Pentecostal Polarities-the Concept


There are different kinds of truths. Some are linear and propositional: “If A equals B and C equals B, then A equals C.” Others are dynamic truths. These are not so linear and resist the propositional approach: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Mt 20:16 NIV). This is not a propositional or linear truth, but it still truth. We locate ourselves somewhere on a line of tension between the poles. When we can get our minds around to opposites and believe them both to be true, we are on our way toward understanding spiritual things. Mysteries, paradoxes, symbols, allegories and signs do not lend themselves to linear or propositional exposition. As Pentecostals, our spirituality is steeped in these very things. Here some examples:

  • the mystery of the Trinity,
  • the paradox of leading by being the servant of all,
  • the use of allegory as Old Testament narratives become a source of New Testament truth, and
  • the signs and wonders of Gifts of the Spirit.

Our spirituality is dynamic. We function in the dynamic center between the poles of our human weakness and the power of Almighty God!

The Church of the Enlightenment

The founding fathers of the Assemblies of God were forward thinking men of their times. As the Gifts of the Spirit were restored to the church in the Pentecostal revival of the early twentieth century, the leaders of that generation broke the new ground we have built our ministries upon. We owe them much. But still, they, like us, were products of their own times. They could not see things through twenty-first century eyes, nor can we afford to look at the post-modern world before us through twentieth century eyes. The church formed in the age of the Enlightenment (basically the 1700’s through the 1900’s) was steeped in linear, propositional truth. In this “modern” world, the pursuit of theology became scientific and mathematical in its expression. As a result of this the mysterious and symbolic dimensions of Christian life were marginalized. The ministry became a profession rather than a calling. Miracles were explained away or de-emphasized. The supernatural was denied and the supra-rational was favored. The sacraments became merely ordinances.

The Pentecostal revival exploded into this “enlightened,” modern world with Apostolic power as people prayed in tongues, sick folks were healed, demoniacs were liberated and chains of addiction were broken. Signs and wonders, Gifts and revelations, anointing’s and deliverances don’t slide very easily into modernistic slots. Today we are faced with a post-modern world quite ready to consider the supernatural, to ponder the paradoxes of the faith, to learn by sign and symbol and to encounter a real and vibrant faith. Pentecostals are faced with an unprecedented opportunity to reach a pagan, relativistic, visual, open-minded world with the powerful, absolute, multi-dimensional, mind-expanding truth of a Risen Lord who is soon to return.

In Fire and Form , I will examine our Pentecostal theologies (what we believe) and doxologies (how we express those beliefs) of worship. This will be an on-going, weekly discussion of Pentecostal Spirituality in both the Secret Place and the public place. It is time to shed the constrictions of Enlightenment thinking and begin to consider the truths of Scripture, the ancient practices of the Apostles and the Church Fathers of the first centuries of the church, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation. As we do, look for the lines of tension between Pentecostal Polarities such as these:

  • Spirit and Truth,
  • Spontaneity and Planning,
  • Anointing and Skill, and
  • Ministry and Artistry

The Dynamic Center

I never liked to be “middle of the road” on something that realty mattered. But there is a place that is so much more powerful than a compromised position. The church exists between the times: we are saved and we are being saved; we are earthly citizens of a heavenly Kingdom; we live crucified and resurrected lives while waiting for the coming of the Lord and our glorious transformation. This is the Dynamic Center. We do not choose between Spirit and Truth–we worship in both. Likewise, we do not choose skill or anointing, artistry or ministry, planning or spontaneity, we employ each in the service of the King. In doing this we find the Dynamic Center, not the middle of the road, but in “Power in an earthen vessel.”


Dr. Steve Phifer received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has taught at Valley Forge University and Southeastern Assemblies of God University. For many years he was the Worship Pastor at Word of Life Church in Alexandria, VA.

More of Dr. Phifer’s materials can be found at