This past week was my latest doctoral seminar for my PhD at Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, TN. Every time I go to these meetings I am so very encouraged not only as a scholar but also by the way in which the individuals take seriously the pursuit of articulating a truly Pentecostal theology. Anyone who attends a Pentecostal or Charismatic church knows that Spirit-filled people just have a different perspective on spirituality and theology. The Spirit plays a large role in how we worship, how we read the scripture and how we do theology. Those essential differences is what the CPT is trying to explore.
For my part, I am researching Assemblies of God eschatology and asking the question, “Is there anything uniquely “Pentecostal” about AG doctrine? My chapter I submitted for this seminar was building the case that there are two approaches to Pentecostal theology that affect the way in which the AG does Pentecostal theology.
The first approach is the historical AG position. It sees Pentecostalism as a stream of Evangelical theology that has experienced Spirit baptism. This model was adopted very early. As early as 1919, J. Roswell Flower commented that the AG was ‘just like all other Evangelicals’ but believed in the additional doctrine of Spirit baptism. Later, a group of presbyters who were charged with re-writing the constitution proposed that the AG change its name to “Pentecostal Evangelical Church.” The measure was not adopted. Yet, this way of seeing ourselves as essentially the same as Evangelicals except we believe in the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit has been the way the AG has seen itself for the past 100 years.
The second approach is a recent move among Pentecostal scholars who appreciate the Protestant/Evangelical heritage, but argue that Pentecostalism has its own unique way of seeing theology. The Spirit not only effects a Pentecostal view of Spirit baptism, but it also effects our view of Salvation, sanctification, healing, the Lord Supper, Baptism, ecclesiology and eschatology. Not to mention the ways in which Pentecostals practice community, gifts, worship, and prayer are all effected by the role of the Spirit. Evangelical theology is not sufficient to express Pentecostal Theology. Pentecostal theology is more than just Baptist or Reformed theology plus an openness to the Holy Spirit. It is a complete foundational orientation in both thought and practice.
Just to give you an idea of how this works out, my fellow PhD students are studying the following topics:
What is a Pentecostal understanding of water baptism?
What is a Pentecostal understanding of sanctification?
How does the the Spirit effect the reading of the Torah?
How does the Spirit effect the reading of Jeremiah’s lament passages?
How does the Spirit effect the reading of Ezekiel’s visions?
How does the Spirit effect the way in which Pentecostals worship?
How does the Spirit function as one reads the Spirit passages in Judges, Kings and Samuel?
How does the Spirit help with the memories of terror and the ways in which that effect society?
As you can see from this list, the role of the Spirit is vital as an orientation for the ways in which Pentecostals are reading, thinking, theologizing, expressing doctrine and relating to society. This is Pentecostal theology. It is a Spirit-oriented expression of every area of faith and practice. It recognizes that we as Pentecostals do theology from our experience with the Spirit. Its more than just Protestant theology plus speaking in tongues.
This is what I love about this program. I am so blessed to be a part of it. I am excited about the future of theology for the AG as we join in the conversation and look at our own doctrine. There is so much more than needs to be done to express AG theology in ways that capture that Spirit-orientation toward a unique perspective on theology. Spirit baptism has been a hallmark of our theology. But we still need the Spirit to inform our whole theology so that we are Pentecostal from first to last, rather than just adding on a Pentecostal doctrine to someone else’s theology. I am hoping my contribution to that conversation will spur on others to join in the conversation.