Convincing the World: Pentecostal Liminality as Participation in the Mission of the Paraclete
Did the early Pentecostals regard themselves as servants to the wider church, bearers of the gifts of the Spirit, sent to bring a renewed focus on love, unity, holiness, and justice to all parts of the church? Or did they see themselves as the only true believers in the midst of apostates, heretics, and reprobates? What can be found among the early Pentecostals, as a people whose primary self-identity was as a people of the Spirit, that carried the Spirit's mission forward in unique or significant ways? Can the loss of such practices help explain the decline of the Pentecostal movement? Narrating the Pentecostal movement through the lens of the Spirit's mission to the world is an attempt to give a normative account of Pentecostal liminality, to describe certain communitas commitments as ones that gave rise to the movement and propelled it forward. This study describes in detail how this understanding itself came to be something else, something quite damaging. Still, the general principle was that the Holy Spirit comes in power and blesses work that aligns with the Spirit's own mission. That is the primary presupposition at work here as well, that through understanding the mission of the Holy Spirit, we may find ways to align ourselves with that mission, to co-labor with the Spirit by privileging the liminal moment. Implicit in this claim is the denial that such alignment is automatic, guaranteed, or even self-sustaining. The argument here is that the incompatibility of the Pentecostal ethos represented by these communal commitments with the uncritical acceptance of evangelical-fundamentalist theological accounts on the part of the second and third generation Pentecostals resulted in a loss of what constituted the Pentecostal movement as such. This dissertation begins with an exegesis of John 16.8-11 in an effort to articulate Pentecostal ethics in terms of participation in the Spirit's mission of convincing the world with regard to sin, righteousness, and power. The conclusions of this exegesis are that the entire world is in view throughout this passage; that the Spirit convicts all with regard to sin, defined as not believing in Jesus, righteousness, defined as following Jesus' example in a life of holiness, and power, defined as the Spirit's judgment on all forms of power that are self-aggrandizing as opposed to the cruciform mode of authority that must characterize the Christian life; and that the Spirit accomplishes this convincing work primarily through the life of the communitas the Spirit forms, embodies, and empowers. These results are then carried to the Pentecostal movement in its earliest instantiation and as it exists as a Christian subculture today, asking what Pentecostal liminality might look like, if the rubric of the Spirit's mission to the world is applied as a moment we are to participate in enduringly.
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