Monday, December 17, 2007

What's the difference between a Pentecostalist and a Unitarian?

No, it's not a joke, but a theological reflection.

This just sparked off from reading a Unitarian prayer calling on 'the Spirit of Life to be with us.' It's the kind of phrase I would often say in a prayer too.

But how much do we mean this? It seems to me that one of the characteristics of the Spirit, as expressed in the Christian tradition, is that it 'blows where it will.' The Spirit has a wild, dangerous side. It can push us in uncomfortable directions, transform us, knock us down.

So what is the difference between what a Pentecostalist means by the Spirit, and what a Unitarian means?

It seems to me that we Unitarians are in daner of domesticating the spirit. Our soft humanism/minimalist theism tends to see the Spirit as something safe and comfortable. No doubt it can be, but how would we feel if the Spirit started pushing us out of our comfort zones?

Perhaps a relevant theological distinction is not whether one says 'God/Spirit' or not, but rather whether one believes that the Spirit/God is controllable or not. Is the Spirit just a projection, an idea, a metaphor for our inner selves? Well to a great extent I do believe the Spirit is those things. But is the Spirit then incapable of of being anything but a mirror of my own surface-level thoughts and feelings? No, I don't believe that. I believe the Spirit transforms. I believe the Spirit of Life, if we are truly open to her, can no more be controlled than the wind.

So I think the Pentecostalist tradition, at its best, has a greater grasp on the truly wild nature of the Spirit, and we need to learn that.

(By the way, I am aware that Pentecostal worship can be just as predictable as any other way of worshippping, in its own way, and that much talk of the spirit can be a disguise for power games and spiritual abuse, but as I say - at its best)

(By the way, if any one does know a joke about the difference between a Pentecostalist and a Unitarian, do let me know)


Blogger jfield said...

I think you are on to a really good question here (or perhaps I just think I agree with you). I have a tendency to borrow from Tillich and talk about being grasped and shaped by the spirit, while still wanting to avoid anthropomorphising the divine. I'm not sure how to decide what the volition of the spirit may be. Even if it is beyond our control, I'm not necessarily willing to go all the way towards giving too much of a will or personality to s/he/it. But that certainly leaves me in a strange place theologically.

7:57 pm  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I don't think that there is an ist on Pentacostal. You are Pentacostal, not Pentacostalist. You go to a Pentacostal church, have Pentacostal worship that sort of thing. Just FYI.

10:00 pm  

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