Posted by: rogermitchell | March 16, 2018

The Centrality of the Poor

I recently gave a presentation on The Centrality of the Poor to the Society for Pentecostal Studies’ joint conference with the Wesleyan Theological Society at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland Tennessee.

It centred around three things: incarnational hermeneutics, three generations of Holy Spirit outpouring and the cultivation of emerging new political space.

Firstly, I looked at the implications of an incarnational or “Jesus” hermeneutic for reinstating the poor as the primary focus for theology.   I  emphasised the centrality of the poor as a defining characteristic of the gospel of the kingdom of God and explained the tendency for Jesus’ focus on the poor to be displaced throughout the history of the church.

Secondly, I gave a personal testimony from my own autobiography. This looked at the way that the last three generations of Holy Spirit renewal may be evaluated as the reinstatement of the poor as primary agents of the gospel.

Thirdly, I attempted to explain and outline the new post-secular political space in the western world. I suggested that this is exemplified by the inroads of Islamic extremism, Trump’s populism and the UK’s Brexit. I then described this space as a prophetic fulfilment of the consequences of empire and presented the poor as a current political category and the role of the ecclesia as servants with the poor in cultivating the emerging new political space.

The presentation is around 25mins long and you can listen to it here:

You can also read the paper on my Academia site here:


  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

  2. Really thoughtful lecture Roger. I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of what you’re advocating. My main question would be how exactly we do this given that it can be argued that certain attempts to (uncritically) put an idealised form of poverty at the centre of the gospel have historically caused many of the problems that we are trying to overcome; something John Milbank refers to as The Franciscan Conundrum:

    ‘At the heart of this dilemma stands the question of Franciscan poverty. For if there was a novum about Francis, then it concerned his revolutionary attempt more closely to follow Jesus and the apostles in their restoration of a paradisal life on earth as far as possible. For Francis this meant adoption of altissima povertà, the “most high poverty,” refusing not just private property, like the traditional monastic orders, but even any notion of property shared in common. This refusal undergirded the new ideal of a mendicant, wandering, begging way of life, in which truly one became like the birds of the air and lilies of the field, trusting solely to the providence of the heavenly Father. But to renounce property in this way, along of course with all use of violent coercion, meant, above all, to renounce all use of law, thereby attempting to realize much more exactingly the New Testament teaching that gospel and grace lie beyond and supersede the legal sphere altogether. . .

    . . .But then we face the “conundrum.” Just the refusal of any property and defense of an extra-legalism, of a kind of anarchism, appears to have given rise, within Franciscan university thought, to several features that one might regard as its opposite, and the opposite likewise of Francis’s simple affectivity: his insistence of the surpassing of intellect by love. These features include: the idea of absolute property rights defined as pure power to control; the notion of social contract as the mediation of pure self-interest; the legitimation of usury; the displacement of legal gift by legal “trust,” which assisted the eventual rise of monopoly capitalism; a disenchantment of the cosmos, which separated existential sign from natural essence; an encouragement of experimental science linked to a mechanistic outlook; a quantification of ontology, allied to a reductive view of analogy and a quantification equally of economic and political relations, allied to a displacement of a substantive view of justice by a more formalistic approach; and a much intensified engagement with abstract logic and pre-shaping of philosophical outlooks that would eventually become empiricism, rationalism, and transcendentalism.’

    In many ways this also impacts how we approach the question of Violence and Empire as well. My own journey away from Evangelicalism began with thinkers such as Greg Boyd, Stanley Hauerwas, Walter Wink as well as being inspired by the anabaptist movement so I have a deep respect for those who are drawn to the seemingly obvious association of pacifism with Christianity, and yet I have increasingly come to see that it’s not quite as simple as that i.e. even if one is a pacifist it is really difficult to get away from the issue of violence and spectatorship. John Milbank is again helpful to tease out this point, for example in his essay on Violence: Double Passivity he notes:

    ‘So evil is violence, violence is evil. But why then are there two words for the same thing? . .

    . . .First of all, violence is never merely witnessed; it must also be judged. Is the outstreched arm a push, assault or a stay? Is the crack of the whip a spur, a dishonouring, a rebuke or a caress. It is clear that apparent violence may not after all be violence. Secondly, and inversely, the asserting will may in reality be negative, as was argued in Chapter 1. in this case apparently non-violent and neutral assertion is, after all, privation, and therefore violence.’

    He goes on to argue how by and large the middle class are primarily onlookers of violence and that this is in fact more violent than participating in it. Whether or not one agrees with this (to me) unintuitive conclusion I think it’s fair to say that it hits at a truth of our current political predicament regarding global violence (and this will have a bearing on how we interpret the idea of Empire). In another essay (Crucifixion: Obscure Deliverence) he unpacks this a bit more:

    ‘As is well known, many apparently visible processes – of the economy, of the beureucracy, of information – are in fact violent. Inversely, many appearances of violence, such as the loud jangle of church bells, or the thrusting of a political demonstration upon people’s attention, or the forceful closing down of a factory or an information network, are in fact peaceful. . . But this is the point: claims to see violence are always diagnostic, in relation to accounts of the political, collective Good: the apparently purely ‘ethical’ option of the levinisians and advocates of radical evil (excepting Zizek here) only disguises the judgement they make in terms of their espousal of political and economic liberalism.’

    It saddens me to say that this rings really true of a lot of my experience of Evangelical churches that I’ve attended where careers in oil, shipping, banking etc. go hand in hand with a passion for church planting and ‘evangelism’ (and my background isn’t a million miles away from yours here – I spent a fair bit of time in Riverchurch for example, which has very close links to Icthus Christian Fellowship). I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising then that unfortunately I can’t share your optimism regarding the transformative potential of Charismatic/Pentecostal experience in these settings. I think that more accurate is Milbanks claim that:

    ‘there does seem to be a kind of drastic division now between a popular, mainly Protestant mode of Christianity and a more educated, mainly Catholic one. The sentimental temptation is of course to side with
    the popular. But what we have here is not a genuine folk-expression of faith, but rather something that appeals to passive, deracinated persons, all too liable to become the victims of religious manipulation. In a sense, we have today lost (perhaps quite recently) the possibility for an authentic popular religious voice, rooted in the soil and so in a spontaneous registering of abiding ontological realities. We can no longer make Chesterton’s appeal to authentic common-sense, but instead have to struggle back reflectively to some mode of sanity. It has therefore become inevitable, for the time being, that authentic Christianity will more reside amongst what the current Pope has called ‘creative minorities’.’ (Stale Expressions: The Management-Shaped Church)

    Anyway I think I’ll stop there as that’s probably more than enough unsolicited feedback and I would be interested in your thoughts. I’m sure we can unpack the problems of Empire some other time!

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