Questions for Shawn Wamsley

Shawn Wamsley has an interesting post about James K. A. Smith over at Theophiliacs. Smith has a lot of interesting and helpful things to say about the Pentecostal worldview, but I have two questions for Shawn: (1) How can someone be “the next leader and scholar extraordinaire of the Pentecostal movement” when he’s not affiliated within any Pentecostal fellowship or institution? Would it be possible for Al Mohler to become Anglicanism’s next leader and scholar extraordinaire?  (2) Given that the majority of Pentecostals (and Assemblies of God adherents as a subset of that majority) live well south of the Grand Rapids, Michigan border, shouldn’t we be looking for leadership from among the majority world?

8 thoughts on “Questions for Shawn Wamsley

  1. I think you make a good point George. I think Shawn was probably being a bit reactionary. I’ve heard it suggested that even though the center of Christianity has moved drastically south, on account of it’s history and investment in ‘infastructure’ the West still has a significant role to play in training ministers ie-We’ve got the schools and the money.

    I’m personally vested in this topic of training clergy where Christianity is growing and where God is blessing. Is the AG connected enough worldwide for someone like Simon Chan to influence wider AG policy? I only mention Chan because he’s an overseas AG’er who I know. I’m sure there are others.

  2. Tony:

    I’m not trying to be ornery with my post (for once). I’ve read other stuff by Smith and apprecdiate quite a bit of what he has to say. If memory serves, he wrote an article for First Things called “Thinking in Tongues” that laid out his own personal journey and observations. It was a good article.

    Now that I’m working for the AG and have a clearer picture of its breadth worldwide, I’ve started rethinking some of my assumptions about how we lead. My dad recently spoke at a church in India that has 40,000 people. It’s deeply involved in evangelism, discipleship, and compassion ministries. Unlike megachurch pastors here in the States, the pastor lives in a modest apartment on the church property. On any given Sunday, this guy speaks to more people than will ever read a book by James K. A. Smith. And you could multiply examples of these kind of Christian leaders throughout the world. Why, then, select Smith as an emerging scholar? Why not Chan? Or Amos Yong? Or Ivan Satyavrata?

    Of course, these names are specifically AG, and the Pentecostal movement is much, much broader than the AG. But that only indicates there are other scholars, pastors, leaders who could be plumped as our emerging intellectual and practical leaders.

    Now, if Shawn is citing Smith and RO as an explicit critique of and program for how Pentecostalism is practiced in the West, I think there may be more traction to his point. But even there, why go with Smith rather than Say Paul Alexander (Azusa Pacific Christian University) or Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Leadership Council) or Joseph Cummings (Yale)?


    1. Actually, in my forthcoming “Part II” on the article, I intend to point out the ways in which Smith references RO as a critique of Pentecostalism, and how he would like to see Pentecostalism embrace those essential claims that seem to be concomitant. (as a side point, I link to his article “Thinking in Tongues” in my original post)

      Also, I have great respect for Paul Alexander. He was one of my graduate professors at SAGU, though he is probably loathe to admit having taught me. He is an excellent voice on the matter – he is erudite, articulate, winsome, attractive, and he has a personal charisma/enthusiasm that is contagious. I honestly cannot think of many modern Pentecostal scholars that I would endorse as enthusiastically as him.

  3. George,

    You can’t imagine how happy I am to see your comment. I’ve been missing you.

    Allow me to answer your questions and respond to Tony.

    /1/ I suppose that my suggestion was largely tongue-in-cheek, because I know for reasons you mention and others that it would never happen. So, in reality I think there is as much a chance of such a thing happening as Fee signing off on the Fundies. However, it was also intended to have rhetorical punch. Smith wants to make Pentecostal theology “explicit,” and I think it should be – so much so, in fact, that I wish institutions like the A/G would more seriously consider dialogue with scholars like him. While he may not be “affiliated within any Pentecostal fellowship or institution,” I think he still has an important contribution that the A/G should think twice about dismissing (not to say that I am aware of anyone that has – again, rhetoric).

    (Here: my reaction to Tony: if reactionary is intended to imply polemical, then yes. If it is intended only to mean that I was running off at the mouth, which I am apt to do, then no)

    /2/ In short, yes. I’d qualify it by also saying, though, that the A/G needs to be producing its own high quality scholars south of the Grand Rapids, Michigan border, which means that I agree with Smith’s characterization of the Pentecostal academic landscape as it has existed in the past.

    It’s good to hear from you – you’ve got a beautiful family, and I hope things are going great in Springtown. (Oh, and I hope you didn’t see this as a dig at “General Superintendent, Dad” – it wasn’t)

    1. Shawn:

      I read Theophiliacs daily, even if I don’t comment daily.

      Like you, I think the AG has much to learn from those outside the fellowship, just as Pentecostals have much to learn from non-Pentecostals. Of course, we also have much to teach.

      The older I get, the more I appreciate people who have actually built institutions, not simply those who have written books. In the providence of God, we need both leaders and scholars, of course. I think I just increasingly realize the poverty of ideas that are not incarnated in real, existing communities.

      I’m reading an interesting essay by Andrew Walls on the church in Africa and it’s growth is changing the way we conceptualize theology. I’ll email it to you.

      My dad’s got big shoulders, and he takes input from anyone who wants to give it.


      1. George,

        I agree that Pentecostals have much to teach, especially in regard to Pentecostal theology as Smith wants to characterize it. I just wonder how long it will take that kind of teaching to trickle down to the average A/G pastor and church member. How long till the anemic western version of Pentecostalism dies out or is reborn?

        I would imagine you are in a great place to appreciate those who have built an institution. I think I might take issue with your pragmatism, though. I’m sure you don’t mean to say that an idea is good or “rich” just because it has been institutionalized. However, I doubt I would be as quick to characterize universities as places full of poverty, because their ideas are not realized in actual communities. (You see, this is the kind of thing we are left to argue about when we have fundamental agreements)

        I’ll be looking for the essay, and I know your dad can take – I just want to be clear about the fact that I respect the man.

  4. Shawn:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “anemic western version of Pentecostalism.” If by that you mean an emphasis on tongues as initial evidence, my guess is that that practice is even more prominent in the Majority World than here in America. One difference between US and them is that we aren’t poor and therefore don’t see the compassionate ministry side of the gospel as clearly as they do. If non-compassionate, non-social Pentecostalism is what you mean by “anemic,” I’m with you.

    I’m going to stick by my statement about the poverty of ideas not “incarnated” in communities. (I almost wrote “institutionalized” in my previous comment, but I changed it to “incarnated” at the last moment because it states what I’m getting at in a more Christianly manner). The reason that I’ll stick by it is that ideas have a necessary connection to practices. The reason why we still talk about John Calvin but not Balthasar Hubmaier is not merely because the former’s ideas were more durable but also because he led an entire community. (I’m not commenting on the truth of Calvin’s ideas, or even their utility, I’m just pointing out the connection.)

    So, my question for scholars like Smith is how their ideas translate into the formation and maintenance of viable Christian communities.


  5. George:

    I certainly mean the “non-compassionate, non-social” variety. However, since you have breached the topic, allow me to address the IPE issue. It, for me, is just a matter of annoyance when it comes to larger theological issues like cultural-critique or social compassion. I have lost count of how many conversations I have tried to initiate with Pentecostal pastors, professors, et al that have degenerated into a fight about IPE. You bring up cultural-critique, social justice, anything and it always turns into a fight about IPE for them. Consequently, my opinion, until the A/G can get over the whole IPE issue, there will be little to no serious change on these other fronts – and I think you are going to continue to lose young ministers over it.

    For the record, I believe tongues are biblical, I believe in God empowering the Church with his Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, I am certainly charismatic (and if you’re talking Smith’s list – Pentecostal). IPE just seems like a doctrinal “add on” to me, and I don’t mind if people believe it. The Lord knows I have plenty of misc. beliefs that I am not going to foist on anyone.

    As far as “incarnated” ideas, I certainly like the theological tone of that better than institutionalization, and it helps me to appreciate what you mean when you say it. Nonetheless, I’m not sold on their being such a lopsided relationship. I can think of a lot of ideas that have become part of a community’s identity that I really wish had been left back in the university. Though, I may be thinking beyond the context in which you mean to say it.

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