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Pentecostalist coming of age

17 May 2013

David Martin looks at a movement ready to engage academically

Types of Pentecostal Theology: Method, system, spirit
Christopher A. Stephenson
OUP £45
Church Times Bookshop £40.50 (Use code CT632 )

WHEN I attended a Two Choirs Festival in a large Pentecostal church in the high-tech Brazilian city of Campinas, conducted by a woman and ending with the "Hallelujah Chorus", I saw Pentecostalism coming of age aesthetically. This book, with its Greek epigraph, massive bibliographical apparatus, and a Preface signing off on "All Souls' Day, 2011", shows Pentecostalism coming of age intellectually.

It shows how a popular movement, now more than a century old, reflects on its religious experience as it fosters aspiration, acquires education, and ceases to be socially marginal. There are interesting stories behind the bare facts of educational advancement: among an older generation, Myer Pearlman was a Jew born in Scotland who emigrated to the United States before becoming converted at the Glad Tidings Mission in San Francisco. He was acquainted with several languages, and engaged in a pre-critical exegesis of the Bible which assumed that it was easily accessible to common sense through a scrutiny of the meanings of individual words, and through gathering information from the whole corpus of scripture before arranging it in theological categories.

Since the 1970s, Pentecostal theologians have been confident enough to engage in ecumenical dialogue and to understand other religions in a Pentecostal perspective concerning the workings of the Spirit. Simon Chan, who teaches at Trinity Theological College, Singapore, has a Cambridge doctorate supervised by Eamon Duffy; Frank Macchia has a doctorate from Basel; and Amos Yong (born in Malaysia) has a doctorate from Boston University.

What Stephenson offers is an assessment of Pentecostal theologians looking into their methodological self-awareness; their conception of the relations between scripture and tradition, and theology and philosophy; their epistemological and hermeneutic assumptions; and, crucially, their treatment of eschatology and pneumatology.

His chapters address, in turn, methods emphasising the relation of theology to spirituality, the virtues, and the "affections", including, in Chan's case, liturgical theology; methods taking the Kingdom of God as their starting-point (Macchia), including a theology of baptism in the Spirit; and methods that make pneumatology a foundation for philosophical theology (Yong), and for understanding the God-world relation. Interestingly, Yong discusses resurrection and disability.

In this book, Stephenson pre-sents thinkers to be engaged with seriously, and, for himself, pro-poses a Pentecostal theology incorporating a form of lex orandi, lex credendi for the enrichment of Pentecostal theology and spirituality.

The Revd Dr David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

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