Traditioned Pentecostalism and Pentecostal Tradition

Not long ago, I heard an interview on NPR featuring Rosanne Cash. The interviewer asked Cash how she handled emerging from beneath her famous father’s shadow. Cash replied that her father Johnny Cash had approved of how she initially distanced herself from his legacy. However, as she grew older, she began to identify more and more with her father’s legacy. “Distancing yourself from your parents may make for a healthy teenager,” said Cash. “But it doesn’t make a very gracious adult.”

This statement resonated with me. I had, for some two years at least, struggled with the identity I had inherited in Pentecostalism. I distanced myself. I spent most of my early twenties rediscovering Christianity.

When I came to Duke Divinity, people often asked me to identify myself based on my denomination. “Hi, I’m So-and-So, Methodist, Elder track,” and so on. When it came my turn to identify myself, I would reply with a garbled ecclesiological mess. “I’m a Metho-Bapto-Cathlo-Costal.” I hesitated to identify myself too strongly with my Pentecostal roots. When I did so self-identify, I did it in a way that immediately disparaged the Pentecostal tradition I inherited. “I grew up Pentecostal,” I would say. “But I’m not one of those.”

Within my time at Duke, through many interactions and much reflection, I realized that it was immature of me to reject the faith given to me by my tradition so flippantly. Part of spiritual growth for me throughout the past two years has included learning to respect and cherish the faith I have inherited from my tradition, all while challenging it where I must.

This challenge to spiritual maturity applies not only to me as an individual, but to Pentecostalism as a movement. Pentecostalism has, in my experience, largely defined itself against what it perceives to be mainstream Christianity. It sought to provoke complacent Mainline Protestants into a faith that was not merely something they inherited but something they took ownership of for themselves.

Times have changed since the early days of Pentecostalism. The Mainline denominations decline while Pentecostalism explodes worldwide. Pentecostalism is the new Mainline. We have grown into our own. Since we have done so, we no longer need to define ourselves against Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism in a way that unnecessarily rejects all the good they can offer us. We must also challenge them when necessary. When we cease to define ourselves in contrast to other traditions, we will no longer feel the need to caricature them. We will feel free to listen to other Christian traditions and join in on the conversation that has gone on for two thousand years.

(Originally posted on russmcdonald.blogspot.com)

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