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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit   (See Archives)

The Essence of Pentecostalism

Forum conducted at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Chapel

Edited and Introduced by Robert P. Menzies

Pentecostals face a future filled with significant challenge and unique opportunity. Both are a product of change. Our roots are firmly planted in the 19th-century Holiness movement and American revivalism. This fertile soil nurtured our theology and the approach to Scripture upon which it stands. Yet now, almost a century later, we find ourselves in a new environment: Our Pentecostal feet are firmly planted in mainstream evangelicalism; our theology is essentially the same; but our approach to Scripture—the hermeneutic that supports our Theology—has been significantly altered. The hermeneutic of evangelicalism has become our hermeneutic.

This change has gone virtually unnoticed, for our new hermeneutic supports most of the theological positions we hold dear—those we share with our evangelical brothers. Yet this hermeneutical change represents a very real challenge to our distinctive Pentecostal doctrines. These doctrines, formulated prior to our assimilation into the larger evangelical community, are based on an approach to Scripture that is not entirely compatible with our new, evangelically shaped hermeneutic.

Whereas in the past we often treated the Bible as a homogeneous whole and built our theology on texts arranged together with little regard for the author’s original intent, now we treat each biblical author separately and seek to understand a text in terms of the author’s intention before we integrate it into a systematic structure. The result is that today we find ourselves espousing a theology that at times is based on an approach to Scripture we no longer accept. This does not mean our theology is wrong, but it does suggest that we may be unprepared to offer convincing biblical support for our distinctive theological positions. We have changed, and we must deal with the tension this change has produced.

Fortunately, the winds of change have also brought to us a unique opportunity. As never before, we have the possibility of providing the biblical and theological answers demanded of us by the evangelical context in which we live. Formerly, evangelicals had viewed the Book of Acts as a historical text with little theological significance. Theology, at least in the normative sense, was to be found in didactic rather than narrative portions of Scripture. Since Pentecostal theology has always drawn deeply from the Book of Acts, this perspective undercut the very possibility of a Pentecostal theology.

Although this perspective might appear extreme, it was a logical reaction to the radical historical skepticism that marked many of the early works that depicted Luke as a theologian. Rather than a theologian with little interest in history, Luke was viewed as a historian with little interest in theology. This meant that our assimilation into evangelicalism not only required us to produce new answers, but that we were required to do so in an environment hostile to the task.

Thankfully, the evangelical perspective—and thus the environment in which we live—has changed. The publication in 1970 of I. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian and Theologian marked an important shift in evangelical thinking. Since then, evangelicals have increasingly come to recognize that Luke was in fact both a historian and a theologian, and that Acts has significant theological value in its own right! This shift in evangelical attitudes toward Luke has created a fertile climate for Pentecostal theologizing.

Thus, we find ourselves with an exciting opportunity to meet a pressing challenge. Our own Pentecostal community, shaped by the evangelical heritage, and our brothers from the broader evangelical world are challenging us to provide convincing biblical support—support based on hermeneutical principles accepted within the evangelical community—for our distinctive theological positions. If we meet this challenge, we will continue to be a source of spiritual renewal for the larger evangelical community. If we fail, we run the risk of losing our Pentecostal identity.

The following dialogue is taken from a forum convened on January 25, 1991, at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, an Assemblies of God school located in Baguio City of the Philippines. It was stimulated by the visit of David Bundrick, national director of the Division of Christian Education of the Assemblies of God (USA). The forum was an attempt by the APTS community to encourage one another to take up the challenge outlined above and pursue the opportunity before us.

David Bundrick served as moderator of the panel that consisted of available APTS faculty members: Ian Henderson (Th.M., Asian Theological Seminary), Assemblies of God missionary from Australia and lecturer in Missions Communications; Robert Menzies (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), lecturer in New Testament; William Menzies (Ph.D., University of Iowa), president and lecturer in Church History and Historical Theology; Dave Oleson (M.Div., Fuller Theological Seminary), lecturer in Systematic Theology; Jack Rozell (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary), lecturer in Counseling and Pastoral Ministries; Robert Soderberg (Th.M., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), lecturer in Old Testament. The oral character of the discussion has been consciously retained.

David Bundrick: In what ways has the relationship between evangelicals and Pentecostals changed in the past 20 years? And what is the significance of these changes?

William Menzies: In the past 20 years, Pentecostals have closely identified with evangelicalism. This is particularly true of the Assemblies of God. The influence evangelicalism has exerted on our faith and practice has been significant. I think this is where a great deal of consternation reigns.

In his presidential address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies several years ago, Cecil Robeck, an Assemblies of God faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, made an acute observation: About 30 years ago there was something of a dividing point. The school of Donald Gee, British Pentecostal who edited an international Pentecostal paper entitled Pentecost, believed the Pentecostal movement had been raised up in the 20th century to be a clear spokesman for Pentecostal values which would impact the entire world. It was not to be limited as simply an appendage to evangelicalism.

Brother Zimmerman took another point of view in which be perceived Pentecostalism to be clearly encased within evangelicalism. The statesmanship of Brother Zimmerman has opened up a strong relationship with evangelical parachurch enterprises, and we are greatly indebted to him for this. But this has also raised something of a question because the hermeneutics, the assumptions, the theological agenda of evangelicalism have been largely demanded of Pentecostals out of this relationship.

One of the unresolved issues is this: What do you do with people who have received the gifts of the Spirit, yet who don’t fit into the evangelical world and the evangelical mold? So there is a tremendous ambiguity on every level of the relationship of evangelicals to those who have been baptized in the Spirit, yet who don’t fit the evangelical agenda. So that is still an issue which must be addressed, and it hits us very hard at this point. Are we then merely to parrot the theological framework, the hermeneutical structure of evangelicalism as Pentecostals, or is there something a bit different—not anti-evangelical, but at the same time not simply rubber-stamping the agenda of evangelicalism?

Jack Rozell: I would like to speak to the same issue. When we were pastoring a church in the United States some years ago, there was a strong charismatic influence. Many charismatics began worshiping with us. The implications of their presence were far-reaching. The thing that surprised me was that some of the Pentecostals were threatened by the charismatics. Their response was, “You are taking our church from us.”

What happened was that the charismatics disrupted our traditional Pentecostal mindset. Though it was difficult, it was healthy for us to examine ourselves. The challenge was that the Holy Spirit was moving us to focus on the kingdom of our Lord instead of our Pentecostal kingdom. We were being called to glorify the King in a fresh way. When we do glorify Him I believe the hermeneutic and accompanying interpretation are inherent in and therefore a complementary part of the evangelical stance rather than an addition.

David Bundrick: What does it mean to be Pentecostal?

Dave Oleson: I would like to look at it from more of a practical point of view and from a missions point of view. I think the strength of Pentecost today is outside North America, in the rest of the world, and that is due to the practicality of Pentecost and its approach to missions. Pentecostals aren’t noted for being strategists—classical strategists—but on the other hand they have a very unique strategy in that they are responsive to the moving of the Holy Spirit. To me, this is what it means to be Pentecostal: to be responsive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, that experiential aspect of it, allowing the Spirit to work in the supernatural.

About 20 some years ago, Peter Wagner wrote a book entitled Look Out, the Pentecostals Are Coming! The thesis of his book was, “I’ve done everything right, but the Pentecostals are reaping the results. How come?” Dr. Wagner is a prophet because, “Look out, the Pentecostals have already come!” I can’t help but think of an evangelist who spoke in my church when I was a young man. His theme was, “You either have to get in, get out, or get run over.” And that’s essentially what has happened with Pentecost and the evangelicals.

David Bundrick: Let’s move then to the more specific question: Is there a Pentecostal theology, and if so, how can we develop it? Initially I’d like to turn back to our two Bobs, Bob Soderberg and Bob Menzies. The latter has just completed his doctoral work under I. Howard Marshall and has particularly focused on Luke-Acts. Let me pose it first to Bob Menzies and then allow Bob Soderberg to respond.

Robert Menzies: Is there a Pentecostal theology? I would say yes. I don’t think that means we have a different hermeneutic, a theological method different from our evangelical brothers. But it means that the Pentecostal has something important to say, particularly about the Pentecostal gift in Acts 2.

You asked, “What does it mean to be Pentecostal?” This is the question being raised today by the evangelicals. They are saying, “Hey! We are responsive to the Spirit as well. We are open to gifts of the Spirit.” They are saying, “We are seeking the Spirit in these ways. What makes you different? And theologically, how do you justify that?”

For me, what it means to be Pentecostal comes down to one question: What is the nature of the Pentecostal gift in Acts 2? The Pentecostal affirms that the Pentecostal gift in Acts 2, the gift that is promised to all Christians, is a gift of power for mission. It is missiological. And because of that affirmation we preach that there is a dimension of the Spirit’s power available to every Christian, not just a special group who may be called. We refer to the initial experience of this dimension of the Spirit in our lives with the term “baptized in the Spirit.” It may happen at conversion; it may not. It may happen after conversion. But the key is that we see it as something different, logically distinct, from conversion. This then is the central question, and it distinguishes what I would call “open evangelicals” from “Pentecostals.”

This question is what Pentecostal theology is all about. Yet, how do we answer it? How do we arrive at a Pentecostal theology? Do we need a special hermeneutic? Do we need another approach to Scripture to affirm our Pentecostal distinctives? My whole interest has been in addressing this question, “What is the nature of the Pentecostal gift?” from an evangelical framework, using the evangelicals’ language and their method to communicate what I believe is the truth of Scripture. I would say we don’t need a separate method, but what we are affirming is different from the traditional evangelical understanding, even today in the wake of new openness. I’ll turn it over to Bob at this point.

Robert Soderberg: There are a number of matters to which I think we must pay attention, since they underline this whole discussion. First of all, I have a problem with this idea that Pentecostal theology is different from and separated from that of evangelicalism. Please realize that my whole life has been spent in Pentecostal churches. But as I understand Scripture, Pentecost was a normal New Testament experience. It was an underlying matter in all the epistles of Paul. In that first-century church, there wasn’t a Pentecostal group here and over there an evangelical group. They were Christians and it wasn’t so much a Pentecostal experience as it was a Christian experience.

Now with this understanding, I tremble at anything that is going to divide the body of Christ, even if it is “a Pentecostal distinctive.” If I understand Ephesians 4 at all, the Holy Spirit is interested, not in separation of the Body, but in uniting the Body. In my undergraduate work at an interdenominational college, I felt this dividing, and it hurt me. It caused me to ask questions, some good questions by the way, that established the value, the tremendous importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life. It brought me to some very important conclusions. But if we have a hermeneutic, a theology, that divides the church and builds up rather than tears down barriers, then I consider it isn’t a Pentecostal experience of the Spirit at all.

William Menzies: I would like to make three observations: One is that all issues are not on the same plane of significance. And I would agree with Bob Soderberg, that there are some things we deeply share—nearly everything we share with evangelicals—and we would not for the world want to raise discussion of distinctions at most points. But I do believe there is another level of issue where we can charitably agree to disagree for the purpose of the unity of the church. That is, if the Lord has raised up the Pentecostal revival in the 20th century to recall the larger church world to what it latently or in its earliest years really experienced and believed, we’re doing a service to the entire church. And what’s happening in the latter part of this century is the result of people who quietly said, “We’re evangelical, but we have a message for the world. We are not going to surrender even though you may not accept that.”

In 1927, the Pentecostals were drummed out of fundamentalism by very strong statements. The response to that in the Pentecostal Evangel was a saddened kind of rejoinder, not in retaliation, but rather I would say, wistfulness. We did not say, “Well, if that’s the way you want it, we’re against you too. ” That isn’t the way it was. So in 1942 and 1943, when the evangelical world began to open its doors to Pentecostals, we were there ready to jump in with both feet. But I do think God has raised up the Pentecostal revival to bear witness to a theology that had been largely ignored by evangelicalism. It had been muted. It was latent; it was potential in the creeds, but not expanded and accepted. And now it is.

I think this would not have happened had we said, “Well, let’s just join hands.” So there’s a level, I would use the term “a second level,” where we agree on the main points; but there are some things that are valuable and important for the sake of the larger church world.

One other point, I do think there is a hermeneutical difference. If we were to follow the theology of virtually all evangelical systematicians, there would be no distinction between the soteriological pneumatology of Paul and Luke. The distinction that Pentecostals insist upon would have been totally avoided. And without that, there is no Pentecostal theology. So somebody has had to say, “Hey! Let’s look at this,” Is it true that Luke must be subsumed under Paul, or does Luke have something to say in his own right? That is not a commitment of evangelicalism. Some evangelicals have been courageous enough to herald that possibility, but it has been Pentecostals who insist upon it and recognize it is a very important battleground. And it is largely a battleground between Pentecostals and a few courageous evangelicals on the one hand, and the whole history of evangelical theology and hermeneutics on the other.

Robert Menzies: You mentioned there is a hermeneutical difference because evangelicals generally interpret Luke in light of Paul. I think that is changing and really has been changing for some time. So we now find we have a unique and wonderful opportunity to communicate a Pentecostal theology to evangelicals. Increasingly it is being recognized that Luke is a theologian, an independent theologian, and that he should be treated as such. So I would say the standard evangelical hermeneutic today, reflected by James Dunn, is really telling us what we need to do: We need to ask first, “What does each biblical author say? What is his theology?” And then we put it all together.

Now that hermeneutic is an open door for Pentecostals. The key battleground to which you referred is the nature of the relationship between the pneumatologies of Luke and Paul. Does Luke in fact have a pneumatology different from Paul? This is where the real battle is being fought. In fact, Roger Stronstad in his book, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, presents this thesis. And the first volleys have already been fired. Don Carson, in his book Showing the Spirit, deals with Stronstad’s thesis—that Paul and Luke have different pneumatologies—and glibly dismisses it by saying it raises problems for an evangelical doctrine of inspiration. But I think that when Stronstad is correctly understood, these problems disappear.

Stronstad affirms that Luke and Paul have different pneumatologies, but that these pneumatologies complement one another. Carson assumes that they are different and in conflict, that they’re incompatible. But this is not what Stronstad is saying. This is the battleground where the issues are being fought: the nature of inspiration and the relationship between Luke and Paul. I firmly believe Luke and Paul do have different pneumatologies, but these different perspectives complement one another. And when we put them together, then we have a Pentecostal theology.

David Bundrick: Gordon Fee has written, “Unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way.” And this statement is in respect to the interpretation of Acts. As a follow-up to this principle that is enunciated here, he makes a statement, “There is no express teaching as to … any specific charismatic phenomena that are to be an evidence when one receives the Spirit. … ” Again, in the next paragraph, he says, “Scripture simply does not say … that Christians are to be baptized in the Spirit, evidenced by tongues, as a second work of grace.” This raises the question, is it legitimate to use historical narrative, for example Luke-Acts, for doing theology? And it has a related question, what is the essence of Pentecostalism? David J. du Plessis, some think, would have stood for tongues being the essence of Pentecostalism. I see the elements of this very long question interrelated. Would anyone care to respond?

Robert Soderberg: There are several questions included in that one. Let me be quick to say that as I have observed Pentecostal men (and by the way, though some confuse the issue I claim there is a distinction between charismatic and Pentecostal, even as I declare there is a difference, and I believe there is a difference, between evangelicalism and fundamentalism) I think we have been in error. I believe tongues is the initial sign. But I am afraid we have been in error in saying it is the only sign. It seems to me that if we believe in the fullness of the Spirit, and if the Spirit is shown and expressed in love, then we should also be filled with love—not being satisfied only with the expression out of our innermost being, speaking in other tongues. Let that continue, but let there begin a desire likewise then to be filled with love.

It seems to me that if we are Pentecostal, we will not only speak in tongues, but we will also desire the fellowship of fellow Christians. It seems to me that if we speak in tongues and thereby profess to be filled with the Spirit, we will have a love and a desire to conduct our lives according to the Word of God. I am afraid some of these matters have been forgotten in some of our Pentecostal services where we dwell upon the singular expression of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Somebody has expressed it this way, “You don’t have to speak in tongues when you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit, but you will.” It takes it out of the realm of a demand.

The expectation is much higher, it seems to me, when I am not seeking to speak with tongues, but desiring the fullness of Christ to be manifested and working through me. Speaking in tongues isn’t the only element, it is the first. But if it is the only element, I have reason to question the infilling of the Spirit of God in that person’s life.

Jack Rozell: I would like to respond to the idea that tongues is the essence of Pentecostal theology and experience. I had the privilege of being a student at Fuller Seminary when David du Plessis made his first visit there. It was interesting because the faculty at that time included men like George Eldon Ladd, Evert Harrison, C.S. Roddy, and Wilbur M. Smith. At the time there were only about 11 Pentecostals on campus.

After the meeting I recall that Dr. Smith commented that he wished he had visited Pentecostal services on Sunday evenings in that it would have provided much learning. He recognized the truth in what Brother du Plessis had said. Brother du Plessis had spoken about tongues, but in a very loving way. I think this is the key.

The essence of Pentecostalism is glorifying Christ with the power God has given us. The focus in Luke and Acts is service empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is an emphasis not limited to Luke and Acts but is the theme of the entire Word of God. The essence of Pentecostalism is not an experience of speaking in tongues. That is certainly part of it, but it is much broader. We are those who commit ourselves to living a life of service and ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus.

David Bundrick: You’ve raised the issue of the final question. As Pentecostals, and with a Pentecostal theology, or an evangelical theology that has the dimension of the Spirit, what are the implications for our mission in the world? I would like to ask Ian if he would respond I to this and in so doing bring our dialogue to a conclusion.

Ian Henderson: I have observed that it is the final question, but I feel it ought to be the first question. I come to the debate bearing in mind the discussion on the evangelical versus Pentecostal issue and the issue of tongues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. I come to this debate from a position that I am a Christian first, a Protestant second, and a Pentecostal third, in that order.

I have come from an evangelical background, and I observe that some evangelicals are now moving from what I call a positional situation (positional as in a theological position) to an applicational understanding of the Holy Spirit. But I also sense that within the Pentecostal side of things, we are moving from an emphasis on the applicational to positional areas. I believe we need both. If, however, we let either of these areas go, a sound position or the experiential side, I see troubled waters ahead for the Assemblies of God. We need both.

As we realize the implications of Pentecostal theology, which is both positional and applicational-experiential, we can more fully understand the Word of the Lord Jesus, if we go to Acts 1, that we are to be His witnesses. Therefore, I see the emphasis is not the Holy Spirit and ecclesiastical issues—which I think we’ve been discussing. I think the emphasis is really missiological. By that I mean evangelism, church growth, and discipleship.

I believe we’re often caught up with positional arguments regarding tongues and such issues. I don’t want to detract from the importance of that debate, but I do believe the missiological factor ought to be the first emphasis. The Word of our Lord Jesus is that the Holy Spirit is essentially given to us to empower us to become His witnesses.

Emmanuel Soabas (question from the audience): Concerning the hermeneutical basis of our Pentecostal theology, we say Luke-Acts is the basis and the heart of Pentecostal theology. If there is no other support for this theology, could you summarize in simple phrases the very heart of Pentecostal theology based on Luke-Acts?

Robert Menzies: Very quickly, I think it could be summarized in Acts 1:8: “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” I think that is the heart of Pentecostal theology. Of course, the question is, can we provide convincing biblical support that this is the essence of the Pentecostal gift and Spirit baptism? Or are the evangelicals who speak of Pentecost as primarily a conversion experience right after all? These are the questions the open evangelicals or third-wavers are pressing us to answer.

Ian, you mentioned a new emphasis among Pentecostals on positional or doctrinal matters. This emphasis is born out of necessity. The answers of the past are not adequate for the present. Many of my Pentecostal friends in seminary wrestled with these questions, and because they felt there wasn’t adequate positional or theological support they went different ways. Many of my evangelical friends, Bible-committed people, were asking similar questions. And so I think you are right.

I want to reaffirm what Ian is saying. We have to have both the positional and the experiential. I believe we have something to contribute to the broader evangelical world. And if we don’t have the positional, we will miss a tremendous opportunity and be overwhelmed by the third-wavers. And they will determine the shape of the Pentecostal movement, if we can continue to call it that in the future.

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