I’m a wee bit nervous to write this blog, truth be told. I hesitate to wade into the theological world for several reasons; whilst not a complete novice to the field, I am by no means the scholar that some of my dear friends are. Additionally, I don’t really wish to enter into robust debate about weighty issues. I am however aware that this will probably happen. And it will absolutely be of my own doing. So here goes…
My church background is pretty penty. Not the nth degree of cultish cray cray like substituting prayer for medicine, but definitely plenty of flag waving, tongue-speaking, dancing and lots of altar-calls. In my youth going days we had these events called ‘Holy Ghost Explosions’, which was obviously too much of a mouthful, because we ended up calling them ‘HG Explosions’. I’ve no doubt we thought it was pretty clever at the time, but in hindsight it sounds like a lab experiment gone wrong – mercury everywhere. Very dangerous.
Like many things, those days were a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime. There was a span of time when anyone who ended up getting slain in the spirit on an altar-call would be covered with a ‘modesty blanket’ – even if they were wearing jeans. The front of the church would sometimes resemble a makeshift wartime field hospital. And then there was the era of people hunting high and low for wonders such as fillings turned to gold, or sprinklings of gold dust on one’s body. Which is not to say that this didn’t happen sometimes, but the unsettling thing was the way some seemed to chase them with the fervour of winning a holy lotto draw. It just didn’t appear like a healthy kingdom-building way to live.
BUT. Those were the days when I got acquainted with the very real presence of Jesus. And it’s to this day my favourite thing in the whole wide world. I adore being able to experience the overwhelming love, joy, hope, dreamyness, light, comfort, truth and goodness that is God’s manifest presence. And the healing and freedom! I know for sure that so much of the joy and peace evidenced in my life today is a direct result of the beautiful restoration outworked by Jesus in those times.
Over time, like many of my friends, my theology began to shift in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I began to ask questions. I started reading some more weighty theological books. I had a lot of discussions with people attempting to navigate through similar mazes. I think a lot of us felt a bit disillusioned that the Christianity we were experiencing didn’t seem to have very plausible answers to some of the big questions we had. Stuff about healing, prosperity, suffering, brokenness, eternity.
As the years have passed, there seems to have been a parting of the ways. The more Pentecostal camp, and those that have veered in a more ‘intellectual’ direction, for lack of a better word. The separation is, I think, somewhat fuelled by hurt. I know when I started asking big questions, it felt like I was being subversive. I felt invalidated and shut down. I felt hurt. I wanted to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I still love Jesus. I’ve just got these questions. And I think they’re important.” However, I can only imagine how it would feel on the other side of the fence. Having one’s beliefs and ways of doing things seemingly cast in a light of doubt and suspicion. I could imagine one of my friends on the other side of the fence wanting to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I love Jesus too. I feel happy where I am and attacked by your questions.”
The question I’ve been mulling over lately is this; does it have to be either/or? The ‘Pentecostal’ camp is sometimes painted as a bit mindless and unrealistic. The ‘intellectual’ camp is periodically viewed as highbrow, exclusive and not very joyful. But I want to pitch my tent in both camps! I want to keep studying the historical context of the bible and it’s application to modern day living. And I want to throw my eyes, heart and hands in the air and experience the total wonder of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I want to be a well-read holy-roller. An intelligent hardcore penty. A lover of study and the manifest presence of God. I want to walk into church with my NT Wright tucked under one arm and my modesty blanket under the other. (That was a joke).
I know it can be done. You know how? We have a friend called Sam. He’s a very intelligent and very Spirity dude. He reads, studies and converses with the best of them, and while mercifully we’ve never seen him dancing for Jesus in a loincloth (although Jen may have), he’s about as free and passionate for God’s presence as anyone I’ve met. So shoutout to our friend Sam. Because I want to be like that. How about you?
Until next time,