Friday, May 05, 2006

Ecology and the Pentecostals

I wanted to briefly add a personal note to the sort of concerns Shane is addressing in his comments on Pentecostalism and ecology. Having come from a Fundamentalist soft-Pentecostal/Charismatic background myself, I must admit that though I theoretically knew then that humans should be wise stewards of the earth (based on the creation stories in Genesis), the Christian culture I was associated with simply didn’t cultivate such an ecological ethos which was more concerned about getting as many people to heaven before the world ended.

Reinhard Bonnke, for example, in his book Evangelism by Fire (one of the first popular Christian books I ever read), explicitly stated something like ‘a social gospel is not my concern’, and instead has subtitles like ‘Plundering Hell and Populating Heaven’, with predictable teaching. In the same book, Bonnke, without warrant, spiritualises the biblical teaching of the Jubilee year, and even suggests that biblical and theological books that don’t heat the soul with passion, should be throw on a bonfire so as to at least give of some heat! Here we have a strange mix, it seems to me, of tremendous respect for the Scriptures and awsome spiritual energy along with harmful dualisms and anti-intellectualism. Additional to the doctrine of creation mentioned by Shane, it is also, I believe, an impoverished soteriology that cripples Pentecostal concern for the environment. Few will hear sermons on such passages as e.g. Rom 5, 8:19-23, Col 1:20 or Eph 1:10 in Pentecostal churches.

Once upon a time, in the first years of my Christian faith, it would never have crossed my mind to attempt to assess such Pentecostal ‘men of God’, who, given their success in evangelism with ‘signs and wonders’ following, were clearly beyond serious critique. But again, this is part of the problem of Pentecostal culture - the ‘don’t touch the Lord’s anointed’ factor that is rife at grass roots in the tradition, even if many of their leaders would be ashamed of this.

However, the Pentecostals, and people like Bonnke, do bring to worldwide Christianity plenty that is, I think, valuable: A deep respect for the Scriptures, a passionate expectancy towards God, a delightful focus on ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, a concern for the health of the human body, and more besides. Having to a good extent consciously come out of such a tradition, I sometimes find it all too easy to forget the very real positives.


At 5/06/2006 7:13 PM, Anonymous Chris Petersen said...

Well said, Chris.

At 5/06/2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I grew up charismatic, so I've seen more than a little of this from the inside...

At 5/06/2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I don't know the man, but based on what I've heard on US TV about him/from him, he's almost always paired with the prosperity theology (also known as health and wealth or "abundance" movement) groups.

I'm not assuming he falls in with them, but IMO this movement contributes to an almost anti-environmental, pro-consumption ideologoy that's already at saturation levels in the USA. One preacher at a pentecostal, prosperity church in my hometown comes to work in a limousine daily. May other pastors and members of such churches drive "pimped out" SUVs and heavy Cadillacs and Mercedes (all in the low 10s or single digits in terms of gas mileage). That's just one example of the anti-environmental results of that theology. "I want it, God wants me to have it, I get it, I consume it." And damn the consequences. Granted other Xians are just as guilty, the theology seems to feed consumption and a lack of restraint. It's no coincidence alot of these men and women are not small-waisted...

I could point to other such impacts (the fur industry, luxury homes that soak electricity, luxury lawns that soak in H2O even in places where such is a bit scarce, etc), but I won't. Whoops I just did.

I hope this post isn't uncharitable...Chris, delete it if it is.

At 5/06/2006 10:25 PM, Anonymous Richard said...

When I was at college I heard Bonnke preach in a relatively small gathering. I am certainly no fan but relative to other leaders he really impressed me and as far as I remember he preached on the importance of maintaining a "simple gospel". For all his errors I would be suprised if he did advocate a prosperity gospel.

At 5/07/2006 1:48 AM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

yes - the issue is a truncated soteriology, or rather, that the understanding of salvation is not drawn from an adequate theology of creation.

i like the way you attempted to find a balance between critique and affirmation in this post. i reckon the reason mega-church pastors dislike academics is that we tend to respond to their message dogmatically, and often without attempting to understand their contribution - in Bonnke's case, spreading the gospel (even if truncated) to countless people.

At 5/07/2006 12:06 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Chris.

Hi JB, as far as I know from 'God TV', he is friendly with many of the prosperity preachers, but distances himself from them at a theological level, at least in practice - it seems to me.

It's no coincidence alot of these men and women are not small-waisted...
*Looks down at my growing waist. Gulps*

I grew up charismatic You too, huh. Quite a few of us, it is becoming evident as people post on the new Pentecostal college blog, have a charismatic background, which I find rather interesting.

Hi Richard,
maintaining a "simple gospel". For all his errors I would be suprised if he did advocate a prosperity gospel.
Yes, he does the same in the book I mentioned.

And hi Shane,

the understanding of salvation is not drawn from an adequate theology of creation
I must say, I'd not seen it like that before, but I guess you have a good point! Would it be better to say, however, that their soteriology is impoverished in so far as it reflects a doctrine of creation, or, rather or also an impoverished eschatology? Perhaps you are right, as one of, or the big problem(s), as I see it, is the dualistic thinking, a problem no doubt to be linked to creation theology.

Thanks for your words,

At 5/11/2006 3:06 PM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

For what its worth, i have posted my comment on ecology and sotieriology -

At 5/12/2006 12:02 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Great stuff, Shane, I'll have a butchers.

At 5/17/2006 10:48 AM, Anonymous boxthejack said...

I grew up in a church that managed to be both relationally numbing, and socially, ecologically and politically impotent.

I must say, I've become so excited by my faith since I realised the holistic (I hate the word, but hey) nature of our calling. Since I saw the logos of as outworked in the Old Testament with its concern for the widow and orphan, with its deep ecology, and then saw how the NT says, 'now you are filled with the Spirit who was from the beginning, who composed this symphony in the first place - go improvise on the same theme!'

That's worth rolling in the aisles for!

At 5/17/2006 11:10 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for your comments Boxthejack, very nicely put.

Just found your blog, and I really liked it.


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