I am far more “hetro” than “mono”
I am no more either West or East
Yet a product of both and more
I am Pentecostal and Catholic
Yet can we really be otherwise?
With my whole body
I praise the Lord
Speaking in tongues
Yet love doing so
Through well written litanies.
On the earth I am a stranger
A migrant and foreigner
Yet building altars
On the way
The reasons I am preferentially pro-migrant, pro-refugee, pro-racial minority, pro-cultural/racial diversity, pro-whole world, and very anti-nationalist spirit—
Is that I’ve lived almost half life abroad from my homeland,
Have experienced what it means to be a racial minority,
And am part of a cross-national/racial/cultural marriage.
I thus detest xenophobia (“fear of strangers”) in all its forms.
The Bible characters I thus identify most with, are people like
Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Ezekiel, and the apostle Paul.
Like them, I have lived in tents,
Walked the desert paths,
And built altars in many foreign lands.
So the biblical metaphors that describe me are those of
The biblical practices I value most are
Breaking bread with others,
And embracing otherness.
Yet I believe—
All these themes describe what Christian faith is all about:
Learning to enjoy, learn, and receive from one another,
The many tongues of Pentecost.
This is the mystery of the Gospel:
That we who are different and many, learn through the Spirit of fellowship—
How to embrace one another as one new humanity, on the way to new creation.
Perhaps for me, the most formative Pentecostal theologian on me remains, Walter Hollenweger, father of the modern critical Pentecostal theological tradition, and early articulator of the Pentecostal giftedness towards “oral theology and liturgy.” Hollenweger was also a poet. One of my favourite pieces from him, is the “Prayer of the Frog.” For the frog is an “in-between” creature: home in two worlds, yet not fully belonging to either world. Both worlds function as a liminal threshold— to somewhere else, a place better than either, yet built on the best of both worlds.
“Prayer of the Frog,” by Walter Hollenweger.
“Sometimes, I feel like a frog,
Happy in the waterpond—
until I run out of air and creep on land.
Happy in the fresh air,
until my skins hurts in the glaring sun and I plunge back into the water.
Why did you make me an in-between creature, neither fish nor fowl?
Why am I not a flamingo, or an eagle or a mighty roaring lion?
Just a frog?
You did not ask me whether I wanted to be a frog,
Nor whether I wanted to be at all,
Nor did my parents ask me.
So, I am, what I am, an in-between being.
When I am with the feminists they call me “macho”
because I want to pray “Our Father.”
When I am with the pacifists they call me a war-monger
because I do not believe that the abolishment of the Swiss Army serves world peace.
When I am with the military they call me a pacifist
because I find it a scandal how we treat the conscientious objectors.
When I am with the Christians, they say I am not a Christian
because I find many of their convictions superfluous.
When I am with the Non-Christians the say I am a Christian
because I believe in Jesus Christ.
When I am with the progressives they say I am conservative
because I do not know how to re-organize world trade justly.
When I am with the rich people they say I am a leftist
because I expect them to share their riches.
When I am with the Catholics they say that I am a Protestant
because I do not believe in the infallibility of the pope.
When I am with the Protestants they say I am a Catholic
because I like the Catholic liturgy.
When I am with the Ecumenists they say that I am a Pentecostal
because I would like to see more of the Spirit in the ecumenical movement.
When I am with the Pentecostals they say I am an ecumenist
because I am convinced that they need the ecumenical movement.
When I am with the critical exegetes they call me “pious”
because God sometimes speaks to me in Scripture.
When I with the uncritical Bible readers they say that I do not believe in the Bible
because I do not accept their facile interpretations.
O God, you alone know what I am.
Help me to believe that this is enough.
You made me an in-between being so that I can be an evangelist.
But God it is a tough job.
Sometimes I am confused and terrified.
Strengthen my faith so that I am
A cheerful in-between creature, a happy frog.
From Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (1997).
This Facebook post is a week old, but I thought as a record, I would post it here for my blog . . .
I am presently reading Amos Yong’s 2017 essay volume, The Hermeneutical Spirit: Theological Interpretation and Scriptural Imagination for the 21st Century (Wipf & Stock Publishers; Cascade Books).
All the chapters evidence new trajectories in Yong’s ongoing theological projects. Yet I am mostly drawn to Yong’s chapter on Pentecostal orality, titled, “Understanding and Living the Apostolic Way: Orality and Scriptural Faithfulness in Conversation with African Pentecostalism” (originally drafted for an international conference presentation in Nigeria, November 2016). For this reason, I will begin by critically reviewing this chapter, and then provide a brief survey the book.
Orality as a hermeneutical criterion
While the notion of orality has long been recognized as a major descriptive of Pentecostal spirituality, a question is: how does orality relate, or should relate, to Pentecostal hermeneutics? Yong thus begins this chapter by asking, “How do Pentecostals read and interpret the Bible? How should Pentecostals do so?” (p. 43). Then “in conversation with African pentecostal perspectives” (p. 44), he argues that we recognise the role of orality not just within the interpretive process but even more boldly, its role towards rightly reading and interpreting Scripture (pp. 57-62).’
Yong’s analysis on how orality plays within African Pentecostalism and African culture is especially commendable given that African Pentecostalism is within our present era not only a major shaper of world Pentecostalism but world Christianity as well (pp. 44-45, 48). Yet too often, “prior generations of scholarship” have associated “African orality . . . with cultural inferiority.” Yong’s discussion thus illustrates a corrective, by engaging “African perspectives for the purposes of both comprehending the oral dimensions of human experience and exploring the formulation of a global biblical hermeneutic from such vantage points” (p. 44).
To build his case, Yong retrieves help from orality scholar, anthropologist, and Jesuit priest, Walter Ong, whose 1960’s/1970’s-era work remains a staple resource within orality studies. Ong observed how in traditional cultures and throughout human history prior to the emergence of mechanized printing technology, spoken words, especially when spoken by recognized spiritual leaders, are presumed to be loaded with effectual and spiritual potency. Moreover, this potency requires aesthetically attending to how the words sound. As Yong notes, Ong also demonstrated how the rise of mechanized printing technology de-sacralised this earlier enchanted view of spoken words, while privileging written literacy over the more ancient arts or oral literacy. He thus argued that “orality” comprises a relational dynamic that always subsides once it gets printed. The essence of “orality” comprises sound, hearing, and dialogue; not reading from a printing page. Hence, printed media never conveys the same relational power as “oral media.” The oral Word always comprises greater transforming/relational power than the printed Word.
Drawing both Ong’s work and African cultural perspectives together, Yong therefore challenges us to consider the possibility that: “how something is uttered and heard is not to be subordinated to what is said” (p. 49). Western biblical interpretation has often focused on issues of reading texts in their original contexts. Yet orality dynamics suggest moreover, that meaning emerges from “how the sacred text is sounded.” Including, how it is chanted, sung, prayed, claimed, pronounced, and declared (p. 49). Attending to orality as a hermeneutic criterion, thus also challenges us to posit biblical hermeneutics as a exercise aimed not just towards orthodoxy, but towards the facets of orthopathy (right feeing) and orthopraxy (right actions) as well (pp. 57f).
Therefore, as Yong appropriately notes, attending to how orality dynamics factor within the hermeneutical aims of Scripture reading, thus presents fresh clarity to the ancient dictum: “the rule of prayer shapes the rule of belief (lex orandi, lex credenda) (p. 60). entecostal orality thus suggests: how we pray, shapes what we believe. Perhaps more pointedly: how we speak the Word, shapes what is believed.
To conclude, I will list several practical implications that Yong’s proposal raises. First and foremost, I would say that recognising orality as a hermeneutical criterion, enjoins greater attention towards fostering some measure of aesthetic quality within the ministry of preaching. This means, attending to the sound of preaching, as a criterion towards assessing the integrity of the preached Word.
Second, this also suggests fostering a tighter relation between homiletics and biblical exegesis, specifically by constantly attending to whatever oral patterns might be intrinsically structuring a biblical text, thus also stressing the orality of the ancient cultures from which the Scriptures emerged as written documents. A good example is in fact the first verses of the Bible. Here, a literal translation of Genesis 1.1-3 proves illustrative: “A wind from God hovered . . . and God spoke.“ Might it be that in the ancient mind, the very sound of the stormy wind with all its force, signified something powerful about God speaking?
Third, attending to orality as a hermeneutical criterion, also enjoins us towards attending to the aesthetical sound of all Scripture reading and prayer as well, within the liturgical settings of communities gathered in worship. Hence, this means retrieving a very ancient assumption about sounds and words spoken for sacred purposes: there are sounds and words that when rightly spoken, are loaded with efficacious power.
The Bible was first read within orality rich cultures. In those cultures, truths were often communicated, learned, and retained in memory through memory aiding techniques like verse, rhythm, and melody; hence, through aesthetical sound rhythms and patterns. So rightly sounding the Word is therefore, an aesthetical task. This means we are actually reflecting on the three Transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and how each proceeds from the other. Yet what this finally suggest is that: how we say the Word, is really just as important is part of the very Word we say. So to reiterate, how we speak the Word, shapes what listeners believe.
This new edition is a following volume of a series that began with the 2014 published two volume set, The Dialogical Spirit: Christian Reason and Theological Method for the Third Millennium and The Missiological Spirit: Christian Mission Theology for the Third Millennium Global Context (Wipf & Stock Publishers; Cascade Books). While the essays in the first two volumes were written from 2000-2014, most of this book’s 12 pieces were written after 2011; five between 2016 and 2017. Note also that this volume reflects Yong’s sustained themes on the dialogical and missiological aims the Spirit through the ongoing event(s) of Pentecost. Yet here Yong breaks new important ground by bringing these themes into critically reflective engagement with the “contemporary theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS) conversation” which today reaches across all major Christian traditions. For those who may not know, TIS essentially stresses that Scripture should be consciously read within the context of early Christian creedal tradition (e.g., Apostles’ and Nicene Creed, together articulating the triune God as Father (creator), Son (redeemer), and Spirit (sanctifier).
Hence, through these essays, Yong provides examples on how his ongoing work exemplifies a uniquely Pentecostal contribution to the TIS conversation; how we might read Scripture and theologize “in light of the Pentecost event” (p. 13). There are of course other contemporary efforts towards articulating Pentecostal theological hermeneutics, usually in some way engaging the Pentecostal four/five-fold Gospel as heuristic framework for the global Pentecostal theological tradition. So as perhaps a point of departure, what makes Yong’s approach distinctive is his continued elaboration from his “many tongues” metaphor.
Yong thus argues that, recognizing we today read Scripture “after Pentecost,” we therefore, “read “with and through the many tongues of Pentecost” (p. 258). By the “many tongues of Pentecost” Yong means the many “ecclesial traditions” that comprise the whole Christian Church across its theological traditions, along with the “many cultural-linguistic contexts” that comprise the global Christian Church (pp. 258-259). Yong’s dialogical and missiologically nuanced presentation of Pentecostal hermeneutics thus appropriately concludes this volume on the theme of eschatology. Christian hermeneutics “‘in the last days’ (Acts 2:17)” is thus understood as a stretching towards the coming horizon: “It is in this liminal space longing and yearning for the Parousia and return of the Messiah that scriptural interpretation arises” (p. 265). He thus enjoins our “expectation that the depths and riches of God’s work in Christ will continue to be unveiled through the Spirit, in expectation of the final revelation that transcends creaturely space and time” (pp. 265-266).
Another quality of this volume lies in its diversely offered topics, though each takes off from Yong’s engagement with concerns characteristic of theological hermeneutics. So while the first three chapters specifically focus on a Pentecostal perspective towards this theme, Yong presents the next three chapters as discussions on “theological anthropology” (chs 4-6), and the next three on a “pneumatological soteriology” (chs 7-9). The final three chapters (chs 10-12) provides examples on how Yong’s pentecostally take on theological hermeneutics, provide unique readings on selected Bible texts.
I will conclude by mentioning another chapter I found especially captivating: “Running the (Special) Race: New (Pauline) Perspectives on Disability and Theology of Sport” (ch 11). As its title suggest, this chapter retrieve Yong’s earlier efforts towards bringing in conversation together, Pentecostal and Disability studies (similar to ch 4: “Many Tongues, Many Senses: Pentecost, The Body Politic, and the Redemption of Dis/Ability”). Yong’s long sustained explorations at the junction of Pentecostal and disability studies are much rooted in his own life experience, having a brother with Down syndrome. While his prime aim for this essay is teasing out a “Pauline theology of sport” (p. 222), I am sure readers will find his discussion highly relevant for Christian life altogether. For Paul indeed likens the life in Christ as a race, and exhorts us, “Run in such a way that you may win . . . “ (1 Cor. 9.24). Yong however reminds us about the “weakness” motif that permeates the Corinthian letters, and challenges us how we might read Paul’s athletic imagery through the lens of that motif (p. 230). Doing so grants us new perspectives “on what it means to compete, win, or be disqualified” (p. 232). Using the modern “Special Olympics” rather than the normal Olympic Games as a a norm for thinking through our approach to athletics, Yong raises a number of provocative questions for our reflection. I will thus end by listing several on this topic of “running the race”:
- “ . . . what if, as we have already seen in 1 Corinthians, the horizon is not the advancement of the self but the formation of a new people of God constituted at its center by those who are weak and otherwise socially ignored or marginalized?” (pp. 233-234)
- “Can we imagine sporting events without winners and losers? The theological counter to this question has to do precisely with what kinds of winners and losers result. Is it not possible for us to acknowledge winners without perpetuating the ancient Greek ideal that second place (or worse) is unacceptable? Is it possible to nurture a spirit of sportsmanship that seeks the common good of all, including those who have been otherwise excluded and marginalized?” (p. 236)
- “The preceding ruminations suggest that Paul would intone some cautionary admonitions about the various manifestations of sport. In particular, he might suggest that in this domain, we might still be able to learn a thing or two if we adopted the perspectives of those with disabilities. After all, if foolishness and weakness are at the heart of what means to be the people of God, might we not also take these as ordering principles that structure how we compete alongside one another for the ultimate prizes that truly matter?” (p. 236)
 See Walter J. Ong, The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Culture and Religious History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970); idem, idem, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, 3rd ed. (Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1982; New York, NY: Routledge, 1982, 2002, 2012).
 Yong also explores how implications orality raises towards preaching in his essay, “The Spirit and Proclamation: A Pneumatological Theology of Preaching Part II: Orality and the Sound of the Spirit: Intoning an Acoustemological Pneumatology” The Living Pulpit (Summer 2015): 28-32.
I just turned in my paper for the 2018 S Conference (Society of Pentecostal Studies / http://www.sps-usa.org). 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: https://monteleerice.wordpress.com)
Let me share some brief lines evoking themes from the paper, followed by a few quotes from it that more expansively summarise those 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.
Let us not enter the new year
By worldly time alone but throughThe sacred time of Christmas
That commission us
To make visible
May Christ’s light
Fire our imagination
With images of hope
Making straight the crooked
Making smooth the rough ways
Making upright all broken backs
That healing flows, removing walls
Building bridges, restoring voices
Through the Spirit of new creation.