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Speaking in a Reformed Tongue!

Image adopted from Resurgence.

Here is a great quote from James K.A Smith on how “being charismatic actually makes me a better Calvinist; my being Pentecostal is actually a way for me to be more Reformed.”   I hope you find it helpful.

Sovereignty and Surprise

Reformed folks praise, value, honor, and make central the sovereignty of God. The theological giants of the Reformed tradition—Calvin, Edwards, Kuyper, and others—have put God’s sovereignty at the center and heart of a Reformed “world- and life-view.” God is the Lord of the cosmos; God is free from having to meet our expectations; God is sovereign in his election of the people of God.

I think there is an interesting way in which Pentecostals live out a spirituality that takes that sovereignty really, really seriously. In particular, I think Pentecostal spirituality and charismatic worship take the sovereignty of God so seriously that you might actually be surprised by God every once in a while. You are open and expectant that the Spirit of God is sometimes going to surprise you, because God is free to act in ways that might differ from your set of expectations.

We can see this right in the DNA of the church. The church, you’ll remember, is “genetically” Pentecostal. The birthplace of the church is Pentecost, at which some pretty strange stuff happened, strange enough that others didn’t know what to make of it and so concluded that the apostles were drunk. But what I find really interesting about Pentecost is not just that St. Peter participated in the surprise of the Spirit, but that he had the courage to stand up and essentially say, “This is what the Spirit was talking about” (Acts 2:16).

I think most Reformed folk have learned habits of worship that effectively constrain the sovereignty of God by adopting highly defined and narrow expectations of the Spirit’s operations. I long for a kind of “Pentecostalized” Reformed spirituality that expects the sovereign Lord to show up in ways that might surprise us. If we take our Reformed convictions about God’s sovereignty seriously, then we can, with Peter, be boldly open to the Spirit’s surprise. We need not immediately kick back in fear at what might sometimes appear to be the madness of Pentecost, but can have the courage to say the Spirit is at work.

The Goodness of Embodiment

Reformed folk, particularly in the Dutch tradition of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, often emphasize the “goodness of creation”— that God created a material universe that he pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31). And although it is fallen, God is redeeming this world, not redeeming us out of it. An important piece of that affirmation is the goodness of embodiment—the goodness of the stuff we bump into, the bodies we inhabit.

But that’s precisely why I’ve always found it a bit strange that Reformed worship so often treats human beings as if we’re brains-on-a-stick. All week long we talk about how good creation is, how good embodiment is. But then we have habits of worship that merely deposit great ideas in our heads, making us rather cerebral disciples. Despite all our talk about the goodness of creation and embodiment, in Reformed worship the body doesn’t show up that much.

Pentecostals, on the other hand, embody their spirituality. I would argue that Pentecostal worship is the extension of the Reformed intuition about the goodness of creation and the goodness of embodiment.

……….Pentecostals use their whole bodies in worship. Pentecostal worship can get a little messy; indeed, sometimes there are bodies everywhere! I can still remember the first time I ever raised my hands in worship—there in that Pentecostal church in Stratford. Tentatively and awkwardly raising your arms, hands trembling, you feel like an idiot—and, of course, that’s precisely the point. To be in a position with hands outstretched, or prostrate on the floor, is to be in a position of vulnerability and humility. And that can be an especially powerful spiritual discipline for Reformed Christians, who are probably prone to a certain staid confidence in our intellectual prowess and doctrinal precision. I thank God for those practices of embodied humiliation that are part and parcel of Pentecostal worship; they were exactly the counterweight I needed as a young Reformed philosopher. But they were also fleshing out the theories I was absorbing. (whole article here).

James K. A. Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His book Thinking in Tongues: Elements of a Pentecostal Worldview is available HERE.


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