on Pentecostal Hermeneutics

For those who may be wondering how Pentecostals go about interpreting the Bible – the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal, which goes out quarterly to all licensed and ordained ministers in the Assemblies, but that can also be viewed online, has an article (written about 10 years ago) by Roger Stronstad summarizing different elements or currents trends of Pentecostal Hermeneutics.  I hadn’t seen it so it was interesting even for me to read – I was familiar with some of it but not all of it.  lol.

In the article you’ll see one call the “pragmatic” hermeneutic.  This portion gives you a little bit of history as to how the whole thing got started, well, at least a key even that seemed to really catapult the movement forward in a significant way.  There were workings of the Holy Spirit going on all over the world at the time, but this and other events leading to the Azusa Revival seem to be the most well known.   It is interesting too that this is listed first in the summary because really, the heart of Pentecostal theology, which can be really diverse with no one single simple definition, is pragmatics (used here in the sense of relating to practical considerations).  In too many ways, its both a good and a bad thing.

Here is an excerpt:

As Martin Luther is the fountainhead of Lutheranism, John Calvin of Reformed Theology, and John Wesley of Methodism, so Charles F. Parham stands as the fountainhead of Pentecostalism. Parham was not the first to speak in tongues. In one sense that honor goes to Miss Agnes N. Ozman.  In another sense, the birth of the Pentecostal movement is the climax to the growing swell of charismatic experiences among various revival and Apostolic Faith movements. What makes Charles F. Parham the father of Pentecostalism, Topeka, Kansas, the locus of Pentecostalism, and Agnes Ozman, the first Pentecostal, is not the uniqueness of this experience, but the new hermeneutical/biblical understanding of this experience.

Charles F. Parham bequeathed to the Pentecostal movement its definitive hermeneutics, and consequently, its definitive theology and apologetics. His contribution arose out of the problem of the interpretation of the second chapter of Acts and his conviction that Christian experience in the 20th century “should tally exactly with the Bible, [but] neither sanctification nor the anointing that abideth … tallied with the 2nd chapter of Acts.” Consequently he reports, “I set the students at work studying out diligently what was the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost that we might go before the world with something that was indisputable because it tallied absolutely with the Word.” He tells the results of their investigation in the following words: “Leaving the school for three days at this task, I went to Kansas City for three days services. I returned to the school on the morning preceding Watch Night service in the year 1900.

“At about 10:00 o’clock in the morning I rang the bell calling all the students into the Chapel to get their report on the matter in hand. To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while there were different things occurring when the Pentecostal blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spoke with other tongues.”5

In Parham’s report we find the essential distinctives of the Pentecostal movement, namely, (1) the conviction that contemporary experience should be identical to apostolic Christianity, (2) the separation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit from sanctification (as Holiness movements had earlier separated it from conversion/incorporation), and (3) that tongues speaking is the indisputable evidence or proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Well, be that as it may, I find it all very interesting and really, given the context, I don’t think you can really blame Parham for wanting to know what was the source of the Apostles zeal.  I think too his quest for “Bible evidence” is evident of the times he lived in – people were big then on wanting empirical evidence for things and in this case it morphed a bit in to wanting “physical” evidence for knowing without a doubt one is in fact baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Agree or disagree with this approach, I don’t think we can fault them for that.  He was a man of his time really.  And this is really the root of much Pentecostal theology and understanding of Spirit Baptism – that there is going to be “evidence” for it.

Well, feel free to give it a read and or let me know what you think.


Books on the history of Pentecostalism

The following is a list of books Debbie and I have that in one way or another discuss some aspect of the history of the Pentecostal movement: 

Gary B. McGee. People Of The Spirit: The Assemblies Of God. Gospel Publishing House, 2004.  A narrative history of the Assemblies of God.  

Stanley M. Burgess, et al. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Zondervan, 2002. 

Vinson Synan. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Eerdmans, 1997.  This is a key book in learning the history and theological roots of the movement.  Synan argues that Pentecostalism earns its place as a major strand of Christianity alongside Catholicism and Protestantism.  

_____________.  Century Of The Holy Spirit: 100 Years Of Pentecostal And Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001.  Thomas Nelson, 2001.  

Grant Wacker. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American CultureHarvard University Press, 2003.  Dr Wacker (of Duke) is a historian by training and a non-pentecostal defender of Pentecostalism.  He may not agree with it all but he will readily resist a person who misconstrues the movement in any way.  I know, I took a class from him.  

Cecil M. Robeck.  The Azusa Street Mission and Revival. Thomas Nelson, 2006.  Robeck is over at Fuller and here tells how the Azuza Street Revival all got started.  

Roberts Liardon.  God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed.  Whitaker House, 2003.  This tells the stories of the rise and fall of various folks in the movement.  It was given to us when we came pastor the church here at the Canyon.  

Edith L. Blumhofer.  Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister.  Eerdmans, 1993.  A very interesting study on the life and ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson.  It left issues surrounding her disappearance unresolved.  But did show how she really used the times to get her message across – she was the first radio preacher and ran a powerful street ministry with the Temple Commissary.  

Frank Bartleman.  Azusa Street.  Whitaker House, 2000.  A first hand account of the Azusa Street Revival.  

Ethel E. Goss.  The Winds of God: The story of the early Pentecostal movement (1901-1914) in the life of Howard A. Goss.  Word Aflame Press, 1977.  This tells first hand account of the the early Pentecostal Movement from the view of Goss.  

David Edwin, Jr. Harrell.  All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern AmericaIndiana University Press, 1979.  This is a really wild read about the antics and craziness of the healing preachers in the 50’s and 60’s – the likes of William Brenham, Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, Gordon Lindsay, T. L. Osborn, Kathryn Kuhlman, and others – the good, the bad and the ugly!  

Dempster, Klaus, and Petersen.  Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to TravelRegnum/Paternoster Press, 1999.  Basically this is a compendium of Pentecostal scholarship on issues ranging from Pentecostal theology, hermeneutics, missiology, biblical studies, history and praxis – all dealing with critical issues confronting the Global Pentecostal movement.  

James R. Goff and Grant Wacker, (eds). Portraits of a Generation: Early Pentecostal LeadersUniversity of Arkansas Press, 2002. 

Welp, that about covers the bases.  Think I went to a Pentecostal Seminary yet?  

Is Evangelical theology, Pauline theology?

Robert Menzies in his book Spirit and Power, co-authored with his father William Menzies, discusses an issue in hermeneutics – the role of narrative in forming theology. Typically, in the past narrative has been mostly viewed as historical and not theological – that instead narrative provides the historical basis for theological formulations. However, in time biblical scholars have come to see what most of the rest of us probably already knew, that narrative is often both historical and theological, history but with a purpose. Interestingly, many have been okay with this in regards to the Old Testament narratives, but when it comes to the book of Acts they break the rules and insist that it is only a historical account of the early church. They contradict themselves.

Anyways all that to highlight an interesting point he makes when interacting with a claim Gordon Fee makes in his book, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth where he states: “unless the Scriptures explicitly tell us we must do something, what is narrated or described can never function in a normative way.” (this is footnoted from pg 97 of the 1981 edition – I have no idea if this was changed in response to Menzies or not). So Menzies goes on to respond with a barrage of questions,

“Today, for many, it is difficult to imagine how such a restrictive approach came to be axiomatic for Evangelical interpretation. After all, doesn’t this principle sound very much like a canon within a canon? Doesn’t much of the theology of the Old Testament come to us in the form of narrative? Didn’t Jesus himself often teach by relating stories or parables? Doesn’t such a theory tend to reduce the Gospels and Acts (as well as other narrative portions of Scripture) to a mere appendage to didactic portions of Scripture, particularly Paul’s letters? (Perhaps this explains the overwhelmingly Pauline character of much of Evangelical theology. When all is said and done, has not Evangelical theology tended to be Pauline theology?) In any event, even the most casual reader cannot help feeling the tension with 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (pg. 38-39).

So the question becomes, is Evangelical theology indeed, Pauline theology? What do you make of this quote?