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Book Review

Paul Tillich and Pentecostal Theology: Spiritual Presence & Spiritual Power. Edited by Nimi Waribobko and Amos Yong.

Reviews by JD and MSB

Review by JD

In Nimi Wariboko's Paul Tillich and Pentecostal Theology: Spiritual Presence and Spiritual Power, Wariboko shows the similarities between the Pentecostal concept of the Holy Spirit and Paul Tillich's understanding of the Holy Spirit. In two particular essays, the two authors, Tillich and Taylor, establish connections between Pentecostalism, Tillich and the Frankfurt School regarding resisting the hegemony. What I will show in this essay is the significance of critical theory and other radical modes of resistance in the formation of both Pentecostalism and Tillich's theology as well as how reliance on these modes of resistance resemble the formation of queer theology.

In Mark Lewis Taylor's essay “Socialist Spirit in Tillich, Pentecostalism, and the Neoliberal Demonic”, he begins by analyzing Pentecostal movements as resistance to the mainstream Protestant thought. [1] According to Taylor, Tillich states in his final book of systematic theology that the spirit acts in order to keep together metaphysical polarities, such as individualization and participation or dynamics and form, whose separation create estrangement - which can be understood as the feeling of distance from God and humanity due to the separation of these polarities of life. [2] Taylor then connects Tillich's theory of estrangement to Tillich's own concept of the Holy Spirit as fundamentally a resistance to the misuse of the holy for profane purposes. [3] He does this by saying that the act of misuse of the holy is, in fact, pulling apart the polarities of individualization and participation as it favors the personal over the collective idea of holy. [4] Tillich, for his part, used his concept of the spirit to speak against violent nationalism and the inaction or immorality of the Lutheran Church under Nazi Germany. [5] Similarly, Pentecostalism responded against the demonic and profane aspects of neo-liberalism and capitalism and the Western Church's complicity in these through a rejection of the Western Church altogether in favor of a spiritual community that places primacy in faith. [6] Thus, we are able to construe Tillich and Pentecostal theology as theologies of resistance.

In Pamela Holmes' essay “Paul Tillich, Pentecostalism, and the Early Frankfurt School”, she compares these theologies of resistance with the resistance of the Frankfurt School through a lens of their reaction to their religious and social climate. In doing so, she shows that all three modes of resistance see a problem in the Western world related to modernity and the complicity of Western Christianity, although the solutions to the problem of modernity varied between the three. [7] The Frankfurt school and Tillich used theory, though the Frankfurt school was more partial to traditional means and critical thinking that was contextual and open ended. Tillich focused on prophetic Christianity in a positivist way as a solution. In contrast, Pentecostals acted radically in turning their backs on modernity and the rest of the Christian churches. All three did agree on the need for radical change and critique. [8] Unfortunately, Tillich and Pentecostalism returned, in some ways, to less radical expressions and returned to the mainstream. The Frankfurt school, in short, remained radical. [9] The solution to this, as Holmes says, is to adopt the critical lens of the Frankfurt school in order to bring the more radical help of early Pentecostalism and Tillichian theology to Western Christianity.[10]

Holmes states that Pentecostalism and Tillich both are acting to invoke pre-modernist theologies that involved God and the world in meaningful ways. Tillich lamented that the secularization of the Church as part of capitalist society lead to a mutuality of the Church and the state. Pentecostalism protests much of the same thing in stating that the faith of mainline Protestantism has run cold. [11] Both of these are, in a sense, invoking earlier forms of Christianity based around the primacy of faith. To do this, Tillich provides the prophetic principle, which prizes both rationality and faith as equal in the deployment of religious criticism. The prophetic principle works well with the concept of radical criticism from the Frankfurt School. This criticism is key to critical theory, in which queer theory and thus queer theology finds their roots.

Queer Theologian, Patrick Cheng invokes a theology of dual primacy of interpretation based within faith and within thought, as opposed to the cold rationality of modernity. The Pentecostal religious movement is itself very similar to Cheng's work, and Pentecostals are by extension doing the works of queer theologians using the same framework as Cheng. I make this assertion due to the claim made within Holmes' article that the Pentecostal movement was a movement against the formalization of religion and the affirmation of the possibility of personal prophethood. [12] In queer theology, like Cheng's, there is also the assertion that there is not a formalized way to understand doctrine and that each individual has the right and ability to interpret the scriptures in such a way as to be a prophetic voice, though they may not use this word. Thus, we can say that both are operating from a similar framework towards an anti-centralizing discourse.

If we take seriously what Holmes states, then we are positing a creation of a radical theology in a way that is similar to the formation of queer theology. Queer theology itself is the combination of an offshoot of critical theory, queer theory, and theology. As discussed, this is what Patrick Cheng does with theology to provide a radical lens through which to look at the different aspects and doctrines of Christian theology. In the cases of Pentecostal theology, Tillich's prophetic principle, and queer theology, we are able to see that each work within a framework of denying modernity's secularization and expanding the boundaries of acceptable theological discourse. Each is established as a mode of resistance to a hegemonic discourse, each has their own nuances, and each is fundamentally rooted within a basis of rational response to the failings of the present.


[1] Nimi Wariboko, Paul Tillich and Pentecostal Theology: Spiritual Presence and Spiritual Power. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.) 205-209.
[2] Ibid., 215-219.
[3] Ibid., 219-221.
[4] Ibid., 223.
[5] Ibid., 223.
[6] Ibid., 224
[7] Ibid., 185-188.
[8] Ibid., 189-192.
[9] Ibid., 192-194.
[10] Ibid., 197.
[11] Ibid., 186.
[12] Ibid., 190.

Review by Matthew S. Beal

Nimi Wariboko and Amos Yong have gathered within this volume an array of academic voices from within the Pentecostal movement to dialogue with Tillich's theology in the belief that the seemingly disparate approaches “have common ground on which to engage one another and, in so doing, also expand the frontiers of pneumatological theology” (ix) Each contributor creatively engages contemporary theological topics “by arguing with and against Tillich and his ongoing theological legacy” (xi).

Amos Yong's introduction notes that common ground between Tillich and Pentecostalism includes similar emphases on experience and pneumatology (2). He provides an overview of Tillich's correlational method and notes its pneumatological implications. He then provides an overview of Pentecostal methodology, identifying it as “an invitation to affectively embrace, imaginatively participate in, and faithfully inhabit a certain form or way of life” (7-8). Yong identifies three groups who may be interested in the correlation, including those interested in Tillich's legacy, Pentecostal theologians, and the broader theological community (9-11).

This first chapter continues to map the “contemporary landscape of pneumatology” (11). Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen praises Tillich for not subsuming pneumatology within ecclesiology but granting it primacy of place (18). He locates Tillich's pneumatology with current theological trends to support his contention that liberal and conservative traditions “may jointly enrich each other” (19). Tillich's vision of the Spirit, he argues, has a language and milieu distinct from but resonant with Pentecostals in their mutual “refusal to limit salvation and the Spirit's work merely to the inner spirituality of the believer” (23). Miraculous “sign-events” (24) and lamentation over modern loss of ecstatic experience provide common ground (24-25).

Wolfgang Vodney's “Spirit and Nature” begins the first major section of the book, which looks broadly at Tillich's theology. He traces Tillich's pneumatology to the combined influence of Schelling's philosophy of nature and Schleiermacher's theology of the Spirit, drawing from the former his “fundamental unity of God and the world” and from the latter his idea that “history is the process in which this reconciliation of spirit and nature is actualized” (36). Vodney hopes that Tillich's synthesis of these ideas might provide an ontological framework for Pentecostal pneumatology, simultaneously arguing that the Pentecostal exercise of charismata and the global, ecumenical distribution of these phenomena constitute the “most radical conclusion” for Tillich's thought (41).

Rhys Kuzmic's chapter focuses on Tillich's ontology and doctrine of God. Here Kuzmic finds Tillich's reliance on Heidegger's prioritization of the problem of being, and his consequent formulation of God as ‘being-itself,’ insufficiently open to the possibility of God as constitutively personal (49). Kuzmic employs Jean-Luc Marion's phenomenology of givenness in order to free God “from the confines of Being” which Tillich's system reinforces. He enjoins Pentecostals to pursue an ontology focused on the Spirit, but in a way open to including “both personal and suprapersonal elements” (53).

Steven M. Studebaker highlights tension and correspondence between Tillich's trinitarianism and traditional Western trinitarianism (61-63) before focusing on ways that “Tillich's theology shares affinities with and contributes to pentecostal trinitarian theology” (64-68). He concludes that despite often “inhabiting incommensurable thought-worlds, they nevertheless share significant points of correspondence“ (68).

In the fifth chapter, Terry L. Cross summarizes Tillich's conviction that the gospel writer's christology is best understood through the metaphor of expressionism. Tillich believed expressionism successfully navigated Lessing's “ugly ditch” between faith and history by both its inherently participatory nature (72) and the factual reality necessarily behind the picture (76). Cross offers criticism and a suggestion for improvement (78). He argues that the biblical picture actually “combines the styles of naturalism (realism), impressionism, and expressionism” (80). This generates the “inner certainty” while uniting Christology, soteriology, and pneumatology (81).

Frank D. Macchia relates Tillich's theology to the creeds, noting the priority Tillich grants to the Third Article (84). Tillich emphasizes the Spirit enables the experience of power by which subject and object meet in ecstatic unity (87), thus allowing a fragmentary grasp of the unambiguous life (92). He notes that Tillich accepted the possibility of speaking in tongues as an ecstatic manifestation of the transcendence of the subject-object dichotomy as “God ‘prays to himself through us‘ (ST 3.120)“ (93). Macchia affirms that Tillich proves a valuable resource for Pentecostal renewal despite concerns (97-98) such as Tillich's exclusion of divine action from history (99).

Chapter seven begins the second major section of the book, which shifts to more focuses discussion of doctrine (12). Andreas Nordlander notes that Pentecostalism exhibits “a curious tension” between affirmation of the material world and otherworldly escapism due to inadequate theology of creation and that Tillich's theology is “a key resource” for addressing the shortcoming (101). He notes points of contact between Tillich and Pentecostalism (105) and cites concerns over Tillich's theology, including his “eschatological pan-en-theism (ST 3.421)” and his “identification of creation and fall” (109). He concludes that Pentecostalism could benefit from Tillich universal and ecclesiocentric elements (111-112).

Lisa P. Stephenson observes that Tillich never interacted with feminist thought, perhaps due to his death “just as second-wave feminism and academic Christian feminist theology were emerging” (115). She builds on and extends Tillich's sacramental theology (115), primarily fusing Pentecostal and feminist spiritualities, which emphasize individual experience, orality, and otherworldliness with distinctive attention to feminist concerns (117). She sees Tillich's emphasis as a vital conversation partner (118-119) and proposes the use of oral and bodily elements in worship as icons of Spiritual Presence (120-121). This prevents dualism and allows for the voices of the disempowered to serve as the medium for Spiritual Presence, even in their anger against injustice (122).

Nimi Wariboko brings the Pentecostal encounter with Tillich directly into the realm of the political. He identifies correlations between Tillich's notions of “politics as encounters of power of being” and society's drive to “grasp the Unconditional” (129) with African Pentecostalism's conceptualization of the political, which conceptualizes power as an “underlying reality,” infusing networked political entities (130). While Pentecostals often articulate this reality in terms of the supernatural, this notion also applies to how power is socially networked and “ontologically constitutive of being” (137). Wariboko finds these correlations fruitful for theorizing the transformation of social life.

Tony Richie's contribution employs Tillich's understanding of the “Concrete Spirit,” and its presence in both latent and manifest Spiritual Communities, as an option for Pentecostal efforts to theologize “God's presence and action in the world of religions, without disconnecting from the uniqueness and necessity” of the Christian gospel (150). While Richie acknowledges the significant differences between his own commitments to biblical authority and “high christology,” he nevertheless finds point of connection between those convictions and Tillich's central role for Jesus as the Christ as definitive revelation.

David Bradnick focuses on the issue of the demonic, offering his own “pentecostal emergent” approach to demonic phenomena to bridge the gap between Tillichian and Pentecostal thought. Bradnick rejects the notion of demons as personal spiritual beings (162), favoring a Tillichian understanding of “emergent ontological levels” of the demonic as destructive manifestations in life's existential nature (159). While diverging from common Pentecostal understandings, however, Bradnick challenges Tillich with an approach that can potentially account for people's experience of demonic manifestations (such as possession). Peter Althouse suggests that Tillich's eschatological symbols can foster understanding of the Toronto Blessing Movement and that the movement, in turn, can suggest new ways to realize divine presence concretely (173). He describes Tillich's eschatology as an ontological yearning for unambiguous life in which New Being overcomes estrangement and ecstatically realizes the inbreaking of eternality within kairotic time (173-175). Althouse relates Tillich's theology of love as the overcoming of separation (175) to prayer and worship (176). Althouse envision the Toronto Blessing Movement's practices as a concretization of Tillich's theories (182).

Pamela Holmes turns the discussion back to the political in “Paul Tillich, Pentecostalism, and the Early Frankfurt School.” She analyzes these three sources in light of the twin challenges presented by modernity and capitalism. She contrasts the praxis of Pentecostalism and its radical critique of churches grounded in modernist assumptions with the theoretical work of Tillich and the Frankfurt School. She also suggests that Tillich' drift away from prophetic critique of the status quo needs the corrective of the Frankfurt School's prioritizing of the particular over the universal and their ongoing critique of the social order. The Response section opens with Mark Lewis Taylor, who presents a detailed analysis of Tillich's account of the Spirit to argue that Tillich never in fact abandoned his religious socialism, even if his political activity did wane. Taylor highlights Tillich's notion of the Kingdom of God and his insistence that the meaning of history manifests itself primarily in the political realm (221). He sees Tillich's understandings of the Spirit and demonization as necessary resources in the fight against global neoliberal capitalism, a fight which many forms of Pentecostalism, particularly in the global South, have been engaged in as well.

In the concluding chapter, John J. Thatamanil credits the rise of Pentecostalism and “to a lesser extent” Tillich's theology with a much-needed theological response to the modern movement of the Spirit (228). He notes that the book at hand “bears many of the markers of healthy conversation in interreligious encounter” such as avoiding rigid essentializations of the other's perspective, reading Tillich “capaciously and generously” (229) but notes the fundamental conflict over supernaturalism. He overviews each contributor's chapter in light of this conflict and concludes that the book offers a truly dialogical engagement of mutual enrichment (239).

The diverse contributions here generally strike an effective balance between acknowledging the substantive differences between Tillich's theology and that of Pentecostalism, while finding fruitful avenues of dialogue. The various directions taken demonstrate both the diversity of thought within Pentecostal scholarship, as well as the breadth and pliability of Tillich's method of correlation. The conversations begun here fulfill the volume's agenda of bringing a primarily conservative but burgeoning movement in dialogue with one of the twentieth century's pre-eminent liberal theologians, and will serve as a catalyst for further development of this encounter.

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