The Split God

Pentecostalism and Critical Theory

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Nimi Wariboko
SUNY Series in Theology and Continental Thought
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , March
     262 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Nimi Wariboko’s The Split God: Pentecostalism and Critical Theory is unique in that he uses critical theorists such as Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, and Giorgio Agamben to “examine or investigate the determinate practices and theologies of global Pentecostalism” (1). Bypassing Pentecostal doctrines and systematic theologies, Wariboko privileges “everyday practices” in order to remain in touch with lived reality (xii, 217n24). What he finds—and what he argues in the background—is that an authentic Pentecostal tradition is one that is anchored in “genuine revolutionary (subversive) potentials” (xiii). It is marked by a radical creativity that feels free to tinker with inherited, traditional constructs for the sake of staying in tune with the unfamiliar. To be Pentecostal, then, is to function within a “logic of play” that “transcends the instrumental demands and constraints of the present given world in the direction of possibilities and not-yet-defined potentialities” (135). In other words, the main thrust of Pentecostalism is pointed forwards rather than backwards; misguided is the one who obsesses over its revivalist roots, or imitates inherited rituals, as if revelation signifies a static, formulaic map that leads to emotional bliss. No, there is much more at stake in The Split God: namely, the realization of contemporary human “participation in the divine being” (16).

The arteries of Wariboko’s argument carry forth a type of negativity that traverses the field of Being, cuts through reified boundaries of thought and action, and allows such praxis to continuously emerge into the horizon(s) of the “novum”—what I am calling negativity-in-play (100). The conceptual “apparatus” that gives shape to this argument is the motif of being split—perhaps, Being-split—wherein “division or incompleteness is a sign of livingness” (56). To be alive is to be marked by the experience of “internal alienness,” insofar as dynamic subjectivities require the presence of negativity—both within and without—in order to move about freely and avoid getting pressed (in)to death (183). Negativity as ontological, therefore, need not be feared but realized as the dynamism of a non-dualistic relationship between the finite and the infinite wherein “God and humans are not just juxtaposed but are actually exposed to one another” (7). It is amidst this open playscape of negativity that the finite and the infinite relate. Wariboko goes on to call this interaction a “transimmanent divine-human play” (139). 

The “social structure,” which gives place to negativity-in-playBeing-split, and divine-human relationality, is identified by Wariboko as the Sacred (95). Rather than being a predetermined place that invites the human and divine into a circumscribed space, the Sacred names the creative processes that emerge in and through the contingent interactions of human beings in a chaotic world (73n7). God, then, does not materialize by way of a “direct intervention of some super-natural power,” but rather through communal relationality/embodiment (102). Indeed, the Sacred is a social structure made up of bodies that constitute “the originative space” that becomes “ground for the ‘holy’ to emerge” (85). As such, the Sacred is configured by the dialectic of place and no place; the Sacred represents “the set of possibilities, the play of im/possibility in reality” (101). In this sense, the Sacred “exceeds what is religiously, doctrinally, and institutionally referred to as theistic God” given that it is as equally cut by negativity as everything else, thus containing within it the space necessary for something new to emerge (208n44). The overarching motif that emerges amidst the Sacred—and all that it contains—is the ontological motif of “being-with” wherein “between-ness” is that which “bridges the duality of subject and object, human beings and God, and between human beings themselves” (68, 141). 

In light of the above schema, Wariboko discloses the inherent critical potential of various Pentecostal practices—such as spiritual discernment (chapter 2), grace (chapter 3), subjectivity (chapter 5), and worship (chapter 6)—that would otherwise remain shallow misunderstandings by insiders and outsiders alike. For example, according to Wariboko, spiritual discernment is like “holding up a mirror to reality” in order to allow the subject to move from the “phenomenal reality to the noumenal universe of spiritual contact,” thus seeing and touching the fractures that are internal to God and World (45-46, 51). If all subjects and objects were self-transparent, human interpretation and judgment would simply be unnecessary (59). The splitting power of negativity always makes error a possible destination, spiritual discernment is thus required for the truth seeker. Before all of this, though, he first spends time recasting the Acts 2 narrative found in the Christian Bible as it interpellates most, if not all, Pentecostal communities (chapter 1). 

In my own reading, Wariboko comes across as conflicted regarding the extent to which God is actually a split God. Is this split epistemological or ontological? Is the representation of God split or is God’s very being split? Promoting the former, Wariboko writes, “when we say the gap is inscribed into God, it does not mean it is a laceration in the being of God. God [God’s body] remains in his [its] most intimate trinitarian folds exposed to the outside” (7). In other words, God may come across as being split, but the immanent being of God is not split as it exists external to the world. Promoting the latter, Wariboko writes, “God is radically split in himself” (xiv), and “God is living and active, not dead at all, but he is split. The split is not just phenomenal, it is ontological” (xviii). In this way, the being of God is split in that God exists within the all-encompassing ontology of the not-all wherein “reality is always incomplete and subject to the chaotic power of becoming” (84). The statements sprinkled throughout The Split God that deny God Being-split are strong enough to refute Wariboko’s Žižekian claim that the epistemological is ontological. Thus, a contradiction emerges in that God is and is not split. This is important considering, depending on which option one chooses, the God-World relationship will be structured as either dualistic or non-dualistic. If the split is merely epistemological, the God-World relationship is dualistic, since God’s being exists beyond the logical realm of the phenomenal. If the split is ontological, the God-World relationship is non-dualistic, since God and World are wrapped up in the same processes via negativity. To be critically consistent, one must go with the latter and follow the logic of non-dualism to its end.

Finally, as a word of caution to the reader, if you are unfamiliar with Žižek’s work you might get lost as Wariboko sometimes plays loosely with terms. The risk, however, is well worth it.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Spencer Moffatt is Adjunct Professor of Religion at Butler University, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Marian University, and Adjunct Professor of Theology at St. Catherine University.

Date of Review: 
August 28, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Nimi Wariboko is Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics at Boston University.


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