Pentecostal Rationality

Epistemology and Theological Hermeneutics in the Foursquare Tradition

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Simo Frestadius
T&T Clark Systematic Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology
  • New York: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , November
     2019.
     256 pages.
     $115.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567689382.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Simo Frestadius’s Pentecostal Rationality: Epistemology and Theological Hermeneutics in the Foursquare Tradition is a well-positioned book to offer an alternative reframing or criticism of some assumed traditions of religious epistemology. In its first general section, the author summarizes previous attempts to posit a Pentecostal epistemology or hermeneutic. He summarizes the strengths of the approaches of Amos Yong, James K.A. Smith, and L. William Oliverio Jr. Frestadius then criticizes these accounts as being inadequate due to certain omissions or positions: for example, Yong’s nonparticularity to Pentecostal/charismatic traditions; Smith’s omission of a narrative genealogy, being ahistorical in a tradition catalyzed by history and narrative; Oliverio’s lack of rigor in explicating what he understands to be Pentecostalism’s essentials in comparison to other hermeneutics. To meet these, Frestadius spends the next three sections advancing a positive project that should be more adequate.

Following this, Frestadius adapts Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of “tradition-dependent rationality” (45). Frestadius develops his account from the belief that “rational enquiry is ‘inseparable from the intellectual and social tradition in which it is embodied’” (47). He explicates from MacIntyre that traditions are arguments about some content or subject by some community of individuals with some other person inside or outside the community that are shaped by the historical manner in which they have been argued or constructed (48–49). The tradition shapes the arguments, but reciprocally the arguments shape the tradition. A narrative genealogy emerges within what others may consider to be ahistorical epistemology.

This tradition-dependent rationality is constituted by three stages: each of which, Frestadius details in his fairly brief historical account of the Elim tradition in 20th-century Great Britain. First, the community develops itself by agreeing to a common set of beliefs, practices, texts, and leadership. In this stage, the community institutes its distinctives, both those that counter specific outsiders and those that are concerned with internal unity. Elim can be roughly summarized as a Pentecostal Foursquare tradition with a strong leadership by George Jeffreys possessing some other distinctives, including a “biblical pragmatism” (104–113). Truth or successful rational claims by a tradition are evaluated on a pragmatic epistemological theory, testing to see if the belief is proven useful and explanatory without contradicting other core principles. Not every belief that is pragmatic or useful is accepted, as evidenced by some of these epistemological crises, but only those that are tested against biblical scripture as known through the tradition’s interpretive disciplines.

Second, certain “inadequacies and incoherencies” are recognized within “the authoritative sources of the community” (51). The community typically debates these or responds to external critiques. Frestadius borrows MacIntyre’s term “epistemological crisis” to denote these and considers two in Elim (51). The earliest concerns the British Israel controversy of seeing Britain as a fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies, which is an internal interpretive debate involving leadership conflicts. The latter concerns Elim’s need to remain distinctive as restorationist and renewal traditions emerge in the UK, offering alternative charismatic Christian traditions.

Third, the community attempts to remedy the epistemological crisis, which Frestadius considers Elim’s responses in light of some general paths. This may involve a reinterpretation of the authority in a way that resolves the conflict. Potentially, certain tradition aspects are dropped, or new ones are added to aid in resolving the conflict. There is also the real possibility that the community may be unable to resolve the conflict and dissolve, or the tradition may adopt aspects that are contrary to its distinctive teleology, ceasing to be defined as that tradition but something other.

The final section of Pentecostal Rationality is an attempt to extrapolate a general framework for understanding Pentecostal epistemology. Frestadius recharacterizes the “biblical pragmatism” of Elim as a “signs-based pragmatism” (211). Frestadius builds upon this general framework with the I-Thou conception of Christ with the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Frestadius sees these pneumatological signs and some other features as providing additional pragmatic justification for certain beliefs (211–213). The basis for this is not understood to be as general as Yong’s but distinctive in some way to those concerned with a Christological relation. This section contains most of Frestadius’s original philosophical and theological contributions are presented.

Pentecostal Rationality is a well-written project that states what many other projects—including those named earlier and others—may have only implied or felt was incapable of clear articulation. It’s accessible to the well-read layperson while still remaining a quality piece of academic scholarship. The book is ideally suited for those of a Pentecostal or charismatic background, coming from a person who studied at a Pentecostal university and had a Pentecostal upbringing, but it possesses a clarity for other traditions as well, especially as the beginning chapters are more of a critical summary of some Pentecostal perspectives and an application of MacIntyre. Finally, the book walks the three tightropes of theology, philosophy, and history incredibly well. The project is certainly more philosophically oriented. However, the philosophy is advanced to strengthen tandem theological traditions, thereby drawing from them often in the last half of the book. The historical section is clearly marked as a useful heuristic to the philosophy and does not distract from the overall project.

If there is any criticism to be levied, I hoped for there to be an extensive discussion on certain epistemic practices or mediums that are uniquely characterized by Pentecostalism. Frestadius criticizes Smith for his ahistorical focus and lack of narrative emphasis. However, Smith does have an extensive portion in Thinking In Tongues (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010) about a different form of narrative—personal testimony—and its epistemic role. Frestadius is concerned a tradition’s historical narrative and epistemic genealogy, leaving these individual narratives or ahistorical ones like prophecy beyond its purview. I would have appreciated a section after or during his positive account that considered not just the epistemic theory assumed by Pentecostalism but its uniquely epistemic activities and disciplines as well: whether in light of his theory or otherwise.  This criticism aside; I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in contemplating tongues with scholarly words.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Tofte is a research assistant for the Christian West and Islamic East project at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Date of Review: 
May 30, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Simo Frestadius is Academic Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Regents Theological College, Malvern, UK.

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