Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pentecostalism and Prosperity Theology: Symposium at Regent University

The end of 2010 through the beginning of 2011 have been among the busiest--and most productive--months of my academic life.  I've submitted articles, completed book chapters, reviewed several articles and textbooks, and prepared papers for various grants and conferences.  I've also finally completed my manuscript on worship and music in racially diverse churches (more on that in the coming months).

This afternoon, I'm in the midst of final preparations for a symposium happening for the next couple of days at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virgina.

Pentecostalism & Prosperity Symposium

The Socio-Economics of Global Renewal

Co-sponsored by the Schools of Undergraduate Studies and Divinity

Symposium schedule:
February 21, 2:00-5:30 pm, Library Auditorium
February 22, 2:00-5:30 pm, Library Auditorium

I'm thrilled to join this stimulating conversation.  How is Pentecostalism related to global economics?

The adaptability of Pentecostalism to the current economic system is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the movement.  On Tuesday, I'll be talking about how prosperity theology connects with today's "individualization" and the rise of "self-culture." 

Hollywood Faith by Gerardo Marti
This is less of a theological exposition than an attempt to connect sociological dynamics of social change.  I attempt to draw out a connection between global economic dynamics and the very real circumstances of individuals, the social psychological "self," that is confronted with historically new challenges. It is an accentuation of an argument made in my Hollywood Faith book

If we step back, I think we can all agree that prosperity theology developed with the emergence of modern capitalism.  I believe it resonates with many people today because  the effect of globalized capitalism on  everyday life is experienced so broadly. As society changes, people find forms of religion that fit those changes.

Several theorists (who don't pay much attention to religion) tell us that the broader workforce today must master self-promotion for economic survival.  If we then turn to the place of religion in these changes, I note that much of the "work" of religious communities  has as their goal the supporting of a kind of “self” needed to live in the world today. The modern "self" today largely lives in context of work.  Being a wage-earner has become enormously important, more so than any other period in history.

When we appreciate the economic uncertainty of individuals in advanced capitalism, the emphasis on a vigorous, God-empowered self can be seen as a way to adapt to the demands for work today.

Healing ServiceImage via Wikipedia
Healing Service
So what can appear to be an ego-oriented religion can work within a viable religious community.  In other words, prosperity theology can resonate with ambitious individuals who, in their experience, find their goals to be frustrating, systems overwhelming, yet gain great confidence in that God can, wants to, and (eventually) will use them to fulfill cosmic purposes as they at the same time achieve personal fulfillment in a world-affirming way.

In prosperity-oriented churches, individualism coexists with the general call for generosity and self-sacrifice because the individual is seen as the conduit by which God will accomplish his purposes on the earth.  The focus on the individual is not about individual self-promotion but about creating a platform as an ambassador of the kingdom of God to engage in activities that allow God to work in the world at large.

It is a win-win solution; God fulfills his missional purposes, and his people live prosperous, fulfilling lives.

My paper for the symposium lays out more detail on all these processes.  In addition, the symposium will encourage an active dialogue on how this argument is right/wrong, and surely provide many additional considerations.

If you're interested, the presentations will be live on the internet (see symposium website), and the papers will be collected into an edited volume in coming year. I'll post as things become available.
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