God is Love: in theory.
It may not be apparent to the reader straight off why an article like this is in a journal that exists to promote Pentecostal and charismatic scholarship. I see Pentecostalism as about change and what business calls “change culture” as a good thing. Part of that job, it seems, is to change Christianity from the inside out. The Church is supposed to be God’s tool for the Redemption of the world, but surely one hears gross spiritual pomposity out of the mouth of the believer who says this, not truth, and God forbid, “eschatological” truth at that! Rather than the Church being the agent of Redemption, most people know that the Church is itself in need of Redemption – at various levels. I am interested here only in moribund theological interpretations of the unthought oft-stated notion that God is love.
Let me clarify: the historic failure of the Church generically speaking is not an idea, it is an event. It is called the First World War. This was when Western Christian culture imploded. There was no recovery. The Second World War was the next wave of implosion. God is dead, said Hegel at the start of the 19th century. Many in philosophy and the arts were well aware of what was in the offing. Nietzsche towards the end of the 19th Century in the Madman aphorism of The Gay Science, and again in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, dramatized the saying of the death of God, which means, we have killed him, bourgeois culture I mean which had totally domesticated God with pre-conceived ideas (doctrines), with scant regard for science. Science went its own way; it had to after the Galileo affair. From that time on Christianity and science became estranged, which was inimical for any advancement of theology, which then began to stagnate. Similarly, Christianity had scant regard for music, as the highest of the arts; since Palestrina reasserted the word over the pure polyphony of the Burgundian choristors art increasingly operated outside the Church, until by the 19th century, absolute music became something unto itself and a revelation of sorts. The 19th century saw a massive break-out of music, art and science on a scale never before seen and the notion of “progress” was born, for what it was worth. Already, in Hegel, in the first decades of the 19th century, the Spirit is associated with the world and with the changes and signs of the times, and not with organized religion as such, but with those men and women of good will who are attuned to what is going on, whatever their religion or non-religion, and along with this, the recognition that religions, like all peoples, have to work together toward common goals. This is the world we (Church included) live in today and huge advances toward more universal governance have been made since Hegel’s philosophy: human rights for example. The prosecution of crimes against humanity for example.
Pentecostalism as a global movement of the Spirit will atrophy and fail if for want of spirit it retards into Protestantism, by which I mean belief-based religion; Pentecostalism is based on experience, not belief. Christianity has failed already, as I said, and so Pentecostalism as a revival of Christianity and the only way ahead is not guaranteed a future. It cannot afford the complacency of belief-based Christianism. The future of Christianity is not in God’s hands; God does not have hands. It’s a metaphor! We have hands, and it is over to us to have the courage to be receptive to grace, whatever that means, and like beauty it is not something we can “know” in advance, let alone prescribe the “meaning” of. For the Spirit of Pentecost is not about celebratory ranting we cannot understand, but language we can – language that moves the spirit. This article then, follows others I have published in this journal, in being philosophically and critically driven, aiming to give courage to agents of change in Pentecostalism. We have to begin to theorize our theology. So what I am doing here is theory not theology. That is what I take it Paul was doing. He was not doing theology because he had never heard of theology, the idea was coined by Origen of Alexandria. He was, like so many rabbis, then and now, theorizing. The whole point of theorizing is that it is hypothetical and suppositional most of the time, not belief based or necessarily a basis for belief without being tested. But this tends to go by the board in “theological understanding,” hiding, as it does when questioned, behind “faith” that is only its equivalence without words. And so psychological solipsism is what so often intelligent people are confronted with by Christians, and it is an age-old habit Pentecostals need to break and this article is oriented to this end; implicitly, not explicitly. Explicitly it is a demonstration of a theorization on “God is love.”
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