The Spiritual Health of Pentecostalism — Part 1

Is Pentecostalism spiritually healthy?

Is it a faithful manifestation of the ancient faith revealed by Scripture?

Is pentecostal emotionalism a spiritual blessing, or psychological baggage?

As in most things, the answers aren’t a simple yes or no. Nothing is perfect under the sun, and that includes the way Christians—all Christians (including me)—believe and practice our belief. But, I feel compelled to try to provide a more practical answer for the anonymous reader who posted this comment on my blog about Why I left Pentecostalism:

Hi Lon, I found your blog through a Google search. I am part of a pentecostal church and I have become uncomfortable with their teachings (I am a new Christian of only 6 months – grew up atheist. 31 years old)

My concerns are around how emotional the whole experience is. I realised today that it doesn’t actually feel good to be so up and down.

I still love God and the bible. I have started doing research as you mentioned in your blog about Christianity origins..

I am going to try some new churches. What was your experience in finding a church? I randomly bumped into a Catholic the library yesterday and he was able to tell me about the orthodox bible study guide..

What did you find a helpful place to begin?

Are all the satan/enemy battles normal in all Christianity? It doesn’t feel good to be in battle all the time…

First Anonymous, let me offer God praise for bringing you to repentance and faith in Jesus. The faith you and I share is a gift which comes from hearing the gospel. I don’t know your story, but I’ll assume that God used your pentecostal friends or your pentecostal church to share the gospel with you, and I’ll give God praise for this as well.

Second Anonymous, I want to answer your questions fairly (both those in your comment and those which I think I hear behind your keyboard). But, since you know I left Pentecostalism, to be fair and honest to Pentecostalism I should admit that:

  1. For the last century, God has used the pentecostal movement tremendously to advance His kingdom in many countries around the world.
  2. Many mature, healthy Christians live and grow and serve Christ in pentecostal churches.
  3. Pentecostalism is as varied as can be; it’s not a unified movement. The best pentecostal churches are places where Jesus is exalted, the gospel is preached, the Bible is the sole authority, and orthodox doctrine is taught. On the other hand, there are pentecostal churches that teach unorthodox  (that is, heretical) doctrine and promote unhealthy spiritual practices. In between, bell curve-like, most pentecostal churches are a mix of good and bad evolving from year-to-year, and pastor-to-pastor.
  4. I’m a former Pentecostal who is now happy to be Presbyterian.

For these three reasons, I’ll try to address pentecostal teachings and practices specifically, rather than risk painting an unfair picture of Pentecostalism generally.

You asked about emotionalism, spiritual battles, and my experience finding a church. On emotionalism, you may find this post relevant: Help—Weird Things are Happening in Our Church. On finding a church, I have written several posts that don’t quite meet the spirit of your question, but may still be helpful:

I’d like to address your questions more directly, but I’ll have to do this in a series of posts, rather than one snoringly long post. And, before I can write about “how emotional the whole experience is…” or “the satan/enemy battles…” I need to answer the most important question you asked:

Anonymous, you asked about resources for learning more about the Christian faith.

Of course there are tons, but here are a few that a) I trust, and b) will help you understand the core teachings of Christianity. These provide reliable, faithful summaries of biblical teaching and deep-dives into the most important biblical topics. As you learn the foundations of Christian faith, you’ll become more able to discern errors (great or small) in your church, in books, on the radio, TV, magazines, etc.

Resources for Learning the Christian Faith

1 – The Bible, in a translation that is easy for you to read and understand.

I usually read the English Standard Version (ESV) and I recommend you get the ESV Study Bible which provides wonderful introductory material to the Bible as a whole, as well as each of its 66 books. If you don’t yet feel like you have a handle on the Bible, I’d suggest focusing on these books (not necessarily in this order): Genesis through Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew through John, Acts, and Romans through Colossians. Some of the resources below will help you get a handle on the Bible. I also wrote Bible Reading Tips for Newbies with some very basic getting started tips.

2 – Any resource or book from Ligonier Ministries, the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul.

Sproul is a world-class theologian and conservative biblical scholar known for his ability to make complex topics accessible for the newcomer. Click this link for Ligonier’s free teaching resources. You may want to subscribe to their excellent monthly Table Talk devotional magazine. They even have a lecture on Pentecostalism’s place in church history.

3 – The Core Christianity website.

This website was launched in 2016 by the folks who support Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn teaching ministry. Horton is another exemplary biblical scholar and author. The mission behind this website is to help clarify what the foundational teachings of the Bible really are, and what Christianity really is. This is incredibly necessary in our individualistic, meaning-defined-by-me, truth-as-I-see-it, modern world where the Christian message is morphed by a million individuals.

4 – The White Horse Inn podcast.

It’s always a panel discussion of a topic or an interview of an author. They cover everything from same-sex attraction to cellular design to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the atonement. It’s so valuable to me that it’s the only podcast I regularly make time for. I’ve been listening for years and have found it every bit as relevant/helpful/useful as my seminary education. Their mission says it all: Know what you believe, and why you believe it.

If you love reading, Horton also publishes in depth articles in Modern Reformation Magazine.

5 – The New City Catechism website or iPad app.

This is a brilliant, modern remake of two classic Protestant catechisms (Did you know Protestants invented the catechism?): The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646 (English, Presbyterian); and The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 (German, Dutch Reformed). It combines the classic Q&A catechism format with short readings and 2-3 minute video clips by a variety of Bible teachers. Here’s my own review.

6 – Basic Christianity book by John Stott.

7 – Knowing God book by J. I. Packer.

8 – Surprised by Joy book by C. S. Lewis, the autobiographical story of Lewis’ own conversion from Atheism.

9 – Life Issues by Randy Pope.

These four, short booklets answer the most fundamental questions people have to answer before they could believe the Christian faith. For example: “How can you trust that the Bible is God’s word?” and “Is Jesus the only way to God?”

What Now?

I know I’ve provided a lot here, at the risk of overwhelming you. But, if you treat this post as a reference you’ll find that blog posts linked here are quick enough to read through. The books will take a few weeks. The catechism should take a year in small weekly questions. And the Bible, well, that’s a lifetime. The best news is that the types of resources I recommend here are so varied in their nature that you can easily integrate several of them into your daily life simultaneously.

For example, today you might read a John 1 and skim the introduction in the ESV Study Bible, read a 5-minute blog post during lunch, listen to a podcast from Ligonier or the White Horse Inn on your commute from work, and spend 15 minutes reading Lewis before bed.

Just keep this post handy as a reference. Spend a few days getting a feel for what resources seem most useful to you. And then, and find a way to integrate them into your life.

Anonymous, thank you for reading Average Us. Thank you for your questions. I will write again more directly about pentecostalism. May God’s grace and face always shine on you.

No Fear Can Rapture My Soul

Hello, Average Us. This is Dawn.

Today, I want to share a poem with you written by my friend Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth worships with Lon and me at Restoration Presbyterian Church and, like me, suffers with depression and anxiety. She wrote this poem to express her trust in Christ through her struggle. She shared it with me, and gave me permission to post it here on Average Us. If you are struggling with any sort of challenge today, I pray this poem gives you hope by pointing you to the One, true and living source of hope. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no fear that can rapture my soul
In Which He can’t see, for which I can’t be made whole
This darkness is impending, the dreaded black hole
And yet, He is here, nothing is beyond His control
What is it that tempts me to fear?
That steals my joy, that takes my cheer
Most times it seems a mystery, there is something there, quite unclear
But oh! It covers my mind, my heart, it is severe
It wrinkles my thinking, crumples my brow
When I am tempted to put my head down, to follow, to allow
This burden becomes heavy, too heavy now
Yet somehow…
There is One, they call him Spirit, faint but still beckons me
That dark place down there, oh, He can see
This ever present Friend & Guide beckons me to reality
That faithful One who can never depart from me
I’m reminded of truth, the truth of His Word
Could it be what is real, in this life so blurred?
My secret hope to be rescued was never unheard
How suddenly He works, my helplessness deferred…
To the cross of Christ, on who I was taught to hope
I no longer must in the darkness hang, cannot grope
Except to my Bible I cling, there it is! Life & hope!
It pulls me back up from which I had gone, that quick steep slope
And in this book of old, the Prophets, the martyrs have told
In these pages I see their darkness, their struggles unfold
In times of doubt & fear, it was You, their constant stronghold
From the pit it pulled them from, Your faithfulness, Your glory to behold
And it is clear now, so clear a theme
When I look through this Word as a whole it would seem
You, my Savior, my Friend, will doubtless, unquestionably redeem
Cast away that Liar, the one who distracts from truth by his great scheme
It is You & me, rejoined on this path of Life
You walk with me & carry me, undeniably love me through all my strife
And when it comes to glory, You are the one who will receive
I will benefit too, it is I who will tell others for I believe
Since now it is TRUTH you have taught me to perceive
I see well now this tapestry in my life that you weave…
It will be to You, and You alone to whom my soul shall cleave.

America’s Panic Attack Over Trump and 8 Ways To Love Our Neighbor

I try to keep Average Us focused on the intersection of Christian faith and emotional health becuase I’m a Christian with a wife and children who suffer with various degrees of emotional health challenges. Some labels you know: anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bi-polar; some you may not: dysautonomia, cyclothymia.

We live, we trust, we pray, we manage. Dawn and I share morning and bedtime prayer and Scripture meditation as a life routine. This is a good habit of Christian spiritual life, but we also rely on it as part of a mindful, faith-filled defence against the unpredictable challenges Dawn’s brain chemistry can present. I remain constantly wary for the signs which indicate my support is needed in some way or other.

Because of this, I can’t help but be alert to the emotional trends I observe in myself, in others, and in our culture broadly. And I’m saddened by what I see in America right now.

Let’s just say it: America is having a political and cultural panic attack. This should be obvious to you regardless of who you voted for. (Full disclosure: I voted for a write-in candidate). I cannot remember a time when more anxious attention was given to what the President would do, or say, or tweet next. The mood seems to be in turns anxious, fearful, depressed, angry, disgusted, or hateful. In these moods, critical thinking, nuanced commentary, and guarded response frequently get kicked to the curb. Divisions widen. Resentments deepen.

America is having a political and cultural panic attack.

But please don’t think that because I compared America’s current mood swing to a panic attack that I think all of this anxiety has no rational basis. It certainly does.

As a suburban, Christian, white male with a white collar job I must honestly recognize the privilege that circumstance has laid at my door. I must recognize that Trump’s Presidency is unlikely to do me much harm (or much good). But, many others may reasonably fear this won’t be their experience.

So, I would ask you who supported Trump’s candidacy to join me in an exercise of empathy for a moment. What might it feel like to be female with a Trump presidency? Or black? Or Hispanic? Or poor? An immigrant? A Lesbian? A Muslim? A native American? A Spanish speaker? So far, Trump has demonstrated in both personal and political forms that he is a threat to these groups. This is not to mention Trump’s affect on political allies, foreign and domestic, as well as trade partners. His supporters championed him as an agent of change, but what we have from him so far is chiefly unpredictability. Unpredictability breeds anxiety. He seems to delight in keeping everyone off balance, on their back foot. Even his closest counselors must race to manage the chaos he leaves in his wake. The only thing predictable about his presidency so far is that he is behaving like a man who is used to, and loves, to wield power. I might add that Americans have traditionally prefered presidents who gave at least the impression that power was a burden, not a delight.

Unpredictability breeds anxiety.

If we can succeed at empathy at all–what people call emotional intelligence these days–we must factor this into how we speak about the role of government, taxes, the wealth gap, climate change, immigration policy, abortion, health care, gay marriage, the justice system, the war on terror, and America’s place in the world. Whether you are anxious, or ambivelant, or animated about Trump’s presidency, empathy for people who feel threatened must color how we speak to, and speak of, those who don’t share our political convictions.

Here are a few simple ways we can all demonstrate empathy (closely related to the Christian virtues of justice and mercy) for others in these anxious times. These practices won’t ensure that your point of view wins the day, but they will go a long way to toward earning you the respect of an honest hearing.

1. Don’t sloganize.

Slogans rarely tell the whole truth. They often over-simplify and misrepresent an issue while mistreating the opposition. Slogans can demonstrate a lack of respect for the intelligence of others, and invite others to diminish you to the level of an opposing slogan.

2. Don’t demonize.

The other side isn’t the incarnation of evil. Or, at least, let us have the humility to admit that the other guy isn’t any more evil and self-interested than me. Demonizing is the meat-and-potatoes of much political media commentary. So, be selective about who you lend your ears to. Your brain deserves multiple sources with different perspectives.

3. Don’t call names.

Conservatives and liberals brand each other with the same labels: hypocrite, idiot, moron. But, it’s a commonly understood social dynamic that those who use such words fail to prove their point, and only make the audience think of the speaker in a dimmer light. So, let’s be smarter than that.

4. Don’t make assumptions.

We almost never clearly understand the motivations and biases and activities of the other guy. When we assume and pigeon-hole the other guy, we only come off sounding self-righteous, judgmental, and smarter-than-thou. This runs the risk of transforming a valid, intelligent point into a patronizing put-down.

5. Don’t burn a straw man.

It’s all to easy to misconstrue what the other wants or believes or is motivated by, and then attack the belief or motivation no one holds. Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against. Let us try to be rationale about our views and the views of others. Answer point with counterpoint.

Be sure to study what you don’t agree with enough to understand what you are arguing against.

6. Do defend the vulnerable.

The Bible is full of references to the ethical duty of the powerful to defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the poor, and the alien. (See Jeremiah 5:27-28 for example). We are warned repeatedly in the Bible that all we have is gift. It is not our due, not merely the result of our personal industry. So those who are in a more vulnerable position than us always deserve our support and defense, regardless of who they are. We can “pay it forward” by giving, serving, mentoring, feeding, sponsoring, and healing. We can defend by making our voices heard: Write. Speak. Raise money. March. By all means, let each do all we can.

7. Do love your neighbor.

You know Christ’s golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You don’t need to be a Christian to obey this; every religion on earth shares some form of this ethic. You’ve been taught it in various forms since your youth. So, it should be easy, right? But it’s not. It takes a thick skin because you’ve been wronged repeatedly. It’s takes humility because you can’t understand how those “idiots” can believe that crap. It takes courage because it makes you vulnerable to attack.

In fact, it’s the hardest thing you can do, because it takes actual, genuine love, even love for those you consider your enemy. Can you do that? Would you do that? Only someone who has received an undeserved and unconditional love would ever do that. And we all have.

8. Don’t mix politics and religion.

Finally, I offer this advice to Christians: Whatever good or harm President Trump achieves must not be cast as a “Christian” achievement in any way. The American Church of the 80s and 90s allowed itself to become too closely identified with the politics of the day, and in the process we distorted the message and mission of Christ to an entire generation. In my experience, I have found that more people reject the Christianity we have protrayed than the real Christ we worship.

If you claim Christ, please address our present anxiety in light of this succinct Christian worldview:

Christ is King and by His cross is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation. He also governs the rise and fall of all nations–including the United States–and will hold every nation to account. The government will be upon His shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6).

So, there is no Christian nation; there is only the Christian Church redeemed out of every nation. The King demands allegiance to Him above our nationalism and politicals, and offers a hope beyond the rise and fall of political fortune to all who will trust in Him.

Christ is King and is redeeming a people for Himself out of every nation.

I hope you were helped by this article. It was written to share one Christian man’s perspective on our national mood. I harbor no illusion that it will solve much in our world. But, I hope it will help you, reader. And, I hope I may live up to it.

If you want to leave a comment about the views expressed here please do. However, any defense of, or attack on, any political view or political figure will be deleted.