The Land of Pentecostals

A brief Interaction with Walter Brueggemann
by Dr. Dony K. Donev


Since I began studying Pentecostal history sometime ago, I have pondered the question of space and how we, Pentecostals, associate with it. Perhaps, on a larger scale, all Christian associate with space and location, but for Pentecostals it somehow becomes part of the identity of a given event, process or even person. This association is so strong that we simply cannot tell our history without it. And how is one even expected to tell Pentecostal history without places like the Bethel School of Healing, 214 Bonnie Brie Street and the Azusa Street Mission? Or how are we supposed to tell our story, to give our testimony of events significant and central for our spiritual life without a place and a location, which in most cases defines them all? For example, our salvation is connected the place where we were saved and sanctified; baptism with water or with fire from above; healing on the spot at a given prayer meeting, miracle service or church revival. And even eschatology, always undividable from the meeting in the clouds and the Heavenly city.

For Pentecostals, the Full Gospel teaching is a covenant theology because it ultimately subscribes to the quest for the Promised Land. But, I’ve never been able to pin point the reasoning behind this until reviewing anew Brueggemann’s study of “The Land” and comparing his ideas with Pentecostal history and praxis through the following quotes that will exchange perspectives with the questions stated above and hopefully stir further thinking.

p.5 “Space” means an arena of freedom without coercion or accountability, free of pressure and void of authority. …. But “place” is a very different matter. Place is space which has historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and which provide continuity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been exchanged, which have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.
Whereas pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage.”

p. 11 “The very land that promised to create space for human joy and freedom became the very source of dehumanizing exploitation and oppression. Land was indeed a problem for Israel. Time after time, Israel saw the land of promise become the land of problem.”

p. 15 “….land theology in the Bible: presuming upon the land and being expelled from it; trusting toward a land not yet possessed, but empowered by anticipation of it.”

p. 27 “The action is in the land promised, not in the land possessed … So Jacob, bearer of the promise, is buried in Canaan under promise.”

p. 42 “Presence is for pursuit of the promise …. The new people, contrasted with the old, are promise-trusters, rooted in Moses, linked to the faith of Caleb, and identified as the vulnerable ones. His presence is evident in his intervention not to keep things going, but to bring life out of death, to call to himself promise-trusters in the midst of promise-doubters.”

p. 47 “Israel knew that in his speaking and Israel’s hearing was its life. That is why the first word in Israel’s life is “listen” (Deut. 6:4)! Israel lived by a people-creating word spoken by this people-creator (Deut. 8:3).”

p. 51 “Both rain and manna come from heaven, from outside the history of coercion and demand.”

p. 53 “Israel does not have many resources with which to resist the temptation. The chief one is memory. At the boundary [of Gilgal] Israel is urged to remember …. Remembering is an historic activity. To practice it is to affirm one’s historicity.”

p. 54 “Land can be a place for historical remembering, for action that affirms the abrasive historicity of our existence. But land can also be, as Deuteronomy saw so clearly, the enemy of memory, the destroyer of historical precariousness. The central temptation of the land for Israel is that Israel will cease to remember and settle for how it is and imagine not only that it was always so but it will always be so. Guaranteed security dulls the memory …. Israel’s central temptation is to forget and so cease to be a historical people, open either to the Lord of history or to his blessings yet to be given. Settled into an eternally guaranteed situation, one securely knows that one is indeed addressed by the voice of history who gives gifts and makes claims. And if one is not addressed, then one does not need to answer. And if one does not answer, then one is free not to care, not decide, not to hope and not to celebrate.”

p. 56 “The land will be avenged preciously because land is not given over to any human agent, but is a sign and function in covenant. Thus arrayed against the monarchy are both the traditionalism of Naboth and the purpose of Yahweh.”

p. 57 “Israel finds itself in history as one who had no right to exist. Slaves become an historical community. Sojourners become secured in land …. Non of it achieved, all of it given …. And the way to sustain gifted existence is to stay singularly with the gift-giver.”

And the following conclusions: as Pentecostals, we associate with places and location, we ultimately associate with land as part of our covenant theology, because:

1. In the land we place our own historical meaning, our part and role in history, as well as the spiritual heritage we have received and we give to a next generation; thus, place itself becomes not only where our history happens, but a defining part of our historical identity as a people.

2. Enduring the promise of a land not yet seen, but already received by faith, has indeed been the formative factor in any and all Pentecostal movements around the globe, as well as the initiative to restore the social order for peoples whose land has been taken away unfairly. We have even learned, that when the Promised Land becomes a land of problem, we must return to the promise in order to remain a movement after the move of the Holy Ghost and not merely a nominal denomination.

3. As humans, we localize the omnipresence of God to the place of our experience with God – the place where God has become personal for us. And this is the place, where we dare say, we have received the promise of God. Although His promise may not yet be visible in reality, having come from our experience with God, it creates a reality which is much more real than the present reality. In that sense, the very act of receiving the promise that comes from outside of history and through hearing the voice of God, recreates our reality and future.

4. Main, among other temptations for us, is the temptation to forget the land, the place of promise and meeting with God – where we come from, where we have been and where we are going. Just as Israel, this act of forgetting denotes our ceasing from being a historical people.

5. And just like Israel did, Pentecostals find themselves without the right to exist. Yet, the association with the land, and not merely any land but the Land of Promise, gives us not only a right of existence, but also an identity which no one, not even us, can change or redefine, except the Giver of the Promise. And this is the function of the covenant and the association of our personal experience with God to a place, a location, a spot in history where our lives were once and for all changed for eternity.