Yesterday, I was a discussion of my last book, Beyond Pentecostalism, and I was asked what exactly identifies a Pentecostal theology as Pentecostal. Perhaps the only thing that we can say today, I was told, is that the book is written by someone who is Pentecostal. But in the content we find very little that distinguishes it from other works. I am afraid, I tend to agree with this assessment. It’s not that Pentecostals do not have a particular form of theological reflection and content. It’s that they do not know how to express it.
Just open one of those books and see where it takes you. I wonder, how can a Pentecostal theology have no explicit chapter (!) on Jesus Christ at all (Duffield and Van Cleave’s Foundations of Pentecostal Theology) or put a chapter on Christ in the ninth place (Stanley Horton’s Systematic Theology)? Is a discussion on the unity, clarity, and authority of Scripture really the starting point of Pentecostal doctrine (Arrington’s Christian Doctrine, vol.1)? CanPentecostals afford to look at the table of contents and find no mention of the Holy Spirit (Hart’s Truth Aflame)? In other texts, I find descriptions of theological loci that remind me closely of Reformed teachings (Calvin’s Institutes are a popular model) or some other Evangelical model, but I look in vain for what makes this a Pentecostal text. (All this is not really new criticism; see Terry L. Cross, “Toward a Theology of the Word and the Spirit: A Review of J. Rodman Williams’s Renewal Theology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3 (1993): 113-35.)
What I do not find is a theology that reflects the less vocal Pentecostal majority in the global South; African convictions, Latin American piety, and other non-academic perspectives are absent. The reason for this neglect may be that those Pentecostals do not write a systematic theology. But that should not exclude their voices. If the proper, Anglo-European formulations of Christian doctrine do not fit the Pentecostal ethos, then it is unlikely we can find the heart of Pentecostal theology in such endeavors.
What I do not find is a confidence in being Pentecostla that reflects in the manner doctrines are presented. Pentecostal spend far too much time with apologetics, explaining who they are and justifying their existence in light of the ecemenical traditions (I am guilty of that). It is time that we move ahead and stop apologizing for being Pentecostals and begin to do theology as Pentecostals.
What I do not find is an order of doctrines that truly reflects the priorities of Pentecostal thinking. We continue to adopt the way of ordering theological loci from others despite the fact that several Pentecostal theologians have already shown the negative impact such adoptions have on the preservation of the Pentecostal tradition to the next generation.
What I do not find is a way of speaking (or writing) that reflects a Pentecostal spirituality and cosmology. The way theology is done by Pentecostals most certainly impacts what Pentecostals say and the manner in which they communicate. I am hard-pressed to find a Pentecostal theology that does not seem to be “domesticated”.
To be sure, the reasons for these neglects are not solely found among Pentecostals. Just last week I was told by the senior editor of a major publishing house that Pentecostal texts do not sell very well. At some point, when this was true, Pentecostals found their way into the publishing arena by adopting the conventional way of theology. Today, this convential way has taken the life out of theological texts by Pentecostals. There is, as I was told yesterday, nothing particularly attractive about a Pentecostal book next to a non-Pentecostal book (especially if the other one carries a bigger name). Which one would you choose?
I wonder how the Society for Pentecostal Studies would respond to this assessment. Perhaps we are content with the current state of affairs? Perhaps we do not have the scholars in the field of theology that can write these kind of texts? Did Pentecostals fail to train their own as systematic theologians? Does the Pentecostal leadership in the churches assume that they are sufficiently trained to formulate Pentecostal doctrine? Can we afford to do theology without consulting those Pentecostals without academic training? Where will this lead us? I, for one, am tempted to put out a sign: Wanted! Pentecostal Theology!
Can you help?