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 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

 

A Directory of Early Pentecostal Papers

Since I began my studies in Pentecostal history, have come to love early Pentecostal literature. All of the students in the Bangor PhD program engage the early papers from across the spectrum of the Pentecostal movement in their dissertations. This process of “reception history,” or the examining the first hand testimonies and teachings of early Pentecostals, has given me a great love of these papers.  Almost every major Pentecostal group and leader had their own multi-page weekly or monthly paper filled with teachings, missionary reports, and testimonies of people being saved, sanctified, healed and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Through reading these papers, one can immerse themselves in the world of early Pentecostalism in a way that is not possible in any other medium.

The practice of publishing Pentecostal periodicals was not limited to early Pentecostals; it has continued to be an important part of our moment, continuing into the healing revivals of the 1950’s and into the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s–1970s. In my role as director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University, I serve as a steward of many of these treasures in our own collection. It is one of my favorite parts of my job.  I love to thumb through the pages and read what God was doing is all corners of the earth through all of these different groups.  The HSRC has one of the most diverse holdings of Pentecostal and Charismatic literature in the world. It truly is a special place.

As I have worked to familiarize myself with the various papers and the groups who published them, I have wondered if anyone had ever made a comprehensive list of early pentecostal papers.  So far, I haven’t found one. However, I was delighted to find a list of early Pentecostal papers in one of the early papers called The Pentecost, a paper published by A.S. Copley and J.R. Flower from Indianapolis, Indiana.

In several of the 1908 editions of The Pentecost, Copley listed all of the early papers associated with the Apostolic Faith Movement.  There are, of course, many more papers in this era. But I have yet to find in these early papers a comprehensive list like this one.  Some of these titles are lost to history. Some are available to researchers through the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives: https://pentecostalarchives.org/collections/    I am hoping this list can become a seed of a comprehensive list to come.

The following is a list of papers from the  The Pentecost 1.2 (December, 1908), 12. I also attached the image and the PDF of the page containing the list. (Information in parentheses was added by me)

  • The Pentecost – Indianapolis, IN, A.S. Copley; J.R. Flower
  • The Pentecostal Witness – Zion City, IL, Thomas G. Atteberry
  • The Latter Rain Evangel – Chicago, IL, William H. Piper
  • The New Acts – Alliance, OH, (Levi Upton)
  • Household of God – Dayton, OH
  • The Bridegroom’s Messenger – Atlanta, GA, (G.B. Cashwell)
  • The Apostolic Witness – Dallas, OR
  • Trust – Elim Home, Rochester, NY
  • The Apostolic Faith – Houston, TX, (W.F. Carothers)
  • The Apostolic Faith – Portland, OR, Florence Crawford (formerly of  Azusa Street Mission, Los Angeles, CA, William Seymour)
  • The Pentecostal Record and Outlook – Spokane, WA, H.R. Bursell
  • The Apostolic Standard – Beulah Home, Doxey, OK
  • The Christian Assembly – Cincinnati, OH
  • The Pentecostal Trumpet – Denver, CO
  • The Midnight Cry – Seattle, WA
  • The Latter Rain – Watertown, NY, J.E. Sanders
  • The Spirit of Truth – Emsworth, Hants, England, W.L. Lake
  • Confidence – Sunderland, England, A.A. Body
  • The Cloud of Witnesses – Bombay, India, Max Wood Moorehead
  • Pentecostal Truths – (Chinese) Hong Kong, China, Mok Lai Chi
  • The Apostolic Light – (Japanese) Tokyo, Japan, M. L. Ryan
  • God’s Latter Rain – Johannesburg, South Africa, (John G. Lake)
  • Spade Regen – Amsterdam, Holland, G.R. Polman

I hope this list is helpful to those interested in the literature of this era. I also hope together we can better document the papers of the early Pentecostal movement.

1908_12 Directory of Pentecostal Papers

A Summer Update

It is July and I haven’t mentioned much lately about the progress on my PhD. I have had several people ask about my PhD and am I done yet.  Well, the answer is yes and no.  I finished writing my dissertation back in March and my supervisor has read it and given the OK for it to be submitted.  However, I am actually trying to submit a year earlier than my acceptance letter had indicated. So, even though I am done, I am still waiting for Bangor to approve me to submit. We are trying to work through the red tape as we speak. Meanwhile, I am just sitting here waiting, thesis in hand.  So please pray with me that I can receive favor to submit as soon as possible. After that, I can proceed on with the Thesis defense process and finally move on.  (Although at times I miss working on my thesis!)

On another note, I am also please to announce that as of August 1st, I am officially the new director of the Holy Spirit Research Center. While this was a large part of my job when I came to ORU in November, I didn’t receive my official appointment until a few weeks ago. I am so excited about this opportunity. I cannot imagine a job I would enjoy more than being the director of the HSRC.  I simply love what I do and feel so privileged to be the steward of what is perhaps the largest and most comprehensive collections of resources on the Holy Spirit in the entire world.  I praise God for his grace in bring this opportunity my way and am grateful to Dr. Mark Roberts for believing in me. I stand on incredibly strong shoulders as I take over this responsibility.

Finally, I am very excited about some other writing projects I have been working on.  I have three pieces on Oral Roberts coming out later this fall in a special edition of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology in recognition of the centennial of Oral’s birth.  The first is a bibliography of Oral’s works that is intended to provide scholars with a list of items we have at ORU that are available for Oral Roberts studies. The second is a historical piece I wrote with Vinson Synan about an early account of Oral’s healing that was published in the Oklahoma Pentecostal Holiness newspaper, in which his account is curiously different than his later recollections of his healing from tuberculosis.  The third article is a study of the role that the baptism in the Holy Spirit played in shaping the healing ministry of Oral Roberts.  I am so excited about these pieces and look forward to producing more studies of Oral and Oral Roberts University in the future.

What can I say except I feel really blessed right now. This season of my life is a good one for me and my family.  I am pleased to agree with Oral Roberts; “God truly is a good God.”

An Introduction to Pentecostal Theology by William K. Kay

I wanted to share this brief video featuring my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. William K. Kay.  Kay is a renown professor of theology who holds multiple posts in several universities in the UK. He has written numerous books and a vast number of articles on Pentecostalism,  religious education, and practical theology. Kay was the founding director for the Centre for Pentecostal Theology at Bangor University, a program that has continued to produce a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship. In addition to his  achievements as a scholar, Professor Kay is also a wonderfully gracious man. I count myself so blessed to have been able to have been able to study under him.

AG Doctrine: What Was, Is, and What Should Be

book-banner-61In my time studying AG doctrine I have had many conversations with people about how I feel about AG eschatology.  Usually people are asking about my work because they are uncomfortable with some particular point of AG doctrine that they would like to see changed.  The more one is exposed to education and differing point of views, the more that ministers want to see doctrinal positions develop or change to keep up with theological development.  For instance, there are some who would argue for the need for a different eschatological position than the AG’s historic premillennial and dispensational position.  As a student of theology, I understand that there other positions out there that would perhaps fit our theological orientation better. I understand the desire to see doctrine develop, but I also think it is important to better understand what WAS and IS before we can properly discuss what SHOULD BE.   Let me explain.

What WAS the AG position?  This is the question that historians like myself are trying to answer. This is what my dissertation is dealing with. I am attempting to understand where the doctrines came from, who influenced them and what has been the historic position.  But history makes no judgement on what was. It is simply is telling the story. In my opinion, very few people understand nuances of the actual historical position of the AG on eschatology. Many times people have criticized the position without really understanding how it came about.  First you must know what it was before you can begin to understand what it is.

What IS the AG position?  This is the role the denomination plays.  Every group has the right to define its doctrinal position. For the AG, Statement of Fundamental Truths has defined the beliefs of this fellowship.  There may be some who are not comfortable with where the AG stands on various issues (such as eschatology or initial evidence) and are interested in seeing these positions change. But how realistic is that expectation? Changing official doctrine of an established denomination is not an easy task.  The AG must have an official position that it upholds and they also must defend that position in order to maintain unity.  Even if George Wood personally felt like aspects of AG doctrine needed to change (and I am not saying he does), his personal convictions would not change the position.  No one person has the right to define the fellowship. General Superintendent E. S. Williams said in the Introduction of PC Nelson’s Bible Doctrines (1936), “It is not the prerogative of any one person infallibly to interpret for the entire General Council its doctrinal declaration… Neither can a lone individual, though elected to office in the General Council, (can) speak infallibly for the entire Council Fellowship in endorsing the work of one person who seeks to interpret the meaning of the Fundamental Truths adopted by the body.”

What SHOULD be the AG position? This is an altogether different question and it is answered differently by different people.  The historian does not necessarily have an answer; it is what it was. The denomination does have an answer; it is what it is. The theologian on the other hand can answer it differently. The theologian’s job is to reflect on what it could be.  They can explore the breadth of theological reflection and weigh out the positions in order to find out if there is a better way. For example, there are scholars who are saying that there are ways in which AG eschatology can be more ‘Pentecostal’ in its orientation.  This process of imagining what it could be and even what should be is what theologians do.

This is where many ministers get frustrated. The more educated ministers are the more they are interested in this reflective process. But they are expecting the denomination to act like a college of theologians.  The denomination is not built to do this kind of theological reflection. Denominations are built to proclaim and to preserve doctrine.  At the same time, denominations get frustrated with theologians. They expect theologians to fulfill a dogmatic role of  defending the positions of the church. But that is not what they are designed to do. The theologian’s task is to explore the possibilities and suggest changes that could be made or developed. (For a great example of this discussion see Richard Dresslehaus, ‘What Can The Academy Do For The Church’ AJPS 3.2 (2000), pp. 319-323).

 

Remembering that the way doctrine is discussed is different in each of these realms can help in aiding the conversation within a theological community without making enemies of the various parties.  It can also help ministers understand why things don’t change as easily as perhaps we think we should.  It can also help the denomination to avoid being suspicious of the academy.  We have to work together.  The more cooperation and understanding there is between these theological and ecclesiastical institutions the more possibility there is for development of AG doctrine.

The Assemblies of God and Varieties of Pentecostal Theology

20160523_092405This 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.

 

Pilgrimage Into PhD Studies Pt. 2


20150519_121041This past weekend I went to my first PhD seminar at the Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was an amazing experience.  I am so excited to be part of the Bangor University (Wales) PhD program.  I was so impressed with the environment of great scholarship and warm hospitality.  I was able to sit around a table with 15 other future Pentecostal scholars and discuss issues important to my research.  And the scholars who lead the program are not only brilliant, but were also very kind and encouraging.   For my pursuits in Pentecostal Theology, I don’t believe there is a better program.  But Bangor was not my original plan when I set out to get a PhD nearly a decade ago.

In 2007, when I graduated with a MA in Theology from ORU, I began to make plans to apply to PhD programs.  My wife and I had always wanted to live in Great Britain.  Doing a PhD there was the perfect way to see that dream come true. My ORU advisor, Dr. Daniel Thimell had studied in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen and his friend and fellow PhD student Trevor Hart was now a professor at St. Andrews in Scotland. Dr. Hart had published a work on eschatology and his colleague, Richard Bauckham is one of the foremost experts on the Book of Revelation.  Bauckham’s book The Theology of The Book of Revelation was one of the reasons I wanted to study eschatology in my PhD. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.

I applied in 2008 to St. Andrews and was accepted into the PhD program.  However, we found out that St. Andrews also wanted me to do a MPhil (which is very common) before entering the PhD program.  That meant I would have to add another year to my study there.  Not long after, we found out we were pregnant with our first child.   I didn’t see how I could move my wife and new-born child to Scotland and have no way to provide for them for 5-6 years.  We discussed it, prayed about it and I decided to decline my acceptance to St. Andrews.  It was very hard to do because it had been a dream for so long.  But God had a plan to fulfill that dream in a different way than I thought.

At that moment, the dream of doing a PhD in the UK was over. I needed a new dream now. I knew I had to go back to the basics of what I knew for sure.  I knew I wanted to get a PhD. I knew I wanted to write about Pentecostal Eschatology.  I knew I wanted my PhD to be from a UK University. PhD programs are different in the UK than they are in the US.  The US system begins with a couple of years of classes before you begin doing your research and writing.  The British PhD is purely research and writing. That sounded much better to me.

While I was preparing my thesis proposal for St. Andrews, I contacted Dr. Peter Althouse, a Pentecostal scholar at Southeastern (Assemblies of God) University.  Dr. Althouse had just published a work on Pentecostal Eschatology and I wanted to find out what he thought of my thesis idea.  Peter told me that if I ever changed my mind about St. Andrews, that Southeastern was offering a PhD through Bangor University in Wales.   He thought my research interests would be perfect for the new program. Months later when I made the decision to decline acceptance to St. Andrews, I knew I had another option that could fit my research.  So I decided to join the Bangor program at Southeastern.

Bangor_UniversityThe Bangor PhD in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies was founded at Bangor University in Wales by Pentecostal Scholar and Educator, William K. Kay.  Professor Kay began this program to offer PhD opportunities to students interested in Pentecostal theology and history.  Dr. Kay began working with Southeastern University in Lakeland Florida to offer the PhD to American students.  Dr. Kay, Dr. Althouse and several others would supervise students in this program and students only had to come to SEU twice a year to fulfill the residency requirement for a UK PhD.  I decided to apply, was accepted and began my new journey to PhD in Pentecostal Eschatology in 2009. William Kay and Peter Althouse agreed to supervise me and I began working on my thesis.

In March of 2010 when I came to New Life Center to be the lead pastor I decided to drop out of the program for a while. I didn’t have the emotional energy (or monetary resources) to pastor my first church and work on my PhD.  Plus, the program went through some changes that resulted in Dr. Kay moving to another university in Wales.

20150518_154721Five years later, I am back in the program.  Bangor’s  Centre for Pentecostal Theology is now operating out of the campus of the Church of God Seminary in Cleveland Tennessee.  The new director is John Christopher Thomas, a well-known NT scholar in the area of Pentecostal studies.  CPT has grown in its influence in the past 5 years.  This Bangor PhD is producing many great Pentecostal scholars.  CPT has its own journal (Journal for Pentecostal Theology) and its own academic press (CPT Press).  Most of the dissertations done at CPT have the opportunity to be published after graduating from Bangor.

As I look back on this pilgrimage into my PhD studies, the move to the Bangor Program was very important for me in several ways:

1.  Bangor is a Pentecostal PhD.  My PhD at St. Andrews would be in Theology, but at CPT I get to do my best work in the area of my own Pentecostal tradition with the input of Pentecostal scholars.  Being at Bangor has helped me realize that what is most important to me is to contribute to Pentecostal theology. That is where I want to make my mark.

2.  My supervisors at Bangor are experts in my field of Pentecostal Eschatology.  William Kay is a prolific scholar in the areas of Pentecostalism, the Assemblies of God, and Eschatology.  J.C. Thomas is a Biblical scholar who has written about Pentecostal History, Eschatology and the Book of Revelation.  And Peter Althouse is a expert in Pentecostal Eschatology and is an example of how an AG professor can make a positive contribution to the conversation about current AG doctrine.  I couldn’t ask for better theological mentors than these.

3.  Bangor has allowed me to stay where we are, raise our family around our extended family, and pastor a wonderful AG church. Choosing Bangor gave me opportunity to do ministry, provide for my family and gain experience in being a Pentecostal Pastor, not just a Pentecostal scholar.  This would not have been the case most likely in Scotland.

4.  Bangor will provide many more opportunities for my work.  I have better access to opportunities to publish in the JPT journal and my dissertation will get published with CPT Press when I am finished.  Plus, CPT is where Pentecostals are doing research right now. This center is growing in its reach and influence.

We didn’t get to live the dream of living in the UK.  But God is fulfilling that dream in a different way through this Bangor PhD from CPT.  I am so blessed to be part of the outstanding scholarship, nurturing peer relationships and accessibility provided in this program.  I am right where God wants me to be.