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Review: Holy Dark Places by Daniel S. McGregor

One of the insights of Daniel Castelo’s book is that Pentecostalism does not offer a tradition of “the dark night of the soul.” It’s just not something we’ve produced. Implicit in that, I think, is probably a call for Pentecostals to do so. So it was with great interest that I read my friend Daniel McGregor’s book, Holy Dark Places: Wilderness and Exile in the Christian Experience. I got to know McGregor while he was writing and preparing for this work at Trinity School for Ministry. Published this year, it’s still a fresh work waiting more exploration.

Holy Dark Places introduces contemporary Christians to the “problem” of spiritual suffering–of the experience of God’s absence in the midst of brokenness. It calls the bluff of the facades and veneers that American Christianity is insistent upon. Instead, McGregor invites us to journey into the biblical metaphors of wilderness and exile. Both of these are deeply rooted in the history of the people of God, but also find expression in their worship (Psalms) and future hopes (prophets).

As we identify more deeply with the ancient people of God in Israel, McGregor sets us up to walk through Church history–Augustine, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, John Newton, and Henri Nouwen. These theologians, mystics, and pastors engaged deeply with the wilderness and exile of God’s people within their own interior lives and in caring for the communities of which they were part. By their example and wisdom, McGregor crafts a way for us to understand our own experience of God’s absence.

On the whole, this is a solid introduction to the exploration of spiritual suffering. McGregor’s biblical rootedness and overview of historic Christian tradition, even up to the modern era will equip a generation of Christians who are otherwise lost in the midst of brokenness to continue pursuing God and receiving His love.

Specifically as a catholic in the Pentecostal tradition, the one place where I part paths with McGregor is in the separation between the individual’s interior journey and the community’s pilgrimage. In his conclusion, there is an acceptance of the separation of the experience of individual and community that Pentecostal tradition, as well as the monastic tradition of the Church catholic, would challenge. A community experience of interior wilderness and exile is not only possible, but was enjoined upon us by the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as Nouwen sketches in The Way of the Heart). That said, the exploration of such is something that would go beyond the parameters of Holy Dark Places itself. It is well worth your careful consideration and engagement, and as Pentecostals seek to articulate more about the “dark night of the soul,” this provides an invaluable beginning point for us.

Review: Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition

There’s something in the air in the Pentecostal movement these days–theologians, pastor-scholars, and others, within the classical Pentecostal organizations (Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, and others) and others like myself in other traditions (Anglican, non-denominational, Baptist, and others) are working out the conviction that in birthing the Pentecostal movement, God intended something for the Church catholic. Daniel Castelo’s Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition is yet another fruit of that conviction.

The book is (appropriately) scholarly and technical in its delivery and orientation. Castelo engages current scholarship in Pentecostalism, as well as the historic mystical tradition of Christianity. He also deals with the challenge of Pentecostalism’s relationship to the evangelical movement in both historical and philosophical senses, and the challenges and gifts of that connection (so you’ll read about Charles Hodge and Carl F. H. Henry, in addition to Charles Parham).

But Castelo’s book is not committed to the “problems” of Pentecostalism as much as it is a prophetic call to recognize the gift of our movement. There are resources in the mystical tradition of the Church the we would greatly benefit from (Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila).* And our doctrine and experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit leads us even intuitively towards this direction. But we also have a role in the Church catholic, commending encounter with God in a way that His love is able to transform our community for the sake of the world. Castelo owns that this is a “working proposal” for the Pentecostal movement, but I would take it a step further: this is a path to global encounter with Christ for the whole Church.

In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to engage the monastic tradition, and the ascetically tradition of the Church, and as I’ve talked with Protestant and evangelical friends about their experiences of it together with me, there is an intense desire to translate those experiences and disciplines into the 21st century context. As I look at the timing (kairos and chronos) of the Pentecostal movement, and of the move in our teaching, preaching, and theologizing as a movement, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is answering that desire for the Protestant movement: Pentecostalism provides a path toward present day, contextualized ascetic life in the Spirit. So, for all you would-be monastics, ascetics, and those who hunger for encounter with God, press in to receive the Baptism of the Spirit, to be a community that experiences and hungers for Christ–taste and see that the Lord is good. For Pentecostals, press in to the resources of the Church catholic.

And for those who want to study and consider this issue more intellectually, read this book. I highly recommend it.