Pentecostally systematic and synthetic / structurally symphonic / aesthetically beautiful
Wolfgang Vondey has produced a beautifully written theological masterpiece, presenting a visionary method and example for constructing Pentecostal systematic theology. It is a method directly emerging from within the lived experiences and practices of Pentecostalism, along with the tradition’s theological tradition. I would characterise this seminal construction of Pentecostal theology through three descriptions: 1. pentecostally systematic and synthetic; 2. structurally symphonic; and 3. aesthetically beautiful.
- Pentecostally systematic and synthetic
Systematic in a Pentecostal way
This is a systematic theology though not according to a traditional structure of systematic theology. Now to be sure, neither does it attempt to cover all normally identified areas of a single volume systematic theology. Yet let me explain what it does, and why.
After the Introduction and Chapter 1 titled “Prolegomena to Pentecostal Doctrine,” the next five chapters (“Part 1: “Full Gospel Story”) present a theological exposition of the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel (the historic Pentecostal fivefold Christological motifs of Jesus as Saviour, Sanctifier, Spirit baptiser, Healer, and Coming king):
Ch. 2, “Saved: Meeting Jesus at the Altar”
Ch. 3, “Sanctified: Participating in the Life of God”
Ch. 4, “Baptized: Transformed by the Holy Spirit”
Ch. 5, “Healed: Manifesting Signs and Wonders”
Ch. 6, “Commissioned: Enacting the Coming Kingdom.”
Then in Part 2 (“Full Gospel Theology”) Vondey appropriates the five Christological motifs of the Full Gospel, to theological construction of five selected theological foci.
Chapter 7: Creation: Spirit, Redemption, and Cosmology
Chapter 8: Humanity: Divine Image, Human Agency, and Theological Anthropology
Chapter 9: Society: Civilization, the Common Good, and Cultural Theory
Chapter 10: Church: Mission, Movement and Ecclesiology
Chapter 11: God: Pentecost, Altar, and Doxology
Conclusion: Living the Full Gospel
Hence, each of these five chapters comprise five sections, each section examining one the respective foci from the prism of one of the Christological motifs. For example, following is how this approach works out in Chapter 7 (“Creation”):
- “Creation as the economy of salvation” : Christ as Saviour
- “Creation as the materialization of sanctification” : Christ as Sanctifier
- “Creation baptized in the Spirit” : Christ as Spirit baptizer
- “Divine Healing and the fullness of Redemption : Christ as Healer
- “Creation and the renewal of the cosmos”: Christ as Coming King
So, in this book, Vondey has not attempted a full blown one volume systematic theology. Rather, his main attempt, as I understand it, is to suggest a methodology wholly derived from within Pentecostalism, from which to construct Pentecostal contributions to or rendering of, systematic theology. He has primarily done so through the structure of the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel.
Synthetic in a Pentecostal way
My preceding observation leads to this second one: Vondey’s greater purpose is to suggest a theological method for constructing systematic theology; namely, a method retrieved from the historic repository of Pentecostal spirituality and its theological tradition. Incidentally, when you glean through Vondey’s footnotes, you will discover that the majority of his sources are, Pentecostal theological sources. While the book clearly demonstrates ecumenical cognizance and aims, he has intentionally retrieved most of his sources from within Pentecostal scholarship, in order to demonstrate the theological maturation of contemporary Pentecostal scholarship. This is what Walter Hollenweger earlier referred to as, the “Pentecostal critical tradition.” It is as if Vondey had “synthetically” taken up this whole critical tradition as it presently exists, and squarely constructed on it, this exemplar of Pentecostal systematic theology.
Lately, I have been reflecting more on the contrasting notions of “primary theology” and “secondary theology,” foremost drawing from the work of Roman Catholic liturgical theologian David Fagerberg. A key theme to Fagerberg’s work is his insistence that all formal/academic theologising be described as “secondary theology,” with the “primary theology” referring to whatever can be immediately sourced from liturgical experience, or encounter with God within the liturgical setting; as in fact Vondey consistently stresses throughout this work. To bring this discussion back to Vondey’s work, what he in fact is stressing, is that what broadly lies beneath, the “pentecostal critical tradition” (secondary theology), is the primary theology of pentecostal experience.
I believe Fagerberg would say that primary theology closely relates to and fosters what has been historically called, “mystical theology”— a knowing of God along the way to deification that comes through one’s maturation through deeper initiation into the economy of salvation (that’s my present understanding of “mystical theology”). Similarly, Vondey argues that while “Pentecostal theology is not synonymous with spirituality,” it is “an expression of mystical theology” (p. 18). More pointed to Vondey’s book is his stress that the source of good “Pentecostal theology (in the secondary sense) is “the heart of Pentecost” (p. 6). So to recap, my first observation is that Vondey has effectively produced a systematic theology is that pentecostally systematic and synthetic, meaning that he has gathered up the vast critical tradition of formal/academic pentecostal scholarship, in a manner illustrating how a systemic theology can and should be constructed on the primary theology of pentecostal liturgical experience.
- Structurally symphonic.
Here I am drawing an analogy from a classical music symphony. I cannot recall all the details on what qualifies a set of musical instruments or a music piece as a symphony. Yet I enjoy classical music symphonies, where the conductor beautifully integrates all those separate instruments and melodies towards one increasingly symphonic work, often with several crescendos on the way to a fitting climax. This is exactly what Vondey has achieved!
Let me describe one way he composes and directs this “theological symphony.” I refer to how he translates the Pentecostal Fivefold Full Gospel into a “theological narrative” movement (pp. 6-8, 21-24), where God draws us to Himself at a sacred place and time metaphorically called the “altar,” then from there sends us out in mission through the transforming power that “Pentecost” signifies. Hence, Throughout Vondey’s book, the term “altar” functions as a “theological symbol” (p. 5) signifying the Pentecostal stress on ongoing or periodic transforming encounters with God, which generally occur within the liturgical context of worship (pp. 8-9, 25-26, 31-32, 282-283, 289). Then Vondey pulls these themes together to suggest that the very notion of “Pentecostal theology,” calls us to the “altar” (pp. 5, 10, 255-256, 291, 294). Therefore, the five “full gospel” Christological themes narrate our movement toward and at the altar, then from it in mission with God to the world, and finally back again to the altar that signifies encountering God in worship (pp. 8-9, 55, 83-84, 90, 289).
- Aesthetically beautiful.
Finally, the preceding two qualities (pentecostally systematic/synthetic and structurally symphonic) make this work altogether, aesthetically beautiful. This beauty again emerges from Vondey’s theological method. He makes that bold suggestion that what we should methodically recognise as prior to a Pentecostal exposition of doctrine or theology is: “Pentecost” (p. 11). Hence, “Pentecost is the very prolegomenon of Pentecostal theology” (p. 12). Vondey then suggests several motifs that should appropriately fund a Pentecostal systematic theology: “play,” “spirituality,” “experience,” the “full gospel,” “affections,” “praxis,” and “embodiment” (pp. 12-24). Hence, Vondey articulates a methodology directly informed not just by Pentecostal beliefs, but by commonly identified Pentecostal experiences and practices (pp. 3, 5-6, 9, 30-34).
These aesthetical themes especially blossom in Chapter 11 (“God”) and the book’s Conclusion. Note for instance, Chapter 11’s sub-title: “Pentecost, Altar, and Doxology.” The chapter reads sermonically, via its translation of the five Christological motifs as verbal descriptions of the triune God. Then the beauty of the Conclusion comes foremost through its climatic suggestion that Pentecostal theology is really— “liturgical theology,” calling us to the altar” in, “worship,” which “is the beginning and end of Pentecost” (p. 294). It is particularly beautiful through its final suggestion that the whole book’s thrust leads to one important implication: “Pentecostal theology is at heart a liturgical theology” (p. 281).
By doing so, I suppose, the book closes with a challenge or rather invitation towards a newly emerging and promising foray within pentecostal studies; namely, the constructing of pentecostal liturgical theologies, or pentecostal theologies of liturgy. This invitation of course, should recall to mind Hollenweger’s insightful yet not so often well-known thesis (from his book, The Pentecostals) that the main contribution of Pentecostalism to world Christianity is not, as often yet wrong assumed, pneumatology. Rather, it is, liturgy.
Finally, also adding to these aesthetic qualities is the book’s imagery rich yet simple vocabulary, and its highly readable and profoundly edifying prose. For these reasons, what we have here is a systematic theology that may richly fund Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership with formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes—evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost.
Following is a link to Vondey’s book at Amazon, where I have posted this same book review:
Vondey, Wolfgang. Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel. London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017. ISBN: HB: 978-0-5672-7539-4. Page numbers: 302 pages + xiv. Cost: US$114.