Do we really need another Pentecostal Systematic Theology?

13:04


The whole way through writing Apostolic Theology, I kept telling myself that this wasn’t a systematic theology. After all, I was very conscious of the chapters I’d wanted to include but had to cull because of time and space constraints, as well as so many sections that deserved more detailed interaction. But, by the time it was done, and proof-read, and put together as a whole, I realised that really, in Pentecostal terms, it was a systematic theology after all.

Unlike some other Christian traditions, Pentecostalism has not produced a large number of Systematic Theologies. And the ones we have produced have tended to be rather shorter and less comprehensive than those coming from other traditions. There’s also a lot more theological diversity among Pentecostals. So, while Reformed systematic theologians may differ over the order of the divine decrees (infralapsarians vs. supralapsarians) or the number of offices in church government (2 or 3), Pentecostal systematic theologians differ over things like regeneration, sanctification, election, and the sacraments (and increasingly, alas, over things like Scripture and justification).

So, with such diversity among Pentecostals, and yet so few Systematic Theologies compared to other traditions, there does seem to be room for at least one more (especially if it isn’t just a repetition of those that already exist).

In fact, having worked in theological education among Pentecostals, I know of very few Pentecostal theological colleges which actually use a Pentecostal Systematic Theology as their main systematics text. I’m sure the situation is probably different in the United States (as that’s where most of the Pentecostal Systematic Theologies come from), but here in Europe at least, it seems most Pentecostal systematic theology teachers prefer to use Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson, or Alistair McGrath, even though all those books come from non-Pentecostal traditions. Is there a reason for that? Yes; simply that all of those books are more comprehensive and engage more widely than most of the Pentecostal alternatives. So, not only is there space for another Pentecostal systematic theology, but there’s also a need for one. (And I’m not trying to suggest that that need will be filled by just one book; I may have written one, but I’ve also heard a few rumours of another one being written by a scholar from within another Pentecostal tradition in North America which I very much hope will see the light of day.)

So, what sets Apostolic Theology apart from the other current Pentecostal Systematic Theologies? Well, clearly from the title, I’ve written from within one particular stream of Pentecostalism – the Apostolic Church. Likewise, Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective, edited by Stanley Horton, was written from within the American Assemblies of God, French Arrington’s Christian Doctrine was written from the Church of God perspective, and Duffield and Van Cleave’s Foundations of Pentecostal Theology from the point of view of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Every theologian belongs (or, at least, should belong) to a church, so that will have an impact on every systematic theology.

But my church membership isn’t the only difference between Apostolic Theology and the others. So here are a few more things which set it apart, and hopefully justify the publication of another Pentecostal Systematic Theology:



Readability

I was recently at our national Council, and quite a few pastors came to speak to me about the book while I was there. And the first comment everyone made was how readable the book is (which makes me really glad!). A few readers have got in touch to say that they had intended just to dip in and use it as a reference book, but ended up reading the whole thing from the beginning as they (unexpectedly for a systematic theology) found it so readable. Others have emailed to say that they’d tried reading a systematic theology in the past and given up, disillusioned, after just a few chapters, never expecting to try to read one again, but are now devouring Apostolic Theology. As a writer and teacher this is one of the best things I could possibly hear about the book, for there wouldn’t have been all that much point in writing it if my writing turned exciting gospel truths into something boring and inaccessible.



A Trinitarian Theology

The subtitle of the book tells everyone that this is a ‘Trinitarian’ theology. I insisted that ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Evangelical’ weren’t enough for the subtitle and that ‘Trinitarian’ had to be there as well for two reasons. On the one hand, especially in North America, there are some Pentecostals who don’t believe in the Trinity (Oneness, or ‘Jesus Only’ Pentecostals) and they sometimes refer to themselves as ‘Apostolics’. So I didn’t want anyone in other countries to mistake this for a Oneness book. But on the other hand, I also wanted to make the point that this isn’t just a book with one chapter on the Trinity somewhere near the beginning, rather unrelated to the rest of the book. The Trinity is not just a doctrine to be checked off on a list for theological orthodoxy; it is the very bedrock of the Christian faith and of our salvation. So instead of a chapter (Arrington, Horton ed.) or part of a chapter (Duffield and Van Cleave, Yong), I’ve spent the first 6 chapters looking at the Triune God, and the entire rest of the book is written in light of the truth of those first six chapters. As Donald Fairbairn’s recommendation on the back cover says, ‘Most importantly, the book clearly ties every aspect of Christian faith to the relationships that characterize God’s own Trinitarian life.’



Learning from 2000 years of the Church

Pentecostalism may not be a particularly old Christian tradition, but the one Body of Christ of which Pentecostals are a part is very old indeed. As I explain at the beginning of the book:

The Ascended Christ, the Head of the Church, has given gifts of teachers to His Body (Eph. 4:11), not just now, but throughout the history of the church. So, if we only pay attention to the teachers who are alive today, we’re ignoring the gifts which Jesus has given. (p.xvi)

So Apostolic Theology has lots of quotes from, and interaction with, great theologians from throughout the history of the Christian Church around the world. As Simon Chan points out on the back cover, this book ‘draws deeply from the Christian tradition especially the Church Fathers, both East and West.’



Scope

As I’ve said, there are topics I had to cut out and others which I’d have like to have been able to treat in much more depth. But I reckon every systematic theologian probably feels the same way! None of us can ever hope to write a fully comprehensive theology book.

That being said, Apostolic Theology is more comprehensive in scope than most of the other current Pentecostal systematic theologies. While Duffield and Van Cleave lack a Christology, Apostolic Theology has nearly 200 pages on Christology. The Sacraments, which only get a few pages in a chapter on the Church in any of the other Pentecostal theology books (other than Yong’s Renewing Christian Theology), get three significant chapters. Other topics which get much fuller treatments than usual in Pentecostal systematic theologies include the Incarnation, the Ascension of Christ, Christ’s Mediation and Threefold Office, Justification, Theosis, the Ministry, the Beatific Vision, the Eternal Purpose, and various aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Admittedly, there is at least one topic which I don’t really address, but which is treated in most of the other Pentecostal systematic theologies: angels and demons.



Length

Finally, in terms of page count, Apostolic Theology turns out to be the longest Pentecostal systematic theology there currently is! (Eeek!). Amos Yong’s Renewing Christian Theology has 364 pages of text; Duffield and Van Cleave have 564, Horton’s edited volume 638, and French Arrington’s three volumes combine to give a total of 729 pages of text. Apostolic Theology has 764 (xx + 744). It isn’t a competition for page count, but it just came as a bit of a shock to me to realise just how long the book is! (In fact, we’ll probably soon be preparing another version with the exact same content but a lower page count, by increasing the size of the pages, for technical distribution reasons in some countries; so that just goes to show that, at the end of the day, page count tells you very little indeed.) And anyway, Systematic Theologies from other traditions have a lot more pages: Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, for example, has 3008. So Apostolic Theology is a very short systematic theology indeed compared to that!

Anyway, I hope that gives you a wee bit of an idea of how Apostolic Theology differs from the already available Pentecostal Systematic Theologies. I’m not in any way trying to devalue the others: I’ve appreciated, learned from, and used all of them a lot over the years. All I’ve set out to do in this post is show that there is indeed space for yet another Pentecostal systematic theology. Hopefully those who read it will think so too :)



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The Tenets of the Apostolic Church


The Unity of the Godhead, and Trinity of the Persons therein.

The utter depravity of human nature, the necessity for repentance and regeneration and the eternal doom of the finally impenitent.

The virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, triumphant resurrection, ascension, and abiding intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ; His second coming, and millennial reign upon earth.

Justification and Sanctification of the believer through the finished work of Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Ghost for believers, with signs following.

The nine gifts of the Holy Ghost for the edification, exhortation and comfort of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

The Sacraments of Baptism by immersion and of the Lord's Supper.

The Divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Church government by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons.

The possibility of falling from grace.

The obligatory nature of tithes and offerings.