Every time I see the word “academe” (think “academia”) I wonder what I’m doing with my life. So, technically yes, I am in academe…but that is neither here nor there. The point is that “academe” is a very useful word to evoke when trying to ensure that “outsiders” do not feel comfortable up here in academe. For quite some time now, in fact, academe has either positioned itself or been positioned as the alternative to simple living. Simultaneously, religion — most notably, Pentecostalism — has been relegated to the lowest of all positions: the unscientific! Dear God, not that!
So, since we’re getting to know each other, it seems appropriate that I let you know something about me. As it were, I am a bit of a natural contrarian. What I mean by that is this: when a person or group completely denounce something, I tend to want to pick up the denounced’s cause. An example is in order:
When I was getting my master’s at Boston University, I was floundering a bit on this whole “Pentecostalism” thing. I was pastoring an Evangelical church (yes, our rivals… — are we allowed to joke like that on here? in short, yes, of course we can) and Pentecostalism felt more like my past than my present and future. So there I sat, in a class called “Reading the World,” a very modest class title (ok, it’s also good to know that I often use something called “sarcasm” so if you’re wondering if I’m being serious, I’m probably not), listening to a professor who inexplicably mentions that he grew up Charismatic/Pentecostal. My initial thought was, “Wow, I’m already hungry for lunch” but then it went to, “I think I wore two different shoes.” Eventually my brain got around to listening again (it was not my favorite class…but I absolutely adore BU!).
The professor talked a bit about his upbringing, but then added this gem: “I used to believe in the Spirit, that is, until I went to school and learned more.”
Oh, I see what you did there. As a simpleton, Pentecostal beliefs made sense. He went on to explain that once he ascended the mountain of reason and rationality, he discovered that Pentecostal beliefs were not only false, they were (*gasp*) social constructions designed to pacify and to distract stupids (don’t worry, it’s a technical term) from the “real” world.
Enters contrarian Joel…he looks upset…
In that moment, (*warning: about to get Pentecostal) the Spirit welled up in me and I decided that if I ever got the chance to get a PhD — the very pinnacle of the mountain (you know, besides tenure) — I would prove that professor wrong: learning does not mean losing the Spirit.
The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills, and that includes academe.
I study Chinese Religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism), Christianity (what?!), philosophy, ethics, pluralism, and science, and guess what? The Spirit is present in all. And before we get carried away, my philosophy/theology/theory on religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue is much more involved than what I just said. I do not mean that other religious are consumed by Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, I do mean that these other disciplines and traditions do not threaten one’s Pentecostal faith. If anything, my faith has grown and been strengthened by interacting with academe.
So, you youngsters (and oldsters) out there wondering if you have to gear up for college (you know, “sword of the Spirit” type stuff) to stave off the liberal academic agenda, you don’t (though it’s good to read the Bible still…).
The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills…and the breeze is sweet in academe.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.