Daniel Castelo - "Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition"
12:04AM Jul 1, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
It's our privilege today to be speaking with Professor Daniel Costelo. Professor Costelo is professor of dogmatic and constructive theology at Seattle Pacific University, and also the author of the text that we'll be discussing today, Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition. Professor Costelo, it's a delight to be with you today.
Well, thank you very much. It's an honor.
Professor Costello, part of the task of your book, as you describe it in the preface is that is to conclude and demonstrate that Pentecostalism is quote, decisively not a Protestant tradition, and to work out also the implications of this conclusion. Part of the problematic nature of this project is the slippery terms of both Pentecostalism and evangelicalism and perhaps also mystical for that matter as well. Would you be willing To begin our conversation by explaining to us what is it that you mean by the Pentecostal tradition?
Sure. Yeah, it's one of the tasks with the work itself was trying to define the terms because a lot rides on what those terms mean. And for me, I was thinking about Pentecostalism and elaborating it in the book. And I opened with a little vignette of my own seminary experience in which I was raised with I was given the question, is Pentecostalism, a Protestant tradition? And given my background and given my experiences, in many ways, the the answer could not be Affirmative. In some ways it could be and that would relate maybe to the highlighting of the authority of the Bible and the the emphasis on witness and evangelism and so forth, but
In my experience, I thought that some of the
reasons for not saying that it could be a Protestant tradition just in terms of epistemology. And I think that that's really what I highlight in the book is the way that Pentecostals talk about knowing God and religious experience, and the way that they make that such a central theme of their religiosity of their lives of their of their experience of Christianity. And so, when I say epistemology, and thinking of theological epistemology, basically the, the way that they come to know the plausibility structures, how they develop certainty, in their tradition, what makes sense to them, what do they appeal to,
and, on that score, I
thought that did not fit well with the Protestant tradition and as a result, maybe fit better with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. And so there's a contrast there and saying that's not something but in my mind, I'm thinking it's also potentially more like something else. And so the alternative would be some of those older traditions, pre modern traditions that also highlighted different ways of knowing.
Professor Costello, thank you for that reflection. In your view, can Pentecostalism be defined as a theological tradition? Is there a theological definition of what Pentecostalism is?
Yes, of course.
There are a lot of competing accounts as to what the ology is and what the theological tradition would have to be in order for it to count as such. And for me, looking to the notion of traditional Something that's intergenerational something that's passed down over time. And to be theological my mind means to be coherent to be understandable, relatable communicable. Certainly that can be related to doctrines and particular understandings. But in my case with Pentecostalism, I tend to think that it is a theological tradition. But it is such largely in terms of its worship, and in terms of the ethos it sustains itself. And so that would tie to the things that are appeal to the things are expected. The way people make sense of things. And so, for instance, a very prominent theme in Pentecostal traditions is the authority of testimony and how people give their testimony and say that this is how God is Working in my life. Now, on the one hand, people might think, Well, that doesn't sound like a theological tradition because it just sounds open to be very subjective, right? And so one person has a particular experience or testimony and another person may have a different one, and it just sounds like it. It could vary from person to person. What I'm stressing here is that just the fact that testimony is an authoritative feature, to making sense of what God is doing and to see where God's at work. That in itself is constitutive, in part of a tradition that that is a central theme that gets highlighted time and time again, regardless of context. So I think that the person of the Spirit, the work of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the work of Christ, being an empower, liberate are these things I can be appealed to in terms of it being a theological tradition. But I would highlight just in terms of the people who use the language of a worldview, the way that the faith is put together, the way the faith is expressed the way the faith makes sense. For those reasons, I would say yes, it is a theological tradition. It just may not be the kind of theological tradition that people are comfortable with. Or it might not be the kind of tradition people associate with a theological tradition. But when one looks at some of the regular themes or regular practices, I would say yes,
Professor Costello, thanks for working with us. Let me return to that question or just ask a new aspect of that question. I certainly certainly would agree and I think everyone would that that. Pentecostalism is a theological tradition. I suppose the question would be is Pentecostalism definable by a particular set of doctrines And so when we think of the Protestant Reformation, we think of the way that sola scriptura anchored that tradition of doctrinally, when we think of the Roman Catholic tradition, we may think of the way that sacramental Grace is articulated through the church and through the Apostolic tradition. Is Pentecostalism, something that can be defined by doctrine? Or Or do we need new categories for it? Thank you.
Well, I think a lot of people have tried to do that with Spirit baptism. And over the years, especially in the American context, and various denominational settings there has this, there has been this attempt to say, all right, so what is distinctive about the Pentecostal movement doctrinally, and oftentimes, it's been an idea or view of baptisms, spirit and with that of you baptism spirit, with tongues being some sort of evidence associated with it. And one of the things I tried to do in the book is to press Enter To why that is a mistake. In many ways. It is a mistake because what has happened and for many American denominational context is to elevate that theme to such a degree. And also not just Spirit baptism, but the way that we know or don't know, if someone is spirit baptized, tell me that to such a degree that becomes somewhat mechanical, and somewhat
over before me Lake,
because when you step back and say, all right, so, Spirit baptism, is it strictly a doctrine? Or is it a an experience of Christian life? And that's where we get into some of the difficulties of the categories because I think that what's distinctive about Pentecostalism and what makes Pentecostalism a theological tradition is its take on the Christian Life, not so much a particular view that's highlighted and proposed and debated and so forth, but more so a way of life of way of living into the Christian faith. And so if that's the central core, then it's really hard to delineate this or to reduce it into a specific kind of doctrine. And so I would be inclined to say that, given the experience of American denominations over the years, because they've done that work of trying to highlight Spirit baptism with the evidence, sometimes even the language of the evidence of the initial evidence of speaking in tongues, that's proven to be a problem and a mistake. In many ways, because many of these traditions that have highlighted Spirit baptism with the evidence of tongues, over the years have experienced less and less people claiming that and I think it's because it's that whole notion of being expected to do something kind of work that it can't. Spirit baptism really is more about an experience of way of life way of living into the Christian faith and to reduce it to a doctrine as we typically understand it as something that's definable, relatable and something that can be put in a statement of faith or whatnot. That that's just, it's too reductive to what Pentecostal is really trying to get at which is a way of living.
Professor castella. Thank you for that reflection. I've heard of some theologians the categorical shift if you will, from defining Pentecostalism dogmatically to defining it spiritually. And so I've heard some when attempting to define what is at the heart of Pentecostalism and say instead of a dogmatic definition, really the movement has a spiritual definition or a definition of its spirituality Do you resonate with those categories? Is that would that be a fruitful way to understand Pentecostalism? What's your view?
Yes, it's it's an appealing way of thinking because
and I do resonate with it. I was trained somewhat in that view. Steve land promoted this very early in his book on Pentecostalism. The notion that it's really more about a spirituality than a theology. Well I've tried to do in my work is to create this ongoing conversation between spirituality and theology. And so sometimes people use the language of a first or second order discourse or speaking to God, versus speaking about God. And however we want to delineate that the point being is that theology and spirituality go hand in hand and I think that one of the gifts that Pentecostalism can potentially make to the wider Christian context is to remind This is not something necessarily new. But it's it's a sense of that spirituality of ones. Faith, the way one lives without the way that knowledge and love are tied and work off of each other, that there's a certain kind of knowledge associated with loving God, that it's not. It's not a kind of knowledge that is abstract or that's kind of cerebral, but it's as effective, that language within a itself involving that, that that that to has theological implications. And so I stress in the book of an interface between spirituality and theology that I think that some of these ancient traditions are highlighted Roman Catholic And research orthodoxy that comes up at times. Not to say that it doesn't proselytism, either. But there is this scholasticism tendency in Protestantism, and sometimes that don't think works well with Pentecostalism, at least in terms of its core identity. So yes, I would resonate with that idea. But I would want to highlight that, again. So people have the perception that if you're going to highlight spirituality, it's over and against theology. And then it's somehow spirituality sounds a little too pi artistic or a little too individualized. And one of the things that Pentecostals have done over the years is that now their spirituality is something that is oftentimes corporate. And so again, the notion of testimony, and once that's done in the corporate worship setting, so it's oftentimes corporate dimensions to this, and as well there's a there's a need for discernment, and a need Evaluation and how how are religious experiences or testimonies How are they evaluate it's through a reasoning process then evaluative process where we would think of it being more if you will theological so I really love the language of interface spirituality ology interface because what does is to create the the idea or cast the vision of there being a mutually informing dynamic and I think that beginning Pentecost view of Pentecostalism and approach Pentecostalism with spirituality is appropriate. But it can have very significant theological implications, too. we're privileged today to be speaking with Dr. Costello, the author of Pentecostalism as a Christian mystical tradition.
Professor Costello as we look at mysticism and and Pentecostalism as a mystical tradition. Would you be willing to speak to what are the Defining elements of the mystical tradition with which you identify Pentecostalism. Thank you. Well, back to that
notion of tradition tried to say re the sense that something is handed down or handed over. And so when I think about a tradition, I think about something that's intergenerational, something that's not just locatable to a particular community that when they're gone, that, that what they say is gone as well, but something that is handed over and it's preserved, that there are efforts to try to account for it in a way that I can can be communicated and passed on. And the notion of mysticism is a really interesting one in Christianity. Because you can make the argument and again, I think that certain groups within Christianity do this better than other ones, but you can make the argument that Christianity at at its core is a mystical religion. And what I mean by that is that it highlights the the notion of encounter encountering a living God. And that as a result of this encounter that things happen and the things change. And so I'm not thinking so much of a privatized experience. That is ineffable and, and that is very exclusive. And you could say that in the history of mysticism, both in Christianity and other traditions, that there might be some shifts in terms of what counts as the mystical. But when I think about Christian mysticism, I think of again, there's this corporate nature, Roman Catholics do this in terms of the mysticism surrounding the mass that there is a sense in which not everything can be explained Not everything can be defined. But there is a true encounter a true participation in the body and blood of Christ. And that idea of participation, that idea of encounter of engaging god of speaking to God that God speaks back. I think those themes can be especially highlighted with the language of mysticism we work in Holy Mysteries, right? We speak of the body of Christ and how to make sense of that or we speak of marriage and how that's something that goes beyond certain categories and the sacraments and and we can go on and on and on about how Christianity has the sense that with God being at work in in the world and through things and through people, that it's very hard and all of this to specify exactly what's going on or to have the specific categories to make sense of it, and yet it's real and yet it's accessible and people can preach about it and people can invite others to participate in it. And so that's what I have in mind when I say, are talking about a mystical tradition. And I think that that's a play in Pentecostalism that when people have an encounter with God, in the Pentecostal tradition, they oftentimes are not able to define exactly what happened or what was a play. And yet, they're convinced of something and then made a difference in their lives. And I know this from from my own experience within my own family, my extended family. People talked about how, you know, in a religious service or religious meeting, that did this felt the tug and they went ahead and gave of themselves to God and once they engage in that practice of surrender and self giving, that something drastically happened. And people in my family had been delivered from, from various things.
I grew up in a Pentecostal environment. So that's why I speak in this way
and delivered from alcoholism had been delivered from
spousal abuse and other things and so perpetuating spousal abuse and so the idea that God's at work in the world, God's God's doing things God has a purpose. it in for us to be invited in that process and as a result to be changed and transformed. And again, hard to specify exactly how. But the fruits are evidence. And one of the things that you see at times and Pentecostal traditions is that the highlighting of of the scoundrel of the town or the city, the person who really if God would do something in them, it could be a great witness for everybody else, right because people's matter. binaries would think there's no way that God could do something with that person, there's no way that person could change, but that person could change. Then it opens up a floodgate of possibilities of what's going on. And so, again, the sense that, that God's at work, God's doing things, and we have the great privilege, the great opportunity to participate in them and it's really not knowing how that could can end up and so it opens up. The imagination opens up wonder, praise, love, devotion, passion. Pentecostals over the years have demonstrated a lot of passion and a lot of vigor whether witness why because they're convinced that God is so central to how everything is and they seem that in some way, that they just sometimes can't help but communicate and share it. And so that's what I'm trying to generate with with the appeal to a mystical tradition is that is Again, the highlighting of a way of life wave participating in the faith in which God's active people can encounter this God and as a result can be changed in three dramatic ways. And for me as a theologian that's theologically rich. It's it's, it's the kind of thing that not to dismiss the value of systematic theologies or to dismiss the the work that's been done to clarify the faith and in some kind of reasoning process but it's it's its own kind of thing, that it makes a case for Christianity through living treaty sees or embody treaty sees, and so you can read about it in one sense, but then see the logic, unfold and person's life.
Professor Costello, I find your thesis intriguing and very insightful that the difference between evangelical theology and Pentecostal theology really hinges on this turn key Are epistemologies. You've described the Pentecostal epistemology as an experiential Li based epistemology. In the book, you do a wonderful job, marvelous job of spelling out the development of the evangelical epistemology through the Princetonian theologians, BB Warfield and the others. Charles Hodge and the other theologians of the Princeton Theological Seminary of the 19th century and early 20th century. Would you be willing to describe for us, how is it that the Pentecostal epistemology developed?
Thank you? Well, when you look at
the history of Pentecostalism in various contexts, and you know, a lot of people spend quite a bit of time analyzing Well, when did the movement happen? Where did the movement happen and so forth. I think that there's a multi pronged approach to this. I don't tend to want to label and prevent quite a few North Americans have taken exception to the rise of the movement being distinctly a North American one, because there were outbreaks, similar time period in India and Wales and so forth.
But one thing that I do see
that that's pretty prominent in many of these places is this hunger for God and this expectancy work on and that can be due to all kinds of different factors, some factors, including this, this assumption that the end of the world will soon or that there was a strong need for revival of renewal. But
I see it being picked up in this
moment in time.
Turn of the 20th century
people were looking for, for
God hungry for God something new, but something also in line with the old. And I would say that the epistemology comes about in large measure. Because of this hunger and because of this expectancy, then going back to Scripture and seeing these these amazing things. You can use the language of the often these, these revelations of God as manifestations of God's work, and then daring to say, if it happened then this way, why couldn't happen now, this
again, with that openness with that hunger and with that belief God was doing similar things in terms of healings in terms of hard to describe, encounters corporate encounters with God, where people would have different experiences at the altar, and be changed and so forth. That those kinds of moments, I think, helped to cultivate in the early Pentecostals, this sense that All right, so now, the Bible is not just talking about past events, but it's giving a prescription of how things can be. And
that is just a very fascinating approach. It really is. Because
I mean reading scripture and you see these amazing demonstrations of God's power and God's work and, and, again, given the plausibility structures that we operate out of as, as modern says 21st century people say, Well, okay, you know that that happened back then and and as Christians, we believe that it did. But certainly this is not something that happens on a daily basis now. And so, you know, it's it's something to learn from, you know, there's things that God's showing, and teaching through these events, whether it's the day of Pentecost, where it's the miracles of Jesus, whether it's Paul's conversion experience, and on and on and on, these are things we can learn from draw from. And in some ways, that is a that's, that's the easier route to say that these things happened in the past. And so now they are illustrative of principles that we can apply to our lives and what we can learn from them. But this sense of expectation, then, you know, if God's the same yesterday, today and forever, and it's our work this way in the past, why isn't it possible to think that God In the car couldn't do it this way. Why can't we just not expect that God would do these things? Again, this is a pattern. Cosworth is how God prefers to do things, through visions through dreams and words of prophecy and so forth. And so I think it's the Pentecost. So I would say oftentimes, it begins. It's, it happened about because of God's work, this epistemology emerged because God was doing things and and people just tapped into it. And I think there's, I want to believe that there's there's truth to that. But also, I think there is a sense from Pentecostals and oftentimes the early Pentecostals were already Christians looking for renewal, expecting something in fact that they dare to expect and they they're to have their the way they think the way that they they expect to evaluate for To be reconfigured is a testament to their, to their willingness that to go through that. And so I would say the epistemology also emerges out of oftentimes disenfranchised people daring to take a chance on God and how God can work today.
Professor Costello, if I may close our interview with a question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize the unity of the church and what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed?
Christian unity is is a very difficult topic. And I think sometimes we are inclined to think that it's uniformity. And that unity is established in a pre conditional way by all of us coming to agreement on on several sec claims and no inscription We see the reflection on on the idea of the body of Christ where we are many members with diverse roles, and yet we have a single head. And I like to think of unity in terms of that image and that analogy, in that. You know, for a tradition to be Christian Nast have Christ as its head, as to have Christ at the center. And what I consider that to mean is that the gospel is preached and the gospel is at work. And the good news that Jesus not only proclaimed but lived out and so my inclination is to think that if we can dissociate unity from uniformity and recognize that image of a one body but many members, that there is there There's a sense in which diversity is appropriate. And it's an it's very much necessary given in terms of how we are as humans. And so I would, I would want us to reckon with that unity does involve diversity. And it is an open question. And it's worth asking what kinds of diversity? Are we open to? Why are we not open to other kinds of diversity? And if we can start having that conversation, I think we can move on to think more creatively about what unity can look like. And I think that when the church has pockets of exclusion within it, in terms of verify, looks like me and talks like me and pretty much believes like me, then it's very easy to have a certain idea of what unity looks like in that situation or context, but we can start to think with that Diversity is at the very heart of unity. It's this particular kind of diversity that nevertheless has Christ at the center. And I think that we can have a different kind of conversation in terms of Christian unity. And so it's it's an ongoing process of discernment with the spirits help of seeing where Christ is at work, where Christ is proclaimed, where Christ is being before the Gospels being lived out Christ's message for us to good use. And I think it's something that is an ongoing task, but it's something that I think that it's worth pressing. Because especially in this day and age, I don't believe that. That many of the the exclusive sensibilities of that well if I'm part of this denomination, then I I can think of members of another denomination. That's not being Fully Christian, I think that's, that's something that with Christianity becoming less and less of an assumed cultural norm, something that needs to be to be resisted. And it's always need to be resisted. But I think now, it might be easier to do so I think Christian unity is something that is is, is an ongoing process. It's it's never something that's achieved. It's an ongoing process, with the aid of God, to recognize Christ in one another to us on hospice phrase, and where the gospel is preached, and where the spiritual life is pursued. For us to think of, of that as being the center center or the core, and yet that that can look different among different constituencies, different groups.
Spin are delighted today to be speaking with Professor Daniel Costello, Professor of dogmatic and constructive theology at Seattle Pacific University and author of the text that we've been discussing today Pentecostal Islam as a Christian mystical tradition. Thank you, Professor Costello, so much for joining us today.
Thank you. It's my pleasure. It's great to be with you.