Russell Spittler’s 1983 Predictions for Pentecostal Studies and Their Fulfillment

This week we received the news that pioneering Pentecostal scholar, Dr. Russell Spittler (Ph.D. Harvard, 1971) had passed away. Spittler had a long and distinguished career as a Pentecostal scholar and educator serving at Central Bible College, Vanguard University, and Fuller Theological Seminary. He was also very involved in the Society for Pentecostal Studies where he served as a president in the early years and Executive Director from 1983-1987.

I did not have the honor of meeting Spittler, but I have read his work in the midst of my doctoral studies. I knew how influential he was in SPS as a model of the best of Pentecostal academics and life. I know I was personally grateful that after retiring as Provost for Fuller Theological Seminary and Vanguard, he lended his expertise to the newly formed Board to Trustees at ORU where he was instrumental in crafting new governance structures following the 2007 transition in leadership. He was a true gift to ORU in its time of need.

But what I most know him for is an article he published about the future of Pentecostal studies. This 1983 article in Pneuma laid out 38 topics or areas of study that he envisioned Pentecostals should undertake as the theological community was entering a new stage of maturity. It was in this article that he famously quipped, “Pentecostals have made better missionaries than theologians.” It is because of this lack of theological articulation that he made the following suggestions for areas for further research in Pentecostal studies. Upon reading this some years ago, I was astonished at how many of these areas he predicted have been addressed. (I modeled a blog after it with my own predictions about areas for the Assemblies of God)

Here is the list Spittler laid out and some of the studies that have been published since his forecast forty years ago.

  1. A distinctively Pentecostal theology – Spittler notes that “Classical Pentecostals have done no such thing.” This clarion call has been answered over the next four decades by a number of volumes including Keith Warrington‘s Pentecostal theology text in 2008, Amos Yong’s 2014 Renewing Christian Theology and most recently and Wolfgang Vondey’s robust Pentecostal Theology centered around the five-fold gospel. A host of others have engaged in defining Pentecostal theological methods that define us as a distinct theological tradition.
  2. A re-examination of “secondness” or subsequence doctrine of Spirit-baptism. Two years later, Gordon Fee offered his exegetical analysis of this very question. Of course, a number of works on Spirit baptism were also produced that looked into such matters. Others have sought to understand Pentecostal pneumatology in similar ways.
  3. An exploration of the African roots of the Pentecostal tradition as a “controlling principle” for Pentecostal Theology. While a number of works have sought to bring out the African roots highlighted by Hollenweger, Estrelda Alexander’s work framed Pentecostalism in its African American context brilliantly in Black Fire. A host of other studies center on related themes such as Gaston Espinoza’s biography of William Seymour and Ashon Crawley’s study of Black Pentecostal aesthetics.
  4. A fresh biblical examination of John the Baptist’s prophecy. This task was taken up from a Luke-Acts perspective most recently by Jonathan Kienzler in The Fiery Holy Spirit.
  5. Exploring the “Johannine Pentecost” and its relation to Spirit-baptism claims. John Christopher Thomas, Robert Menzies, and Craig Keener have all done some work in this area, as has several others like Howard Ervin, who have worked on New Testament Pnumematology.
  6. Exploration of variant texts in Acts for “charismatic interests” to perhaps fine new textual evidences of Pentecostal nature. While I am not aware of a full study of this topic, I do know that a variant in Acts 8 is essential to Howard Ervin’s formation of the Pentecostal pattern in Acts.
  7. Question why the longer ending of Mark (16:9-20) have such interest to be added in the second century? While not specifically focused on this question, in 2005 John Christopher Thomas has done considerable work on the reception of the longer ending of Mark. Marius Nel has more closely looked at the reception in church history and its implications for Pentecostal Hermeneutics.
  8. Someone should take the the history of interpretation of glossolalia. Only recently has a full reception history of glossolalia been attempted by Randall Ackland in his 2020 book, Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Glossolalia.
  9. Also, a history of interpretation of prophecy. The quest for a Pentecostal Theology of prophecy has yet to be explored. The most significant studies of prophetic charismata in the Pentecostal tradition have come from African Pentecostalism and in Asia, primarily in its abuse.
  10. Or of word of wisdom,
  11. Or of the word of knowledge. Each of these deserve more attention, although some have worked on 1 Corinthians 12 as a whole.
  12. A historical study of glossolalia in Mormon origins. John Christopher Thomas took this up in a massive work focusing on a Pentecostal reading of the Book of Mormon.
  13. A study of Edward Irving and glossolalia “two generations before the Holiness movement.” A good number of studies looked at charsimatic theology of Irving including David Dorries and David M. Bennett.
  14. A form critical methodology applied to revelations and prophecies which are in the Latter-day Saints. None here that I know of.
  15. A history of interpretation of spiritual gifts. Stanley Burgess took up this historical study in Christian People’s of the Spirit and his three volumes on the Holy Spirit in Ancient, Eastern, and Medieval traditions as well as Ronald Kydd.
  16. A study of charismatic phenomenon in the Apocrypha. This task has yet to be taken up, although John Levison has given some attention to the role of the Holy Spirit in inter-testimental literature.
  17. A review of charismatic phenomena in Nag Hamadi literature. None that I know of.
  18. A study of charismatic interests between Montanism and Gnosticism, or Essenes.
  19. What led to the connection of glossolalia with the Pentecostal baptism in the Spirit? While many Pentecostal pneumatologies have discussed this, Aaron Friesen’s 2013 Norming the Abnormal discussed the development of speaking in tongues as evidence within Classical Pentecostal tradition.
  20. What role did Darwinsim and rationalism play in “evidences”? Kenneth Walters took up the evidences question in 2016 with Why Tongues? in which he looks at how Common Sense Realism informed Pentecostal understandings of evidences.
  21. How did North American Pentecostals uniformly adopt initial evidence while Chilean and German Pentecostals did not take such a position? (see Friesen)
  22. Who will trace the origins of “finished work” teaching of William Durham? While there has been lots of discussion about Durham and finished work theology, there has yet to be a full study outlining the distinctive of finished work theology. (I have my own thoughts on this I will publish in an upcoming book on AG origins).
  23. Who will write a biography of Durham? Two biographical works of Durham have been offered in Edith Blumhofer’s essay in Portraits of a Generation and Thomas Farkas’s dissertation on Durham and sanctification.
  24. There is a need for an oral history project for Azusa Street Alumni. While I don’t know that this has taken place, there is at least one video of Vinson Synan interviewing participants and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage center has an interview E. S. Williams.
  25. Academic biographies are needed for H. C. Ball, T. B. Barrett, E. N. Bell, Frank Boyd, William Branham, G. B. Cashwell, Florence Crawford, Samuel Crouch, Frank Ewart, J. R. Flower, W. T. Gaston, Howard A. Goss, G. T. Hayward, Charles H. Mason, Charles Parham, Myer Pearlman, Derek Prince, Ralph Riggs, Carlton Spencer, Andrew Urshan, and Ernest Williams, and many more. Many of these have indeed been conducted as are linked above. Other significant figures have also been addressed such as A. J. Tomlinson, B. H. Irwin, and Aimee Semple McPherson.
  26. Will someone who knows Norwegian craft a historical sketch of Norwegian Penteocostalism? In 2018, an edited volume was published on Charismatic Christianity in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Yet, no one has done a full study of T.B. Barrett and the influence of Scandinavian Pentecostalism despite the large amount of resources at ORU and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
  27. Regional histories are needed not just the main stories, particular global histories. This area of contextual theology has progressed in recent years, but histories of these fields are still needed.
  28. Denominational histories are also needed. A number of histories were produced including William Menzies and Edith Blumhofer for the Assemblies of God, Charles Conn for the Church of God, Ithiel Clemmons for the Church of God in Christ, Vinson Synan and Joseph Campbell for the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and Aaron Wilson for the Pentecostal Church of God. Yet, histories of other denominations have yet to be fully explored academically including Florence Crawford and Apostolic Faith Portland, Church of God of Apostolic Faith, and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, among others. Also, I believe local histories like my book, Pentecost in Tulsa or Darrin Rodger’s history of the Dakotas are also needed for significant regions and cities in the Pentecostal story. Cities like Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, and regions like the Appalachians, Southern Crossroads, and the Rust Belt where Pentecostalism took hold.
  29. A constitutional history of the Assemblies of God reflecting on its growth and changes to the doctrinal commitments. Some preliminary work was done on this by Glenn Gohr and my work on the eschatological fundamental truths have put these changes into more perspective.
  30. Addressing evangelical concerns, with studies of were miracles truly clusters throughout the history of redemption? This has been addressed with histories of charismata, but also in volumes like Craig Keener’s three volume work and J. D. King’s history of healing and miracles.
  31. Or, did charismata end with the closing of the cannon. Jon Ruthven’s work Cessation of the Charismata has set the narrative on this debate.
  32. An exploration of Karl Barth’s understanding of baptism in the Spirit. An edited volume on Karl Barth and Pentecostal Theology is set to be published later this year, with Barth being in the forefront of some theologians such as Frank Macchia.
  33. A exploration of glossolalia and the brain. William Kay has done some good work on this in the area of mental health. Other secular studies have brought attention the brain and glossalia.
  34. A sociological and physiological exploration of Jung and charismatic piety as found in Agnes Sandford, John Sandford and Morton Kelsey. William de Artega took up the story of the Sandfords. But exploring the relationship between Jung phenomenology and Pentecostal spirituality is still an area to be explored.
  35. A study of significant Pentecostal ministers who left denominations? Unsure of his focus here, but he is likely referring to the next topic.
  36. A study of televangelists with Pentecostal roots such as Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Rex Humbard and Oral Roberts. Of course, David Harrell filled some of this gap with his All Things Are Possible about the Healing ministers, but also contributed through his biographies of Roberts and Robertson. It is shocking that someone hasn’t done a biography of Kenneth Hagin yet.
  37. What could psychohistory or phsychobiography illuminate about Pentecostal origins? Some work has been done on this by Robert Beckford and Pentecostal Black Dread Theology.
  38. Could there be a connection between martyrdom and charismatic phenomena, where martyrs exhibit charismatic phenomena as a result of the pressure of persecution? As far as I know, there is nothing on this.

In conclusion he offers the following final observations for these studies. First, that these are precisely the studies that should motivating PhD studies in the Pentecostal academy. Second, that these studies should be published in university presses instead of Pentecostal publishing circles, which has increasingly been the case as Pentecostal studies are now in all the major academic and university presses. Third, dialogue with evangelicalism should replace polemics, which has come to pass as dialogue with theological communities has become more commonplace. Finally, institutes for the study of Pentecostalism should be established. Spittler was responsible for instituting such a center Fuller. Indeed, many institutions have emerged that now represented centers of academic advancement of Pentecostal studies including Fuller, Bangor (CPT), Regent, Birmingham (UK), AGTS, and ORU which now has a Ph.D. that encourages global contextual theology in the Spirit-empowered tradition.

Whether or not any of the authors of the studies listed above knew this list existed, is hard to know. But what this list illustrates is the incredible insight Dr. Spittler had into where Pentecostal studies was at in his day and where it should go. Nearly every area he highlighted has been explored to one degree or another. The fact that he predicted correctly on many of these topics and provides areas that still need to be explored is remarkable. He will be greatly missed in the Pentecostal academy.

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