Thinking in Tongues

James K.A. Smith has become a thinker dear to my heart as someone with remarkable similarities to myself: someone fascinated with academics who has nonetheless been nourished by charismatic Christianity; who continually thinks and writes along the fuzzy boundaries between philosophy and theology; who also is engaged with issues pertaining to the urban built environment.

He recently wrote an article for First Things called Thinking in Tongues, which explores the ways in which pentecostal (that’s a small –p) Christians have made and are increasingly making valuable contributions to academic discussions surrounding theology (amongst other things). Here’s a particularly interesting passage:

the move from the Spirit’s physical work to a new understanding of physicality offers possibilities for overcoming some of the most pernicious dualisms of modern times. Pentecostal worship involves the body: arms raised or outstretched, bodies prostrate on the floor or dancing in the aisles, the laying on of hands, bodies kneeling at the altar, banners waving, etc. (Cartesian “minds” could never engage in Pentecostal worship!) This is why some Pentecostal theologians such as Frank Macchia and Simon Chan have suggested that a Pentecostal worldview is a sacramental ­worldview. It emphasizes the goodness, necessity, and instrumentality of material elements: God’s Spirit is active through concrete and material phenomena. It is a gritty spirituality—one that affirms all the messiness and awkwardness of embodiment, because it is in and through such embodiment that God’s Spirit is at work.

2 responses to “Thinking in Tongues”

  1. interesting. didn’t know you had charismatic influences. though going to the vineyard might make that obvious. never thought of it that way though…the embodiment bit. thanks for the link to the urban built environment. good stuff. i’m really interested in knowing more about why i live in a city…from God’s perspective. i often grapple with the challenges here.


  2. Maria: There are many stories to be told about my influences. Let’s just say that I settled into the Vineyard because they seemed much more sane about their approach to charismatic phenomena than what I had experienced beforehand.

    But yes, embodiment is huge. So much Christian spirituality lives in denial of our bodies and the physical realm, something which makes us miss out on a whole lot.

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