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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit

Nimi Wariboko
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012)
214 pages

Reviewed by Brandon Schmidly, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philosophy,
Evangel University

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A thorough understanding of a concept is generally demonstrated by an ability to articulate the essential conditions of that concept and explain those conditions in some applied area. In The Pentecostal Principle, Wariboko seeks to reveal the essential conditions of the Pentecostal principle and apply them to the domain of social ethics. This is a needed work since, as Wariboko notes, “[Pentecostals] arguably have the form of the principle, but are yet to consciously grasp and express the substance.” According to Wariboko, some of the conditions characteristic of Pentecostalism are creativity, pluralism, and a theology of play.

Wariboko elaborates on the creative nature of Pentecostalism by connecting it with some of the current literature on emergence theory. The analysis of how something new comes out of what currently exists is what Wariboko believes provides a model for describing the dynamic aspects of life and spirituality, which Pentecostals embrace.

With emergence comes greater indeterminacy, or at least uncertainty, regarding the future, notes Wariboko. He believes this uncertainty will have a significant effect on prevailing views of social ethics such that the Pentecostal principle will bring with it a new model for doing social ethics. This model, whatever it turns out to be, will likely result in the dismantling of established ethical codes in favor of ethical pluralism.

Wariboko provides a flowchart that he intends as an aid for the ethicist in moral investigation and resolution. The steps of this schema include: (1) identifying and examining a problem, (2) reflecting on resources that speak to the problem and a possible solution, and (3) providing a response that is well defended, based on the resources identified.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is Wariboko’s discussion connecting the Pentecostal principle with the view of theology as play. For the Pentecostal, one’s theology and interaction with God steps out of the means-end schema and is what Wariboko calls “pure means” or an end in itself. He describes the Pentecostal priorities of freedom, fluidity, and friendship with God in order to tightly draw the analogy between Pentecostal practice and the concept of play. Furthermore, he sees this as the natural progression from Catholicism and Protestantism, noting, “We have moved over from the theology of work (law) to the theology of grace. Perhaps it is now time to move over to the theology of religion as play.”

Wariboko’s elaboration on some essential Pentecostal conditions rings an intuitive bell for those within the tradition, and thus seems plausible, though I expect challenges to be brought in future literature.

In his attempt to apply the conditions of the Pentecostal principle with the area of social ethics, I think Wariboko overstates the implication that emergence and uncertainty results in abandoning prevailing moral codes for pluralism. It seems he conflates moral factuality with moral epistemology. Uncertainty may lead to a plurality of equally justified beliefs, but it does not imply that a plurality of codes is, in fact, correct. Wariboko’s general idea is correct, I think, if stated in more modest terms. Namely, ethicists should have a greater humility with regard to their ability to formulate systems of ethics, given that there is so much uncertainty about what states of affairs may emerge in the future. The openness present in the Pentecostal principle, as Wariboko describes it, may well bring this increased humility to the field.

The flowchart he provides offers a clear and intuitive way to make progress in moral investigation, yet Wariboko presents this at a distance. Personally, I would prefer to see the schema applied to a topic to which the Pentecostal principle could speak. However, such an exercise may have taken the book too far afield, and would be better for a future project. In fact, he closes the conversation identifying The Pentecostal Principle as a beginning, anticipating future work on the topic.

Warikobo’s work is written for a graduate level audience, requiring extensive familiarity with the literature. Also, he is primarily engaging the conversation in the continental tradition. As such, the analytic reader may be frustrated with the lack of formal argumentation for several controversial assertions, especially in the first half of the book. However, the discussion of theology as play that occurs in the latter half is a revealing conceptual analysis that sheds light on Pentecostalism.

With some help with digestion, this textbook could be a good tool for non-graduate reader as Wariboko elaborates on several intersecting topics. He makes a friendly interlocutor of Paul Tillich in the process of unpacking some of the concepts which inform his view of the Pentecostal principle. In many cases, he argues for a revised understanding of a concept. Some of these topics include teleology, Catholic substance, Protestantism, kairos, and moral imperatives. He also incorporates topics from outside of the discipline, making this an integrative scholarly read.

Nimi Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit, Pentecostal Manifestos Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 192.

Ibid., 187.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:56 AM