Full Gospel and the Environment – Part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post my intention to respond to a review by Rayford Hughes of my article, “Preaching the Full Gospel in the face of the Global Environmental Crises,” published in Amos Yong’s The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth.

Hughes’ overriding concern is that, in my criticism of the Pentecostal failure to develop an eco-theology I have failed “to empathise with the underlying twentieth century Pentecostal context.”  His concern has two elements:

First, he feels that i should not be critiquing Pentecostals for failing to develop an ecotheology when concerns about enviormental issues were not on the public horizon at the time movement emerged preaching the ‘fourfold or full gospel’.  It is, self-evidently, unreasonable to be overly critical of previous generations in the light of more recently emerging perspectives and values.  We could hardly expect early twentieth century Pentecostals to think and act like twenty first century people.  Having said this, it is possible to seek to understand and empathise with our forebears, all the while making important critical judgements that will help frame our own attitudes and actions.  In the case of early Pentecostalism for example, they had the foresight, in the power of the Spirit, to be ahead of the public attitudes on gender,  advancing the place of women in ministry when society and most other churches had not yet addressed the issue.  But, the same prophetic foresight was not apparent in respect to ecological issues,  for the theological reasons I note in the article (and summarise in my previous post).  In particular, I note that the issue is not the fourfold gospel per se, but the impact of fundamentalism on the way in which this ‘gospel’ came to be proclaimed; narrowly focused on salvation of the soul, on healing and baptism in the spirit for the individual, and on an eschatology that looked for the immanent destruction of the earth.  Indeed, my point is not to critique early Pentecostalism per se – or any particular Pentecostal preacher or leader – but to make the vital observation that the current generation of Pentecostals needs to seek for a broader understanding of the gospel, one that recognises that the earth is created by God and that creation itself is a recipient of the good news of the Kingdom.

Secondly, Hughes accuses me of “eisegetical trickery,” for critiquing the fourfold gospel in the light of contemporary insights – again because one cannot read current trends into earlier texts.  This critique would be valid if my paper was simply a historical analysis. This, however, is not the point.  The fourfold (or full) gospel is not simply a historical proclamation but, rather, a way of thinking about the gospel that continues to frame the way in which Pentecostals think about the mission of the church.  Perhaps I needed to make this point clearer in the original article.  My criticism is not of early pentecostalism – i merely use the fourfold gospel as a point of reference – as a way of framing the discussion.  My point is that far too many Pentecostals still today frame their proclamation in ways that lead to ‘anti-green’ rhetoric and climate change scepticism.  Whatever the context of our forebears, this situation is no longer good enough, and continued failure to develop an ecological theology certainly is a failure to preach a full gospel.

I trust that my response is not taken to be overly defensive.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hughes’ review (and critique) of my paper, and i appreciate the time he has taken to respond to my writing.  My purpose has been to clarify my argument, not because my original chapter is perfect but, rather, because this is such an important topic.  In this light, i am interested in any readers comments about Pentecostal theology and its relationship to care for the earth.

One thought on “Full Gospel and the Environment – Part 2

  1. I appreciate Clifton’s response and I’ll make my comments brief.
    1. I believe we differ in our use of the term “failure.” This seems like a strong word if Clifton’s intentions are simply to use the pentecostal motif as “a point of reference.” If Clifton is giving “a point of reference,” what exactly then is the “failure” unless he is casting contemporary concerns into past methodologies? In other words, because the fourfold (fivefold?) gospel is a way of thinking about the gospel that excludes environmental concerns–and because this way of thinking still influences pentecostals today–does not mean there is a pentecostal “failure” somewhere in the mix. It simply means that pentecostal methods need to strive toward and include a more eco-friendly ethos, which is exactly what scholars such as Yong, Waddell and Clifton are trying to achieve.
    But there is no “failure” here, not unless Clifton also wants to hold the patristics responsible for not including concerns of air pollution in their doctrinal conditions of the trinity. Clifton suggests that I feel that he “should not be critiquing Pentecostals for failing to develop an ecotheology when concerns about environmental issues…” Yet this was not my intention; my emphasis is upon Clifton’s use of “failure,” not the critique in general. I say critique away; the pentecostals need it.

    2. Clifton is correct when he says the early 20th century pentecostal movement heavily incorporated the role of women in ministry. Scholars such as Cheryl Bridges Johns, Karen Carroll Mundy, Estrelda Alexander and David Roebuck are much more adequate to advance this line of discussion; however, Clifton “fails” in his assessment of pentecostal foresight “to be ahead of the public attitudes on gender, advancing the place of women in ministry when society and most other churches had not yet addressed the issue.” The role of women in early pentecostalism had nothing to do with foresight, as in the implications made here, whereby there was a calculated effort against societal norms or public attitudes. Women preached, evangelized, led ministries, etc., because they were deemed “filled with the Spirit.” It had nothing to do with any sort of evaluation, but more so to do with “I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, therefore I can minister.” It was a pre-fundamental attitude, the idea that anyone, regardless of race, gender, status, etc., could lead, as long as that person led according to scripture being “baptized in the Holy Ghost.”
    Therefore, while I appreciate Clifton’s boost of the early pentecostal mentality–and certainly a mentality that perhaps needs further attention in regards to women and their role in ministry–Clifton’s comparison of the pentecostal insight into the role of women with the pentecostal “failure” of an eco-friendly emphasis is moot. I struggle to see the relationship between the two, but perhaps these are issues more defined in Clifton’s anticipated and upcoming work.

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