Obstacles for Pentecostals Engaging Science by Thomas Jay Oord

tom-oord

This is part two of a two-part essay written by Thomas Jay Oord on the relationship between Pentecostalism and science. The first section of the essay discussed the positive elements associated with the relationship. In part two, Oord lays out three obstacles that Pentecostals need to overcome if they wish the dialogue with science to continue.

I appreciate Tom’s assessment, both the positive and developmental aspects, and hope that those who find themselves within the Pentecostal tradition will take the time to reflect on them further and take the necessary steps to move the conversation forward.

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From Thomas Jay Oord – December 1, 2011

In a previous blog, I offered five reasons I think the Pentecostal tradition is one of the most exciting voices in the science and theology dialogue. Now I want to explore three obstacles still to be overcome by Pentecostals who want to deepen and extend the dialogue.

Both the five exciting possibilities and these three obstacles comprise the body of a paper I gave at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. The paper was part of a panel discussion of the work of Amos Yong, in particular, and Pentecostalism, in general.

Obstacles

Pentecostalism and Pentecostal scholars face some great challenges in deepening and extending the theology and science dialogue. Some of these obstacles are unique to Pentecostalism. Others may not be unique, but they are widespread among Pentecostals.

1. IGNORANCE  A very high percentage of Pentecostals must be brought up to speed on what is happening in sciences. The scientific illiteracy among Pentecostals is likely higher, as a percentage, than other Christian groups. And very few books exist that address issues in science and theology from a decidedly theological perspective. (The type of work Amos Yong does is rare!)

The lack of scientific literacy is especially great in cultures around the world not largely framed or informed by the sciences. Pentecostalism grows rapidly in my developing countries. In most of these, science plays a relatively minor role in the shaping of the culture or collective conscious.

2. SIGNS AND WONDERS The second major challenge Pentecostals engaged in the science-and-theology discussion is the ability to speak well about dramatic expressions of the Holy Spirit often reported among Pentecostals. Such expressions include activities such as speaking in tongues, demonic possession, faith healing, holy laughter, words of knowledge, and predictive prophecy.

I know of few nonPentecostals who are hopeful that Pentecostals can come to terms scientifically, and even theologically, with these dramatic expressions. But I am hopeful. I join Amos Yong, Jamie Smith, and other Pentecostals in the task of account for the wild workings of the Holy Spirit in light of a form of scientific theory that coheres with Christian theological convictions about God at work presently in all creation.

3. BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS The third is biblical hermeneutics. Like many in my own holiness theological tradition, many in Pentecostalism affirm a form of Christian Fundamentalism that interprets the Bible in ways that conflict with some of what science suggests.

Because the Bible is so central to the worldview of most Pentecostals, I doubt much progress can be made in Pentecostalism generally until more Pentecostals adopt a less literalistic biblical hermeneutic.

In sum, I’m optimistic about the future of the Pentecostal-science discussion. But I also know the obstacles are daunting. I think Amos Yong and others can and will play a major role in moving the discussion in fruitful ways.

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