I was intrigued by the writings of researchers who are exploring what they call the Science of Godly Love. A Templeton Foundation Report from last year (2013) featured some findings by researchers Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post. Here are some quotes from the report:
Ø Almost half of all Americans feel God’s love at least once a day
Ø Eight out of ten have this experience at least once in a while.
Ø A similar number have felt God’s love prompting their compassion for others at least occasionally, with almost a third feeling this compassion daily or more often.
Ø Millions of Americans frequently experience divine love and for them this sense of God’s love not only enhances existential well-being, but underlies a sense of personal meaning and purpose and enlivens compassion for others…(Matthew T. Lee)
An interesting phrase is what the authors call the pentecostalization of Christianity. Here’s what they mean: “an emotional experience of faith that might include physical and emotional healing, miracles, and hearing directly from God. It is found in all denominations and is more important than any other factor in accounting for experiences of divine love.”
What is Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality?
A few years ago, I worked with some colleagues to develop ways of measuring godly love and other aspects of Christian spirituality. We were familiar with the writings of Margaret Poloma and her colleagues about the model of Godly love—the idea that a strong, vibrant love for God would be linked to love of others. That’s a lot like the Luke 10:27 idea.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)
What might it mean to add Pentecostal-Charismatic spirituality to explaining how people love others? Ev Worthington and I consulted New Testament scholar Marty Mittelstadt and wrote several items for a questionnaire. Kayla Jordan, Ev Worthington, and I sampled nearly 400 students who ranged in age from 18 to 62 at a Pentecostal school and discovered three coherent groups of items, which we called: Service, Healing, and Gifting. The items we wrote were derived from the biblical texts of high importance to Pentecostals and Charismatics- Acts and chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians.
Here’s a few examples of the 12 items for each group:
} SERVICE: I am an effective leader or administrator in a church or small group.
} HEALING: I have prayed for the sick and they’ve been healed.
} GIFTING: I speak in tongues.
Linking Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality to Traditional Christian Spirituality
If our measure of Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality is going to work, it should be linked to other dimensions of Christian spirituality. It worked pretty well in our sample. Here’s what we found:
SERVICE was significantly linked to
Close relationship to God
Secure attachment to God
HEALING was significantly linked to
Close relationship to GodGIFTING was significantly linked to
Secure attachment to God
Close relationship to God
Does Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality Make a Difference?
We thought about measuring loving others in two ways- Forgiveness and Compassion. And we found that all three factors of Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality (Service, Healing, Gifting) were significantly related to both Compassion and Forgiveness.
|Assemblies of God School, Kenya|
So far it looks like there is some support for the idea that godly love is linked to love of others. At least, our sample responded in a way that fits what the godly love researchers have hypothesized. And we found that our set of questions about Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality works in our sample. We won’t know if it holds up elsewhere unless more research is done.
There’s a lot of evidence that religious beliefs are linked to hateful comments and actions toward other persons. But there is some evidence that people who experience a close and loving relationship with God are inclined toward a forgiving and compassionate response toward their neighbors. And there is some evidence that the pentecostalization of Christianity referred to by the researchers mentioned above may add to an understanding that a vibrant Christianity is not just about a personal feel-good experience. At least some people are motivated to consider the well-being of others.
Significance. The Pearson correlations among the measures of the variables mentioned were significant at the 0.01 level.
PCS Factors. We divided the sample into two groups. The results of an EFA with direct oblimin rotation on the first group yielded 3-factors for 12 items. Then we ran a CFA on the second group, which confirmed the 3-factors.
The scales we used to measure the variables were: Avoidance = Attachment to God Inventory, Avoidance Subscale; Anxiety = Attachment to God Inventory, Anxiety Subscale; IER = Intrinsic/ Extrinsic Religiosity Scale Revised (Intrinsic, Extrinsic Social and Extrinsic Personal subscales); Hope = Dispositional Hope Scale; PCS = Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality (Service, Healing, and Gifting subscales).
We are presenting the results at a conference in April 2014-- the reference is below. We hope to publish the study later this year.
Many authors write about these expressions of love in African, Canadian, and U.S. communities
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Beck, R., & McDonald, A. (2004). Attachment to God: The Attachment to God Inventory, tests of working model correspondence, and an exploration of faith group differences. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32, 92-103.
Gorsuch, R. L., & McPherson, S. E. (1989). Intrinsic/extrinsic measurement: I/E-Revised and single-item scales. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28, 348-354. doi:10.2307/1386745
Hwang, J., Plante, T., & Lackey, K. (2008). The development of the Santa Clara Brief Compassion Scale: An abbreviation of Sprecher and Fehr's Compassionate Love Scale. Pastoral Psychology, 56, 421-428. doi:10.1007/s11089-008-0117-2
Lee, M. T., & Yong, A. (Eds.). (2012). Godly love: Impediments and possibilities. New York: Lexington.
Poloma, M. M., & Green, J. C. (2010). The Assemblies of God: Godly love and the revitalization of American Pentecostalism. New York: New York University Press.
Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., Yoshinoba, L., Gibb, J., Langelle, C., & Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520
Sutton, G. W. (2011), The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism – By Margaret M. Poloma and John C. Green. Religious Studies Review, 37: 185. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0922.2011.01528_4.x
Sutton, G. W. (2013). [Review of the books Godly Love: Impediments & possibilities by Matthew T. Lee and Amos Yong]. Pneuma, 35, 1. DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341361
Sutton, G. W. (2013). [Review of the book The science and theology of godly love by Matthew T. Lee and Amos Yong]. Pneuma, 35, 2. DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341361
Sutton, G. W., & Mittelstadt, M. W. (2012). Loving God and loving others: Learning about love from psychological science and Pentecostal perspectives. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 31, 157-166.
Sutton, G. W., Worthington, E.L. Jr., & Jordan, K. (2014, April). Contributions of Attachment, Hope, and Spirituality to Understanding Benevolence. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for PsychologicalStudies, International Conference, Atlanta, Georgia.
Yong, A. (2012). Godly love—What is it and why is there not more of in around: An interdisciplinary exploration. In M. T. Lee & A. Yong (Eds.), Godly love: Impediments and possibilities (pp. 1-20). New York: Lexington.