The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology: A PhD Thesis

Last May I completed a my journey through my PhD program.  For 10 years I have immersed myself in the world of Assemblies of God history and doctrine in order to produce the first comprehensive study of AG eschatology that looks at 100 years of official, popular and scholarly expressions of the AG’s position on the second coming of Jesus.  It was a joyful journey with may twists and turns. But in the end, I feel proud of the work I did and the contribution I made to the field of Pentecostal History and Theology.

Today, that thesis is available to the public for the first time.  My school, Bangor University (Wales), publishes all of their dissertations freely online through their open-source digital repository. Unlike Proquest, or other dissertation services, that are only available by subscription to academic libraries, Bangor believes in the value of information justice and sharing research with the world. Anyone can download it free of charge here:

https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/the-origin-development-and-future-of-assemblies-of-god-eschatology(9d6fbc67-9a5e-47d5-8226-c7c62e24f609).html (warning, it takes a while to download)

A published print version of this thesis is in the works with ORU Press, which will hopefully be available later this year.

As I say in the dedication: ” I pray this study honors the past, encourages the present, and shapes the future.”

 

A Short Clip of My Graduation

Here is a short clip of when I was recognized for the completion of my PhD from the Centre for Pentecostal Theology at Bangor University (Wales, UK) at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary Commencement held on May 21, 2019. I was the only PhD graduate that day so my program director, Dr. John Christopher Thomas, was able to say a few words about my thesis. It was  great moment.

The Spirit of The Millennium – Perspectives on Assemblies of God Eschatology

Recently I was asked to teach a series of classes at my church based on my dissertation on the development of Assemblies of God eschatology. This was the first opportunity for me to present some of the findings of my research.  I did a week for each of the four AG eschatological statements in the Statement of Fundamental Truths: The blessed hope, the millennium, the final judgment, the new heavens and new earth. For one of the weeks I had to be out of town and recorded the lecture for the class.  Here is the video I shared on the development of the doctrine of Millennium. In it, I discuss the role of the millennium in AG visions of the future. I talk about how AG believers were committed to the premillennial coming of Christ in response to other postmillennial and amillennial views. I also discuss the role that Israel plays in AG visions of the future, noting the dynamics of the AG responses to developments in Israel through the twentieth century.

Link to Power Point slides: Spirit of the Last Days 3 Spirit of Justice

The Future of AG Eschatology

On May 16th I successfully defended my dissertation and was awarded the degree of PhD in Pentecostal Theology from Bangor University (Wales, UK). I was examined by Dr. Robert Pope of Westminster College (Cambridge, UK) and Dr. Andrew Davies of University of Birmingham (UK).

 

The Viva (so called in the UK) took about an hour and it was a wonderful conversation about my research and my conclusions. After about five minutes of deliberation they announced that I passed with only minor corrections to be made in the days ahead. I never imagined that defending a thesis would be so enjoyable. Ten years of work and research came together in that one hour meeting.  I look forward to the corrected version being available to the public in the months ahead so people can read my work.

An Overview of My Research

Now that it is complete, I feel I can share more about my research. This this study sought to retrieve and interpret how the AG has understood eschatology over the past century. In order to understand how the AG expressed itself, I explored the various voices that have expressed AG beliefs over the past century.

First, the review of scholarly literature contains the most comprehensive survey of studies of AG eschatology and eschatological research by AG scholars. It revealed that AG scholars universally recognize the central role that eschatology has played in the fellowship but are uncomfortable with the fundamentalist dispensationalism expressions that have served as the primary orientation of its doctrine. Because of this, many Pentecostal and AG scholars have sought to argue for alternative models, which are thought to be pneumatologically compatible with the distinctive characteristics found in Pentecostal theology.

In order to test these conclusions, Chapters 3 and 4 sought to engage in a survey of the primary resources of the fellowship. Chapter 3 offered the first survey of official eschatological doctrine of the General Council expressed through the SFT. This chapter revealed multiple revisions have occurred with have led a gradual shift in emphasis during each period from a general expression of eschatological images toward a more specific linear chronology, subtle changes to the millennial position centered around the changing dynamics concerning the nation of Israel, and a noticeable reluctance to articulate a precise tribulational position in the SFT that denominational leaders made explicit in the position papers and supplemental statements.

In Chapter 4, over a century of articles throughout the 5,000 issues in Pentecostal Evangel were surveyed to produce the most comprehensive theological analysis of AG eschatological beliefs. The number and diversity of voices provided a richer and more nuanced narrative of the types of eschatological understandings that have been held in the AG.

In Chapter 5, I summarized the essential elements that make for an AG eschatology. And in Chapter 6, I attempted to construct a pneumatological eschatology based on those essential elements.

A Summary of Conclusions

This study reveals despite this strong pneumatological orientation when the AG began, over the last century AG eschatology has vacillated back and forth between distinctly Pentecostal expressions and those indistinguishable from fundamentalist dispensationalism. I assert that there were two parallel trajectories in the AG’s pneumatological orientation. When emphasis was placed on interpreting world events as the signs of Christ’s coming, the AG was more dispensational, pessimistic, and speculative. When the AG focused on the Holy Spirit as the sign, the AG was more hopeful, pneumatic, and focused on the four eschatological images rather than the chronology, which encouraged speculation.

Here are a number of interesting findings are worth mentioning:

  1. Despite the dispensational influences that often emphasize pessimistic views of the future, the AG managed to maintain a hopeful orientation toward their view of the return of Christ. It was called a “blessed hope” and the Spirit was the spirit of hope that fueled their expectation of Christ’s coming.
  2. The AG was highly committed to premillennialism because it was the only view that affirmed the OT prophecies about the coming messianic kingdom, which prepares the earth for the renewed earth.
  3. The commitment to the “salvation of national Israel” was eschatological, not political. Any theology of Israel they held was contingent upon the return of Christ. In this way they made a distinction between present/political/geographical Israel and the coming messianic restoration of Israel in the millennium that kept them from whole-heartedly affirming the present state of Israel.
  4. The AG was committed to dispensationalism, but managed the tensions by emphasizing the “latter rain” orientation in which they expected the Spirit to be the primary sign of the return of Christ. Therefore, the type of dispensationalism the AG affirmed was not that of J.N. Darby, C.I. Scofield or other fundamentalists; it was a uniquely pentecostal form of progressive dispensationalism fueled by the latter rain metanarrative.
  5. The official eschatological statements do not affirm any tribulational position.  It is assumed that the AG is pretribulational.  That is not true. I show  that several times AG officials had the opportunity to change the language to be pre-tribulational and declined. It is, in fact, permissible in the AG to hold pre, mid, post or even “a-tribulational” positions as licensed minister of the AG. Several denominational leaders, even those who created the official statements, held mid-tribulational or multi-rapture views.
  6. This study casts doubt on assumptions that the AG was not particularly engaged in social or ecological concerns. AG writers consistently wrestled with various social and geo-political realities such as poverty, social changes, and ecological issues. Furthermore, this study found no indication that AG eschatology advocated a reckless attitude toward the environment; rather they consistently supported the continuity between the first creation and the new creation.

This thesis makes several significant contributions to the study of the field of Pentecostal history and theology.

  1. First, this is the first analysis of periodical literature for the entire life span of a particular denominational periodical within the Pentecostal movement. The nuances that were brought out concerning AG eschatology were only possible by expanding the breadth of sources to include the entire lifespan of the community.
  2. A second contribution is by expanding the scope of the study to a full century, I was able to cast doubt on the assertion that the dispensational orientation was detrimental to the AG’s pneumatological orientation. Those who study Pentecostal eschatology now have a more nuanced account of the role dispensationalism has played in how Pentecostals have expressed their eschatology. For the AG, it is more accurate to characterize their eschatology as progressive dispensationalism, or even perhaps Pentecostal dispensationalism, rather than fundamentalist dispensationalism.
  3. A final contribution of this thesis is that it is the first attempt at constructing a comprehensive AG eschatology oriented in the concept of the pneumatological imagination. While other studies have offered alternative visions for Pentecostal eschatology, this study offers suggestions for actual revisions to present doctrinal formulations. Not only were specific recommendations made toward revising the SFT, a methodology of how to implement these changes was also suggested.

I look forward to sharing my work with the world in the months ahead.

 

AG Eschatology, Oral Roberts, and Reception History: A Research Update

I have great news about my PhD journey! On April 16, 2019 I will finally be defending  my PhD dissertation on “The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology”.  It has been nearly a year since began the process of submitting my final draft.  After several delays and snags, I will finally be sitting for my defense (called a viva in the UK) and hopefully bring this journey to a close that began over ten years ago. I welcome your prayers for me!

I am truly excited that I will soon be able to share my research after everything is finalized. I am extremely proud of the work I have done in tracing how the AG has expressed their belief in the second coming of Jesus throughout 100 years of AG literature.  This will be the first study to chart the development of official doctrinal statements and the various changes that have been made in the past century (and yes, there have been many changes!) I am also the first to create a narrative of how these beliefs were expressed  by leaders, pastors and individuals in the AG through the hundreds of articles in over 5,000 issues of the Pentecostal evangel from 1914-2014. I am also the first to chart the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping how these beliefs have been expressed.  To wrap up my study, I offer a comprehensive integration of the past and the future to re-imagine how AG doctrine can continue to develop a Spirit-focused eschatology consistent with the past but also embraces the  future for the AG.

The second area of research I am focusing on right now is Oral Roberts Studies.  For over two decades, Oral Roberts studies have fallen into the background of the Pentecostal academy.  Following David Harrell’s monumental biography of Oral in 1985, little research has been conducted on this fascinated and controversial figure in Christian history.  This past fall, forays into this neglected space were made with the publication of a special edition of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology that honored the centennial of Oral’s birth with twelve new studies on his life and theology. I was able to contribute two pieces to that edition: one on the role of Oral Roberts’ view of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and one on a shockingly different early account of his healing testimony that I co-authored with Vinson Synan. Writing these two pieces awakened me to the vast number of topics on Oral’s life, theology and ministry that are still yet to be explored.  The door is wide open for more research and the time has come for scholars to re-engage with this central figure in Pentecostal and Charismatic history.

Following my first two studies, I have been working on two new areas of Oral’s life and impact. The first is a study of Oral’s legacy of racial healing and reconciliation. His racial views were radical for his era and have been an important factor that led to the  extremely diverse student population on the campus of ORU today.  This study will be part of another special edition coming out in the Fall issue of Spiritus focused on the theme of healing, for which I will be the guest editor.  The second is a study about poverty, Pentecostalism, and Oral’s influence on the prosperity gospel.  I will be exploring how the trauma of Oral’s poverty stricken childhood was the primary motivator for his doctrine of prosperity. It is a challenging study that will wrestle with the implications of Oral’s influence on prosperity gospel, particularly in the majority world.

A final piece of research and writing will be showcased this upcoming week at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.  The theme this year is “Reception History,” which is the methodology of exploring how Pentecostals have read, interpreted, viewed, and performed the Scriptures throughout their history. I will be presenting a paper on the Pentecostal practice of “tarrying.” Specifically I will be exploring how early Pentecostal’s received Jesus’ command to “tarry in Jerusalem” and how that command informed their expectations on the amount of time that one must seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  You can read this paper I am presenting next week here: Isgrigg SPS – How Long Shall We Tarry

In addition to presenting at this year’s conference, I am joining fellow AG scholars, Rick Wadholm and Martin Mittelstadt, to compile an edited volume focused on Reception History that will contain many of the studies  from this year’s meeting.  We are very excited to be working together on  this ground-breaking volume dedicated to articulating and demonstrating this emerging discipline within Pentecostal studies. Here is the Reception History Call for Contributions for potential authors.

This is a wonderful season in my life. I love my job as director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University. People ask me all the time, “Will you get to teach?”  The truth is I teach every day. That’s what academic librarians do! We teach students how to do academic research using the best sources available to them in ORU’s amazing library.  Every day I have conversations with students about Pentecostal history and its my job to help them to discover the wealth of materials that we have at ORU for them to explore. I get to watch the excitement they experience as they learn the ins and outs of finding information on topics they are passionate about. I also get to be the steward of the amazing collection of books, magazines, audio/video and artifact that have been entrusted to the HSRC for over 50 years.  Every day I am surrounded by the history of the Holy Spirit’s work around the globe. I am grateful to God for his leading in my life to bring me here. I am convinced that Oral was right: God is a good God!

By the way, the HSRC depends on the donation of materials related to the global Spirit-Empowered movement. We need your help! We are glad to take books, magazines, and other artifacts (old or new) from the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement to help us to continue to expand our collection. If you have something to donate, contact me.  https://oru.libguides.com/HSRC

 

Ten Opportunities for Future Assemblies of God Research

A question was asked today in an Assemblies of God scholars group I am a part of concerning what areas in the AG needed more scholarship. While doing my own research on the AG, I would often come across information or topics that I recognized were still gaps in AG research.  Here is a list of topics that I thought of that future researchers and young scholars could explore at the masters or doctoral level.

1). Institutional History: The last denominational history was written in 1989 by Edith Blumhofer. The republished version of People of the Spirit by Gary B. McGee has added to that story. But, I still believe that a full history with updated information on the history and doctrinal development of the movement is needed. Likewise, I believe there is a need for a doctoral level study of the history of AG Bible school and universities. There is some work on P.C. Nelson and SAGU, as well as a few studies in Heritage on them as a whole. These institutions have been such a large part of the ethos of the denomination that the history and philosophy of these universities would be a fantastic study.

2). We need an updated systematic theology. Sometime back, I wrote a post on the history of Bible Doctrine books. The first full bible doctrines book was P.C. Nelson’s in 1936 (republished by GPH in 1948).  Myer Pearlman wrote Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible in 1937 and E.S. Williams followed that in 1953 with his Systematic Theology.  But it wasn’t until William Menzies wrote Understanding our Doctrine, which became the basis for Stanley Horton’s republished work Bible Doctrines (1993), that the AG had a modern theological exploration of AG doctrine by a PhD level scholar. The later  Systematic Theology (1994), edited by Stanley Horton, was a suitable systematic text, yet it is now nearly 25 years old.  It is time for a more mature and updated theological text based on the AG’s theological orientation and reflecting contemporary understandings of key AG doctrinal issues.  I hope my work on AG eschatology is a seed toward this goal.

3). There have only been a couple major studies of individual doctrinal beliefs of the Assemblies of God: Various ones on Initial evidence, Sanctification by Bruce Rosdahl and mine on Eschatology. More studies based on the doctrinal history of our other doctrines is needed. Also, while most studies of the AG include a history of the Statement of Fundamental Truths (including a whole chapter in my dissertation), no single study has yet to fully research the history of this document and its doctrines.

4). The genre of Pentecostal biographies has grown in the past few decades, but there is still much work to do, especially on important AG figures. We still need biographies leaders like E.N. Bell, S.A. Jamieson, Stanley Frodsham, E.S. Williams, and many others. The most recent was David Ringer’s short bio of J.R. Flower. Before that was the biography of Stanley Horton by Lois Olena. Many more like it could be produced.

5) In the topic of biographical study, I could see the potential of a volume on the women of the Assemblies of God.  The topic of women in ministry was covered brilliantly by Joy Qualls and there has been some short studies by the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. However, there is certainly a need for more biographies some of the AG’s significant female ministers. The stories of women like  Alice Flower, Elizabeth Sisson, Alice Luce, and others have yet to be told. I particularly think someone should study the phenomenon of the female child evangelists like Louise Nankeville and Edna Jean Horn, could be explored.

6). Someone needs to do a study on the two genres that GPH published in many books: Poetry and Junior Fiction Novels. I was surprised to find out how many poems were published in the Pentecostal Evangel and how many christian poetry books by AG ministers were published by GPH. I was equally surprised to see the number of junior fiction novels the GPH published. Someone needs to do a literary analysis of these interesting genres in AG history.

7). Someone needs to do a study of first generation AG PhD’s such as Stanley Horton, William Menzies, Klaud Kendrick, John Wycoff, etc. and how that impacted the way the AG did theology.

8). Nearly 30 years ago, Margaret Poloma declared that the AG was at a “crossroads” in the charismatic ethos of our local churches.  Where have we gone since then?  I think we need an updated sociological study similar to Poloma’s in 1989, with statistical data charting the prevalence of charismata in the AG. (editing note, Peter Althouse reminded me that Poloma and Green produced a 2010 updated study of the AG).

9). Someone needs study the rise of neo-reformed theology among AG ministers. In 1993, Blumhofer suggested that the growing educational level of our ministers is leading to outside theologies working among our ministers. This may be much more the case now. Many younger pastors are drawn to the neo-reformed movement for theological stability. But what consequences does that have on Pentecostal orientation of our ministers? A good empirical study on this is needed.

10). Someone needs to look further into the issue of race and the AG. There are a few studies , and some discussion in books but a comprehensive investigation that includes dialoging with the CoGiC historians needs to be written.

How Eschatology Shaped AG Social Ethics

This week I attended the annual meeting for the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It was a wonderful meeting.  The theme this year was “Pentecostals and the Poor”.  This theme appealed to me because one of the questions my thesis attempts to answer is how Assemblies of God eschatology translated to how they engaged in social issues.  Did their belief in the soon coming of Christ mean that they ignored issues such as poverty?  I submitted this paper and I was grateful it was accepted.

My paper was given on Friday afternoon in the History interest group. I was excited about sharing my paper, but I was also excited because there were three other excellent papers that were also scheduled during my session: a history of Church Mothers by Jane Coulton, a history of the Church of God by historian David Roebuck and a paper about the origin of Oral Robert’s doctrine of healing by the renown Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan. Needless to say, it was a great crowd and I felt so honored to be in the same session as these excellent scholars. My paper was well received and people seemed very interested in my research.

Isgrigg – Interpreting the Signs of the Times SPS

Abstract:

This paper will seek to explore how the AG’s premillennial beliefs affected the way they interpreted three primary social issues: political attitudes, economic issues, and responses to social and moral issues.  I had to limit the time frame and issues covered because of length, but my thesis looks at these attitudes all the way up to the present. This paper give just a taste of what I found. To aid in this task, commentary on social issues through the lens of eschatology in the Pentecostal Evangel will be analyzed through the first two periods of AG history: Formative Period (1914-1926), Scholastic Period (1927-1948).

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Alice E. Luce

Alice Eveline Luce was a missionary to India and church planting pioneer who entered the Pentecostal movement in 1910. She was born in England in 1873 and at age 22 she became a missionary with the Anglican Church Missionary Society.[1] While in India, word of the Pentecostal movement had reached her in 1910 and she sought out the baptism in the Spirit for herself. Not long after, she became ill and returned to England in 1912 to recover. In 1915 she moved to Texas to become a missionary to Mexico and was ordained in the AG by M.M. Pinson. In 1926, she helped to found the Spanish speaking Berean Bible School (now Latin America Bible Institute) in San Diego with veteran missionary to Mexico H.C. Ball. Alice Luce was known in the AG as a missionary strategist, Bible school educator and Hispanic missionary. She wrote three books that were published by the GPH: The Messenger and His Message (1925), The Little Flock and the Last Days (1927), and Pictures of Pentecost.

Luce’s Little Flock and the Last Days is a significant work because it is the first GPH book specifically on eschatology by a woman. While she did not intend the book to be a ‘exposition on prophecy, nor yet a study of social or international conditions in the twentieth century’, she wanted to bring light to the topic of Christ’s return and encourage believers to be prepared for his coming. [2]

One unique element of Luce’s premillennial eschatology is understanding of ‘signs of the times’. She recognized that the signs of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes mentioned by Jesus were intended to be  ‘characteristic of the whole of this church age, the dispensation of grace.’ [3] For Luce the true signs that she was living in the last days were 1) the budding of the fig tree (rise of the Jewish nation), 2) the sign of summer in all the trees (awakening of the nations), and 3) the Latter Rain outpouring of the Spirit.[4] She devotes a chapter to each of these significant signs of the soon coming of Christ.

Another unique element in Luce’s eschatology was that she argued that the Millennium was important for the purpose of reversing the curse upon the created order.  She believed Jesus must come to restore nature. Based on Romans 8:20-22, Luce understood that restoration of creation was part of the millennial agenda. Since the second coming will bring the resurrection of believers, it will also signal the resurrection of creation.  Jesus will institute peace, reverse natural disasters, extend the ability of the earth to produce and sustain people and reverse the curse on animals and nature. She says,

The suffering and groaning of nature in this time of the dominion of sin, is not a hopeless mourning over something irrevocably lost. On the contrary, it is a suffering in hope, a death which is only the gateway of entrance into new life … the whole creation, though it suffered with him in this fall, will ultimately be redeemed and restored to greater beauty and fertility than ever.[5]

Luce is another example of the type of pneumatological orientation of AG eschatology and the role that women played in the theological shaping of AG doctrine.  Luce was highly respected missionary and teacher within the AG.  Her books showed a great theological maturity and wisdom.  Together, Alice Luce and Elizabeth Sisson represent some of the earliest eschatological testimony in print for of the AG.

[1] Alice Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927), p. v.

[2] Gary B. McGee ‘Luce, Alice Eveline’ DPCM, pp. 543-544.

[3] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-37.

[4] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-33.

[5] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 47-48.

 

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

Are These Signs of the Times?

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like there seems to be a uptick in the number of natural phenomenon in recent days.  This weekend Hurricane Irma is supposed to make landfall. Two weeks ago Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Yesterday there was an 8.0 earthquake in Mexico.  Recently typhoons in Asia have caused massive flooding. And a month ago we got to witness a total solar eclipse in America.

With all of these events in such close proximity, it is very natural to ask, “What do these things mean? Are they signs of the times?”  Are these what Jesus talked about would take place before the end?   I think it is human nature for Christians to want to question in what way these things might be interpreted as signs. Is is judgment? Is it God telling us he is coming soon? Is it prophecy coming to pass? 

As a student of history and of eschatology I have had to come to terms with how to understand the “signs of the times”.  As I have read through 100 years of Pentecostal literature it is clear that they thought WWI, WWII, and other calamities of the twentieth century were signs of the end. They believed Jesus was coming soon.  Yet the end did not come. Were they wrong?

Let me suggest that there is an alternative way of understanding the significance of the ‘signs of the times’ that sees natural disasters in an eschatological sense without falling into the pitfalls of speculation and prediction that previous generations have suffered through.

We first must point out that ‘signs’ are by nature to be understood as symbols that point to something else. They are visual reminders of a truth or reality. In the case of Jesus’ prediction, the signs of wars, famines, and natural phenomenon point to the the fact that the end is near (Matt 24). However, though he said these signs would point to the end, it should be noted that he did not say these signs would ONLY take place at the end. Everything Jesus mentioned has been a regular part of the history of human experience.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom 8:22)

So in what way are they a sign? Are they a sign of God’s anger or judgement? Or that prophetic time is running out?  Paul tells us something different. He reminds us that Hurricane Irma is a symptom of a creation that has been “subjected to frustration”.  The effects of sin in the world has caused a “groaning” within creation. (Romans 8:19-22).  Many of these natural phenomenon we are seeing today are the result of the environmental conditions of the present day. There are natural reasons for what is happening. All of creation is groaning and suffering as a reminder that there will be an day when humanity AND creation will be redeemed. So these signs are reminders that creation is still in need of eschatological redemption.  

This leads us to the second thing to keep in mind.  Events like this make us ask, “Is the end near?”  But the Scriptures clearly tell us that we are living in the last days. This is true even if there were no natural disasters.  On the day of Pentecost, Peter declared, “In the last days I will pour out My Spirit” says the Lord (Acts 2:17).  So technically, the “last days” began 2000 years ago.  We have always been in the last days!  When previous generations looked at the signs and determined the end was near, they were right.  When we look at the signs, we get the sense that the end is near as well. Because it is! Jesus is still coming and redemption is still near.

I think it is natural for us to want to assign a significance of natural disasters.  But we need to be cautious. God is not picking on Florida or Houston. He is not sending a message to America. When Christians say these calamities are about judgment, we minimize the suffering of those to whom it happens. Instead, we should see natural disasters as a reminder to us that creation has been effected by sin.  We still live in a world where people suffer, where nature is dangerous, and where there is loss and pain.  But Jesus promised he will come again and he will reverse the curse upon his creation.  Every ‘groan’ is a reminder of that promise. As I watch anxiously this weekend the destruction of Hurricane Irma, my soul joins with all creation in ‘groaning’ for a day when creation will finally be at peace. 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)