Pentecostal Reception History

This week, my first edited volume, Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal Tradition, was published with CPT Press (Centre for Pentecostal Theology). Together with my friends and co-editors, Rick Wadholm and Martin Mittelstadt, we assembled twelve essays on a topic that is emerging in popularity in Pentecostal scholarship: Reception History.

Traditional biblical scholarship has often focused on traditional questions about the Scripture text such as, “What did the original authors mean?” But during the 20th Century, a new methodology, made popular by Hans Georg Gadamer, started asking different questions of interpreters such as “How did individual communities ‘receive’ the text of Scripture?” This “history of interpretation” focused more on how a community “received” a text than what the original biblical author intended the Scripture to mean. In doing this, it provides scholars a glimpse into how Scripture functions within a particular community as it is read, interpreted, and performed by the community.

In light of this new trend, the 2019 Society for Pentecostal Studies annual meeting was focused on Pentecostal Reception History. Global Pentecostal scholars prepared papers on how Pentecostals “received” various Scriptural texts and what implications can be drawn about Pentecostal theology, praxis and hermeneutics. For Pentecostals, early periodicals, such as the Apostolic Faith, Pentecostal Holiness Advocate, Pentecostal Evangel, Church of God Evangel and other denominational papers serve as a wealth of information from which to mine the history of reception of these texts. A valuable source for doing this work is the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives, a free archive of digitized papers with full text searchability.

In anticipation of this conference, Rick Wadholm and I connected with the SPS program chair, Marty Mittelstadt, about publishing a volume from these scholarly contributions. Rick and I are both graduates of the Bangor University Centre for Pentecostal Theology PhD program, led by John Christopher Thomas, that was built on this methodology. Although some Pentecostals were sporadically using this method, including Mittelstadt, Bangor was helping to expose more scholars to this method. Yet, we knew no one had formally written about this method from a Pentecostal perspective and publishing these perspectives was extremely important to the growing understanding of Pentecostal scholarship.

Thankfully, twelve scholars agreed to submit their essays to the project and two years later, the book is now in print. Included in this volume are twelve essays by global scholars from various Pentecostal communities. Each contributor documents not only how Pentecostals received the Scriptures, but also provide insights and analysis for these interpretations in their respective communities.

The Essays

Martin Mittelstadt kicks off the volume with an editorial about the importance of Pentecostal Reception History. He provides a background context for the importance of this volume and discusses the essays that are included.

In, “All Men Created Equal,” Robert Berg demonstrates reception history by exploring how this iconic American phrase has been used throughout history with a variety of contextual interpretations.

In “Reception History as the Literary-Historical Methodology,” Alicia R. Jackson traces the history of Pentecostal interpretation, primarily consisting of historical-critical methods and seeks to build a bridge between reception historians, who trace “what the text has meant” to Pentecostal communities, and historical- critical scholars, who committed to the pursuit of “what the text meant.”

Perhaps the most important essay comes from John Christopher Thomas, who delivered this plenary address at SPS which traces the history of how Pentecostals have engaged in reception history. As Mittelstadt comments in his editorial, “I know of no Pentecostal scholar with more investment and experience in reception history. He is not only a prolific author of monographs and essays on the topic, but he has also guided countless Pentecostal students both formally, through thesis and dissertation supervision, and informally, as a mentor to rising students and scholars in SPS. Indeed, Rick, Daniel, and I have been enriched through his scholarship and through the Bangor University PhD program that has advanced this methodology.”

After these three methdological essays, there are a number of essays looking at various Old and New Testament texts and how Pentecostals read and utilized these texts to form their own theologies.

Rick Wadholm’s essay focuses on how Pentecostals read the stories of the leadership of Deborah in Judges and how that story shaped their understanding of women in ministry.

Lisa Stephenson examines how Pentecostals understood Mary the Mother of Jesus as a model of faith and a Pentecostal sister.

Clayton Coombs explores how Pentecostals read the Mark 16 Great Commission and how they navigated the problematic elements of taking up serpents and drinking poison.

Pamela Engelbert examines the presence/absence motif given to the disciples at Jesus’ ascension in Luke-Acts and the implications for Pentecostal ministry.

In my essay, “How Long Shall We Tarry,” I explore how early Pentecostals interpreted Jesus’ words to “tarry” for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and how that informed their theology for pastoring believers who were seeking the experience.

Matthew Paugh’s essay explores the common motif of “living water” from John’s gospel in how they understood that concept in light of various Spirit encounters in the Pentecostal life.

Andrew Williams offers a unique study of Oneness Pentecostal interpretations of the Acts baptismal formula and its implications for understanding early African American Oneness baptismal theology.

In the final essay, Denise Austin and Steven Mawston trace the victory/overcomers motif from Romans 8:37, particular through Australian Pentecostal theology, music and identity.

Mittelstadt ably sums the volume up this way, “The contributions in this volume add first-time analysis of several passages and practices loaded with meaning in our Pentecostal history. In so doing, reception histories serve as a reminder that Pentecostal doctrines and practices are not discovered ex nihilo or in an ivory tower, but they evolve through those who live among us. These accounts encourage us to appreciate our one hundred-year-old Pentecostal family, and to build humbly and faithfully on their efforts.”

You can purchase the volume on Amazon.com.

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