Here is an excerpt from a an Pentecostal philosopher who does philosophy from within his commitment to speaking in tongues. What would happen if a Breslover were to write philosophy of science based on his faith commitment to outpouring of the heart? Or an NCSY’er would grow up to write a theology based on circle time, ebbings, and ruah? Or what about a philosophy of science written by a practitioner of Abulafia techniques? I am trying to understand, and to evaluate. What would be good about this? I do think there are many good aspects. And what would be problematic verging on the ridiculous? If the starting point of a lamdan was halakhah, then what would be the starting point of a modern Hasid, or a kiruv professional? Can it create something rigorous or only silly? Read the short interview and then try the thought experiment of doing the same thing to a reader of Izbitz acting in accord with God’s will.
Q&A with Jamie Smith on Pentecostalism
September 17, 2010
Calvin professor of philosophy James K.A. Smith has recently written two books focused on the subject of Pentecostalism: Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Theology and Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences.
What would you say is the pentecostal contribution to Christian philosophy?
Well, so far, not much! But I hope this is a beginning. The whole project was actually inspired by Alvin Plantinga’s important article, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” which I read while I was in college. In that article—which was his inaugural address at Notre Dame—Plantinga argued that Christian philosophers should have the courage to begin philosophizing from their specific convictions as Christians. I have simply extended Al’s argument and made it more specific: What would it look like for Pentecostal and charismatic philosophers to begin with some of the basic convictions of their unique worldview? Thinking in Tongues tries to answer that question.
I argue that there are unique elements of a pentecostal worldview: an openness to God’s “surprise;” a kind of “enchanted” theology of creation which sees the Spirit continually active in the world; an affirmation of embodiment as seen in the emphasis on physical healing as well as the “physical” shape of charismatic worship; a special place for story, narrative, and testimony in how we know; and a unique emphasis on eschatology and mission. So following Plantinga’s lead, I argue that these elements of a pentecostal worldview would affect philosophical thinking about knowledge (epistemology) and the nature of reality (ontology). So the goal is to explore how a pentecostal starting point makes a difference for philosophical thinking. That’s why, rather playfully, I talk about “thinking in tongues!”
You’ve also just co-edited a related book: Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences. Can you briefly describe this book?
For some people, a book on Pentecostalism and science might sound like an oxymoron! But that’s precisely why we launched this project. Both science and Pentecostalism are “globalizing” forces, and while one might expect there to be an inherent tension between the two, we try to show otherwise.
Science and the Spirit grew out of a grant we received from the Templeton Foundation—so the book is the fruit of a multi-year research initiative that brought together a team of scientists, theologians, and philosophers from Pentecostal and charismatic traditions to consider some of the big questions at the intersection of Pentecostalism and science. On the one hand, we wanted to show how and why Pentecostals should engage and pursue science; on the other hand, we also wanted to show that sometimes scientists try to smuggle in assumptions about science that would seem to preclude certain Pentecostal beliefs, such as belief in divine healing or the realities of demons. So the book’s not just about getting Pentecostals to submit to the unquestioned authority of science. We’re also encouraging Pentecostals to think critically about some of the assumptions in the sciences. It’s a two-way street.