Paul Tillich and Pentecostal Theology

Spiritual Presence and Spiritual Power

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Nimi Wariboko, Amos Yong
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    Indiana University Press
    , November
     266 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the late 1960s, I became a pastor in urban Pittsburgh, only a mile or so from the football stadium where Terry Bradshaw and the steel curtain defense of the National Football League’s Steelers were soon to bring ecstatic experiences to a beleaguered city of perennial losers. At the same time, another kind of ecstasy was breaking forth in both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations across the nation. These deeply moving spiritual experiences came to be known as the charismatic movement, which was a harbinger of the rise of Pentecostal forms of the Christian faith. In Pittsburgh, the spiritual fires sparked a renewal of faith among students at Duquesne University, a Catholic institution. Soon, with students and laity in the lead, Pentecostal phenomena began to break out in most sections of Christian America. People were experiencing the ecstasy of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), spiritual healings, the ritual expulsion of demons, prophetic insights into personal and societal futures, and an inner dynamism known as the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the time, to many non-Pentecostals, it all appeared to be a fad that would pass. But, those events of a half-century ago established a continuing presence. Indeed, today, Pentecostal versions of Christianity populate large worshipping congregations in most communities, to say nothing of the global South (Africa and Central/South America) where Pentecostalism thrives. To put it in the terms of the venerable H. Richard Niebuhr, the Pentecostals have evolved from a “sect” to a “church,” a full established and accepted form of the faith.

Today’s Pentecostals have well-developed structures, institutions, theologies, and ritual and ethical practices. Within the past decade or so, mostly younger Pentecostal scholars holding academic degrees and university/seminary faculty positions have become increasingly prominent in two notable professional societies, the Society for Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. Out of these involvements, the current volume finds its nexus. Paul Tillich and Pentecostal Theology is co-edited by two faculty at highly esteemed institutions (Boston University and Fuller Theological Seminary, neither of which has historic ties to Pentecostals). The co-editors assembled thirteen international scholars of religion and theology (all Pentecostals) to bring the thought of Protestant theologian Paul Tillich into dialogue with Pentecostal theology. Each of the essayists focused particularly on volume 3 of Tillich’s Systematic Theology, which focuses on the Holy Spirit (“Spiritual Presence,” in Tillich’s thinking) and the Kingdom of God. Two concluding essays by noted Tillich Scholars Mark Lewis Taylor and John J. Thatamanil affirm the significance and value of these dialogues and point to continuing prospects for exploration.

The introduction and chapters 1 through 6 explore Pentecostal responses to Tillich’s method of correlation, his notion of Spiritual Presence, his ontology, and his Trinitarian thought. The essays in chapters 7 to 13 hone in on more practical theological topics. Among the topics addressed are sacraments, political and feminist theology, interfaith relations, evil and the idea of the demonic, and eschatology.

These essays are remarkably clear and well-balanced. The essayists read Tillich empathetically and acutely, noting both the prospective values in Tillich for Pentecostals as well as points of divergence and disagreement.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald W. Musser is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Stetson University. 

Date of Review: 
August 1, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Nimi Wariboko is Katherine B. Stuart Professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological Seminary. He is author of Economics in Spirit and Truth: A Moral Philosophy of Finance.

Amos Yong is Professor of Theology and Mission and Director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Seminary. He is editor (with James K. A. Smith) of Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences (IUP, 2010).



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