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Smith, James K. A.
Thinking in Tongues. Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy.
Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 2010. XXV, 155 S. 22,9 x 15,2 cm = Pentecostal Manifestos. Kart. US$ 19,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6184-9.
James K. A. Smith makes two significant contributions to philosophy of religion in this work: extraordinarily helpful elucidations of Pentecostal practices and a philosophical critique of contemporary philosophy of religion. S. is the Executive Director of the Society for Christian Philosophy and professor at Calvin College. He is not however a run-of-the-mill Christian philosopher; he is a devout Pentecostal. And his goal in this work is to make explicit the primacy of practiced spirituality in Pentecostalism over against the notion of faith founded on propositions.
Consider S.’s elucidations. He provides several descriptions of Pentecostal worship. These descriptions are followed by careful analyses of the meanings of these activities in the lives of the be-lievers. For example, S. uses Flaubert’s short story, »A Simple Heart«, to convincingly demonstrate that Pentecostals participate in a »simple sacramentality« informed by a »›natural‹ expectation of the so-called supernatural that marks pentecostalism’s radical openness to divine surprise« (38). S. argues in the last chapter that the practice of tongues-speech, exhibiting a spirit of resistance to both intellectual and political imperialism, most characteristically expresses this radical openness to God.
S.’s remarkable philosophical attention to Pentecostal practice raises difficulties for contemporary Christian philosophy. He seems to think that the difficulties can be overcome if Christian philosophers would only take seriously the »priority of religious practices to doctrinal formulations« (112). But the difficulties that he raises for contemporary philosophy of religion are logical, not contingent. S. says that Pentecostal spirituality is a »form of life« but he fails to appreciate that, for Wittgenstein, a form of life is not for anything else, least of all for the building of epistemologies and ontologies. Wittgenstein’s logical point is that a form of life is a way of living and speaking and that to understand a form of life is to understand what it would mean to be at home in it. On this view, living is not a »picture« that could be used for other purposes.
It is thus worrying to read S.’s defense of Christian philosophy and his attempt to use Pentecostalism to rescue religious epistemologies. One wonders what he wants to rescue. Is it Pentecostal (this desire to intellectually exlain how one knows God)? Is it good phi-losophy (falsifying what it purports to explain)? S.’s answer to these two questions is a resounding »No!«, even reminding the reader that the Pentecostals he has described do not want or need an episte-mology or ontology. Nonetheless, he thinks that philosophers with Christian commitments should get busy working on them.
This leads to the most worrisome aspect of S.’s »Pentecostal philosophy«: that it will have the chilling effect of turning Pentecostalism into that which it resists, an intellectual imperialism like the rest, with its own epistemology and ontology. Like other Christian philosophers, S. attempts to use the logical condition of our moral and religious claims as a ground upon which to build an epistemology and ontology. Rather than remain contented, for example, with elucidating the powerful role of stories in Pentecostalism, S. builds his own philosophical anthropology: »Pentecostal worship operates on the tacit assumption that we are moved by stories« (80). Such remarks contain an imperialistic assumption about the way the world is. S. is thus trapped in the Cartesian rationalism that he says we must escape. An escape is available in the recognition that his critique of contemporary philosophy of re-ligion is logical and not contingent: »religion construed as primarily a cognitive or propositional or epistemological phenomenon fails to discern the heart of religion as practice« (112). If S. is right about that, then Pentecostalism doesn’t assume anything about the world, tacitly or otherwise.