachable, rather than close-minded. In a nutshell, we should be publicly righteous and our churches should be formation centers for public righteousness.
6. We should be realistic in what we expect from the political sphere

As believers, we should be measured in what we expect from the political realm. After all, we are sinners, our politicians are sinners, and in fact we live in societies full of sinners. However, we also know that Christ Jesus will return to institute a new order in which righteousness will prevail. So we should be neither pessimists who throw up our hands in despair nor utopians who try to force the present era to be the new heavens and earth. Instead, we should be clear-eyed Christian realists, who participate patiently in the public square, seeking to bear witness to Christ and promote the common good.
7. We should remember that politics is only one dimension of our cultural witness

Before concluding our discussion of religion and the public square, I think it is important to remind ourselves that politics is only one dimension of culture. Additionally, what happens in the political realm often is influenced by things that have taken place in other realms. In other words, if we want to influence our society, we should not put all of our hopes in politics. We should expend our energies in all arenas of culture, because each of those arenas affects what happens in the political realm. Consider the influence that universities have in shaping the minds and hearts of young men and women. Or consider the power of the arts (especially music, TV, and movies) to shape the way entire cultures and subcultures think and feel about issues. So politics is one arena among many, and it is shaped by the other arenas.
Grace and Joy in Politics

As Christians, we should participate in politics and in discussions about the public good. We do so with seriousness, because Christian love and conviction demand that we work for the public good. We do so with grace, because Christian love extends even to people with whom we have irreconcilable differences politically. And we do so with joy, because our final hope is in Jesus Christ, rather than in the United States of America.
Action Points

• Reflect on incivility in public life. Can you think of current examples of Christians who interact in public life in ways that are uncivil, such as misrepresenting or demonizing those on the other side of a political debate?
• Pick a public-square issue (e.g., just war, abortion, health care). How would you address this issue if you were invited to speak about it on national television? Would you give an explicitly Christian rationale for your stance, or would you choose to use more neutral language? What type of tone would you use?
• Christianity is political in the deepest sense of that word. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. However, preachers should be cautious about addressing political issues from the pulpit. Identify appropriate and inappropriate instances of addressing political issues from the pulpit.
• When we are unrealistic about what we expect from politics in a fallen world, we can become angry, depressed, and cynical. Can you think of ways in which you or others are unrealistic in your expectations?
Recommended Reading

Audi, Robert and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Public Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997. A somewhat technical discussion of Christian convictions and the ways in which believers should dialogue in the public square. Audi argues that Christians should appear “naked” in the public square, while Wolterstorff (himself a political liberal), argues that they should come “fully clothed.”
Budziszewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006. This intermediate-to-advanced book describes the way four theologians—Carl Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder—approached the public square.
Mouw, Richard J. and Sander Griffioen. Pluralisms and Horizons: An Essay in Christian Public Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. An unpacking of the problem of political consensus in a pluralist environment, which includes a helpful comparison and contrast of major thinkers on the topic, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Richard John Neuhaus.
Mouw, Richard J. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. An argument that Christians should bring not only their Christian convictions to the public square, but also their Christian virtue—especially the ability to be civil in the midst of debate and discussion.
Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. A very influential and well-argued text on the place of Christian conviction in public political discourse.

Chapter 8: Economics and Wealth
In the previous chapter, we discussed the relationship of Christian religious beliefs, politics, and the public square. In this chapter, we will discuss an issue at the center of many political discussions and debates: economics and wealth. Does the Bible have anything to say about this topic? We will see that the Bible does, in fact, provide some guidelines for Christians who want to manage their personal wealth in the right way and who want to live in a society that is economically healthy and just.
Matters of economics and wealth are important to us not only because they affect our livelihood, but because Jesus spoke about them often. The broader economy either enables or disables us in our attempts to flourish and prosper. In one way or another, it affects all of our callings (family, church, workplace, community) and every arena of culture (art, science, business, education). Our view of wealth, and our possession of it, likewise affects all of our callings and can affect our interactions in the broader culture.
As in previous chapters, this topic is too broad to cover in such a short chapter, even if I tried to cover just the basics. For that reason, I will once again focus on a single aspect of our topic that is relevant to Americans in the 21st century: Marxist socialism. During the 20th century, the nations of the world clashed over Marxism—and in many ways, even today, any discussion of economics is affected by it. I will provide a brief description of Karl Marx’s views and then show how they tend to undermine biblical wisdom concerning the economic realm. Then, I will argue that a healthy brand of capitalism fits well with biblical teaching. But before doing so, let’s trace the biblical storyline in order to see what it has to say about wealth and the economy.
The Biblical Storyline

In the beginning, God’s creation was one in which Adam and Eve could flourish in the midst of created abundance. God told them to “have dominion” over (manage) this world of abundance, and to “till the soil” (bring out the hidden potentials) of this abundant world. At the time of creation, there were no wealth-related sins such as theft or greed.
After the fall, however, things changed dramatically. In the chapters and books immediately following the story of the first couple’s sin, we notice humans sinning in their acquisition of wealth. Instead of working to acquire life’s necessities and luxuries, they stole from others. For this reason, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Exod 20:15), and the writer of Proverbs praises hard work while criticizing laziness (Prov 6:6–11). People also sinned in their use of wealth. For this reason, the Bible commends those who share with others rather than hoarding for themselves (Acts 2:44–45) and who pay a fair wage to those who work (Acts 5:3–4). Finally, people also sinned in their view of wealth and possessions, by seeing those things as ultimate rather than seeing God as ultimate. For this reason, we are warned to not make an idol out of silver (Eccl 5:10) or earthly treasures (Matt 6:19–24), to not be greedy (Prov 28:25), and to not be anxious about the material things that we need (Matt 6:25–34).
Because of Christ’s redemption, we have been set free to redirect our lives wholly toward Christ, and this redirection includes the economic aspect of our lives. In terms of the acquisition of our wealth, we want to work hard to earn the things we need and want, and to make sure that our labor is always done morally and legally. In terms of the use of our wealth, we should view our possessions as being (ultimately) God’s possessions and have an attitude of thankfulness toward God, who is the provider of those things. We should be generous to those who have need, especially those (such as widows and orphans) who are least able to provide for themselves. We should not allow wealth to cause divisions within the church, and we should not display favoritism toward the wealthy. In terms of our view of wealth and possessions, we should never treat those things as ultimate or as saviors, because only God is ultimate and only he can save.
Karl Marx and Socialism

The field of economics is beyond our ability to summarize in this chapter, so, again, I will select one aspect of the topic that will be helpful and interesting for most people reading this book. Our chosen topic is Karl Marx and his view of economics and wealth, which is a certain brand of socialism. Marx is the thinker behind the communist revolutions of the 20th century, and in some ways he is the shaping hand behind socialist economies in the 21st century.
Marx believed that economic factors are the most important factors in any society and culture. He argued that world history is really a history of people struggling with economic reality and treating each other well or badly based on that reality. In their famous book, The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, [contests between] freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed.” Marx believed that humanity had evolved in stages economically—from hunter-gatherer societies, to slave-based societies, to medieval feudalism, to modern capitalism. And in his mind, capitalism needed to evolve into socialism.
Marx criticized capitalism by arguing that it undermines national identities and cultural distinctives, because it encourages people to clamor for wealth rather than honoring those traditional identities and distinctives. Most important, he argued that capitalism dehumanizes people by alienating them from their labor. In his view, capitalist economies value money and wealth acquisition more than they value workers. They view the worker as a business expense rather than as a human being. And, judging from the state of capitalism today, Marx’s critique has some truth to it. But his solution was extreme: He believed that workers of the world should (and would) overthrow capitalism. When that happened, he argued, workers should abolish private property and eventually abolish the state itself.
It is important to note that socialism is a broad category, and Marxism is just one version of it. To make things even more complex, Marx viewed socialism as only a temporary stage on the way to an even better (in his view) economic system: communism. Marx envisioned a day when his socialism (with state ownership of property) would be replaced by communism (in which the state would no longer exist). Marx’s wishes were never fulfilled. In fact, quite the opposite happened: Marxist socialism has always created an even bigger and more intrusive government than existed before.
The Problem with Marxist Socialism

One criticism of Marxist socialism is that it wants to abolish private property. But the ownership of private property is closely tied to freedom and liberty, which are essential to God’s design for human culture. When the government takes public ownership of all property, it reduces our ability to interact freely with each other in every cultural arena.
Another criticism of socialism is based on the work of an economist named Ludwig von Mises, who argued that economic activity isn’t sustainable without pricing set by the free market. Take, for example, the Soviet version of Marxist socialism. In its centrally planned economy, the prices were not determined naturally by supply and demand (as they are in capitalism), but instead were determined artificially by the government. Officials in Moscow set prices on goods and services all around the country, from eggs to tractors to heart surgeries. The problem with this approach is that it severely reduces the incentives people have to do their work with creativity and excellence, because there is no financial reward for it. If heart surgeons get paid the same as street sweepers, then the men and women who have the potential to make breakthrough discoveries in heart surgery might never have the motivation to go through many years of medical school or to work the 60–70 hours per week that world-renowned heart surgeons work. When there is no incentive for progress, the culture stagnates or declines.
A final criticism, and a very serious one, is that socialist forms of government have to be more coercive than democratic capitalist forms. The more the government controls, the more power it has. The 20th-century Russian version of socialism was authoritarian, as are the ongoing systems in Cuba and China.
A Christian’s Argument for Capitalism

Capitalism is a form of economy that values a free market rather than a restricted market. Capitalists believe that value arises naturally from supply and demand, rather than artificially by the hand of the government. If the rule of law is in place, and if the economy is undergirded by an overall moral citizenry, then the prices of goods will tend to reflect the underlying supply and demand. Capitalists want citizens to own property and workers to receive the monetary reward for hard work, creativity, and excellence in their labors. In a nutshell, they believe that a free market is the economic system for helping people to flourish in a fallen world.
The Bible does not actually set forth a preferred economic system paired with a preferred system of government, so we have to be creative in trying to figure out which type of economic and political system best fits biblical principles. A Christian thinker named Michael Novak wrote an important book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in which he argued that biblical principles can be honored best in a democratic capitalist system.
One of Novak’s arguments in favor of capitalism is that the free market encourages competition, which in turn provides incentive for people to build better businesses and create better products and services. This sort of economic progress, if it is accompanied by a moral citizenry, will provide all sorts of benefits to a society. The better the products and services we provide for one another, the more likely we are to flourish. God will not judge us for creating wealth, but for our use of it. He blesses us so that we can bless others.
Another of Novak’s arguments is that the Bible encourages us to build societies that respect the realities of a fallen world. Marxism does not do that; it seeks to create a utopia, a human version of the kingdom of God. But capitalism recognizes, for example, that fallen people generally need economic incentives in order to do their best work.
Novak’s argument for free-market capitalism is much broader and deeper than what I’ve described, but those two arguments are examples of how we can apply biblical principles to economic realities.
Misdirected Capitalism

Yet, even though free-market capitalism is our preferred economic system, it can be corrupted and misdirected. In Two Cheers for Capitalism, Irving Kristol rightly cautions free-market proponents not to be so enthusiastic for capitalism that they self-destruct. In our support for the free market, therefore, we must be wary of potentially destructive misdirections.
One way we can misdirect the free market is by idolizing the goods and services offered by the market. The free market does not itself make judgments on what people buy or how much they buy. People can buy (almost) anything they wish, as long as they can pay for it. In allowing that type of liberty, the free market opens the door to materialism and consumerism. Materialism is the belief that we will be happier if we acquire more goods and services, while consumerism is our preoccupation with acquiring those goods and services. The materialist-consumerist mindset is idolatrous, because consumption becomes a functional savior offering the sort of redemption that only Christ can offer, and promoting the sort of utopia that will exist only in the new heavens and earth. Not only individuals but also entire societies can make an idol out of the consumption of material goods and services.
Another way we can misdirect the free market is by fostering an unhealthy relationship between the government and large corporations, a relationship we can call “cronyism” or “corporatism.” In cronyism, the government uses regulators to control corporations. Significantly, and to the detriment of a free market, many of the regulators work in the very offices of those corporations, as if the regulators were actually now a part of the corporation. Government officials can be attracted to this model because they are able to control the corporation. If things go bad, the government can blame the corporation, but if things go well, the government can claim credit. Large corporations can be attracted to this model also, because they are able to collude with the government to prevent competition and to protect themselves.
In addition, in the United States there are strategically important financial institutions so critical to our economy that they are protected by the government. The government “gives” to these institutions by protecting them financially in such a way that they cannot fail, but in return “takes” from them the regulation of their own business. Alexis de Tocqueville predicted this approach in the 18th century and called it “soft tyranny.”
Because we do not have the space to go into greater detail in this little book, let’s summarize crony capitalism by saying that it exerts too strong a control over free enterprise. An optimal free market is one that keeps government from controlling businesses and encourages healthy competition between businesses, which in turn incentivizes businesses to create better products and services. This free-market environment, if it is supported by a moral citizenry, will provide the optimal environment for its citizens to flourish.
Security in God, not Wealth

The Bible does not prescribe for us any particular economic system or any particular form of government, and it certainly does not prescribe for us the way in which economic systems and forms of government should fit together. But we have tried to argue that a democratic capitalist form of government can be a very healthy way of applying biblical principles, especially if the citizens of that nation are moral, and if they resist the excesses of materialism and consumerism.
Christians who live in a democratic capitalist society are in a unique position to be able to elect representatives and have a voice in the economic direction of our nations. We should take seriously our responsibility to vote and to voice our opinion in the public square. But even closer to home is our responsibility to acquire, use, and view our personal wealth in a way that pleases God. We should work hard to acquire our wealth in a way that is moral, legal, and beneficial to society. We should use the wealth we possess to bless our families, but also to bless our neighbors. We should never lose sight of the fact that God, rather than wealth, is our security and our savior.
Action Points

• What are some biblical truths that our 21st-century societies need to hear regarding the economy?
• Do you sometimes find yourself slipping into a materialist or consumerist mindset? What goods and services seem to trigger this for you? How can Christians resist the excesses of materialism?
• What are ways that you can begin living as a preview of God’s kingdom in relation to economic realities? How do you live out obedience and faithful witness in this realm of life?
• Imagine a scenario in which you find yourself in a public disagreement about an economic issue. The person you are disagreeing with is a member of a different political party. Keeping in mind what we learned in the previous chapter about grace, joy, and civility, how should you interact with this person? What should be your tone? How closely would you associate your opinions with your Christianity?
Recommended Reading

Brand, Chad. Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2012. This book is the most concise and accessible primer I know of that addresses work, economics, and civic stewardship.
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts, How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. Chicago: Moody, 2014. The authors lay a foundation for social ministry and poverty-alleviation by defining Jesus’ gospel and mission. From there, they show how social ministry and poverty-alleviation can be accomplished without hurting the poor or hurting the church.
Grudem, Wayne. Business for the Glory of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. A short introduction to the Bible’s teaching on the moral goodness of business and entrepreneurship.
Novak, Michael. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Lanham, MD: Madison, 1991. A vigorous examination of capitalism and democracy with a particularly good articulation of a “theology of democratic capitalism.”
Richards, Jay W. Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. An excellent argument that Christians can and should work from within the free-market economy (rather than viewing it as evil) to help our world flourish.
———. Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists Who Are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control Our Lives and Our Fortunes. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013. A deft exposé of big-government economic regulation and the crippling effects of cronyism.

Chapter 9: Scholarship and Education
When an 18-year-old believer enters college, she often is entering an environment in which the smartest people she will meet (her professors) are opposed to Christianity. In fact, many universities and academic disciplines have become breeding grounds for professors who take delight in undermining or even mocking our deepest Christian convictions. The university is one the most influential institutions in the modern world, a funnel though which hundreds of thousands of young people pour out annually into every sector of American life. It is not altogether implausible to say, “As goes the university, so goes the next generation.”
As Christians, we should expect to encounter resistance from the world. In fact, Jesus promised his disciples that they would be persecuted (John 15:20). However, from my experience, I’ve learned that many 18-year-olds enter college with very little ability to think Christianly or critically. For that reason, instead of being able to enter into serious discussion and debate, they either compartmentalize their faith or compromise their convictions. When a student “compartmentalizes” his faith, I mean that he tends to dissociate his Christian belief from his academic learning, as if the two didn’t have anything to do with each other.
Compartmentalization is one way a student can resolve the tension when his professor’s teaching contradicts Christianity. Another way to resolve the tension is to compromise one’s convictions. In this scenario, the student doesn’t know how to respond to views that conflict with a Christian worldview, and so he chooses the professor’s views over his Christian worldview.
This sort of scenario is quite common. The intellectual environment in the United States is one in which non-Christian worldviews are privileged. In particular, “secular” forms of thinking are privileged. Trinity University’s President David Dockery writes:

The ‘cultured despisers’ of religion regard faith, Christian faith in particular, as irrational and obscurantist. They consider that it may be necessary to tolerate and perhaps even accommodate faith on campus by providing or recognizing denominational chaplaincies, student religious groups, and so forth. But religious faith, even when tolerated, is understood as at best irrelevant to, and at worst incompatible with, serious and unfettered intellectual inquiry and the transmission of knowledge to students.

However, as Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the creator and savior of the world, and that the Bible’s teachings about the world are true and trustworthy. For this reason, we should allow our Christian convictions to motivate our learning and to shape it.
The world of education is multifaceted and broad. In this chapter, we will focus in on one aspect of the world of education: Christians who find themselves in a college or university environment. We will discuss how Christians can approach higher education in a way that honors God and produces excellence in learning. Before doing so, however, we need to review the broad contours of the biblical storyline to glean some basic insights about education.
The Biblical Storyline

The world that is studied and taught about in any school or university is in fact God’s creation. When God created the heavens and earth, he was creating the very world that we examine in a math or science course. He was shaping the men and women about which we study when we take classes in psychology, English, or marketing. Additionally, he is the one who gifted human beings with the ability to teach and study; he is the one who endowed us with physical, intellectual, creative, moral, spiritual, and relational capacities.
After the fall, however, we know that human beings experience difficulty in their ability to learn. The Apostle Paul argues that our ability to discern the truth about reality is warped and corrupted by the sin and rebellion present in our hearts. For this reason, when we receive the redemption offered by Christ Jesus, we must allow him to redirect our minds toward him, so that we can allow him and his Word to shape our learning. God’s Word serves as an enabling Word, which motivates us to learn and shapes the way we learn. In this way, our teaching and learning become forms of obedience and witness. We conform our thinking to Christ who is the Lord of all teaching and learning, and we witness to others by allowing our educational words and deeds to point to him.
God’s Design for Education

Many different proposals have been made about how to build schools and universities that are distinctively Christian. The best of those proposals are the ones that recognize that the Christian worldview not only motivates us to teach and learn, but also shapes the way we teach and learn. A truly Christian education is one which is holistic; in other words, it shapes, in one way or another, every academic discipline, every professor, and every student in a university.
The Bible’s basic storyline provides a framework for understanding reality. In a Christian university, that framework influences the way each discipline is taught. Because God created the world, we know that there is a design and order inherent to it, so that it can be studied; based on this, we also know that in each discipline there is a way things ought to be. Because humans are fallen, we know that every academic discipline can be corrupted and misdirected and therefore should be redemptively redirected toward its proper end. Most important, because God is creator of the whole world about which we teach and study, the whole world possesses a certain unity. All things were created by God and are held together by God. The implication for Christian universities is that the curricula and courses should be taught in such a way that the student can comprehend the unity of truth. Each academic subject and each course should be placed in the context of the broader body of knowledge that finds its unity in Christ.
The Sinful Misdirection of God’s Creation

One of the reasons we find it so difficult to build truly Christian universities is that universities in the United States and Europe have tended to sideline religious belief. For several hundred years now, our state universities and most of our private universities have encouraged professors to keep their religious beliefs private. In other words, university education has been marked by the dis-integration of religion and education, rather than the integration of them.
This disintegration caused a Christian historian named George Marsden to write a book, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, in which he argues that truly Christian scholarship is rare because Christian scholars have been trained to keep their religious beliefs private. He quotes a political scientist named John Green, who said:

If a professor talks about studying something from a Marxist point of view, others might disagree but not dismiss the notion. But if a professor proposed to study something from a Catholic or Protestant point of view, it would be treated like proposing something from a Martian point of view.

Marsden argues that American universities tend to force their professors to be quiet about their faith if they want to be accepted at the university.
This sort of disintegration warps and stunts the process of teaching and learning. Historically, the earliest medieval universities and many of the modern universities were truly uni-versities because they understood knowledge to be uni-fied—that is, they saw God as the creator of everything that they studied and taught. However, once modern universities began to sideline religious belief, universities slowly became dis-universities, because God could no longer serve as the center that allowed the disciplines to be unified.
This sort of disintegration has fostered negative developments in education, such as relativism and scientism. Once the universities no longer had a centering point (God) around which knowledge could be unified, it was easy for that disunity to turn into relativism. In the faculty lounges and classrooms of many universities today, an atmosphere of intellectual and moral relativism reigns. Alternately, the decentering of God caused a tendency toward scientism. If God has been sidelined, then his revealed word has been sidelined, as well. And if this religious perspective is sidelined, then it is easy to think that the scientific perspective on reality is the only perspective. So instead of viewing science and theology as mutually beneficial dialogue partners (see chapter 6), and instead of recognizing the spiritual dimension of human life, the modern world tends to view science as the supreme (or only) form of knowledge and as the ultimate cultural authority.
In response to disintegration, relativism, scientism, and other ills, Christian universities, professors, and students need to bring their Christian worldview to bear upon their teaching and learning. We don’t want to merely tack onto the lectures some Bible verses or a prayer, but to do the hard work of figuring out how God’s revealed word applies to the subject we are teaching or learning. We cannot be simplistic about Christian education. The way in which Christianity applies will differ according to the subject being studied, and often it will be hard to discern.
In the instance of moral philosophy or ethics, we can fairly readily understand the way that biblical teaching speaks to the subject matter at hand. The Bible contains a significant amount of straightforward teaching on ethics and morality. Similarly, it might be easy to see the way biblical teaching informs a literature course. When an English class studies a novel, for example, students can fairly readily see how the story-world created by the author is a world that makes judgments about life’s meaning and purpose, or about truth, goodness, or beauty.
However, there are other subjects in which the Christian application might not be so easy to discern. Take, for example, a course in veterinary studies. And take, for further example, the fairly superficial subject of “how to properly wash a cat”—which can serve as a scenario we might find very difficult to relate to the Christian worldview. How in the world would a Christian worldview shape the way a person teaches about feline hygiene? We can begin by noting that (1) the doctrine of creation reveals that the animal world is part of God’s good creation, and therefore animals are not inherently evil. For this reason, an ethical treatment of animals leads us to avoid cruelty toward them. In addition, (2) the doctrine of creation makes clear that animals, including cats, are not created in the image and likeness of God; only humans are. For this reason, one should not wash one’s cat with more care than one washes, say, one’s baby. Humor aside, society should not value animal life more than it values human life. It should not craft policies against animal cruelty while at the same time allowing human babies to be exterminated before birth. (3) From the doctrine of the kingdom, we know that God will one day restore and renew his good cosmos (Rom 8:18–22; Rev 21–22), including animals. Therefore our care for animals is in some way a preview of God’s coming kingdom, in which, the Bible tells us, lambs and wolves will lie down together (Isa 11:6; 65:25). Therefore, (4) we conclude that we should behave responsibly toward cats (Christian worldview) and refrain from worshiping them (as do certain ancient and Eastern worldviews) or being cruel to them (classic middle-school-boy worldview).
Building truly Christian learning environments will be difficult because we must operate simultaneously within two traditions (Western and Christian). We certainly can learn from the Western tradition, but we also will always be at odds with it, because it sidelines religious belief and therefore warps and distorts knowledge. Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen put it well when they write, “On the one hand, since God is faithful to his creation, much true insight into God’s world will come to us from the non-Christian academic community; on the other hand, the idolatry that underlies Western scholarship will be at work to distort that insight.” We must find a way to fulfill our calling faithfully and with excellence, doing so simultaneously with the Western and Christian traditions.
A Spiritual Calling

The founders of Harvard College published a pamphlet in 1643 containing their mission statement:

Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well [that] the maine end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, Jn 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.

Other Ivy League schools had similar Christian foundations that enabled them to view their colleges as uni-versities, places of learning in which one could find a uni-ty of truth—a unity that revolved around a God who created all things, who sustains all things such that they consist in him, and who endowed man with the ability to learn about what he created.
We concur that learning is best done from within a Christian framework. Cornelius Plantinga, Dean of Calvin College, writes, “Learning is therefore a spiritual calling: properly done, it attaches us to God. In addition, the learned person has, so to speak, more to be Christian with.” Indeed, we should want to “knead the yeast of the gospel” (as Plantinga puts it) through everything that happens on campus, so that all of a student’s rational, creative, and relational capacities would be “permeated with the spirit and teaching of Christianity.”66
Because of the relevance of Christianity for teaching and learning, the Christian community should: (1) build colleges and research universities; (2) encourage Christian scholars to teach in state universities and other private universities that do not integrate Christian faith and learning, in order to be a faithful Christian presence in those places; and (3) encourage our young people to glorify God in their studies.
Action Points

• Think back to your educational experience. What encounters did you have with people who were hostile to a Christian worldview or who tolerated it as long as you kept it private? What were some of the reasons they gave against your beliefs? How did they argue for theirs?
• What are the ways that academic studies and scholarship can be worshipful to God? What does that mean for your studies, whether they include formal education, your own private studies, or your charge to teach others in your vocation?
• All of knowledge is unified. This is one of the most significant claims that separate Christians from the rest of the Western academic context today. In what way can we claim that knowledge is unified? What are some things in your life that seem to have little relation to your faith (like washing a cat)? How then do they relate?
Recommended Reading

Dockery, David. Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. Nashville: B&H, 2008. An excellent and accessible treatise on how to recover a robust and authentic view of faith and learning.
Holmes, Arthur. The Idea of a Christian College. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. An evangelical classic. This slim little volume packs a powerful punch as it sets forth the distinctive mission and contributions of a Christian college.
Marsden, George. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. A 20th-century classic that provides a compelling argument for mainstream American higher education to be open to explicit expressions of faith in an intellectual context.
Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. A compelling argument that evangelicals should value the life of the mind.
Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. A very accessible interaction with the biblical narrative and its implications for faith, learning, and living.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Educating for Life: Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. A collection of essays in which Wolterstorff applies his high-octane brain to the notion of faith and learning in Christian high-school education.
———. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004. A collection of essays in which Wolterstorff reflects upon faith and learning in higher education.

Conclusion: The Christian Mission
Culture matters to God, and it should matter to us. God created us as profoundly social and cultural beings, and this is what separates us from the animals. When God created Adam and Eve, he told them to be fruitful and multiply, till the soil, and have dominion over all the earth. The command to be fruitful and multiply is a profoundly social command, which implied that God wanted humans to build families and communities and societies populated by people who worship him. The commands to till the soil, name the animals, and have dominion are profoundly cultural commands. The command to till the soil implied that God wanted people to take his good creation and change it, to make something of it by bringing out its hidden potentials. The command to have dominion states directly that God wanted people to serve as loving managers of his good world (more literally, to serve as vice-regents under God the King), which implies cultural activity. Humanity’s mission, therefore, was to spread God’s glory across the face of the earth by building societies of worshipers who, in turn, produced cultures that honored God.
The story of humanity took a dark turn when Adam and Eve sinned against God. Satan had tempted Adam and Eve by speaking a word against God’s word. He tempted them to question God’s word and God’s goodness. He tempted them to take upon themselves the qualities of God in order to make their own decisions about right and wrong. They succumbed to the temptation, and the consequences of that sin remain today. After Adam and Eve’s sin, all human beings have sinned against God. There is not one corner of society or culture that is left untainted by sin and its consequences. All human beings are alienated from God and from each other, and our social and cultural activities are corrupted and misdirected by sin.
In response to our sin, God sent his Son to atone for our sins. He shed his blood on the cross on our behalf, taking upon himself God’s wrath against sin, so that we would not have to pay the consequences of our own sin and so that we could be reconciled to God. Additionally, Christ will redeem and restore the heavens and earth, so that in a future era we will be able to live together with him in an environment whose society and culture is not corrupted by sin.
In light of the fall and God’s offer to humanity of a great salvation, our mission now takes on added dimensions. Before the fall, our mission was to spread God’s glory across the face of the earth by building societies of worshipers who lived their cultural lives to his glory. After the fall, we retain the original mission, but also have to deal with the ugly fact of sin. This changes the mission in two ways. First, we now have the privilege and responsibility of speaking the good news about Christ’s salvation so that our neighbors can believe and be saved from their sin. Second, it means that we have to identify the ways in which our societies and cultures have been corrupted and misdirected by sin, so that we can work to redirect them toward Christ.
Word and Deed

As we seek to live “redirective” lives, we will find that we must do so with a powerful combination of words and deeds. The Christian life was never meant to be merely words or merely deeds. Whenever we lean too heavily on one and minimize the other, we distort and derail the mission.
One of the strengths of many evangelical Christians is their belief in the centrality of God’s Word and of human words to communicate the gospel. Words are absolutely vital to the Christian mission; without them we cannot communicate Christ and the gospel. However, sometimes evangelicals speak about the “priority” of word over deed in such a manner that it seems like they’re saying, “Well, if I had to choose between words and actions, I’d choose words.” But this is unhelpful. It’s like saying, “Well, if I have to choose between telling my neighbor about Jesus and refraining from serial adultery, I’d choose to tell the neighbor about Jesus.” But we don’t have a choice between verbal evangelism and faithfulness to our spouse. Similarly, the Christian community should not choose between speaking the gospel, on the one hand, and participating in social ministries and cultural activities, on the other.
Another one of the strengths of other evangelical Christians is their belief that the Christian faith ought to be lived out. These Christians recognize the hypocrisy of speaking the gospel without obeying Christ. They participate in social ministries and seek to redirect culture toward Christ. However, sometimes they focus so much on the social and cultural aspects of our obedience that they seem to be choosing actions over words.
It’s as if they’re saying, “Well, the people around me have had Christianity crammed down their throats for so long that I’m going to focus my energies on showing people the way that Christ brings change to a person’s life socially and culturally.” But this is profoundly unhelpful. Unless your neighbor has the gospel spoken to her, she will not know how to interpret your actions.
True and False Worship

What is at stake here? Nothing less than true and false worship. Nothing in a culture is entirely neutral. Cultural institutions are either directed toward Christ or against him, or perhaps they are an inconsistent mixture of the two. When God’s people neglect cultural engagement, they do so to the detriment of society. To ignore culture is to ignore the cultural institutions that shape people’s lives and that will point people either toward Christ or against him.
James K. A. Smith recognizes this reality when he speaks about “secular liturgies.” We are familiar with the word “liturgy.” When we speak of liturgy, we are speaking of a set of rituals and words used in public worship, usually in a Christian church’s worship service. However, any set of practices becomes a liturgy when it plays a significant role in shaping our identity. Secular institutions are liturgical because they provide a matrix of practices and rituals that inculcate a certain (un-Christian) vision of the good life. They misdirect our loves and desires. They skew our basic attunement to this world by pointing us away from Christ and toward a certain idol or cluster of idols.
Smith argues that the mall is a fine example of a cultural institution with a secular liturgy. The mall is a concentrated and intense location for the practices and rituals associated with consumerism. For many people, the mall functions as their primary place of worship. It holds out a certain vision of the good life: “the hip, happy people that populate television commercials are the moving icons of the consumer gospel, illustrations of what the good life looks like: carefree and independent, clean and sexy, perky and perfect.” This vision is communicated by the mall’s “evangelists”—TV commercials, magazine displays, and Internet advertising.
People who worship at the mall are those who are drawn to its vision of the good life. They compare themselves to the carefree, sexy, perfect people portrayed in the ads and decide that they must shop in order to become more like those people. Implicit in their shopping, therefore, is the idea that the mall provides a certain sort of redemption—a salvation acquired by purchasing goods and enjoying services. The mall’s liturgy, therefore, is antithetical to Christian liturgy because the mall’s vision of the good life is different from the Christian vision of human flourishing, and its salvation is an alternative to the salvation provided in Christ.
As Christians, therefore, we want to take advantage of every opportunity to shape our cultural activities toward Christ. If the Christian community neglects the cultural aspect of its mission, in effect it is saying, “To hell with culture!” But we cannot do this. Every cultural activity is an opportunity to practice discipleship, to employ words and deeds in Christ’s service, to orient our lives toward Christ.
Three Questions

It can be overwhelming to think about obeying Christ culturally because of how tall a task it is. Practically everything we encounter in the world is cultural. Culture encompasses the totality of our lives, including our eating and drinking, our work and our leisure, and our life inside the church and our life out in the community. It includes not only the aspects of culture we’ve addressed in this book—art, science, politics, economics, and education—but also ones that we’ve not addressed, such as homemaking, business and entrepreneurship, and sports and competition. How can we ever get a handle on this tall task?
To live out the cultural aspect of our mission, we should ask three questions every time we find ourselves engaging a certain realm of culture:

1. What is God’s creational design for this realm of culture?
2. How has it been corrupted and misdirected by our sin and rebellion?
3. How can I bring healing and redirection to this realm?

Although we might find it easy to remember these questions, and even though they do help us get a handle on the task, we will find that the answers to these questions usually do not come easily.
We must ask God to empower us and give us wisdom, and we must work hard to figure out how to apply God’s redemptive word to the cultural realities around us.
Action Points

• Throughout this book, we’ve attempted to relate the notion of culture to the Christian mission, arguing that our cultural activities should be oriented toward Christ as a matter of witness and obedience. In your own words, summarize these things and share your response with someone else. As you prepare for that, what concepts seem most clear to you? What things seem cloudy? In light of all that we have discussed, where can you go for answers?
• Make a list of the areas of culture in which you’re currently engaged. Of those areas, are there some in which you feel the Lord is calling you to reconsider your obedience and witness? As you join God’s mission, what new areas of culture do you feel he is inviting you to launch out into?
Recommended Reading

Ashford, Bruce Riley, ed. Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations. Nashville: B&H, 2011. A compendium of essays arguing that a Christian view of mission should take into account the whole biblical storyline, should combine words and deeds, and should emphasize the need to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Dickson, John. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. A well-written introductory treatment of Christian mission, emphasizing the need to promote the gospel with words and deeds.
Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. A narrative treatment of the biblical worldview, making the connection between the biblical storyline, the Christian worldview, and the Christian mission.
Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. This is a brief and accessible book on the Christian mission written by a world-class mission theologian. Emphasizes that our mission includes verbal, social, and cultural aspects.

Appendix: Recommended Reading Summary
Ashford, Bruce Riley, ed. Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations. Nashville: B&H, 2011. A compendium of essays arguing that a Christian view of mission should take into account the whole biblical storyline, should combine words and deeds, and should emphasize the need to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Audi, Robert and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Public Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997. A somewhat technical discussion of Christian convictions and the ways in which believers should dialogue in the public square. Audi argues that Christians should appear “naked” in the public square, while Wolterstorff (himself a political liberal), argues that they should come “fully clothed.”
Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Touchstone, 1996. A fetching read by a working biochemist about a central problem with Darwinian theory. The book is technical but accessible to the lay reader.
Brand, Chad. Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2012. This book is the most concise and accessible primer I know of that addresses work, economics, and civic stewardship.
Budziszewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006. This intermediate-to-advanced book describes the way four theologians—Carl Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder—approached the public square.
Carlson, Richard F., ed. Science and Christianity: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. This book offers four views on the relationship of science and Christianity: Creationism, Independence, Qualified Agreement, and Partnership.
Chang, Curtis. Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. A brief reflection on the way Augustine and Thomas Aquinas engaged unbelief in their respective cultural contexts.
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. Chicago: Moody, 2009. The authors lay a foundation for social ministry and poverty alleviation by defining Jesus’ gospel and mission. From there, they show how social ministry and poverty alleviation can be accomplished without hurting the poor or hurting the church.
Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. An engaging and persuasive treatise on the Christian community’s calling to “make culture” rather than merely “engage the culture.”
Davis, John Jefferson. The Frontiers of Science and Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. A terrific exploration of 10 current scientific issues and their intersection with Christian theology and life.
Dickson, John. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. A well-written introductory treatment of Christian mission, emphasizing the need to promote the gospel with words and deeds.
Dockery, David. Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. Nashville: B&H, 2008. An excellent and accessible treatise on how to recover a robust and authentic view of faith and learning.
Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. A biography of Francis Schaeffer, written by a man who knew Schaeffer well.
Forster, Greg. Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. A well-written and easy-to-read book arguing that the key to cultural transformation is Spirit-induced joy in God and the gospel.
Gallagher, Susan V. and Roger Lundin. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. New York: HarperCollins: 1989. An excellent introduction that shows how reading literature helps us interpret our lives.
Godawa, Brian. Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. An engaging book that equips readers to watch films critically.
Goheen, Mike and Craig Bartholomew. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. This book is a fine treatment of how the biblical narrative fosters a worldview that in turn shapes the entirety of the Christian life, including especially culture-making and cultural engagement.
Grudem, Wayne. Business for the Glory of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. A short introduction to the Bible’s teaching on the moral goodness of business and entrepreneurship.
Holmes, Arthur. The Idea of a Christian College. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. An evangelical classic. This slim little volume packs a powerful punch as it sets forth the distinctive mission and contributions of a Christian college.
Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. A sociologist argues that Christians should aim to be a “faithful presence” in their culture.
Keathley, Kenneth D., and Mark F. Rooker, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014. This is the best one-stop introduction to the contested question of the relationship between creation and evolution.
Keller, Timothy. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York: Penguin, 2012. A more extensive treatment of the Christian view of work.
Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. 1898. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943. In this small book, Kuyper argues that our Christianity should affect every sphere of human life and culture.
Lester DeKoster and Stephen Grabill. Work: The Meaning of Your Life. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2010. A very short book introducing the Christian understanding of work.
Markos, Louis. Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World. Nashville: B&H, 2003. An exposition of what Lewis can teach us about engaging with art, science, philosophy, and other realms of culture.
Marsden, George. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. A 20th-century classic that provides a compelling argument for mainstream American higher education to be open to explicit expressions of faith in an intellectual context.
Moore, T. M. Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007. A helpful introduction to the ways in which some Christians have engaged their respective cultures.
Mouw, Richard J. Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. An excellent little introduction to Kuyper’s life and thought.
———. Called to Holy Worldliness. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980. A small book showing how ordinary Christians can honor God in their culture-making and cultural engagement.
———. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. An argument that Christians should bring not only their Christian convictions to the public square, but also their Christian virtue—especially the ability to be civil in the midst of debate and discussion.
Mouw, Richard J. and Sander Griffioen. Pluralisms and Horizons: An Essay in Christian Public Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. An unpacking of the problem of political consensus in a pluralist environment, which includes a helpful comparison and contrast of major thinkers on the topic, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Richard John Neuhaus.
Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. A very influential and well-argued text on the place of Christian conviction in public political discourse.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: HarperCollins, 1956. This text has become the modern benchmark for discussing Christianity and culture. It has flaws—serious ones—but is worth reading.
Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. A compelling argument that evangelicals should value the life of the mind.
Novak, Michael. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Lanham, MD: Madison, 1991. A vigorous examination of capitalism and democracy with a particularly good articulation of a “theology of democratic capitalism.”
O’Connor, Flannery. “The Church and the Fiction Writer” in Mystery and Manners, 143–53. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1961. An essay providing insight into the relationship of faith and writing.
Pearcy, Nancy R. and Charles B. Thaxton. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994. An analysis of the way in which Judaeo-Christian thought funds the scientific enterprise, including a look at mathematics and scientific “revolutions,” and the discipline called the “History of Science.”
Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. An argument that there is deep resonance between Christianity and science, and deep conflict between atheism and science. Advanced.
Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. A very accessible interaction with the biblical narrative and its implications for faith, learning, and living.
Poythress, Vern. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. An argument that Christianity, theology, and science are mutually beneficial dialogue partners.
Richards, Jay W. Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists Who Are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control Our Lives and Our Fortunes. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013. A deft exposé of big-government economic regulation and the crippling effects of cronyism.
———. Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. An excellent argument that Christians can and should work from within the free-market economy (rather than viewing it as evil) to help our world flourish.
Rookmaaker, H. R. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. 2nd ed. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. A modern classic that offers penetrating insight into modern art and the intellectual context beneath it. Advanced.
Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible: Two Essays. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. A small book encapsulating Schaeffer’s approach to the arts.
Seerveld, Calvin. Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves: Alternative Steps in Understanding Art. Toronto: Piquant, 2000. An advanced treatment of how Christians can understand, make, perform, and evaluate the arts.
Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009. An advanced book which argues that secular “liturgies” compete with Christian liturgies in order to shape who we are and form our deepest identities and views of the world.
Veith, Gene Edward Jr. State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991. A useful introduction to understanding the biblical foundations for art and the broad contours of contemporary art.
———. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. A short book introducing the Christian’s calling to church, family, workplace, and community.
Wittmer, Michael E. Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. A very accessible treatment of the Bible’s teaching about culture.
Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. A narrative treatment of the biblical worldview, making the connection between the biblical storyline, the Christian worldview, and the Christian mission.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980. A Christian philosophy of art arguing that art has a legitimate and necessary place in everyday life. Advanced.
———. Educating for Life: Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. A collection of essays in which Wolterstorff applies his high-octane brain to the notion of faith and learning in Christian high-school education.
———. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004. A collection of essays in which Wolterstorff reflects on faith and learning in higher education.
Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. This is a brief and accessible book on the Christian mission written by a world-class mission theologian. Emphasizes that our mission includes verbal, social, and cultural aspects.
Ashford, B. R. (2015). Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (S. iii–143). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Are these the Last Days?- by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

No. 20

Cover of "The Late, Great Planet Earth"

Cover of The Late, Great Planet Earth





Reformation Trust

Are These the Last Days?

© 2014 by R.C. Sproul

Published by Reformation Trust Publishing
A division of Ligonier Ministries
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, FL 32771
July 2014
First edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust Publishing. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Cover design: Gearbox Studios

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
Are these the last days? / by R.C. Sproul. — First edition.
pages cm. — (Crucial questions series; No. 20)
ISBN 978-1-56769-376-8 — ISBN 1-56769-376-8
1. Bible. Matthew XXIV–Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Jesus Christ–Prophecies. 3. Second Advent–Biblical teaching. I. Title.
BS2575.52.S68 2014








Chapter One


In the middle of the nineteenth century, a serious potato famine struck the nation of Ireland. Facing starvation, multitudes of people fled to other countries to seek sustenance. Some boarded ships and sailed for the New World, with many finally landing in New York City. Among those immigrants was my great-grandfather, who came to the United States from Donegal in the northern province of Ulster. Since he wanted his children and grandchildren to remember their heritage, he told tales of former days in Ireland and encouraged all of the family to learn the songs of the Irish people. My mother sang Irish lullabies to us and permitted my sister and me to stay home from school each year on Saint Patrick’s Day, when the Pittsburgh radio stations played Irish songs all day.
However, to this day, I think of myself more as an American than an Irishman. Although I’ve been to Europe many times, I’ve yet to go back to Ireland. On the other hand, my son has been more zealous about our ancestry, making sure that all eight of his children have Irish names. And as a tribute to his ancestry, he wore a kilt to his ordination service.
At my house, we left many of the markers of our ethnic identity behind, but for a Jew in antiquity, this would certainly not have been the case. The Jews are one of the most remarkable groups of people who have ever populated the face of the earth. In the first century AD alone, their nation was conquered, their temple destroyed, and their capital, Jerusalem, was burned to the ground, killing an estimated 1.1 million Jews. After this, most Jews were dispersed to the four corners of the world. They went to what are the modern-day nations of Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Holland, and to many other places. Even though Jews have been without a homeland for most of the past two millennia, they have never lost their ethnic and national identity.
This remarkable phenomenon is predicted in detail in the Olivet Discourse.
One of the most important and controversial chapters in all of the New Testament, the discourse, which is found in Matthew 24, is one of the most dramatic prophecies given by our Lord.

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” …
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:1–3, 32–35)

Before we consider this text, I’d like you to consider a “what if” scenario. Suppose I were to claim that last night I received a special revelation from God. I declare that I now have the gift of prophecy and will give you a prediction of things that are to come to pass. I predict that sometime within the next twelve months, the United States will fall, the Capitol building in Washington will be destroyed, the White House will be demolished, the fifty states of the union will be dissolved, and the United States as an independent nation will cease to exist. Finally, I don’t know the exact timing, but only that it will happen sometime within the next twelve months.
Without question, within the next twelve months, you would know for certain whether my claim was true or false. If it didn’t come to pass, you would be justified in labeling me a false prophet, unworthy of your attention.
I give this illustration to demonstrate what is at stake in the text. In all of the Bible, I cannot think of any prophecy more astonishing than the prophecy that our Lord Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives concerning the temple and Jerusalem. In Luke’s account, He told the disciples that not one stone of the Herodian temple would be left on top of one another and that the city of Jerusalem itself would be destroyed (Luke 21:6, 24). This was a truly shocking claim. Herod’s temple was magnificent, to say the least. The temple’s stones were as large as sixteen feet long and eight feet high. In the first century, if there was any building that seemed impregnable, it was the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus made this prediction, the Jewish people would have considered Him either a lunatic or a prophet endowed with supernatural knowledge.
Of course, we know that Jesus had supreme authority to make these claims, and history has vindicated Him. These things came to pass in perfect detail; as foretold by Jesus, the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and the Jews were dispersed throughout the world. This prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple provides firm proof of the identity of Jesus and the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, and it should close the mouth of even the most hardened skeptic.
After Jesus made this astonishing prediction, the disciples immediately came to Him and wanted to know the exact timing of His predictions. Jesus then engaged in a long discussion of the signs of the times, and gave a description of the great tribulation and of His return.
In recent days, these topics have seen increased interest. Books such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series have been wildly popular. Everyone is interested in the timing and exact details of Jesus’ return. However, Jesus’ answer to the question of timing creates some challenges for us. He says in verse 34, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Do you see the problem? To the Jews, the term generation referred to a time frame of roughly forty years. So, Jesus seemed to be saying that the destruction of temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and His appearance at the end of the age were all going to take place within forty years. Many critics thus reject Jesus because they believe He was saying that His return, the end of the world, and the consummation of His kingdom would all take place within four decades.
How do we deal with this? The critics deal with it very simply. They say Jesus was partially right in His predictions and partially wrong. Therefore, He was a false prophet. Others say He was completely right in His prediction and that every New Testament prophecy (i.e., His return, the future resurrection, the rapture of the saints, etc.) was fulfilled in the first century, leaving nothing for future fulfillment. I don’t agree with either of these positions.
I am convinced that what Jesus is talking about in this passage had special reference to a judgment of Christ coming on the Jewish nation, thus ending the age of the Jews. This Jewish age ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, which triggered the beginning of the New Testament time period, which is later called “the age of the Gentiles.” This is where we still find ourselves today.
In the next few chapters, I’m going to interpret the Olivet Discourse in a manner that I believe is consistent with the way that it would have been understood by the disciples at that time. When Jesus is asked when these things will happen, He says, “I can’t tell you the day and the hour, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that this generation will not pass away until all of these things take place.” I believe our Lord was speaking the unvarnished truth.

Chapter Two


In the previous chapter, I mentioned the difficulties that accompany Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus made the bold statement that the generation of His hearers would not pass away until “the end.” As we saw in the last chapter, this creates many interpretive challenges, especially in reference to Jesus’ final return. How are we to understand His words concerning His coming, the end times, and the gospel being preached to all the nations? Was Jesus mistaken in His time frame? How do we reconcile this account? Let’s begin by taking a closer look at verses 3–14 of Matthew 24.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:3–14)

As I suggest possible ways to understand this text, we have to tread very carefully and with a fair amount of humility. While I’ve wrestled with this passage for many years, I do not propose an infallible interpretation. Though I am convinced that there is merit to my conclusions, I am aware that many Christians throughout history have debated this subject and have come to different conclusions. I simply lend my voice to the discussion.
Historically, as I have already mentioned in the previous chapter, there have been numerous ways to interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Some critics say Jesus was simply wrong and thus deem Him a false prophet. Others have tried to interpret the term generation to mean something other than a time frame of about forty years. Still others have made the case that Jesus was only speaking about the immediate future and not His second coming and the end of history as we know it. Others have pointed to a twofold approach to fulfillment, a primary fulfillment in the first century and an ultimate fulfillment at the end of history. This is often the case with prophecies from the Old Testament.
Verse 3 reads, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3b). We should exercise caution when considering the disciples’ question. What did they mean by “age”? Customarily, many say that “the end of the age” refers to Jesus’ return to consummate His kingdom here on earth. But could there be any other possible interpretations? Typically, when we say “end of an age,” we are referring to a particular era defined by certain characteristics, such as the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, or the Ice Age. Many believe this passage is making a distinction between the age of the Jews and the age of the Gentiles.
To explore the meaning of “the end of the age,” let’s consider Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse, which gives us further information:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20–24)

Jesus is giving a warning to His followers, telling them what to do when they see the armies surrounding Jerusalem. The advice He gives is completely counterintuitive to any usual response to an invading army or military siege. In the ancient world, in the case of an invasion, people would leave their homes and possessions and flee for refuge in a walled city. This is the very reason there were walls around cities in the ancient world. They were built as a defense against invaders.
When Jesus spoke these words, the walls of Jerusalem were one hundred and fifty feet high. When the Romans attacked Jerusalem in AD 70, they had to besiege the city, and even with their military might, they found it a Herculean task to get through those walls. The siege lasted many months, so long that by the end of the struggle, the Mount of Olives was completely bare of olive trees; Roman soldiers encamped on the mount had cut all the trees down and burned them for warmth.
But Jesus said, “When you see the armies coming, don’t go to the city. Go to the mountains. Go to the desert. Go anywhere but Jerusalem, because in Jerusalem you will not find safety, but only destruction.”
When Jerusalem fell and the city was destroyed, more than a million Jews were killed. But the Christians followed Jesus’ advice and fled beyond the city. Luke’s account says, “these are days of vengeance,” meaning God’s wrath was poured out upon His people. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He was weeping for His people, who rejected Him and would suffer the punishment for this rejection.
We must not miss this portion of Luke 21: “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24). All of this happened. Jesus makes a distinction between the times of the Gentiles and the times of the Jews. In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul deals with the question of ethnic Israel and whether God will work again with the Jewish people. He says that once the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled, there will be a new outreach to ethnic Israel.
I will never forget watching the news in 1967 as the Jews fought for the city of Jerusalem. When they got to the Wailing Wall, the Jewish soldiers threw their rifles down and ran to the last surviving temple wall and began to pray. I wept because what I was seeing was so amazing. Was this the fulfillment of Luke 21? Biblical scholars were reading the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and asking, “Are we now near the end of the times of the Gentiles?”
In the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus spoke about “the end of the age,” I am convinced that He wasn’t talking about the end of the world, but about the end of the Jewish age. When Jerusalem fell, the age of the Jews, which spanned from Abraham to AD 70, ended. It marked the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.
However, Jesus gives a few caveats as He answers His disciples’ question of when these things will take place. He didn’t want them to be deceived that the end had already come when it hadn’t, so He gave them a list of what we call “signs of the times.” These were signs that had to happen before the end would come. Most people believe Jesus was describing the signs that will come right before the final consummation of His kingdom. We then have a tendency to pay careful attention to current events, wondering if they show any evidence that we are in the end times. But if we look carefully at this passage, we learn that Jesus is not talking about the signs that trigger the end of time, but the signs that had to take place before the destruction of Jerusalem. Consider the passage more carefully:

For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matt. 24:5–8)

Reflect upon these signs: people claiming to be the Christ, false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. How can these things be signs? When are there not wars and rumors of wars? When are there not earthquakes? When are there not famines? There have also always been false prophets and false christs. If these things have always been with us, in what sense could they be signs?
In order for these things to be signs, they would have to happen in a significant way and in a significant time frame. This is the very meaning of the word significant: literally, “having sign-value.” The problem is further complicated if we assume that Jesus is not talking about signs that the disciples themselves would observe, but signs that were going to happen two thousand years in the future.
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote much concerning these signs that Jesus mentioned. He wrote about the numerous false prophets among the Jews, many claiming to be the Messiah. He also reported four severe famines between AD 41 and 50 in which many people starved to death. He reports two very serious earthquakes, one during the reign of Caligula and the second during the reign of Claudius. Next came Nero, who ushered in a great persecution against Christians. Jesus alludes to this: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matt. 24:9–10).
Jesus speaks of His followers being persecuted, being killed, and betraying one another. This took place under Caligula and Nero as well. The great fire that destroyed Rome was allegedly set by Nero himself. But in order to deflect guilt, he accused the Christians of setting the fire, which ignited a time of great persecution. He even used Christians as human torches to illumine gardens, and in his madness unleashed horrible persecution against the Jews, particularly those who were in Rome. He killed many of the Christians’ leaders, including the Apostles Paul and Peter. Surely this fulfilled what Jesus told His disciples.
Jesus was proven right. Everything that He said would happen actually took place. And it happened in a significant way to the people to whom Jesus gave these warnings. He wasn’t giving His first-century disciples a warning about what was going to happen in the twenty-first century. He was saying, “Watch out for what’s happening between now and the time Jerusalem is destroyed.” But, He had a lot more to say, including the warning of the appearance of “the abomination of desolation.” We’ll consider this teaching in the next chapter.

Chapter Three


In the year 168 BC, the pagan ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes had the audacity to build a pagan altar in the Jewish temple. Instead of sacrificing bulls, goats, or lambs, he desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig. This was the height of blasphemy, because the Jews viewed pigs as unclean. This foul desecration provoked one of the most important Jewish revolutions against foreign invaders.
We have to understand how important the holiness of God was and is for the Jewish people. The Jews believed that the temple was sacred and holy because the Holy One of Israel made His dwelling there. To them, this was the most sacred place in the world. To defile it with pagan sacrifices was the greatest insult that you could inflict upon Israel.
Faithful Jews saw in this atrocity the fulfillment of a prophecy found in the book of Daniel that refers to the “abomination of desolation” or the “abomination that makes desolate” (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Jesus seizes upon this term as He continues in His Olivet Discourse:

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There he is!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, “Look, he is in the wilderness,” do not go out. If they say, “Look, he is in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Matt. 24:15–28)

The reference to “the abomination of desolation” is mysterious, but it is critical; it is the supreme sign to indicate the nearness of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Antiochus’ idolatry was certainly abominable, but this event took place in the past, and Jesus is referring to something that will take place in the future. But what did Jesus have in view?
In AD 40, Emperor Caligula of Rome commanded that a statue of himself be built and placed inside the temple. You can imagine how this provoked the people of Israel. By the goodness of God’s providence, Caligula died before that profanation took place.
In AD 69, one year before the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, something unprecedented took place. A sect of radical Jews called Zealots forcefully took over the temple and made it into a type of military base. The Zealots were a group of Jews who were passionate about the violent overthrow of their Roman occupiers. Once they took over the temple, they committed all kinds of atrocities within it, paying no respect to the holiness of God. The historian Josephus expressed his passionate denunciation of the horrible desecration that the Zealots committed against the temple. Was this what Jesus had in mind?
One other possible interpretation could be the presence of the Roman standards themselves. When the Roman armies marched, they carried their banners with the Roman standards emblazoned upon them. The Jews considered these images to be idolatrous. The presence of these standards in the temple would also have been considered an abomination.
While it’s difficult to be certain which particular incident Jesus had in view, what we do know is that during the siege of Jerusalem His people followed His instructions. Remember that Jesus said in verse 15, “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” This charge from Jesus would have been completely counterintuitive for His audience. When an invading army came, the normal procedure in the ancient world have been to flee to the nearest impregnable walled city they could find. Of course, in Judea, that would have been Jerusalem. But Jesus told His disciples, “When all these events happen, don’t go to Jerusalem. Go to the mountains. Run for the hills.” This is exactly what happened in AD 70. We know that around one million Jews were killed, but the Christians had fled.
Jesus continues His instructions: “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vv. 17–20). This is obviously a message of urgency. We know that the Jewish people had flat roofs on their houses with outside stairs that went up to them. They would use the roof as a type of patio, a place to relax in the evening as the weather cooled. Jesus is saying to them, “Don’t waste any time. As soon as you’re aware of the presence of the abomination of desolation, leave quickly. Don’t pack any bags. If you are in the field, don’t return home to get any extra clothes. Whatever you’re wearing or whatever you have in your pack, take that and forget everything else.”
The note of urgency sounds again in the following verses. Time was of the essence, and quite simply, it is hard to be quick and mobile when you are pregnant or nursing. Winter seasons are the most difficult for outdoor survival, and having these signs come to pass on the Sabbath would have been challenging for the Jew because of the prohibitions against traveling long distances. Jesus is telling His followers to pray that these things don’t happen at the wrong time so that nothing will impede their escape.
He continues in verses 21 and 22, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
Josephus records the fact that political upheaval in Rome indeed shortened the destructive siege, allowing for more survivors than normally would have been expected. Based on what we know of that time period, it seems clear that Jesus was talking about a near-future event for His original audience, not something centuries and centuries down the road.
Jesus then says in verses 23 and 24, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” There is a widely held view in the church that Satan is as powerful as God and is engaged in a duel of miracles with Him, performing miracles to support his lies. It is believed that these miracles could even deceive God’s people. I don’t believe for one second that Satan ever did or ever will have the ability to perform a bona fide miracle. The signs and wonders of the false christs and prophets are not authentic signs and wonders in the service of a lie. Rather, they’re false signs and wonders. They’re tricks designed to deceive.
We should be concerned about the view that Satan can perform authentic miracles taking hold in the church. In the New Testament, the Apostolic writers appeal to the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles as proof that they were the true agents of revelation. They were the visible proof that God was with them. But if Satan can do a miracle, then the New Testament view of miracles as a means to authenticate the gospel message becomes invalid. When a miracle takes place, how could you ever know if it was from God or from Satan? This doesn’t mean that God’s people can’t be deceived by trickery. Clearly, we can, or else Jesus wouldn’t have warned against it.
Jesus continues in verses 26–28, “So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” When Jesus appears, this moment of catastrophic judgment will be like lightning. Lightning flashes and instantly goes across the sky. You don’t even have time to measure its duration.
How should we understand His last statement concerning corpses and vultures? One of the reasons predictive prophecy is so difficult to interpret is that symbolic imagery is challenging to understand. The safest way to interpret images in apocalyptic literature is to understand how those images are used throughout the whole Bible. This principle can help us, but doesn’t always solve every difficulty. While we can’t say with certainty what Jesus means by this last statement, some of the finest New Testament scholars have suggested one creative interpretation. Most people have seen how scavenger birds circle over an animal that has recently died. Interestingly, the chief symbol of the Roman army was an eagle. Perhaps Jesus is saying that Rome is like a bird of prey. God will be the agent of punishment upon His people, and right before His wrath is poured out, “the eagles” will be circling.

Chapter Four


It’s been said that the whole history of philosophy is nothing more than a footnote to the theories of Plato and Aristotle. When Plato established his academy in the outskirts of Athens, he was driven by a single passion in his quest for truth. According to Plato, that passion was to “save the phenomena.” What did he mean by that? He was looking for the objective truth that makes the study of science possible. We can only understand observable data (or phenomena) if we have a sure foundation to stand upon. Plato was looking for an ultimate theory that would give clarity to all the mysteries and puzzles of this world. He wanted to discover the ideas that would explain the data that come to us through our five senses.
The renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has announced that we don’t need God to explain the creation. His way of saving the phenomena is to affirm what he calls “spontaneous generation.” For him, this means that the universe created itself. But it is sheer nonsense to assert that something can create itself or can come into being by its own power.
What does all this have to do with the Olivet Discourse? Quite simply, in regard to the Olivet Discourse, I have been trying to save the phenomena. I am trying to construct a framework that will allow us to make sense of Jesus’ words.
To that end, let’s consider what Jesus says after explaining the signs that would come just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple—“immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). Our section for this chapter could be most difficult section of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus says:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matt. 24:29–35)

Imagine being with Jesus right after hearing all that He said. It seems obvious that you’d want to ask, “When will these things take place?” He makes it clear that these things won’t happen until other specific events take place. He then uses the word “immediately” to recount what will happen next. Not two thousand years later, but immediately.
Our interpretive task becomes even more difficult in the following verses. We know from the facts of history that all the things that Jesus predicted about the destruction of Jerusalem came to pass. But what about verse 29, which says, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven”? You can imagine how the skeptics of the Bible would love to use this text. They could easily say, “O yes! The temple is gone. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Jews were dispersed throughout the world. But the sun is still shining, and the moon is still there at night, and this calamitous portrait of all of these astronomical perturbations that were going to accompany the coming of the Son of Man did not take place. Therefore, Christ’s prediction failed to come to pass.” It gets worse as we read what Jesus says in verses 33 and 34: “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
There are many scholars for whom I have the utmost respect who come to very strange conclusions when dealing with this text. They try every way imaginable to remove this portion of Jesus’ prediction from the context in which we find it. But it seems clear that Jesus meant to discuss these things all as one unit. So, how should we understand this text?
There are various options. One is to invoke the principle of primary and secondary fulfillments of prophecy. When prophecies are made, they can have an initial fulfillment within a time frame of one generation and then have an ultimate fulfillment many years later. This is a true possibility. But even if that’s the case, we’re still left with the problem of explaining the description of the sun being blotted out and all the rest of these astronomical perturbations. There is no record of these things taking place.
Another approach is to consider the time frame. Phrases such as “this generation will not pass away” or words like “immediately” may be taken not literally, but figuratively. Many commentators prefer this approach. They believe the reference to “this generation” is a figurative reference to a certain type of person. It doesn’t actually refer to a rough time frame of forty years. In addition, many would understand Jesus’ references to His return to be figurative as well.
It seems that a key question that should be asked is, How are time frame references usually described in the Bible? Are they usually described figuratively or literally? More practical still for this discussion, how are predictions of God’s cosmic judgment usually described? Literally or figuratively?
There is a helpful pattern in Old Testament prophecy demonstrated in chapters 13 and 34 of Isaiah. There, we read vivid descriptions of divine judgment upon Babylon and Eden that actually came to pass in history. When the prophets described God’s judgment, they said things like, “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isa. 13:10) and “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4). Sounds very much like the language of Jesus, doesn’t it?
The language of divine judgment is frequently communicated by way of metaphor and figures. Amos 5:20 reads, “Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”
Throughout the Old Testament, there are various prophetic warnings to Israel concerning God’s judgment. The book of Ezekiel stands out as a primary example. Ezekiel contains some of the most bizarre portions of Scripture, such as the description in chapter 1 of the whirling merkabah, the wheel within the wheel. Many believe that this is a reference to the chariot throne of God that carries Him to various portions of the world to bring judgment. This kind of language was used between Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2:12: “And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more.” When God removed His glory from Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10, the shekinah cloud was accompanied by the chariot of God’s judgment. In Matthew 24, the same kind of language is used by Jesus as He warns His people of what is to come.
Jesus says in verse 30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man.” I don’t know of any commentator on the gospel of Matthew who speaks with dogmatic certainty about the true nature of this sign. But there are some strange observations in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, regarding certain signs that were observed between AD 60 and 70, one of which was a blazing comet that crossed the sky. Consider one extraordinary passage from his writings. It seems so strange that Josephus gives the impression that he was reluctant to record this event.

Besides these [signs in the heavens], a few days after the feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon occurred or appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, the priest said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

So, the priests and multitudes of other people testified to the same chariots that surrounded the city also appearing in the clouds with multitudes of heavenly soldiers. We’d probably be justified in calling them angels. Then an audible voice was heard from heaven saying, “Let us remove hence.” It’s almost exactly the same phenomenon that took place when God left Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s time (Ezek. 10).
It seems to me that the most natural reading of Matthew 24:29–35 would be that everything Jesus said would happen has already taken place in history. He was not referring to a yet-future fulfillment from our standpoint. He was referring to a judgment upon the nation of Israel that took place in AD 70.

Chapter Five


Imagine getting a call at four o’clock in the afternoon from a robber. He says to you, “In order to make things fair, I wanted to let you know that at eight o’clock tonight I’m going to break in to your house and rob you blind.” If you took him seriously, what would you do? You’d have the whole police department waiting for the robber, and you’d probably arm yourself to protect your family and possessions. Jesus makes a similar point as He continues in the Olivet Discourse.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:36–44)

The plot thickens as we arrive at this portion of the Olivet Discourse, and the difficulties in interpretation are not slowing down in the least. Jesus seems to be shifting His emphasis at this point in the text. Some commentators believe that until verse 35, Jesus had been simply speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem. But at this point in the text, He shifts His attention to matters concerning His ultimate coming at the time of the consummation of His kingdom. Others argue that even the previous passages that refer to His coming in glory did not refer to His coming in AD 70, but rather to His final, climactic coming at the end of history. Still others maintain that Jesus is following a prophetic pattern from the Old Testament.
Oftentimes with Old Testament prophecy there would be a near fulfillment, but also an ultimate fulfillment in the future. This particular passage has also been seen as a rebuttal to my position that these matters have already taken place in the past.
It is important to remember that this whole discourse was provoked by Jesus’ announcement that the temple would be destroyed in Jerusalem. In light of this announcement, the disciples asked Him two questions. First, “When will these things take place?” and second, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
It would be much easier if Jesus had answered the first question with the signs that He gives—famines, earthquakes, and wars—and then finished by saying, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 34), and only then went on to speak about His coming. Unfortunately for the task of interpretation, He says, “all these things.” Most would believe that “all these things” would refer to all three events—the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and Christ’s coming. This is the issue that has provoked so much skepticism and criticism of both Jesus and the trustworthiness of the Bible.
I’m amazed by this skepticism. My understanding of Jesus’ words is that He is essentially saying, “I can tell you these things are all going to take place within the next forty years but I don’t know what year, month, day, or hour.” In chapter one, I used the illustration of predicting the demise of the United States within twelve months but not knowing the specific day or hour in no way negates the veracity of the prediction. Therefore, the first thing we see in this text is that Jesus does not retreat from His first prediction about the fulfillment of the things He prophesied.
In addition, many readers are bothered when Jesus says He doesn’t know the day or the hour. If that is the case, how could He know that it would be within forty years? It would require supernatural knowledge to be able to predict the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem with such astonishing accuracy. Why would His supernatural abilities be limited to generalities? Why can’t Jesus give us more specific details?
This isn’t much of a problem if we have an orthodox understanding of the incarnation. The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 clearly acknowledged the mysterious nature of the incarnation, confessing Christ as having two natures—divine and human—in one person. Human beings are incapable of an exhaustive understanding of how the two natures of Jesus are united in one person. But Chalcedon did clearly define the boundaries of our speculation concerning the mystery of the incarnation. The council stated that Jesus is vera homo, vera deus, meaning “truly man and truly God.” His true humanity is united with the true deity of the second person of the Godhead. The boundary that the council established is seen in the Chalcedonian Creed’s insistence that this union was without mixture, confusion, separation, or division. Each nature retained its own attributes. This means that the incarnation did not result in a single, mixed nature where the deity and the humanity are blended together such that the divine is not truly divine and the human is not truly human, resulting in a tertium quid—“a third thing” that is neither God nor man but something else. The council was very careful to insist that each nature of Jesus retains its own attributes. A deified human nature is no longer human and a humanized divine nature is no longer divine. But in the incarnation, the attributes of deity remain in the divine nature and the attributes of humanity remain in the human nature.
There are times in Jesus’ earthly ministry when He clearly manifests His human nature. For example, He was hungry, tired, and susceptible to physical pain. Since Jesus was a true human being, His human nature did not possess omniscience. On the other hand, the divine nature frequently communicated supernatural knowledge to the human nature of Jesus. There were times that Jesus spoke things that no human being could ever know. But this truth doesn’t mean the divine nature communicated everything to the human nature. So when Jesus says, “I don’t know the day and the hour,” he’s speaking of His humanity. The human nature is not omniscient. According to His humanity, Jesus knew that the time frame for His prophecies would be within forty years, but not the rest of the details. We create many problems for ourselves when we attempt to deify the human nature of Jesus. In this case, Jesus’ human nature knew the general time frame of the generation, but not the day and the hour.
He goes on to describe the circumstances of His coming. I’m not sure if He is simply speaking of the judgment of Jerusalem or also about what will happen at the time of His final appearance, but in either case, there is a sense of warning and urgency. He says in verse 37, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” What do Noah and Jesus have in common here?
God told Noah of the coming rain and commanded Noah to get to work building an ark. Can you imagine how his friends must have ridiculed him? But Noah just kept hammering away while the people kept laughing, giving no heed to the judgment that was coming. In the days of Noah, people would have been eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark and it started to rain. All the scoffers found out soon enough that Noah knew exactly what he was doing.
Today, the whole world is filled with people who scoff like Noah’s critics. Our Lord warns that each of us will be called to account, but no one knows when this will take place. But we’re at ease, eating and drinking, and we make fun of those who warn of the judgment of God. Isn’t God a God of love, after all? As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man. God’s judgment will fall when no one is looking for it or expecting it.
Jesus says in verses 43 and 44, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Many have tried to predict the hour for Jesus’ return, but every last one has been wrong. Jesus does not give us a calendar, but says, “Be ready. Watch.” In another place, He ends by asking, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Jesus is referring to His final return. If He comes before I die, I want to make sure He finds faith in me. Whether He comes now or whether you go to Him at your death, there will be a reckoning and judgment that no human can escape. We need to be ready. We need to be prepared. We need to be vigilant.

Chapter Six


Imagine that you went out to dinner and ordered your meal, and the server said to you, “That’s a fine selection. Unfortunately, we are running a little bit behind in the kitchen right now, but if you’ll be patient, we’ll have your dinner prepared to your liking sometime within the next three hours.” I don’t think you would be too happy with that. No one likes to wait forever for their food when they go out to eat. We are accustomed to waiting ten to twenty minutes for a meal, but if our wait time approaches an hour or so, even at a nice restaurant, we might ask the manager if there is a problem. If we are left waiting for our food any longer than that, we’d know for certain that something was wrong. Someone is not doing his job.
The concept of doing one’s duty is an important theme as we continue to examine the Olivet Discourse. As He concludes the discourse, Jesus speaks of the faithful servant, who executes his duties well and in a timely fashion, and the wicked servant, who does not. Jesus has been warning His disciples to diligently to watch for His return. Let’s consider the rest of the chapter.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:45–51)

When I was in seminary, one of the professors was Dr. Markus Barth, son of the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth. I remember being astonished when Markus Barth produced a two-hundred-page academic paper on the first few words of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Many weighty tomes have been written about the words Jesus Christ, but what amazed me was that the whole focus of Barth’s manuscript was on the single word slave.
The word that Jesus uses that is translated as “servant” is sometimes translated as “slave.” People have a negative reaction to that word, but the great irony of the New Testament teaching is that no one ever becomes truly free until they become a slave of Jesus Christ. All of us are slaves of one sort or another. We’re either slaves of Christ or slaves of sin. There’s no other option for humanity.
One of Paul’s favorite metaphors for the Christian’s status in Christ is, “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). What does he mean by that? Paul’s point is that Christians can never consider themselves autonomous. He goes on to explain that we are not our own because we’ve been bought with a price (v. 20). Jesus paid the asking price of our salvation. Paul’s metaphor is vital to the Christian life.
Jesus asks, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant?” This is a question of fidelity. Who is a faithful servant? It’s a strange term to use regarding a servant who is under the complete ownership of another. But the simplest meaning of a faithful servant is one who is full of faith, who can be trusted, and who is consistent in allegiance to his owner.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 45, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” The master went on a journey and called one of his servants to be the steward of the house while he is away. This master put his servant in charge of all of the affairs of the house. We notice that Jesus emphasizes that timeliness is important. Jesus spoke of the faithful servant who was responsible not only to provide the food, but also to provide it on time. He said that this servant would be blessed if the master found him doing his job when he returned. The good servant, the faithful and wise servant, is the one who does what his master calls him to do. Jesus says in verse 47, “Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” The master will give the servant even more responsibility and esteem because he has been faithful in the things given to him. This echoes Jesus’ words in Luke 16:10 that he who wants to be given more responsibility in the kingdom must first be faithful in little things.
Jesus then describes the wicked servant in verses 48–51: “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here the wicked servant is having an internal dialogue. He thinks, “My master’s gone. Who knows when he’s coming back? Who knows if he’s ever coming back? It’s time to party! My master is delayed and I can do what I want.”
You may not relate to the wicked servant entirely, but most of us have jobs and employers. How do you work when no one is looking? Are you on task? Are you committed to the responsibility that has been given to you? Or, when there is no supervisor to watch you, do you take advantage of the gap in oversight and do whatever you want?
Why is it that our behavior changes when no one is watching? Why do businesses have clocks where workers have to punch in every day? Why can’t we just expect people to come to work and leave when they’re supposed to? It’s because of sin. It’s because we have a tendency to behave in one way when we are being watched and act differently when we’re free of supervision. Consider the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32. Isn’t it interesting that the son took his father’s inheritance to a far-off country to squander it? He did this because nobody knew him in the foreign land. Nobody was watching. He could be free from all restraint.
The wicked servant is neither faithful nor wise. He is like the fool in Psalm 53:1 who says in his heart, “There is no God.” The most serious and fatal self-delusion of the wicked is their belief that God will not judge them. The Bible tells us that God is long-suffering and patient. The reason for this kindness and mercy is to give us time to repent and turn to Christ. But we should never assume that God’s gracious patience means that He won’t call us to account. Many are tempted to think this way. In this passage, Jesus is addressing those who assume that the Master will never return. They think this gives them license to do whatever they want. No supervision. No faithfulness. No trust. No wisdom.
The master of the servant will come on a day when the servant isn’t looking for him, and at an hour of which he is unaware. And the master will say to the faithful servant, “I left you with responsibility. I blessed you. I gave you an elevated status in my kingdom and increased responsibility.” But to the wicked slave there will be nothing but judgment and separation from the house of the master. The response of the wicked slave will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Have you ever seen a person weep and gnash their teeth? I once knew a man who was caught in a very serious sin. He began to cry, wail, and sob. Nothing could comfort him. As his weeping was drawing to an end he said, “How could I have done this? Why did I do this?” This is going to be the scene of those who have ignored their master.
So the obvious question is, What will you be doing when He comes? Will He find you faithful? Not casually or occasionally, but all the time? Christ has bought us for Himself, and He has given us a task to perform whether we can physically see Him or not. May He find us faithful when He comes.

Sproul, R. C. (2014). Are These the Last Days? (First edition, Bd. 20, S. iv–55). Orlando, FL; Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust; Ligonier Ministries.

How to know GOD´s will- by Uwe Rosenkranz

No. 4

Reformation Trust

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009





Chapter One

Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.


Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Pentecoastal for the Perplexed- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz



Bloomsbury T&T Clark
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First published 2013

© Wolfgang Vondey, 2013

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British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-0-567-62731-5

To Noah Alexander


1 Local roots and global pluralism

Grassroots Pentecostalism
Global Pentecostalism
Pentecostalism and globalization

2 Holistic spirituality and charismatic extremism

Holistic spirituality
Charismatic extremism
The Pentecostal imagination

3 Ecumenical ethos and denominationalism

Pentecostals and Christian unity
Denominationalism and separatism
Unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement

4 Orthodox doctrine and sectarianism

Pentecostalism and the formulation of the doctrine of God
Oneness Pentecostalism
Pentecostal theology and the development of doctrine

5 Social engagement and triumphalism

Social engagement in the Pentecostal movement
Pentecostal triumphalism
Pentecostal social ethics

6 Egalitarian practices and institutionalism

The egalitarian impulse of Pentecostalism
Institutionalism in the Pentecostal movement
Pentecostal egalitarianism-in-the-making

7 Scholarship and anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism in classical Pentecostalism
The rise of Pentecostal scholarship
The future of Pentecostal studies


AE American Ethnologist
AF The Apostolic Faith
AJPS Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies
ASR American Sociological Review
CPCR Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research
CT Christianity Today
Digest The Digest: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Foundational Questions
EI Ecclesiological Investigations Series
ERT Evangelical Review of Theology
IBMR International Bulletin of Missionary Research
IRM International Review of Mission
JASA Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation
JEPTA Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association
JES Journal of Ecumenical Studies
JMER Exchange: Journal for Missiological and Ecumenical Research
JPST Journal of Psychology and Theology
JPT Journal of Pentecostal Theology
JPTSup Journal of Pentecostal Theology, Supplement Series
JRitS Journal of Ritual Studies
JRT Journal of Religious Thought
JSSR Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
MF Ministerial Formation
MIR Missiology: An International Review
NIDPCM The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements
PM Pentecostal Manifestos Series
Pneuma Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies
PS PentecoStudies
Rel Religion
RevRR Review of Religious Research
SGC Studies in Global Christianity Series
SIE Studies in Evangelicalism Series
SOR Sociology of Religion
TS Theological Studies
TTod Theology Today
WeslTJ Wesleyan Theological Journal
Zygon Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science

Pentecostalism is a perplexing phenomenon. Beginning as a fringe movement at a marginal position in the Christian world, the modern-day Pentecostal movement has become one of the fastest-growing religious movements of the twenty-first century. Today’s Pentecostalism is a global phenomenon, an ecumenical melting pot, a theological puzzle consisting of a multiplicity of voices and positions, and a major factor in the shaping of late modern Christianity. Among other things, Pentecostalism has been called a church, a religious faction, a sect, a doctrine, a spirituality, a revival, a fanatic stream, a schism, a renewal movement, an event, and an experience. While Pentecostals have traditionally understood themselves as a movement from God in the last days, outsiders have often denounced the movement as anti-Christian or at the very least located at a position far removed from the Christian mainstream. Advocates of Pentecostalism portray the movement as an ambassador for Christian unity and highlight its pathos of liberation, its vision of restoration, and its emphasis on personal relationships, human transformation, and ethnic reconciliation. In contrast, the anti-Pentecostal sentiment ranges from accusations of excessive emotionalism or eccentric but harmless ideology to harmful teaching and outright heresy. The unprecedented growth of Pentecostalism in all its diversity has led to characterizations ripe with platitudes, stereotypes, and misrepresentations. The opinions about Pentecostalism are at least as perplexing as the movement itself.
Global Pentecostalism is a movement in transition. Since the widely recognized revivals that mark the historical origins of classical Pentecostalism in different parts of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, the movement has endured unprecedented changes in its global representation, doctrinal composition, ecumenical participation, organizational structures, liturgical make-up, religious ethos, socio-cultural significance, and political participation. These changes make it difficult for many to identify the complex composition of worldwide Pentecostalism. Observers struggle with the correct terminology: Some have suggested to speak of ‘Pentecostalisms’ in the plural rather than the singular; others use the word ‘Pentecostal’ as a blanket term that covers all movements that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, while again others prefer to distinguish the ‘Pentecostal Movement’ from the so-called ‘Charismatic Movement’ in the traditional churches. The result of these conflicting attempts to define the essence of Pentecostalism has been a myriad of arguments and studies on various elements of the Pentecostal movement albeit without an overarching theory of Pentecostal identity. The student of Pentecostalism is left with a choice to either produce a homogeneous image of the movement from the different accounts or to choose between one or the other element of Pentecostalism—either choice does not fit the global reality of the movement.
This Guide for the Perplexed is an invitation to engage the diversity of Pentecostalism without reducing the movement to one of its elements or distorting the image with a homogeneous account that does not reflect the movement’s perplexing reality of often conflicting beliefs and practices. While this intention implies to a certain extent a phenomenological approach to Pentecostalism, the underlying goal of this introduction is to gain a general understanding of the identity of Pentecostalism as a whole. Consequently, this volume is not a historical introduction to Pentecostalism or a survey of the global dimensions of the movement, although both elements are present, nor is the intention to offer an account of Pentecostal distinctives or a characterization of Pentecostalism that would fit the movement exactly into the Christian landscape. On the contrary, this introduction to Pentecostalism concentrates on the tensions existing within the movement between its orthodox and radical elements. Rather than eschewing certain unwanted features or attempting to provide a homogeneous image of the complex movement, these perhaps irreconcilable struggles are presented as the hallmark of the Pentecostal movement worldwide. Moreover, what may be identified more readily as contrasts and controversies within Pentecostalism are in fact only the more visible tremors of a Christian world in transition. Pentecostalism exists amidst such tensions representative of a global shift of the Christian faith in the twenty-first century.
More precisely, this Guide for the Perplexed is based on the rationale that the bewildering elements that make Pentecostalism difficult to grasp are precisely the elements that best describe the character of the movement. Seven key themes are explored to illustrate this thesis: the tension between the local roots and global pluralism of Pentecostals, the tension between the Pentecostal emphasis on holistic spirituality and the excessive display of charismatic manifestations, the tension between a divisive denominationalism and the ecumenical ethos of Pentecostalism, the tension between orthodox doctrine and the sectarian rejection of the Christian tradition by some Pentecostals, the tension between social engagement and triumphalism, the tension between democratic egalitarian ideals and the divisive effects of institutionalism, and the tension between Pentecostal scholarship and the prevalent anti-intellectualism of the movement. These tensions are representative not of the anomalies but of the struggles of Pentecostalism within the emergence of a global Christianity. Simply put, understanding Pentecostalism provides a means to understanding the changing face of the Christian world.
The objective of this introduction is to embrace the tensions inherent in Pentecostalism as part of the self-understanding of the movement. Rather than simply contrasting two sides of the movement, each chapter expands the horizon of what is meant by ‘Pentecostalism’ and takes the reader to a broader appreciation of its diverse range and transitions by bringing the different positions into dialogue. The goal is to dismantle existing stereotypes, to guide the reader away from internal debates, oversimplifications, a one-sided focus on Christianity in the West, or an idealist, romantic image of Pentecostalism. The conclusions reached by this text are that the restrictive, parochial, extremist, and fundamentalist tendencies of Pentecostalism are confronted by the alternative ecumenical, global, interdisciplinary, and progressive nature of a movement representative of a Christian world in transition.
The first chapter provides the context and background to the study of global Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity in all its diversity. The student unfamiliar with Pentecostalism can begin here with historical, theological, and sociological material that helps situate the study of Pentecostalism in the broader context of the history of Christian thought. The chapter focuses on the shifting emphasis of global Christianity from the West to the East and the southern hemisphere and places worldwide Pentecostalism in contrast to so-called classical Pentecostalism in North America, thereby preparing the foundation for understanding the perplexing nature of the Pentecostal movement in its diverse contexts. This framework emphasizes the significance of understanding Pentecostalism both as a local and a global phenomenon, which explains in part the tensions inherent in existing accounts of Pentecostalism. This explanation is illustrated by the tension between grassroots communities and mega-churches that characterize the Pentecostal landscape both locally and globally. The distinction between local and global, in terms of both location and membership distribution, is a hallmark of the discussion on contemporary Pentecostalism. All subsequent explanations always depend on this necessary dynamic and must be seen in light of both local and global developments of the movement. This approach allows for a clarification of the diverse terminology applied to definitions of Pentecostal groups worldwide. The results of this interdisciplinary overview provide the basis for a conceptual understanding of the difficulties associated with Pentecostalism as they are presented in the subsequent chapters.
In light of the foundational tension outlined in the first chapter, the second chapter tackles one of the most bewildering elements of Pentecostalism in its local and global manifestations: the emphasis on the reality of the spiritual dimension of life and on holistic spirituality, on the one hand, and the public scandals surrounding the excessive display of charismatic gifts, the exploitation of the miraculous, and the apparent lack of attentiveness to spiritual matters by Pentecostal leaders, on the other hand. This tension is well portrayed in the historical anti-Pentecostal argument that describes Pentecostals as devilish, demonic, and insane, while Pentecostals understood themselves as a movement from God and their actions as divinely inspired. The chapter introduces the dimensions of the spirit-driven reality among Pentecostals and brings both extremes into dialogue for a better understanding of the bandwidth of the charismatic life that characterizes Pentecostal practices. The underlying argument of this chapter is that the spiritual dimension of life is the most fundamental aspect of Pentecostalism, experientially, socially, intellectually, and theologically. All other explanations of the perplexities within the Pentecostal movement both locally and globally depend on the understanding of the tensions inherent in the spirit-oriented life. The goal is to outline these tensions as necessary components of a spirit-driven imagination that is potentially open to all forms of manifestations of the charismatic life while intended to remain subject to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
The third chapter examines the ecclesiastical tensions of the Pentecostal movement. The chapter addresses the particular difficulties associated with situating Pentecostalism among the Christian churches. On the one hand, Pentecostalism is portrayed as a Free Church movement characterized by rampant denominationalism, non-denominational splinter-groups, as well as internal and external tendencies toward segregation. On the other hand, Pentecostals have become a driving force in the ecumenical movement since the late twentieth century. The chapter traces the development of ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals worldwide and brings into dialogue the tensions between separatist tendencies and the pursuit of Christian unity. The intention of this chapter is to explain the various factors that have contributed to the confusing ecumenical identity of Pentecostals. Emphasis is placed on the effects of restorationist criticism, persecution and rejection, internal divisions, as well as organizational demands and institutionalization. At the same time, the chapter also portrays the current shift in attitude among Pentecostals toward the ecumenical movement and outlines the active participation and leadership of Pentecostal groups in bilateral dialogues and ecumenical conversations. The goal of this chapter is to characterize the nature of the ecumenical mindset among Pentecostals and to reflect critically on the possibility to reconcile the current state of affairs with the ecclesiology and ecumenical attitude of Pentecostalism at large.
Chapter Four introduces the longstanding theological division among Pentecostals between advocates of an orthodox trinitarian theology and the so-called Oneness Pentecostals. The latter group rejects the trinitarian theology that developed as a result of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as a de-facto tritheism; the trinitarian camp views the Oneness camp as perpetuating a sectarian form of modalistic monarchianism. Accusations of heresy are found on both sides. The perplexities of this controversy are explained by bringing both sides into dialogue on the manner and method in which Pentecostals formulate and communicate the doctrine of God. The chief argument of the chapter is that the divisions are based on structural and methodological concerns rather than the content of orthodox doctrinal confessions. This argument is illustrated with the recent Oneness-Trinitarian Pentecostal dialogue. The impasse in the debate between both sides is explained as a confrontation of the two most challenging elements of trinitarian doctrine: divine personhood and the eternal processions. The intention of this chapter is to portray the difficulties inherent in these ideas as not unique to Pentecostalism but as representative of the development of Christian doctrine in general. The goal is to allow other ecumenical traditions to identify with the struggle for the doctrine of God as it is represented in the Pentecostal movement. The two sides thus emerge not as mutually exclusive positions but as representative of the efforts within a maturing global movement to come to terms with the classical formulations of Christian doctrine.
Chapter Five compares and contrasts two distinct ways of Pentecostal upward social mobility: social engagement, exemplified in programmatic and long-term expressions of Pentecostal social activism and political and socio-cultural involvement, and triumphalism, or social passivism, exemplified in the preaching of the health and wealth gospel. The former proposes active participation and leadership in the struggle against poverty, deprivation, and oppression; the latter withdraws into a sectarian mindset, individualism, and triumphalism. On a socio-cultural level, this discrepancy brings into dialogue the tension between poverty and prosperity as well as between the affluent Pentecostal groups of the West and the impoverished Pentecostals in the global South. On a theological level, this comparison joins the concerns of political theology and economic justice by focusing both on the liberating aspects as well as the problematic elements of Pentecostal theology in different cultural and socio-economic environments. The goal of this chapter is a comparison that offers both critical and therapeutic insights into the tensions resulting from the expansion of the Pentecostal movement to global proportions and the challenges inherent in its confrontation with diverse socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts. Pentecostalism is here portrayed as a mirror of unavoidable global and local dynamics that define its social ethics and character as a religious movement.
Chapter Six engages the tensions between Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement and its growing institutionalism, exemplified in the debates about race and gender. Any attempt to come to terms with the perplexity of Pentecostalism cannot neglect the exorbitant tensions across all streams of the movement with regard to the authority of women in ministry or the divisions between black Pentecostalism and white congregations found in different configurations across the world. Existing stereotypes portray Pentecostalism, on the one hand, either as a movement of liberation and reconciliation or, on the other hand, as a bigoted, chauvinist, and racist movement that postpones the promises of full equality to the time of a new creation while holding on to established institutional patterns. Reasons for these tensions are complex, often depending on the heritage, social context, and history of particular Pentecostal groups. The chapter presents the divisions over the representation and authority of Pentecostals across the lines of gender and race in sharp contrast to the movement’s emphasis on the priesthood and prophethood of all believers. These tensions have permeated the movement worldwide and have brought many Pentecostal denominations and churches to the brink of separation. The goal of this chapter is to present the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism in the context of race and gender in order to explain the underlying motivation and persistence of both streams among Pentecostals today.
Chapter Seven addresses the divide between anti-intellectualism and the emergence of Pentecostal scholarship in modern-day Pentecostalism. This chapter addresses the intellectual dimension of the movement: Pentecostal attitudes toward education, pedagogy, and the academy, the development of Pentecostal scholarship, and the stereotypes and tensions inherent in the expanding field of Pentecostal studies. The social face and perception of the movement is shaped by both an alleged anti-intellectualism as well as a rising Pentecostal scholarship. On the one hand, Pentecostals are seen as outsiders to the intellectual history of the twentieth century with no apparent theological tradition, no underlying intellectual system, and no interest in developing and formulating an intellectual structure. On the other hand, Pentecostal scholarship seems poised to become a central player in the theological academy. The goal of this chapter is to confront the contrast of scholarship and anti-intellectualism by defining the anti-intellectual attitude and its motivations among classical Pentecostals and introducing the still largely uncharted territory of Pentecostal scholarship, its development and current state of affairs. The tensions of anti-intellectualism and scholarship are brought into dialogue in a conversation about the future of Pentecostal studies. This conversation suggests that Pentecostals are shaping the movement into an intellectual tradition that is likely to play a central role in the telling of the intellectual history of the twenty-first century.
A conclusion would be inappropriate for this study of Pentecostalism. It might give the impression that the Pentecostal movement stands at the end rather than the beginning of its development. Instead, a brief epilogue summarizes what has been clarified in the previous chapters as the struggle of a worldwide movement to identify its place and character in the global Christian landscape. The perplexing tensions presented throughout are seen as symptomatic for the changing face of Christianity in general. Pentecostalism is merely a major representative of the dynamics of the Christian social, cultural, and religious milieu that is in transition since at least the twentieth century. These developments are shown to far exceed the realm of religion and to expand ultimately into all dimensions of life. In turn, this characterization also explains much of the bewildering character of the movement and suggests that the immediate future of Pentecostalism may show an even greater variety of perplexities.


Local roots and global pluralism
A first glance at Pentecostalism worldwide immediately reveals the sheer size and complexity of the movement. Widely used statistics (particularly by Pentecostals) suggest that there are over 500 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the world today. A 10-country survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2006 began using the term ‘Renewalist’ as a catch-all category to refer to Pentecostals and Charismatics as a group and estimated their number as at least a quarter of the world’s two billion Christians. The World Christian Database, adopting the same terminology, speaks of 560 million Renewalists in 2010 with an annual growth rate by some Pentecostal denominations of an unusually high 15 per cent. These surveys also emphasize that the number and composition of Pentecostal groups differ considerably from country to country, ranging from a minimal percentage to a large majority of the population. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity locates a large portion of the membership of Pentecostal groups in a new ecclesiastical ‘megabloc’ of 369 million ‘Independents’.4 Another recent statistic emphasizes ‘Pentecostals’ and ‘Charismatics’ as even more sizeable movements that transcend Christian megablocs, denominations, and ecclesiastical networks. The considerably large numbers in these statistics, coupled with the new interpretative terminology, often gives the impression that Pentecostalism is a mega-movement consisting of large groups with significant numerical representation among the global Christian population. Despite these often overwhelming numbers, Pentecostalism cannot simply be described from the outset as a global movement.
On the other side of the Christian landscape, at a micro-vision so to speak, Pentecostalism must be characterized as a thoroughly local phenomenon. Any exclusive emphasis on the global nature of Pentecostalism may downplay the extent to which ‘locality’ (particularly local history, local culture, and local interests) play a critical role in the emergence and development of Pentecostalism as well as in the engagement of any particular group of Pentecostals in matters of global concern. In the contexts of the local and the global, Pentecostalism certainly exhibits traits of both sides. However, the connection between the global character of Pentecostalism and its local representation is not easily defined in the simple terms of the globalization of a local phenomenon. At the very least, the idea of a homogenous globalization of Pentecostalism that is more or less identical with a ‘pentecostalization’ of Christianity is too simplistic to account for the global trends and local particularities of the Pentecostal landscape.7
This chapter introduces the relationship between Pentecostalism as a local and global phenomenon. The diversity of Pentecostals worldwide is best understood when we consider Pentecostalism as both a local and global culture while allowing any characterization of Pentecostalism to transcend the dialectic of local and global and the debate that tends to see the emergence of the movement as either a homogenous or heterogeneous phenomenon. The chapter begins with a description of Pentecostalism as a grassroots movement, followed by a section defining the global character of Pentecostalism. The final section examines the ‘glocalization’ of the movement, a term that combines the emphasis of local and global without bias to either side by explaining the phenomenon of its global pluralism on the very basis of the movement’s local embeddedness. In so doing, the chapter sets the tone for the rest of this guide by locating the diverse tensions within the movement in the diversity of its local phenomena set within the expanding character of the global Pentecostal movement.
Grassroots Pentecostalism

The Pentecostal movement today takes its name and identity from the events on the day of Pentecost recorded in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles portrays these events as originating in a local scenario, a room of gathered disciples upon whom the Holy Spirit rests and who, filled with the Spirit, begin to speak in other tongues (Acts 2:1–4). Limited initially to a small group assembled for prayer, the observer is quickly confronted with the fact that this event occurred not only in the midst of Jerusalem but on a crowded feast day. Large groups of people soon gather and are identified as residents of various nations (vv. 9–11). To these people, the apostle Peter interprets the event in even broader terms as promissory of a global outpouring of the Holy Spirit that involves not only the people present but also their children, families, servants, and ‘all who are far away’ (v. 39). At the end of the day, the small group of the upper room had grown to three thousand people who became part of the life of the first Christian communities. What began as an isolated local phenomenon took on international proportions overnight, reflecting the commission given by Jesus to his disciples at the beginning of the book to be ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
Modern-day Pentecostalism in many ways reflects the biblical events. From the outset, Pentecostalism was born as a grassroots movement in particular locations across the world. The growth of Pentecostalism can be attributed to both the emergence of new local pockets and the expansion of local groups to international proportions. Nevertheless, conversations about Pentecostalism as a global culture are premature if the local particularities of the Pentecostal movement are neglected.
North American roots

Historically, modern-day Pentecostalism is widely portrayed as a movement originating in the twentieth century. Although the role of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts can be traced throughout Christian history, affecting individuals and groups at random across Christian traditions, the phenomenon of spontaneous revivals that lead to semi-organized and eventually institutionalized movements, all of which claim a filling with the Holy Spirit and a shared charismatic experience, is unique to the early twentieth century. Contemporary literature has focused primarily on the development of Pentecostalism in North America, often associating the historical origins of the movement with a number of local revivals in Cherokee County, North Carolina (1886), Topeka, Kansas (1901), and at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles (1906–9). While these revivals are responsible for the rapid spread of Pentecostalism in the United States and the expansion of the movement beyond North American borders, more recent histories of Pentecostalism point to the presence of similar revivals in Wales in 1904–5, India in 1905–6, Korea in 1907–8, and a host of other revival movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The origins of many of these local manifestations of Pentecostalism cannot easily be traced back to Pentecostals of North America, but are instead the result of unexpected and unpredictable events in a variety of distinct locations. What characterizes the history of origins of these diverse pockets of revivals and awakenings is not the immediate rapid expansion of the event from individuals to large groups and eventually organized movements and denominations but the particular local character of the Pentecostal pioneers as they persevered throughout this entire development. In other words, portraying the local qualities of Pentecostalism requires historical and ethnographic as well as journalistic qualities.9 It is as much a character study as it is a collection of snapshots of moments in ongoing development.
The earliest snapshots of Pentecostalism in North America show little of the mass movement that it is today. As Walter J. Hollenweger, the father of the study of modern-day Pentecostalism, puts it: ‘For the earliest Pentecostals it was more important to pray than to organize.’ Pentecostal groups typically emerged from spontaneous revivals at the hands of individuals, often preachers and missionaries, who brought with them nothing but an experience of God and a desire to encounter God in a manner and fullness yet unattained. In many instances, these groups were ostracized from the established Christian churches, frequently isolated, and sometimes violently persecuted. The ‘Christian Union’, one of the earliest Pentecostal formations in the United States, began with a handful of individuals in search of a revived and united church.11 The origins of the revival in Topeka, Kansas, considered by many the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in America, can be traced back to a small group of students seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the unexpected event of one student speaking in a foreign tongue. The Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, seen by most as the occasion that put Pentecostalism on the international map, began not with the thousands of people that eventually attended the revival but with a small local congregation that emerged from a cottage prayer meeting.13 Small Pentecostal groups emerged in the North American context from a diverse background of plantation prayer grounds and the camp meetings of the American South and were eventually carried to the cities, where Pentecostalism was reshaped by the social, cultural, and religious conditions of the urban environment. From these local contexts, individuals and sometimes small groups set out as evangelists and missionaries to spread Pentecostalism worldwide.
Pentecostal roots worldwide

The rise of Pentecostalism in other countries reflects similar local origins as in North America, always tied closely to the grassroots of a particular culture. The influential Welsh revival originated in a series of small awakenings in a Welsh-speaking mining community that observed the particular cultural forms of the Welsh population. The earliest Pentecostal revivals in India occurred among tribal peoples in the Khasi-Jainia Hills and isolated mission stations.16 The beginning of the Pentecostal movement in Korea is found among a small group of Methodist missionaries restricted to the Wonsan area. The local foundations of these widely-cited revivals are an important indication for understanding Pentecostalism on a global scale.
In Africa, the contemporary centre of gravity of global Christianity, the story of Pentecostalism is equally tied to diverse local phenomena that exhibit considerable variety on a small scale. Pockets of Pentecostal groups erupted during the twentieth century in response to both Western missionary efforts and a number of indigenous prophetic figures across the African continent, leading to a complex mix of African-initiated churches, missionary Pentecostal communities, and new independent churches. The roots of Pentecostalism on the African continent are found in the rural regions and townships, many without their own church buildings. Charismatic forms of revitalization erupted first among numerous small groups that made little impact on the national scene until the charismatic revivals across Africa in the 1970s. Character studies of these groups reveal significant differences between missionary Pentecostal communities operating in Africa and African-initiated churches in theological perspectives, rites and practices, as well as the appreciation of African indigenous religions and cultures.20 Grassroots Pentecostalism in Africa exhibits a mixture and fusion of local characteristics symptomatic for Pentecostal origins worldwide.
Much like the African landscape, Pentecostalism in Latin America has been called ‘a mosaic within a mosaic’, a ‘spontaneous combustion’, an ‘immense laboratory’, or a ‘bricolage under construction’. According to Leonardo Boff, the continent is experiencing the building of a living church, an ‘ecclesiogenesis’, from a multiplicity of church base communities.22 These small communities exist in a cultural and ecclesiastical melting pot both within and in contrast to the established churches. A vibrant dimension of Roman Catholicism in Latin America, the base communities often differ from the identity of the mother church and result in ‘as many ecclesiologies as there are basic ecclesial structures’. For the Pentecostal communities on the ground, a similar diversity is typically reflected in small communities and fragmented groups that combine different elements autochthonous to particular regions. Small pockets of Pentecostal revivals erupted almost simultaneously in the early decades of the twentieth century in a number of Latin American countries, often in denominational groupings that already existed or as a result of immigrated churches or foreign missionary endeavours. It is this fragmentation that characterizes the image of grassroots Pentecostalism across the continent even beyond the rise of national Charismatic revivals.
The picture of Pentecostalism at the grassroots is similar in Asia, where Christianity is still a sizeable minority, and a national Pentecostal movement either does not yet exist or is suppressed by religious and political forces. The remarkable growth of Pentecostalism in China is attributed largely to the prominence of small independent house churches under often severe opposition and in isolation from one another and the rest of Christianity. The Pentecostal movement in Japan emerged almost entirely from small Western missionary efforts that still have hardly exceeded the grassroots level even with the rise of larger independent church movements after World War II. In South-East Asia, Pentecostalism in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines is largely the result of Pentecostal missionaries working together with local preachers and evangelists.27 Similar small origins and local communities characterized Pentecostals in Australia and the Pacific before the arrival of large-scale meetings in the 1920s.
Snapshots of the countries on the European continent show a widespread dispersion of Pentecostal groups that have remained active mainly in local areas and are less developed on a national level. Apart from the impact of the Welsh revival, Pentecostal groups have mobilized only ‘a minority of people at the varied margins of that world’. Most Pentecostals are still engaged in establishing social and cultural respect and stability in the local communities in which they were established—a development that is by some viewed as a ghetto while others see this ‘invisibility’ as a passing stage in the growth of the movement.29 Others began as small revival fellowships in the existing churches before forming independent organizations. Although most of these groups are now organized on the national level, they grow slowly and remain outside of the mainstream religious traditions. Central and Eastern Europe has also been a mission field for Pentecostals, but religious restrictions and persecutions from Communist governments and state churches have often forced Pentecostals underground.31 The roots of European Pentecostalism are in the independent grassroots revivals and movements from which Pentecostal groups emerged and in which they are still very much embedded.
These snapshots of Pentecostalism on the ground emphasize the importance of understanding the Pentecostal phenomenon always within the particularities of local discourses, contexts, and perspectives. The images of the Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches differ little in their emphasis on the importance of local, small group and individual efforts in the shaping of modern-day Pentecostalism. The same image also characterizes the independent Pentecostal churches, or Free Churches, which rarely form large-scale organizations or denominations, as well as the large number of individuals who do not belong to a Pentecostal organization but nonetheless exhibit Pentecostal or Charismatic elements in their experiences and practices. This diversity at the grassroots makes it difficult to affirm large-scale characterizations of Pentecostalism that are accurate for the movement as a whole. Put differently, the image of Pentecostalism requires always an additional identification so that we speak not simply of the Pentecostal movement in general but always also of Pentecostalism in particular cultures (e.g. Pentecostalism in Latin America), countries (e.g. Pentecostalism in Brazil or Argentina), and other more particular localizations of the movement (e.g. classical Pentecostalism). Pentecostalism has remained in all its global manifestations a movement at the grassroots.
Global Pentecostalism

The shift from a view at Pentecostalism on the ground to the world at large requires a change of lens from a micro- to a macro-vision. At the heart of this transition stands the question of what exactly identifies Pentecostalism as a ‘global’ phenomenon. The most immediate answer given is typically a reference to the increasing size and pluralism of the movement. Modern-day Pentecostalism readily facilitates a ‘big’ perspective in its staggering numbers and worldwide expansion. A key characteristic of Pentecostalism are the large camp meetings, national revivals, and mega-churches. The sizeable number of Pentecostals worldwide is often used to emphasize the significance of Pentecostalism, to point to a certain homogeneity among Pentecostal beliefs and practices, and to allow for interpretations of the movement that are not bound to isolated phenomena. In other words, by using the word ‘global’ to identify the Pentecostal movement, we are looking for a certain redundancy in observing Pentecostalism worldwide in order to arrive at a definition of the term ‘Pentecostal’ that applies as a common denominator to all variations of the movement.
The numerical growth and worldwide expansion of Pentecostalism has made it necessary to distinguish between different types of Pentecostalism on a large scale. The most common distinction is between the so-called classical Pentecostals connected with the revival at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles (1906–9), the members of the so-called Charismatic Movements in the established Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches that surfaced in North America during the 1960s, and so-called neocharismatic groups, ‘a catch-all category that comprises 18,810 independent, indigenous, postdenominational denominations and groups that cannot be classified as either Pentecostal or charismatic but share a common emphasis on the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, Pentecostal-like experiences (not Pentecostal terminology), signs and wonders, and power encounters’. The distinctions made here on a global level reveal the dominance of North American Pentecostalism, particularly in the United States, in terms of its international influence, and the impact of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-like phenomena in the established churches as well as in the post-denominational and non-denominational terrains of Christianity worldwide.35 The different streams of Pentecostalism portray the movement as a cross-cultural, cross-denominational movement that seemingly transcends localities, religions, nations, ethnicities, and ideologies. The following characteristics help identify the global make-up of the three dominant streams of Pentecostalism worldwide.
Classical Pentecostalism

Classical Pentecostalism is one of the most influential streams of the global Pentecostal movement. The influence of the Azusa Street revival is readily apparent in the almost immediate attempts to engage in an evangelization of the North American continent and a worldwide missionary programme. The Azusa Street Mission appointed and supported large numbers of evangelists who travelled westward across the country and spread the movement. Former participants in the Los Angeles revival travelled extensively, testified fervently of the Pentecostal outpouring, organized meetings in churches, preached, made converts, and formed new congregations. Periodicals and newspapers established by the young Pentecostal movement advertised the revival, and the movement spread rapidly across the social, denominational, cultural, and racial spectrum of North America and beyond. The expansion of classical Pentecostalism is evidence of the global temperament of the movement that can be identified by a number of interrelated dimensions.
As a unique American phenomenon, the global identity of classical Pentecostalism must first be seen in its revivalistic origins that expanded the identity of American religion rapidly across local and regional boundaries and became representative of much of Western Christianity since the eighteenth century. Pentecostal revivalism (the use of techniques in order to perform and sustain the original manifestations of the revival) was an effective tool in expanding Pentecostal thought and practice particularly with regard to certain theological and religious issues.38 This dimension forms the broad base for the global temperament of classical Pentecostalism.
A second dimension, intimately connected with the first, is the association of Pentecostalism with the socially marginalized and disenfranchised as well as other social classes, a unique characteristic in American religion. The presence and appeal that characterizes Pentecostalism among all social strata today has become largely synonymous with the idea of the global appeal of any religion and forms a large element of Pentecostalism’s global attraction.
A third dimension of the global character of the movement is its expansive missionary programme, motivated by the revivalistic and eschatological ideals of the movement. Since the early revivals, Pentecostalism emerged as a mission movement that comprised both veteran missionaries and novices who often went without any training into all areas of the world and despite frequent failures left an unprecedented history of Pentecostalism around the globe. Classical Pentecostalism combines a focus on conversion and revival with a sense of urgency and pragmatism that ultimately has made it the most significant global missionary movement in the twentieth century.
A fourth dimension is the multicultural and multiracial character of North American Pentecostalism that pushed the movement to the crossroads of American, African, European, Hispanic, and other cultures. The rootedness in African American liturgy and the camp meeting culture of the South as well as engagement in the civil rights movement dramatically increased the global reach of Pentecostalism even if such efforts were not greeted with enthusiasm by all.43
Finally, the global temperament can be seen in the foundational position of classical Pentecostalism as a catalyst for changes in worship, liturgical practices, and particularly the kinesthetic and spiritual elements of the Christian life. The array of ‘typical’ Pentecostal practices, among them dancing, jumping, waving, clapping, shouting, and swaying, express not merely the particular spirituality of a group but have come to represent a broadly accepted and replicated understanding of Christian worship in interaction with God and with one another. Classical Pentecostalism is global in terms of its charismatic, cross-social, multicultural, trans-ethnic, evangelistic, and missionary character.
The Charismatic Movements

The Charismatic Movements add a number of different components to the global character of Pentecostalism. The major difference to classical Pentecostals is the ecclesial rootedness of the charismatic renewal in the established churches (theologically, liturgically, and institutionally). Beginning in the mainline Protestant traditions and in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s, the charismatic movement immediately grasped the attention of the Christian world. While most of the early classical Pentecostal leaders did not intend to leave their churches but to revitalize the experiences and practices surrounding the Holy Spirit, many found themselves isolated and ostracized and, under the pressures of organization, institutionalization, and doctrinal conformity formed new churches and denominations. The Charismatic Movements, on the other hand, remained intimately connected with their ecclesiastical origins and with them possessed an immediate network of global recognition.
As a worldwide phenomenon not restricted to North America, the Charismatic Movements add a number of important dimensions to the global temperament of Pentecostalism. The most significant among them is the ecclesial connectedness of the movement that integrates Pentecostal spirituality and practices in the liturgical and ecumenical contexts of the established traditions. The influences are reciprocal: Pentecostalism has been broadened in its ritual and sacramental practices while the Charismatic Movements have become a modifier of the mainline traditions rather than an isolated subculture.
A second dimension is the widespread social acceptance of Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality often connected with church leaders, councils, well-known personalities, and representatives of the intellectual elite. The Jesus People movement counted 300,000 young people among its adherents by the early 1970s. Popular writings, such as The Cross and the Switchblade, as well as newly established publications of the movement, such as the magazine New Covenant, captured the imagination of large audiences across the world. Well-known personalities in entertainment and TV evangelism quickly expanded the charismatic ministry to massive proportions. Influential church leaders connected the Charismatic Movements internationally and helped spread this new form of Pentecostalism throughout established churches, networks, and organizations.
A third element of the global character of the Charismatic Movements is their intellectual and academic dimension. Whereas many classical Pentecostals traditionally emphasized faith and spirituality over intellectualism and education, espousing at times a radical anti-intellectualism, the charismatic movements embrace the educational elite and academia. The intellectual climate among Pentecostals has opened up to academic theology and scholarship and contributed to a uniquely Pentecostal pedagogy that affirms the epistemological importance of the Holy Spirit while challenging conventional forms of theological education.
Fourth, Pentecostalism has taken on a global character also in its theological dimensions. The Charismatic Movements initiated a globally oriented theological awareness among Pentecostals, nurturing the formulation of Pentecostal theology in a more systematic and analytical manner and gradually exposing Pentecostal thought to the established theological traditions. Pentecostal and charismatic theology today is at the forefront of engaging the opportunities and challenges of global Christian thought. The result is a cross-fertilization in which Pentecostal theology is often formulated in the framework of traditional theological categories while the established theological traditions are beginning to reflect on their own formulations as a result of the global impact of the charismatic renewal.
Finally, the Charismatic Movements have significantly expanded the ecumenical sensitivities of Pentecostals. The ecumenical involvement of the Charismatic Movements contributes significantly to the recognition of Pentecostalism and its participation in international dialogues and conversations. Although many classical Pentecostals continue to resist official ecumenical relationships, the emergence of the ecumenical movement and the charismatic renewal in the established churches is responsible for an entirely new set of global connections. As a result, Pentecostal concerns, theology, and practices have entered ecumenical discussions and expanded Pentecostal language and perspectives. From the perspective of the Charismatic Movements, Pentecostalism is global in terms of its diverse ecclesial, liturgical, intellectual, theological, and ecumenical character.

The third stream of Pentecostals, the so-called neo-charismatic or neo-Pentecostal groups, have further advanced the global identity of Pentecostalism in distinct ways. The immense amount of independent, postdenominational, and nondenominational groups form a stark ecclesiastical contrast to the rootedness of the Charismatic Movements in the established churches. The most immediate dimension of the global character exhibited by these groups is their unprecedented cultural exposure. Far exceeding the evangelistic and missionary presence of classical Pentecostals in many parts of the world and the establishment of the Charismatic Movement across the established Christian traditions, the neo-Pentecostal groups have added a myriad of autochthonous churches and congregations indigenous to cultures with little or no historical contact to Christianity. The result has been a wedding of Pentecostalism with native spiritualities, religions, and cultures in a process of constant disconnecting and recombining that is widely responsible for the success of Pentecostalism worldwide and has come to closely define the idea of the globalization of Pentecostalism. This process of hybridization has not only expanded the religious base of the Pentecostal movement but interchanged patterns and vehicles of transmission of the religious, cultural, political, and economic heritage of various local, national, and international sources.
Another dimension neo-Pentecostalism has added to the global character of the Pentecostal movement is the deliberate engagement with the masses. The most tangible form of this aspect are the mega-churches that have begun to appear particularly in the urban centres of Asia, Latin America, and North America. The half-a-million members of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, for example, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in São Paulo, Brazil, or City Harvest in Singapore, have redefined both the face of modern-day Pentecostalism and the visible expression of contemporary Christianity. The enormous organizations, like most of their kind, are based on myriads of cell-based groups that facilitate the administration, communication, and fellowship of their communities. The chief character of these mega-churches is their diversified and stratified representation of ministries under a single organizational umbrella exhibiting an exceptionally wide range of physical space, facilities, organizational and regional outreach, and social ministries.54
Finally, the neo-Pentecostal movements have added a range of independent churches, assemblies, fellowships, and loosely defined ecclesiastical groups that have come to shape the face of charismatic Christianity in what many see as representative of the postmodern and pluralistic elements of the late modern world. While this group is equally as diversified as the mega-churches, the ministries are divided among autonomous organizations, often occupied with single forms of social ministries and particular audiences. Captured under the umbrella term ‘neo-Pentecostalism’, the range of different groups has added a unique element of mobility, independence, and innovation to the global temperament of the Pentecostal identity. From the perspective of neo-Pentecostalism, the Pentecostal movement is global in terms of its cross-cultural, diversified, independent, variable, and progressive character.
The various dimensions of the global temperament of Pentecostalism should not be seen in isolation. Elements of classical Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movements, and neo-Pentecostalism often form a blend of practices and beliefs that make it easier to speak of Pentecostalism, in general, than to identify the particular shape of what defines Pentecostalism in each location and situation. Global Pentecostalism represents a microclimate of global Christianity. The various dimensions that define the global character of the main streams of Pentecostalism are also representative of the emergence of global Christianity in the late modern world, yet few of these characteristics are found together to the same extent in any other Christian tradition. Briefly put, Pentecostalism is a key representative of global Christianity in development. A definition of this movement requires attention not only to the global and the local but also to the relationship that connects both worlds.
Pentecostalism and globalization

The assessment of the global pluralism of the Pentecostal movement in all its diverse manifestations frequently overwhelms the focus of Pentecostal communities on the ground. Neither the micro-nor the macro-vision is a realistic perspective of the Pentecostal world if maintained exclusively in the long-run. What characterizes the identity of the Pentecostal movement is both its local roots and global temperament. Elemental to this existence in the big and the small is not only the recognizable reach beyond the local but the insistence that the global dimensions of Pentecostalism cannot be understood apart from the movement’s local existence. We might say that Pentecostalism is ‘a religion made to travel’ between the local and the global. The most dominant theory to explain these interdependencies is the idea of globalization.
The globalization of Pentecostalism

The most basic model of globalization explains Pentecostalism as a movement that transitions from the local to the global. Globalization is seen in the growth of numbers (members, churches, and converts), geographic expansion (regional, national, and global), and the development of a global consciousness (subjectively and objectively) coupled with the emergence and formation of an increasingly larger and diversified infrastructure that adapts to the conditions of the world as a whole. Two different interpretations of globalization have emerged from this broad perspective, one that emphasizes the homogeneity and the other pointing to the heterogeneous nature of the development. The emphasis on a homogeneous globalization frequently ties together Pentecostalism and modernity, pointing to the fact that numerical growth and geographical expansion has always been a feature of Pentecostalism (and of modernity) and that it is difficult to define at what level we begin to speak of the movement as global and no longer as a local phenomenon. Similarly, a global consciousness can be said to have accompanied Pentecostalism (and modernity) from the beginning, especially in its eschatological form and perception of the world, and thus is present in all streams of the movement. From this perspective, Pentecostals as representative of a general temperament of modernity were always globally oriented and continue to see the local as a starting point and significant representation of the global. If Pentecostalism has always grown, expanded, and developed, then we can apply the term ‘global’ to the movement without reservation. The homogenous perspective understands globalization as an inherent tendency of modern-day Pentecostalism.
On the other side, there are some who resist the application of the term ‘Pentecostalism’ as a generic identifier of the movement. At least during the twentieth century, in the widespread internal attempts by Pentecostals to define the distinctives of the movement, the term ‘global’ does not appear. The emphasis on heterogeneity speaks of the success of Pentecostalism in reverse terms and understands the movement from the outset as a global phenomenon that exists as always adapting localizations ‘that reach across national boundaries, take on local color, and move on again’.60 This perspective emphasizes significant differences in religiosity, spirituality, morality, social engagement, as well as political and economic participation among Pentecostals in East and West, the northern and southern hemispheres, Europe and the USA. Others highlight the racial, social, and linguistic diversities of Pentecostal groups even on the regional level.62 Globalization therefore refers to cultural discontinuities and contradictions, including irreconcilable differences in theology and worship that divide not only the global space but also the history of the Pentecostal traditions. This heterogeneity questions the ability to capture the empirical reality of Pentecostalism as a global community. In its place, the heterogeneous viewpoint advocates that ‘localization’ and ‘deglobalization’ are proper terms that identify the Pentecostal movement worldwide. This characterization is frequently associated with postmodern sensitivities.
The conflicting interpretations necessitate a theory that can explain the relationship between local and global Pentecostalism without reverting exclusively to one side or the other. Theories that depend fundamentally on one dimension are no longer able to offer explanations of the range of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-like communities and their development worldwide. The global character of the Pentecostal movement is a historically and sociologically late phenomenon that requires for its explanation reference to the origins in and continuing dependence on the local beyond the confines of the modern or postmodern. This interdependence can be described with the term ‘glocalization’—the elimination of ‘distance’ between the local and the global that ultimately finds the global in the local and vice versa. Instead of proposing the globalization of local Pentecostalism and thereby effectively juxtaposing the global against the local, the understanding of Pentecostalism as a glocal phenomenon embraces the relationship between the local and the global because Pentecostalism as a whole depends on both realities.
The glocalization of Pentecostalism

Roland Robertson introduced the concept of glocalization in the 1990s to overcome the problematic juxtaposition of local and global. Adopting his perspective advocates the essential proposal that the reality we label ‘Pentecostal’ is dependent upon both its local and global manifestations. Pentecostalism, when seen as a glocal phenomenon, is not defined in terms of either its local or global characteristics but in terms of its actual contribution to the structuration of the world in both dimensions.66 Glocalization applied to Pentecostalism rejects a simplistic theory that equates the dynamics of Pentecostalism with either those of a globalizing modernity or its postmodern counterpart. There is no global mass-culture that can be labelled ‘Pentecostalism’ without identifying simultaneously the local roots or localized representations of what we term ‘Pentecostal’. On the contrary, the globalization of Pentecostalism consists of the production and reproduction of the local in the global and the global in the local, the mediation, or more precisely, the encoding and decoding of local distinctiveness and global generality.68 This mediation finds its most tangible expression in the remarkable mobility and migration of what is after all popularly called the Pentecostal movement.
Pentecostalism as a movement has never been stationary. Physical and geographical, as well as in a metaphorical sense, social, cultural, and theological mobility are the hallmark of Pentecostalism. Simply put, we must speak not only of the existence or presence of Pentecostalism in the local and the global but of Pentecostalism as a movement in glocal transition. The evangelistic and missionary temperament of Pentecostalism forms only one component of the mobility of the movement. Apparent in Pentecostalism is also the migration and importation of ‘foreign’ cultural and religious identities and the consequent adoption of transnational identities, the penetration of and association with established churches and traditions, the building of formal and informal networks across and beyond local boundaries, the forming of transnational spaces, the deterritorialization of particular local or national identities and cultures, including the phenomenon of reverse mission, and a general trend toward upward social mobility. The dialectic process of localization and delocalization, globalization and deglobalization is accompanied by tensions and conflicts that do not lie either in the local or the global but in the fusion of both dimensions. Consequently, it is the combination of the tensions inherent in a dedication to both the local and the global that forms the heart of Pentecostalism.71 What is taking place among Pentecostals worldwide is an ongoing ‘reconfiguration of Pentecost’ that involves the simultaneity and interpenetration of the local and the global, sometimes in response to the other, sometimes in opposition, but never with the ability to escape either dimension. This perspective has significant implications for the actual reality we call ‘Pentecostalism’ and for the way we understand this reality in its various dimensions.
The notion of Pentecostalism as a glocal phenomenon marks a pattern for the further examination of the movement in this volume. Glocal Pentecostalism is defined both by a search for Pentecostal distinctives, a discussion that favours the local viewpoint and particular identity of Pentecostals, and a search for fundamentals, a conversation that privileges the global perspective. In other words, Pentecostalism is both fundamentalist and experientialist without confining either characteristic to the global or the local.74 Pentecostalism is both a contextual and intercultural religious movement. It can be identified on a global scale as Spirit-oriented without neglecting the very corporeal nature of Pentecostal life and worship on the ground. Pentecostalism is as much a recovery of primal piety as it is the progressive face of global Christianity. Only a limited number of these identifiers can be produced without losing the integrity of the whole attempt to come to terms with a general definition of Pentecostalism. Ultimately, Pentecostalism exists on the most visible level as both a local and global phenomenon in a dynamic transition of its various features. This description provides a foundational explanation for the multifarious nature of the Pentecostal movement.


Holistic spirituality and charismatic extremism
A holistic spirituality forms the heartbeat of Pentecostal thought and practice. From the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, charismatic manifestations, and spiritual discernment have been the hallmark of Pentecostal preaching, teaching, revivals, ecumenical conversations, and eventually scholarly works. These elements generally form also the most immediate seedbed for confrontation, propaganda, polemics, misunderstandings, and stereotypes. The seemingly singular emphasis on a life centred around the Holy Spirit is host to some of the most bewildering tensions in Pentecostalism: the emphasis on the reality of the spiritual dimension of life and on the need for discernment of the intermingled realities of the human spirit, the divine Spirit, and demonic spirits, on the one hand, and the public scandals surrounding the excessive display of charismatic gifts, the exploitation of the miraculous, and the apparent lack of spiritual etiquette by Pentecostals, on the other hand. The present chapter introduces the dimensions of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview and brings the extremes into dialogue for a better understanding of the bandwidth of the charismatic manifestations that characterize the Pentecostal movement in its local and global dimensions.
The spiritual dimension of life forms the tangible reality where the diverse local and the global realities of Pentecostalism come to life. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit defines the different streams of Pentecostalism experientially, socially, intellectually, and theologically; other explanations of the perplexities within the Pentecostal movement depend on the understanding of the tensions inherent in the Spirit-filled life. It is the goal of this chapter to outline the tensions inherent in the Pentecostal spirituality and worldview and to present them as the unavoidable elements of an imagination that is potentially open to all forms of charismatic manifestations while submitting to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that draws all matters of faith and praxis to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A description of the Spirit-filled life comprises the first part of the chapter. The second part traces the extent of excessive charismatic practices in the various streams of the Pentecostal movement. This contrast is brought into dialogue in a concluding outline of the pneumatic, pneumatological, and charismatic elements that together form the Pentecostal imagination.
Holistic spirituality

Adherents and critics of the movement have often described Pentecostalism as a form of spirituality. For Pentecostals, this designation indicates that being Pentecostal is not synonymous with membership in a particular denomination or tradition; doctrines and beliefs are not the only elements that shape the Christian life. For their critics, the description often denotes the more pejorative idea of a movement that lacks the elements commonly attributed to the Christian mainstream. While for Pentecostals, spirituality elevates the movement beyond the denominational, doctrinal, and liturgical patterns of the churches to a movement of universal significance, others see in this designation a lack of behavioural consistency, institutional accountability, and ecclesiastical reputation. In the most basic sense, the tensions surrounding the different perceptions of Pentecostalism are concentrated in two distinct elements: the worldview and spirituality of the charismatic life.
Pentecostal worldview

The worldview of modern-day Pentecostals crystallizes most clearly from their reading of those biblical texts that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit. Classical Pentecostals have typically interpreted the biblical records with particular focus on Luke-Acts, often to explain, justify, and affirm their doctrines and practices but also to come to a self-understanding of the particular features that identify them as Pentecostals in the first place. The Pentecostal reading of the New Testament emphasizes the Spirit-filled life of Jesus and its implications for the Christian life in the form of the so-called fivefold or full gospel that heralds Jesus as saviour, sanctifier, Spirit-baptizer, healer, and coming king.2 In the devotional life and piety as well as theological statements of Pentecostal groups, Jesus is clearly the predominant figure. Yet, while Christ is central to the proclamation of the fivefold gospel, its organizing motif is the work of the Holy Spirit. The events of Pentecost are interpreted through this lens as the instatement of Jesus as the one who baptizes with the Spirit. The entire Christian existence is seen as a consequence of this interpretation and described as a Spirit-baptized life. The worldview of Pentecostals depends overwhelmingly on a recognition of the Spirit’s activity in the world.
The worldview of the Spirit-baptized life embraced by Pentecostals works itself from the centrality of Christ outwards to the church and the world. At Pentecost, Jesus Christ, the messiah anointed with the Holy Spirit, poured out the gift of his Spirit upon all flesh. Luke’s theology of the Spirit in the messianic age is seen as heir to the charismatic theology of the Old Testament while transcending it clearly with the identification of the Spirit itself as the gift of God accompanied by charismatic manifestations.4 Classical Pentecostals typically identify three primary implications of this outpouring, though not always in the same breath: power, mission, and holiness. The detailed formulation of how these matters are connected is the subject of wide-ranging discussions, often cast in the language of a ‘Spirit baptism’ with the evidence of speaking in tongues. At the base of this language is the particular image of the Spirit’s universal outpouring in the form of charismatic manifestations that occupies the central position in the Pentecostal worldview.
Speaking of Spirit baptism as an image of the Pentecostal worldview has several advantages. First and foremost, the notion of a theological image emphasizes the absence of any propositional statement (in the established traditions as well as among Pentecostal pioneers) that would have identified theologically what was happening in modern-day Pentecostalism. Even the biblical records provide no exhaustive data, which allow for congruent formulations that are universally accepted among Pentecostals. Moreover, the idea of Spirit baptism as an image is consistent with the fact that the pneumatological perspective among Pentecostals is a worldview rather than an isolated theological idea. The image of the Spirit-filled life takes the Pentecostal worldview beyond any particular doctrine or theological focus. As an image, Spirit baptism serves as the precognitive motivation for verbal formulations and propositional statements of Pentecostal beliefs.7 Even in the face of disagreeing interpretations, the original image can maintain its motivational power. In this way, Spirit baptism can be seen as the inspiration for a Pentecostal worldview that is still very much in development.
Pentecostal accounts of the world often employ the contrasting language of the natural and supernatural or the ordinary and the miraculous. With this language, Pentecostals draw clear distinctions between the human and the spiritual, the spirit and the flesh, as well as between spirits, human and divine, holy and demonic. While the lines are clearly drawn between these identities, the realms in which they are to be found often overlap. The different streams of Pentecostalism frequently preserve native cosmologies that inspire a rather complex image of the world as a realm where spiritual forces, principalities, and powers are in constant confrontation. The human being is found between Satan and his evil spirits and demons, on the one hand, and the Holy Spirit and angelic forces, on the other hand.9 While good and evil are fundamentally opposed to one another, human beings are subject to the influence of both realms and can, at times, manipulate evil spirits for their purposes. Signs and wonders are immediate representations of the meeting of different realms and signal the spiritual dynamic of the world. For Pentecostals, the baptism in the Spirit stands midway as the meeting of the divine and the human, the immanent and the transcendent, the world and the kingdom of God as it confronts the dominion of Satan. The bursting forth in tongues of thanksgiving, praise, prophecy, or judgment symbolizes the human self-transcendence and bridge-crossing in a spirit-filled worldview.11 The reality of a life in the Spirit therefore necessitates the practice of spiritual discernment. The Pentecostal view of the cosmos is not only a worldview; it is a spirituality.
Pentecostal spirituality

Worldview and spirituality are intimately connected. Yet, the two realms can be related in different ways. In the case of Pentecostalism, to speak of the Pentecostal view of the Spirit-filled life as spirituality is to say that the image of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is distributed affectively. The affections inform, shape, and direct the Pentecostal worldview as not merely an objective understanding of the world but as active involvement in the world’s transformation. Pentecostal spirituality represents not merely a reflective worldview but an active participation in the Spirit who provides the gratitude, compassion, and courage necessary to engage the world in worship, witness, and prayer. From this perspective, a holistic spirituality is seen as a way of relating the Christian being-in-the-world to their knowledge of the world and their actions for the world. Pentecostal spirituality thus brings the Spirit to the centre of understanding human existence.
The Pentecostal view of human existence relates our entire being, knowing, and doing to the presence, power, and person of the Holy Spirit. This holistic spirituality unfolds on three interrelated levels. At its base, the Spirit-filled life is always pneumatic; it is an existence imbued with the person of the Holy Spirit. At this primary level, Pentecostal spirituality is above all experiential, often preceding theoretical and theological reflection. On a second level, the knowledge and interpretation of this experiential existence proceeds pneumatologically; it is always a reflection that pursues an understanding of the world in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit. Participation in the Spirit’s transformation of the world is the inevitable consequence of a pneumatic and pneumatological spirituality. On a third level, this participation is always charismatic; it is carried out by the Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts. The charismata are the corporeal manifestations of the experiential and theological affirmation that life always involves the all-encompassing reality of God’s Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit typically serve as ‘evidence’ of a theological reflection on pneumatic encounters and experiences with the Spirit of God. Ontologically, epistemologically, and existentially, Pentecostalism is defined by a Spirit-centred spirituality.
The charismatic and neo-Pentecostal movements in the global contexts create a particularly vivid picture of a Spirit-centred spirituality. In the charismatic movements of the established Christian traditions, the Pentecostal emphasis on the Spirit-filled life has found deep connections with the mystical and pietistic traditions. In the neo-charismatic and neo-Pentecostal communities, Pentecostal spirituality reflects a Spirit-oriented worldview already explicit in most societies. Particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where these streams of Pentecostalism are the most prevalent, the emphasis on a holistic spirituality is firmly established in every aspect of personal, communal, cultural, and religious life.16 Pentecostal spirituality in these contexts is perhaps best described as an emphasis on encounter. The predominance of the human encounter with God has revitalized the spiritual teachings and experiential emphasis of the established Christian traditions and shaped the image of the church as a charismatic fellowship. In the global contexts of the many independent and indigenous churches, this emphasis has left many of the already existing spiritual traditions and practices intact albeit now redirected through its emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the centrality of Jesus Christ. The meeting of different spiritual traditions is manifested in the variety of manifestations of the Spirit-filled life. While a holistic spirituality forms the necessary response to the Pentecostal worldview, it is the charismatic life where both realms meet.
The charismatic life

Pentecostal worldview and spirituality should not be seen as isolated from each other. The interpretation of the world as a spiritual realm bears immediate consequences for human participation in this reality. For Pentecostals, the Christian life in a world occupied by satanic and demonic principalities and powers exhibits in sharp contrast the character of a life redeemed by Christ and empowered by the Spirit of God. In this cosmological framework, Pentecostal spirituality directs a person from mere interpretation of the world to participation in the world. More precisely, the purpose of the Christian life is a participation in God’s transformation of the world through the outpouring of his Spirit. Above all, Pentecostals stress the significance in this process of the Spirit’s self-bestowal on the believer that is evident in the manifestation of spiritual gifts.
The elevation of spiritual gifts by Pentecostals in the twentieth century came at a time of widespread cessationism—the notion that spiritual gifts were limited to the age of the earliest Christians and thereafter ceased to exist. In contrast, Pentecostals lament that cessationism has led to an abandonment of a holistic spirituality and the suppression of the charismata. The consequences are evident in a dramatic decline of spirituality in its pneumatic, pneumatological, and charismatic dimensions of Christian spirituality. While Pentecostals may not see charismatic manifestations as a measurement directly reflecting a person’s spirituality, they would emphasize that it is precisely in the exercise of spiritual gifts that the transformation of the world occurs.19 The gifts of the Spirit serve the edification of the church, the proclamation of the gospel, and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. The bestowal of these gifts is not seen as unique to the biblical Pentecostal community or to modern-day Pentecostals but rather as a normal and normative element of the Christian life endowed with the Holy Spirit. Christian beliefs and practices are transformed by the presence and activity of the Spirit and thereby more deliberately and actively participate in the story of God in the last days.
Most Pentecostal accounts of spiritual gifts point to the nine charismata listed in 1 Cor. 12:4–11, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Other treatments include Rom. 12:6–8 and its emphasis on prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, mercy, and cheerfulness as well as the institutional gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers noted in Eph. 4:11. Few Pentecostals would see these lists as exhaustive of the charismata active in the church today but rather as representative of any number of other potential manifestations of the interpenetration of the divine and the created realms.22 The exercise of spiritual gifts ultimately emerges from the fusion of the worldview and spirituality that form their root and motivation. As a result, the practice of spiritual gifts differs widely in the various streams of Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, the image of Spirit baptism at the juncture of understanding and participating in the world marks the core event of experiencing the Holy Spirit that moves the believer into charismatic manifestations. Although the exercise of spiritual gifts can be cultivated, the number and occasion of these gifts is attributed to the sovereign direction of the Spirit in the particular community or context for which they are intended. The charismata are the gifts of the kingdom of God—different gifts from the same Spirit, different forms of service under the same Lord, different works but from the same God for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:4–7). Heralding the coming of the kingdom of God, the charismatic manifestations in the realm of the already approaching but not yet fully realized kingdom are limited only by the extent to which the divine reign is not yet completely realized in the world. In the worldview of Pentecostalism, the potential for the manifestations of the charismatic life is thus practically limitless.
Charismatic extremism

The charismatic manifestations and display of spiritual gifts among modern-day Pentecostals has always been subject to severe criticism. From the beginning of the movement, Pentecostals were recognized primarily for their outward display of physical manifestations. The neglect of the charismatic life in the established churches quickly painted the Pentecostal movement in the colours of an extremist religious sect. In most quarters, the Pentecostal movement was virtually synonymous with the so-called ‘tongues movement’. Glossolalia, divine healing, prophecy, and exorcism are among the most prominent elements labelled as extremes. Contemporary observations and evaluations of the movement have focused almost exclusively on these outward manners and charismatic practices and therein quickly found examples of excessive behaviour often interpreted as the radical, spurious, and unorthodox examples of a misguided religious group.
The disapproval of dancing, jumping, shouting, and other emotional outbursts that accompanied the revivalism of previous centuries are today often in the same tone also applied to the activities and practices of modern-day Pentecostals. In many parts of the world, individuals, groups, and churches of the emergent Pentecostal movement were at times violently persecuted by other Christians and non-Christians, while the criticism in the Western world today tends to be carried out largely on verbal and intellectual terms.26 The immediate strong reactions to the birth of classical Pentecostalism subsided somewhat as Pentecostals began to move into more prominent roles in the West, yet criticism has exploded again with the rise of the Charismatic Movements and the neo-Pentecostal groups since the second half of the twentieth century. Many of the concerns come from outsiders of the movements, who observe Pentecostals with particular interest in the ritual, spiritual, and psychological dimensions of the charismatic life. At the same time, varied practices as well as new and unusual forms of charismatic manifestations have also caused divisions within Pentecostal groups. The results are twofold: most visibly, the Charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic Church shed its original designation as ‘Catholic Pentecostals’ in favour of ‘Charismatic Movement’. This division was accompanied by similar criticism among many classical Pentecostals who often reject the beliefs, practices, rituals, and manifestations attributed to the new revivals in the established mainstream traditions as aberrations of the movement’s origins. Less visible is also the group of former adherents to the various streams of Pentecostalism who left the movement disappointed, hurt, or confused. The external critique and internal divisions shed clear light on the excessive charismatic manifestations that some attribute without exception to all parts of the Pentecostal movement.
External critique

Sustained observations and substantive criticism of the Pentecostal manifestation of charismata comes predominantly from other Christian groups. With the rise of modern-day Pentecostalism, the movement was quickly nicknamed ‘tongue talkers’ and ‘holy rollers’ or in sharper terms identified as heretical, regressive, divisive, escapist, deranged, and demonized. Pentecostal services were described as a ‘pandemonium’ and ‘madhouse’ of the psychologically unstable.28 Many labelled the movement as inhabited by a ‘spirit of confusion’ resulting from fundamentalist attitudes, rampant sectarianism, anti-intellectualism, cultural opposition, and its lower-working-class environment. Some identified Pentecostalism more sharply as ‘the handmaiden of apostasy and the servant of the Antichrist’30 blamed on a false interpretation of history, a weakness of human experience, and a departure from divine revelation. Others have attacked the character of the Pentecostal revivals in general and identified them as counterfeits, fabrications, lies, fantasies, hypnotism, and fraud. Few of these accusations engage directly with Pentecostal worldview or spirituality, but most if not all draw implications for both realms from the observations of the movement’s charismatic manifestations.
A popular study of excessive Pentecostal practices labelled the movement a ‘charismatic chaos’ characterized by the ostensibly undirected, disorganized, misinformed, and undisciplined practices of spiritual gifts. This unfriendly assessment derives from an accumulation of numerous case studies of often bizarre and scurrilous events attributed to the various streams of Pentecostalism, particularly the Charismatic Movement and the ‘third-wave’ neo-Pentecostal groups. These accounts portray Pentecostals as aggressively pursuing ‘ecstatic experiences, mystical phenomena, miraculous powers, and supernatural wonders—while tending to under-emphasize the traditional means of spiritual growth’.33 During the first half of the twentieth century, speaking in tongues almost always occupied the centre of attention, and the so-called ‘gibberish’ was widely heralded as a result of various degrees of mental instability ranging from mob psychology to hypnotism and demon-possession. Since then, interest in the manifestation of glossolalia has ebbed in many circles, and other more spectacular events have come to represent Pentecostalism in popular perception.
Popular illustrations of Pentecostal extremism include the so-called laughing revivals of Pensacola, Florida, or Toronto, Canada, which exhibited unusual physical manifestations such as falling to the ground, uncontrollable loud laughter, intense weeping, and even animal sounds, as well as spiritual ‘drunkenness’ often resulting in uncontrolled movements, intense shaking, jerking, and rolling on the floor. Critics view these displays less as a manifestation of spiritual gifts than of spiritual delusion and desperation manifested in a contradiction of biblical patterns and resistance to biblical scrutiny, bewilderment, lack of control, inebriation, irreverence, indecency, false teachings, women in leadership, and ecumenical zeal.36 Even the more conservative treatments of these revivals describe the more spectacular elements as a mixed blessing and a subtle shift away from sound doctrine, an emphasis on manifestations of the Spirit rather than the centrality of Christ.
External criticism has generally described Pentecostalism as a ‘charismatic calamity’ readily seen at the meetings of ‘wild-eyed fanatics screaming and shouting’, people falling to the ground ‘struck by the Spirit’, with faces in ‘frenzied agony’, and all in all ‘skipping the basics’ of proper Christian behaviour. ‘Confusion’ is the general trademark of Pentecostalism resulting almost exclusively from what is seen as erroneous and misplaced charismatic practices and beliefs.39 Although the charismatic life is considered a significant component of contemporary Christianity by all but the most stringent cessationists, Pentecostals provide numerous popular examples of an obsession with the spiritual, miraculous, and sensational that stand in sharp contrast to the expectations and established practices of the mainstream Christian traditions. In these highly visible areas of the Christian life, the reconciliation of Pentecostalism with orthodox Christianity seems virtually impossible.
Internal controversy

Pentecostals have also been plagued by internal divisions and controversy over charismatic manifestations. While many of the debates can be cast in the form of theological disputes, the controversies typically emerged primarily from different practices and interpretations of the charismatic life. After all, it was the common experience of speaking in tongues that bound the early Pentecostals together and allowed them to identify with each other as a larger religious movement. However, the emphasis on speaking in tongues differs among Pentecostal groups, and the addition of different streams of the movement has contributed to a diversity of practices that has led to an atmosphere of suspicion. Criticism arose early between members of the same stream, for example on the question of the relationship of tongues and Spirit baptism among classical Pentecostals, and between the adherents of different streams, particularly between classical Pentecostals and later Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal forms of the movement.
Among the pioneers of classical Pentecostalism, a practice soon developed that identified the speaking in tongues and its interpretation as ‘messages’ that could be utilized to receive personal and communal guidance. This practice was widely known as ‘inquiring of the Lord’ and served as means to affirm or discourage directions but in some groups was also used to legitimize particular teachings and actions. In these factions, the speaking in tongues and especially the much rarer gift of interpretation became professionalized, reproduced, and routinized at the hands of some individuals and groups seeking authority by appealing to divine revelation. In response, the practice of tongues and interpretation as the preferred means for teaching and discernment was rejected by other Pentecostal leaders.41 The abuse of these practices has caused division and strife between leaders and congregations and has divided the movement along the lines of factions that either endorse or reject the practice of speaking in tongues as primary means of decision-making.
The internal critique of excessive use of some spiritual gifts has surfaced among Pentecostals most prominently in the form of the debate about tongues as the so-called ‘initial evidence’ of Spirit baptism. While this teaching emerged as early as 1901 among the revivals that marked the beginning of classical Pentecostalism, the debate has continued throughout the movement and gained new impetus with the emergence of neo-Pentecostals, or ‘Third Wavers’, many of which refuse to even adopt the label ‘Pentecostal’. This stream of the movement rejects the classical Pentecostal position of tongues as the biblical evidence that initially accompanies the post-conversion experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. In turn, classical Pentecostals criticize the lack of emphasis on glossolalia as a reduction of the charismatic manifestations to a mere potential openness that robs the Christian life of the assurance of divine power.43 To each side, the other represents an excessive position, whether overemphasis or neglect, on the role of the charismatic manifestations.
For the one side, the emphasis on tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism easily leads to abuse in granting glossolalia a privileged place among the charismata that cannot be generalized for all Christians. Examples of this position include the countless seekers who never find the ability to speak in tongues, despite earnestly desiring the gift, or the superficial practice of repetitively speaking in syllables of a made-up language and accepting it as divine speech. The routinization of spiritual gifts in the Charismatic Movement has been attributed to the influence of hierarchical leadership, liturgical patterns of the mother church, and the widely disseminated patterns of do-it-yourself charismatic practices. For the other side, the neglect of tongues leads to an equation of Spirit baptism with conversion and effectively obliterates the experiential dimension of the central Pentecostal conviction from the Christian life. Classical Pentecostals remain sceptical of associating Spirit baptism too closely with the sacramental life instead of a second and definitive crisis moment following conversion, and fault the Charismatic Movements for the neglect of glossolalia among many new Pentecostal streams.
Overall, what some Pentecostals understand as normative manifestations of charismata others have described as a ‘charismania’. The amount or intensity of the display of spiritual gifts is certainly a chief concern among Pentecostals. On the other hand, similar controversies have emerged where charismatic practices engage native spiritualities in forms that are perceived by some as syncretistic behaviours. These controversies are particularly loud in Asian, African, and Latin American Pentecostalism. The so-called Spirit churches in Africa, for example, represent to many adherents of the older Pentecostal churches the character of a religion unduly penetrated by expressions of the spirit world that are more reminiscent of African spirituality than of Christianity.47 Many practices of Pentecostal groups in Africa are seen as a mere reflection of traditional anti-witchcraft movements, spirit-possession cults, and demonic-deliverance mechanisms. Similar criticism appears throughout Asia particularly at the less nuanced forms of syncretism; for example, the slaughter of animals at religious ceremonies, prayer to ancestral spirits, or pagan dance rituals, are practised by some Pentecostal groups in the Philippines.49 The influence of shamanism on parts of Korean Pentecostalism has led for some to a confusion of shamanic ideas of spirit possession and the Pentecostal notion of Spirit baptism. Pentecostal groups in Japan have been accused of adapting Pentecostal charismatic practices to Japanese folk religion and ancestral cult.51 These examples illustrate the tensions inherent in Pentecostalism and its diverse representations as a global and historical movement. Internal controversies tend to connect charismatic practices more immediately with Pentecostal beliefs, worldview, and doctrine. Nonetheless, the extreme positions emphasize the importance of spirituality and worldview in the same breath with the experiential and corporeal nature of the Christian life. While these dimensions may not be easily reconciled, they form the unavoidable dimensions of a complex imagination unique to the Pentecostal movement.
The Pentecostal imagination

The characterization of certain manifestations of the charismatic life as ‘excessive’ should not give the impression that these manifestations are to be excluded from the image of modern-day Pentecostalism, that they are unwarranted surplus of a movement that otherwise could be classified as ‘moderate’. Excessive practice can be seen in both too much and too little emphasis on the charismatic life, depending on one’s point of view. Removing these realities as simply disproportionate from the characterization of Pentecostalism would paint a picture of the movement that is unrealistic, at best, and misleading, at worst. Unlike most other Christian traditions that exist on a narrower range of ‘orthodox’ beliefs and practices, the experiential orientation of Pentecostalism locates the movement on a much broader playing field. The breadth of charismatic experiences among Pentecostals is typically attributed to particular psychological characteristics. The psychology of religion has followed modern-day Pentecostalism and paints an insightful picture of contrasting interpretations of the movement that underscore the need for a comprehensive and unbiased picture of the charismatic life.
Psychology of religion

The approach to Pentecostalism from the psychology of religion demonstrates the difficulty of attempting to characterize the movement in any unilateral manner that too easily dismisses the excessive elements. Psychological research at the beginning of modern-day Pentecostalism can be readily identified as hostile to the movement. During this phase, charismatic manifestations among Pentecostals were viewed as abnormal behaviour and expressions of pathological phenomena and mental disorders such as schizophrenia, hysteria, neuroticism, regression, or emotional instability.54 The chief object of these assessments was clearly the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. Many studies of this phase were not substantiated by empirical data; nonetheless they created lasting stereotypes.56 Casting Pentecostalism under the dominance of abnormal psychology, the entire movement was generally dismissed as excessive.
However, in the 1960s, a friendlier period emerged that virtually overturned the results of the hostile phase. Pentecostals were now portrayed as psychologically stable, in many regards more so than the general population, with lower values in hostility, psychoticism, depression, submissiveness, and self-esteem. Explicit use of data now showed Pentecostals in a much more favourable light, and what was initially dismissed as excessive must now be considered essential to the dynamics and structures of Pentecostal religiosity. What is overshadowed by the initial reductive approach to Pentecostalism is the foundational question of what exactly constitutes the inherent motivation of the Pentecostal understanding of and participation in the world. The stimulus of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview was either dismissed or neglected.
The history of approaches to Pentecostalism from the psychology of religion shows that value judgments based on exogenous causes and consequences have influenced the interpretation of the movement in a far less objective and unbiased manner. In addition, the predominant occupation with exogenous psychological factors has largely suppressed the investigation of endogenous psychological structures and dynamics.60 A fruitful but hitherto largely unexplored venue exists in examining Pentecostalism precisely in the core dimensions of religiosity: Pentecostal ideology, intellect, experience, public and private practices. These dimensions seek to understand Pentecostalism from the content of the movement itself and open the field to other disciplines of study. In this young and promising approach to discover the heart of what motivates Pentecostals, the emphasis on the Holy Spirit remains the most central explanatory element.
Identifying the Holy Spirit as the central motivation of Pentecostals is perhaps the most basic feature of endogenous Pentecostal dynamics, but it is also the most contested feature and offers little explanatory power for the divergent range of charismatic manifestations and their interpretations. Nonetheless, the emphasis on the Spirit suggests that operative within Pentecostals is a fundamental engagement of the world that can best be described as an orientation toward the Spirit. This orientation derives fundamentally from Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. Rather than constituting a certain knowledge or understanding of the world, Pentecostalism purports a spirituality—an affective disposition, an aesthetic, and a way of experiencing the world—that is derived from and oriented toward the Spirit in often pre-cognitive, inarticulate, and unstructured ways. In short, the most basic endogenous feature of Pentecostalism is a Spirit-driven imagination.
The Pentecostal imagination

The notion of Spirit baptism is the typical formulation given by Pentecostals to describe their Spirit-driven imagination. This image points to the centrality of the Spirit in any attempt to comprehend the range of the Spirit-filled life and its outward manifestations. The Spirit-driven imagination among Pentecostals operates on the three interrelated dimensions of pneumatic activity, pneumatological reflection, and charismatic practice. These dimensions form the foundation for understanding the significant breadth of manifestations of the Spirit-filled life among Pentecostals. While the Pentecostal imagination operates always on all three dimensions, a closer look at each dynamic offers further explanation of the diverse range of expressions and charismatic manifestations among the movement worldwide.
The Pentecostal imagination is pneumatic in the sense that it originates from specific encounters with the Holy Spirit. Such encounters, traditionally captured by the Pentecostal notion of Spirit baptism, are responsible for directing a person toward greater sensitivity for the spiritual dimension of life. The result is an awareness of the various ‘spirits’ operating in the world—divine, human, natural, demonic, or other powers, forces, and energies—a recognition of the influence these spirits have on all things, and a sensitivity for the intricate relationship of spiritual powers and forces in which human beings find themselves in the world.65 The pneumatic dimension sets the Pentecostal imagination immediately in the framework of participation in the reality of the diverse spiritual powers that precedes deliberate reflection and can subject a person not only to the divine but also the demonic or other influences. Pentecostals have variously described participation in the pneumatic reality in terms of the militaristic language of ‘spiritual warfare’ and more recently as ‘power encounters.’67 The Spirit-driven imagination points to the necessity of confrontation with the spiritual world through engagement in spiritual discernment, deliverance, and exorcism. Originating as a pneumatic activity, Pentecostal spirituality highlights the demand for immediate pneumatological reflection. The potential distance between participation and reflection opens up the Christian life to the contrasting range of influence of spiritual forces and powers.
The Pentecostal imagination is pneumatological in the sense that it is an ‘action-reflection in the Spirit’. Derived from the challenges of immediate participation, the desire for a genuine experience of the divine elevates attention to the Holy Spirit to the inescapable condition for a sensitivity to all spiritual powers and forces. The pneumatological dimension combines participation with perception on the two fundamental levels of discernment and engagement of the world and transcends a mere ‘worldviewing’ reflection toward a ‘worldmaking’ activity. This action-reflection means that the perception of the spiritual world is always a rigorous and challenging engagement of the diverse manifestations of that reality.70 Pentecostals often attend in a common-sense oriented way to questions of character, communication, and content, relying on Scripture, hierarchical structures of authority, and social context for discerning spiritual phenomena. At the same time, the pneumatological imagination proceeds also in transrational ways that have not been charted clearly.72 It is perhaps more accurate to speak of the perception of spirits as also a penetration of spiritual powers and forces. This interpenetration exposes a person not only to the contrast of the radical otherness of the self and the demonic or divine but also to the radical engagement in these pneumatic dimensions. Even on this level, the Pentecostal imagination remains largely experiential and affective in its intention to grasp the divine reality and its counterparts. The ongoing demand of this dynamic but fragmentary procedure leads, naturally, to questions of the endowment or ability of a person to engage in such action-reflection. In other words, the Pentecostal imagination is also a charismatic activity.
The Pentecostal imagination is charismatic in the sense that it is a spiritual activity of human and divine co-operation mediated through the gifts of the Spirit. Participation in and perception of the spiritual dimensions of life are both a human ability and a divine gift that are manifested in concrete events. Put differently, as charismatic activity the Pentecostal imagination is always the practice of participating in and perceiving the Spirit-filled life. Originating from specific encounters with the Holy Spirit, the Pentecostal life is practised explicitly through the gifts of the Spirit. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, divine healing, exorcism, interpretation of tongues, words of wisdom and knowledge, and the less spectacular charismata of teaching, leadership, ministry, exhortation, and others are the concrete practices of the Spirit in and through individuals and communities that are intended to bring about discernment, correction, reconciliation, and healing. The charismatic dimension is not simply a performance of the imagination but the occasion where a person engaged in the spiritual life is transformed by the divine power of the Spirit to disengage from the demonic and to participate in the divine.
As participation in the divine, spiritual gifts are the immediate, often pre-cognitive, pneumatic manifestations of the power of the Spirit. At the same time, the manifestation of the charismata also serves the perception of the divine presence and activity in the world. In other words, the Pentecostal imagination is perceptive of the spiritual reality while it participates in the spiritual life. However, as a spiritual practice, the manifestation of the charismata is also cultivated and preserved in a variety of micro- and macro-rituals among Pentecostal groups. This cultivation of charismatic rites both confirms and invites the participation in the divine nature. Yet, the liturgical sensibilities among Pentecostals are less performative, institutional, and structural than in the established liturgical traditions and tend toward a more playful character marked by the freedom and enthusiasm of the moment.76 In this way, the charismatic practice can in turn influence the pneumatological perception of the spiritual dimensions of life and one’s participation in the spiritual powers and forces. The result is a further expansion of the range of endogenous structures and dynamics that explain exogenous causes and consequences even if they do not justify them.
This interpenetration of participation, perception, and practice characterizes the Pentecostal imagination as that inherent motivation that is largely responsible for the wide range of charismatic expressions among Pentecostal groups. For Pentecostals, the charismata are essential and not accidental to the Spirit-filled life. To limit the range of charismatic expressions would inherently alter the character of Pentecostalism. Put differently, the Pentecostal movement is the tension between holistic spirituality and the range of its charismatic manifestations.
The range of spiritual gifts and their expressions in the public and private life cannot be compromised when we talk about modern-day Pentecostalism. Excessive charismatic manifestations are the unavoidable characteristics of a movement that is limitless in its worldview and spirituality and that pursues the Spirit-driven life with all the powers of the imagination.


Ecumenical ethos and denominationalism
The Pentecostal movement is not easily placed among the Christian churches. On the one hand, Pentecostalism is often seen as a Free Church movement characterized by rampant denominationalism, non-denominational splinter-groups, as well as internal and external tendencies toward segregation. Concerns for the unity of the Christian household and the fellowship of the churches—an ambition summarized in the terms ‘ecumenism’ or ‘ecumenical’—are difficult topics among Pentecostals. On the other hand, Pentecostals have become a driving force in the ecumenical movement since, at least, the late twentieth century. Unlike many existing churches and denominations that originated in deliberate response to splits and separations resulting from doctrinal and practical differences, Pentecostal communities worldwide often did not organize or institutionalize in deliberate patterns. Instead, Pentecostal churches, assemblies, fellowships, and smaller groups have emerged in both continuity and discontinuity with various existing doctrines, practices, rituals, disciplines, spiritualities, and institutions. The resulting character of Pentecostalism does not readily form a homogeneous ecumenical picture. The Pentecostal movement is an ecumenical melting pot.
The present chapter traces the development of ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals worldwide and brings into dialogue the tensions between the ecumenical ethos and denominationalism among Pentecostals. The task of this chapter is to explain the various factors that have contributed to the confusing ecumenical identity of Pentecostals and to portray the current shift in attitude among Pentecostals toward the pursuit of Christian unity. The goal of this chapter is to outline a way in which Pentecostalism can be understood amidst the landscape of churches and denominations today. The most promising path in this situation remains the characterization of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’. In order to outline this path, the first section provides a brief history of Pentecostal endeavours to establish and maintain Christian unity. The second section paints in broad strokes the denominational picture of Pentecostal divisions and offers a characterization of the divisive elements of the movement. In the final section, the identification of Pentecostalism as a movement is upheld as a fruitful way to speak of the unity of Pentecostals worldwide amidst the tensions Pentecostals bring to the ecumenical life of the churches.
Pentecostals and Christian unity

The first major study and still the standard of research on the modern-day Pentecostal movement surprised with the assessment that ecumenical endeavours form a central ‘root’ of Pentecostalism. The shared experience of the Holy Spirit among Pentecostals pioneers motivated an ecumenical optimism, which saw the Pentecostal movement as participating in God’s activity in the last days that would bring unity to the churches. Popular labels for the movement, such as ‘Pentecostal’, ‘Apostolic Faith’, or ‘Latter Rain’, were seen as ecumenical titles commonly used by the groups to express their continuity with the history and mission of the church and their eschatological expectation of a forthcoming universal restoration of God’s people.4 The diverse Pentecostal groups are linked together by a central emphasis on the events of the day of Pentecost that ultimately point forward to the unity of all believers in the kingdom of God.
Pentecostal pioneers across the globe reflected this ecumenical hope from the beginning in often pragmatic ways. In North America, one of the earliest Pentecostal groups was named ‘Christian Union’ to reflect the true intention of the revival. In the influential paper of the Azusa Street Mission, The Apostolic Faith, pastor William J. Seymour declared that the Pentecostal movement stood clearly for ‘Christian Unity everywhere’. Frank Bartleman, a similarly important figure of early Pentecostal history in North America, declared unambiguously, ‘There can be no divisions in a true Pentecost. To formulate a separate body is but to advertise our failure as a people of God.’7 Thomas B. Barratt, who carried the Pentecostal revival to several Scandinavian countries, envisioned Pentecostalism as the ‘Very Revival Christ had in His mind when He prayed that all His disciples might be one.’ Gerrit R. Polman, a pioneer of the Dutch Pentecostal movement, admonished sternly: ‘The purpose of the Pentecostal revival is not to build up a church, but to build up all churches.’9 Ecumenical conversations were encouraged by well-known Pentecostal leaders in the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and other nations. While the body of opinion in the Pentecostal movement included also frequent ambivalence and opposition to ecumenical ties with existing churches,11 Pentecostals saw themselves overwhelmingly as an ecumenical movement.
The force of these ecumenical convictions is closely related to the revivals that occurred in broad ecumenical contexts during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe. The rise of the ecumenical movement since the World Missionary Conference in 1910 and the ecumenical embeddedness of the charismatic renewal in the established churches contributed significantly to Pentecostal participation in ecumenical affairs. Across the European continent, and later also in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, positive ecumenical attitudes frequently resulted from the encouragement of foreign missionaries and the international and interdenominational origins of the Pentecostal pioneers themselves. The Pentecostal movement emerged as an ecumenical melting pot of existing doctrinal traditions, organizational structures, liturgical practices, national and local ecclesiastical cultures, and spiritualities. Today’s ecumenical landscape shows with clarity that the ecumenical root of Pentecostalism produced significant fruit throughout the movement. A brief survey shows the extent of Pentecostal participation in ecumenical conversations.
Global ecumenical conversations

Pentecostals are participating in a variety of ecumenical conversations, often on the grassroots level but also in regional, national, and international contexts. In many places across the global South, Pentecostalism represents a particular challenge to the older historic churches. Ecumenical conversations in these countries often result from co-operation with existing national forums and organizations but also depend on the personal commitment of pastors and ministers.13 In the West, the dominant form of ecumenical relations is conciliar institutional dialogue, and Pentecostals have entered into several official discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Fellowship, the Baptist World Alliance, and other Protestant organizations.
A particularly strong ecumenical commitment among Latin American Pentecostal churches since the 1960s has contributed to the formation of significant ecumenical institutions such as the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), the all-Latin American Pentecostal Encounters (EPLA), and the Latin American Evangelical Pentecostal Commission (CEPLA). Many Pentecostals are active participants in the Evangelical Service for Ecumenical Development (SEPADE), the Evangelical Union of Latin America (UNELAM), the Evangelical Christian Aid (ACE), and other ecumenical organizations. Several of these fellowships have organized or assisted Pentecostal meetings at the national level in countries across Central and South America. Pentecostal consultations have also been convened by the World Council of Churches in various Latin American countries.14 Nonetheless, these national organizations have not always been successful in bringing Pentecostals across the continent to the ecumenical table. Pentecostal participation still depends heavily on grassroots efforts. This scenario is symptomatic for other parts of the ecumenical world.
National conversations and ecumenical organizations have undergone a number of transitions especially in North America and Europe. In order to bridge the divisions between churches historically associated with the National Council of Churches and communities not so aligned, Pentecostals have led the formation of the joint fellowship of Christian Churches Together in the USA in 2001. The first Pentecostal church became a member of the European Council of Churches in 1984. Three years later the Pentecostal European Fellowship was established. The significant growth and expansion of the charismatic movement has further contributed to a number of national dialogues involving Pentecostal churches throughout Europe. The initially racially and doctrinally exclusive Pentecostal Fellowship of North America was replaced in 1994 by Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America, which includes African American Pentecostals. Black Pentecostals and churches have gradually entered the ecumenical landscape, although many of them do not yet visibly participate in established conciliar dialogues.18 Similar efforts to engage in ecumenical endeavours are undertaken in Africa and Asia, particularly in countries that increasingly serve as the host of international ecumenical dialogues.
The extent of ecumenical co-operation among Pentecostals is still virtually unknown in many circles in and beyond the Pentecostal movement. The heart of these activities is often found among individuals and small groups dedicated to the ecumenical and Pentecostal ethos. Ecumenical conversations originate mostly on an informal level and often remain undeveloped, since official ecumenical dialogues demand institutional, administrative, financial, and logistic resources that the Pentecostal movement does not yet possess. Official ecumenical dialogues form the more visible side of Pentecostal participation in establishing and maintaining Christian unity. Nonetheless, the diverse character of the Pentecostal movement points increasingly in a direction of personal and informal conversations as a means to increase global participation in the ecumenical life.
International ecumenical dialogues

Pentecostals are participating in a small but significant number of official ecumenical dialogues. The most significant long-term commitment is doubtlessly the international Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue. The renewal of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II, strong institutional support for ecumenical dialogue, the rise of the Charismatic Movement, and the increasing visibility of Pentecostalism worldwide have led to consistent meetings since 1972. The make-up of the Pentecostal community has changed dramatically over the course of the conversations that address a large number of topics of mutual concern such as Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts, Christian initiation, and worship, Scripture and tradition, faith and reason, speaking in tongues, divine healing, the role of Mary, the church, the sacraments, the communion of saints, evangelization, proselytism, common witness, and most recently conversations on faith and Christian initiation, Christian formation and discipleship, as well as experience and spirituality. Although these conversations have been met with criticism and scepticism on both sides, the meetings and reports have significantly strengthened the ties between Pentecostals and Catholics.22 Most significantly, the fellowship has helped Pentecostals understand their own identity, sharpening and reaffirming their ecumenical commitment, and leading to dialogue with other churches.
Similarly influential and controversial has been the increasing involvement of Pentecostal groups in the World Council of Churches. Since the 1970s Pentecostalism has moved into the field of vision of many member churches, and the Consultation on the Significance of the Charismatic Renewal for the Churches brought Pentecostal concerns to the centre floor of discussion. Concentrated efforts to involve Pentecostals in the work of the Council have significantly advanced mutual co-operation, although most Pentecostal churches are not holding official membership status. Today, Pentecostals have been fully integrated in the work of the Commission on Faith and Order and participate in national and international meetings and conferences. A Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals has contributed further to establishing close ties. Pentecostals participate in more than 40 national councils of churches.24 These visible forms of ecumenical co-operation gradually overcome existing stereotypes and help build an ecumenical infrastructure for Pentecostal participation. Nonetheless, the interaction between the diverse constituencies continues to present various complicated challenges to both sides.
Mutual efforts to strengthen ecumenical ties with other traditions have also led to official dialogue between Pentecostals and the World Council of Reformed Churches since 1996. With the experience gained from the Pentecostal-Roman Catholic dialogue, these new conversations quickly focused on mature theological themes such as the relationship between the Word and the Holy Spirit, the church and the world, worship, discipleship, community, and justice. Similar conversations with the Lutheran World Federation since 2005 have led to official discussions on encountering Christ in the churches. In contrast to other dialogues, conversations are less concerned with discussions of doctrine than with allowing space for a genuine expression of faith, a form of conversation more genuine to Pentecostal experience. The interaction with concerns of Christian experience have allowed for genuine explorations of an encounter with Christ in worship, proclamation, sacraments, and spiritual gifts. Initial stages of informal conversations not yet fully developed also exist between Pentecostals and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Mennonite World Conference, and the Salvation Army.
While formal conversations and institutional dialogues continue to develop, much of the ecumenical atmosphere increasingly draws attention to informal and personal meetings that are perceived as less invasive and more genuine to the practices and sensitivities of the participating traditions. The most recent among those initiatives is the Global Christian Forum, an ecumenical gathering originating in 1998 and striking a chord rapidly among all Christian traditions, including Pentecostals. Unlike established formally organized conciliar dialogues, these conversations consist of a sharing of testimonies and establishing personal relationships. Doctrinal agreement and organizational unity are not in the immediate purview of the forum. Rather more modest goals exist to contribute to mutual understanding, to encourage communication, to overcome existing stereotypes, and to build up ecumenical communion. Pentecostal participation in the forum and its leadership is forming a new kind of ecumenical environment that challenges the format of traditional bilateral conversations and the lack of informal opportunities for intimate ecumenical relationships. The international make-up of the forum parallels the dramatic shift of the centre of Christianity worldwide toward the East and the global South. The informal environment and testimonial conversations are more consistent with Pentecostal forms of self-expression and promise to engage a greater Pentecostal constituency in the future. While Pentecostalism has from the outset been an ecumenical movement, the contours, organizational and institutional shape of ecumenical fellowship with Pentecostals is still very much in development.
Denominationalism and separatism

Conflict and dissension belong to the ecumenical picture of the history of the church. Neither biblical texts nor historical records show evidence of a ‘clean’ ecumenism—a unity of the churches that exists without dispute and disagreement. Christian unity exists always amidst the struggle for fellowship and communion. The modern-day Pentecostal movement is no exception. Hence, the ecumenical efforts among Pentecostals are overshadowed by concerns for organization and structure, and it is difficult to speak in ecumenical perspective of a single, unified Pentecostal movement. Attempts to identify and categorize the churches, assemblies, fellowships, communities, societies, alliances, associations, missions, crusades, conferences, and other bodies generally identified as ‘Pentecostal’ face the uneasy task of dealing with the distinctions made among Pentecostals between classical Pentecostal groups, the Charismatic Movement, and neo-Pentecostalism, as well as the broader distinctions between Pentecostals that have formed denominational patterns similar to other Protestant traditions and the overwhelming number of independent congregations. The number of independent fellowships is particularly staggering in the developing countries of the global South.29 The World Christian Database lists almost 2,500 denominations as ‘Pentecostal’ and often associates these groups with different headings in different countries, categorizing some as Protestant in North America but as Independent in Africa or Latin America. Many Pentecostal groups carry the same name, featuring with particular prominence the title ‘Assemblies of God’, ‘Church of God’, or a variation of the term ‘Pentecostal’—despite often considerable differences in doctrine and practice. The still largely uncharted terrain of Pentecostal denominationalism has contributed to stereotyping the Pentecostal movement as inherently divisive and opposed to efforts that establish and maintain the unity of the churches.
Ecumenical exclusivism and anonymous ecumenism

The reasons for denominationalism and separatism among Pentecostals are complex. The worldwide expansion and growth of the Pentecostal movement quickly led to concerns for the coherence and preservation of the movement itself that overshadowed interests in ecumenical relations. Organizational patterns and institutional examples were readily found in other Christian traditions but were often viewed with scepticism or outright rejection by those who had been former members. The rise of the charismatic and neo-Pentecostal groups further adds to debates about the nature and purpose of the movement worldwide. The result is a focus on matters of self-interest and essential concerns for the organization and structural composition of Pentecostalism, or rather of particular Pentecostal groups, that suppress active participation in matters of Christian unity.
The popular perception of ecumenical practices held by many Pentecostals is characterized by frequent ambivalence. Responsible for this attitude is a widespread misunderstanding of the goals and intentions of ecumenism, a lack of awareness of the ecumenical heritage among Pentecostals, low participation of Pentecostal leadership in official ecumenical endeavours, organizational disadvantages of the diverse and pluralistic landscape of Pentecostal churches, the absence of institutional support and umbrella organizations to initiate and sustain ecumenical activities, and a consequential lack of resources for ecumenical formation.32 On the other hand, obstacles to further ecumenical growth are also brought to Pentecostals from the outside. Many non-Pentecostal traditions display unfamiliarity with and scepticism toward ecumenical relations. Accusations of a lack of theological depth, overzealous emotionalism, aggressive evangelism, proselytism, liturgical impoverishment, institutional ineffectiveness, and unorthodox doctrines are just a few of the stereotypes that prevent the development of a more positive ecumenical climate. As a result, much of ecumenical groundwork is spent in repairing damaged relations, dismantling stereotypes, and establishing personal relationships. Even so, the conversations, dialogues, and official reports that result from endeavours in Christian unity are virtually unacknowledged among most Pentecostals.
Underlying these visible issues that hinder a more comprehensive engagement in ecumenism are a number of theological presuppositions that affect the ecumenical attitude among classical Pentecostals. A dominant mindset confronting ecumenical participation is the primitivist or restorationist impulse among Pentecostals. This mindset is based on a critical evaluation of the contemporary church and is particularly visible in the frequent demand for a return to the practices of the apostolic community. Pentecostals argue that the established churches have altered the original forms of Christianity, de-emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit, and stifled spiritual growth.35 Consequently, a restoration of apostolic faith and practices is seen as a necessary, primary objective of restoring the church. This pervasive attitude in classical Pentecostalism and many of the independent Pentecostal groups often creates a rather sharp contrast to ecumenical fellowship with precisely those groups that Pentecostals hold responsible for the problems. In turn, hostility toward Pentecostals has dampened many ecumenical ambitions on both the grassroots level and among the denominational leadership. In response, the isolation of Pentecostals has invigorated the restorationist mindset, created new prejudices, and led much of the Pentecostal movement into a realm of ecumenical anonymity.
In addition, the ecumenical investment among Pentecostals suffers under internal debates and divisions particularly over disagreements on doctrine, church politics, personalities, and practices. Not least, Pentecostals are divided over the extent of their ecumenical engagement in general, a problem that concerns not only their relations with other churches but also internal associations among Pentecostal groups. The global Pentecostal movement has become a composition of different branches of Pentecostal bodies that sometimes look with suspicion at other parts of the movement. Closer alignment with denominations and institutions critical of the ecumenical movement has forced many Pentecostals to forsake the ecumenical conversations in which they had participated.38 Others grant higher priority to internal relations among Pentecostals, such as the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and ecumenical associations with non-Pentecostals have been either neglected or remained undeveloped. The repercussions of such decisions are only gradually repaired and demand more concentrated efforts in understanding the nature and identity of the Pentecostal movement and its position and function in (or apart from) the body of Christ.
Isolation from the Church

Ecumenical exclusivism and separatism show the symptoms but reveal little of the inherent problems responsible for the ambiguity and divisiveness among Pentecostals. On a more substantive level, the ecumenical mindset of Pentecostals is deeply restricted by the absence of a comprehensive Pentecostal ecclesiology. The movement has neither formulated a theology of the church nor situated itself consistently in any existing proposals. It is unclear whether communion with Pentecostals implies structural and institutional union or if such forms of reconciliation can even be entertained in the first place. The most persistent label for modern-day Pentecostalism is without doubt the description as a ‘movement’. However, this designation bears significant consequences for Pentecostal self-understanding and the possibility of ecumenical relations with Pentecostals.
Historically, classical Pentecostalism emerged from ecclesiastical roots that were already commonly designated as ‘movements’ within Christianity, such as the Holiness Movement and the Apostolic Faith Movement, and the application to Pentecostals seemed appropriate. However, the designation of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ by Pentecostals is often a critical, even counter-cultural choice that expresses the contrast to what Pentecostals frequently describe as the ‘stagnation’ and ‘institutionalism’ of the so-called ‘old churches’. Pentecostals understand their own identity in often radical opposition to the historical consciousness of the established churches; many see in the existing use of the term ‘church’ itself a sectarian designation. The distinction of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ from the broader, established notion of ‘church’ highlights the difficulty and resistance of fitting Pentecostals into established classifications.
Attempts to categorize and incorporate Pentecostalism among the churches have generally located the movement at the margins. Pentecostalism is identified less in terms of ‘church’ than of ‘sect’ or ‘faction’ or ‘stream’. In most cases understood as a temporary extreme element, Pentecostalism is seen as an afterthought to the landscape of church history, an addition at the end of tables and diagrams, an outgrowth of existing streams and developments, a mere example or the most recent expression of developments in already existing traditions. Thus added to the established Christian landscape, Pentecostalism is widely perceived as a temporary renewal or revival movement much like others that have appeared (and disappeared) throughout church history. Pentecostals have been hesitant to understand themselves as any more permanent and have readily used the designation as a movement to distinguish themselves from other particular groups as well as from the entire arena of mainstream Christian churches.
Pentecostal groups have understood themselves fundamentally as a missionary movement of the Holy Spirit. This perspective derives essentially from the idea of the Great Commission centrally placed within the evangelistic and eschatological life of the church. In simple terms, Pentecostals understand themselves as the realization of the biblical promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, a movement in and beyond the churches—but not a church in itself. Put differently, many Pentecostals possess a sense for what the church is not rather than for what the church actually is. In its most basic form, the church remains essentially identical with the kingdom of God as an ideal yet to be reached but not a reality already attained. Pentecostalism in this sense is a movement becoming the church, a transformation of existing traditions into one movement toward the church. This rejection of the designation ‘church’ has made co-operation with Pentecostals difficult on many levels. A remedy for this dilemma is not simply found in a revision of Pentecostal doctrine or ecumenical practices.
As Pentecostalism expanded to worldwide proportions, the movement began to suffer most visibly from disorganization and divisions among the missionary workers. Initially, Pentecostals saw themselves as a movement of the Spirit that swept across the existing denominations and that would soon usher in the kingdom of God. As the eschatological expectations failed to materialize, organizational instabilities, administrative weaknesses, and the absence of any clearly formulated theological understanding of the church soon caught up with the growth, stability, coherence, and unity of the movement. The lack of planning, structure, formal institutions, and networks severely hampered the growth and effectiveness of Pentecostals abroad. As a result, Pentecostals turned to the existing visible structures of denominations surrounding them and adopted the title ‘church’ as a means of self-designation. The establishment of effective missionary structures initiated a widespread institutionalization and denominationalization among Pentecostals that promised growth, stability, and survival—yet still without formulating an accompanying theology. As a result, missionary and evangelistic activities among Pentecostals have become the formal endeavor of particular Pentecostal churches. The unity of the church is no longer the final realization of the contemporary Pentecostal movement; the church is already located within today’s Pentecostalism or, perhaps more pragmatically, among the Pentecostal denominations.45 This perspective has served as implicit justification for establishing and maintaining denominational structures without questioning if they are genuine to the Pentecostal ethos. Denominations formed quickly and spread rapidly throughout Pentecostalism and virtually eliminated the original mindset of a ‘movement’. Instead, Pentecostal denominations have entered a competitive mindset among themselves and with others.
A closer look reveals that Pentecostal groups have frequently adopted the title ‘church’ not only for the local assembly but also for the administrative group of churches that associate with one another on a regional or national level. Internal dissention and schisms hastened the process of institutionalization, including groups who continue to reject any denominational designation outright. This shift to the realm of formal organization has complicated the use of the designation ‘church’ and effectively shut the door to a more pronounced ecumenical theology and participation. The adoption of the traditional classification, ‘church’, inevitably led to confrontation internally as well as with other churches and denominations. The Pentecostal self-understanding today allows for the existence of multiple churches and denominations, yet there has been no parallel development to advance the communication and cooperation of churches in and beyond the Pentecostal movement. Umbrella organizations, such as the Pentecostal World Fellowship, do not represent a decision-making body and hold no authority beyond the assemblies of particular Pentecostal denominations. Pentecostals have become anonymous behind denominational structures that are not equipped for ecumenical conversations. Most visibly, this development has further consolidated an exclusivist attitude toward other non-Pentecostal communities. No substantive theological formulations of the church and Christian unity are underlying these structures. Ecumenical documents with Pentecostal participation are rarely consulted by Pentecostal leadership. The choice to enter the competitive mindset of existing Christian denominations has effectively made Pentecostalism a movement isolated from the church.
Unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement

Pentecostals have always looked at the book of Acts for biblical patterns of the church. The biblical narrative presents the church since the day of Pentecost as a group in constant transition. Pentecostals found that even the day of Pentecost itself does not mark a definite transformation of the Christian group, but that the expansion and rapid changes of the church demanded other ‘Pentecosts’ that allowed the church to move forward. Much of this transitional character is reflected in modern-day Pentecostalism, at times deliberately, but more often in ways embedded in the historical character of the movement that have not yet found a consistent and deliberative crystallization among the churches. The reconciliation of rampant denominationalism with the ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals demands a closer look at the way Pentecostalism can be understood as an ecumenical movement that exhibits patterns of both unity and diversity.
Unity and diversity among Pentecostals

The tensions between ecumenical exclusivism and ecumenical participation among Pentecostals reflect the enormous changes that characterize the short history of the Pentecostal movement. The significant developments impacting modern-day Pentecostalism worldwide have confronted the movement with the question of its own identity among the churches amidst concerns for the global status of the movement. Mixed attitudes toward Christian unity, both positive and negative, are not a unique feature of Pentecostals but reflect dominant global forces that have shaped the worldwide ecumenical agenda in general. The proper characterization of Pentecostalism among the churches acknowledges the coexistence of unity and diversity. Admittedly, the distance between the two may be greater among Pentecostals than among the established churches and seasoned ecumenical traditions. Nonetheless, Pentecostalism is recapitulating the history of the ecumenical movement at a much faster pace. The tensions of Pentecostal engagement in Christian unity reveal that not all attempts to understand a tradition’s identity necessarily invite ecumenical participation, and that concerns for one’s own tradition can unfold at the cost of visible Christian unity. In this sense, a more complete understanding of Pentecostalism demands a renewed understanding of both what it means to be ‘Pentecostal’ and how to pursue unity with the movement thus identified.
From a Pentecostal perspective, the intention to understand the movement itself and its ecumenical position among the churches faces at least two major challenges: First, there exists no consistent, historical definition of the term ‘church’ among Pentecostals worldwide. Whereas the established Christian traditions possess longstanding accounts of the nature and purpose of the church, Pentecostals do not share a common idea and theology of the body of Christ. Second, the diversity of Pentecostal perspectives on the church allows at best for multiple theologies of the church that reflect both the tensions within the Pentecostal movement and the challenges of ecumenical reconciliation. Pentecostals have entered a phase of ecumenical pragmatism—an intermediate stage on the way to more genuine Pentecostal forms of participation.51 Contemporary approaches to ecumenism slowly move beyond Anglo-European dominance to broader international participation and ecumenical organization that address the concerns of the broader Pentecostal community. Reasons that this development is filled with tensions should not be sought in the pluralistic image of Pentecostalism alone but rather in the absence of opportunities for Pentecostals to define themselves as Pentecostals among the churches.
The most celebrated attempt to identify an ecumenical Pentecostal self-description is found in the concept of koinonia—a New Testament idea of the fellowship of believers rooted in the trinitarian communion of God. Formulated not least in conversations between Pentecostal and Roman Catholics, ecumenical perspectives on koinonia have become a widely accepted and fruitful basis for approaching a shared understanding of the church. For Pentecostals, the church already exists in koinonia due to the divine action manifested in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This pneumatological understanding of Christian unity implies for Pentecostals a shared life in the Spirit and a common manifestation of spiritual gifts that exists not merely in the abstract ideal but in the concrete historical reality of the Christian life. The neglect of this emphasis in the churches catholic remains for many Pentecostals the strongest obstacle to ecumenical participation. The large majority of this sentiment stems from convictions generally uninformed by detailed ecumenical discussions. Pentecostals worldwide exhibit a rather weak ecumenical pedagogy, although they certainly are not alone in its tangible expressions.
There exist a variety of ‘experiences’ of koinonia among Pentecostals that are often determined by the level of submission to ecclesial authority, institutional communication and co-operation, existing church structures and processes. On a more pragmatic level, ecumenical participation often depends on the negative or positive influences that have shaped a person’s self-understanding. Pentecostals allow for change and transition between different perspectives and ecumenical attitudes as part of arriving at their own self-understanding that is still emerging.56 For the larger ecumenical community, this fluctuation is sometimes perceived as an inherent instability that prevents concrete achievements and long-lasting relationships. This perspective runs the risk of divorcing Pentecostalism from the common endeavour for Christian unity. Isolated from the ecumenical movement, Pentecostals will not arrive at a consensus on the global Pentecostal identity.
Instead, Pentecostalism and ecumenism must be seen as two mutually interdependent movements. For many Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike, participation in both movements remains ‘an exercise on the frontiers’. The diversity of global Pentecostalism also reflects the diversity of the ecumenical movement worldwide. The tensions in the Pentecostal movement manifest in many ways the broader ecumenical temperament, which in turn has not reflected much on its own constituency as a movement. Identified as ‘movements’ in the contemporary Christian landscape, Pentecostalism and ecumenism share in common a unique identity that includes a shared understanding of existing at the margins of what is called the ‘church’.
The critical function of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism understood as a movement that both confounds the ecumenical landscape while at the same time standing at the forefront of revitalizing Christian unity has dramatically changed the perception of denominationalism and ecumenism within the movement. The acceptance of denominational and ecumenical language among Pentecostals suggests that both concepts will continue to coexist despite the tensions. Classifying Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ remains a significant label that does not flatten the image of Pentecostal diversity but instead upholds the tensions within Pentecostalism as representative of religious movements in general. At the same time, there exists no theology of the church as movement, no movement-ecclesiology, which could be applied to Pentecostalism. It is found rather in the Pentecostal beliefs and practices that define the movement’s historical reality and that consequently demand closer attention.
An understanding of Pentecostalism as a movement begins with its global representation and the diverse streams of Pentecostal groups. Simply said, Pentecostalism is itself inherently in transition. This movement internal to Pentecostalism affects the self-understanding of Pentecostals among the churches. Among classical Pentecostals, the church traditionally stands for a self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating body that proclaims an unchanging gospel to all cultures and contexts. The expansion of classical Pentecostalism and the rise of new Pentecostal streams have turned the focus to the further contextualization of the church on the grassroots level in order to remain relevant and meaningful. In contrast, the ecclesiology of the Charismatic Movement is largely shaped by the mother church in which it is able to unfold. The ethos of Pentecostalism as a movement is upheld in these contexts by relating the charismatic revival to the historical life of the church rather than its abstract essence. Put differently, Pentecostalism is understood as a new movement in the church or the church in movement but not as the church itself. The neo-Pentecostal movement has shifted Pentecostal ecclesiology again into quite opposite directions and much closer to a Free Church theology.60 The notion of movement is here synonymous with a diachronic plurality of the churches in a framework of ecclesial interdependence where churches operate under a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit that changes and varies from congregation to congregation and is more closely aligned with a personal confession of faith. Global Pentecostalism does not propose one particular structure of movement but suggests that ‘church’ is experienced in a diversity of rhythms, beliefs, and practices.
If Pentecostalism is understood as a movement in these diverse ways, then it is equally important to emphasize the historical character of this identification. In the most tangible way, denominations are the history books of the churches, the stage where ecumenical relations are applied, tested, and verified. This perspective is based on the assumption that denominations are temporary replacements of an eschatological movement becoming the church. The pragmatic side of this temporary concept of denominations is perhaps the most challenging feature of Pentecostal ecclesiology. While theologically the Pentecostal denominations are considered transitory because they represent the churches in history but not yet the church in eternity, the application of this theology is typically overshadowed by administrative, organizational, and institutional concerns that depend on the long-term stability of the denomination. Moreover, the distinction between the historical reality of Pentecostalism and the eternal unity of the church should not lead us to deny denominations any significance and simply hold that they will eventually be subsumed under the eternal kingdom of God. Pentecostals have emphasized that denominations exhibit a valuable critical function toward the established cultures and structures of the churches. Pentecostals thus frequently identify with a particular denomination as it represents a sort of historical anti-structure to existing practices.63 At the same time as the local assembly emulates the denominational patterns, the denomination itself moves toward its full realization in the eternal church. Denominationalism in the Pentecostal movement therefore exists amidst the tension between the local assembly and the whole church as a critical catalyst of the renewal and transformation of the whole church.
The critical function of denominations in the Pentecostal movement is important because it is exercised only in explicitly ecumenical contexts, since no single denomination represents the fullness of either the diversity of local assemblies or the eternal fulfilment of Christian unity. Put differently, denominations cannot exist in the singular. The denominational landscape among Pentecostals is not the result of an expansion of one particular form of Pentecostalism but the birth of genuine new communities from within different environments and as a result of particular developments. This diversity of history, manifested for Pentecostals in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is the soil in which denominations and the foundation for Pentecostal ecclesiology are planted. The challenge of this reality is that the character of the denominations as the promissory note for the full unity of the one church can only be fulfilled in relations between the churches. Individual denominations are a partial, visible manifestation of this development but remain incomplete for any attempt to arrive at a Pentecostal theology of the church. From a denominational perspective, the church is never fully realized but remains always in movement. This is Pentecostal praxis par excellence.
The identification of Pentecostalism as a critical movement is neither synonymous with denominations nor opposed to their reality but points to a constant transformation of the historical reality of what we consider Pentecostalism today. This element of transition is one of the most significant features of modern-day Pentecostalism and explains how different realities of the church can coexist in the same movement. It also represents the greatest challenge to ecumenical conversations—on the one hand, Pentecostals form a single entity that exists across a broad spectrum held together by a shared worldview and spirituality; on the other hand, the diverse, even contradicting practices and theologies among Pentecostals resist the identification as a single entity. The concept of ‘the one and the many’66 often used in traditional attempts to identify the church comes to a critical manifestation in the historical reality of Pentecostalism. As a result, the most immediate challenge remains the reconciliation of rampant denominationalism and uncritical adoption of a Free Church ethos with the worldview and spirituality of the Pentecostal movement. As the previous chapter has shown, the charismatic manifestations representative of this Pentecostal ethos show a wide spectrum of communion and fellowship in the Spirit that allows for contrasting experiences and convictions. This perspective does not justify the tensions between unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement today, but it does suggest that to expect anything different leads to the portrayal of an unrealistic homogeneous image of Pentecostalism, which remains still in its most elementary forms a movement in transition.


Orthodox doctrine and sectarianism
Some of the most visible tensions in the Pentecostal movement are found in divisions over doctrine. From the beginning of modern-day Pentecostalism, the movement exhibited a broad variety of beliefs that are not always readily summed up in doctrinal statements. The statements of faith and doctrinal teachings issued by particular Pentecostal groups do not easily apply to others within the movement. In addition, some Pentecostal teachings stand in rather sharp contrast to classical formulations of the Christian tradition and are considered heretical by many non-Pentecostals. The most significant among these tensions is the longstanding and often heated debate among Pentecostals between advocates of trinitarian theology and the so-called Oneness Pentecostals. While the majority of Pentecostals have embraced the traditional Christian teaching of the doctrine of God, Oneness Pentecostalism has gained a large following throughout the world that rejects the creedal trinitarian tradition.
A general rejection of the creeds is a well-known trademark of Pentecostal history. Pentecostals frequently see in creedal formulations a limitation of spiritual freedom, a hastening of institutionalization and formalization of the Christian life. Most Pentecostals, especially groups not closely associated with a mainline tradition, are less familiar with the actual wording of the creeds and hold no fundamental doctrinal opposition. Nonetheless, creeds are widely stereotyped as destructive to the unity of the church, a testing of allegiance that has relegated Pentecostals often to the margins of fellowship. Oneness Pentecostals tend to sharply criticize the creedal statements over doctrinal disagreements that have ostracized them not only from other Pentecostal streams but from the mainline Christian traditions. This chapter presents these tensions between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals as representative of the struggle to conform to the teachings of Christian orthodoxy. The first part of the chapter outlines the traditional formulation of the doctrine of God among Pentecostals. The second part presents the contrasting position of Oneness Pentecostals. In the final part, these positions are brought into dialogue with particular focus on the factors responsible for the divisions. The goal of this chapter is to arrive at a closer understanding of the development of doctrine among the diverse adherents of the Pentecostal movement and their position in the landscape of Christian orthodoxy. A full reconciliation of the tensions and contrasting doctrines is unlikely. The considerable range of beliefs is an irrevocable feature of Pentecostal participation in the development of global Christianity.
Pentecostalism and the formulation of the doctrine of God

The narrative descriptions of the biblical texts have occupied a central place in directing the daily lives and doctrines of Pentecostals from the beginning. Most Pentecostals find in Luke-Acts, in particular, an experiential pattern for the formulation of Christian beliefs that possesses a theological integrity in its own right and which is indicative of the development of Pentecostal doctrine. These narratives emphasize the importance of salvation as the key to understanding God’s work in the world. Inside this narrative soteriology, Pentecostals have highlighted the centrality of Jesus Christ as the messiah anointed with the Holy Spirit. In turn, the outpouring of this Spirit on the world marks the proper frame for all subsequent formulations of Pentecostal doctrine. Together, these foundational elements offer insights into the general pattern of doctrinal articulation among Pentecostals today.
Narrative articulations of doctrine

Pentecostal theology is born out of the need to narrate the experiences of the salvific work of God in Christ and the Spirit and to do so in terms that do justice to their experiences rather than to official formulations of doctrine. Most Pentecostal groups are reluctant to formulate extensive systems of official doctrines. Classical Pentecostalism is representative of the larger Pentecostal constituency that has found it difficult to present doctrinal formulations without adopting them from other traditions and without thereby sacrificing the distinctive experiences that identify them in distinction to those traditions. The Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches has had its own challenges of remaining an integral part of their traditions without giving the impression of simply adding to it a doctrine of the Spirit. Neo-Pentecostal groups have added little significant texture to the actual formulation of Pentecostal doctrine, primarily because there is no magisterial theological guidance or official authoritative teaching for all groups. What ties the different streams of Pentecostalism together is a strong reliance on Scripture as a path to doctrinal formulations that support and direct the Pentecostal experiences.
In Scripture, Pentecostals find a common emphasis on dreams, visions, prophecies, prayer, and worship that provide the foundation for articulating their own story. This articulation generally proceeds orally among Pentecostals, usually expressed in sermons, testimonies, and songs, and rarely in classical formulations of doctrine. In trying to articulate their experiences, song, poetry, testimony, prophecy, and prayer seem the more appropriate media to Pentecostals than creedal formulations and doctrinal propositions. Theology is identified not primarily with creeds and doctrines but with a worshipful response to God’s saving activity. While the experience of God’s saving work forms the motivation for Pentecostal theology, it is the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality that inform the articulation and structure of that theology. Pentecostals have generally neglected to craft a formal doctrine of God. Instead, worship and prayer stand at the heart of a language evocative of the praise, petitions, lamentations, sighs, and groans Pentecostals find in the community of the New Testament.7
In their concept of doctrine, Pentecostals stand closer to the Roman Catholic idea of the development of doctrine than the Protestant understanding of doctrines as the unchangeable deposit of faith. Formative in this understanding is the link between the authority of spirituality and the authority of doctrine (lex orandi, lex credendi). Pentecostals can speak of spirituality as doctrine by locating the starting point for all doctrine in the human response to God. The response in immediate testimonies, visions, songs, tongues, or prayers is initially pre-cognitive, affective, and behavioural, or to put it differently, therapeutic and prophetic. From there, a more articulate, scrutinized, and deliberative formulation of doctrine, such as creeds, dogmas, and official teachings are generally not attempted by Pentecostals. Nonetheless, most Pentecostals readily embrace formal articulations of doctrine from other traditions if these reflect their own spirituality and experiences.
The immediate link between spirituality and doctrine (and vice versa) among Pentecostals is formed by soteriology, or perhaps more accurately, the experience of salvation. We might say that salvation represents an epistemic and experiential commonality that informs all Pentecostal practices. Formulations of Pentecostal doctrine are ultimately rooted in the multidimensional character of salvation as it is observed and formulated among the Christian traditions. This means that for Pentecostals all doctrine must remain verifiable in the concrete personal and communal experiences of God’s redemptive activity.
This emphasis is clearly visible in the articulation of the so-called ‘full’ gospel—a theological formulation among classical Pentecostals that mediates between narrative account and formulaic expression. Two different theological accounts are in circulation among Pentecostals, the four-fold gospel of Jesus as saviour, Spirit baptizer, healer, and coming king, and the five-fold gospel that adds to this account the image of Jesus as sanctifier. These articulations are guided by practical ambitions rather than structural concerns, biblical readings rather than doctrinal conventions. At the heart of the full gospel is the worshipping life of the community, both the affective disposition of individuals and the liturgy of the church, in which the gospel is not only proclaimed but exercised. Pentecostals continue to emphasize that any confession of faith remains primarily a form of spirituality. At the heart of articulating this spirituality among Pentecostals stands the central figure of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Holy Spirit.
The centrality of Jesus Christ

The Pentecostal full-gospel motif is centred on the person of Jesus. The core convictions of Pentecostals are not simply identified as salvation, Spirit baptism, healing, sanctification, and a strong eschatological orientation. Rather, it is the biblical picture of Jesus that dominates these theological formulations. Pentecostal piety has always been directed toward Jesus. In other words, Pentecostal doctrine always expresses at heart a Christology. The central confession of Christ dominates doctrinal narratives among Pentecostals. The goal of these confessions is not primarily a teaching about Christ but a worshipful expression of faith and witness toward Christ. Pentecostal songs, testimonies, and sermons declare the centrality of Jesus for all proclamations of faith to God and to one another:

We have heard a joyful sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Spread the gladness all around, Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Bear the news to ev’ry land, climb the steeps and cross the waves,
Onward, ’tis our Lord’s command, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

In the Pentecostal narrative, Jesus is the central figure who makes possible the appropriation of and participation in the redeemed life. Pentecostal doctrine, in this sense, is both a confession that Jesus saves, baptizes, heals, sanctifies, and returns and that Jesus is the saviour, baptizer, healer, sanctifier, and soon-coming king. Pentecostal narratives describe this idea of salvation typically as an existential encounter with the person of Jesus:

I have been to Jesus, he has cleansed my soul,
I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb;
By the precious fountain, I’ve been made whole,
I’ve been washed by the blood of the Lamb.

Salvation, sanctification, Spirit baptism, and other beliefs of Pentecostals are more than mere convictions of conversion, holiness, healing, or empowerment; they are seen as moments of the historical reality of Jesus in which Pentecostals continue to participate. Calvary is seen as the door where God opened his saving presence to the world once and for all. All moments in the life of Christ are thus reinterpreted as both historical events and testimony of the present-day where Jesus continues the saving work of God:

He sweetly saves and sanctifies,
The reign of sin is o’er;
With holy fire he doth baptize,
And seal forevermore.

In Pentecostal piety, Jesus is thus clearly elevated to the model of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview. In the person of Jesus Christ, spirituality and doctrine meet, expressed in the often straightforward proclamations that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, healed by his stripes, lifted by his love, sanctified by his fire, equipped by his power, and comforted by his promises. These and other narratives of faith are the Pentecostal equivalent to the classical formulations of the creeds.
The pursuit of the Holy Spirit

The centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus at the heart of Pentecostal doctrine is not necessarily a feature that distinguishes Pentecostalism from other Christian traditions. More significant is the fact that the starting point for Pentecostal narratives of doctrine is a distinctive spirituality that focuses on the presence, manifestations, and power of the Holy Spirit. Only by the Spirit is Christ present to the believer, and only the spiritually responsive person is able to enter into this presence of God. As Calvary represents the window for Christ to the salvation of the world, Pentecost is seen as the door for Christians to enter the anointed presence of Christ. For Pentecostals, the Spirit is ‘God with us’18 in palpable manifestations and personal experiences that always remain intimately related to the person of Jesus. In other words, Pentecostal doctrine and spirituality are never exclusively directed toward Christ or the Spirit; they always form a Spirit-Christology.
Pentecostals find an explicit Spirit-Christology in the biblical witness of Luke-Acts to Jesus as the revelation of God anointed with the Holy Spirit and to the passing on of this anointing to a world in need of salvation. The Spirit is the presence of the resurrected Jesus in history, and this presence is manifested in the experiences lifted up by the narrative of the full gospel. The Pentecostal longing for an experiential encounter with God’s presence joins together both the doctrine of God and Pentecostal spirituality. The result is primarily a soteriological reflection on Christ typically expressed with focus on the Holy Spirit.

Breathe upon us, Lord from heaven,
Fill us with the Holy Ghost;
Promise of the Father given,
Send us now a Pentecost.

On a theological level, one might argue that the Holy Spirit represents for most Pentecostals an experiential entrance point to the narrative of salvation. This theme is most explicit in the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism, where theology and spirituality meet deliberately. The presence of the Spirit and the presence of Christ are both identified and distinguished to the same extent as the presence of God unites with the Christian community but also remains beyond it.

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire,
send the fire! Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost,
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

The doctrine of Spirit baptism remains historically and theologically the most explicit formulation of the doctrine of God among Pentecostals—the kerygma of the full gospel. Spirit baptism, whether conceived as doctrine or spirituality, features at heart God’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit. For the majority of Pentecostals, we might say that ‘Spirit baptism brings the reign of the Father, the reign of the crucified and risen Christ, and the reign of the divine life to all creation through the indwelling of the Spirit.’ Pentecostals readily find in the biblical texts the unrestrained bestowal of the Spirit by the Father on the Son, documented in the anointed life of Christ, and the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh on the day of Pentecost, documented in the Spirit-filled life of believers. While formulations of this doctrine rarely depend on particular visions of the inner life of the triune God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is tied closely to the person of Jesus as the one who baptizes and is baptized with the Spirit of God. These confessions speak less of the Father or creation and more of the Word and the Spirit or regeneration and charismatic empowerment, often distinguishing between the work of the Spirit as the one who baptizes us into Christ and the work of Christ as the one who baptizes us in the Spirit. This reciprocal emphasis contrasts with the frequent neglect of pneumatology in Western formulations of the doctrine of God. The Spirit-Christology eminent among Pentecostals favours a dynamic perspective of the person of Jesus that has only recently emerged among other Christian traditions. Nonetheless, few of these considerations make their way into formal articulations of doctrine. Above all, the close connection between the doctrine of God and the various moments of the Spirit-filled life in the Pentecostal worldview suggests that the Pentecostal doctrine of God remains at heart always a doxology.
Oneness Pentecostalism

The most far-reaching theological tension among contemporary Pentecostals is the division between trinitarian Pentecostals and the Oneness tradition. Recent estimates locate the number of Oneness Pentecostals in the world at 15–20 million, with more than 400 organizations, strong roots in the United States, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia, and a majority presence among Pentecostals in China, Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Information on many groups beyond North America and Europe is sparse, but expanded global demographics suggest considerable diversity among the groups in both practice and doctrine.27 The common denominator among these groups is the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity and the consequential separation from the majority of trinitarian Pentecostals. In turn, Oneness Pentecostals often have been stereotyped as heretical by trinitarian Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals as well as former Oneness Pentecostals. While trinitarian Pentecostals affirm the creedal tradition of the three divine persons, Oneness Pentecostals reject classical trinitarian formulations of the doctrine of God. This section details the motivations for rejecting the trinitarian creeds and highlights the centrality of Jesus and the experience of the Holy Spirit for a closer understanding of Oneness Pentecostal teaching.
The rejection of the trinitarian creeds

Tensions between Oneness Pentecostal teachings and traditional formulations of the doctrine of God are concentrated in the acceptance and application of the creeds. While many Pentecostals display an animosity toward creedal formulations of doctrine, Oneness Pentecostals reject the trinitarian teachings of the ecumenical councils outright. The council of Nicaea, in particular, represents the threshold between the Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostal groups. David Bernard, senior theologian of the United Pentecostal Church International, the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization, emphasizes the lack of explicit trinitarian language until the fourth century and sees the primary reason for the dominance of trinitarian articulations in the necessary response to heresy. Bernard faults the creed for failing to provide a trinitarian vocabulary, depending too strongly on a division of the confession of faith instead of its unity, and neglecting the notion of divine personhood.31 For Oneness Pentecostals, the doctrine of God can be formulated apart from the traditional language of the creeds.
Advocating a non-traditional view of God, Oneness Pentecostals find in modalistic monarchianism of the fourth century a historical predecessor that affirmed the two central aspects of their own convictions: ‘(1) there is one indivisible God with no distinction of persons in God’s eternal essence, and (2) Jesus Christ is the manifestation, human personification, or incarnation of the one God.’ At the centre of these convictions stands the concern for the administration of water baptism, or more precisely, the correct biblical paradigm for baptism, its interpretation, and application. In its doctrinal dimensions, the debate questions the correctness of the baptismal formula based either on the single name of Jesus (see Acts 2:38) or the three titles ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ (see Mt. 28:19). In practice, Oneness Pentecostals emphasize baptism ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ as the original apostolic formula to be seen as convocation of the grace of God that contains the grace of the Father and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Baptism ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 28:19) is therefore synonymous with the practice of ‘one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) without juxtaposing the oneness of God with the idea of three divine persons.
Oneness Pentecostals view the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the result of an inadmissible amalgamation of the radical monotheism of the Old Testament and the redemptive manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Held responsible for this confusion is a departure from the biblical revelation and subjection of Scripture to philosophical reasoning. While the biblical witness affirms the unity and diversity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the work of salvation, Oneness Pentecostals see neither a threefold division of works nor a threefold division of persons in the doctrine of God.
In contrast to the creedal texts, Oneness Pentecostals attribute the idea of personhood only to Jesus Christ. In this way, the group seeks to avoid the apparent problem of trinitarian doctrine to reconcile the singular being of God with the idea that this being is shared by three persons without thereby dividing the deity threefold and falling into the heresy of tritheism. While classical trinitarian formulations speak of the interpenetration of the three divine persons, Oneness Pentecostals consider the one God to be one indivisible being in the single person of Jesus Christ who encompasses in his person all three manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The emphasis on the single name of Jesus has earned Oneness Pentecostals the misleading characterization of being a ‘Jesus only’ movement. Although the singular emphasis on Jesus is typical for the group, it should be understood as an emphasis on the ‘name’ that replaces the traditional emphasis on the divine persons. Simply put, for Oneness Pentecostals, in God ‘the name and the person are synonymous’.37 This identification avoids the univocal use of the term ‘person’ for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oneness Pentecostal doctrine replaces the idea of three ‘persons’ with the concept of the single ‘name’ of God as it is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, from the Oneness Pentecostal perspective, the person of Jesus is the name of God. It is therefore both possible and necessary to confess faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit among Oneness Pentecostals. However, this seemingly triadic confession is actualized through water baptism ‘in Jesus’ name’ so that practically and theologically Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the only personification of God.
The supremacy of the person of Jesus

The theological convictions and consequences of the Oneness Pentecostal view have only recently been formulated in an analytical manner that corresponds to the practices and experiences of the tradition. Oneness Pentecostals’ Christology derives from a reinterpretation of the biblical words ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Spirit’, which rather than identifying three distinct divine persons, ‘describe God’s redemptive roles or revelations, but they do not reflect an essential threeness in His nature’. For trinitarian Pentecostals, this identification means that when we speak of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, we highlight the necessary and coexistent redemptive roles of God in the work of salvation. In Oneness Pentecostal doctrine these functions of God are expressed in the terms of creator, saviour, and sanctifier and characterize the essential unity of God’s being. The confession of this unity in being and function in salvation history is concentrated in the experience of Jesus Christ in a manner that reveals some foundational differences in Christology, that is, in the manner in which Christ is seen as the eternal God.
Oneness Pentecostals reject the trinitarian designation of Jesus solely in terms of the ‘Son of God’ and as the ‘second’ divine person. In their place, Oneness Pentecostals state that ‘Jesus is not the incarnation of one person of a trinity but the incarnation of all the identity, character, and personality of God.’41 Contrary to traditional Christian teaching, Jesus is the eternal God—not the eternal second person—who became flesh. More precisely, Oneness Pentecostals speak of a ‘begotten Sonship’ marked initially by the Incarnation as the starting point for the work of the Son, whose redeeming role will end when the present world ceases to exist. The same understanding of redemptive manifestations is attributed to the Holy Spirit, who as the Spirit of Jesus ‘does not come as another person but comes in another form (in spirit instead of flesh) and another relationship (‘in you’ instead of ‘with you’)’. The statement of faith of the United Pentecostal Church International summarizes this understanding of God succinctly:

We believe in the one ever-living, eternal God: infinite in power, holy in nature, attributes and purpose; and possessing absolute, indivisible deity. This one true God has revealed Himself as Father; through His Son, in redemption; and as the Holy Spirit, by emanation.… Before the incarnation, this one true God manifested Himself in diverse ways. In the incarnation, He manifests Himself in the Son, who walked among men. As He works in the lives of believers, He manifests Himself as the Holy Spirit.…

The biblical terms ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Spirit’ are thus taken as redemptive titles indicative of the closeness of relationship between God and humanity. The title of Father indicates the transcendence of God, the title of Son the Incarnation, and the title of Spirit the indwelling of God in the believer. For Oneness Pentecostals, all of these roles are manifestations of the person of Jesus Christ.
The experience of the Holy Spirit

As for Pentecostal doctrine in general, the pneumatological perspective is highly significant for the articulation of the centrality of Christ in Oneness Pentecostal teaching. The experiential focus among Pentecostals guides much of the doctrinal formulations in this regard, and Oneness Pentecostals affirm strictly the experience of the one God as one Spirit: Pentecostals ‘do not experience three personalities when they worship, nor do they receive three spirits, but they are in relationship with one personal spirit being’. Therefore, the Spirit of God can be called ‘simply God’, ‘God himself’, or ‘the one God’.46 From this perspective, Oneness Pentecostals criticize the traditional distinction between understanding God in a self-contained manner and God’s activity in the world. This characteristic distinction in trinitarian theology between immanent and economic Godhead is seen as overtly dependent upon philosophical identifications of substance and person that are foreign to the biblical texts. In their place, Oneness Pentecostals give priority to the biblical concept of ‘spirit’ that allows them to maintain a distinction of the manifestations of God while rejecting the idea that these manifestations are to be identified as three distinct persons.

The Spirit of Jesus existed from all eternity because he is God Himself. However, the humanity of Jesus did not exist before the Incarnation, except as a plan in the mind of God. Therefore we can say that the Spirit of Jesus preexisted the Incarnation, but we cannot say the Son preexisted the Incarnation in any substantial sense.

This Spirit-oriented perspective on the redemptive manifestations of God illustrates the important feature of Oneness Pentecostal doctrine to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as simultaneous rather than successive manifestations. Whereas Pentecostals in general prefer to speak of the present time as the age of the Spirit, Oneness Pentecostals do not see this emphasis as representing a substantial distinction in God’s being. The crucial trinitarian terminology of the ‘procession’ of the Son and the Spirit is interpreted as a ‘sending’ or ‘appointment’ in ‘the supernatural plan and action of God’. Any distinction of the divine substance or a pre-existence of the divine persons apart from the economy of salvation is consequently rejected. When applied to the Son, ‘the sending … emphasizes the humanity of the Son and the specific purpose for which the Son was born’.49 In contrast to classical trinitarian formulations, the Son is not identified as Son because of his eternal procession from the Father but because he is begotten by the Spirit as the human manifestation of God. When applied to the Holy Spirit, the sending refers to the ‘return … of Jesus manifested in a new way’ after the glorification of the Son. In this manner, Oneness Pentecostal pneumatology consistently returns to the doctrine of Christ at the heart of the doctrine of God.
At the centre of the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of God, the sending of the Son is a necessary presupposition for the sending of the Holy Spirit, since both are redemptive manifestations of the one God. Nevertheless, this perspective precludes the idea of the pre-existence of Christ as person before the Incarnation and grants this pre-existence only in the terms of the eternal Spirit. Put differently, the Holy Spirit is the eternal being of God; the Word is the relation of this being to the world. In turn, the Spirit does not precede or follow the Word in any substantive or personal manner but remains identical in deity with them. In practice, the experience of the Spirit is the experience of the Son and the experience of the Father who are all simultaneous manifestations of the one being of God and ultimately reveal the one person of Jesus Christ. For Oneness Pentecostals, the person of Jesus remains the revelation of the single being of God who encompasses and supersedes the redemptive manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the eternal Lord of glory.
Pentecostal theology and the development of doctrine

The Oneness-Trinitarian Pentecostal dialogue, although received with much optimism, reveals little alteration in either group’s theological position. While the vocabulary of ‘orthodox’ and ‘heretical’ has subsided and the conversation has become impartial and respectful, it is unlikely that the two opposing views on the doctrine of God will ever coalesce. A complete view of Pentecostalism can therefore not neglect the undeniable tensions that exist despite joint foundational commitments between both groups. The structure of the previous pages has indicated that at least three factors are responsible for the coexistence of these tensions: 1) the replacement of doctrine by an emphasis on experience; 2) foundational differences in Christology; 3) the focus on the Holy Spirit in all statements of faith. This concluding section highlights the significance of these factors for Pentecostal perspectives on the future development of Christian doctrine.
Replacing doctrine

Pentecostal theology is marked by an experience, not by a doctrine. This slogan may oversimplify the theological dynamics of the movement worldwide, but it serves as a helpful reminder that classical formulations of doctrine do not occupy a significant place in Pentecostal theology. The overwhelming emphasis on experience and spirituality outweighs contemplation on speculative elements of doctrine. We might say that experience replaces doctrine in Pentecostal faith and praxis. This perspective is particularly significant in the context of the doctrine of God that Pentecostals formulate primarily (if not exclusively) on the basis of a tangible encounter with God.
The emphasis on the encounter with God translates theologically to an equation of the experienced God with the fullness of God’s being (even if that cannot be experienced in its entirety). Where classical theism has drawn a distinction between God’s self-sufficient being and God’s involvement in the world, it can be argued that this distinction is not typically made by Pentecostals. The emphasis on encounter focuses on the presence of God in the here and now, a pragmatic rather than dogmatic pursuit of the divine.55 If there is a distinction between God-for-us and God-in-himself, this distinction is of little significance to the Pentecostal experience and formulation of doctrine. This insignificance allows room for both Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals.
While doctrinal distinctions or historical precedence occupy less significant roles in Pentecostal theology, the importance of biblical support for the Pentecostal experiences cannot be underestimated. Theological explanations for a divine encounter that has been experienced but not understood are typically sought directly from the Scriptures. The call for a return to biblical Christianity and the reliance on Luke-Acts has been widely recognized among Pentecostals. The significance of an experience-based interpretation of the Bible exposes that for Pentecostals there is no alternative to such interpretation (even if it exposes the lack of such specific experiences). Nonetheless, granting experience and spirituality a central place in theological hermeneutics allows Pentecostals to exercise a broad scale of interpretations ranging from those who look for repeatable patterns of divine activity throughout Scripture to those who elevate isolated passages to authoritative doctrinal status. At least among Pentecostals, the transition from experience to Scripture is less difficult than from the interpretation of Scripture to the formulation of doctrine.
The distance between experience and doctrine is particularly visible in the Pentecostal tensions surrounding the view of God. Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals both uphold the authority of Scripture for all matters of experience and practice. Yet, while each side upholds the biblical support for their respective position, theologically both sides significantly overlap. Oneness Pentecostals exhibit an unexpected triadic element in their understanding of God, while trinitarian Pentecostals tend to collapse the experiential reality of the three divine persons into a central experience of Christ or the Holy Spirit. For both sides, it is the authority of spirituality that dictates the theological position. The lack of concurrent experience of all three divine persons, or to put it positively, the particular elevation of one person in worship and encounter suggests significant theological agreements among Pentecostals that face confrontation only in specific doctrinal formulations or practical applications. The most significant of these agreements is the quest for the centrality of Jesus.
The quest for the centrality of Jesus

The overwhelming emphasis on the person of Jesus shapes the content of a theology based on experience among both Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals. In principle, the doctrinal emphasis on Jesus attributes all divine qualities and functions to Christ. What might therefore be called a ‘Christological maximalism’ in the Pentecostal doctrine of God leads among Oneness Pentecostals to a factual substitution of the three divine persons with the single person of Jesus, while trinitarian Pentecostals typically elevate Christ from the ‘second’ person of the Trinity to the central figure of Christian faith and worship. This Christocentric formulation of doctrine is not unique to Pentecostals.59 The Pietistic and Evangelical heritage of classical Pentecostalism, in particular, represents a seedbed for an experiential faith that is fundamentally Jesus-centred. Pentecostal doctrine, however, fluctuates more broadly between classical formulations of theology and the demands of compatibility with their Pentecostal experiences.
No large-scale theological treatments of Christology among Pentecostals have yet been attempted. Scripting what might be called ‘ordinary theology’ among Pentecostals, the oral and testimonial nature of Pentecostalism yields primarily a narrative account of Christology. The so-called ‘full gospel’ offers a broad pattern for a general narrative among Pentecostals, but concrete mechanisms of affirmation and reinforcement of such a pattern in everyday life are found primarily in the personal stories of experiences and encounters with Christ and the consequences of such events rather than in propositional statements of doctrine. Ordinary Christology among Pentecostals, although essentially rooted in some form of confessing the full gospel, varies widely between personal stories of encounter with Christ, the particular congregational story of local groups, and the denominational story or larger public life of Pentecostal bodies in their respective socio-cultural, economic, political, and theological contexts. The glocalization of Pentecostalism, that is, the increasing interdependence of Pentecostalism on both local and global theology, is a significant phenomenon contributing to the reality that Christ is recognized in a particularly diverse variety of faces. Christology among Pentecostals is a quest for the glocal Jesus.
Christology from a Latino/a perspective illustrates this diversity with particular clarity by showing a dominating fluidity in the perception and proclamation of Jesus that is symptomatic for Pentecostalism. In the Latino/a Pentecostal experience, Jesus is the baptizer (or doctrinal Jesus), healer (or liberator Jesus), and coming King (or political Jesus). Any particular emphasis is dictated by the cultural context and social location and may favour the divinity of Jesus, emphasizing his supernatural activity, or his humanity, focusing on how Jesus relates to the human situation. The doctrinal Jesus can serve as the standard of piety and spirituality, the liberator Jesus as the centre of faith, and the political Jesus as the motivation and goal of Christian living.64 The ways these perspectives are represented in Latino/a Pentecostalism are not as strictly defined as these categories suggest. A relational Christology that manifests Jesus as companion in the concrete socio-economic situation of the believer is perhaps the most dominating element of what could be called a glocal Christology. This can be illustrated further in the context of Pentecostal Christology in Africa.
Pentecostal Christology in Africa affirms the influence of glocalization in a theological environment shaped as much by traditional creedal models imported by missionaries as by the genuine language and symbolism developing in post-missionary Africa. The prolonged impact of slavery and colonization and the current rediscovery of genuine African culture, language, and worldview have shaped the image of Christ as the healer of Africa.67 The healing encounter with Christ is as much a personal as it is a public event that concerns the family, the church, and the marketplace. Christ is transforming the soul, liberating from evil, and empowering a godly life in which health and salvation refer as much to the body as to the political, economic, and natural world. The strong emphasis on orality in African life is shaping a form of ‘oral consensus’ in the place of formal doctrinal agreement that is based primarily on the shared experience of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.69 Prayer, testimony, song, and dance create a diverse and living imagery of Jesus in terms of health, healing, and wholeness that extends as a life in the Spirit to the whole symbolic structure of the African universe while remaining grounded in the particular experiences of local Pentecostal faith.
The responsiveness of the image of Christ to the particularities of Pentecostal experiences at the local and global dimensions of the Christian life is a hallmark of Pentecostal theology and its formulation of doctrine. This responsiveness is primarily responsible for the differences between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals that find little or no reflection in classical formulations of doctrine. If Pentecostalism is representative of the development of glocal Christianity, then we can expect an increasing diversity in the doctrine of God and its formulations among Christians worldwide as it is already anticipated among Pentecostals. The pursuit of the Holy Spirit sketches out the more visible dimensions of this manifold and contrasting development of doctrine.
Cosmic pneumatology

The focus on the Holy Spirit penetrates all Pentecostal theology, even if this is not always explicit in the articulation of formal doctrines. Combined with the centrality of Christ, a foundational sensitivity to the Holy Spirit has led to a certain binitarianism, a neglect of the Father, that is not unique to Pentecostals. To overstate the point, Spirit-Christology among Pentecostals overemphasizes the presence of Christ and the presence of the Spirit as the chief characteristics of participation in the life of God while neglecting to distinguish clearly between each presence.71 Pneumatology necessarily extends the lines of Christology in order to explain the presence of the risen and exalted Christ among a creation not yet fully glorified. Pentecostals accentuate the historical self-manifestation of God in the world through the Son and the Holy Spirit. This perspective reflects Irenaeus’s classical image of the Son and the Spirit as the ‘two hands of God’. However, while this image allows trinitarian Pentecostals to distinguish between the related yet distinct work of each person, Oneness Pentecostals can maintain that the work of each hand is factually always only the work of the one God. In either perspective, the formulation of doctrine is extended by the testimony of the Spirit.
The testimony of the Spirit inspires among Pentecostals what has been called a ‘pneumatological imagination’ as part of a theological hermeneutic that proceeds by way of Spirit and Word within a community of faith. The goal of this hermeneutic is transformational rather than doctrinal interpretation. While classical articulations of doctrine certainly do not exclude transformation, theological interpretation for Pentecostals is more akin to ‘a communal enterprise to discern the Spirit, to understand the Word, and to be transformed by the Spirit and the Word’.73 In praxis, this means that the orientation toward the Spirit directs the Pentecostal interpretation of the world. The pneumatological imagination inspired by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes possible a receptivity towards the mission of the Spirit in the world in all its multifarious historical manifestations. While the discernment of these manifestations is a difficult task, discerning the Spirit in the world is the central motif of Pentecostal doctrine responsible for a limitless albeit critical openness of all Pentecostal theology.
The openness of Pentecostal theology resulting from its pneumatological imagination extends to all matters of life. Pentecostals view in a very distinctive manner the church, society, and the world through the lens of the Spirit. The diversity of experiences of the Spirit expands clearly beyond the confines of classical formulations of doctrine. This leads frequently to either resistance or incorporation of Pentecostal themes and traditional orientations.76 Pentecostals have noted that the focus on the Spirit creates particular tensions with the themes of Protestant scholasticism, feminist theology, theology of the religions, or the theology and science dialogue. While some may view these confrontations as irreconcilable differences, such evaluations offer little explanatory power for understanding the doctrinal diversity among Pentecostals. More helpful is the perspective that pneumatology as a foundational component of theological inquiry inevitably expands the purview of Christian doctrine.
This expansion of the purview of doctrine is particularly visible in the emphasis on discerning the Spirit in the world that has taken Pentecostals into dialogue with the sciences and the theology of creation. While Pentecostals were traditionally suspicious that an engagement of the sciences would undermine belief in the Holy Spirit, the pneumatological imagination has kindled interest in the human, social, and behavioural sciences.78 Hermeneutical sensibilities among Pentecostals derived from the biblical record of Pentecost have opened up space for a reading of nature that sustains interest in the natural sciences. The emphasis on the Spirit is taking Pentecostals beyond their own methodological presuppositions (or prejudices), institutional arrangements (or absences), and particular socio-cultural practices (or stereotypes).
For many outsiders of the debate, the designation of Pentecostalism as either orthodox or sectarian in doctrine will likely remain an important characterization. For those participating in the dialogue, the joint pursuit of the Spirit may be able to overcome the glaring divisions between Oneness Pentecostal doctrine, a subtle binitarianism, and more fully developed trinitarian accounts of the doctrine of God. At least, the pneumatological focus offers a plausible explanation for the existence of such diversity. If Pentecostal Christology is marked by a quest for Jesus in the local and the global experience of faith, then Pentecostal pneumatology is characterized by a quest for the Spirit of Christ in the human being, nature, and the cosmos. For Pentecostals, pneumatology is therefore the heartbeat of the development of doctrine.81 The tensions between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals illustrate that this development is not exclusive to an abstract idea of doctrine, but that the church develops in the Spirit as part of the Christian story in ways not always conforming to orthodox standards. Pentecostalism embraces this non-conformance as a manifestation of the creative work of the Spirit that knows no boundaries but nonetheless strives toward the harmony and reconciliation of all creation in all its differences, strangeness, and seemingly irreconcilable otherness.


Social engagement and triumphalism
Pentecostalism is a socially, economically, and politically diverse phenomenon. Sociological characterizations and theories of the movement have changed as Pentecostals expanded in size and scope worldwide. One of the most significant, and still dominant, theories described the emergence of classical Pentecostalism in North America during the twentieth century as the result of the distinct social roots of deprivation. While such theories of social deprivation have been revised to account for the upward mobility of Pentecostals, recent observations continue to support the idea that Pentecostalism essentially flourishes as a religion of the poor while moving its appeal toward the masses.2 Upward mobility in socio-economic terms has become a central element of modern-day Pentecostalism with regard to both the outward perception of the movement and the self-understanding of its followers. In the developed nations, Pentecostalism often elicits ideas of finding meaning and purpose in life including a more vibrant spirituality. In developing countries, Pentecostalism speaks to the desires of the new middle classes to enter the modern world and its anticipated advantages.4 In undeveloped countries, Pentecostalism is seen as a route of escape from poverty, corruption, and oppression toward affluence, consumption, prosperity, and freedom. Despite the first impression, these identifications are not tied to particular locations or cultures but exist around the world, often overlapping and not clearly distinguished. Common to all of these dynamics are explicit tensions in the scope of Pentecostal mobility and its implications for involvement of Pentecostals in the broad spectrum of society. Significant differences exist between the participation of Pentecostals in social struggles and concerns for social justice. The means of participation in social struggle have sharply divided global Pentecostalism.
The present chapter compares and contrasts two distinct ways of Pentecostal upward social mobility: social engagement, exemplified in programmatic and long-term expressions of social activism and Pentecostal political and socio-cultural involvement, and triumphalism, or social passivism, exemplified in the preaching of the health and wealth gospel. The former proposes active participation and leadership in the struggle against poverty, deprivation, and oppression; the latter withdraws into a sectarian mindset, individualism, and triumphalism. This chapter seeks a comparison of both sides that is critical and therapeutic, offering insights into the tensions resulting from the expansion of the Pentecostal movement to global proportions and the challenges inherent in its confrontation with diverse socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts. Pentecostalism is here portrayed as a mirror of unavoidable global and local dynamics that define its character. The first part of the chapter addresses the realm of social engagement among Pentecostals with focus on Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The second part presents the teaching of the health and wealth gospel as well as the influence and reception of prosperity preaching among Pentecostals in North America and elsewhere. In the final part, the two accounts are brought into dialogue through a conversation on the state of contemporary Pentecostal social ethics.
Social engagement in the Pentecostal movement

There exists among Pentecostals worldwide a large group that might be termed ‘progressive Pentecostals’ oriented toward social transformation. The progressive groups often understand social engagement as a direct mandate from God, exemplified in the Scriptures, and a normative element of the Christian life. A significant characteristic of these groups is the personal experience of poverty, deprivation, oppression, and persecution or the identification with such underprivileged and marginalized people. In some cases, both elements together shape a highly activist, even revolutionary attitude against the status quo. This aspect demands closer examination before the motivation for and character of social engagement among Pentecostals can be identified more clearly.
Pentecostalism as a movement of social change

A global perspective on the worldwide distribution of Pentecostals shows the movement most dominantly among the undeveloped and developing nations; the largest growth of Pentecostals is found among the poor and in countries where the patterns of deprivation are multidimensional. The multidimensional poverty index shows the centres of poverty reflecting acute deprivation in health, education, and standard of living concentrated in parts of Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and South American countries below the general threshold of Latin America and the Caribbean.7 The significant presence of Pentecostals in these regions is well known, even though there exists no comprehensive study to date on the relationship of multidimensional poverty distribution and the worldwide growth of Pentecostalism. At the very least, the similarities suggest that oppressive social, economic, and political patterns are able to encourage and solidify the presence of Pentecostalism.
Significant for understanding the closer relationship of social deprivation and social engagement is the growth of Pentecostalism in regions that experience multidimensional forms of poverty. The highest Christian growth rates expected by the year 2025 in developing regions of East and South-East Asia as well as across Africa suggest that religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, serve as and are perceived as vehicles to escape deprivation. The percentage of church growth experienced by Pentecostal denominations in these regions during the first decade of the twenty-first century is unusually high. In contrast, the industrialized nations and regions with high human development often show stagnant or declining Christian growth and a comparatively low percentage of Pentecostals. While these developments cannot be generalized, and other factors influence the inception and growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, the prospect of escape from deprivation, oppression, and persecution, and the ideals of social welfare, human rights, and egalitarianism have shaped the new face of Christian social engagement in which Pentecostals occupy a significant position.
Social deprivation theory has been among the first to explain the growth of Pentecostalism as a result of identification of the poor and disenfranchised with the movement. The earliest efforts to situate classical Pentecostalism in the social and cultural setting of the early twentieth century resulted in one of the most dominant historiographies of American Pentecostalism. Robert Mapes Anderson exemplifies this movement in his classic characterization of Pentecostalism as the direct result of economic, social, cultural, and physical displacement and deprivation. However, Anderson’s theory aimed primarily at explaining why Pentecostalism emerged without showing that Pentecostals actually identified with a reaction to the socio-cultural conditions and with no comprehensive examination of how the movement responded to such conditions. In fact, the identification of Pentecostalism with enthusiastic and ecstatic religion prohibited the portrayal of Pentecostals as concerned with social justice. As a consequence, Anderson explains Pentecostalism as a substitute for participation in the social struggle. Instead of promoting social activism, deprivation theory suggests that Pentecostals turned ‘inward’ and ‘upward’—concerned primarily with themselves and God—and failed to direct their attention to the struggle for social justice surrounding them.
While deprivation theories consequently have been rejected as a sole explanation for association with Pentecostalism, the significance of deprivation cannot be discredited entirely. Deprivation theory fails to account fully for the appeal of Pentecostalism among all social classes. Nonetheless, Anderson correctly observed that the experience of, or identification with, social deprivation does not necessarily lead to social activism. This conclusion is supported by the fact that, for many years, classical Pentecostals have inadvertently nurtured the image of being oblivious to social justice.15 In contrast, recently developed social-movement theories examine Pentecostalism as a phenomenon more closely related to upward social mobility among a broader spectrum of factors contributing to the conversion process. While the general conditions of deprivation are not discredited, Pentecostalism is seen more broadly as a mechanism associated with social change across the entire range of socio-economic conditions.17 Observations of the explosion of Pentecostalism in North and South America suggest that the movement in these contexts of unprecedented growth is perceived as active and participatory, voluntary, and transformative, directed toward egalitarian ideals. Among the poor, Pentecostalism is seen as a form of religious participation in the socio-cultural reality that affords new and effective means to cope with and to overcome economic and political oppression. More stable and traditional environments may see Pentecostalism as a vehicle to address concerns of human development by those not immediately suffering from social, political, or economic oppression but identifying with a concern for the poor and the persecuted. At least in principle, a combination of these mechanisms forms the seedbed for social engagement among progressive Pentecostal groups worldwide.
Social engagement among progressive Pentecostals

The personal experience of devastating social, economic, and medical conditions in the developing nations have led to an emergent social form of Pentecostalism characterized by explicit social engagement in a variety of ministries, services, and programmes. Consistent models include emergency services (response to floods and earthquakes), medical assistance (including medical response to disasters, preventive care, drug rehabilitation programmes, psychological services, and establishing health and dental clinics), mercy ministries (such as homeless shelters, food banks, clothing services, and services to the elderly), educational programmes (especially day care and schools), counselling services (assisting cases of addiction, pregnancy, divorce, depression, or prison ministries), economic development (including job training, housing development, youth programmes, urban development programmes, housing programmes, and microenterprise loans), policy change (with focus on monitoring elections, opposing corruption, or advocating a living wage), and services in the arts (with training in music, drama, and dance). Many of these programmes are specific to certain regions and their particular contexts and types of Pentecostalism.
One of the earliest examples of active social engagement among classical Pentecostals is Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti mission in India in the early 1900s. Beginning as a revival among young Hindu women, Ramabai understood the events as the introduction of a uniquely Indian Christianity and interpreted them in the context of the unjust political, economic, and religious practices of the time. Herself an orphan and widow, Ramabai set out to alleviate the particular issues confronting Hindu women and widows. She became known initially for establishing a mission to disposed women and children at Mukti in Maharastra State in western India. Presenting her case to the Indian Education Commission, Queen Victoria supported Ramabai’s social efforts by establishing women’s hospitals and schools for women and widows. An erudite scholar, Ramabai also worked on translating the Bible into popular Marathi, recommended the adoption of Hindi as the national language of India, and established missions, orphanages, and schools to realize a new social reality for the women of India.21 Ramabai’s social vision included preschool and elementary education, vocational and industrial services, health services, feeding and clothing ministries, and communities for children, widows, prostitutes, and the blind. Her ministry expanded to England, the United States, and Chile. She represents a Pentecostal pioneer in the struggle for social justice. Pentecostal social activism in the tradition of Ramabai’s social vision has slowly begun to shape a form of spiritual capital that has the potential for broad socio-cultural changes.23
Among the poverty-stricken and politically oppressed nations of the African continent, Pentecostals have also emerged at the forefront of various programmes of social action. Particularly in places ridden by hunger, disease, unemployment, indebtedness, and corruption, Pentecostals have provided an alternative community, morality, lifestyle, and spirituality. South Africa, in particular, is representative of Pentecostal involvement in the social and economic affairs of the African continent. The famed conditions of Soweto, for example, including 80 per cent unemployment and a high rate of HIV/AIDS cases, also shows an astonishing growth rate of Pentecostal churches.25 Located in the midst of deprivation, Pentecostals have shaped a new mindset of discipline, hard work, and self-reliance at the core of concrete poverty alleviation projects. Many of these ministries, services, and activities are carried out ‘under the radar’ of public knowledge despite unprecedented energy and entrepreneurship in South Africa. Highlighting the intensity of spiritual engagement as a central feature of the movement in Africa, Pentecostals have helped inaugurate a new culture of self-confidence, self-esteem, personal agency, and determination. Pentecostal churches have helped establish and maintain autonomous organizations among the poor and provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and social mobility. In and beyond South Africa, Pentecostals participate in rural health clinics, agricultural services, educational institutions, microenterprise loans, legal aid, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, and other social ministries.28 African Pentecostalism is emerging as a movement directed towards physical, psychological, spiritual, and material struggle of the individual and the community. Overall, the Pentecostal movement has begun to occupy a difficult and transitional position in the redefinition of national and transnational identities among many African nations.
Contemporary Pentecostalism in Latin America shows a similar picture of active participation in social and economic development. In Brazil, Pentecostals are seen as interested in social welfare on a pragmatic level ranging from installing public utilities to building schools, establishing medical facilities, and participation in labour struggles. Pentecostals in neighbourhood associations have instilled an image of trustworthiness and reliability that spans across towns. In most instances, Pentecostal congregations serve as mutual aid societies that function like crisis centres for health, family, and employment concerns.31 Social activism is typically a small-group endeavour affecting individuals through motivational and cultural strategies that aim at engendering a cultural and political organization and autonomy among the poor. In some cases, social activism has led to the emergence of a broader political culture among Pentecostal groups that has taken the movement from a sect mentality to the development of more effective institutional structures.33
In Chile, Pentecostals have more broadly participated in the country’s social, political, and economic history. Particularly influential has become the so-called Protestant Development Service (SEPADE), a non-governmental organization that has taken on a leading role in community programmes and development, neighbourhood programmes, political mobilization, and various social participation programmes.34 Emerging as one of the first non-governmental organizations of the country, SEPADE raised the socio-economic consciousness among Pentecostals, initially on a grassroots level, that eventually contributed significantly to the renewed democratization of the country. With the help of international political and ecumenical development efforts during the Pinochet dictatorship, the organization set as its chief agenda the socio-economic development of the working classes.36 Beginning with social services at the local, mostly rural neighbourhood level, SEPADE expanded to rural and urban community development, establishing soup kitchens, agricultural services, health organizations, community centres, educational and recreational programmes, child care, food aid, vocational training, trade unions, and a host of other activities.37 SEPADE not only mobilized but integrated Pentecostals in broader Christian commitments to social engagement and helped shape a new social ethic in Chile.
The limited examples of the preceding survey should not give the impression that Pentecostals worldwide are generally found at the frontline of social transformation. The political, economic, and socio-cultural stance of Pentecostal groups remains highly diverse. Similar forms of social engagement by Pentecostals can be found throughout South America, Central America, and North America.39 At the same time, social activism among Pentecostals is less concentrated in the West and the northern hemisphere. In many cases, church-based activism is more frequently encountered than direct political participation. Publicly recognized and more radical forms of political, social, and economic activism are located mostly in the hands of a progressive minority. Conservative and sectarian forms of Pentecostalism continue to coexist with Pentecostal groups that are deeply engaged in personal, communal, and humanitarian development.41 Nonetheless, where Pentecostals have taken on the cause of the powerless, they often represent a liberator for those who have found no other help. Increasingly, Pentecostals are becoming attuned to the concerns of social justice and their own participation in the struggle for life, equality, and dignity.
Pentecostal triumphalism

In contrast to the preceding picture of social engagement among Pentecostals, observers of the movement can also find a more restrained, passive attitude and triumphalist behaviour in parts of the movement. This resistance to active participation in the struggle for broader economic, political, or socio-cultural improvements is exemplified in a complex phenomenon known in various terms as the ‘health and wealth gospel’, ‘prosperity preaching’, or ‘word-faith theology’. These movements, though not dominant, represent a persistent phenomenon among Pentecostals. The triumphalism of these groups has been sharply criticized, even among Pentecostals. Yet, the health and wealth gospel has nonetheless become widely established through the efficient use of mass media and has found a dedicated audience among a wide socio-economic spectrum of Pentecostals. This section introduces diverse representations of the health and wealth gospel among different Pentecostal groups worldwide in order to provide a sample of the diversity of the phenomenon. The initial overview is followed by a presentation of the theological underpinnings of the health and wealth gospel in contrast to the sources that lead to social engagement.
Diverse forms of the health and wealth gospel

The preponderance of social media in North America has made the health and wealth gospel particularly visible among African American Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Made popular by leading televangelists, a group of African American Pentecostals have spread the healing and prosperity message among black churches and particularly the black Pentecostal community. While it would be incorrect to portray the health and wealth gospel in North America as exclusively an Afro-Pentecostal movement, African American history and socio-economic status present a significant influence on its emergence. Beginning with the introduction of African slaves and their descendants, economic and material need have always formed a central concern of the black churches. The health and wealth gospel, however, has moved the concerns from the basic need of survival to the ideal of prosperity.44 With a followership dominantly from the poor and working classes, the health and wealth gospel has redefined socio-economic participation among many Afro-Pentecostal groups. In contrast to the countercultural attitude of social activists, the prosperity gospel locates these Pentecostals squarely in the stream of Christian capitalism. The emergence of mega-churches and the display of affluence in mass media have further shaped a new triumphant image of black Pentecostalism as a religion of the rich rather than the poor, a medium for upward social mobility rather than an identification with the socially and economically deprived. This construction of a new identity has exerted a decisive influence on the spread of the health and wealth gospel.
Influenced by North American evangelistic campaigns, prosperity preaching has taken roots with particular fervour in many of the economically devastated environments of the African continent. The search for African national identity, economic stability, health, and social welfare has influenced African Pentecostal groups to adopt North American concerns for materialism and individualism. As a result, the health and wealth gospel has transformed Pentecostal churches in many countries from conservative origins and advocacy for the poor to followers of the prosperity message.48 In many African countries, this message is reshaping the image of the Christian into that of a culture-broker and affluent community leader who endorses the capacity of capitalism to produce autonomous, socially mobile citizens. Not unlike traditional African religious leaders, prosperity preachers receive material gifts from their congregations as encouragement to intercede on behalf of the giver for health and material prosperity from God.50 Reflecting the broader context of African cosmologies, the evils of poverty and sickness are attributed to the spiritual realm of devils and demons that are successfully confronted through exorcism and Christian faith. However, this triumphalism directs Pentecostals away from active participation in social struggles. The prosperity of the church and the individual has assumed priority over the building of hospitals, medical facilities, counselling centres, soup kitchens, clothing ministries, vocational schools and other hands-on participation by those directly involved in socio-economic development. The strong social pressure across Africa directed at the redistributive accumulation of wealth has found in the health and wealth gospel a system of religious practices that seeks to overcome existing forms of corruption and inequality without engaging the ideas of public and civic service.52
A similar picture in Asia can be found in the Philippines, where the El Shaddai movement has become a popular representative of the health and wealth gospel, and in South Korea, where affluent mega-churches have come to dominate the image of Pentecostalism. In the Philippines, the prosperity message has emerged specifically among the Charismatic Movement of the Roman Catholic Church and is in the process of reshaping popular Catholic beliefs and practices. Popular among the Filipino urban poor and aspiring middle classes, the movement’s message not only promises healing, prosperity, and employment but a reshaping of the social, economic, and political environment, albeit not through critical or countercultural involvement in the struggle against injustice.54 El Shaddai operates largely on the ‘seed-faith’ principle in the form of gifts to the church in expectation for personal prosperity in return. The broad mixing of religious sincerity, Catholic sacramental sensibilities, and materialism, and the failure to address the struggle for social justice, have raised widespread criticism.
Similar criticism has been directed at the health and wealth gospel in South Korea, where Pentecostalism and prosperity preaching have become synonymous for some with capitalism, commercialization, this-worldly religion, and middle-class ambitions. Korean mega-churches have been criticized for a market- and prosperity-driven form of ‘McDonaldization’ of Christianity that appears to go hand-in-hand with the spread of Pentecostalism.57 This process exhibits a rationalization of social participation that submits to the dominance of calculability, predictability, efficiency, and control. Marketability and success have taken the place of a traditional theology of suffering (minjung) in Korea and its customary participation in the relational dimensions of social and cultural improvement. In a nation where the churches helped to provide food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual direction after the devastations of the Korean War, the prospering mega-churches are accused of abandoning the poor, the suffering, the elderly, the widows and orphans, the socially disenfranchised and ostracized.60 The health and wealth gospel has contributed to the modernization and revitalization of Korean society, albeit without mobilizing explicit forms of social activism or awakening a moral social consciousness.
In Latin America, the health and wealth gospel has also spread widely among many poor and aspiring Pentecostals. The prosperity message in the different socio-economic contexts of Brazil, for example, has been successfully adapted to emphasize both economic survival among the poor and economic success among the mobile middle classes. The Brazilian form of the health and wealth gospel has gradually expanded to transnational organizations across Latin America. Central to this successful ecclesiastical business model is the principle of successful reciprocity: the giving of money and tithes to the church in order to receive a response in kind from God.63 This principle shapes not merely a triumphalist culture of giving and receiving but a global perspective on the integration of faith and economics in the Christian life. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the largest and most visible church of the prosperity movement in Brazil, has successfully expanded the reach of the health and wealth gospel and integrated the ideas of health and prosperity in the development of globalization.65 While some perceive this growth as a transformation of the church into ‘an enormous money machine’, others portray it as the unavoidable mechanisms of a Christian faith trying to reach the world for Jesus Christ.67 The former lament the disengagement of these churches from issues of social justice, the latter insist that their intentions are just the opposite. This discrepancy warrants a closer look at the theological underpinnings of the prosperity message.
The theological message of the health and wealth gospel

The examples for the health and wealth gospel given above illustrate the diverse forms of practices and attitudes that characterize the prosperity movements. The proclamation of the health and wealth gospel proceeds in principle on the broad basis of three theological precepts: a reinterpretation of the doctrine of God, a contemporary view of humanity, and a word-of-faith mechanism interlinking both realities.
Foundational to the health and wealth gospel is a particular doctrine of God, a theological perspective, that is, rather than a socio-economic theory or business practice. Prosperity preaching depends upon identification with God and God’s relationship to health and wealth. The roots of this interpretation can be found in the work of E. W. Kenyon (1867–1948), the grandfather of the health and wealth gospel. A representative of quasi-Pentecostals during the early twentieth century (that is, exhibiting spiritual gifts while voicing criticism of the movement), Kenyon’s basic theology shows the influence of the Holiness and healing Movements of the time on the perception of faith, health, sanctification, and the supernatural. Not unlike Oneness Pentecostal beliefs, these influences display a central emphasis on the person of Jesus Christ, in whom the whole nature of God is personified. The cross represents the central place of the salvific work of God in terms of the forgiveness of sins as well as the redemption from sickness and poverty (placed on Christ and conquered through his death). Christ is therefore seen as the principal manifestation of the character of God, the author of a redeemed, successful, and abundant life in this world. Material prosperity and physical health are the promises of God fulfilled in Christ and given in the atonement.70
Intimately connected with this image of God in Christ is a particular image of the human being. Central to the anthropology of the health and wealth gospel is the ‘law of identification’ between the human person and Christ. Extending from Christ’s identification with humanity (marked by the Incarnation and the cross), humankind is automatically identified with Christ and participates in the fullness of Christ’s victory. This fullness of identification includes the very real, material, and physical victory of the Spirit-filled believers who, in turn, have become ‘the fullness of Christ’, ‘supermen indwelt by God’, and ‘spiritual giants’.72 The image of Christ and the believer are bound together not in the image of poverty but prosperity, not emptiness but fullness, not defeat but triumph. This rhetoric is intended to support the practice that human beings not only possess the right and authority to the fullness of the Christian life but that they can claim all things in ‘the wonderful name of Jesus’. The law of identification is carried out by the believer’s word of faith and in the promises of God made accessible through Christ.
The connecting element between humankind and God, or more precisely, between the human condition and the promises of God, is the emphasis on the word of faith. While the doctrine of God and the image of humanity are often quietly subsumed under the theology of the health and wealth gospel, the word-of-faith element constitutes its most visible and controversial aspect. Essential to this theology is the conviction that faith is an active practice rather than a spiritual attitude. In other words, the Christian does not have faith—faith is what is done by the believer. The law of identification operates on the practice of faith by ‘which believers exercise and by which they acquire for themselves the abundant benefits of redemption’. At this point, Kenyon’s basic teachings emerge with different emphases in various contexts. Nonetheless, there are certain mechanics of the word of faith that are common to the health and wealth gospel and that are subsumed under the principle of so-called ‘positive confession’.
Positive confession is the idea that faith requires verbal declaration, and that the faithful receive what they claim by their vocal declaration of faith. This ‘naming and claiming’ of spiritual, physical, or material blessings generally proceeds in four stages: First, the believer locates the promises of what is sought in the biblical texts; second, the faithful assert that these promises are directed at them, and that they will receive them if they claim them. This step often includes the visualization of the desired objects and their anticipated reception. Third, the believer confesses this faith vocally and claims the results. Finally, the Christian proceeds immediately to live a life as if the promise had been received. This central step of moving from ‘naming’ the desired result to ‘claiming’ it as one’s own possession involves not merely hopeful expectation but the firm belief that the promises of God have been received through the act of the word of faith. Adversely, the absence of receiving the desired results is blamed on the absence of faith in the believer.77 The health and wealth gospel is a proclamation of the triumphant Christian life that rejects negative confession, discouraging thoughts and practices, misdirected focus on one’s condition, and acknowledgment of one’s present struggle, in favour of positive assertion and the persistent pursuit of the abundant life.
The anticipated (and claimed) result of positive confession is a life of health and wealth that reflects the abundance and prosperity of the eternal life of God. Divine healing provided in the atonement is a common teaching among Pentecostals. Sickness and death are regarded as attributes of the work of Satan and the life of sin from which the believer has been redeemed through Christ. Prayer for healing, recovery, and even resurrection is therefore not uncommon among most Pentecostal groups. However, some health and wealth groups consequently reject the use of physicians, prescriptions, and medical science altogether, although the movement has become more moderate in recent years.80 While prayer, anointing, and the laying on of hands are the general Pentecostal response to sickness, the health and wealth gospel encourages also unusual practices such as the purchase and use of handkerchiefs, aprons, and anointing oils to obtain health and prosperity. Special health and healing services are designed to demonstrate the power of faith and deliverance, often accompanied by numerous testimonies and—at least in the global South—often affirmed by physical evidence of healings widely labelled as miracles. God and the believer are said to join in a covenantal exchange in which God’s abundance is made available to the faithful. God’s Word is guardian and assurance of the divine promises of prosperity and health accessible by all who claim them in faith.
Many of these theological underpinnings of the health and wealth gospel stand in contrast to traditional Christian teachings, in general, and active social engagement, in particular. Critics of the movement have pointed to a one-sided doctrine of God, an overemphasized Christology, an anthropocentric theology, including the deification of humanity, an altered doctrine of revelation, and a biased hermeneutics of Scripture. A more nuanced overview of the movement than provided in this chapter would show a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices that at times can be identified closely with classical Pentecostalism while in other contexts lean more toward New Age thinking and mind science.83 Yet even if we neglect the extremes of the prosperity movement, the health and wealth gospel has discouraged active participation in the struggle for social and economic justice in favour of the assurance of the triumphant life. The focus is placed on the instant changes made possible by the acquisition of wealth rather than the slow and demanding forms of social ministries, services, and programmes. Energy is invested in the individual’s health and wealth rather than the healing and prosperity of the community. Solidarity with the poor and persecuted is executed largely on the basis of self-interest. Social and economic identification exists primarily on the basis of the prosperity of a particular group rather than society as a whole. As a result, the health and wealth gospel has divided Pentecostalism and the Evangelical and broader ecumenical traditions. Social engagement and the prosperity movement stand on opposite ends of contemporary forms of Pentecostal social ethics.
Pentecostal social ethics

The undeniable tensions between traditional forms of social engagement, on the one hand, and the triumphalism of the health and wealth gospel, on the other hand, paint a clear picture of the wide range of social consciousness in the Pentecostal movement. Any attempt to construct a homogeneous image of Pentecostal social ethics inevitably results in the misleading assumption that either one side is dominant or that the tensions between both sides are negligible. Moreover, while the contrasting sides presented in this chapter offer a certain perspective on the global state of affairs, the local and particular forms of the movement typically contain Pentecostals that are neither socially active nor drawn to the health and wealth gospel. On the other hand, there are groups associated with the health and wealth gospel that show active social engagement and participation in civic and volunteer movements. What we find among Pentecostals is not only a wide range of attitudes toward social engagement but also a social consciousness in transition that has become characteristic of the state of affairs of the young movement worldwide. A proper assessment of Pentecostalism therefore must take into account the dominant extremes as well as the position of ambivalence, ignorance, and shifting allegiances. This concluding section addresses these changing conditions with the aim of identifying proper labels for the social ethics existing among Pentecostals today.
Social consciousness in transition

The Pentecostal attitude toward engagement with social, economic, and political issues is not static. It is highly dependent on existing conditions, dominant cultural perspectives, economic developments, political leadership, religious examples and the corresponding desires for acceptance and effectiveness or reformation and change. Hence, Pentecostal groups exhibit sometimes a radical break and at other times a gradual shift in social consciousness. The confrontation of habits, values, and corresponding ethical responses is particularly evident in North America, where Pentecostalism has experienced some of the most dramatic socio-economic changes during the twentieth century. Although the beginnings of a similar development can be seen elsewhere, the highly visible complexity of the Pentecostal movement in the United States stands as representative for the broader patterns of emerging Pentecostal social ethics worldwide.
Classical Pentecostalism in the United States shows a shift regarding prosperity, consumerism, and capitalism soon after the first generation of the early twentieth century. Original anti-materialism dominated the eschatological mindset of Pentecostal pioneers, who had little time to engage in consumerism while expecting the imminent return of Christ. Pentecostal leaders spoke out clearly against capitalism and materialism.87 The missionary fervour of the early Pentecostals would have quickly made them averse to introducing imperialistic and capitalistic values alongside the gospel. Theological convictions rather than economic theories dominated the mindset of classical Pentecostals. Prosperity preaching was the exception.
The second half of the twentieth century shows a significant shift in classical Pentecostal social ethics including the expansion of the health and wealth gospel. Shifting eschatological convictions placed more emphasis on the present socio-economic conditions and the demands of a growing movement than on divine judgment and evangelization. Alignment with North American Evangelicalism led to identification with dominant middle-class ambitions rather than counter-cultural attitudes and changed the face of both Pentecostal and Evangelical Christianity. In addition, the use of mass media and technology significantly advanced the popularity of both Pentecostalism and the prosperity message. The growing acceptability and penetration of Pentecostalism among the more affluent social classes gradually eroded the original scepticism toward material possessions.90 At the same time, the attraction of the American dream to immigrants seeking social, economic, and political stability, on the one hand, and the failure of the American dream among certain people groups have helped shape two very distinct forms of North American Pentecostalism and have redefined their attitude toward the health and wealth gospel: African American and Hispanic American Pentecostals.
The African American Pentecostal community has experienced the shift in social consciousness in both directions. Beginning perhaps as early as World War I, some black Holiness preachers, individuals, and churches, became leading social activists ahead of the Civil Rights Movement. African American Pentecostalism became a movement within black civic society that challenged the established social values and norms and helped construct a new African American identity.92 This movement, however, also led many black Pentecostal churches to a life in exile rather than inside the mainstream of American religion and culture. In response, during the latter half of the twentieth century, many African American Pentecostals turned increasingly to the ideas of cultural integration, upward social mobility, and prosperity. The health and wealth gospel was perceived as a form of constructing society primarily directed at the betterment of the individual situation. At the same time, the historical approaches to moral agency among black churches, including testimony, protest, uplift, co-operation, achievement, and remoralization, moved into the background.95 At the turn to the twenty-first century, a reversal has been observed toward the resurgence of a ‘new’ black Pentecostal activism. Today’s engagement in social transformation includes traditional forms influenced by the civil rights and the black power movements as well as distribution of social services and more indirect ritual activities.97 While the influence of the health and wealth gospel persists, many black Pentecostal communities have returned to the social activism that characterized their past.
Hispanic American Pentecostals experienced a similar transition of socio-economic values, political behaviour, religious affiliation, and Latina/o Pentecostal public voice. Unlike African American Pentecostals, the Hispanic community is much more diverse, covering a vast array of a population tied together by common but broad heritage, language, and cultural traits. The twentieth century shows not only a dramatic increase of the Hispanic American population but also of Hispanic Pentecostalism, accompanied by significant upward social mobility and the far-reaching reorganization of Hispanic Pentecostal churches after World War II. The initial picture of Hispanic Pentecostalism at the beginning of the twentieth century presents itself not unlike the image of Latinos in general at the time, that is, as less proactive than whites and blacks in social engagement, and at times as passively enduring the conditions of depravity and oppression as a minority in the country. Hispanic social consciousness was aimed primarily at overcoming economic depression, educational disadvantages, immigration issues, and other circumstances related to the individual. Pentecostal churches represented a welcome communal support system, but the concentration of Hispanics in a few metropolitan areas and the lack of resources among most Pentecostals did not encourage broad socio-political engagement. However, the subsequent increase of the Hispanic community also impacted the growth and spread of Hispanic Pentecostalism and its image of faith-based political and social action. By the end of the twentieth century, a national survey of the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life revealed that Latina/o Pentecostals had become just as involved as other religious organisations and in fact reported the highest involvement in all measures of social and political activism. Latina/o clergy, churches, and religious organizations today have emerged as general and civic leaders involved in educational, social, and political issues frequently aimed at improving the conditions of the Hispanic community.103
This image of an apparently simple increase or change from sectarianism to social engagement demands a thicker description and expansion of the paradigm by which Latina/o Pentecostal faith is counted as a motivating factor. The growth of the Hispanic Pentecostal community after World War II also shows widespread tendencies toward fragmentation of Latino denominations often resulting from divisions between new immigrants and established generations. While the former continue to be on the average younger, poorer, and less educated, the latter have adapted to American culture and found new social identity and economic stability. As a result, involvement in social and political action has become closely tied to the experience of socio-economic deprivation, particularly factors of income, immigration, education, and religious participation.105 These and other factors continue to shape the Hispanic Pentecostal community and its social consciousness in North America.
These changes in social, economic, and political consciousness are symptomatic for broader shifts in classical Pentecostalism in other areas, for example, alcohol consumption, dress code, attending of theatre, and attitudes toward pacifism and war. Toward the end of the twentieth century, classical Pentecostals adopted the principal values of American society. This espousal of the dominant value system includes substantive changes in the Pentecostal social consciousness that have made Pentecostals less distinguishable from society and other religious groups. At the same time, Pentecostals have also maintained and rediscovered some of their own values that they believe American society should hold. These conclusions are applicable to Pentecostalism worldwide and mark it as a phenomenon with social values highly dependent on the contextual history and development of social, economic, and political circumstances.
Ambivalent social ethics

Pentecostal involvement in social, economic, and political issues can be stereotyped as active or passive, progressive or regressive, accommodative or counter-cultural. A one-sided perspective of the movement’s social engagement will likely capture a large portion of the Pentecostal social ethos. However, neglect of the tangible differences and shifts in the movement’s social consciousness fails to account for both the oppositional forces present among Pentecostals as well as the diverse range of socio-economic and political modalities among Pentecostals worldwide. A view inclusive of the tensions does not have the luxury to speak of a single Pentecostal social consciousness. Instead, three necessary and complementary labels present themselves in the characterization of social ethics among Pentecostals today: contradictory, ambiguous, and multifarious.
The characterization of Pentecostal social ethics as contradictory is a helpful starting point to identify the existing tensions. The young Pentecostal movement, still in its infant stages, does not possess a single, global or local, social consciousness. As a movement closely tied to the local state of affairs, Pentecostalism is highly volatile and dependent on cultural, social, economic, and political developments in their particular contexts. That the response to these circumstances can be identified as contradictory does not discredit the movement or its social ethics. Rather, the reality of contradiction in the same movement points to the transitional nature of the global Pentecostal movement as a whole. Pentecostals are, so to speak, on the way of finding and defining themselves in the midst of the socio-cultural, economic, and political circumstances that are still shaping the movement. It is often assumed that the established Christian traditions have long completed this initial stage of ethical development and possess a firmly established stance. Yet the emergence of dominant ethical controversies that have divided Christianity during the twentieth century, including the debates on abortion, apartheid, capital punishment, contraception, genetic engineering, homosexuality, or pacifism, to name but a few, indicates that Pentecostalism may only be more expressive and extraverted than the established traditions in the display of inherently contradictory ethical positions.
The characterization of Pentecostalism as an ambiguous social movement overlaps this perspective of inherent contradictions. Ambiguity identifies a certain lack of clarity, both for Pentecostalism itself and its observers, without immediately juxtaposing certain positions or excluding others. When we speak of Pentecostalism as ambiguous, we mean not a lack of decision by Pentecostals but the absence of direction for the movement as a whole. Neither social activism nor the health and wealth gospel are ambiguous; what is ambiguous is the indecision that one or the other characterizes Pentecostals as a whole. More precisely, in the contexts of global Christianity, ‘ambiguity is the coming together of the local and specific with the global and open-ended’.111 Pentecostalism is closely tied to local socio-economic contexts and the particular conditions experienced by its members but ‘is sufficiently adaptable to forge links with very different social formations’. Much of this ambiguity is the result of organizational dynamics among Pentecostals that are typically in the hands of small groups, congregations, and pastoral leadership rather than denominations, regional, national, or international organizations.113 Ambiguity is necessary for a global movement like Pentecostalism that exists not as a ready-made global system but is in the process of becoming a worldwide phenomenon ‘by constant adjustment on the ground’. These adjustments have shaped Pentecostalism as a utilitarian movement without forcing the pragmatic stance in any particular direction.
A third way to characterize the social consciousness among Pentecostals is to speak of Pentecostal social engagement as a multifarious phenomenon summarized with the motto, ‘many tongues, many practices’. This motto embraces the contradictions and ambiguity of the movement without attempting to force the phenomenology of Pentecostalism into a normative account of a single social practice. Instead, a multiplicity of socio-political forms and structures are already anticipated in the biblical account of Pentecost from which modern-day Pentecostalism derives its meaning and which forms the central motif of the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. This multiplicity corresponds to a pluralism of responses from the Christian world to the struggle for social, economic, and political justice in general. An intentional multiplicity of responses and practices are therefore seen as constitutive of the distinct Pentecostal contributions to the global Christian landscape.117 This perspective does not interpret the idea of ‘many tongues and many practices’ as a temporary phenomenon but as a posture that may well represent the face(s) of global Christianity in the near future. Contradictions and ambiguity are part of Pentecostalism’s determination ‘to engage the public square in some senses on its own Christian terms rather than on the terms set by the ‘world’ ’. Social engagement and the health and wealth gospel are both expressions of a multifarious Christian existence echoing the many tongues of the Spirit given on the day of Pentecost and characterizing the Pentecostal world today.
If these characterizations are correct, then the contradictory, ambiguous, and multifarious social consciousness and behaviour of modern-day Pentecostalism is not temporary but here to stay. Even when there is evidence that Pentecostal social ethics are solidifying under pressure of socialization, institutionalization, and secularization, the resulting expressions cannot be seen as normative for the entire movement. This pluralistic identity should not be understood as relativism, that is, an intentional lack of direction and decision-making on behalf of social justice. It is perhaps more adequately identified as a form of ‘prophetic activism’ that has come to include progressive and conservative means of Christian social engagement.120 As prophetic, Pentecostal social activism takes place in the ‘borderlands’ of globalization, internationalization, urbanization, and industrialization. In these places, the forms of social engagement are as varied as the challenges. Pentecostalism is still in the process of finding an ethical methodology that enables it to respond to the reality and crisis of pluralism characteristic of the twenty-first century world. The worldwide economic down-turn and various dramatic socio-economic and political changes since the end of the twentieth century have contributed to a widening of these borderlands across the globe. The corresponding need to face the various social struggles in these transitional contexts anticipates the further spread of Pentecostalism in its diverse range from social activism to triumphalism.


Egalitarian practices and institutionalism
Hot debates, often to the boiling point, have erupted in many Pentecostal circles over issues of gender and race. The existence of such disagreements is particularly surprising in light of the fact that Pentecostalism is widely considered an egalitarian movement. Divisions over the representation and authority of Pentecostals across the lines of gender and race stand in sharp contrast to the emphasis on the prophethood of all believers. These tensions have permeated the movement and brought it to the brink of separation, often held together only by the joint affirmation that the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh and that the gifts of the Spirit are available to everyone without measure. On the one hand, the outpouring of the Spirit is seen as an act of liberation and reconciliation across the limits of age, gender, race, class, and ethnicity. On the other hand, some postpone these achievements as eschatological promises to the time of a new creation while holding on to established institutional patterns.
Reasons for the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism are complex, often depending on the heritage, social make-up and context, as well as history of particular Pentecostal groups. Divisions over gender and race stand out with particular force and contrast with the desires of Pentecostalism as a global charismatic and ecumenical movement. The present chapter presents this contrast and the underlying motivations with particular focus on the exorbitant tensions surrounding the authority of women in ministry and the divisions between black Pentecostalism and white congregations. The first part of this chapter introduces the egalitarian impulse of the Pentecostal movement, focusing on the ideals of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the priesthood of all believers, and the end of partiality in the body of Christ. The second part describes the contrasting divisions over race and gender dominant among Pentecostal groups worldwide. In the final part, the influence of institutionalism, the bias of Pentecostal scholarship, and a segregated doxology are highlighted as the key contributors to maintaining the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism among Pentecostals today.
The egalitarian impulse of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism is a movement of the people. Stereotypes, sometimes based on dominant historiographies of the movement, tend to regard Pentecostalism as an isolated religious sect, the social religious movement of a disenfranchised and underprivileged minority occupied with peculiar religious concerns. In this portrait, the typical Pentecostal cannot be identified with the general image of society and is not concerned with the social struggle. A less biased approach, however, suggests rather the opposite, namely that Pentecostalism can indeed be identified as a movement of the masses. Various models, including theories relating Pentecostalism to the phenomenon of deprivation, restorationism, revivalism, accommodation, modernism, and postmodernism, are utilized in the attempt to understand the existence and composition of the global movement.2 The common denominator of these models is the attempt to explain what motivations exactly have made Pentecostalism one of the most vibrant contemporary religious movements. Among the most outstanding features emerging from this discussion is the universal appeal of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian model of the Christian life that disregards barriers of class, social status, race, ethnicity, gender, education, and age. In their place, Pentecostals emphasize the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, the prophethood of all believers, and the equality of the body of Christ.
The universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostals unmistakably understand themselves as participants in the work of the Holy Spirit. More explicitly, Pentecostalism itself is typically regarded as a movement of the Spirit in the world. As such, Pentecostals seek to display in the movement the characteristics of the Spirit’s presence and activity. These features are derived initially from a reading of the New Testament, particularly Luke-Acts, in light of the Spirit-oriented perspective surrounding the day of Pentecost: The church is portrayed as a community anointed with the Spirit of Jesus, whose own ministry is interpreted in light of his anointing with the Spirit of God (see Acts 10:38) and in fulfilment of the prophets (Lk. 4:18–19; see Isa. 61:1–2). Characterized as a ministry to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed, Jesus is known for his fellowship (Lk. 5:30; 7:34; 15:1) with men, women, and children, the religious elite, sinners and tax collectors, the sick, demon-possessed, and disabled—social outcasts in various ways. The Spirit-filled ministry of Jesus oversteps the boundaries of social structures and establishments and represents for Pentecostals a paradigm for a new egalitarian movement.
The day of Pentecost marks the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:17–18 became the central passage for the interpretation of the work of the Spirit by most Pentecostals: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’ In these words, Pentecostals find affirmation that the outpouring of the Spirit has initiated a new social order, a community of equals among the rich and the poor, masters and servants, men and women, old and young (see Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). All are seen as baptized, filled, and empowered by the Spirit, often reversing established cultural, socio-economic, political, or ecclesiastical structures.
In addition to this reading of the Scriptures, Pentecostals interpret themselves as the fulfilment of the biblical promises of the day of Pentecost. This recognition is nowhere more evident than in the widely publicized events of the Azusa Street Mission and revival of 1906–9 that embraced, in the midst of the segregationist environment prevalent in North America at the time, persons from different races, genders, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities. Participation in the outpouring of the Spirit joined diverse people together in outbursts and celebrations of socially aberrant and typically unacceptable behaviours. The common association with Pentecostals ostracized them as a group quickly from the rest of society. The group itself, however, understands its existence as a result of the revelation that God shows no partiality; men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters (see Acts 10:34), all are recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit without partiality is interpreted as both gift and mandate. As a gift from God, Pentecostals are convinced that the modern-day Pentecost marks the beginning of the end time, an eschatological signpost for the imminent return of Christ, the judgment of the world, and the new creation. The universal gift of the Spirit is the final invitation to a dying world to receive salvation, sanctification, and empowerment in the last days. For Pentecostals, the outpouring of the Spirit penetrates the last dominion of Satan, demonic strongholds throughout the world including governments, political structures, destructive public and social organizations, false religions, oppression, poverty, and persecution. No places, publics, or persons are excluded from the fulfilment of the promises of God heralded by the coming of the Holy Spirit.
As mandate, Pentecostals see themselves as harbingers of the outpouring of the Spirit to the ends of the earth. The baptism of the Spirit is seen as the source of divine power available to everyone for the sanctification, conversion, and salvation of the whole world. In turn, the outpouring of the Spirit is the sign that this mandate has been received around the globe. This mandate to share the universal availability of the Holy Spirit with the world marks the seedbed of worldwide Pentecostalism. Since the Spirit has been poured out on all, the mandate is service to all—ministry to the children and youth, adults, and the elderly, men and women, the sick, the dying, the homeless, natives, immigrants, businesses, schools, hospitals, the unevangelized, and those who have heard the gospel but know nothing of the power of the Spirit.9 The conviction of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh inspires, at least in expectation and enthusiasm, an environment of democratic, egalitarian ideals.
In its most dramatic form, the ideal of the outpouring of the Spirit on ‘all flesh’ is seen as bursting open the chains of social, economic, political, and religious segregation. Put negatively, the promise of the Spirit is given not exclusively to one society or nation; it is not limited to the political, economic, cultural, or religious elite, the church or the believer, the priest or the clergy, the educated, the adult, man or woman. Put positively, the outpouring of the Spirit makes possible the engagement of all creation and therefore its ultimate reconciliation with God. Pentecostals understand themselves as a prophetic voice announcing the final transformation in the relationship of God and the world in which the whole of creation is subject to the presence and activity of God’s Spirit. ‘Pentecost’ in this sense becomes a watchword for the transformation of creation, its conversion and empowerment to participate in the Spirit’s redemption. At least theologically, the participation of creation in this redemptive process knows no boundaries.
The prophethood of all believers

The notion of the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit has immediate connotations for the Pentecostal view of Christian vocation, ministry, and service. Since Pentecostals believe that the gifts of the Spirit are available to all, everyone who has received the Spirit is in principle equipped and empowered to participate in all aspects of the life of the church. The immediate consequence of this perspective has been formulated as the slogan, ‘the church belongs to the people’. Historically, this notion is akin to the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and Pentecostals have indeed consistently emphasized the mobilization of all people for the preaching of the gospel, mission, evangelization, the healing of the sick, prophecy, exorcism, and the exercise of other spiritual gifts. At the same time, priestly forms of ministry do not identify a central concern among Pentecostals as they did among the Protestant Reformers. The Pentecostal emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic age gives to the people all Christian vocations found in the New Testament: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (Eph. 4:11), overseers, elders, and deacons (Phil. 1:1)—but the notion of the priesthood is reserved for Christ (Heb. 7:24) and serves primarily as a metaphor for the whole church (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). It is therefore more accurate to identify the egalitarian impulse in Pentecostalism as an emphasis on the prophethood of all believers.
The prophethood of all believers emphasizes the charismatic functions of anyone who is subject to the anointing of the Holy Spirit regardless of social, economic, religious, or cultural status. Gender, age, race, ethnicity, or education are not indicative of the anointing of the Spirit and therefore do not imply a measure of authority, vocation, or position. The ideal of this egalitarian image of Christian ministry derives immediately from the recovery of Joel’s ancient prophecy by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17–18). Modern-day Pentecostals interpret this passage not only as an indication of the restoration of prophecy but as an expansion of the gift of the Spirit and the prophetic anointing to all. The result is a dynamic image of the Christian life with focus on worship and participation in a fellowship of mutuality by all who believe and have received the Spirit. This emphasis seeks to evade the polarity between priest and people, ordained and laity, church and world, office and spiritual gift, or any other similar distinction that locates the active exercise of the Christian vocation in the hands of a particular individual or group.
The emphasis on the participation of all believers in the life of the church has resulted in a lack of focus on developing an official doctrine of the church, and many Pentecostals reject traditional, hierarchical patterns in favour of congregational and independent forms of organization. The prophethood of all believers here functions in an original ‘protestant’ sense as a counter-cultural critique that exposes existing ecclesiastical structures as restricting the full participation of all believers in the body of Christ. From a Pentecostal perspective, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and not the office of the church that establishes spiritual authority. The universal outpouring of the Spirit, captured in the image of Spirit baptism, inspires a reinterpretation and reconstruction of the world, frequently offering a critical, biblical, political, theological, and ethical alternative to the established institutional patterns of the orthodox establishment that favour more restrictive forms of participation and authority.
Particularly in the Charismatic Movements in the established churches, democratic and egalitarian tendencies among Pentecostals depend on the idea of the spiritual anointing of all believers without thereby questioning the authority of the priestly ministry. One could say that the focus of Pentecostalism is not the individual—whether priest or prophet—but the community of faith. In this ecclesiological mindset, the Spirit poured out on all flesh leads not only to the charismatic endowment of all believers but ultimately to a charismatic church. Nonetheless, the prophetic function of the underprivileged, particularly the ministry of women as well as those with no formal clerical training or those who previously held priestly functions in non-Christian religions, has posed severe challenges to the established institutions.16 The challenges pertain not only to the integration of charismatic manifestations in all churches but to the role and extent of participation in the church’s service and ministry by those who manifest such gifts regardless of the dictates of class, society, history, and culture. In other words, the realization of Pentecostal egalitarian ideals requires their tangible manifestation as practices of equality among all believers in the body of Christ.
Egalitarian practices in the body of Christ

The biblical foundations for the prophethood of all believers and the attributing of spiritual gifts to those ordinarily separated from the privilege of leadership in the church lead to egalitarian practices that have earned Pentecostals the reputation of being a counter-cultural and postcolonial movement. This perception stands out nowhere more forcefully than in the sensitive areas of race and gender, in which the Pentecostal image of the outpouring of the Spirit on men and women of all colour and age holds a unique position, sometimes interpreted as a resistance to domination that is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit. These egalitarian practices find illustrations in various contexts of the global movement.
In the ethnic context of South Africa, for example, both black and white Pentecostals have repeatedly engaged in the fight against apartheid. The Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, understood as a promise given to both the oppressed and their oppressors, has nurtured an attitude of resistance and hope concentrated in the idea of liberating the structures that hold both sides prisoners. In India, the Dalit Pentecostals have become synonymous with the liberation of a caste of untouchables by a religious movement that promises an egalitarian future for all Spirit-filled and baptized Christians. While the turn to Christianity for liberation is not unusual, the institutional structures of the established churches have often hindered the removal of social segregation. Pentecostals, in turn, have invited the social outcasts into a fellowship of equals where they are no longer untouchables but brothers and sisters. Others see the black Pentecostal experience in Britain as a model for the worldwide struggle against oppression and for the reconciliation of races.20
In the racially divided context of North America during the twentieth century, early Afro-Pentecostalism emerged as a major constituent of Black civil society. More than 30 years before the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, the impact of the Pentecostal revival in America was described as washing away the ‘color line’.22 The dialogue on racial reconciliation among classical Pentecostals spans the twentieth century in diverse forms that find a high point in the so-called ‘Memphis miracle’ of 1994. A candid discussion of the racial divisions among classical Pentecostals at a meeting in Memphis led the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America to be re-established as the racially inclusive Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. This decision of a group of Pentecostals to share leadership with both African American Pentecostals and women emerged from an environment of repentance, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and joint participation in a spontaneous act of interracial foot-washing. The most tangible result from this meeting is the ‘Pentecostal Partners Racial Reconciliation Manifesto’, which reaffirms the egalitarian impulse of the Pentecostal pioneers and repudiates all forms of racism, culminating in a strategy for racial reconciliation for the twenty-first century. Seen as a step on the way toward a future of full reconciliation, the miracle of Memphis has opened the doors for a multicultural and trans-ethnic movement that transcends the borders of culture, colour, and gender.
Concerns for gender equality among Pentecostals have made similar headlines, often coupled with political movements. The African Instituted Churches with a strong leadership of women, especially among the Charismatic churches in West Africa, have left an indelible mark on African Christianity including a reshaping of traditional patriarchal institutions and concepts of ordained male authority. In the North American context, the influence of African egalitarian attitudes on black Pentecostal communities has contributed to shaping new opportunities for women in leadership.26 The migration of Pentecostal communities from Africa, Asia, and Latin America has initiated similar transformational processes in Europe. In Latin America, the Pentecostal revival has strengthened the public voice and authority of women.28 Similar observations across the developing world have shown advantages given to women and young people among many Pentecostal groups. In many countries, Pentecostalism has become a movement on behalf of women especially among the poor. Some describe the movement consequently as ‘a modern egalitarian impulse’.30 Others speak cautiously of Pentecostalism as exhibiting an ‘egalitarian patriarchialism’. Both characterizations imply significant revisions of established patterns of authority, yet without suggesting that Pentecostalism has fully succeeded as a mechanism of social transformation. Egalitarian ideals have significantly contributed to the image of the Pentecostal movement today. A neglect of this important dimension would fail to account for a central dynamic in the way Pentecostals engage the world. At the same time, the concrete realization of Pentecostal ideals has encountered significant challenges and resistance not only among Pentecostal groups worldwide.
Institutionalism in the Pentecostal movement

The egalitarian model of Pentecostalism stands in sharp contrast to the visible reality among many Pentecostal denominations and institutions. Pentecostal groups have found it difficult to put into practice the breadth of equality, impartiality, and democracy demanded by their ideals. Opportunities to become a pioneer for equal rights of race and gender during the twentieth century were squandered, and many of the accomplishments presented in the previous section were late achievements at the end of a slow gravitation toward equal opportunities. While the seed of egalitarian ideals remains at the heart of the Pentecostal ethos, and the fight against racism and patriarchalism is raging incessantly among Pentecostals worldwide, the movement is torn between its idealistic intentions and the reality of complicity in racial segregation and gender discrimination.
Complicity in racial segregation

The origins of Pentecostalism worldwide are interracial, or to put it more mildly, distributed among different races. This environment provided frequent opportunities for bias, opposition, separation, and unjust persecution on both sides. In the racially discriminating environment of North America during the first half of the twentieth century, the colour-line that allegedly had been washed away among Pentecostals was quickly re-drawn when the revivals were in need of lasting organization. Many Pentecostals, supported by the customs of American society, were strictly opposed to the egalitarian convictions supporting racial unity. Some rejected the joint forms of worship and interracial association that had come to characterize the Azusa Street revival and mission. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan and participation in the Pentecostal movement were not always seen as mutually exclusive.33 Others began to associate certain theological convictions with racial identification, which not only led to a racial separation of doctrines among Pentecostals but institutionalized the racial divide. This development has led to a predominantly African American membership in Wesleyan Pentecostalism and Oneness Pentecostalism and predominately white and Hispanic membership in Reformed Pentecostal groups.35 Particularly in the American South, Pentecostals did little to broach the subject of race or to expose the spread of racism in its less subtle forms. As a result, the heartland of classical Pentecostalism produced and sustained denominations split along racial lines. Even in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, black Pentecostals were almost non-present in the predominantly white Pentecostal denominations. Communion is stronger between black and Hispanic Pentecostals, even across doctrinal convictions, than fellowship with or among white Pentecostals.38 The Memphis manifesto advocating racial reconciliation has yet to be followed by concrete and continual measures that confront racial separation and tangible forms of racism across religious, social, economic, and political lines. The collective memory among Pentecostals in North America is not yet strong enough to support the realization of a racially integrative Pentecostalism.
Latina/o and Hispanic Pentecostalism bears similar experiences of racial segregation. The biological and cultural intermixture representative of this branch of Pentecostalism has been commonly termed as mestizaje and helped give a voice to articulate the experiences of cultural, racial, and ethnic marginalization and oppression. While the term mestizaje has been widely used to paint a homogenous image of the inclusion of different cultural and racial groups among Pentecostals, the implementation of this ideal has turned out to be quite ambiguous under the reality of heterogeneity that characterizes the Latina/o people. Internal tensions and different types of racism, which often exclude indigenous and African peoples, have created a false image of homogeneity that favours particular national identities. The Latin American contexts that inspired the notion of mestizaje are ill-fit for the heterogeneous situation in the United States and elsewhere and have expanded among Pentecostals the dominant black/white rhetoric to include also the mestizo, indigenous, and African identities in addition to cross-over trends toward European and white features that promise affluence and power.
Similar concerns arise in the history of apartheid in South Africa that has posited many classical Pentecostal churches against the Charismatic Movement and neo-Pentecostal communities. Widely accepted studies paint the image of the charismatic churches as conservative, anxious, and neurotic communities that largely support the status quo of racial segregation. Widespread discussion over the extent of such discrimination has led to divisive reactions among many Pentecostal streams in South Africa, not least between classical Pentecostal groups and African Indigenous Pentecostals.42 In a similar manner as the Memphis manifesto, some charismatic associations publicized a joint confession in 1991 that acknowledged their neglect both to effectively oppose apartheid and to put into practice existing egalitarian ideals. Despite their penetrating presence among the poor and socially dislocated, which were found among all population groups in the country during the twentieth century, Pentecostals struggled to define their own role in the process of recovery. A false anthropology favouring racial discrimination, and a low ecclesiology suppressing the unity and equality of all races in the body of Christ, have failed to disallow for complicity with apartheid. Changes in Pentecostal practices are due to the rise of Afrikaner nationalism, the anti-apartheid movement, and the general political changes in South Africa rather than the realization of their egalitarian ideals.
These images can be expanded in many places where sensitive racial relations characterize the composition of Pentecostalism and its location in existing cultural and socio-political contexts. Pentecostals struggle with the racial divide in leadership, government, doctrine, rituals, and worship. Pentecostal denominations, churches, and smaller fellowships continue to demarcate racial affiliation instead of racial reconciliation. As a result, Pentecostals have squandered the opportunity to become a tangible force in a global racial reconciliation.
The Pentecostal gender paradox

The demands of putting into practice the deep-seated egalitarian ideals of the Pentecostal movement have also affected the relationship of men and women, particularly in positions of public leadership and authority. The contrast between democratic impulses in principle and sexual discrimination in practice has prompted several observers to speak of a ‘gender paradox’ in the Pentecostal movement.

An unresolved tension remains between the de jure system of patriarchal authority in church and home and the de facto establishment of a way of life which decisively shifts the domestic and religious priorities in a direction that benefits women and children while morally restraining the traditional autonomy of the male and the selfish or irresponsible exercise of masculine power. The implicit deal seems to be that a substantive shift towards greater gender equality will be tolerated so long as women are not seen to be publicly exercising formal authority over men.

Pentecostalism appears amidst the tensions characterizing it as a revolutionary egalitarian religion and at the same time a chauvinist conservative and fundamentalist movement. The gender paradox perpetuates the difficulties of reconciling the religious sense of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on sons and daughters with the social, economic, and political changes that outpouring brings to their relationship with one another.
The gender paradox is particularly visible in Pentecostal communities where patriarchy is a deeply ingrained system in society and culture. Some of the most significant voices of gender discrimination come from Latin America, where the paradox stands out sharply between the disproportionately large numbers of women converting to a Pentecostalism that does not give them an institutional place of authority. In Brazil, for example, the suppression of women in Pentecostal churches is closely connected with racial discrimination and identity. Women have been left out of positions of authority not only because they are women but also because they are black.51 On the other hand, the image of women also contrasts starkly with traditional Latino patriarchal ideology and the image of male authority. Pentecostalism in Colombia shows the clear effects of this ideology in the relegation of women’s roles to the private sphere of the household. The process of integrating women in public religious life is slow and difficult. Women’s leadership remains widely unofficial, and opportunities offered to women typically exclude prominent and highly visible positions. Pentecostals in Bolivia manifest the continuing difficulties in unmasking the implicit affirmation of traditional relations of domination between men and women and the perpetuation of gender inequality in their midst.53 Here and elsewhere in Latin America, an egalitarian Pentecostalism is still very much in development.
The religious scene in North America has become a similar point of contention for the equality of women in Pentecostal leadership. The roots of antifeminism can be located in the notable influence of fundamentalism on the North American religious system. While the typically negative connotation of fundamentalism has contributed to false stereotypes of Pentecostalism, classical Pentecostals did adopt many of the patriarchal and authoritarian dimensions and strict boundaries prevalent among fundamentalist Evangelicals in the United States.55 Although women shared significantly in the success of the early Pentecostal revivals, their names and contributions were often covered or reduced to the sidelines. Others have made traditional European forms of church hierarchy responsible for the institution and perpetuation of the marginalization and subordination of women. Obtaining and retaining a position of authority for female Pentecostal preachers and pastors often entails additional work and the relinquishing of other rights.58 Most Pentecostal denominations grant women a limited form of ordination; many continue to exclude women from the highest positions of ecclesiastical and episcopal authority.
Similar manifestations of the Pentecostal gender paradox can be found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In Sicily, for example, a stronghold of patriarchism in Western Europe, Pentecostal churches emulate the configuration of the Sicilian family, where men are the head of the family while women do most of the physical and emotional work. African Pentecostalism exhibits forms of a gendered charisma, where women are accepted as ‘founders, sisters, first ladies, and Jezebels’ but excluded from leadership on the basis of supposedly different charismatic abilities.60 In Korea, the adoption of Presbyterian forms of church government from the West confirmed the already existing patriarchal structures of society and has kept the Pentecostal leadership on an official level almost exclusively in the hands of men. In Jamaica, a highly embodied form of faith confronted with a strict moral order continues to affirm the gender divide and the position of the male pastor.62 These and other examples confirm that the gender paradox in Pentecostal churches is alive and well throughout the world. The conundrum of global Pentecostalism is that it has become a women’s religion that has barred women from entrance to the male-dominated hierarchy.
It is important to acknowledge these tensions between democratic egalitarianism and divide of race and gender in contemporary Pentecostalism. Exclusively identifying one side has led to false stereotypes of the movement on a global scale that does no justice to its diverse contexts. The heart of these tensions is formed by the difficulties existing in putting into practice the egalitarian impulse in the sensitive environments of race and gender worldwide. Failure to reconcile intentions and practices of reconciliation has further contributed to critical questions of the movement’s overall concern for issues of social justice. The perplexity of this situation is best explained by shifting attention to the factors that contribute to the coexistence of egalitarian ideals and their practical counterparts in Pentecostal communities.
Pentecostal egalitarianism-in-the-making

The previous overview of the tensions existing among Pentecostals with regard to the equality of race and gender suggests that we cannot speak in general terms of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement. The existence of the racial divide and the gender paradox are undeniable features of much of the visible Pentecostal landscape, at least on the organizational and denominational level. On the other hand, Pentecostals cannot be described simply as racists and chauvinists. The egalitarian impulse, even if estimated carefully, forms a foundational component of the worldview and spirituality that informs modern-day Pentecostalism. The global and historical development of Pentecostalism suggests that it is a movement toward a democratic, egalitarian identity. It is therefore more accurate to speak of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement-in-development. The tensions existing between the egalitarian heart and the divisive practices among Pentecostals cannot be forged easily into a homogeneous image. Chief among the factors contributing to the coexistence of egalitarianism and its contradictions is the high degree of institutionalism that accompanies the emergence of the Pentecostal movement. A neglect and bias in the scholarship and study of Pentecostalism and a segregated doxology further consolidate the institutional basis. How quickly Pentecostalism can become a fully egalitarian movement depends largely on the ability and willingness to meet the crucial demands posed by these challenges.
Institutionalism and Pentecostal hierarchy

A high demand for institutionalization and institution-building characterizes the modern-day Pentecostal movement since its inception. The unprecedented expansion of the movement across the world, the growth of membership, and the lack of organizational structures at the original revivals soon demanded a higher degree of organizational leadership. The initial institutionalization of classical Pentecostalism progressed in broad stages, including a selective focus on particular doctrines, a formulation of doctrinal structures to protect and formalize the selective perspective, and the ecclesial solidification of such structures. The later integration of the Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches represented its own challenges when confronted with the traditional hierarchical structures that many took as restrictive to the emergence of charismatic manifestations.66 Moreover, the organizational forms of recent neo-Pentecostal groups exhibit a high degree of transition and differentiation, often depending on the founding figures and frequently resembling traditional hierarchical structures and a strong focus on the demands of the local church. Max Weber’s dominant theory of the pressures of institutionalization and routinization has been successfully applied to Pentecostalism and suggests several dilemmas concentrated on the delimitation, power, and administrative order of the movement as a whole.68 The unresolved tensions between egalitarian ideals and the reality of racial and gender discrimination among Pentecostals are a result of the difficulties of coping with the growing institutionalization of the movement, the demands of unfamiliar organizational structures, and the adoption of the socio-political norms that accompanied the establishment of such configurations.
The demands and effects of institutionalization among Pentecostals point to a dominance of sacerdotal and episcopal forms of ecclesiastical organization and administration. Put differently, a high degree of institutionalism defined by the authority of the socio-cultural group dominant during the early phase of Pentecostal history has led to a priestly form of Pentecostalism that is foreign to the original self-understanding of most Pentecostals as a prophetic movement. This inherited ecclesial ideology affects Pentecostal practices in terms of both gender and race and has led to the preponderance of churches and denominations following sexually and racially exclusive patterns of fellowship, worship, doctrine, and government.
The original motivation of the prophetic as a counter-cultural and critical mechanism for a revolutionary Pentecostal movement has turned into a ghetto for the culturally suppressed groups of colour and gender. Under the auspices of a prophetic ministry, all are equal: No hierarchical system applies to the prophetic realm. At the same time, the hierarchical view of the priesthood adopted by most Pentecostals today contains features of vocational and ontological selectivity.71 All priests can be prophets, but not all prophets can be priests. This paradigm has been enforced with particular sharpness in the exclusion of women from influence on church polity and government. The result is a confrontation of spiritual egalitarianism with ecclesial pragmatism. While the two are not necessarily antithetical, the core values and beliefs of individuals conflict with the practices developed to establish and support Pentecostal institutions. The office of the priest, dominated by a division of race and gender, can coexist with the prophethood of all believers, since the latter does not possess official status in the decision-making of the churches. The perpetuation of this artificial division is largely responsible for the endurance of the gender divide and racial separation at least among the leadership of Pentecostal denominations into the foreseeable future.
Biased Pentecostal scholarship

Pentecostal scholarship has at least two central dimensions: it consists of Pentecostalism as the object of study, on the one hand, and of Pentecostal scholars, on the other hand, who may or may not focus their scholarship on the study of Pentecostalism. Both sides are relatively recent developments originating with the second half of the twentieth century. Pentecostalism as the subject and object of contemporary scholarship has been only marginally explored, often with highly visible bias. Stereotypes and prejudices abound in early assessments and dismissals of Pentecostalism across scientific and academic disciplines. Pentecostal scholars themselves spent much of the early decades of Pentecostal scholarship occupied with internal issues of doctrine and church government. On both sides, the concerns of gender and race were largely overlooked.
African and African American origins of classical Pentecostalism, for example, remain a neglected topic. Despite the influence of the black preacher William J. Seymour and other African American leaders on the origins and development of Pentecostalism in North America, few scholars have developed a comprehensive argument on the racial landscape of Pentecostals. The recovery of African American contributions was hindered for many decades by the dominance of two competing theories of Pentecostal beginnings that identified either white or black origins. Theories on the influence of African slaves or a Black oral liturgy on the predominantly white camp-meeting revivals and the urbanization and subsequent growth of a racially diverse Pentecostalism have not been widely examined. Interracial origins and the diversity of influences within different racial traditions are only recently becoming a topic of study, and the much larger questions of the relationship of particular racial theories of Pentecostal origins to the racial composition of global Pentecostalism are only in their infancy.76 These deficiencies are compounded by an almost exclusive look at the male leadership in both the white and black Pentecostal communities. The concerns of gender and race have not yet come to occupy a central place in the study of Pentecostalism. The absence of these concerns is a central factor in the persistence of the gender divide and racial segregation. Pentecostal scholarship is only beginning to break free from the influence of institutionalism toward a broader egalitarian profile.
Pentecostal scholarship in its beginnings has been overly dependent on institutional deficiencies in the broader academy. Social theories of Pentecostalism frequently treat the experience of white Pentecostals and men as representative of the entire movement, silencing the experiences of women and the different racial or ethnic voices. The underrepresentation of women and different races and ethnicities in the academic world has contributed to a significant shortage of research related to the issues of gender and race in general. This deficiency has penetrated Pentecostal scholarship in its composition as a still largely male-dominated academy and in the isolation of racially divided theological concentrations and motivations. The results of this situation are particularly visible in the long neglect to identify the Pentecostal gender paradox, even among the populations that experienced substantial Pentecostal growth and those scholars most occupied with gender and family.79 Pentecostalism also hardly fits in the global analysis of feminism and women’s movements. A healthy revision of these areas of scholarship and the recent shift in focus to both Pentecostalism and women is among the most important factors to help Pentecostals understand the tensions of gender in the movement. The growth of Black theology and the increasing significance of African American scholarship promise further egalitarian practices toward racial reconciliation. An increasing number of studies of the socio-theological dynamics in Pentecostal churches worldwide have begun to shed light on the role of gender and race in the everyday life of the movement. The political debates fought over women in positions of official authority and interracial leadership positions have begun to alert the wider public to the unresolved tensions in Pentecostalism. Above all, the rise of Pentecostal scholarship worldwide, both as the subject and object of study, has made visible the internal conflicts of the global movement and the importance of contextualizing our understanding of an egalitarian Pentecostalism in different geographical, cultural, political, and economic settings as a contemporary development not yet concluded.
Segregated doxology

Pentecostalism has always been characterized as a kinaesthetic movement allowing for the physical expressions of the whole body. Speaking in tongues, prophesying, shouting, singing, dancing, jumping, clapping, swaying, and other physical expressions of worship have penetrated also into the established mainline churches and particularly into modern Evangelicalism. Especially dominant is the penetration of African spirituality and worship across cultures.82 At the same time, white forms of worship have remained largely isolated and stagnant. The differences are the visible result of institutionalization. At the same time, the doxological divide further perpetuates the divisions of gender and race.
The confrontation of black and white forms of worship in classical Pentecostalism is visible since the pioneering years of the movement. As the rural liturgy of the early camp meetings confronted the Pentecostal revivals in urban North America, external observers and Pentecostals alike joined in criticism of interracial forms of worship. The rejection is apparent not only in the separation of black and white churches but in the isolation of black and white forms of worship that perpetuated a visible separation of a black and white Pentecostalism. As white American Pentecostals returned frequently to dominant Anglo-European forms of worship, African American Pentecostals utilized contemporary media, technology, and culture to establish themselves as a dominant religious phenomenon. In response, many white congregations have adopted black styles of preaching, praying, and singing, while the black gospel worship of the African American community is hardly influenced by white Pentecostal doxology. It is more unusual to see white Pentecostals in a predominantly black congregation than it is to find black Pentecostals in a predominantly white church. This segregated doxology represents the most visible and potent means of reinforcing the institutional practices of a racially divisive Pentecostalism into the foreseeable future.
The confrontation of worship practices found in North American Pentecostalism has been experienced in a similar manner by the countries that received classical Pentecostal missionaries, particularly those with a history of racial segregation. As a country or region becomes conscious of their indigenous doxology, dominant cultural forms of worship frequently conflict with the racially and ethnically informed practices of missionaries or those now associated with a particular existing minority. Conflicts also arise between culturally dominant forms of Christianity as well as indigenous religious practices that differ from Pentecostal rituals. In turn, the Pentecostal war against many indigenous religions has contributed to further segregation by identifying Pentecostal practices with the behaviour of a select socio-cultural group.85 Race and ethnicity frequently distinguish different degrees of expressive forms of Pentecostal worship. Those who eventually find together under the roof of a Pentecostal congregation are frequently associated in worship by similarities of gender, race, and class. On the one hand, Pentecostals are divided over the question of how worship as Pentecostals relates to how Pentecostals worship in public. On the other hand, a dominant problem is the mistaking of certain highly visible forms of Pentecostal worship as representative of the whole movement. Pentecostal forms of worship can be perceived as a potential of renewal and reconciliation.87 However, the accepted patterns of many Pentecostal groups have uncritically enforced many existing tensions in contexts already divided over issues of race.
The doxological separation in terms of gender is often more subtle than the racial divide. While few churches separate female members from all leadership functions, women are typically highly visible and audible in Pentecostal worship, supported by the fact that most congregations consist of a majority of women. In contrast to many of the established traditions, Pentecostals have opened the directing and practising of worship in a variety of ways to women, who lead and engage in worship, prayer, singing, preaching, witnessing, and many other activities that have little equivalent in the mainline traditions. At the same time, patriarchal forms of worship and liturgy also dominate many Pentecostal forms of worship; patriarchal heritage and male imagery often used in hymns and songs stand in contrast to the egalitarian ideals. Although women are allowed to speak, shout, testify, sing, preach, pray, and prophesy, their voices are not always heard; although they can be seen, they are not always acknowledged or remembered. Only recent scholarship has unearthed the significant presence of women in the history of Pentecostalism and emphasized the loss of their company from the overwhelming majority of records about men. In patriarchal cultures where women are rarely seen in the public square, Pentecostals have not yet resisted the patterns that allow women as participants but not as leaders in worship.89 The prophetic anointing evident among women is allowed to direct the worship as long as it does not stand in contrast to its priestly leadership. The divide that separates the two is not always clearly visible in the separation of pulpit and altar from platform and pew.
Pentecostal doxology encourages a high level of participation; it is the backbone of egalitarian practices. For most Pentecostals, the reconciliation of gender and race is ultimately realized in worship. Consequently, Pentecostals have created a church culture in which such practices are the foundation and goal of the Christian life. A realistic view of the Pentecostal movement shows that Pentecostal spirituality and worldview afford to the practices of worship the ideals of freedom and liberty to a degree that holds unsurpassed opportunities for the reconciliation of gender and race. At the same time, worship is the chief catalyst in the realization of egalitarian ideals primarily on the grassroots level. The tensions existing among Pentecostals have hindered this realization throughout much of the history of the movement. An intellectual basis for the realization of egalitarian practices has also not yet been established. These and other less visible elements support incompatible institutional practices that are primarily responsible for maintaining a conflicting global reality among many Pentecostals communities. Nonetheless, while these insights do not justify bigotry, injustice, and racism, a closer look at the Pentecostal movement indicates a tendency toward the reconciliation of gender and race. The perplexing situation that characterizes Pentecostalism today justifies its designation as an egalitarian movement in-the-making.


Scholarship and anti-intellectualism
This concluding chapter addresses the intellectual dimension of Pentecostalism: Pentecostal attitudes toward education, pedagogy, and academia, the development of Pentecostal scholarship, and the stereotypes and tensions inherent in the expanding field of Pentecostal studies. Since the late twentieth century, Pentecostalism has garnered increasing attention with the rise of Pentecostal scholarship, the Charismatic Movement among North American universities, the establishment of Pentecostal academic societies and institutions of higher education, and the penetration of different fields of intellectual inquiry by Pentecostal scholars. At the same time, the beginnings of modern-day Pentecostalism also signal a persistent stance of anti-intellectualism, a rejection of higher education and learning, and criticism of the academic world.
Both the alleged anti-intellectualism as well as the growing Pentecostal scholarship have shaped the social face and perception of the movement. On the one hand, Pentecostals are seen as outsiders with no apparent theological tradition, no underlying intellectual system, and no interest in developing and formulating an intellectual structure that compares or contrasts with existing traditions. On the other hand, Pentecostal scholarship seems poised to become a central player in the theological academy. Pentecostals have begun to rescript the movement in its intellectual dimensions beyond the theological disciplines and have entered the humanities and sciences explicitly as Pentecostals. While a persistent anti-intellectualism has neglected to create mechanisms that help in the traditioning of the Pentecostal ethos to subsequent generations, Pentecostal scholarship is forming an emerging tradition that includes the origins of the movement while moving far beyond them. This chapter confronts this contrast of scholarship and anti-intellectualism by outlining first the anti-intellectual ethos and its motivations among classical Pentecostals. The second part of the chapter introduces the still largely uncharted territory of Pentecostal scholarship, its development and current state of affairs. In the concluding part, the tensions of anti-intellectualism and Pentecostal scholarship are brought into dialogue in a conversation about the future of Pentecostal studies. This conversation suggests that Pentecostals are shaping the movement into a holistic tradition that is likely to play a central role in the telling of the intellectual history of the twenty-first century.
Anti-intellectualism in classical Pentecostalism

Pentecostal pioneers hardly appear on the lists of the intellectual elite of their time. We search in vain for an organized Pentecostal scholarship during the first half of the twentieth century. For most of the century, there is no visible attempt to formulate a Pentecostal pedagogy. Most of the first generation of Pentecostals in North America only received a basic education and did not or could not engage in the challenges of continued academic instruction. Apart from Bible schools, there were few attempts to build Pentecostal institutions of higher education, and the limited number of Pentecostal scholars typically received their training at non-Pentecostal schools and universities. Some Pentecostals who pursued scholarly careers felt forced to leave their denominations.2 Others were reluctant to engage in academic education and professional scholarship altogether or voiced suspicion of the scholastic tendencies in the history of Christianity. From the perspective of post-Enlightenment scientific and academic history, classical Pentecostals (along with the Holiness and Fundamentalist traditions) have been dismissed as a profoundly anti-intellectual movement.4 In turn, Pentecostals worldwide have not succeeded in correcting this interpretation. On the contrary, the rise of world Pentecostalism has confirmed the stereotype that Pentecostals in many places possess a ‘strong anti-theological, anti-academic prejudice’. This section presents the motivations behind this alleged anti-intellectualism in order to provide a more exact definition of this attitude and identification of the Pentecostal position.
Motivations for anti-intellectualism

The first generations of classical Pentecostals lacked the motivation to engage in intellectual activities and organizations. This is to say that historical sources of early Pentecostals show a passive attitude toward education and scholarship rather than active resistance. Simply put, Pentecostal pioneers were not professional scholars, even though they clearly engaged in the intellectual dimensions of faith. However, these intellectual activities were carried out on an informal level, dependent on the education of a person and the limited resources available. Pentecostal pioneers are therefore more aptly described as ‘amateurs’ compelled by faith and experience rather than trained writers who obeyed literary rules and scholarly conventions. Pentecostals did not possess a particular educational model. They did not reject the idea of traditioning their beliefs, values, and practices. However, the idea of developing a genuine Pentecostal ‘catechesis’ was not a concern among the early generations; it was deemed neither necessary nor helpful. Instead, the pursuit of scholarship was often considered a hindrance to the determination shared by Pentecostals that the gospel of salvation was to be proclaimed to a world facing the coming of the kingdom of God.
The determination and urgency felt by Pentecostals in the task of evangelization and mission formed the most immediate context for the amateur status of early Pentecostal scholarship. Many Pentecostals departed almost immediately to other parts of the country or to the mission field abroad in order to preach the gospel, typically without preparation and training. The missionary spirit of these Pentecostals relied heavily on their ‘faith’ and the experience of the baptism in the Spirit manifested in the speaking with tongues. The latter was frequently interpreted as the gift of foreign languages, which would help Pentecostals to preach the message of salvation to other nations without the need for biblical, theological, and academic training. Pentecostal publications proclaimed enthusiastically that God had ‘given languages to the unlearned’ and equipped the ‘simple, unlearned members of the body of Christ’.10 This missionary zeal was fuelled by divine revelation rather than ‘deep tiresome thinking’ that wasted precious time by ‘searching’ and ‘counting’ and ‘special study’ instead of obtaining the ‘deeper, spiritual experiences’ made available through the Holy Spirit. The critical voices did not dismiss learning and education entirely but voiced a lack of patience at the prospect of forsaking or postponing the spread of the gospel as the result of the formal educational process.12
This impatience was closely wedded to the eschatological mindset among classical Pentecostals and its influence on missionary practices. Despite the fact that many Pentecostals found themselves unable to speak the foreign languages they had anticipated, only a minority returned to their homeland. They simply did not possess the luxury of time to engage in the formal study of languages, or for that matter, in theological education. The prospect of lengthy formal study conflicted with the eschatological urgency of Pentecostals who had little time to enter into schools and universities at the prospect of Christ’s imminent return.14 Moreover, Pentecostals not only were convinced about Christ’s return but also believed that the kingdom of God would not arrive until the gospel had been proclaimed to all nations. The Pentecostal mission was therefore the evangelization of the world in the power of the Spirit, words, signs, and wonders that hastened the day of Christ’s coming.16 Consequently, the missionaries received only minimal training, often bypassing long-term college or seminary degree programmes. Even when Bible institutes became more prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, many Pentecostals went into the mission field without credentials and formal studies. They did not reject the intellect or those dedicated to the life of the mind but questioned the purpose of engaging in such study at this crucial point in salvation history. The eschatological urgency of the times demanded immediate engagement with those who had not yet heard the gospel.
Consequently, Pentecostals saw their anti-intellectual attitude as a rather pragmatic and appropriate form of the Christian life during the last days of the world. Emphasis was placed on worship, witness, and mission rather than preparation, training, and study. Insisting on the prophethood of all believers, Pentecostals found affirmation in the signs and wonders accompanying their efforts that formal education and long-term training were, at best, not necessary or, at worst, delaying the work of each Christian on behalf of God’s kingdom. Under the experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals felt sufficiently equipped to do the work of God. This work focused on oral worship and witness rather than written scholarship, research, and study. Schools, if necessary, were designed as ‘shortcuts’ into the work of evangelization and mission.21 Pentecostal vocabulary (in sermons, pamphlets, testimonies, hymns, spirituals and other venues) emphasized the immediacy of ‘service’ in which all believers could and should participate. Others simply lacked the finances, time, and dedication necessary to enrol in colleges and seminaries for an extended period. Continuing education and dedication to the life of the mind were simply not practical aspects of Pentecostal worldview and spirituality.
These indirect forms of resistance to long-term intellectual pursuits were often supplanted by the more direct and negative perception that an intellectualization of the Christian faith was resisting or suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit. The life of the Spirit and the demands of an intellectual career were seen as opposites that do not readily mix. Pentecostals perceive themselves in discontinuity with the history of the church whose institutionalization and intellectualization has displaced the power of the Spirit.23 For Pentecostals, the Spirit has been driven out of the church and is replaced with a reliance on the intellectual abilities of human beings evidenced in speculative thinking, creeds, doctrines, theories, and criticisms that challenge the gospel and paralyse the faithful. The resulting divisions and schisms continue to form the seedbed for Pentecostal resistance to formal theological education.25 The latter is typically seen as liberal (in contrast to a biblical conservatism), unbiblical (rejecting especially methods of higher criticism), formal (suppressing the liberty of the Holy Spirit), and out-of-touch with reality (particularly the demands on the mission field). When combined with pragmatic, eschatological, and evangelistic convictions, these criticisms present the most potent challenges to Christian and Pentecostal scholarship.
The nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism was not untypical for nineteenth-century America. However, the nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not readily fit the historical paradigms and cannot be judged as fundamentally opposed to the life of the mind.27 Motivated by an evangelistic and eschatological pragmatism that centres on the work of the Holy Spirit, the history of classical Pentecostals exhibits a reluctance to engage in existing forms and institutions of education without thereby rejecting the intellect entirely. Even with the waning of eschatological urgency among contemporary Pentecostals as well as the establishment of Pentecostal schools and the rise of Pentecostal scholarship since the twentieth century, a form of anti-intellectualism persists across the movement primarily as scepticism towards culturally and socially dominant models of Christian pedagogy.
This scepticism toward the intellectual world exists even among Pentecostal scholars, particularly when academic scholarship is associated with an overdependence on the intellect at the cost of involving the entire person in the life of faith. Some scholars have argued that the dominant pedagogical model that connects Christian faith and scholarship advocates a restrictive view of Christian learning and seems ill-fit for Pentecostal concerns. Others suggested, from the opposite perspective, that Pentecostals themselves possess a genuine pedagogy emerging from the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality, which are not easily integrated in the dominant liberal arts curriculum and the research university.29 Again others have painted this contrast on the bigger canvas of the shift from modernity to postmodernity and portray Pentecostal beliefs and practices as conflicting with the intellectualism and rationalism of the modern world and as more equipped to speak to the postmodern realm. The resulting image is either a rather uneasy relationship of scholarship and Pentecostalism or an opportunity for Pentecostals to enrich the contemporary philosophy of education. On the one hand, Pentecostals are struggling to emancipate themselves from the dominant but ill-fitting educational paradigms; on the other hand, the Pentecostal commitment to signs and wonders could help reform the current world of academic scholarship.31 The challenges exist for both Pentecostals and the scholarly world: the former must find ways to speak intelligibly to the established traditions, disciplines, and institutions; the latter must learn to take seriously Pentecostal education, scholarship, and praxis. The inherent distinctions between both worlds can be summarized with a few outstanding characteristics.
First, on a foundational level, Pentecostal scholarship arises from the affections rather than intellectual ability. The emphasis on love, passion, desire, feeling, or emotion rejects the sole rule of the intellect while attempting to integrate the right affections (orthopathy) with the right thinking (orthodoxy) and the right practices (orthopraxy). For Pentecostals, orthopathy consists of ‘abiding dispositions which dispose the person toward God and the neighbor in ways appropriate to their source and goal in God’.34 The principle of orthopathy is not intellectual knowledge but the identification, solidarity, and transformation of the human condition in light of the kingdom of God. Pentecostal ‘thinking’, if that term is appropriate, happens at the affective, unconscious, predeliberative level aimed at witness and worship before it enters the cognitive, deliberate world of understanding.36 The persistent form of anti-intellectualism does not deny the significance of the intellect, but it rejects its dominance for the full pursuit of knowledge.
Second, and arising from the pursuit of affective knowledge, Pentecostal scholarship is dominated by the imagination rather than reason. Put differently, Pentecostal pedagogy functions on an epistemological level that is aesthetic rather than noetic.38 This aesthetic is marked by a vision of the world that centres on the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the world and the interpretation of that world in light of the biblical witness and the community of faith. This Pentecostal hermeneutic ‘engages the human being and the world factually, corporeally, relationally, communally, morally, and spiritually’.40 The imagination stands in contrast to the dominance of reason and order; it is more improvisational, more playful than the productivity, performance, and instrumentality demanded by the established institutions, disciplines, languages, and methodologies of the modern academy. Implicit in the Pentecostal imagination is a sacramentality that both sees reality and looks beyond reality as the necessary presuppositions for engaging this world.42 Although Pentecostal scholars are deeply committed to a realism that participates in human struggle and suffering, they rarely critique the intellectual world for withdrawal to an ivory-tower mentality. Instead, their critique is directed more explicitly at the pessimism and failure of modern scholarship to speak to the hope and transformation of the world. The Pentecostal ‘imagining of the world otherwise’44 places less trust in purely cognitive knowledge than in participatory ‘action-reflection in the Spirit’. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject the rational pursuit of meaning, but it questions the dominance of reason alone as a proper and sufficient instrument for the discernment of truth.
Third, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the level of oral rather than written discourse. Put differently, Pentecostal scholars operate at the limits of speech and are more comfortable with testimony, stories, songs, preaching, and praise than with the definitions, concepts, theses, systems, philosophies, and methodologies that dominate the world of writing, publishing, and scholarly conversation. The emphasis on orality denotes not a simple preference of oral over written discourse but signals an inherent inability for the Pentecostal imagination to function in the dominant mode of the intellectual world. Pentecostal tongues resist the function and categorization of language(s) and operate in a realm outside of the reality that provides and affirms their meaning.47 This resistance shapes a rather messy, noisy, and untidy pedagogy when compared to the clean and orderly models of liberal arts and scientific knowledge. Glossolalia are the flagship of the Pentecostal resistance to the dominance of human language and the discourse of meaning. Where the intellect fails to grasp their meaning and purpose, the Pentecostal relies on the affections and the imagination to allow the utterances to stand. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject human language, but it questions the ability of the human word to capture the world in its manifold dimensions.
The portrayal of Pentecostalism as anti-intellectual is appropriate if such a characterization captures the evangelistic, missionary, pragmatic, and pneumatological emphasis of Pentecostals and places them in contrast to the dominant models of scholarship and learning. Pentecostals cannot be stereotyped as rejecting education, academia, and the intellectual dimensions of life. However, the uneasiness, scepticism, and mostly passive resistance to purely cognitive, rational, and scientific modes of knowing can also not simply be diminished. Less important than placing Pentecostalism among current pedagogical models is the identification of the ethos that forms the heart of Pentecostal ‘knowing’ in terms of a dynamic, experiential, and relational knowledge. The emphasis on the affections, imagination, and the limits of speech explains not only the anti-intellectual attitude among Pentecostals but also shapes the unprecedented rise of Pentecostal scholarship.
The rise of Pentecostal scholarship

The intellectual history of modern-day Pentecostalism has not yet been written. The first part of this chapter described the beginnings of Pentecostal scholarship in terms of an amateur-status of most Pentecostals at the start of the twentieth century. Professional scholarly publications by Pentecostals did not appear until the 1960s, when the Charismatic Movement swept through many North American universities and began to stir up questions about the relationship of the Spirit-filled life and academic scholarship. Nonetheless, Pentecostals had been active in educational and pedagogical efforts from the early decades of the twentieth century. Largely ignored by mainstream scholarship, Pentecostalism was typically neglected as a subject matter and ridiculed as a dialogue partner. This situation changed dramatically when the 1970s saw an unprecedented increase of Pentecostal scholars, the emergence of Pentecostal studies in the theological academy, the formation of academic societies among Pentecostals, and the establishment of Pentecostal institutions of higher education. In light of the preceding characterization of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism, this section traces the history of the rise of the Pentecostal academy. This portrait is followed by an assessment of the character of Pentecostal scholarship.
The emergence of the Pentecostal academy

The history of Pentecostal scholarship can be divided into five periods of development, each focusing on the formation of a particular vocation: (1) Pentecostal missionaries, (2) Pentecostal historians, (3) Pentecostal biblical scholarship, (4) Pentecostal theologians, and (5) Pentecostal scientists. The first period spans beyond the first half of the twentieth century, the beginnings of historical and biblical scholarship among Pentecostals can be located in the 1970s, theological scholarship arose prominently with the end of the twentieth century, and the entrance of Pentecostals into the human and natural sciences marks the most recent phase of Pentecostal involvement in the academic world.
The origins of Pentecostal scholarship at the beginning of the twentieth century are synonymous with the training of Pentecostal missionaries. Missionary training schools and Bible institutes became dominant in North America during the 1920s and ’30s as many Pentecostals leaving the country to evangelize the world found themselves in need of instruction and training. A. B. Simpson’s model of the Missionary Training Institute led to the first Bible institute in North America and was enthusiastically embraced by Pentecostals.51 Pentecostal groups and denominations established so-called Bible Schools, Bible Institutes, Bible Training Schools, Bible Colleges, Bible and Missionary Institutes, and Missionary Training Schools, particularly in urban areas, across the country. Popular institutions, such as Aimee Semple McPherson’s Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism (LIFE), trained thousands of missionaries and led the way in raising the standard of education among Pentecostal men and women.53 The first generations of classical Pentecostals are also the first generations to struggle with the integration of Pentecostal spirituality, pragmatism, and anti-intellectualism in the educational and academic landscape of the twentieth century.
The second phase of Pentecostal scholarship began in the late 1960s with the work of Walter J. Hollenweger. Emerging as probably the foremost authority on worldwide Pentecostalism, Hollenweger published his extensive research while many Pentecostal scholars completed graduate programmes in environments that neglected or obstructed the interaction of critical scholarship and Pentecostal faith and praxis.55 With his work emerged a wave of Pentecostal historians wishing to preserve the early history of the Pentecostal movement. The remarkable spread of the Charismatic Movement, in particular, encouraged Pentecostals to rediscover their own roots and to confront historiographical models that failed to account for the rise and persistence of modern-day Pentecostalism. These scholars laid the groundwork for Pentecostal archives across the world that today offer countless resources, newspaper articles, pamphlets, letters, sermons, and testimonies narrating the intellectual history among Pentecostals. As a result, Pentecostal historians helped not only to distribute the Pentecostal perspective of the movement’s history but also to reformulate dominant historical accounts and thus to reshape the historical disciplines.57 Descriptive historical studies and social scientific research shifted scholarly attention gradually to the Pentecostal movement worldwide and softened the hard anti-intellectual base of classical Pentecostalism.
A third wave of Pentecostal scholarship surfaced in the 1970s among biblical scholars. These scholars investigated both the biblical sources most relevant to the Pentecostal self-description, particularly Luke-Acts, and the dominant interpretations of such texts. Questions concerning cessationism, dispensationalism, Spirit baptism, and hermeneutics led Pentecostals to discussions genuine to Pentecostal concerns. On the one hand, conservative Evangelical exegesis with the establishment of the historical-critical method as its flagship severely challenged Pentecostal hermeneutics.59 On the other hand, Pentecostal biblical scholars began to engage in these and other discourses emerging in the circles of the Society for Biblical Literature and challenged the viability of such discourse for the reflection of their own pneumatological focus and charismatic experiences in the biblical texts. This conversation produced a substantial amount of literature on distinctive Pentecostal concerns, including Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues, that helped shape a distinctive Pentecostal hermeneutic in response to both liberalism and fundamentalism.61 Pentecostal biblical and historical scholarship engaged the wider academy and eventually laid the groundwork for the Society for Pentecostal Studies in North America, the first independent academic society among Pentecostals. Other academic societies followed in Europe (1979), Latin America (1992), Africa (1998), and Asia (1998). These societies contributed significantly to the next wave of an emerging theological scholarship among Pentecostals.
The fourth wave of Pentecostal scholarship began during the 1990s with the emergence of constructive theological research. Beginning with an emphasis on the distinctives of the Pentecostal faith, sometimes cast in the language of apologetics, this generation of scholars has entered the broad range of theological disciplines. Theological scholarship among Pentecostals has developed a theology of the Spirit-filled life that attempts to integrate the various distinctive emphases of Pentecostals, such as speaking in tongues or spiritual gifts, in the broader theological and ecumenical discussions. In a subsequent development, a new generation of Pentecostal theologians has begun to reconsider existing doctrines in a more systematic fashion that include soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of creation, dialogue with religions, and a theology of culture.65 These scholars have begun to suggest explicit ways in which Pentecostal theology contributes to the theological agenda of the twenty-first century. The new discussions have led to deliberations on the nature of Pentecostal theology, in general, and have begun to shape a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship that goes beyond the traditional historical, biblical, and internal theological conversations.
The fifth and most current wave of Pentecostal scholarship consists of an expansion into the human and natural sciences. This generation of scholars coincides with the formulation of a new rationale for the vitality and future of Pentecostal scholarship able to overcome the juxtaposing of spirituality and science and to encourage Pentecostals to enter scientific careers explicitly as Pentecostals. Pentecostal scholarship has moved into questions of scientific knowledge and methodology, physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, medicine, anthropology, sociology, and technology.68 In turn, interdisciplinary perspectives, particularly in the social sciences, humanities, and theology, have engaged Pentecostals in the broader scholarly conversations. For some, the coming of age of Pentecostal scholarship necessitates that Pentecostals ultimately engage in all scientific disciplines; for others, the increasing exposure of the scientific world to the phenomenon of Pentecostalism has only just initiated that journey. Both perspectives anticipate significant changes in the nature of Pentecostal scholarship during the twenty-first century.
The nature of Pentecostal scholarship

Pentecostal scholarship refers to the coexistence as well as the interpenetration of Pentecostal and scholarly commitments. This distinction between scholarship and Pentecostalism, on the one hand, and scholarship as a Pentecostal, on the other hand, can be seen across the Pentecostal scholarly world. The number of scholars, academicians, and scientists who are Pentecostal is virtually unknown but promises to be much larger than the number of scholars who deliberately carry out their scholarship as Pentecostals. Many Pentecostal scholars and scientists are hesitant to voice their Pentecostal persuasions in environments that look sceptically at the involvement of religion and science. Others question how scientific instruments and empirical data can benefit from a Pentecostal faith and praxis. At the same time, the global emergence of Pentecostal seminaries, colleges, universities, and centres of higher education promises a shift in public perception, liberal-arts education, and professional and scientific programmes.71 General assessments of Pentecostal scholarship do not yet exist. Nonetheless, a few elements stand out as defining the character of Pentecostal scholarship during the first century of the Pentecostal movement.
First and foremost, Pentecostal scholarship is experiential. This foundational dimension refers to the central importance of an encounter with the Holy Spirit for the Christian life. Some scholars have therefore described the whole of Pentecostal theology as a theology of encounter. All Pentecostal scholarship can be understood as an attempt ‘to articulate this normative encounter with God’73 in the diverse forms, methods, and vocabulary of the scholarly and scientific communities. The Pentecostal experiences are at the core defined theologically. In disciplines not directly associated with theological inquiry, the experience of the Spirit-filled life often carries over in terms of the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality in general, which are more visible in the motivation for the Pentecostal scholar to pursue a particular vocation than in the measurable forms of pedagogy, research, and writing. On a more visible level, the experience of the Holy Spirit places Pentecostal scholarship at the crossroads of the scientific and theological worlds. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when understood in the whole context of creation, directs Pentecostal scholars to pursue a spirit-oriented scholarship in the experimental and empirical worlds of science.75 While this pneumatological pursuit may not always yield explicit references to the Holy Spirit, it is nonetheless radically informed by the anticipation that the Holy Spirit can be discovered in all of life and thereby directs all of life toward God.
Second, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the principle of play rather than performance. This playful orientation stands in contrast to the performance-oriented and utilitarian categories of traditional scholarship under the tyranny of rationalism, seriousness, and work. Thus, Pentecostal thinking sometimes stands critically over against established scholarly norms and operates on the level of ‘pure means’ or ‘pure self-presentation’.77 Pentecostal scholarship presents itself as a restlessness caused both by the encounter with God’s Spirit in the present and the anticipation of the kingdom of God in which the fullness of life in the Spirit is yet to be fully realized. The playfulness of Pentecostal scholarship in the midst of this restlessness can be seen as the pursuit of ‘a way of being that is radically open to divine surprises, always at work resisting obstacles to human flourishing, and committed to creating, broadening, and deepening new possibilities of life’. Put positively, the playfulness of Pentecostal scholarship is the radical consequence of a deliberate dependence on and openness to the divine freedom. Put negatively, playful scholarship does not reject critical reflection, logic, and order but refuses to submit to their exclusive claim of dominance. Instead, the playful dynamic of Pentecostal scholarship embraces the logic of intellectual rigour in the broadest sense as an ethical commitment to conscientization. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Pentecostal scholarship is still in the process of raising its self-consciousness as a means to engage in the struggle against the structures that hinder human flourishing and direct the human being to God. At the same time, while avoiding becoming submerged in the dominant models of scholarship, Pentecostals are themselves establishing a new consciousness based on the pneumatological focus inherent in their worldview and spirituality.
Third, Pentecostal scholarship is in an important sense always embodied scholarship. For most Pentecostals, this emphasis reflects a going-beyond the mere intellectual pursuit of knowledge to include holistic modes of learning and being. On the one hand, embodied scholarship strives towards interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary inquiry; on the other hand, it reconsiders existing ways of understanding the world, human nature, and the human encounter with God. This interdependence refers both to the influence of embodiment on Pentecostal scholarship and the product of such scholarly efforts. In the simplest terms, embodiment refers to an expressiveness that connects the personal experience with the community, social structure, and human concerns. In the written discourse of modern scholarship, this expressiveness is seen in the evangelistic, inspirational, expository, sermonic, and thematic emphases of many Pentecostal publications that include testimony, exhortation, prayer, praise, and other elements not typical for scholarly conventions.82 In the more radical sense, embodiment seeks the (often dramatic) expressions of the charismatic life: the prophetic, spontaneous, and unadorned desire to let the Holy Spirit speak through the work of the scholar. While such work seldom receives scholarly recognition from the wider academy, it represents the important desire of Pentecostal scholarship to shed the role of the objective observer for the sake of passionate participation.
Finally, Pentecostal scholarship is based on a comprehensive hermeneutic that in the broadest sense can be characterized as analogical. Pentecostal scholars have more typically spoken of the analogical imagination as a ‘this-is-that’ hermeneutic. Foundational to this hermeneutic is the interpretation of the present in terms of the past, the Christian life in terms of the biblical texts, and the Pentecostal experience in terms of the story of Pentecost. The principle of analogy defines and correlates the Pentecostal interpretation of Scripture and of the contemporary world.85 Pentecostal scholarship engages reality, not unlike the apostle Peter, by rejecting dominant perceptions and offering alternative interpretations. The biblical records (Acts 2:15–16) show a two-fold dynamic in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost: he rejects the dominant perception of the crowd (‘these are not drunk’) and offers an alternative interpretation (‘this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel’). Similarly, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the basis of a hermeneutic that acknowledges the tension between ‘this’ reality of the human life and ‘that’ reality of God by suggesting that this relationship can only be expressed as analogy. Such correlation is essential to the theologian as much as to the scientist; both interpret the world in their respective disciplines as a witness to God—even if such analogy fails when the experience of God cannot be correlated to any existing event. The principle of analogy has driven Pentecostals from a primary occupation with internal debates during the early years to an expansion of their scholarship. This expansion also includes the critical evaluation and correction of existing analogies and interpretative models. The integration of the experiential, playful, embodied, and analogical dimensions of understanding and participating in the world promises to take Pentecostal scholars not only to various disciplines but to the forefront of the renewal and revitalization of the academic world.
The future of Pentecostal studies

Pentecostalism shows itself as neither a complete intellectual or anti-intellectual movement. Although both elements are present among Pentecostals worldwide, the sole emphasis on either characterization would misrepresent the state of affairs. Moreover, the perplexing nature of Pentecostalism escapes us if we neglect to account for the existing tension between anti-intellectualism and Pentecostal scholarship. The coexistence of both attitudes is representative of the struggle to come to terms with the scope and depth of the Pentecostal ethos. While this coexistence cannot be easily reconciled, the dimensions of anti-intellectualism as described in this chapter shed important light on the future of Pentecostal scholarship. The final section of this chapter presents this prospect with regard to three intersecting dimensions of the contemporary world of Pentecostal studies: the groundwork of Pentecostal pedagogy, Pentecostal scholarship as counter-culture, and the emergence of Renewal scholarship as a distinct identity of Pentecostal studies.
The groundwork of Pentecostal pedagogy

The study of Pentecostalism shows a struggle among Pentecostals to find and express a pedagogical model concomitant with the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality and to integrate such a model in the dominant Western methodologies that pervade the academic world. Much of this struggle takes place not in the academy but in the churches, schools, and homes of Pentecostals. The battle for a Pentecostal pedagogy is fought not only among those involved in and seeking higher education but more significantly in the testimonies, conversations, debates, sermons, and arguments of congregations, which often span the whole breadth of educational upbringing.
The formation of Pentecostal pedagogy takes place to a large extent in the ‘ordinary’ world of ‘everyday’ life, the ‘contextual’, ‘non-academic’ and ‘lived’ world of the ‘ground level’. At this level of folk religion, assembled beliefs, values, experiences, and practices connecting individuals and communities, the primary task among Pentecostals remains first of all to accurately observe, interpret, and portray their intellectual history and position. The shaping of a common pedagogy among Pentecostals worldwide emerges largely at the junction of individual efforts relating to congregational life and denominational history and tradition.88 The groundwork consists above all in a more explicit advocacy among Pentecostal congregations for reason, logic, and education, for theology, the defence of the faith, philosophy, and science. Postgraduate Pentecostal scholarship remains the exception rather than the norm. On the ground, the development of a Pentecostal pedagogy depends on the basic formation of Pentecostal congregations, including the increase of literacy, the institution of continuing education, the diversification of the church curriculum, the building of educational structures and libraries, and the marrying of faith and understanding in the whole of the Christian life.90
All of these efforts are in principle a form of conscientization as part of the attempt to build a Pentecostal catechesis on the ground. The most visible struggle of this catechesis remains the integration and transformation of Pentecostal ‘amateurism’ vis-à-vis the accepted norms of the professional academic world. This transformation emphasizes ‘the oral nature of a Pentecostal hermeneutic and the dynamics of Pentecostal liturgy … a dynamic and active role of the Holy Spirit and … the full participation of all members of the community of faith’.92 The result of this unfolding catechesis on the ground is unlikely to be the full intellectualization of Pentecostal faith and praxis but rather the traditioning of a holistic spirituality. In light of the intellectual history of Pentecostalism, catechesis among Pentecostals will exceed mere cognitive transformation toward reflective action.94 The goal of this groundwork is no more (and no less) than the faithful and critical awareness of and response to God’s revelation in the world in all circumstances of life. A scholarly community among Pentecostals will continue to emerge only gradually on this catechetical basis.
Pentecostal scholarship as counter-culture

A conscious and critical Pentecostal catechesis is increasingly visible in both the gradual integration of Pentecostal scholarship in the academic world and the continuing resistance to such integration by Pentecostal scholars. It is inevitable that Pentecostals will eventually teach and research at the elite universities of the world, although much of that integration still depends on the cultural significance of Pentecostalism in particular contexts and the consequent interest of institutions in Pentecostal scholarship. While most academic institutions are no longer hostile to Pentecostals, many universities and colleges, not only those affiliated with a particular religious tradition, invite few Pentecostals to participate in the broader academic conversations. Similarly, Pentecostal scholars resist invitations to associate themselves fully with existing institutions that question or contradict the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. Pentecostal scholarship retains its counter-cultural stance in its concerns not only for the content of study but also for the formation of the scholar, the methods and instruments of scholarship, and the relevance of the results. The anti-intellectual dimension of Pentecostal scholarship finds its most potent contemporary expression in this counter-culture.
In popular perception, the speaking with tongues based upon the broad image of Spirit baptism remains the most significant counter-cultural practice of Pentecostals. Pentecostal scholarship as tongue speech may solicit the image of interrupting ‘proper’ academic norms and behaviours. Such a perception is not entirely incorrect. However, Pentecostal scholarship has re-described the critical function of tongues as a call for an ‘affective and embodied epistemology’, ‘holistic spirituality’, and ‘non-reductionistic worldview’.96 Where popular Pentecostal language speaks of ‘letting go and letting God’, Pentecostal scholarship acknowledges ‘the pretentiousness of the critical scientific mind’. This via negativa, perhaps even deconstructive nature of Pentecostal studies, is the irrevocable element of Pentecostal spirituality despite its silencing to often no more than a hidden protest in academic conversations and publications. The tension between social activism and sectarianism evident among Pentecostals is also reflected in the discrepancy between those scholars who have become comfortable and those who remain homeless in the contemporary academic world.99
The counter-culture of Pentecostal scholarship speaks to the ‘homelessness’ of Pentecostal studies. The objectification of knowledge, depersonalization of education, individualization of critical thinking, separation of the subject and object of knowing, anonymity of the academic community, and separation of the academy from church and world are just a few of the reasons held responsible for this dilemma. Underlying the homelessness of Pentecostal scholarship is the fundamental theological commitment of Pentecostals, even in the humanities and social and natural sciences, that sees education itself as a transformative practice in light of the encounter with the Holy Spirit.101 Where Pentecostals have started to make themselves at home, this critical function of Pentecostal scholarship has become less visible. Explicitly critical Pentecostal scholarship, on the other hand, maintains the personal, pedagogical, and epistemological priority of dependence on the Holy Spirit in all realms of engaging and changing the world. This dependence has carried Pentecostal scholarship out of the realm of internal Pentecostal concerns to diverse multidisciplinary conversations.
From Pentecostal studies to Renewal scholarship

Pentecostal studies has transitioned during the twentieth century from preoccupation with internal concerns, including wide-ranging debates about Spirit baptism, glossolalia, sanctification, Pentecostal distinctives, or church government, to dialogue with constituencies and topics far beyond the original reach. While Pentecostals have not abandoned internal affairs, these discussions have been integrated in and expanded to multidisciplinary and ecumenical conversations. Pentecostal scholarship today can be described as a Spirit-oriented pursuit of the religious, social, political, economic, and scientific dimensions of life and engages with these dimensions on spiritual, experiential, and intellectual grounds. This pursuit has expanded the horizon of Pentecostal scholarship from a church-dominated audience to a dialogue partner with diverse publics in the church, academy, and society. The significant expansion and transition of Pentecostal scholarship has become known in some circles by the term ‘Renewal studies’.
Renewal Studies shows both an indebtedness to Pentecostalism and a drive beyond any narrowly constructed Pentecostal scholarship, in other words, a tendency towards the renewal of Pentecostalism itself. The underlying motif for Renewal studies is not Pentecostalism but Pentecost, or more precisely, the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. The pneumatological motif, exemplified at Pentecost and in the modern-day Pentecostal movement, refers to the experiential and theological start with the Spirit that proceeds to engagement and dialogue with other perspectives and disciplines and represents a procedure whereby that interaction is opened up to what the Spirit is saying and where the interpretation of the Spirit’s direction is leading. Thus Renewal studies functions as an important corrective to Pentecostal scholarship, as a tool for its assessment as well as an invitation to enter into theoretical, practical, and theological interaction with other fields.104 In this sense, renewal is that counter-critical and prophetic element within a pneumatological framework that allows the Pentecostal consciousness to expand in ongoing critical conversation. The renewal focus is perhaps adequately described as a ‘Pentecostal pneumatology of quest’.
The quest for renewal emerges for Pentecostals from ‘a distinctive modality of Spirit-filled lifelong teaching and learning that has been the legacy of Pentecostal and Charismatic institutions of higher education in the twentieth century’. This modality is based on the existence of many voices, many gifts, many tongues, and many practices among Pentecostals that seek to engage the world in ‘a polyphonic perspectivalism’.107 Comfortable with this pluralism of the late modern world, renewal is for Pentecostals ‘a methodology for inquiry rather than just a subject of teaching and research’. The focus is not limited to the study of Pentecostalism but open to a non-sectarian emphasis on the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in all phenomena of life. This focus is inherently motivated by an underlying ‘Renewal theology’.109 Yet the centrality of the person and work of the Holy Spirit that upholds and penetrates this kind of theology expands the theological emphasis immediately to other fields of inquiry and thereby challenges the established structures, tasks, and procedures of modern-day scholarship. Renewal, in this progressive sense, because of its critical and anti-intellectual undertones, is taking Pentecostal scholarship to the frontiers of religion, science, technology, politics, economics, and other fields. The result is not only the continuing transformation of Pentecostal studies but the prospect of renewal of contemporary Christian pedagogy and scholarship in the twenty-first century.

A conclusion to this brief portrait of the perplexing reality of Pentecostalism would be out of place; it might give the impression that the development of Pentecostalism has in some sense been determined when rather the opposite is true. Pentecostalism has just started. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can at best speak of the adolescent years of Pentecostalism, a movement characterized by a perplexing variety of tensions often only in their infancy. Not only historically but also in its worldwide varieties, languages, tongues, beliefs, practices, and experiences, Pentecostalism exhibits different, often contrasting, elements that compete to define the core persuasions of the movement. There are difficulties not only with understanding the depth of these tensions, but also significant disagreements on whether and how these disagreements can be reconciled in order to speak of a single form of Pentecostalism. In light of the various tensions presented in this volume, the labelling of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ remains the most suitable form of its identification.
Pentecostalism has been termed a movement from the early years of the twentieth century, often with reference to what was anticipated as a mere temporary existence. Outsiders to the movement gave Pentecostalism a relatively short lifespan, seeing it as an insignificant repetition of ecstatic religion that is not unusual for Christian history. Insiders typically highlighted the eschatological significance of the movement and viewed Pentecostalism as the final phase before the imminent consummation of the kingdom of God. Both perspectives have been disappointed by the longevity of the movement. Both sides are confounded by the changes and transitions that continue to shape modern-day Pentecostalism.
The reasons for the perplexity of the Pentecostal movement lie in its transitional character. While the designation of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ is often applied to Pentecostalism in its relation to others, the reference to the transitional character of that movement emphasizes that Pentecostalism is itself in movement and thereby continues to be transformed. The term ‘Renewal’ perhaps best identifies the nature and goal of that transition as a transformation by the Spirit of God. The heart of this identification of Pentecostalism as a Renewal movement is the insight that Pentecostalism by its very nature cannot be static but remains subject to its inherent renewal impetus. As a transitional phenomenon, Pentecostalism at this time can only be captured by embracing the tensions within the movement as identifiers of that transition. Any subjugation of one extreme under another only leads to a biased stereotyping that is perhaps more palatable but does not capture the movement in its fullness.
The designation of Pentecostalism as a Renewal movement avoids any romanticized or triumphalist notion of that definition. If Pentecostalism is a movement, then the direction of that movement is not always altogether clear. The movement travels, so to speak, in different directions, and yet, it is precisely this unbalanced transition that keeps Pentecostalism in movement. Rather than becoming a disjointed phenomenon, Pentecostalism has expanded to include many multifarious elements among its constituencies. The extremes of the Pentecostal movement belong at this point in their development to the nature of Pentecostalism worldwide. The movement as a whole, if such a designation is justified, shows little concern for the existence of such inconsistencies. On the contrary, the unqualified identification of such developments as ‘tensions’, ‘extremes’, and ‘inconsistencies’ betrays a critical perspective foreign to the character of a movement that is comfortable with the playful variations of its perplexing existence.
The extremes of pluralism, charismatic excessiveness, denominationalism, sectarianism, triumphalism, institutionalism, and anti-intellectualism are confronted by the local roots, holistic spirituality, ecumenical ethos, orthodoxy, social engagement, egalitarian practices, and scholarship of the movement. The resulting tensions are not absorbed or cancelled out but held in opposition. In other words, for a movement in transition, as Pentecostalism is best described today, the critical tensions that remain mark the energy of that transition. If measured in this way, Pentecostalism is a movement with a constant tendency to go beyond itself.
A dominant perception maintains that Pentecostalism is primarily, or exclusively, a religious movement. However, the extremes held in opposition by the contemporary movement suggest that the dynamics of Pentecostals worldwide far exceed the religious realm. The perplexities of Pentecostalism identified in the previous chapters represent the struggle of a worldwide movement to identify its place and position in the global Christian landscape. While the tensions identified in this study are among the most visible elements of global Pentecostalism today, some less visible aspects were mentioned only marginally or could not be addressed. Among the tensions that add to the perplexing nature of the Pentecostal movement, but that are only in their early phase of development, is the Pentecostal emphasis on salvation through Christ alone in contrast to the emerging Pentecostal dialogue with other religions or the prominence of supernaturalism in contrast to the developing dialogue with the natural sciences. More specifically theological aspects that also exhibit a perplexing range of contrasting positions include the apolitical or anti-political stance in contrast to an emerging Pentecostal political theology, debates about the theology of creation, and the discussion of the very nature of theology as it is or should be done by Pentecostals. Finally, there are a number of internal tensions that could be added to the picture, including debates about the initial (physical) evidence of Spirit baptism or the nature of sanctification. Adding these tensions to the portrait of modern-day Pentecostalism would only solidify the assessment that Pentecostalism is a movement in transition. Significant for the future of the Pentecostal movement is the extent to which these tensions within Pentecostalism are seen as exemplary of a religious movement and representative of the global state of the Christian world.
The perplexing tensions of Pentecostalism are symptomatic not only for the changing face of the Pentecostal movement but for the dramatic transitions of global Christianity. In this sense, Pentecostalism is merely a representative of the dynamics of the late modern Christian social, cultural, and religious milieu. However, these developments also far exceed the realm of religion and expand ultimately into all dimensions of life. Pentecostalism has become a movement beyond the concerns of religion. Modern-day Pentecostalism is occupied with all questions of human flourishing, understanding, and transformation and engages the religious, social, cultural, political, economic, scientific, and spiritual dimensions of human existence. This characterization may explain much of the bewildering character of the movement and suggests that the immediate future of Pentecostalism will show an even greater variety of perplexities. At the least, those curious to understand Pentecostalism are forced to look beyond the realm of religion. At the end of this brief guide, we arrive at yet one more perplexing insight: To understand Pentecostalism, one has to look beyond Pentecostalism.

Alexander, Paul. Signs and Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009).
Anderson, Allan H. An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Anderson, Allan H., Michael Bergunder, André Droogers, Cornelis van der Laan (eds). Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 1997; 2005).
Kay, William K. Pentecostalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Synan, Vinson. The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901–2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
Yong, Amos and Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (eds). The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

affections, 33, 43, 45, 72, 139–41, 150 see also spirituality
Africa, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13–4, 34, 41, 51, 53, 56, 76, 85–6, 90, 91, 94–5, 98, 117–8, 119, 121–2, 124, 143
African American Pentecostalism, 18, 53, 97, 105–6, 118, 120, 127–9 see also black Pentecostalism
anti-intellectualism, 3, 7–8, 20, 37, 133–41, 148, 156 see also scholarship
Apostolic Faith, 50, 59
Asia, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13, 14–5, 21–2, 34, 41, 51, 53, 76, 90, 91, 98–9, 119, 124, 143
Azusa Street Mission and revival, 12–3, 16–7, 50, 113, 120

baptism see Spirit baptism; water baptism
black Pentecostalism, 97–8, 105–6, 117, 121, 123, 127–9, 129–30 see also African American Pentecostalism

cessationism, 35, 143 see also spiritual gifts
charismata see spiritual gifts
charismatic life, 4, 5, 30, 34, 36–41, 42, 147
Charismatic Movement, 2, 15, 16, 19–21, 22, 34, 37, 38, 40–1, 53, 56, 65, 71, 97, 99, 116, 121, 126, 133, 141, 142,
Christology, 73, 79, 82, 84–6, 88, 103 see also Jesus Christ
church see ecclesiology
community, 13, 24, 35–6, 53–4, 58, 63–4, 71–2, 75, 87, 94–8, 103, 105–7, 113, 117, 130, 139, 146, 149, 151 see also koinonia; ecclesiology
conscientization, 146, 149 see also social consciousness
counter-culture, 148, 150–1
creeds, 69, 71–2, 74, 77, 137 see also trinitarian Pentecostalism
critical function, 65–8, 150–1
external critique, 5, 36–9, 41, 54, 99–100, 129, 133, 137
internal controversies, 5, 36, 37, 39–41, 54, 99–100, 129, 133, 137
culture, Pentecostalism and, 10, 11, 13, 18, 25, 86, 95, 98, 100, 106–7, 117–8, 123, 129, 131, 144, 150

denominationalism, 3, 5, 30, 49, 56–62, 65–7, 156 see also ecclesiology
diversity, 1–2, 3, 10, 14, 16, 39, 63–7, 76, 85–8, 97, 128 see also pluralism
divine healing, 35, 36, 46, 54, 73, 74, 86, 97, 99, 100, 102–3, 115 see also health and wealth gospel
doctrine, 1, 3, 6, 32, 38, 41, 55, 56, 58, 60, 69–88, 100–3, 116, 122, 126–7, 144 see also theology
doctrine of God, 6, 69, 70–6, 77, 78, 81–8, 100, 101, 103, 144
doxology, 76, 112, 125, 129–31 see also worship

ecclesiology, 5, 59, 65–7, 121, 144
ecumenism, 1, 3, 5, 6, 19–21, 29, 38, 49–68, 77, 96, 103, 111, 144, 151, 156 see also unity
education, 7, 20, 91, 94, 107, 112, 116, 133–40, 141, 142, 145, 148–9, 151–2 see also pedagogy
egalitarianism, 7, 92, 111, 112–9, 124, 125–31
encounter, 12, 17, 33–4, 44, 46, 55, 73, 75, 83–6, 145–6, 151
ethics, 104, 108–10 see also social consciousness; conscientization
Europe, Pentecostalism in, 12, 15, 24, 51, 52–3, 76, 94, 118, 119, 124, 143
Evangelicalism, 52, 84, 103, 105, 123, 129, 143
experience, 1, 12, 37–40, 43, 45, 50, 54, 55, 64, 71–3, 77, 79–80, 80–2, 82–6, 88, 90–3, 107, 118, 128, 135, 137, 145–7
extremism, 4, 29, 36–9, 103–4, 156–7 see also criticism

gender paradox, 7, 111–2, 117–20, 122–4, 125–31
globalization, 10, 21, 23–7, 100, 110
glocal, 25–7, 85–6
glocalization, 10, 25–7, 85
glossolalia see tongues, speaking in
gospel, full, 31, 35, 72–5, 84

healing see divine healing
health and wealth gospel, 6, 89, 90, 97–103, 104–6, 109, 110
hermeneutic, 87, 139, 143, 147, 149 see also Scripture
hierarchy, 123–4, 125–7 see also institutionalism
Hispanic Pentecostalism, 18, 105–7, 120–1 see also Latina/o Pentecostalism
holiness, 31, 32, 37, 74, 80 see also sanctification
Hollenweger, Walter J., 12, 142
Holy Spirit, 2, 5, 11–3, 17, 19, 20, 29–35, 40, 43–6, 50, 54, 58, 60, 64, 66, 67, 70, 73, 74–6, 77, 78, 79, 80–2, 84, 86, 87, 88, 113–5, 123, 136–9, 145, 147, 149, 151–2 see also pneumatology

imagination, 5, 20, 30, 41, 42–7, 87–8, 139–41, 147
India, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13, 76, 93–4, 117
institutionalism, 3, 7, 59, 111, 112, 119–24, 125–7, 128, 156 see also hierarchy
institutionalization, 5, 19, 61, 69, 110, 125, 126, 129, 137

Jesus Christ, 11, 20, 30, 31, 34, 35, 70, 72–82, 84–6, 88, 100, 101, 113 see also Christology

Kenyon, E. W. 100–2
koinonia, 63–4 see also community; ecclesiology

Latin America, Pentecostalism in, 12, 14, 16, 21, 22, 34, 41, 51–2, 56, 76, 90–1, 95–6, 99–100, 119, 121, 123, 124, 143 see also Latina/o Pentecostalism
Latina/o Pentecostalism, 76, 85, 94, 95–6, 107, 123 see also Hispanic Pentecostalism
liturgy, 18, 72, 127, 129, 131, 149
local roots, 9, 10, 11–6, 18, 21, 23–9, 51, 61, 66, 67, 85, 86, 88, 90, 96, 104, 108, 109, 126, 156

materialism, 98, 99, 105 see also health and wealth gospel
mission, 13–15, 17–9, 21, 26, 31, 50, 60–1, 85, 87, 93–4, 105, 113, 115, 120, 135–7, 140
movement, 50, 59–68 see also ecclesiology

narrative, Pentecostal, 62, 70, 71–3, 75, 84 see also doctrine; hermeneutic
neo-Pentecostalism, 21–3, 33–4, 37–40, 56, 57, 66, 71, 121, 126
North America, Pentecostalism in, 4, 11–3, 17–9, 21, 38, 50–3, 56, 76, 89, 90, 94, 96–8, 104–5, 107, 114, 118–21, 123, 127, 129–30, 133–4, 141–3 see also Pentecostalism, classical

Oneness Pentecostalism, 5, 6, 69, 70, 76–82, 83–4, 86, 87, 88, 101, 120
orthodoxy, 39, 42, 69–70, 82, 88, 116, 139, 156 see also doctrine

pedagogy, 7, 20, 64, 133, 134, 138–41, 145, 148–50, 153 see also education
Pentecost, 11, 26, 31, 50, 51, 62, 74, 75, 76, 88, 109, 110, 113–5, 116, 147, 152
Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, 53, 118
Pentecostal World Fellowship, 58, 61
classical, 17–9, 30–1, 39–41, 56, 58, 59, 65, 71–2, 84, 86, 92, 93, 103, 105, 107, 118, 120–3, 125, 129, 130, 134–7, 142, 143
countries see under individual countries
definition, 16–23, 27, 63, 135, 156
global, 16–23, 24–7, 29, 33–4, 41, 52–3, 55–6, 58, 63–5, 70, 76, 85–8, 90, 91, 100, 103, 104, 108–12, 117, 122, 124–5, 128–9, 131, 145, 157
grassroots, 4, 10, 11–16, 52, 58, 65, 96, 131
local, 3, 4, 6, 11–6, 18, 21, 23–9, 51, 61, 66–7, 85–6, 88, 90, 96, 104, 108–9, 126, 156
progressive, 3, 22, 26, 90, 93–6, 108, 110, 152
regions see under individual regions
performance, 46, 139, 146
play, 8, 10, 134, 146
pluralism, 3, 10, 16, 23, 110, 152, 156 see also diversity
pneumatology, 30, 32, 33, 35, 44–6, 64, 76, 80, 81, 86–8, 140, 143–6, 152 see also Holy Spirit
postmodernity, 22, 24, 25, 112, 138
prophecy, 32, 35, 36, 46, 71, 115–7
prophethood of all believers, 7, 111, 112, 115–7, 127, 137
prosperity preaching see health and wealth gospel
Protestantism, 17, 19, 52, 56, 72, 87, 95, 115
psychology of religion, 42–4

racial segregation, 120–2, 128, 130
reason, 54, 77, 138–40, 146, 149
Renewal, 1, 19, 20, 21, 37, 51, 53, 60, 66, 130, 148, 151–3, 156
revelation, 37, 40, 75, 78, 82, 103, 114, 136, 149 see also prophecy; Scripture
revivals, 1, 12, 13, 15–6, 17, 18, 50–1, 60, 65, 94, 113, 118, 119, 120
ritual, 19, 37, 46, 106 see also liturgy
Roman Catholic-Pentecostal international dialogue, 14, 17, 19, 37, 52, 53–4, 64, 72, 99

sanctification, 73, 78, 101, 114, 151, 157 see also holiness
scholarship, 3, 7, 8, 20, 112, 125, 127–9, 131, 133–58 see also pedagogy; education
Scripture, 11, 30, 31, 35, 38, 40, 56, 60, 62, 70, 72, 73, 75–84, 88, 94, 102, 109, 113, 116, 117, 134–7, 139, 141–4, 147 see also hermeneutic
sectarianism, 14, 22, 37, 58, 107, 128, 129, 150, 156
SEPADE (Servicio Evangélico para el Desarrollo), 52, 95, 96
separatism, 57, 59
Seymour, William J., 50, 127
social activism, 6, 90–6, 99, 106–7, 109, 110, 150
social consciousness, 99, 104–10 see also conscientization
social ethics, 6, 90, 103, 104–10
soteriology, 70, 72, 144
South Africa, Pentecostalism in, 94, 95, 117, 121–2
Spirit baptism, 31–2, 35, 39–41, 44, 54, 73, 75, 114, 116, 135, 143, 150, 151, 157 see also Holy Spirit; pneumatology
Spirit-Christology, 74–6, 86
spiritual discernment, 29, 32, 44
spiritual gifts, 11, 17, 29, 33–8, 40, 41, 46, 47, 54, 55, 64, 100, 115, 117, 144
spirituality, 19, 20, 24, 30–6, 38, 41, 43, 45, 47, 54, 67, 71–5, 83–5, 89, 94, 110, 125, 129, 131, 137–8, 144–50
holistic, 3, 4, 29, 30–6, 46, 149, 150, 156
story, Pentecostal, 13, 35, 71, 85, 88, 147 see also narrative, Pentecostal

tensions, 2–8, 10, 26, 29, 30, 41, 49, 50, 62–5, 68–70, 82–90, 104, 108, 111–2, 121–34, 155–7 see also criticism
theology, 5, 6, 20, 21, 24, 31, 59, 61, 63, 65–8, 69, 70–6, 76–82, 82–8, 97, 99–101, 103, 128, 144–5, 149, 152, 157 see also doctrine
third wave see neo-Pentecostalism
tongues, speaking in, 11, 31, 32, 34–6, 38, 39, 40–2, 46, 54, 72, 109, 110, 129, 135, 140, 143, 144, 150–2, 155 see also Spirit baptism; spiritual gifts
tradition, 3, 7, 8, 22, 30, 54, 63, 69, 76, 77, 79, 94, 133, 134, 149, 150
trinitarian Pentecostalism, 5, 6, 64, 69, 70–6, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82–8
Trinity, 76, 84
triumphalism, 3, 6, 90, 96–103, 104, 110, 156

unity, 50–1, 62–5, 68, 78 see also ecumenism

water baptism, 77, 79
women see egalitarianism; gender paradox
word-of-faith movement see health and wealth gospel
worldview, 29, 30–3, 34–6, 38, 41, 43, 47, 67, 71, 74, 76, 86, 110, 125, 131, 137–8, 145–50
worship, 18, 19, 24, 26, 33, 54, 55, 71, 80, 84, 116, 120, 122, 126, 129–31, 136–9 see also doxology
Vondey, W. (2013). Pentecostalism (S. iii–199). London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

How shall we live in this world?- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz



Reformation Trust

How Should I Live in This World?

© 1983, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as Ethics and the Christian (1983) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as How Should I Live in This World? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[Ethics and the Christian]
How should I live in this world? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: Ethics and the Christian, 1983. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991. How should I live in this world? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-180-1
1. Christian ethics. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BJ1251.S67 2009









Almost every major discussion of ethics these days begins with an analysis of the chaotic situation of modern culture. Even secular writers and thinkers are calling for some sort of basic agreement on ethical behavior. Humanity’s “margin of error,” they say, is shrinking with each new day. Our survival is at stake.
These “prophets of doom” point out that man’s destructive capability increased from 1945 to 1960 by the same ratio as it did from the primitive weapons of the Stone Age to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The thawing of the Cold War provided little comfort. Numerous nations have nuclear arms now or are close to having them. What, besides ethics, will keep them from using these weapons?
This stark reality is compounded by the profusion of social injustice in many areas, the rise of international terrorism, and the general decline of personal and social values. Who is to say what’s right and wrong? One technical volume, Thomas E. Hill’s Contemporary Ethical Theories, lists more than eighty theories of ethics competing for acceptance in our modern world. It is not just a matter of “doing the right thing” but of figuring out what the right thing is. This proliferation of options generates confusion in our world and, for many, a sense of despair. Will we ever reach a cultural consensus that will stabilize the shifting sands of pluralism?
All this talk of “theories of ethics” may leave you cold. However, ethical decisions enter into every aspect of our lives. No field or career is immune from ethical judgments. In politics, in psychology, and in medicine, ethical decisions are made regularly. Legislative action, economic policy, academic curricula, psychiatric advice—all involve ethical considerations. Every vote cast in the ballot box marks an ethical decision.
On what basis should we make these decisions? That’s where the “ethical theories” come in. The Christian may say, “I simply obey God’s Word.” However, what about those issues where the Bible has no specific “thou shalt”? Can we find ethical principles in Scripture, and in the very nature of God, that will guide us through this difficult terrain? How can we communicate these principles to others? How does God’s Word stand up against the eighty-some other standards?
Let us start by looking deeper into the field of ethics to consider how society deals with such questions. Then we will see how God’s Word fits in, and we will seek to apply biblical teaching to several modern dilemmas.

Chapter One

In present word usage, the term ethics is often used interchangeably with the word morality. That the two have become virtual synonyms is a sign of the confusion that permeates the modern ethical scene. Historically, the two words had quite distinctive meanings. Ethics comes from the Greek ethos, which is derived from a root word meaning “stall,” a place for horses. It conveyed the sense of a dwelling place, a place of stability and permanence. On the other hand, morality comes from the word mores, which describes the behavioral patterns of a given society.
Ethics is a normative science, searching for the principal foundations that prescribe obligations or “oughtness.” It is concerned primarily with the imperative and with the philosophical premises on which imperatives are based. Morality is a descriptive science, concerned with “isness” and the indicative. Ethics define what people ought to do; morals describe what people actually do. The difference between them is between the normal and the descriptive.


1. normative
1. descriptive
2. imperative
2. indicative
3. oughtness
3. isness
4. absolute
4. relative

When morality is identified with ethics, the descriptive becomes the normative and the imperative is swallowed by the status quo. This creates a kind of “statistical morality.” In this schema, the good is determined by the normal and the normal is determined by the statistical average. The “norm” is discovered by an analysis of the normal, or by counting noses. Conformity to that norm then becomes the ethical obligation. It works like this:

Step 1. We compile an analysis of statistical behavior patterns, such as those integral to the groundbreaking Kinsey Reports in the twentieth century. If we discover that most people are participating in premarital sexual intercourse, then we declare such activity “normal.”

Step 2. We move quickly from the normal to a description of what is authentically “human.” Humanness is defined by what human beings do. Hence, if the normal human being engages in premarital sexual intercourse, we conclude that such activity is normal and therefore “good.”

Step 3. The third step is to declare patterns that deviate from the normal to be abnormal, inhuman, and inauthentic. In this schema, chastity becomes a form of deviant sexual behavior and the stigma is placed on the virgin rather than the nonvirgin.

Statistical morality operates according to the following syllogism:

Premise A—the normal is determined by statistics;
Premise B—the normal is human and good;
Conclusion—the abnormal is inhuman and bad.

In this humanistic approach to ethics, the highest good is defined as that activity that is most authentically human. This method achieves great popularity when applied to some issues but breaks down when applied to others. For instance, if we do a statistical analysis of the experience of cheating among students or lying among the general public, we discover that a majority of students have at some time cheated and that everyone has at some time lied. If the canons of statistical morality apply, the only verdict we can render is that cheating is an authentically human good and that lying is a bona fide virtue.
Obviously there must be a relationship between our ethical theories and our moral behavior. In a real sense, our beliefs dictate our behavior. A theory underlies our every moral action. We may not be able to articulate that theory or even be immediately conscious of it, but nothing manifests our value systems more sharply than our actions.
The Christian ethic is based on an antithesis between what is and what ought to be. We view the world as fallen; an analysis of fallen human behavior describes what is normal to the abnormal situation of human corruption. God calls us out of the indicative by His imperative. Ours is a call to nonconformity—to a transforming ethic that shatters the status quo.
A Serious Inconsistency

Even within relativistic claims, a serious inconsistency emerges. The 1960s brought a moral revolution to our culture, spearheaded by the protests of the youth. Two slogans were repeated, broadcast side by side during this movement. The tension was captured by these twin slogans: “Tell it like it is” and “Do your own thing.”
The cry for personal freedom was encapsulated in the “inalienable right” to do one’s own thing. This was a demand for subjective freedom of self-expression. When the guns were turned on the older generation, however, a curious and glaring inconsistency was heard: “Tell it like it is.” This slogan implies an objective basis for truth and virtue. The adult generation was not “allowed” to do their own thing if doing their own thing deviated from objective norms of truth. The flower children demanded the right to have their ethical cake and eat it too.
I was once maneuvered into an unenviable counseling situation by a distraught Christian mother, a modern-day Monica (mother of Augustine) anguishing over the wayward behavior of her nonbelieving and rebellious son. The lad had retreated from his mother’s constant religious and moral directives by moving out of the family home and into his own apartment. He promptly decorated his apartment with black walls and strobe lights, then adorned the room with accoutrements designed for the liberal indulgence of hashish and other exotic drugs. His was a bacchanalian “pad” into which he promptly invited a willing coed to join him in luxurious cohabitation. All of this was to his mother’s unmitigated horror. I agreed to talk with the young man only after explaining to the mother that such an encounter would probably engender further hostility. I would be viewed as the mother’s “hired gun.” The youth also agreed to the meeting, obviously only to escape further verbal harassment from his mother.
When the young man appeared at my office, he was overtly hostile and obviously wanted to get the meeting over with as quickly as possible. I began the interview bluntly by asking directly, “Who are you mad at?”
Without hesitation he growled, “My mother.”
“Why?” I inquired.
“Because all she does is hassle me. She keeps trying to shove religion down my throat.”
I went on to inquire what alternative value system he had embraced in place of his mother’s ethical system. He replied, “I believe everyone ought to be free to do his own thing.”
I then asked, “Does that include your mother?” He was startled by the question and not immediately aware of what I was driving at. I explained to him that if he embraced a Christian ethic, he could readily enlist me as an ally in his cause. His mother had been harsh, provoking her son to wrath and being insensitive to questions and feelings, issues that are indeed circumscribed by the biblical ethic. I explained that at several crucial points his mother had violated Christian ethics. However, I pointed out that on the boy’s ethical terms he had no legitimate gripe. “Maybe your mother’s ‘thing’ is to harass children by shoving religion down their throats,” I said. “How can you possibly object to that?” It became clear that the boy wanted everybody (especially himself) to have the right to do his or her “own thing” except when the other person’s “thing” impinged on his “thing.”
It is commonplace to hear the lament that some Christians, notably conservatives, are so rigidly bound by moralistic guidelines that everything becomes for them a matter of “black and white” with no room for “gray” areas. Those who persist in fleeing from the gray, seeking refuge in the sharply defined areas of white and black, suffer from the epithets “brittle” or “dogmatic.” However, the Christian must seek for righteousness and never be satisfied with living in the smog of perpetual grayness. He wants to know where the right way is located, where the path of righteousness lies.
There is a right and there is a wrong. The difference between them is the concern of ethics. We seek a way to find the right, which is neither subjective nor arbitrary. We seek norms and principles that transcend prejudice or mere societal conventions. We seek an objective basis for our ethical standards. Ultimately we seek a knowledge of the character of God, whose holiness is to be reflected in our patterns of behavior. With God there is a definite and absolute black and white. The problem for us is to discover which things belong where. The following chart depicts our dilemma:

The black section represents sin or unrighteousness. The white section represents virtue or righteousness. What does the gray represent? The gray area may call attention to two different problems of Christian ethics. First, it may be used to refer to those activities the Bible describes as adiaphorous. Adiaphorous matters are those things that, in themselves, are ethically neutral. Such matters as eating food offered to idols are placed in this category. Adiaphorous matters are not sinful, but there are occasions when they might become sinful. Ping-Pong playing, for example, is not sinful. However, if a person becomes obsessed with Ping-Pong to the extent that it dominates his life, it becomes a sinful thing for that person.
The second problem represented by the gray area is more important for us to grasp. Here, the gray area represents confusion: it encompasses those matters where we are uncertain about what is right and wrong. The presence of gray calls attention to the fact that ethics is not a simple science but a complex one. Finding the black and the white areas is a noble concern. Jumping to them simplistically, however, is devastating to the Christian life. When we react to black/white approaches to ethics, we may be accurately assessing an annoying human tendency toward simplistic thinking. But we must guard against leaping to the conclusion that there are no areas where black/white thinking is valid. Only within the context of atheism can we speak of there being no black and white. We desire competent and consistent theism, which demands a rigorous scrutiny of ethical principles in order to find our way out of the confusion of the gray.
The Ethical Continuum

Our graph also may be used to illustrate the ethical continuum. In classical terms, sin is described as righteousness run amok. Evil is seen as the negation, privation, or distortion of the good. Man was created to labor in a garden. In modern jargon, the workplace is described as a jungle. What is the difference between a garden and a jungle? A jungle is merely a chaotic garden, a garden run wild.
Man was created with an aspiration for significance, which is a virtue. Man can pervert that drive into a lust for power, which is a vice. These represent the two poles on the continuum. At some point, we cross a line between virtue and vice. The closer we come to that line, the more difficult it is for us to perceive it clearly and the more our minds encounter the foggy gray area.
While teaching a course on ethics to clergymen working on doctor of ministry degrees, I posed the following ethical dilemma: A husband and wife are interned in a concentration camp. They are housed in separate quarters with no communication between them. A guard approaches the wife and demands that she have sexual intercourse with him. The wife refuses. The guard then declares that unless the woman submits to his overtures, he will have her husband shot. The woman submits. When the camp is liberated and the husband learns of his wife’s behavior, he sues her for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
I then posed this question to twenty conservative clergymen: “Would you grant the man a divorce on the grounds of adultery?” All twenty answered yes, pointing to the obvious fact that the wife did have sexual relations with the guard. They saw extenuating circumstances in the situation, but the situation did not change the fact of the wife’s immoral behavior.
I then asked, “If a woman is forcibly raped, may the husband sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery?” All twenty responded no. The clergymen all recognized a clear distinction between adultery and rape. The difference is found at the point of coercion versus voluntary participation. I pointed out that the prison guard used coercion (forcing the wife’s compliance lest the husband be killed) and asked whether the woman’s “adultery” was not actually rape.
By my mere raising of the question, half of the clergymen changed their verdict. After prolonged discussion, almost all of them did. The presence of the element of coercion threw the adultery issue into the gray area of confusion. Even those who did not completely change their minds strongly modified their decisions to account for the extenuating circumstances, which moved the woman’s “crime” from the clear area of sin into the gray area of complexity. They all agreed that if it was sin, it was a lesser sin than adultery committed with “malice aforethought.”
That a continuum exists between virtue and vice was the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He was teaching the principle of the complex of righteousness and the complex of sin. The Pharisees had embraced a simplistic understanding of the Ten Commandments. Their ethical judgments were superficial and therefore distorted. They failed to grasp the continuum motif.
I once read an article by a prominent psychiatrist who was critical of Jesus’ ethical teaching. He expressed astonishment that the Western world had been so laudatory about Jesus as a “great teacher.” He pointed to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) as exhibit A for the foolishness of Jesus’ ethical teaching. He asked why we extol the wisdom of a teacher who held that it is just as bad for a man to lust after a woman as it is to commit adultery with her. He questioned how a teacher could argue that it is just as bad to be angry at a man or to call him a fool as it is to murder him. He then belabored the difference between the destruction caused by lust as opposed to adultery and that caused by slander as opposed to murder.
The answer to the psychiatrist should be clear. Jesus did not teach that lust was as bad as adultery or that anger was as bad as murder. (Unfortunately, many Christians have jumped to the same erroneous conclusion as the psychiatrist, obscuring the point of Jesus’ ethical teaching.)
Jesus was correcting the simplistic view of the law held by the Pharisees. They had embraced an “everything but” philosophy of technical morality, assuming that if they avoided the most obvious dimension of the commandments, they fulfilled the law. Like the rich young ruler, they had a simplistic and external understanding of the Decalogue. Because they had never actually murdered anyone, they thought they had kept the law perfectly. Jesus spelled out the wider implications or the complex of the law. “You shall not kill” means more than refraining from homicide. It prohibits the entire complex that goes into murder. It also implies its opposite virtue: “You shall promote life.” In our continuum, we see the following range:

Saving Life
Destroying Life
Promoting Life

A similar continuum moves from the vice of adultery to the virtue of chastity. In between are lesser virtues and lesser sins, but virtues and sins nonetheless.
Jesus’ teaching revealed both the spirit and the letter of the law. For instance, slander doesn’t kill the body or leave the wife a widow and the children orphans. It does destroy a man’s good name, which robs him of a quality aspect of life. Slander murders the man “in spirit.” The Pharisees had become crass literalists, ignoring the spirit of the law and missing the wider concerns of the complex of the sin of murder.
Degrees of Sin?

To speak of an ethical continuum or a complex of righteousness and evil is to plunge us into the debate over degrees of sin and righteousness. The Bible teaches that if we sin against one point of the law, we sin against the whole law. Does this not imply that sin is sin and that ultimately there are no degrees? Has not Protestantism repudiated the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins? These are the issues that come to the surface as soon as we begin to speak of degrees of sin.
Certainly the Bible teaches that if we sin against one point of the law we sin against the whole law (James 2:10), but we must not infer from this that there are no degrees of sin. Sinning against the law is sinning against the God of the law. When I violate one point of God’s law, I bring myself into opposition to God Himself. This is not to say that sinning against one point of the law is the equivalent of sinning against five points of the law. In both cases, I violate the law and do violence to God, but the frequency of my violence is five times as great in the latter as in the former.
It is true that God commands perfect obedience to the whole law, so that by a single transgression I stand exposed to His judgment. The lightest sin exposes me to the wrath of God, for in the smallest peccadillo I am guilty of cosmic treason. In the least transgression, I set myself above the authority of God, doing insult to His majesty, His holiness, and His sovereign right to govern me. Sin is a revolutionary act in which the sinner seeks to depose God from His throne. Sin is a presumption of supreme arrogance in that the creature vaunts his own wisdom above that of the Creator, challenges divine omnipotence with human impotence, and seeks to usurp the rightful authority of the cosmic Lord.
It is true that historical Protestantism has rejected the Roman Catholic schema of mortal and venial sins. The rejection, however, is not based on a rejection of degrees of sin. John Calvin, for example, argued that all sin is mortal in the sense that it rightly deserves death, but that no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys justifying grace. Considerations other than the degrees of sin were in view in the Protestant rejection of the mortal and venial sin distinction. Historical Protestantism retained the distinction between ordinary sins and sins that are deemed gross and heinous.
The most obvious reason for the Protestant retention of degrees of sin is that the Bible abounds with such gradations. The Old Testament law had clear distinctions and penalties for different criminal acts. Some sins were punishable by death, others by corporal penalties, and still others by the levying of fines. In the Jewish criminal justice system, distinctions were made between types of murder that would correspond to modern-day distinctions such as first- and second-degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
The New Testament lists certain sins that, if continued in impenitence, demand the forfeiture of Christian fellowship (1 Cor. 5). At the same time, the New Testament advocates a kind of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Warnings abound concerning a future judgment that will take into account both the number (quantity) and the severity (quality) of our sins. Jesus speaks of those who will receive many stripes and those who will receive few (Luke 12:44–48, KJV); of the comparatively greater judgment that will befall Chorazin and Bethsaida as opposed to Sodom (Matt. 11:20–24); and the greater and lesser degree of rewards that will be distributed to the saints. The apostle Paul warns the Romans against heaping up wrath against the day of God’s wrath (Rom. 2:5). These and a host of other passages indicate that God’s judgment will be perfectly just, measuring the number, the severity, and the extenuating circumstances that attend all of our sins.

Chapter Two

At the heart of Christian ethics is the conviction that our firm basis for knowing the true, the good, and the right is divine revelation. Christianity is not a life system that operates on the basis of speculative reason or pragmatic expediency. We assert boldly that God has revealed to us who He is, who we are, and how we are expected to relate to Him. He has revealed for us that which is pleasing to Him and commanded by Him. Revelation provides a supernatural aid in understanding the good. This point is so basic and so obvious that it has often been overlooked and obscured as we search for answers to particular questions.
The departure from divine revelation has brought our culture to chaos in the area of ethics. We have lost our basis of knowledge, our epistemological foundation, for discovering the good. This is not to suggest that God has given us a codebook that is so detailed in its precepts that all ethical decisions are easy. That would be a vast oversimplification of the truth. God has not given us specific instructions for each and every possible ethical issue we face, but neither are we left to grope in the dark and to make our decisions on the basis of mere opinion. This is an important comfort to the Christian because it assures us that in dealing with ethical questions, we are never working in a vacuum. The ethical decisions that we make touch the lives of people, and mold and shape human personality and character. It is precisely at this point that we need the assistance of God’s superior wisdom.
To be guided by God’s revelation is both comforting and risky. It is comforting because we can rest in the assurance that our ethical decisions proceed from the mind of One whose wisdom is transcendent. God’s law not only reflects His righteous character but manifests His infinite wisdom. His knowledge of our humanity and His grasp of our needs for fullness of growth and development far exceed the collective wisdom of all of the world’s greatest thinkers. Psychiatrists will never understand the human psyche to the degree the Creator understands that which He made. God knows our frames; it is He who has made us so fearfully and wonderfully. All of the nuances and complexities that bombard our senses and coalesce to produce a human personality are known in their intimate details by the divine mind.
Taking comfort in divine revelation is risky business. It is risky precisely because the presence of hostility in the human heart to the rule of God makes for conflict between divine precepts and human desires. To take an ethical stand on the foundation of divine revelation is to bring oneself into serious and at times radical conflict with the opinions of men. Every day, clergymen around the world give counsel and advice that run contrary to the clear mandates of God. How can we explain such a separation between God’s Word and ministerial counsel?
One critical factor in this dilemma is the fact that ministers are profoundly pressed to conform to acceptable contemporary standards. The person who comes to the minister for counsel is not always looking for guidance from a transcendent God, but rather for permission to do what he or she wants—a license to sin. The Christian counselor is vulnerable to sophisticated forms of manipulation coming from the very people who seek his advice. The minister is placed in that difficult pressure point of acquiescing to the desires of the people or being considered unloving and fun-squelching. Add to this the cultural emphasis that there is something dehumanizing in the discipline and moral restraints God imposes on us. Thus, to stand with God is often to stand against men and to face the fiery trials that go with Christian convictions.
Ethics involves the question of authority. The Christian lives under the sovereignty of God, who alone may claim lordship over us. Christian ethics is theocentric as opposed to secular or philosophical ethics, which tend to be anthropocentric. For the humanist, man is the norm, the ultimate standard of behavior. Christians, however, assert that God is the center of all things and that His character is the absolute standard by which questions of right and wrong are determined.
Theonomy, Autonomy, Heteronomy

The sovereignty of God deals not only with abstract principles but with real lines of authority. God has the right to issue commands, to impose obligations, and to bind the consciences of men. Christians live in the context of theonomy. Debates about law and ethics tend to focus on two basic options—autonomy and heteronomy. Autonomy declares that man is a law unto himself. The autonomous man creates his own value system and establishes his own norms, and is answerable and accountable to man and to man alone. Heteronomy means “ruled by another.” In any system of heteronomy, the individual is considered to be morally responsible to obey limits and proscriptions imposed on him by someone else. This someone else might be another individual, a group such as the state, or even a transcendent God. When we speak of theonomy, or the rule of God, we are speaking of a specific kind of heteronomy. Theonomy is rule by another who is identified as God. This distinction between autonomy and theonomy is the most fundamental conflict of mankind. When theonomy is abandoned for autonomy, the biblical description of that action is sin. It is the creature’s declaration of independence from his Creator.
There is an important difference between freedom and autonomy. Though autonomy is a kind of freedom, it carries the dimensions of freedom to the level of the absolute. Christianity asserts that God gives man freedom, but that freedom has limits. Our freedom never moves us to the point of autonomy. Some have viewed the fall of man in Eden as a result of man’s primordial grasp for autonomy—man’s basal sin, the attempt to usurp the authority that belongs to God.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in trying to locate the most basic of human characteristics, located it in what he called man’s lust or will to power. For Nietzsche, the authentic man was the one who refused to submit to the herd morality of the masses—an existential hero who had the courage to create his own values. For man to create his own values absolutely, the first thing he must do is to declare the death of God. As long as God exists, He represents the ultimate threat to man’s pretended autonomy. Jean-Paul Sartre also addressed this theme when he declared that unless freedom reaches the full measure of autonomy, it is not true freedom. Thus, Sartre stands with those who would dismiss God from the ethical arena.
In the United States, our concept of liberty has changed drastically from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century. The change has much to do with our understanding of autonomy. Modern man considers the quest for autonomy to be a noble and virtuous declaration of human creativity. From the Christian vantage point, however, the quest for autonomy represents the essence of evil, as it contains within its agenda the assassination of God.
The contemporary existentialist cries that “cowering in the shadow of the Almighty” is the worst thing man can do. Such human dependency on divine assistance, he says, encourages weakness and inevitable decadence. To be sure, many people flee to Christianity because of moral weakness, but the fundamental issue is not what we regard to be preferable states of mind or psychological attitudes. The ultimate issue centers on the existence of God. It matters not whether I enjoy submitting to God. What matters first is the question, “Is there a God?” Without God, the only possible end of ethical reflection is chaos. Fyodor Dostoevsky captured this idea in The Brothers Karamazov, where one of his characters says, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.”
The God of Christianity is sovereign, wise, righteous, and ultimately concerned with justice. Not only is God concerned with justice, He assumes the role of Judge over us. It is axiomatic to Christianity that our actions will be judged. This theme is conspicuously absent in much Christian teaching today, yet it fills the New Testament and touches virtually every sermon of Jesus of Nazareth. We will be called into account for every idle word we speak. On the final day, it will not be our consciences that will accuse or excuse us, but God Himself.
Christian ethics cannot be established in a vacuum. The Christian is not concerned with ethics for ethics’ sake. We understand that rules for conduct are established in the context of God’s will for human redemption. There is a real sense in which grace precedes law. The very giving of commandments by the Creator is in the context of a covenant that God makes on the basis of grace. The purpose of divine commandments is redemption. The law of the Old Testament and of the New Testament is fundamentally person-oriented. To isolate this law from its basic concern for people is to fall into the abyss of legalism. Christian ethics is built on the obedience of people to a personal God. When God first gave the law, He did so by means of a personal introduction: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not …” (Ex. 20:2–4a, emphasis added). We see that this is not law for law’s sake, but for people’s sake.

Chapter Three

The continuum of ethics is divided sharply by a fine line, the razor’s edge. This fine line of demarcation is similar to what Jesus described as the “narrow way.” The New Testament makes frequent reference to Christians living according to “the way.” Christians in the first century were called “people of the way.” Jesus called His disciples to walk by the narrow way and enter by the straight gate that leads to life, while warning against the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13–14). However, there is a difference between a narrow way and narrow-mindedness. Narrow-mindedness reveals a judgmental attitude, a critical mindset, which is far from the biblical ideal of charity. Walking the narrow way involves not a distorted mental attitude but a clear understanding of what righteousness demands.
One can deviate from the path of righteousness by moving too far to the left or to the right. One can stumble from the narrow way by falling off the road in either direction. If we consider ethics again in terms of the model of the continuum, we know that the opposite poles, which represent distortions of authentic righteousness, may be labeled legalism and antinomianism. These twin distortions have plagued the church as long as it has been in existence. The New Testament documents reveal that struggles with both legalism and antinomianism were common in the New Testament church.
Legalism Found in Many Forms

Legalism is a distortion that takes many forms. The first form of legalism involves the abstracting of the law of God from its original context. This variety of legalism reduces Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts, a codified system of rigid moralism that is divorced from the covenant context of love. To be sure, God gives rules. He pronounces do’s and don’ts, but the purpose of these rules is to describe for us what is pleasing and displeasing to God. God is concerned with the heart attitude that one brings with him to the application of the rules. When the rules are kept for their own sake, obedience is given to a cold abstraction known as the law rather than to a personal God who reveals the law.
A second dimension of legalism, closely related to the first, involves the divorce of the letter of the law from the spirit of the law. This is the distortion Jesus constantly dealt with when confronting the Pharisees, and He rebuked them for it in the Sermon on the Mount. As we have indicated with respect to Jesus’ expansion of the full import of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, it is not enough for the godly person to obey the mere externals of the law while ignoring the deeper implications of the spirit behind the law. The Pharisees became masters of external obedience coupled with internal disobedience.
The distinction between spirit and letter touches the question of motive. When the Bible describes goodness, it does so in a complex way. Some are offended by the universal indictment brought against fallen mankind, which Paul articulates in his epistle to the Romans. The apostle declares that “none is righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10, 12). Here the apostle echoes the radical statement with which Jesus replied to the question of the rich young ruler: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). At face value, the Bible seems to teach that no one ever does a good thing in this world. This is a grim evaluation of the conduct of fallen human beings.
How are we to understand this radical judgment of human ethical conduct? The key is to be found in an analysis of the biblical definition of the good. For an action to be judged good by God, it must fulfill two primary requirements. The first is that the action must correspond outwardly to the demands of the law. Second, the inward motivation for the act must proceed from a heart that is altogether disposed toward the glory of God. It is the second dimension, the spiritual dimension of motive, that prevents so many of our deeds from being evaluated as good. A pagan, a person of profound corruption, may do acts externally conforming to the demands of the law. The internal motivation, however, is that of selfish interest or what the theologians call “enlightened self-interest,” a motive that is not in harmony with the Great Commandment. Our external deeds may measure up to the external demands of the law, while at the same time our hearts are far removed from God.
Consider the example of a person driving his automobile within the context of legal speed limits. A person goes on a trip from one city to another, passing through a diversity of zones with differing speed limits. For cruising on the highway, the speed limit is established at 70 miles an hour; for moving through a suburban community’s school zone, the speed limit drops to 25 miles an hour. Suppose our driver has a preference for operating his vehicle at a speed of 70 miles an hour. He drives consistently at the speed he prefers. While driving on the highway, his activity is observed by police officers, who note that he is driving in exact conformity to the requirements of the law, giving the appearance of the model safe driver and the upstanding and obedient citizen. He is obeying the law, however, not because he has a concern for the safety and well-being of others or out of a motive to be civilly obedient, but because he simply happens to enjoy driving his car at 70 miles an hour. This preference is noted when his car moves into the school zone and he keeps the accelerator pressed down, maintaining a speed of 70 miles an hour. Now, as he exercises his preference, he becomes a clear and present danger, indeed a menace, to children walking in the school zone. He is driving 45 miles an hour over the speed limit. His external obedience to the law vanishes when the law conflicts with his own desires.
The difference between our perception and God’s is that our ability is limited to the observation of external modes of behavior. God can perceive the heart; God alone knows the deepest motives and intentions that undergird our practice and behavior. Legalism is concerned simply with external conformity and is blind to internal motivation.
Perhaps the most deadly and widespread form of legalism is the type that adds legislation to the law of God and treats the addition as if it were divine law. The Old Testament prophets expressed God’s fury at this form of behavior, which they regarded as an improper binding of men’s consciences where God had left them free. It is a manifestation of man’s fallenness to impose his own sense of propriety on other people, seeking mass conformity to his own preferences and adding insult to it by declaring these prejudices and preferences to be nothing less than the will of God. A frequent point of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees centered on the Pharisees’ traditions, which imposed hardships on the people who were bound by these man-made obligations. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they had elevated their traditions to the level of the law of God, seeking not only to usurp God’s authority but to oppress mankind.
The elevation of human preference to the level of divine mandate is not limited to an isolated group of moralistic Pharisees in the first century. The problem has beset the church throughout its history. Not only have traditions developed that were added to the law of God, but in many cases they became the supreme tests of faith, the litmus tests by which people were judged to be Christians or non-Christians. It is unthinkable in the New Testament that a person’s Christian commitment would ever be determined by whether or not that person engaged in dancing, wore lipstick, or the like. Unfortunately, when these preferences become tests of faith, they often involve not only the elevation of nonbiblical mandates to the level of the will of God, but they represent the trivialization of righteousness. When these externals are made to be measuring rods of righteousness, they obscure the real tests of righteousness.
Majoring in Minors

Closely related to the elevation of human traditions to the norm of law is the problem of majoring in minors, which again was modeled by the Pharisees. The Pharisees distorted the emphasis of biblical righteousness to suit their own behavioral patterns of self-justification. Jesus frequently confronted the Pharisees on this point. Jesus said to them, “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23a). On numerous occasions, Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees scrupulously obeyed some points of the law. They paid their tithes, they read their Scriptures, they did a host of things the law required—and Jesus commended them for their actions, saying, “These you ought to have done” (23:23b). However, it was the emphasis that was out of kilter. They scrupulously tithed, but in doing so they used their obedience to this lesser matter as a cloak to cover up their refusal to obey the weightier matters of justice and mercy. That distortion occurs today.
Why do we have a perpetual tendency to major in minors? As Christians, we want to be recognized for our growth in sanctification and for our righteousness. Which is easier to achieve, maturity in showing mercy or in the paying of tithes? To pay my tithes certainly involves a financial sacrifice of sorts, but there is a real sense in which it is cheaper for me to drop my money into the plate than it is for me to invest my life in the pursuit of justice and mercy. We tend to give God the cheapest gifts. Which is easier, to develop the fruit of the Spirit, conquering pride, covetousness, greed, and impatience, or to avoid going to movie theaters or dancing? We also yearn for clearly observable measuring rods of growth. How do we measure our growth in patience or in compassion? It is much more difficult to measure the disposition of our hearts than it is to measure the number of movies we attend.
It is also our inclination as fallen creatures to rate as most important those virtues in which we have achieved a relative degree of success. Naturally, I would like to think that my moral strong points are the important ones and my moral weaknesses are limited to minor matters. It is a short step from this natural inclination to a widespread distortion of God’s emphases.
One final type of legalism might be called “loopholeism.” Loopholeism involves getting around the law by legal and moral technicalities. Again we return to the Pharisees for the biblical model of loopholeism. The Pharisees had a clearly defined tradition about restrictions on travel on the Sabbath day. One was not permitted to travel on the Sabbath more than a “Sabbath-day’s journey,” which was a certain distance from one’s home. If a Pharisee wanted to travel a distance exceeding the limit, he would take advantage of a technical provision in the law allowing one to establish separate residences during the week. He would have a traveling merchant take some articles of clothing or personal possessions, such as toothbrushes, and put them at strategic points along the road. Perhaps at the two-mile mark, the Pharisee’s toothbrush would be placed under a rock, thereby legally establishing his “residence” at that rock. With his legal residences defined in two-mile increments along the way, the Pharisee was free to travel from rock to rock—from “residence to residence”—and make his full trip without ever covering more than the prescribed distance from his “home.” The Sabbath-day’s journey principle was violated shamelessly while technically being protected by the loophole.
Some years ago, Gail Green wrote a book describing the sexual behavior patterns of American college woman. Dr. Green maintained that the prevalent ethical principle at that time was the “everything but” philosophy. Many forms of sexual activity were considered legitimate as long as the woman stopped short of actual intercourse. It seems almost naive today to think of a generation of college students who embraced an “everything but” philosophy, as those lines have fallen away since then. The point is that the “everything but” philosophy was an example of technical loopholeism, where a person could be a virgin in the technical sense yet be involved in all sorts of premarital and extramarital sexual acts.
Antinomianism Rejects Law

As legalism distorts the biblical ethic in one direction, so antinomianism distorts it toward the opposite pole. Antinomianism simply means “antilawism.” As legalism comes in many shapes and sizes, numerous subtle forms of antinomianism may be delineated. We are living in a period of Christian history where antinomianism is rampant in the church.
The first type of antinomianism is libertinism, the idea that the Christian is no longer bound to obey the law of God in any way. This view of the law is often linked with the cardinal Protestant doctrine, justification by faith alone. In this view, one understands justification by faith to mean that after a Christian is converted, he is no longer liable in any sense to fulfill the commandments of the law. He sees his justification as a license to sin, excusing himself by arguing that he lives by grace and not by law and is under no obligation to follow the commandments of God.
Roman Catholic theologians in the sixteenth century expressed a fear of just such a distortion of the biblical concept of justification. They feared that Martin Luther’s insistence on justification by faith alone would open a floodgate of iniquity by those who would understand the doctrine in precisely these terms. The Lutheran movement was quick to point out that though justification is by faith alone, it is by a kind of faith that is not alone. Unless the believer’s sanctification is evidenced by true conformity to the commandments of Christ, it is certain that no authentic justification ever really took place in him. Jesus stated it this way: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Christ is a commandment-giving Lord. If one has true justifying faith, he moves diligently to pursue the obedience that Christ demands.
A second type of antinomianism may be called “Gnostic spiritualism.” The early Gnostics, believing they had a monopoly on spiritual knowledge, plagued the Christian community. Taking their name from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge,” they claimed a superior sort of mystical knowledge that gave them the right to sidestep or supplant the mandates given to the Christian community by the apostolic Word. Though Gnosticism as a formal doctrine has passed from the scene, many subtle varieties of this ancient heresy persist to this day. Evangelical Christians frequently fall into the trap of claiming that the Spirit of God leads them to do things that are clearly contrary to the written Word of God. I have had Christians come to me and report behavioral patterns that violated the commandments of Christ, but then say, “I prayed about this and feel at peace in the matter.” Some have committed outrages against the Spirit of truth and holiness by not only seeking to excuse their transgressions by appealing to some mystical sense of peace supposedly delivered by the Holy Spirit, but by actually laying the blame for the impulse of their sin at the feet of the Spirit. This comes perilously close to blasphemy against the Spirit and certainly lies within the boundaries of grieving the Spirit. The Spirit of God agrees with the Word of God. The Spirit of God is not an antinomian.
A third example of antinomianism that made a profound impact on the Christian community in the twentieth century was the rise of situation ethics. Situation ethics is frequently known by another label, the “new morality.” To identify this theory with one individual would be a distortion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work Ethics, Emil Brunner’s The Divine Imperative, and Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Context all have contributed to situation ethics. Bishop John A. T. Robinson of Honest to God fame and Bishop James Pike have also entered this discussion. However, Joseph Fletcher, in Situation Ethics, has done more to popularize this theory than anyone else.
“There are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing.” This St. Louis cabbie’s remark is indicative of the style and mood of Fletcher’s book. Likewise, Fletcher quotes a Texas rancher whose story is told in The Rainmaker by M. Richard Nash: “You’re so full of what’s right, you can’t see what’s good.” This rancher is one of the heroes of Fletcher’s book.
The general basis for situation ethics is that there is one and only one absolute, normative ethical principle to which every human being is bound—the law of love, a law that is not always easy to discern. Fletcher realized that the word love is “a swampy one.”
Fletcher argues that there are three basic approaches to ethical decision making: legalism, antinomianism, and situationism. He defines legalism as a preoccupation with the letter of the law. The principles of law are not merely guidelines to illuminate a given situation; they are directives to be followed absolutely, preset solutions, and you can “look them up in a book.” He charges that Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and classical Protestantism have been legalistic in this sense. He points to such episodes of crass legalism in church history as the burning of homosexuals at the stake during the Middle Ages.
Antinomianism has no regard for law. Every decision is purely existential. Moral decisions are made in a random and spontaneous fashion. Fletcher sees that the legalist has too many maxims and the antinomian has none. Thus, he maintains that situationism is a middle ground for a more workable ethic. The situationist treats with respect the traditional principles of his heritage, but he is always prepared to set them aside if, in a given situation, love seems better served by doing so.
Fletcher distinguishes between principles and rules: principles guide while rules direct. In working out applications of the law of love, he sets up the following working principles to serve as guidelines:

1. Pragmatism—the good and the true are determined by that which works.
2. Relativism—the situationist avoids words such as never, always, perfect, and absolutely. (The basic drift of secular man is to deny the existence of any absolutes. Fletcher asserts that there is one absolute as a reference point for a “normative relativism.”)
3. Positivism—particularized, ad hoc, to-the-point principles. The situationist is not looking for universals; his affirmations are posited, not deduced. Faith propositions are affirmed voluntarily rather than rationally, being more acts of the will than of the mind. We cannot prove our concept of love. The end product of our ethic is a decision, not a conclusion.
4. Personalism—ethics deals with human relationships. The legalist is a “what-asker”: what does the law say? The situationist is a “who-asker”: who is to be helped? The emphasis is on people rather than on ideas or principles in the abstract.

We still have the question, “What do we ask ourselves in order to discover what love demands in a given situation?” How do we protect ourselves from a distorted view of love? Fletcher offers four questions to consider:

1. The end: For what result are we aiming?
2. The means: How may we secure this end?
3. The motive: Why is that our aim?
4. The consequences: What forseeably might happen?

All of these need to be considered before an ethical decision can be made.
Positives and Negatives of Situation Ethics

There are some positive aspects of this system of situation ethics; some of the principles involved are commendable. First, situation ethics is not absolute relativism. It is a normative ethic, a kind of absolutism. The limitation to one absolute facilitates decision making and eliminates a certain paralysis of the person who is considering many absolutes.
One of the most important insights that situation ethics offers us is that ethical decisions do not take place in a vacuum. They are made in very real and often painful contexts. Those contexts must be considered. The high value placed on love and on the worth of persons is also a commendable trait of this position.
However, there are some serious inadequacies in this approach. Underlying the debate between orthodox Christianity and the situation ethicist is the question of the normativity of God’s revelation in Scripture.
Fletcher oversimplifies the distinctions between and the definitions of legalism, antinomianism, and situationism. Legalism is a distortion of absolutism. Even Fletcher is an absolutist, though with just one absolute, and all of the legalistic dangers of absolutism are present in his system. One could easily obey the law of love legalistically. If this law is divorced from his context, legalism could easily emerge.
Why, when one holds more than one absolute, is the charge of legalism leveled? Haven’t the situationists been simplistic and reductionistic in arbitrarily choosing love as the only absolute? God has laid more than one absolute requirement on man. There is nothing in reason or revelation that should cause one to isolate love as the only absolute. When questioned, these men appeal to Scripture and the teachings of Jesus and Paul. However, they are quite selective about their appeal to Scripture, falling into the quandary of the ethically arbitrary.
The most serious deficiency of Fletcher’s system is the problem of how we determine what love demands. We agree with the principle that one should do what love demands. However, Fletcher has problems in determining these demands. Certainly the Bible teaches us to do what love commands, and the content of love is defined by God’s revelation. Doing what love demands is the same as saying, “Do what God commands.” If we obeyed the Scriptures like a sterile book of rules, we would be legalists. However, if we see the Bible as being the revelation of the One who is love, then we must take seriously what love has commanded.
We know that we are fallen, that we are given over to vices, that we can never perfectly read our own motives, that we are limited to foreseeable consequences, and that we can never comprehensively analyze the ends and the means. Thus, when we face an ethical decision, we find ourselves in a very precarious situation if we have rejected the Bible as normative revelation. God has not left us to make these decisions with unaided reason.
In Ephesians 5:1–3, we are given an imperative as followers of God:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

Here the biblical ethic is on a collision course with situationism. To be a follower of God is an absolute. At no point, in no situation, are we permitted to leave off the following of God. We are to walk in love, the kind of love embodied in the sacrificial ministry of Christ. Love stands here as an absolute—a norm. Its absolute call on us, however, is not left entirely to the situation. The apostle immediately adds an absolute application to it involving sexual immorality, uncleanness, and covetousness. He says, “Let it not once be named among you” (KJV). Paul falls into Fletcher’s definition of legalism by making a universal prohibition. The apostle falls into the absolute realm of the “never.”
Situationism stops with the injunction to walk in love. It must then allow for certain situations where sexual immorality is not only permitted but preferred. If love “demands it” in a given situation, then sexual immorality must be practiced. How perilous is this “guideline,” particularly in light of man’s most ancient ploy of seduction, “If you love me, you will.…”
It is difficult to conceive of concrete situations in which idolatry would be virtuous or coveting would be an expression of love. For this reason, we need to hear Paul’s concluding admonition: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
Antinomianism by Another Name

Situationism makes the precepts of God relative, leaving us with the mandate to walk in love but to figure it out for ourselves by means of the guidelines of pragmatism, relativism, positivism, and personalism. At this point, situationism is exposed as a virulent form of antinomianism masquerading as a legitimate option between legalism and antinomianism. We cannot realistically expect legalists to call themselves legalists or antinomians to plead their guilt before the world. Though Fletcher protests to the contrary, the substantive elements of antinomianism are rife in his thought.
The Christian ethicist asserts that not only does the Bible require us to do what love demands, but it reveals quite precisely at times what love demands. We have direct instruction in the Scriptures. We are not left with illuminators, but with divine commands.
Consider certain of the Ten Commandments from the standpoint of situationism:

“You shall have no other gods before me,” unless it would be the loving thing to do.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image,” unless, on the basis of foreseeable ends, means, motives, and consequences, love would be best served by making a carved image.

Consider Daniel’s dilemma (Dan. 6). He could have refrained from praying to God. Certainly the people needed his leadership. What good could he do God’s people in the lions’ den? Should he have sold out the people and left them without God’s agent of revelation for a simple principle of prayer? The end that he wanted was survival. His means were to obey the king. His motive was to serve the people of God. The foreseeable consequences were that some people might be disappointed, but he would be able to make up for that by being a leader and guide to them. So Daniel should have received the blessing of God for doing the loving thing and abstained from prayer to his God.
One of the distinguishing features of the true people of God is not legalism but fidelity, trust, and obedience to God. Obeying the law to love God is not legalism. When we consider Christ’s obedience to God and to the law, it seems impossible not to regard situationism as a serious heretical distortion of the biblical ethic.
There is a principle in the biblical ethic that is rarely seen in the writings of the situationists. They fail to emphasize, as does the Bible, that doing what love demands, what Christ commands, often brings unspeakable suffering. It means enduring radical humiliation and counting one’s life as nothing for the exaltation of Christ. It may mean spending a life rotting in a cell in a concentration camp rather than violating the commandment of Christ.
Christ’s statement about love is our norm: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The proof of our love is obedience to Christ’s commandments. Situation ethics establishes a false dichotomy between love and obedience. Situation ethics fails because it does not take love seriously enough.
We turn our attention now to specific questions of ethics that have become particularly controversial in our times—questions of materialism, capital punishment, war, and abortion.

Chapter Four

Materialism is a controversial issue in the church today. Several groups have made this a central issue of debate, speaking of materialism not in a metaphysical sense but in an economic sense: the worldview that places the accumulation of material things at the zenith of private and corporate concern. The pursuit of wealth is seen as the highest good in materialism.
At the other end of the spectrum is a view called spiritualism, or better, idealism, which sees that only spiritual values are worthy of human pursuit.
The Scriptures repudiate both of these positions. Though material things are not the highest good, neither are they intrinsically evil. There is no room for radical asceticism or monasticism in the church, as these positions deny the world and creation. It is important to recognize that in the old covenant and in the new, many of God’s redemptive promises relate to creation; they are promises of the redemption of the physical world. The promise to Abraham and to his seed includes at its heart the promise of land and the promise of prosperity.
The principle of private property is pivotal to discussions of materialism. Many have argued that some kind of communal living or equal distribution of wealth is the only acceptable Christian norm, based on the presupposition that the concept of private property is illegitimate for the Christian. However, the concept of private property is inseparably related to the creation ordinance that sanctifies labor. Karl Marx did something of inestimable value by making it impossible to conceive of the history of man without considering the immense influence of man’s labor and the fruit of his labor on his development. This is not to endorse Marxism but to recognize the crucial relationship between man and his labor. When man involves himself in labor, he is behaving as one made in the image of God.
The sanctity of labor is established first by the labor of God Himself in creation, which shows that labor is a duty and a blessing, not a curse. The curse that has been attached to labor since the fall has to do with the quality of the work and the difficulty of the labor by which we bring forth fruit. The thorns and the sweat, not the work itself, are the curse. Pre-fall man labored as much as post-fall man, and that labor produced fruit, which he had the right to enjoy.
Even since the fall, we have no indication that private property (the fruit of one’s labor) is condemned or prohibited by God. The first liturgical acts observed in the Old Testament are Cain and Abel’s offerings (Gen. 4:1–5). The offerings were legitimate because each man gave from what actually belonged to him. The offertory system of the Old Testament makes no sense when divorced from the system of private property. The right of human ownership is something God has assigned as part of our covenant partnership with Him in creation. Though all human ownership is answerable to divine ownership in the long run, this does not invalidate the concept of private property.
Examining the Decalogue (Ex. 20:1–17), we see that private property is assumed in several situations. The prohibition against stealing presupposes private property, as does the prohibition against covetousness.
We can get a better understanding of the relationship between labor and property by examining the Sabbath commandment. One of the things that is often overlooked is that the commandment not only concerns itself with the seventh day but with the first six: “Six days you shall labor” (Ex. 20:9). The day of rest makes no sense apart from the six days of labor preceding it.
The sanctity of labor is the basis for private property. In both the old and new covenants, the call to labor is an emphatic one, bringing forth fruit as its just reward. The avoidance of labor is regarded as sin. Paul commands labor as an ethical norm. Idleness has no place in the New Testament ethic. In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul says that all people should “earn their own living.” In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul adds that lack of provision for one’s household makes one worse than an unbeliever.
Two important conclusions may be drawn from these statements. First, there is the right of private property as the fruit of one’s labor. Second, there is the responsibility of honest and diligent labor. Because we live to the glory of God, we have the responsibility to render an honest day’s labor. Our labor must not be simply for the acquisition of wealth, but for the glory of God.
Does Scripture Permit Wealth?

This raises the problem of wealth, that is, the accumulation of material goods beyond the level of necessity. Are we permitted to earn and keep more than we need? We are indeed. The possession of wealth is nowhere condemned in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. The means of acquiring wealth are clearly regulated: exploitation, fraud, dishonesty, oppression, and power politics are all condemned. Prosperity and wealth are seen as an aspect of God’s providence. This is one of the reasons why covetousness is such a weighty matter. When I covet, I am protesting against God’s distribution of wealth. Abraham was perhaps one of the richest men in antiquity. Noah and Job were both wealthy men. God never condemns this wealth, but legitimizes the passing of the wealth from generation to generation by means of inheritance. The patriarchal blessings, which pass on the material blessings, are part of the messianic redemptive promise, including the promise of land.
In the New Testament, we encounter wealthy men who are praiseworthy. Note the care of the body of Christ after the crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, obviously a man of means.
The New Testament does say that wealth imposes severe temptations. Jesus’ statement about the camel going through the eye of a needle indicates that a rich man who would enter heaven faces a huge task (Luke 18:25). Practically speaking, the maintenance and protection of wealth takes time and concentrated energy. The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21) illustrates the perils of preoccupation with riches. It is easy for the rich man to confuse his priorities. But it is also easy for the poor man. It is not merely the rich who are susceptible to the siren song of materialism; its seductive power crosses all socioeconomic borders.
What about the Christian’s responsibility to the poor? This, of course, touches the heart of the matter of materialism. Obviously, the provision for some of the needs of the poor is a Christian responsibility. In the Old Testament, some of the needs of the poor were met by laws that included provisions for gleaners (e.g. Lev. 19:9–10). The New Testament also addresses this matter. The collection of provisions by the Gentile Christians for famine-struck Jerusalem was one of the most notable and dramatic episodes in the first century (Rom. 15:25–27). Paul praised both the Corinthian and the Philippian churches for their generosity. When my brother is in need, I must attempt to meet that need.
Who Are the Poor?

“The poor you always have with you” (John 12:8). This statement by Jesus has been taken by some as license to neglect the poor, as if Jesus were saying, “Oh, well, we always have poverty in our midst, so don’t worry about it.” Jesus recognized the perpetual plight of the poor, not to ignore it, but to call the Christian community to constant diligence in dealing with the problem.
In identifying the poor described in the Bible, we can distinguish at least four major categories of poor people. What follows is a brief description of each group.
1. The Poor as a Result of Slothfulness. The Bible speaks of those who are poor because they are lazy, refusing to work. This indolent group receives sharp criticism from God and comes under His holy judgment. Karl Barth listed sloth as one of the primary and foundational sins of man, along with pride and dishonesty. It is to the slothful that God says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways” (Prov. 6:6), shaming the lazy by telling them to look to insects for instruction. It is this group Paul undoubtedly has in mind when he says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
Since the Bible criticizes the lazy poor, some have jumped to the conclusion that indolence and poverty are synonymous. Some assume that poverty is always and everywhere a sign of sloth. Thus, the poor can be righteously shunned as they are left to suffer their “just penalty for sloth.” Such an attitude reflects a woeful ignorance of or callous disregard for distinctions the Bible forces us to make. There are other reasons for poverty.
2. The Poor as a Result of Calamity. The Scriptures recognize that many are left in poverty because of the ravages of disease or disasters. The man born blind, the person left crippled by an accident, the farmer whose crops have been destroyed by flood or drought—all of these have just cause for their impoverished estate. These people are victims of circumstances not of their own making. For these poor, the Bible adopts an attitude of compassion and genuine charity. It is the responsibility of the people of God to see to it that the suffering of these people is ameliorated. They are to be a priority concern of the church. These are the hungry who are to be fed, the naked who are to be clothed.
3. The Poor as a Result of Exploitation. These poor are oppressed. These are the masses who are frustrated daily by their inability to “fight city hall,” the ones who live out the mournful slogan, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” This group suffers indignities when they live in societies where the social and political institutions, and especially the judicial systems, favor the rich and the powerful and leave the poor without advocacy. Such was the condition of Israel in the eighth century BC, when God thundered against His people. The Word of God came via prophetic criticism that demanded justice and righteousness in a time when the poor were being sold “for a pair of shoes.” This was Israel’s status when in bondage to Egypt. This kind of poverty moves God Himself as He hears the cries and groans of His oppressed people and says, “Let my people go!” Such injustice and inequity should always move God’s church. This is the church’s basis for necessary and legitimate social action.
4. The Poor as a Result of Personal Sacrifice. These poor people are designated by the New Testament as being poor “for righteousness’ sake.” This group, whose chief representative is Jesus Himself, is made up of people who are voluntarily poor. Their poverty is a result of a conscious decision to choose lifestyles or vocations with little or no financial remuneration. This class of poor is promised special blessings from God. They are poor because the priorities of their lives may not mesh with the value standards of the culture in which they live. Those in this class have included Jonathan Edwards, writing in almost microscopic print in order to conserve paper because of his meager stipend (ultimately costing the church and universities hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrieve and reconstruct the priceless treasures of his words); Martin Luther, forgoing a lucrative career to wear the habit of the monk; or the modern businessman who passes up the windfall deal because he has scruples about hidden unethical elements.
What can we learn from these four designations? In the first instance, we should be warned not to lump all the poor together in one package. We must resist the tendency to generalize about poverty. An equally insistent warning must be voiced about the same kind of unjust grouping of the rich. It would be slanderous to maintain that all rich people are corrupt, as if all riches were achieved through evil means or through exploiting the poor. Not all rich people are avaricious or ruthless. To indict the rich indiscriminately would be to condemn the likes of Abraham, Job, David, and Joseph of Arimathea.
Second, we must avoid a theological glamorizing of poverty. Throughout church history, there have been repeated efforts to make poverty the precondition for entrance to the kingdom. It has been seen as a form of works righteousness whereby the poor have an automatic ticket into heaven. This substitutes justification by poverty for justification by faith.
Third, we must recognize that God cares deeply about human poverty and the consequent suffering. Our duty is to be no less concerned than God Himself. As long as the poor are with us, we are called to minister to them, not only via charity, but by seeking and working for the reformation of social and political structures that enslave, oppress, and exploit.
The Responsibility of Stewardship

The basic principle regarding wealth is the principle of stewardship, the truth that a man is responsible for what he does with what he receives. He is not called to liquidate his assets; he is called to give as the Lord prospers him. The characteristic of Christian living is not communism but charity.
The New Testament word for stewardship is the Greek oikonomia, from which we derive the English term economy. It comes from a combination of two Greek roots, oikos, which means “house,” and nomos, which means “law.” Literally, economy means “house rule.” In antiquity, the steward was not the owner of the house but its manager. He was responsible for the care and oversight of the house. Biblical economics recognizes God’s ultimate ownership of the earth and man’s duty to manage the earth responsibly.
Economics is not a neutral science divorced from ethical considerations. Economics involves questions of stewardship, the use of wealth, and private and public decisions of value, all of which impinge on ethics. Each time we make a value judgment or render a decision to make use of material goods, we have made an ethical decision. That God is concerned with the material well-being of the world is axiomatic. Man has been called to be a steward of the earth.
The science of economics has become so complex in our day that it has obscured some of the primary principles found in the Scriptures. Though the Bible is not a textbook on economics, it does set forth basic principles that touch upon economic endeavor. As already mentioned, the Bible clearly sets forth the right of private property. However, in addition to this right we also see a concern for equity, for industry, and for compassion. It is not by accident that virtually every major economic system in Western culture has appealed at one point or another to the Bible for its sanctions. Historical capitalism tends to emphasize the principles of private property, equity, and industry, while sometimes neglecting the responsibility for compassion. On the other hand, socialistic forms of economics have emphasized compassion, at times obscuring the rights of private property and undermining the importance of industry and equity. The socialist’s ultimate goal is not equity but equality. That is, the socialist seeks a transfer society with the ideal of an egalitarian or equalized distribution of wealth. The goal is noble and virtuous; we would expect that in an idealized society, every member would have equal participation in the wealth of the society. However, we live in a fallen world, where the only way we can have equality of economic welfare is to shut our eyes to the biblical principle of equity. To achieve equality, we would have to penalize the higher wage earners by taking their goods and distributing them to those who have been less-than-responsible stewards or whose skills and services are less valued, financially, by others. Such a principle does violence to the biblical notion of justice.
If we look at the most elementary principles of economics, we see a causal nexus, a formula that must not be violated if we are to grapple with the economic issues of our day. The formula may be seen in the following diagram:






We see that there is a causal relationship among these factors. The single most important ingredient for man’s material well-being is production. If we are going to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless, we must be able to produce the goods necessary to meet these needs. Man’s physical life is dependent on production. Unless we produce food, we will starve. Unless we manufacture clothes, we will be naked. Unless we build homes, we will be shelterless. God cares about the human body as well as the human soul, and so production becomes a vital ethical concern for Christians.
If we follow our causal reasoning and ask what is the single most important ingredient for production, we would answer “tools.” Marx was astute in his understanding of the central significance of tools to man’s capacity for production. The reason a peasant in an underdeveloped country cannot produce as much food as a farmer in the industrialized West is not that the body of the Western farmer is stronger, but that the Western farmer has at his disposal labor-saving devices that increase production. More than any other single factor, the machine has been responsible for the explosion of man’s ability to produce.
The next question we raise is, “What is the most important single ingredient for the acquisition of tools?” It is not that tools are not available in the world to be used by underprivileged persons, but rather that those without money cannot purchase the tools they need for increased production. Tools cost money to build, to buy, and to maintain.
Where does one get the money to purchase tools? The needed capital is what we would call surplus capital. Surplus capital is a result of profits. Thus, profit is the single most important ingredient necessary for capital to be available to buy tools, to increase production, and to increase the material welfare of a nation.
However, the term profit has become virtually an obscenity in the vocabulary of modern man, particularly among Christians. What we often fail to take into account is that the profit motive is not restricted to large industrial corporations or the rich tycoons of industry. The profit motive is at the heart of all economic exchange. The goal or purpose of economic exchange is always and everywhere profit. This statement may appear outrageous on the surface, but let us take a moment to examine its implications.
When a business transaction takes place—when a customer buys a pair of shoes, for example—who realizes a profit? Often the answer is that the shoe salesman or the owner of the shoe store makes the profit. However, the shoemaker cannot make a profit unless first the customer considers it profitable to buy the shoes. The business transaction takes place when the customer values the shoes more than he values the money he must pay for them. Then trade takes place. The customer trades his money for the shoemaker’s shoes. The shoemaker, in turn, can exchange that money for other goods that he values more than the money. Thus, in any business transaction, the goal is mutual profit. Both sides must profit or the exchange will not take place, unless the exchange is made necessary by some form of external coercion. This principle is based on the fact that material values are subjective to the extent that not every person values everything to the same degree.
The man who has a surplus of shoes but a lack of food will be eager to make a trade with the man who has a surplus of food but needs shoes. In the transaction, one man values shoes more than meat, while the other values meat more than shoes. A trade opportunity exists because both people stand to “profit” from the exchange.
Profit is good in the sense that it is necessary for the whole community of mankind to survive in a relationship of mutual interdependence. No man is altogether self-sufficient. Each person is dependent to some degree on the gifts and talents of production of other people. The marketplace is where these gifts and talents are exchanged—a place of mutual profit, if the coercive dimension is absent. It is from the surplus of profit that tools can be purchased, production increased, and the general wealth of a nation strengthened. Christians must remember this lest they become participants in schemes by which surplus capital is siphoned off and redistributed in a way that quenches the ability of a nation or a community to be productive.
The protection of private property is so vital to the biblical ethic that we have repeated prohibitions and sanctions against stealing. However, stealing can happen in a multitude of ways, some of which are very subtle. The outright grabbing and carrying off of another person’s property is an obvious form of stealing, but stealing can also be accomplished through fraud, by failing to live up to contracts, by using false weights and measures, or even by intentional debasing of currency within a society. All of these means receive the severe indictment of God. One of the most subtle forms of theft is one that is perpetrated through the political system. When people use the power of the ballot box to vote for themselves subsidies from the general coffers, it is a sophisticated form of stealing. For example, if three people live together in a town and one is more wealthy than the other two, the two persons of lesser wealth can conspire to pass a law forcing the wealthier person to distribute his goods to them. Here the power of political force is used to strip the wealthy man of his wealth and distribute it to the other two, who have voted for themselves this particular distribution of wealth. Christians need to be sensitive about how they use the power of the ballot.

Chapter Five

The issue of capital punishment has been so volatile that it has set Christian against Christian, church against church, conservative against conservative, and liberal against liberal. The problem is complex, touching the deeper question of the value, dignity, and sanctity of human life.
Any study of capital punishment must begin with an understanding of the primary function of government as ordained by God. Romans 13:1–7 is the classic text concerning God’s ordination of government. This text is the most comprehensive and emphatic statement that the Scriptures give us regarding the notion that the power of government is rooted in the ordination of God. It is important to note that the apostle is not speaking here of a theocratic state but of secular government. The text reads as follows:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

The governing authorities are understood to be ordained by God. We are not permitted to obey only those authorities that we consider to be legitimate. It is a de facto matter, not a de juro matter. God certainly does not endorse everything civil magistrates do, but He does give them certain rights and requires our obedience to them. No government rules autonomously. All civil authorities must, and ultimately will, answer to God. We have the responsibility of obeying even corrupt governments except under certain conditions. Civil obedience is required repeatedly by the Word of God. The principle that governs our right and responsibility to disobey civil authority is this: we must obey those in authority over us unless they command us to do what God forbids or forbid us to do what God commands.
Biblically, God has given two basic rights to governments: the right to levy taxes and the right of coercion so as to maintain order and justice (the power of the sword).
Government was made necessary and legitimate because of the fall of man. The state was ordained to be God’s deputy minister for the primary purpose of the restraint of evil. The first appearance of government in the Bible is found in the opening chapters of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and consigned to live east of Eden. The entrance to the garden was barred by the presence of an angel with a flaming sword. Here we see the appointment of a ministering agent, namely, the angel who was equipped by God with an instrument of restraint and was granted the power of coercion, symbolized by the flaming sword.
The central duty of government is to enforce the laws that are designed to restrain evil. Augustine said, “Sin is the mother of servitude and is the first cause of man’s subjection to man.” Augustine argued that government is a necessary evil, in fact, an evil made necessary by the presence of evil in the human heart. It is because men are prone to violating each other that government is established to check the strong and ruthless who exploit and oppress the weak and the innocent. Government is necessary because men do not live to the glory of God, loving Him with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves. The only ultimate alternative to government is anarchy, in which each man lives for himself. Thus, God instituted government as an act of His grace to protect the weak and the righteous from the wicked. The authority of the state is not an intrinsic authority but one that is derived from the authority of God.
The Power of the Sword

The issue of capital punishment emerges when we examine the right of the state to bear the sword. In the first instance, the sword is seen as an instrument of coercion. I once had a conversation with a United States senator who said to me, “No government ever has the right to coerce its subjects to do anything.” I was shocked by the senator’s statement and replied, “Senator, you have just stated that no government has the right to govern.” The power of coercion is the essence of government. Perhaps the simplest definition we can find for government is the word force. In a very real sense, government is force. If you take away the government’s right to coerce, you take away the government’s right to govern, leaving the government with the impotent authority of rule by suggestion. The power of the sword is the arm of the government we call law enforcement, without which the law represents merely a list of suggestions. God did not give the sword to the civil magistrate as a means of intimidation only by rattling. In biblical categories, “the power of the sword” is an idiomatic expression to indicate the power to kill.
At this point, the issue of capital punishment comes to the fore. In the Bible, we first read of the institution of capital punishment in the narrative of creation. In the garden, there was one restraint, one prohibition given to man. The clear-cut punishment for disobedience of this command was instant death. “In the day that you eat of [the tree] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17b). It is important to note that when man sinned, God did not invoke the full measure of the punishment for disobedience. Indeed, capital punishment came upon the race, but it was postponed in terms of its implementation. Originally all sin was regarded as a capital offense. Capital punishment was the divine judgment for any and all sin. However, God reserved the right to replace justice with mercy according to His own prerogatives. Because God has not executed that punishment consistently and immediately—except on rare occasions, such as the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1–3), Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:1–8), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11)—the world tends to take God’s mercy for granted. In some circles, capital punishment is considered to be cruel and unusual punishment for any crime.
In the old covenant, God reduced the number of capital offenses and limited the penalty to approximately thirty-five specific crimes. The New Testament exhibits an even more gracious dispensation, with a further reduction of capital offenses.
Before the institution of the law at Sinai, we have an even more important statement, found in the covenant God made with Noah. Here we see a covenant that renews the ordinances of creation, a renewal of God’s rule for man as man. There is a certain sense in which the laws of this creation covenant are of far broader import than even that legislation found in Israel or in the New Testament. Here God proposes legislation for man as man, not for man as Jew or man as Christian. Man qua man is the one who receives the stipulations of the covenant of creation. It is therefore significant that capital punishment for murder is built into creation and presumably is binding as long as creation is intact. The renewal legislation is found in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” This text is a command, not a prediction. The sanction is clear. If a person murders another person, God requires that the murderer be put to death by human hands.
It is ironic that both sides of the dispute on capital punishment tend to base their arguments on the principle of the sanctity of life. The humanist argues that human life is so valuable that we are never justified in taking another person’s life. From a biblical perspective, the humanist view actually reflects a lower view of the sanctity of life than that found in Genesis 9:6. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, we tend to view the Old Testament society as severe and savage, forgetting that it already manifested an enormous reduction in capital offenses. As noted above, the New Testament brought an even more gracious policy, not because God changed His mind and saw that His former policies were too cruel and severe, but partly because the responsibility for the execution of justice in the New Testament moved out of the hands of the theocratic state and into the hands of the secular state.
The question of how many crimes are considered “capital” in the New Testament is open to lengthy debate. The only crime that we can be certain is a capital offense is first-degree murder. In the Decalogue of the Old Testament, there is a clear prohibition against murder. The penalty for transgressing the prohibition in the Ten Commandments, “You shall not murder,” was capital punishment. However, the broader legislation of Mount Sinai included several distinctions with respect to degrees of murder. The establishment of the cities of refuge, for example, dealt with the problem of involuntary manslaughter.
It is ironic that many have appealed to the Ten Commandments as a basis for repudiating capital punishment, taking the prohibition “You shall not murder” as a universal mandate. This comes from a superficial reading of the Sinaitic legislation and a failure to observe that within the context of the Sinai covenant the penalty for violating that commandment was death. The holiness code of Israel clearly called for the death penalty in the case of the murder of another human being. The murderer must forfeit his own life. The reason given for the special sanctity of human life was that man is created in the image of God. God is concerned with preserving the work of His creation, and at the top of His priorities is the preservation of the life of man. There is a sense in which the commission of murder is regarded by God as an indirect assault on Him. Just as an attack on an ambassador of a king is seen as an affront to the king, so the act of murder is an assault against the very life of God, inasmuch as it desecrates one made in God’s image. It is important to understand that power over life is not rescinded in the new covenant but is mentioned again in Romans as a prerogative of the state. Thus, the Scriptures uniformly assert the propriety of capital punishment in the case of murder.
When we apply the principle of capital punishment to a given society or to a given culture, we must be careful lest we plunge into the matter without considering other ramifications of the biblical sanctions. Though capital punishment was imposed in the Old Testament, it was circumscribed by other principles that were very important to the justice process. In the Old Testament, justice was truly blind under the law. The rich were to be given no special privileges before the bar of justice. That ideal exists in our own society, but at a practical level there are too many circumstances in which Lady Justice peeks or removes her blindfold altogether to take note of the rich and the powerful who are her suitors. Under the old covenant, no one could be convicted of a capital offense on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Two or three eyewitnesses were required, and their testimony had to agree. If the witnesses who testified in a capital trial were found guilty of perjury, the penalty for bearing such false witness was itself death. There is no question that we need reforms to protect against inequities of the application of capital punishment in our modern culture, but when we object to capital punishment in principle, we are objecting to a sanction God Himself ordained.
The Ethics of War

The issue of a Christian’s involvement in war is an extension of the more primary question of capital punishment. In a certain sense, war is capital punishment on a grand scale. It involves the civil magistrate’s widespread use of the power of the sword. Basically, there have been three foundational positions taken regarding war in Christian history:

1. Activism
2. Pacifism
3. Selectivism

Activism is a simplistic approach that views all wars as permissible. It reflects the position that the subjects of the state are to give absolute obedience to the civil magistrate regardless of the situation. It reflects the cliché, “My country, right or wrong.” This is an uncritical approach that has little to do with the biblical ethic.
Pacifism, on the other hand, says that all wars are wrong and all people’s involvement in war is wrong. The pacifist view would restrict Christians from participating in any kind of war.
The third position, selectivism, maintains that involvement in some wars may be justifiable. It is within the context of selectivism that the just-war theory has emerged in Christian history.
A sophisticated argument by pacifists who are Christians is based on the ethical mandates Christ gave His people, whereby He prohibited the Christian from the use of retaliatory violence and uttered a clear prohibition against building His kingdom with the sword. The pacifist transfers these prohibitions from the sphere of the church to the sphere of government. Not only is the private citizen or the ecclesiastical authority forbidden the use of the sword, but the state as well. Some divide the question by admitting that the state has the power of the sword, but Christians are not to participate in the state’s function. The question that is raised immediately is, “On what grounds would a Christian refuse to obey a civil magistrate who calls him to do something for which there is no biblical prohibition?” If God commands the state to bear the sword and the state conscripts the Christian to help with that task, on what moral grounds could the Christian refuse to comply?
The Swiss theologian Emil Brunner has remarked: “To deny on ethical grounds the elementary right of the state to defend itself by war simply means to deny the existence of the state itself. Pacifism of the absolutist variety is practical anarchy.” Helmut Thielicke has added his judgment that pacifism is a moral cop-out. He draws a parallel between pacifism and a situation where the Christian witnesses a murder and allows it to happen without interference. Thielicke argues that it is our responsibility not only to minister to a man who has been mutilated by robbers, such as the man going down to Jericho, but to love our neighbor by preventing the crime as well.
Selectivism holds that involvement in a war may or may not be wrong. The particular circumstances and situations must be evaluated on each occasion to discern which side, if either, has a righteous cause to defend. The victim of a clear-cut act of aggression would have the right of self-defense, according to the selective view.

Chapter Six

Abortion is a monumental issue that ignites heated debates. Divisions in the state and in the church are many, with major denominational church bodies coming down on both sides of the issue. The fires of controversy show no signs of abating.
In dealing with this issue, three major questions must be answered:

1. What is abortion?
2. Is abortion right or is it wrong? Or is it possibly without moral bearing?
3. Does the church have the right to advocate civil legislation on this question? Some church bodies have advocated a “middle way” under the rubric of “pro-choice,” arguing that this should be a matter of conscience, not of civil legislation, and that it is wrong for the state to prohibit abortion.
The Biblical Basis for Discussion

No teaching in the Old Testament or New Testament explicitly condemns or condones abortion. Exegetically, the debate has been waged on implicit grounds. The Old Testament passage that has received the greatest attention concerning this matter is Exodus 21:22–24:

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

There is a built-in ambiguity with this text, giving rise to differing interpretations of its precise meaning and application. The theological house is divided between “maximum” and “minimum” positions. The problem centers on the words “there is no harm.” To what “harm” does the verse refer? This problem is linked to another, namely the question of what is meant by “her children come out”? Is the text referring to an incident in which the woman, being jostled by fighting men, is induced to a premature childbirth that produces anguish and inconvenience that the law seeks to recompense even though the premature child lives and thrives? Or is the text speaking of a case in which the induced premature birth yields a stillborn fetus, and further considerations come into play only if the mother suffers additional complications, even death?
The Old Testament scholar C. F. Keil adopts the maximum view, arguing that the “there is no harm” clause refers to both mother and child. The idea is that if the premature baby survives, recompense is limited to damages paid for the inconvenience and mental anguish suffered by the mother, as claimed by the husband and awarded by the judge. But if the child is harmed or dies, the full measure of the lex talonis (eye for eye) is to apply. In this reading, the unborn fetus is so highly valued by Scripture that the life-for-life principle is applied, and the unintentional causing of abortion in the midst of an unrelated violent act warrants the death penalty. If this interpretation is correct, we would have decisive evidence that Scripture considers the unborn fetus as “life” in the fullest legal sense.
The minimal view of the text argues that the “there is no harm” clause refers exclusively to the mother. Under this schema, the abortion of the fetus would not invoke the lex talonis or legally be considered murder or loss of life. Only if further complications affect the mother does the “eye for eye, life for life” equation apply. The inference then would be that Scripture does not regard the fetus as “life.” The fetus would be protected by the law, however, and its value could be established via a lawsuit. Some push this position further by arguing that though legal indemnities may be imposed, they are initiated by the claims of the husband. The unspoken presumption is that the “value” of the fetus is determined to some degree by the subjective values attached by the parents. In this “case,” the Scriptures deal with an abortion or miscarriage imposed from without, apart from the design of the parents, who presumably desire the pregnancy to reach its full term. The passage is then made of no consequence to the question of an intentional abortion performed according to the will and design of the parents. The minimal view thus protects the parents and not the fetus.
The differences between these interpretations cover the gamut of the contemporary debate. Though I am convinced of the maximal interpretation, I must admit the problematic and ambiguous character of the text.
In the New Testament, the word abortion is used only in a figurative sense. One passage often cited to support an antiabortion stance is Luke 1:39–42, when Mary visited Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist “leaped in her womb.” Other biblical passages speak of people being conceived in sin and known by God in the womb. The question is whether these allusions are to be taken as religious hyperbole or poetry. However, these passages clearly indicate that God is involved with man’s history prior to his birth.
When Does Life Begin?

The question of when life begins has been pivotal to the discussion. Different points on the conception-birth continuum have been proferred, with the added problem of variant medical definitions of “life” itself.
Some maintain that the fetus becomes a person at the moment of birth. There are good reasons for this argument. This is a rather clear line of demarcation, indicating a new status, a new moment of independent existence with individuation beginning with the snipping of the umbilical cord.
Another view points to the moment of “quickening”; another to the time when the circulatory system is fully developed. Others say that the principle of life in the Old Testament is the “breath” of life in man. Therefore, life is present when the lungs develop and the fetus can breathe on its own.
The moment of conception has been seen by many groups to be the beginning of life, since all the potentiality of personhood is then present. David and others speak of their conceptions as part of their personal history.
What we conceive the fetus to be determines the value we assign to it. There are those who say that the embryo (the term usually used to refer to the product of conception during its first twelve weeks) is nothing more than a blob of protoplasm. Others argue that it is merely a highly specialized form of parasite. It has been compared to a cancer, a tissue growth foreign to the mother, which the body seeks to reject. If the mother fails to reject it, it will be fatal to her.
These are emotive terms that greatly cloud the issue and represent an irresponsible approach to the question. To refer to an embryo as a “blob of protoplasm” is to be guilty of a severe form of reductionism. The parasite term is equally inaccurate, as parasites have an independent life cycle that includes reproduction. As for the analogy to cancer, a cancer left to natural development destroys life. An embryo left to natural development produces life—a difference that cannot be ignored.
The crucial concern here is that we can say with certainty that at any stage of development the fetus is a potential life, a potential human being, with a high level of probability of becoming a human being if left to the normal course of its development. With this in mind, let us look at the essence of the debate: What is the relationship of abortion to the biblical prohibition against murder? Does the Bible have anything to say about the destruction of a potential life?
In the Old Testament, there are five distinctions in the broader application of the Decalogue’s prohibition of killing, including distinctions for manslaughter and involuntary murder. In the New Testament, however, we have an authoritative application and interpretation of this prohibition.
“You shall not murder” is not a universal prohibition against taking human life in any context, but it is wider in its scope than simple first-degree murder. Jesus’ understanding of this mandate included a prohibition against hatred. Hatred is understood as murder of the heart. In effect, Jesus said that the law implicitly prohibits potential murder. Left unchecked, hatred results in murder. He said that the law prohibits the potential destruction of life. This is not the same as prohibiting the actual destruction of potential life. However, these two are very close to being the same, similar enough to raise serious questions about abortion. In terms of the sanctity of life, potentiality was clearly an issue with Jesus.
If we are seriously considering the spirit of the law, we must pay attention to the implications (implicit understanding) of a particular commandment. This means that the converse of a prohibition must be affirmed. The prohibition against wanton destruction of life is an implicit command to promote the sanctity and safeguarding of life. The sanctity of life is the supreme basis for the prohibition of murder. The question is, “Does the sanctity of life include concern for potential life?” There is no way we can prove decisively that it does. However, in light of the overwhelming concern in the Scriptures for the safeguarding and preservation of life, the burden of proof must be on those who wish to destroy potential life.
Arguments in Support of Abortion

Perhaps the strongest case for the support of liberal abortion laws is the right of the mother. Some groups have countered this with the issue of the right of the unborn. But the root of the matter goes deeper. The issue biblically is between the concept of the woman’s right and the woman’s responsibility. Does the woman have the right to disrupt natural law? Is she responsible for the natural consequences of her voluntary acts? Relative to this debate is the fact that we do not have absolute rights over our own bodies within the sphere of creation. Self-mutilation is forbidden within the Old Testament. If mutilation before conception is wrong, what about mutilation after conception?
Another argument used to support legalized abortion is the utilitarian argument, which opts for the lesser of two evils. The argument is that under the present restrictions, the only abortions that are available (apart from therapeutic abortions) are those obtained illegally, which are often hazardous. To protect people from their own foolish acts, wisdom would dictate legalizing abortion. This argument is irrelevant to the question of whether or not abortion is right. Committing a felony is also a dangerous business, but the danger is no justification for the legalization of bank robbery.
The issue of therapeutic abortions must be dealt with separately. Generally they are used in two situations: where there is clear and present danger to the life and physical health of the mother, and where there is concern for the psychological well-being of the mother, especially in the case where the woman has been victimized by a rapist. In the first instance, there are two basic points. Some argue that in the case of danger to the life of the mother, it is better to destroy the fetus to save the mother. The actual life is more valuable than the potential life. Others say the fetus should be saved, basing this on the matter of certainty versus probability. Suppose that the death of the mother is 99 percent probable if the child is left to be born. If there is an abortion, that means 100 percent certainty of death for the fetus. If there is one chance in 100 for both to survive, this group holds that the chance should be taken.
The final question is that of church and state. Many Christians have taken the position that it is not the church’s business what the state legislates, since the church is not to legislate morality. However, the state does have the responsibility of legislating morality. Traffic laws deal with the moral issue of how one drives one’s car. Justice is a moral issue; laws are an attempt to promote justice. The essence of legislation is morality. The church has the responsibility to speak to the legislature. The state’s primary function is the preservation of society and the preservation of life. When the state is involved in legislation that does not respect and promote the sanctity of life, the church must speak out. While we recognize the separation of power between church and state, we cannot recognize the autonomy of the state before God. The state is also a servant of God. If there is any legislation on which the church has the responsibility to speak, it is on this one, since the heart of the issue is the sanctity of life.
Evaluating the Third Option

The debate within the church tends to focus on the tertium quid, the third option, known as the “pro-choice” position, one that has steadily grown in popularity.
Evidence is emerging that the strategy of pro-abortionists, led by Planned Parenthood, is the oldest strategy of all: “divide and conquer.” Mainline Protestant bodies have been solicited to aid the cause of abortion on the grounds that human rights are being violated by the oppressive tyranny of the monolithic Roman Catholic Church. Eager to stand against tyranny and for human rights, countless Protestant clergy and denominations have endorsed the middle ground between the pro-life and pro-abortion poles. The via media, or moderate middle, has been defined as the pro-choice position.
Two vital questions must be faced by those wrestling with the premier moral issue of our day. The first question is, “What is the practical difference between the pro-abortion and pro-choice positions?” In terms of legislation, a vote for the pro-choice stance is a vote in favor of abortion, which the pro-abortionists understand clearly. No one knows the exact figures, but it is obvious from polls that a large group of voters, if not a plurality of them, favor the middle ground. Certainly it is this middle position that has swung the balance of legislative power and the weight of public opinion to the side of the pro-abortionists. We hear it said repeatedly, “I would not choose to have an abortion, but I think every woman has a right to make that choice for herself.”
In this statement the focus is on the concept of a human “right.” The mother is said to have the right over her own body to bear a child or to dispose of the fetus. (The central issue is not about victims of rape or mothers endangered by childbirth; the issue before us is abortion on demand for convenience.) This presses the second question: “What constitutes a moral right and from whence come moral rights?”
As Christians, we recognize, I hope, that there is a profound difference between a moral right and a legal right. Ideally, legal rights reflect moral rights, but such is not always the case. How does one establish the moral right to choose abortion? From the law of nature? From the law of God? Hardly. Natural law abhors abortion and divine law implicitly condemns it.
The real basis of the right to choose abortion is want. The unspoken assumption of the pro-choice position is that I am free to choose whatever I want—an assumption repugnant to both God and nature. I never have the moral right to do evil. I may have the civil and legal right to sin but never the moral right. The only moral rights I have are to righteousness.
Is not the issue more complex? Does it not hang together with the broader issue of the extent of government intrusion in our private lives? Surely it does. I know few stronger advocates of limited government than myself. I abhor the proliferating tendrils of government pressing into our lives. However, the primary purpose of government, biblically, is to exercise restraint on mankind in order to promote, preserve, and protect the sanctity of life. This is the very raison d’être of human government.
If abortion on demand is evil, no one has the moral right to choose it. If it is an offense against life, the government must not permit it. The day is being captured by those in the moderate middle who have not faced the ethical implications of this position. This is the moral cop-out of our day—the shame of our churches and her leaders. It is time to get off the fence. To be pro-choice is to be pro-abortion. Be clear about that and abandon the muddled middle.

Chapter Seven

The function of the conscience in ethical decision making tends to complicate matters for us. The commandments of God are eternal, but in order to obey them we must first appropriate them internally. The “organ” of such internalization has been classically called the conscience. Some describe this nebulous inner voice as the voice of God within. The conscience is a mysterious part of man’s inner being. Within the conscience, in a secret hidden recess, lies the personality, so hidden that at times it functions without our being immediately aware of it. When Sigmund Freud brought hypnosis into the place of respectable scientific inquiry, men began to explore the subconscious and examine those intimate caverns of the personality. Encountering the conscience can be an awesome experience. The uncovering of the inner voice can be, as one psychiatrist notes, like “looking into hell itself.”
Yet we tend to think of the conscience as a heavenly thing, a point of contact with God, rather than a hellish organ. We think of the cartoon character faced with an ethical decision while an angel is perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other, playing tug-of-war with the poor man’s head. The conscience can be a voice from heaven or hell; it can lie as well as press us to truth. It can speak out of both sides of its mouth, having the capacity either to accuse or to excuse.
In the movie Pinocchio, Walt Disney gave us the song “Give a Little Whistle,” which urged us to “Always let your conscience be your guide.” This is, at best, “Jiminy Cricket theology.” For the Christian, the conscience is not the highest court of appeals for right conduct. The conscience is important, but not normative. It is capable of distortion and misguidance. It is mentioned some thirty-one times in the New Testament with abundant indication of its capacity for change. The conscience can be seared and eroded, being desensitized by repeated sin. Jeremiah described Israel as having the “brazen look of a prostitute” (Jer. 3:3, NIV). From repeated transgressions, Israel had, like the prostitute, lost her capacity to blush. With the stiffened neck and the hardened heart came the calloused conscience. The sociopath can murder without remorse, being immune to the normal pangs of conscience.
Though the conscience is not the highest tribunal of ethics, it is perilous to act against it. Martin Luther trembled in agony at the Diet of Worms because of the enormous moral pressure he was facing. When asked to recant from his writings, he included these words in his reply: “My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. To act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Luther’s graphic use of the word captive illustrates the visceral power the compulsion of conscience can exercise on a person. Once a person is gripped by the voice of conscience, a power is harnessed by which acts of heroic courage may issue forth. A conscience captured by the Word of God is both noble and powerful.
Was Luther correct in saying, “To act against conscience is neither right nor safe”? Here we must tread carefully lest we slice our toes on the ethical razor’s edge. If the conscience can be misinformed or distorted, why should we not act against it? Should we follow our consciences into sin