Reviewed by Timothy Carroll (University College, London)
In A Diagram for Fire, Jon Bialecki draws upon his ethnographic field research amongst Vineyard churches – principally in Southern California – to lay the groundwork for ‘a kind of commonality’ (p. xviii) not only to Vineyard religiosity, and wider evangelical charismatic and Pentecostal movements, but even (in the conclusion) Christianity and religion more broadly. Most of the pages, however, focus on specific case studies of miracle accounts, small group discussions on hearing from God, prayer circles and other examples of charismatic religiosity in order to advance, explicate, and problematize Bialecki’s concept of ‘the diagram for fire’. It is a long review, longer than most on this blog. For those not interested in a long review, I offer an abbreviated synopsis:
tl;dr: It is a rich, insightful, and at times dense and highly nuanced anthropological argument about the event moment, and how this moment is situated and becomes recognised as a miracle. Probably best for advanced UG or research students as well as professionals interested in charismatic Christianity or a more structuralist/frameworks approach (as opposed to an epistemological or concepts approach) to ontology. If you’ve only time for one chapter, read Chapter 3.
If you’ve read Diagram, skip the outline, and go straight to the Discussion, below. The Outline offers a summary of the chapters, and provides a context for the discussion at the end.
Along with the obligatory front matter, Bialecki offers a Prologue that helps frame how he came to the topic and forecasts how he sees the book contributing to wider anthropological concerns such as ‘affect, ontology, and ethics’, as well as – and this is particularly true – ‘an incipient anthropology of the will and of volition’ (p. xviii).
Bialecki then offers an Introduction, which opens with two, historically situated, miracle accounts (or maybe better framed as accounts of clairvoyance). In time the reader is told that the first account is about John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement. This then gives way to a discussion of the themes of the book and situates Bialecki’s use of ‘diagram’ following Deleuze’s ‘term for the relations between social forces that can be actualized in different modes, and for how the relation between social forces can be transposed to new spaces and can further play out to different effects’ (p.20).
Chapter 1, ‘Vineyard Time’, offers a broad discussion of Vineyard practices, focusing on the (flexible) timing of events. Vineyard Time is, for Bialecki, ‘the heterogeneous and composite phenomenon that is specific to the Vineyard’ (p.48). In the arc of the book, opening with ‘time’ allows for a broad, sociological introduction to how Vineyard congregations (and small groups) tend to function, highlighting the informal, volunteer-led nature of the group, open to the unexpected. This very much lays the groundwork for the explication of the diagram in Chapter 3.
Chapter 2, ‘Institutions and God’s Agents’, provides more general (and historical) details about the movement, its growth out of Calvary Chapel, its rapid expansion and the internal institutional debates in terms of how the association of churches should be formally affiliated. In some ways, this chapter feels out of place between ‘time’ and Chapter 3 in the diagram. The specific purchase of the chapter, upon reflection, is specifically in terms of what the non-hierarchical institutional format indicates about the possibility of ‘fire’. In that Vineyard has no centralised pastoral, ecclesiastical authority, the charismata of revelation is recognised as being open to all. This helps establish the possible ubiquity of ‘fire’ and the relative mundane, quotidian nature of many of the miracles that are recounted – either as primary data or as recorded accounts – in the book.
Chapter 3, ‘A Diagram for Fire’, has most of the heavy lifting in terms of laying out the theoretical and analytical project at hand. The diagram (a helpful figure of which is presented on p.72, available on Google Books) is an event composed of four elements: the ‘ground’ – which Bialecki glosses as ‘border of the diagram’ (and I read as in ‘figure / ground’); the ‘miracle as sign’; ‘that which is willing’; and ‘the unwilling’. In what I read as a sort of fractal convergence, a plurality of other event quartets push in on ‘miracle as sign’ – an aspect of interpretation and categorisation that is further elaborated in subsequent chapters. Along with imbedding the tension of the will within the event, Bialecki also situates surprise ‘as being constitutive of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-like religiosity’ and suggests that ‘the centrality of surprise gives some hints as to the contours of the diagram’ (p.71). Bialecki then segues from the issue of surprise to the topic of God’s presence. In some ways, this dwells in a fairly typical discussion of ‘the problem of presence’ (to which he returns in the conclusion); however, the burden of argumentation at this stage rests in justifying how Bialecki uses ‘God’ as an entity (social fact?) in his research. He asks, ‘What happens when someone does try to look inside the miracle?’ and answers: ‘Probing can produce some sense of occluding mechanisms and open up the nature of God: that is, the sort of being God is in that instant’ (p.78). In essence, one cannot see the wind, but looking at the branches closely we can see what kind of being the wind is when it rustles the leaves. He concludes the section on God saying that in the Vineyard, ‘sometimes God is a person, sometimes an idea, sometimes a hypothesis, and sometimes a fiction. This is not to say that God is not real but, rather realty has a shimmering quality as the footing of believers shifts between various naturalistic and supernatural frames. Anthropology must find a way to express this phenomenon’ (p.79). This is an important call and I think Bialecki’s model of God works very well within Diagram.
Chapter 4, ‘Tolle, Lege: Talking, Reading, and Hearing’, is the first real ethnographic chapter, and is based around the narrative accounts of two men – both called to pastoral ministry – who each recount two points in which they heard or saw a lexical utterance from God. Bialecki does not offer the reader an explanation for ‘tolle, lege’, and after searching their etymologies (both Old English and a Latin options are reasonable) it was pointed out to me that this is the command Augustine of Hippo heard at his conversion, meaning ‘take up and read’. This imperative, and life-altering urgency, rests at the heart of the chapter. Along with looking at the specific somatic expression (aural and visual) of the call from God, Bialecki also unpacks the tension of the will. ‘For the diagram to hold together,’ he explains, ‘there must be at least a mild amount of surprise or, at the minimum, a feeling of an absence of individual causative agency by those beings heralded as at least in part willing or unwilling/willful’ (p.97). He ends highlighting that the threshold for surprise and somatic reception of miraculous revelation is notably different between each man’s earlier and subsequent account. This raises the issue of ‘an education of the senses’ (p.101), and this leads into the next chapter.
Chapter 5, ‘The Living Room Seminars: Pedagogies of the Spirit, Typification, and Elaboration’, is another ethnographically rich chapter. In fact, it is really only in Chapter 5 that the reader starts to see ‘real’ people, as it were, in enough depth to get a sense for their character and the complexity of their own struggle to live this Vineyard-style religiosity. The case studies focus on how individuals – situated in small groups, meeting in homes – seek to learn how to hear from God. Anyone familiar with charismatic evangelicalism (especially in Southern California) will immediately recognise the kind of conversations being recorded and the kind of prayers (with laying on of hands, etc.) that Bialecki is observing and participating in. What he brings to the fore is the heterogeneity within the typification of charismatic form. The individual kind of (and capacity for) hearing from God is highly variant from person to person, and he himself (as a non-believing outsider) is able to practice (only) some of the forms of charismatic expression. Within this, Bialecki also highlights the importance of sincerity that shows itself in practice as a humble honesty in relaying the ‘impressions’ or ‘visions’ a person might receive, without it being overly coded, thus allowing the audience accept, reject, and interpret the validity of the possible miracle.
Chapter 6 ‘The Body, Tongues, Healing, and Deliverance’ advances this need for sincerity further, particularly as it relates to the diagram and the boundaries of the self. ‘[N]one of the elements of the diagram necessarily maps onto the categories that constitute the person’ (p.135), and while un/willingness is in some sense specifically internal to the person, the externality of forces shaping will cannot be denied. The problem becomes all the more pointed when the miraculous does not address specific discrete persons, but rather is situated across groups and between persons. In this chapter, the ethnographic accounts focus on the more communal gifts: tongues, healing, and (demonic) deliverance. Bialecki also offers a helpful aetiology of demonic influences, and the slippery line between disease and demonic as understood in the vernacular religion of Vineyard Christians is an important contribution to the anthropological literature on Christian understandings of spirits. The chapter ends with an extended case study, recounting the visit of an itinerant prophet. This passage is, in my opinion, the best and most telling ethnography in the book. The almost cacophonic quality of the event that comes through – with the prophet moving around the room hitting, missing, and stirring violent physical reaction with his prophetic insights – speaks to the complexity of how the charismatic gifts work in Vineyard-like contexts.
Chapter 7 ‘Collapses, Traversals, and Intensifications of the Part-Culture’ continues the exploration of the diagram’s complexity, particularly in the contexts where the performance of charismata doesn’t ‘work’ – the hand of the prophet pushes the recipient of prayer instead of waiting for them to fall of their own (or divine) accord, or ‘last night’s undigested pizza’ (p.170) is the cause of revelation instead of God. This chapter also begins to step back from the specific internal group practices of, for example learning to hear God or praying for healing and deliverance, and provides the reader a greater sense of how the specific living room seminar prayer and worship fits within larger, external contexts. This extension out is not only done on the person level (e.g. personal finances) but also examines the distanciation between the Vineyard and its (unwanted) offspring, the Toronto Blessing, and the negotiation of positions on political movements, such as legislation on gay civil unions in California.
With this large view, Bialecki offers a Conclusion (titled ‘On the Problem of Religion and on Religion as a Problem’). This conclusion reads a bit like the Miscellanea found at the end of classic works of late antiquity; Bialecki telescopes out of the immediate Vineyard context in order to address the problem of presence, the definition of religion, the im/materiality of religion, and spatiotemporal possibilities of religion. It is a wide-ranging, fast-paced and admittedly ‘speculative’ (p.201) project of anthropological musing. In all, the conclusion focuses on religion as change. He argues: ‘is this not the work of religion, to act as a way to control change not only slowing it to preserve ancient orders, but also at times accelerating it to birth new ones? Whether working for good or for ill in any particular circumstance, religion is nothing but change and its antonym, slowed down to eternity or accelerated to revolution, and envisioned as more than human both because change precedes humanity as it goes into the future and because the deceleration of change grounds and conserves the past’ (p.216). To me, this sounds no less true of law than religion.
Taken in total, I think it is an excellent work. The writing is for the most part clear and erudite. There is a good balance of ethnography and theorisation, though I might prefer more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling’ in the early chapters. It is really only in Chapters 5 to 7 that the reader gets a good sense of who the people are; the earlier chapters have a much stronger emphasis on famous figures (e.g. Jon Wimber) and general trends, or organisational aspects, of the movement. I am left with a few questions and one point of strong disagreement. I will take these in turn.
How unique is the diagram?
Bialecki tells us that this diagram for fire may be true of other charismatic Christianities, and in fact for all ‘enthusiastic religions’ (p.101). He also tells us that there are ‘other diagrams’ (not just about fire), including ‘economic and political’ into which ‘the charismatic diagram can express itself’ (p.200).
I think it would be helpful to have a better sense for how widely is this proposed model relevant. All ‘enthusiastic religions’ is potentially a ship with a wide berth; and how does one measure an enthusiastic religion? Is it specific qualities of the religion (e.g. fire) or the enthusiasm of its followers? (I have met cessationist Christians – i.e. those that believe the charismatic gifts were only true for the early apostolic period of the church – who are painfully enthusiastic about their lack of fire.) This, I suspect, is as much up to other ethnographers, working in other religious traditions, testing and sharpening Bialecki’s model as it is for Bialecki to help temper and mould a model that could – as many models in social sciences are want to do – run wild with ardent enthusiasm.
Part of that tempering would, I think, include a better sense of how Bialecki sees the diagram for fire fit within other diagrams. Does it come conjoined, in a complex compound ‘diagram for political fire’? or does the ‘diagram for politics’ recede into the ‘ground’ as fire forces itself into view? The hesitance of the Vineyard pastor to be actively engaged in politics (cf. pp.190-7) versus the politically active practices of (spiritual-political) mapping as performed by the post-Toronto, New Apostolic Reformation (cf. pp.173-8) suggests – to me at least – that how the diagrams fit together may vary between groups.
How exceptional is the Vineyard?
At several points throughout the work Bialecki highlights (or shows his informants highlighting) the difference between Vineyard and wider (more enthusiastic?) Pentecostalism. Conversely, very little effort is given to place Vineyard in the wider context of evangelicalism (charismatic or otherwise). I have never visited a Vineyard congregation; however, I did attend a non-denominational Christian liberal arts college (in Southern California). I also grew up in a mainline evangelical congregation. Every aspect of Bialecki’s ethnography resounded with things I have seen or participated in while still an evangelical: prophetesses (always and only women, in my experience) in home groups; a charismatic awakening in the Student Union Building; the deliverance of a female student conducted midway through an anthropology lecture. The only marked difference between Bialecki’s ethnography of Vineyard and my own experience growing up and coming of age in evangelicalism is that Bialecki’s accounts focus more on males (men called to ministry, male prophets, demonic attack involving young men).
Even some of his more convoluted conversations – such as the metaphysics he seems hesitant to go into (cf. p.75ff) – sound similar to late night conversations I’ve heard, especially amongst theology and philosophy students. It is not always clear if aspects like the metaphysics arise solely from Bialecki’s own theorisation of his data, or are directly informed by the theological, philosophical and metaphysical conversations his informants might be having. In any case, it would be helpful to get a better sense for how the Vineyard and Bialecki’s theorisation of the Vineyard fits within (or in contrast to) wider evangelical practice, critical self-theorisation, and anthropological understanding.
The materials of religion
I have one strong disagreement with Bialecki. It comes in the conclusion in a section titled ‘The immateriality of material religion’ (p.205ff), which continues the conversation about change, specifically in the context of the material forms of a given genre, and he compares art and religion. People familiar with my work will know that this is the niche wherein my own writing principally lies. Drawing the section toward a close, he says ‘art is … vulnerable to specific material regimes of production and circulation; the strictures of human memory and language control the manner in which epic poetry unfolds, and the set of techniques and equipment for painting is large but has limits intrinsic to their materiality. Switching from one mode to another to escape the limitations of a specific means of creation is possible, but doing so is more about breaking into an entirely new set of strictures and powers than about expanding one’s territory into a continuous field of potential’ (p.209). He subsequently concludes, and I quote the paragraph at length:
To sum up, religion, while unavoidably material, is less tied than other human endeavors to specific material practices, and is less vulnerable to strictures acting on its capacity to reproduce itself (though religious forms with similar capacities to self-reproduce may share features and forms). Again, religion’s characteristic as a human phenomenon means that it cannot be anything or everything at all, but there is still an infinite set comprising what it could be, and because of the comparatively negligible set of material constraints on this set, it is a larger infinity than the set comprising other human modes of being. (p.209, emphasis original)
Now, there are a few problems here. I agree that ‘art is vulnerable to specific material regimes of production and circulation’, and would argue that this is true of religion, too. Epic poetry is, after all, as much religion (in the original context of its retelling) as art – and the affinity between art and religion is something Bialecki readily admits. The strictures of human memory and language are essential to the possibility of ritual, pageantry, calendar, and intersubjectivity with the divine. I would also disagree that ‘switching from one mode to another’ is ‘about breaking into’ new strictures, rather than about expanding the territory of potential. Both in the specific work of specific artists (Doris Salcedo comes to mind – who works across various media, installations, human hair, items found in mass graves, gaping holes in floors, etc., expressing the silent scream of the victims of La Violencia in Colombia) and the general project of art (as theorised, for example, by the ethnographer and artist Wassily Kandinsky in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art) is often explicitly about expanding the territory of continuous potential.
The second set of problems may be a matter of scale: in the conclusion Bialecki is opening up the conversation to religion as a broad human phenomenon – with more talk of Axial Age models than Vineyard particulars. In a friendly read of this last paragraph, we would simply say that he is speaking of religion in the broadest sense of human phenomena compared to economics, agriculture, or art. However, even so, I think it is dangerous to lose sight of the particulars of given religions (just as it is problematic to lose sight of specific art practices and theories). I would argue that religion has historically been highly tied to specific material practices (usually astrological, agrarian, or herd-related), and our earliest examples of religion (such as Göbekli Tepe) appear to be tied very specifically to certain materials and material practices. In my own writing, I have argued that textiles seem to have a cross-cultural capacity to make sacred space (DOI: 10.1080/00404969.2016.1266232), and that Orthodox Christians use specific qualities in specific materials to help in their art(-like) production – both of icons (DOI: 10.1057/9781137540638_10) and themselves (ISBN: 9781138493896). Even in iconoclastic, de-materialising movements, as Latour has shown with his concept of ‘iconoclash’, the specificity of material carries huge importance.
I am wary of this kind of argument about religion and (de-)materialisation for the same reason Bialecki (and I, among many others) are weary of the emphasis on belief (p.204): it is biased toward the more gnostic trends in religion that survive in many forms of contemporary Protestantism. One only needs to look at controversies around the use of things other than wheat bread and grape wine for the Eucharist to see how ‘tied’ a Christian group is to ‘specific material practices’. While in Vanuatu in 2002, I saw white bread and hibiscus juice used. Christian history, however, is rich with condemnations of those who vary from the norm of using wheat bread and grape wine. Some are declared heretics and some bishops have been removed from office; what is interesting, however, is that even in the early movements away from the norm (e.g. use of just water, or adding a droplet of infant blood to the cup) there is very distinct and well recorded reasons for the material change and its rejection. It is not until we get into the later Christian periods such as the Reformation – where the theology of the Eucharist and the theology of materials (or call it metaphysics) changes – that we see a shift in what can be used. The shift away from specific materials echoes the movement to interpret the Eucharistic invocation (‘this is my body’) as being (purely, abstractly) a linguistic symbol, not a literal transduction.
With this one point of contention aside, I would readily recommend A Diagram for Fire. In its insightful analysis, it offers what may prove a very profitable model for thinking through the miraculous far further afield than charismatic Christianity. It also offers rich and intellectually honest (and humble) ethnography of miracles, attempted miracles, and tensions around charismatic fire. It is a very welcome addition to the anthropology of Christianity.
Response from Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
It’s usual – though, important to note, by no means mandatory – to start out a response to a review by thanking the original review’s author. It certainly would be warranted in this case, given the depths of generosity, care, and experience that Timothy Carroll gives to his discussion of A Diagram for Fire. But this is also to say that other initial moments of a review are also imaginable. While it would be in bad taste in this particular instance, an author responding to a review could be petulant, aggressive, cloyingly unctuous, or coldly indifferent, for instance. Also, this gratitude, anger, or apathy can come close to the surface, explicitly laid out in direct language that would be hard to miss, or it can be buried, only indirectly gestured in furtive moments as the response takes up its other exoteric business. And all of these responses can be realized with varying degrees of consciousness or intention on the part of the author, as well. One could imagine an author taking an explicit tack, programmatically working towards predetermined desired effects, or alternately the mood of the piece could emerge on its own during the act of writing, as individual choices of word and phrases slowly give the piece’s arc a direction (and we should remember that ‘choice’ here is an inexact description of an action that takes place mostly in the form of the barely conscious rejection of half-realized but undesired language, given the automaticity that actually occurs in both spoken and written language ). We should also remember that even if an author chooses one of the more formulaic kinds of response, the sort of salutation ripped from the beginning of almost any author’s rejoinder in Current Anthropology, this stereotypical response is still unlikely to be identical to any other specific and equally stereotypical response. Absent an instance of out and out plagiarism, the sensitivity to initial conditions particular to the moment of writing each response will subtlety shape their expression, meaning that even the most ritualistic of beginning invocations will have moments that are unique to it. Finally, we should also keep in mind the possibility that one may choose not to directly respond to a review; one could respond in a different moment, venue, or medium, opening a new front or vista that will unfold in different ways. One can even not respond at all, which is of course a sort of response on its own, or at least can be framed as a response when such silence is seen as somehow causally related to an initial review in the first instance. But even for all this, though, all these varieties of response are identifiable as responses. Evan as they open up a terrain of potentiality, in all their particularities they share something, even if there is no actualized element that can be found to be common to every real or imaginable response.
Despite what you the reader may suspect, what I have just rehearsed is not a mere throat clearing exercise, padding, or a deferral of engagement with Timothy Carroll’s review essay. Rather, I would contend that in the way that it points to a simultaneous variation and similarity in potential responses to a common situation, the above paragraph touches on some of the most central aspects of Dr. Carroll’s engagement with my work; and here, I mean both the moments of positive appreciation, as well as the moments of polite disagreement, that mark his essay. It is not central to every aspect of the review, of course. There are a few moments where in a response something more plodding is called for. In the case at hand, I simply want to note one of the terms in my book has a history or sense that, no doubt due to initial unclear writing on my part, escaped this review. Specifically, I’m thinking of his understandable guardedness regarding the term ‘enthusiastic religion.’ In my book, this term was meant to indicate not ecstatic religion in the generic, but rather a particular genealogy of Christian sects, running from Quakers to the Methodists to present day Pentecostalism, that have their roots in the Anglo-American evolution of the denominational form (e.g., Knox 1994). But putting aside small moments of definitional confusion, Carroll’s understandable mix of curiosity and caution about the uniqueness of the diagram, about the exceptionality of the Vineyard, and about religious materiality all touch on the formal aspects of potentiality that can be observed in my opening meditation on the genre of review-response.
It is easiest to see an analogy between potentiality in a particular form of writing, and variation in American Pentecostal and Charismatic religion, in the question of how exceptional the Vineyard is. We should note that the exceptionality of the Vineyard is a question that is neither a binary operation nor something autonomous of wider context. It is rather a question of situated intellectual judgement, of when a particular threshold has been crossed in the eyes of an ethnographer, making an assessment for a particular purpose. To see this, it is enough to note that the question of Vineyard exceptionality has been answered in different ways by different anthropologists. In When God Talks Back, T.M. Luhrmann’s (2013) well-received ethnography of Vineyard spirituality, she takes the Vineyard to be not exceptional at all, but rather as exemplary, in as much as she presents her analysis of this denomination/movement as standing in for tends in American Evangelicalism as a whole. For various reasons, Luhrmann argues, this wider trend may be more visible in the Vineyard, but in her eyes the tendencies she is interested in is by no means unique to it. By way of contrast, I treat the Vineyard not as exemplary but as exceptional – or to be more exact, as particular. My warrant for doing can be cast in both ethnographic and theoretical terms. As I discuss in my book, the Vineyard is particular inasmuch as it sees itself as particular; among Vineyard adherents there is very much a sense that “being Vineyard” is a specific identity, with Vineyard members sometimes going as far as to refer to the Vineyard as their “tribe.” There are also other elements that are specific to the Vineyard, including both a shared design aesthetic and a very carefully articulated ethics of prophecy and prophetic interpretation. But this is not to say that the Vineyard has an essence, or that the various constitutive Vineyard churches are fungible in nature. It is not so much that all Vineyard churches must be like this; rather churches without these aspects are likely to drift out of the larger institutional apparatus and networks that constitute the Vineyard. And even here, we are not dealing with uniformity. Like a certain class of imaginable essay-responses, they may share features without any particular aspect being common to all. That is to say, they in a sense would have something like what Ludwig Wittgenstein describes as a ‘family resemblance.’
The difference here, though, is that unlike the concept of family resemblances, both these churches, and other non-Vineyard American Charismatic churches as well, do have an invisible commonality that would be shared by all of them, even if that commonality is not explicitly contained on the surface. That commonality is that they are all responses to a shared problem. Consider this. The issue of responding to a review is in a sense also informed by a (different) shared problem. In the review response, that problem can be thought of in all instantiations as both formal and generic (how does one respond to a review?) and particular and concrete (who do I respond to this review?). There are different genres of response, that mark a sort of middle-level of resolution or specificity between these two always-present poles: angry responses, pedantic responses, grateful responses, which set up certain relations between the personas of the reviewer, the responder, and the various involved texts. Each of these genres would have recurrent tells that allow us to identify their structuring logics, logics which control the unfolding of all their particular, individual expressions. In short, they are diagrammatic in nature, even if that diagram is virtual. We could consider various ‘diagrams’ (to use the language I filch from Deleuze in my book) to be something analogous to different genres of response. And we might consider a particular varietal (that is, a particular sub-classification of, say, review-response, or of church) to be a partially constricted expression of the diagram, where due to some broadly shared circumstance all expressions of the diagram have a particular shared recognizability.
Hence the particularly, though not the exceptionality, of the Vineyard – at once much like the other extra-Vineyard charismatic moments referenced by Carroll in his recounting of his experience, but also in recurrent but not essentialist aspects particular to the Vineyard as well. The Vineyard is just a particular stream of enchanted realizations of a larger charismatic diagram that sets up the relation of wills with the divine through the eruption of a divine sign. We should note that this also answers the question of the uniqueness of the diagram. Just as there are other imaginable genres of response, there are other diagrammatic sets of relations in American Christianity that result in different identifiable sets or kinds of American Christian evangelical expressions. There can be multiple diagrams present in the same social space, in fact, or to be more particular, under different circumstances the same generic and formal aspect of a problem can be expressed in different particular and concrete ways. In my book, I note that we can identify in the Vineyard moments where rather than thinking in terms of surprise and immediate signs from God, believers think in terms of dutifully willing to follow long-running (and from their perspective, transcendent) signs of God that come in terms of scripture, tradition, or universal moral/ethical imperatives. For reasons I address in length in the book, I call this the actuarial diagram, and I also note that it informs not just Vineyard or Protestant/Charismatic religious life, but also Evangelical religious life as well, just as there are occasional moments where even cessationist evangelicals, which is to say evangelicals who hold that the era of Biblical-style miracles is at least temporarily on hold, express themselves in ways similar to Vineyard believers when they are engaging in the miraculous (just think of the work done by the concept of ‘providence’ for some American fundamentalists). And these diagrams never appear alone – they are triggered by others ‘problems’ that themselves may have their resolutions controlled by particular diagrammatic relations, and in turn these resolutions trigger the appearance of other problems, and other diagrams. The triggering problem, and the subsequently triggered problems, need not be the same in all cases. Some review-responses are triggered by professional concerns, personal narcissism, or legal obligations. And people turn to the problem of how to relate with the divine – of how to solve the problem of presence – for different reasons as well. Some come to churches through kinship networks, some due to emotional or social need, others due to the way that they inhibit and value a particular monotheistic cosmology. Sometimes the sequence of causation is merely logical rather than temporal, as webs of enchained problems simultaneously presuppose each other. And sometimes there are moments when a problem is transposed to what (for lack of a more exact term) we might consider to be different Weberian spheres of value. But all these different problems and diagrams are unique – even as at least in the formal sense there is a shared emptiness to them.
The multiplicity of situation-dependent diagrammatic resolutions to the same formal and generic problem is important because this brings us to the one point which Carroll presents as a “strong disagreement” with me. That is his displeasure with my discussion of the “immateriality of material religion.” Carroll, again rightfully, wants to stress the material specificity of certain religious practices; he gives debates regarding the Eucharist as an example. And he rightfully includes both orthodox and (then) heterodox approaches in his evidence. But the wealth of subtle variation in the deployment of materiality is the point. That the Eucharist can potentially or actually be constituted or performed with slightly different material, and that people could fight over these possible instantiations while recognizing it as being at least in aspiration the same ‘thing’, suggests that we can articulate the Eucharist in diagrammatic language; and the fact that there is a beyond to the Eucharist (as he notes in his reference to the Protestant Reformation) suggest that there are other resolutions to the problem of presence in addition to the Eucharist. The immateriality of material religion, in the Eucharist and elsewhere, also points to the fact that there is at least in potentiality numerous resolutions, including using more ‘diaphonous’ material such as the conceptual and the spirit.
As to whether religion (which would be understood here to also include magic) is more extensive than art depends on whether one wants to collapse the aesthetic and art into a single category. While this may seem like special pleading considering my realist position regarding religion, I suspect that art, as a resolution of a particular set of problems involving representation, property- relations, affect, and authorship, is historically a much more recent problem, and hence more constricted in its range of expression – or at least that this range of expression has not been as thoroughly explored. But I can see other positions being reasonably argued here. Perhaps the more important point is that both art and religion, in the way that they are open to a near infinite set of materiality in their resolutions, and index a sort of unanswerable problem, share a kinship if not an identity. This gives me a chance to parenthetically build off of Carroll’s observation that my description of the most dilated form of religion as a problem “sounds no less true of law than religion.” Like art and religion, the state and the nation also pose a certain kind of problem of presence; it is definitely true that all three can mobilize and be constituted by similar (sometimes laudatory, sometimes dark) passions.
I realize have gone on here for a while in response to an already long review, so I think that I will close by echoing Carroll in giving a tl;dr encapsulation, though in my case I do so by way of a conclusion rather than a prologue. To my mind, and in my book, Charismatic religiosity is a response to a larger problem, a response that predisposes a certain set of relations (or a diagram) between forces that can be mobilized at different times, in different places, using different material. This of course means that there are other different solutions to the same problem that presuppose different sets of constituent relations, and it also suggests that there are other problems out there as well that have nothing (directly) to do with religion. The Vineyard is just one way of realizing the set of virtual relations that makes Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity be Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, and since these relations can never be approached in their full virtuality, but only encountered in specific forms, it is better to think of the Vineyard not as exceptional or representative, but as particular. And materiality matters a great deal, and certain material qualities (or “affordances” to borrow a term that was itself borrowed by Webb Keane  from psychology) are certainly presupposed by some of these diagrams – though no particular form of materiality exhaust any partial, diagrammatic solution. And perhaps the most important element in this tl;dr summary is this: I am immensely grateful for the insight and provocations that Timothy Carroll has brought to my book. Had this been a different piece, that’s how I would have begun my response.
Keane, Webb. 2016. Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories. Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University Press.
Knox, John. 1994. Enthusiasm: a chapter in the history of religion: with special reference to the XVII and XVIII centuries. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press
Luhrmann, T.M. 2013. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage.