Some of you might know that there is change brewing in the Assemblies of God, and that there are a lot of people, especially younger ministers, who are wrestling with what it means to be part of this denomination. One blog in particular, FutureAG, is acting as a clearinghouse for discussion and comment as well as prayer. I am very appreciative for this effort, and applaud its demeanor as being part of the AG and part of the effort to lead the denomination into further health in the future.
Many of the issues faced by the AG right now are also of larger concern to evangelicals. One post in particular, Identity Crisis, strikes one of those chords. As evangelicalism sways like a tree in cultural winds, what defines our roots? What keeps us in place and keeps us united in common cause? In addition to the thoughts in that post, I would like to throw some of my thoughts on the table as well.
One of the primary concerns for the AG is what is known as its “doctrinal distinctive”: speaking in tongues. From time to time this doctrine has been emphasized to the detriment and maybe even the exclusion of the other, more universally orthodox, doctrines. Paul notes:
“The truth is that the key to the Pentecostal movement was never tongues but a passionate pursuit of God for an empowering work of the Spirit to carry forth the Great Commission of Jesus.
Meanwhile, as we held tightly to our distinctive doctrine, we gave up many of the things that really made early Pentecostalism special. Our distinctive doctrine became all that defined us and the real character, contribution, and impact of the movement was lost.”
I think it is true that an overemphasis on a single doctrine has hindered us by narrowing our vision too much. What would, in my opinion, broaden our vision is a much deeper emphasis on the core doctrines and theological development available to Pentecostals. Theological work, when done correctly, broadens the vision of a denomination or a movement and sinks roots that stand the test of time. Documents like the Westminster Confession and the Nicene Creed have acted as solid foundations for millions of believers over nearly, well, thousands of years. And as cultures come and go, those theological works have proved up to the task of handling any one of them. I am not sure we have that kind of body of work behind the AG just yet.
In my view, the primary mistake in the trajectory of the AG has been in trying to rekindle feeling and emotions as a foundation for our present and future growth and in identifying our denomination too closely with that particular kind of spirituality. We may have, from time to time, mistaken the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit in the form of revival with emotionalism. Emotionalism is a poor foundation for anything, and hoping to control the Holy Spirit or recapture “what was” just doesn’t work.
Paul also notes:
“If the AG is going to continue to grow in the future, we need a paradigm that can better reflect the unique qualities of our past -- qualities that could better fit a post-modern paradigm than a modern one.”
I am not sure exactly what that would entail—qualities that fit better in a postmodern paradigm than a modern one. But I would add the caveat that we need to think critically and thoroughly about the philosophy of postmodernism before we dine with that devil.
Paul finishes his thoughtful post with a string of questions:
“What do you think? What is it that truly defines us? Why are we in this fellowship with each other?”
The very fact that these questions should be taken seriously betrays our need as a movement to strengthen the foundations upon which we call ourselves a fellowship.