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Evangelism - Myers Mott Maggay Linthicum        




Douglas Petersen, Vanguard University 

The task for Pentecostal groups is to establish an “essential connectedness” between their experience of spiritual transformation and the practice of social action. To respond effectively to the extreme needs that surround them, Pentecostals would do well to focus on the formulation of a social doctrine that enables them to evaluate their own actions and stimulate new thinking, a redefinition of methods, and out-of-the-box social action strategies.

In spite of their remarkable growth, Pentecostals will need to move beyond the parameters of conventional practices, and embrace a moral imagination that creates a type of social program that is not solely dependent upon economic or political means, resources most congregations lack. In a noisy, alienated world, the marginalized--especially children and youngpeople--are seeking identity, meaning, acceptance, relationships, and a sense of community. ...

IV. The Content of a Moral Imagination

When engaging a moral imagination, Pentecostals draw on a rich tradition of evangelical scholarship; i.e. that theological reflection must begin with an understanding of God’s selfrevelatory nature and character; that Israel’s socio-ethical actions were to demonstrate this theocentric nature and character; that the concept of the Kingdom of God, implicit in the Old Testament and explicit in the person and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, is the unifying theme that provides a description of what life would look like under God’s redemptive reign; and that life in the Kingdom of God is characterized by the ethics of justice, mercy, love, and peace as its principle moral features. This ethical construct served as the moral foundation of the primitive Christian church. In the Acts account, for example, gender distinctions of male and female were challenged by the empowerment of the Spirit. Economic distinctions between rich and poor and cultural distinctions between Jew and Gentile were leveled out by the power of the Spirit.

The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and its contemporary application through the experience of Spirit baptism integrate the ethical character of God’s reign into a Pentecostal moral imagination. If the Pentecostal experience of Spirit baptism is basically one for empowerment, then, the task of a Pentecostal theology is to demonstrate the centrality of the experience as a key pattern to open the way to discuss how these ethical demands are actualized and become operative in the power of the Spirit. The aspect of a moral imagination that makes it Pentecostal is the work of Spirit baptism. ... the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon them an “enduement of power.” They are God’s instruments even if their contextual reality systematically may deny them access to basic human rights, marginalize them to huge slums and shantytowns, or refuse them access to political and social opportunity.

Unconsciously or not, Pentecostals read and interpret the biblical text through the lens of their own contextual realities. Reading the Bible by moving back and forth interpretively between the world of the biblical text and the realities of the world where they live, they interpret the “meaning or significance of the text” that emerges from this process into a practical application to their actual life context and for the local community of faith. This praxis theology- -reflecting, adapting, and appropriating the Scripture into new and refreshing perspectives that are framed by their historical context and empowered by the Spirit--provides a dynamic hermeneutic that enables Pentecostals to practice a dynamic moral imagination, “doing] theology from the bottom up.”

Some western conservative theologians may be haunted by a style of postmodern theological thought that pursues questions of regional fragmentation, shifting contextual purpose, and subjective meaning. But can creative and dynamic theological reflection concerning problems like poverty, sickness, oppression, and marginalization be forthcoming, if rules and procedures about what is permissible hold the theological process hostage? Certainly, as Latin American Pentecostals seek programs of social concern and justice, it is vital that they maintain a healthy tension--an essential connectedness--between their Pentecostal pre-understanding of the common reading of the biblical text and their social action strategies. When critical theological reflection is informed by Pentecostal worldview, however, and done from within the cultural contexts where the movement is flourishing, new possibilities emerge that could be socially transformative.

Theologians throughout history, including paradigm pioneers like St. Augustine or Martin Luther as well as more recent figures such as Karl Barth, rose to the challenges of their times in a variety of complex and sophisticated ways. They were able to “think outside the box” - -seeking a basis for biblical understandings and applications in common human needs, in feelings, in reason, and in the notion of transcendence. Their theological contributions remain influential today and are still the subject of current debates. For that reason alone, the process discussed in this essay is worth the risk to anyone who is serious about hearing “theology in a new key” to borrow McAfee Brown’s phrase. ...

V. Practicing a Moral Imagination

Social action programs and strategies that demonstrate a moral imagination should, at least, as a first step imagine an outcome where participants are empowered “to act efficaciously” and with capacity to create and influence social relationships within the existing structures of civil society.

As a second step, social action programs should imagine an outcome where the agency, participants, or their networks are empowered to influence, impact, or appropriate allocations of power (or the dynamic equivalence).

While the discussion of the concept of empowerment theory and practice—individually and corporately—is an important debate, in this paper, without entering the discussion, I define empowerment on the first level as the acquisition of personal and interpersonal skills that equip a person to function effectively and have capacity to access available resources (and entitlements) in civil society. In short, people are personally empowered when what they have learned leads to action. On the second and more corporate level, when addressing unjust social and structural dimensions, agencies, participants, or networks are empowered not only when they are able to take advantage of existing structures (or resources), but also when they demonstrate the capacity to change or transform those structures or create new alternatives to them. 

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