Pentecostal and Anabaptist Identity: Questions for Archer and Hamilton

In today’s new issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology, Pentecostal theologian Kenneth Archer and “Anabaptist-Pietist” theologian Andrew S. Hamilton stage what they term an “ecumenical dialogue” between the Pentecostal and “Anabaptist-Pietist” theological traditions, suggesting that Pentecostals and “Anabaptist-Pietists” have much to learn from each other. I’d agree, and so would others Tellingly, in his list of what denominations a lowercase-b “baptist” theology might encompass, James Wm. McClendon Jr. lists both the Church of the Brethren (Hamilton’s denomination) and the Assemblies of God. (see Ethics, pp. 34-35).

While I’m sympathetic to Archer and Hamilton’s idea of ecumenical dialogue between their respective traditions, I’m left with numerous questions. First, mostly for Hamilton, I’m wondering about the designation “Anabaptist-Pietist” and its referents. Namely, who are the denominations or groups who would identify with this designation? Does Anabaptist-Pietist mean “Anabaptists who have been influenced by Pietism” or does it mean “Pietists found in traditionally Anabaptist groups” or something else? Further, can these terms in fact co-exist comfortably together? John Howard Yoder, certainly the most widely-known recent theologian in the Anabaptist tradition, would have objected to the use of these terms together.  But most importantly, Hamilton asserts that Anabaptists-Pietists have no definining event through which to trace their heritage – like the Pentecostal movement often does with the Azusa Street Revival – so Anabaptists-Pietists must define their movement exclusively in a theological mode.

Fair enough. But what theological beliefs does Hamilton believe shape Anabaptist-Pietism?

Specifically, Anabaptist-Pietists form their identity primarily from the New Testament with the Gospels holding priority and the Sermon on the Mount playing a particularly central role. Their desire is to recapture primitive (New Testament and Early Church Fathers) Christianity, prior to Constantine. Anabaptist-Pietists emphasise and acknowledge the personal experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the individual’s life in the context of community (pp. 189-90).

To me, this defnition sounds a great deal like the Anabaptist-Pietists, but it also sounds a great deal like the Pentecostals. A little later in the piece, Hamilton chronicles some other less-Pentecostal-sounding beliefs of Anabaptists (particularly community accounability and church discipline), but I’m curious about why the authors do not return to this common Christocentristic reading of Scripture in their discussion of intersections between the two traditions. Indeed, from the quote above, it would be difficult for the authors to make the case that Pentecostals are any different at all from Anabaptist-Pietists, especially considering that Archer and Hamilton choose to define the Anabaptist-Pietists only by using theological criteria. How do these criteria incorporate anything that would be different from a Pentecostal self-understanding?

Something of an answer may be found to this question by examining Archer’s characterization of the Pentecostal tradition, which largely focuses on the individual appropriation of Jesus in the life of the believer. Archer and Hamilton also utilize a “latter rain” motif to characterize the Pentecostal movement, a motif which posits a pre-Constantinian “fall of the Church” marked by a loss of charismatic gifts and an increasingly hierarchical church structure.

While it’s true that Pentecostals in different times and places have defined their tradition with this sort of rhetoric, can this sort of self-identity be maintained? Killian McDonnell and George T. Montague’s work Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit, among others, has demonstrated that charismatic gifts (allegedly absent from the church after the immediate post-apostolic period) existed in a number of places alongside hierarchical church structures (allegedly formed due to a lack of reliance upon or knowledge of the Holy Spirit). Further, if Pentecostalism’s identity rests on an individual appropriation of the categories of the four/five-fold gospel, how can classical Pentecostals be considered apart from the Charismatic Renewal in Catholicism and mainline Protestantism? Archer’s portrayal seems to me to be an inadequate place to start a conversation about Pentecostal self-identity, and thus about how to approach ecumenical conversations with those outside of a Pentecostal context.

(Full citation for the above: Kenneth J. Archer and Andrew S. Hamilton, “Anabaptism-Pietism and Pentecostalism: Scandalous Partners in Protest,” Scottish Journal of Theology 63:2 (Apr 2010), 185-202).

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One thought on “Pentecostal and Anabaptist Identity: Questions for Archer and Hamilton

  1. adhunt 17 May 2010 at 10:11 pm Reply

    I’m really excited for this blog guys. Dave, I barely know you but I’ve mad respect for you.

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