I have carried an awareness about myself for most of my adult life: I am a slow learner. I’ve joked about it from time to time in the presence of others, but I know it to be my personality. It is now to the point of irritation.
I’ve picked up a new book, Pentecostal Orthodoxy: Toward an Ecumenism of the Spirit by Emilio Alvarez. In just the introduction I found myself screaming on the inside: YOU REALLY ARE A SLOW LEARNER. And it wasn’t humorous. It carried grief.
Alvarez is making a case for Pentecostals linking back up to the great traditions of the historical church. As I briefly read his account, I thought, “I was familiar with the same works he was reading at about the same time he was reading them!” The difference was this: he took “the leap” back at that time and I didn’t. I tried to limp along without much help.
His work wants to tie in the Pentecostal tradition and practice with the ancient church. When he was working through some of those ideas, I was writing a Master’s thesis in seminary on 4th Century desert fathers and mothers in Egypt because I saw their Pentecostal experiences. My desire was to explore their work and experience and draw attention to them because my Pentecostal roots had so little understanding of church history. Not only that, mainline denominations tended to gloss over Pentecostal or Charismatic historical proof.
Mainly, though, I grew up in a movement that only saw back to 1906 (Azusa Street Revival) and didn’t give much thought to the historical church and I wanted to draw attention to a time period where it was evident some desert saints were active in the Spirit and very much “orthodox” in practice. This was part of my journey in learning the great traditions of the Church AND understanding my own Pentecostal roots, theology, and practice.
And yet… I floundered in where I was trying to understand where I was as a Pentecostal and what the Lord wanted to do with it. Alvarez seems to have kept working a lot harder on the journey as I flailed along.
Yes, I’ve found my way into the Anglican Church and have found others making that journey. Yet… my story is still “white” and “evangelical.” I can’t do anything about the “white” part, but my story isn’t just “evangelical.” It is truly “Pentecostal.” This is the connection I am getting with this book. Alvarez is African American and Pentecostal, so his journey was even more arduous than mine. Yet, his writing as a Pentecostal draws me in because who I am as a Pentecostal is meaningful. It is intellectual and experiential.
To find a Pentecostal story of journey is intriguing to me. To find a Pentecostal making a theological case is powerful. And an African American Pentecostal scholar making the case is a voice that is refreshing as much as it is desperately needed.
I just wish I wasn’t so dang slow…