Sounds of the poor – Pentecostal oral liturgy as primary theology

I just turned in my paper for the 2018 S Conference (Society of Pentecostal Studies /  This meeting (8-10 March, 2018) will be held at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, Tennessee, USA.  The conference theme is one that strikes deep in my heart: “The Good News of the Kingdom and the Poor in the Land.”  The conference will address pentecostal/charismatic responses to issues of poverty worldwide.

To be presented under the Ecumenical Interest Group, I have titled my presentation: “‘Sounds of the Poor that Deify the Rich’: Pentecostal Oral Liturgy as Primary Theology.”  The paper reflects themes I earlier developed for the first chapter of my dissertation proposal that was early last year approved for the Center for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies under Bangor University, Wales, UK (For more information on this, see my web-page:

Let me share some brief lines evoking themes from the paper, followed by a few quotes from it that more expansively summarise those themes.

Paper themes:

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about sounds learned in poverty

Groans spoke in prayer too deep for words.

But these are the sounds of Jubilee

Empowering the poor by restoring voices

Releasing captives by healing bodies

Making them instruments of worship

Recovering sight to the blind

Through give dreams, visions, and prophecies.


Training us in the priestly ministry

Of Christ the Spirit Baptizer

Restoring to us historical purpose

And apostolic destiny

Foregrounding the poor as prophets of God’s coming kingdom.

For the ascetics of Pentecostal oral liturgy

Deify the poor as partakers of Christ’s reign

For theirs is the kingdom of God.

Yet these sounds can also deify the rich

When they too embrace, learn, and speak the tongues of Pentecost.


I’m talking about the Lord’s Prayer

Praying for the coming of God’s kingdom

That His Spirit may renew the earth.


I am talking about the base meaning of theology, as prayer.

And primary theologians— people growing in communion with God through the practices of prayer.

The Christian faith is really a prayer movement that continues the priestly ministry of Jesus by daily invoking the Spirit for the renewing of creation.  Pentecostalism is a renewal movement calling the greater Church to her priestly vocation.  As Steven Land argued in his 1993 ground-breaking monograph, Pentecostal Spirituality, A Passion for the Kingdom: “Pentecostal theology-as-spirituality” is “theologia” being “restored to its ancient meaning” as prayer.  And “prayer . . . . is at the heart” of Pentecostal “spirituality.”

Some quotes from the Introduction and conclusion


“An ongoing task in Pentecostal studies is identifying theological categories that articulate Pentecostal theology in manners congruent to the spirituality that underwrites Pentecostalism as a gifted theological tradition. . . .

I suggest as a more promising rubric, though perhaps more reminiscent of ancient Christian monastic asceticism.  The rubric I refer to is the patristic era’s monastic and thus ascetically rooted, Evagrian notion of prayer as theology (theologia).  This doctrine has deeply funded what we may call the contemporary liturgy as primary theology movement (LAPT).  Later I will demonstrate how two notions can be coalesced as what I shall call the Evagrian-LAPT grammar of prayer/liturgy.

In this paper, I suggest that the Evagrian-LAPT grammar provides us apt theological categories for theologically articulating Pentecostal spirituality, in manners methodically congruent to its intensely embodied oral liturgy, and practices of primary theologizing.  I thus believe that this grammar may prove especially helpful towards the growing focus in Pentecostal studies on the liturgical life of Pentecostalism.  I shall also suggest this as an apt orientation for articulating Pentecostal notions of liturgical theology, and theologically assessing current developments in Pentecostal liturgical studies, including construction of Pentecostal theology in manners that retrieve resources from the liturgical life of Pentecostalism. . . .

In Part One I will survey three historic warrants that substantiate the Evagrian-LAPT grammar as an apt language for theologically articulating Pentecostal spirituality, specifically attending to its liturgical practices.  I will first briefly summarize Evagrius’ prayer as theology doctrine.  I will then demonstrate how this doctrine funded the LAPT movement, and review its main themes.  I will then analyze Steven Land’s ground-breaking 1993 monograph titled, Pentecostal Spirituality, A Passion for the Kingdom.  I shall demonstrate that his monograph substantiates the grammar by showing how it was a direct by-product of the LAPT movement, thus describing Pentecostal spirituality through the Evagrian-LAPT grammar.  In Part Two I will retrieve from LAPT proponent and Roman Catholic liturgical theologian David W. Fagerberg, three important LAPT terms: primary theology, liturgy, and ascetics, to suggest ways that the Evagrian-LAPT grammar proves helpful towards research in Pentecostal liturgical theology.  I will thus suggest how this grammar helps clarify the meaning of pertinent foci within Pentecostal spirituality; specifically: Pentecostal primary theology, liturgy, and liturgical ascetics.

In Part Three, drawing on Walter Hollenweger’s work on Pentecostal orality and oral liturgy, along with Jesuit priest and anthropologist Walter Ong’s seminal work in orality studies, I shall delineate the shalomic efficacy of pentecostal oral liturgy and the oral epistemology operative through its liturgical practices.  More specifically, I shall argue that an important moral warrant for understanding Pentecostal orality as the liturgical ascetics of Pentecostalism, lies in their observed efficacy towards empowering the poor and lower social-economic people into higher levels of shalomic flourishing.  Yet as Hollenweger similarly argued, I shall also show how the primary oral-literacy of the world’s poor in contrast to the print-literacy and evolving IT secondary orality of the world’s rich, raises an important ecumenical task for today’s world Pentecostalism.  Namely, the task of reconciling these contrasting gifts and the people they represent as requisite towards the Christian vision of true shalomic flourishing.


In Part Three, I delineated the shalomic efficacy of Pentecostal oral liturgy and the oral epistemology operative through its liturgical practices.  I thus argued how these ascetics empower the world’s poor into higher levels of shalomic flourishing.  I also argued that when the rich embrace the poor and their primary orality epistemological giftedness, they too become empowered towards shalomic flourishing and true humanity.  Hence, I also argued that an important ecumenical task for today’s world Pentecostalism is the task of reconciling these contrasting gifts of rich and poor, not only for the uplift of the poor but that the rich be humanized through the primary oral epistemological giftedness of the world’s poor.

Therefore, the liturgical ascetics of Pentecostal oral liturgy prophetically signify, and efficaciously function, as the sounds of Jubilee.  For the orality that characterizes Pentecostal liturgical ascetics are sounds proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19).  They are the sounds of good news empowering the poor, by restoring their voices, releasing captives by healing their bodies as instruments of worship, and recovering sight to the blind through the giving of eschatological hope through dreams, visions, and prophecies.

Pentecostal liturgical asceticism thus liminalizes the world’s poor into the riches of God’s coming kingdom.  Training them in the priestly ministry of Christ the Spirit Baptizer, it capacitates them with restored eschatological horizon and apostolic destiny, foregrounding them as prophets of His coming kingdom.  For the ascetics of Pentecostal oral liturgy, deify the poor as partakers of Christ’s reign, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Learned in poverty, there are groans spoke in prayer too deep for words.  Yet the sounds of the poor deify the rich, as they too embrace, learn, and speak the tongues of Pentecost.