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Reforming the "Spirit Filled" Church (Part 1b): A bit more on Reforming our Theology

Well, this will do wonders for my PhD motivation!
Last year a friend and I went to an academic theological conference. It was an academic event held in a secular university, yet nearly everyone there was a Pentecostal or Charismatic (as the conference was to do with Pentecostal & Charismatic Studies). It's the only time I've ever seen the laying on of hands and prayer for healing during a session of an academic conference!

Yesterday we looked at how J. Lee Grady points to the need to reform our theology when it comes to the Holy Spirit. But today I want to take that reform further than Grady's suggestion. And that's what brings me back to the academic conference.

Now, let me just say that it was a conference I very much enjoyed. My thinking was stimulated. I had refreshing discussions with serious Pentecostal theologians from all over the world. In one day I talked about the liturgy over breakfast with a Singaporean theologian, discussed patristic Trinitarian theology over lunch with a Scandinavian mega-church pastor, and heard about postmodernism in the Swiss church from a fellow Apostolic at tea time. And the papers presented were helpful for my thought and motivating for my research. Some weren't only helpful, but fascinating. All in all, it was a good conference.

So what's it got to do with reforming our theology?


One event that particularly stands out from those few days was a question and answer session one evening. A well-known and careful Pentecostal theologian had delivered a paper in which he had made mention of the Trinity. This provoked a 'lively' question and answer session. The aforementioned theologian had dared speak of 'the monarchy of the Father', and quite a few of the other Pentecostal and Charismatic theologians and biblical scholars in the room were none too pleased.

Now, 'the monarchy of the Father' may not be an expression you hear too often in church on Sundays, but it's not a new and novel teaching. It's actually just a traditional way of expressing Nicene Trinitarianism (i.e. the doctrine of the Trinity we confess in the Nicene Creed). It has to do with the fact that the Father is neither begotten (like the Son is), nor does He proceed (as the Spirit does). Basically, the Father is the one who eternally begets the Son and eternally spirates the Spirit. This is orthodox Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Yet, this orthodox theology sparked a spirited backlash in a room full of Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars. But, not because of any biblical argument against its truth. No, apparently the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity leads to the creation of oppressive power structures and the oppression of women and minorities! That's what got people's backs up.

Pentecostal and Charismatic academic theology has reached a critical stage. Either it stands within the orthodox evangelical tradition and builds its theology upon Scripture, or it goes down another route that sees sociological arguments as being of greater authority for the formulation of doctrine. Only one of these paths leads to true theology, although the other may lead to a greater degree of academic responsibility.

For some reason, it seems that more and more Pentecostal and Charismatic academic theologians don't want to be thought of as Evangelicals. Perhaps they find Evangelical doctrines such as the inerrancy of Scripture restrictive or embarrassing in an academic context (which is odd, as Pentecostal theologians tend to teach at seminaries rather than secular universities). And yet, conservative Evangelicals who uphold inerrancy and the authority of Scripture for the doctrinal formulations seem to be thriving in the realm of academic theology.

We don't just need Pentecostal theologians, we need biblical Pentecostal theologians! We need theologians who will serve the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches by opening up the Word to them, not just academics who go to Pentecostal churches.

Douglas Oss, currently a professor at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, was already beginning to warn of this danger over a decade ago. In Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, he wrote:
The Pentecostal community should reaffirm its evangelical roots and commitments. There is an alarming trend today among some Pentecostals to seek out the approval of theological liberal and even unbelieving organizations, which in some cases has led to the compromise of cardinal doctrines. In these cases, the doctrine of the Word is especially under attack because of this craving for the approval of secular and liberal groups. This in turn has led some to reject mainstream formulations of inerrancy. This shift, mostly confined to scholars for the moment, has the potential for leading people to abandon historic Pentecostalism and turn instead to liberalism and mysticism. 
The Pentecostal movement has always been a Bible-based movement, looking only to Scripture as the authority for our theology and experience. Furthermore, we have always been committed to the cardinal doctrines of evangelicalism. Now is not the time to abandon the biblical basis for our faith. Loosed from its moorings in Scripture, the Pentecostal movement will become a rudderless ship, driven by the winds of modernism and mysticism. Perhaps the lessons of the debates over biblical inerrancy among Presbyterians in the 1920s and 1930s, the stand of inerrantists in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod during the early and middle 1970s, and the recent courage of the inerrantists in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s will provide the Pentecostal movement with practical guidance for the future.
(Douglas Oss, in Wayne Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, p.316)

To that, all I can say is 'Hear, hear!'


(This post is one of a few I'm writing to interact with the proposals for reformation in the 'Spirit-filled' churches set out by J. Lee Grady in his article 'It's (Past) time for a Charismatic Reformation'. You can read my first post in the series here. Don't worry, I won't be so detailed about all of Grady's theses!)

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