Q & R: Discernment of Spirits?

Here’s the Q:
I was reading your piece on progressive pentecostalism (copied below) and I was intrigued by your statement that this may lead to a fresh understanding of prophecy or discernment of spirits.
I wonder if you could expand more on this topic in a further post, with what you think this may involve.

(I would like to say I find your explanations to Q and Rs the most enlightening and understandable of any theologian I have ever read, enabling difficult subjects to be easy to follow without over simplifying for the ordinary person)

Q & R: Progressive Pentecostalism?

APRIL 13, 2018


Here’s the Q:

I am a United Methodist minister serving 2 small churches in the great plains. In 2011 I read “A New Kind of Christianity” and found new hope and purpose for my ministry! I heard you speak to the United Methodist clergy of the Great Plains Conference in Topeka in 2013.
Recently I was reading “The Age of the Spirit” by Phyllis Tickle. I found the material fascinating and exciting. In particular, I found it fascinating that Phyllis Tickle sees Pentecostalism as one branch of Emergence Christianity. I was also struck by her reflection on the problem of authority in E. C. Once we move beyond sola scripture, I believe that authority for E. C. could be found in collective discernment of the Holy Spirit instructions and guidance. This would mean that we would need to be open to charismatic renewal and to cultivate the gifts of the Spirit including prophesy and discernment of tongues. However, in general, my impression is that Pentecostal Christians tend to be biblical literalists and conservative on social issues (not exactly E. C.)
Do you see any examples of “progressive” Pentecostalism?

Here’s the R:

Great question. Two quick thoughts in reply.

Yes! There is an exciting “progressive Pentecostalism” taking shape. Pay attention to young leaders like Carlos Rodriguez and Jonathan Martin. Also pay attention to Latin American leaders affiliated with the Micah Challenge. I’ve met what I would call progressive Pentecostals in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and North America.Remember that just because traditional Pentecostals define “discernment of spirits” or “prophecy” in a certain way doesn’t mean they got the definition right. I think part of what progressive Pentecostalism will include will be a fresh understanding of many of those gifts.

Here’s the R:
Traditional Pentecostals have treated demonic spirits as something like ghosts – immaterial beings who inhabit people to the point of controlling their behavior. Today, many of the behaviors associated with this kind of demonism seem indistinguishable from mental illness, and respond to medication more than prayer. As a result, many have abandoned the whole idea of demons and possession as a primitive, unscientific myth.

But some of us have come to a different conclusion. We see ancient understandings of demonic possession as a prescientific way of identifying something very real and dangerous. We see that the most dangerous spirits in the world today are realities like the spirit of war, the spirit of racism, the spirit of hate, the spirit of militarism, the spirit of greed, and so on. These spirits or ideologies or transpersonal realities do “possess” people so they no longer think for themselves, but rather become agents, even puppets, of something else.

As an American, I see a “legion” of unclean spirits active in my country today – a spirit of racism, a spirit of militarism, a spirit of patriarchy, a spirit of fear, a spirit of privilege, a spirit of whiteness.

Thank God, the Holy Spirit is also at work … a spirit of nonviolent resistance, a spirit of moral fusion (bringing together the common concerns of poor people across races and parties), a spirit of creation care, a spirit of the “insurgent practice of togetherness against a segregative order” (Dr. Keri L. Day) … a spirit of power, love, and a self-discipline  … the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.