I appreciate your passionate interest in the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It is only natural for you to ask if you have a place there as a new and emerging Pentecostal scholar. I will think about how to best approach the topic. But before I can do so, there is need of some more explanation about the development of Pentecostal scholarship that impacts the shape of the Society. In my last letter, I talked about the emergence of biblical scholarship among Pentecostals. I distinguished this group from the historical scholarship that developed earlier. Today, I want to spend some time on the questions: does Pentecostalism have a theological scholarship?
In a way, all Pentecostals are theologians. I do not mean to use this statement to support the platitude that, “to be a Pentecostal is to think about God.” Though true, I want to avoid the impression that the “theologian” is somehow other (or worse: better) than a historical or biblical scholar. They are all involved in a theological exercise. The first Pentecostal pioneers were theologians, even if somewhat “amateurs” at that task–at least from the perspective of contemporary scholarship at the time (See how Douglas Jacobsen describes this in Thinking in the Spirit).
However, the wave of Pentecostal historians and biblical scholars I described did not engage the theological exercise deliberately and systematically. Their goal was the understanding and delineation of history or the exposition of Scripture, not the formulation of theological method or doctrine (although Pentecostals have many times equated historical and biblical scholarship as theological scholarship among Pentecostals). Theologians, who deliberately and constructively engaged the questions of doctrine in conversation with the wider theological tradition, emerged as the fourth wave of Pentecostal scholarship only during the 1990s. This work began with a clear emphasis on the distinctives of the Pentecostal faith, sometimes cast in the language of apologetics. You have frequently asked the questions of that generation: what is particular about Pentecostal theology? These question led to proposals on a theology of the Spirit-filled life that attempts to integrate the various distinctive emphases of Pentecostals, such as speaking in tongues or spiritual gifts, in the broader theological and ecumenical discussions. This generation of Pentecostal scholars has entered the broad range of theological disciplines, but it has also discussed primarily internal issues. Many a times, the books and treatises that resulted from this generation of theologians reflect already existing forms of systematic theology without showing much of the uniqueness of Pentecostal thought or, when doing so, without integrating Pentecostal distinctives fully in existing formulations of doctrine. You have probably heard the critique that pertains to such works as “Pentecostal theology is doing nothing new except adding a doctrine of Spirit baptism.” I think this is a caricature of the development, but even so, Pentecostals have not added significantly to the reshaping of the constructive theological agenda until the turn to the twenty-first century.
The publication of Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies since 1979 and the Journal of Pentecostal Theology, founded in 1992, contributed greatly to the sharpening of theological scholarship in the English-speaking world. Perhaps there is no radical break in the emergence of contemporary Pentecostal theology, but the first decade of the twenty-first century has seen a new generation of Pentecostal theologians who have begun to reconsider existing doctrines in a more constructive fashion. The products of these scholars ask a different question: what do Pentecostals have to contribute to a renewal of Christian theology? and what does it mean to do Christian theology explicitly as a Pentecostal? Interests of these scholars include traditional fields of theology, such as soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, the doctrine of God, or the doctrine of creation. However, these scholars also venture into theology of culture, the dialogue with the religions, and the conversation of theology and science. I have tried to summarize the contributions and challenges of this new face of Pentecostal theology in my book, Beyond Pentecostalism. Today’s Pentecostal theology has begun to suggest explicit ways in which Pentecostal theology contributes to the transformation of the theological agenda. The new discussions have led to conversations on the nature of Pentecostal theology, in general, and have begun to shape a new generation of Pentecostal scholars who go beyond the traditional historical, biblical, and internal theological discussions.
In a way, Pentecostal theology is still in-the-making. We cannot speak of it as something completed. But many in your circles may ask if there is such a thing as Pentecostal theology at all. To them, I would respond by pointing to the work of these men and women who are now emerging and who are challenging the theological academy as Pentecostals. Who do you know among these theologians? Are you among them? Where do you see your position? How do you make your voice heard? In other words: what does it take to be a Pentecostal theologian? To these questions, I want to turn the next time. In the meantime, let me hear your answers to my questions. Let me hear from your friends where they stand on the question of the new face of Pentecostal scholarship.