Continuing this series on pentecostal worldview, we’re up to the fourth (of 5) feature of a pentecostal worldview. Here were the first three…
Moving right along…
4. An affective, narrative epistemology
In pentecostal spirituality few things play a more predominate role than that of experience and testimony. There is no higher way of knowing than experience. This stands in contrast to the presumptions of more rationalistic evangelical theology that often reduces worship to an intellectual exercise of getting cognitive material in order, and reduces evangelism to “apologetics” which yields a “talking head” Christianity.
A couple weeks ago we had a group of young adults from an addiction recovery and discipleship program come to share their testimonies on Sunday morning. Some told of growing up in Christian homes and going wayward from their upbringing and delving into drugs and other destructive lifestyles, while others told stories about growing up outside of the Christian faith and getting into the same sort of life problems. All of them ‘hit rock bottom’ and turned to God and the community of faith for help, and are now on the road to growing in their relationship with God and restoring their relationships with friends and family. It’s moving to hear the dramatic stories of God’s redemptive work. Of course, a summary of the morning’s events, here, as facts of what was shared, doesn’t really capture the heart of it, from the people who experienced it. There is something deeper going on in the practice of testimony.
A pentecostal epistemology traffics in the stuff of story. In this understanding, knowledge is rooted in the heart and the experience. There is richness and complexity in story that can’t be distilled down to mere propositions. Story isn’t just the ‘packaging’ for propositions. The story is the theology, and we know in stories. Within pentecostal spirituality and practice, testimony is much more than a series of facts, it’s a storied way of knowing.
This is why we cry at the movies. “Old Yeller dies” is true proposition within the story about a dog, but it’s the story that moves us and causes us to know something beyond just the facts of the events. This is the kind of knowing that is bound up in the affective, narrative epistemology that is behind the pentecostal emphasis on experience and testimony.