Archive for the ‘scholarship’ Category

Global Renewal: A View from (Western) Canadian America

Saturday, May 18th, 2013 by Amos Yong

canadaThis past week I have been spending time – courtesy of my friend and current second vice-president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Michael Wilkinson – on the campus of Trinity Western University (TWU) and with its Associated Consortium of Theological Schools (ACTS), including the Canadian Pentecostal Seminary (CPS), lecturing on global renewal theology. So be sure, when the apostles were told that the outpouring of the Spirit was to empower them to bear witness to the gospel to the ends of the earth, they were thinking certainly of Rome rather than of Vancouver, British Columbia, much less Langley, BC, and even Abbottsford, BC (where I preached last Sunday, at Christian Life Community Church – for the sermon see here). Yet equally to be sure, the winds of the Spirit have blown north, as one scholarly volume is aptly titled so that Pentecost and the renewing work of the Spirit has also – indeed, even! – occurred above the US border (Americans from the US may find hard to believe)!

Yet the renewal movement in Western Canada certainly has its own distinct flavor. British Columbian renewalists see commonalities stretching up and down the Pacific Northwest (PNW) rather than eastward across the vast Canadian expanse, meaning that there may be more in common to PNW renewalism than there is a more homogeneous Canadian pentecostalism stretching from the central to the Maritime region in the far Eastern shore. But what are some of the characteristics of pentecostal and charismatic renewal Christianity in this area that is quite secular but also very cosmopolitan and multicultural?

While there is much to talk about, one feature that stands out is how renewalism can flourish as a minority tradition. By this, I am referring to the demographically minute segment of the population that is pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical Christianity in a pluralistic (Western) Canada. Yet even with these constraints, some renewalists are forging new conversations and pathways. The CPS, for instance, realizes that graduate theological education in the (Western) Canadian context can only succeed when intentional and strategic collaboration across evangelical and even ecumenical and traditional lines are forged. ACTS thus includes pentecostal, evangelical, Baptistic, Mennonite, Reformed, and even Roman Catholic partnerships. The future of renewal within this matrix is less an us-versus-them phenomenon but a matrix of more-or-less charismatically oriented or at least informed traditions in which each member or tradition of the theological community (body) has specific gifts that edify the whole for the common good (1 Cor. 12:12ff.).

So renewal and revival may not be exploding across Western Canada like it is numerically in other parts of the world. However, sometimes being a part of a minority tradition teaches us some important lessons and opens up possibilities that we might not otherwise consider when our numbers are stronger and we are part of or have access to the dominant social order. So while renewal Christianity in (Western) Canada may lack some of the pizzazz of what is occurring in the global South (or even south of their border), I would not underestimate its potential to demonstrate leadership in certain venues going forward. That is surely a mark of the Spirit, of whom we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8).

Conference on the Holy Spirit or Holy Spirit Conference? Why Not Both?

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by Amos Yong

This past weekend here at Regent University, our Center for Renewal Studies hosted a conference on “The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.” Like many academic conferences, there were plenty of paper presentations, high-flutin’ terms, and scholarly jargon. Yet amidst all of the academic stuff, there was also an unexpected, but perhaps also predictable, spiritual energy. Some might say, “Why not, for a conference devoted to the Holy Spirit?” Yet others might ask: “How was this manifest?”

First, the conference included presentations derived from a range of renewal (pentecostal and charismatic), evangelical, and ecumenical voices.  Scholars brought into the discussion Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Wesleyan, classical Pentecostal, charismatic renewal, and a range of other perspectives. Yet even these various ecclesial families are dynamic, with earlier and later expressions providing distinctive twists (so that, for instance, the medieval and early modern Catholic traditions exhibit similar but yet divergent emphases). Scripture clearly indicates that the one body of Christ and one fellowship of the Spirit is constituted by many members, each with its unique gifts. These various traditions are, arguably, diverse synchronic and diachronic expressions of the gifts of the Spirit. Presenters and conference attendees represented the full range of biblical, ecclesial, and theological commitments but yet engaged with one another respectfully.

Second, the conference included a range of disciplinary perspectives. There were those trained in the classical theological disciplines of biblical studies, Christian or church history, systematic theology, and even philosophy. However, many others were practical theologians, attracted to the conference because of the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in and across the Christian life. Papers were presented by pastors, chaplains, and missiologists, as well. Last but not least, others working across disciplinary boundaries like psychology-and-theology and the neurosciences-and-theology added to the richness of the conversation. While readers might wonder how such interdisciplinarity may have contributed to a conference on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life, the scriptures also say that the Holy Spirit leads followers of Christ into all truth. Insofar as the various disciplinary methodologies provide pathways of inquiry, to that degree, scholar of faith seeking understanding ought to deploy various methods to complement their quest for the truth that finally belongs to God.

Finally, here was an academic conference that was also spiritually sustained. Beyond offering only theory, the Holy Spirit was present in the prayers offered; mealtimes together allowed for fellowship in addition to the formal and theoretical dialogue; attendees were not just talking heads but embodied persons engaged with one another in a holistic manner. One of the major themes of the conference, the affections and their roles in the Christian life, was manifest in the give-and-take of the conference interactions. In this way, this was not just an intellectual extravaganza – although it surely was that – but also one which engaged with human hearts, hopes, and aspirations.

That is why I think this weekend I attended not just a conference on the Holy Spirit but also participated in a“Holy-Spirit-conference.” I was blessed to have been with others in a Spirit-inspired and Spirit-filled environment, one in which the Spirit was at work in our hearts, minds, and interactions, with effects lasting beyond the actual meeting itself. Did you attend the conference or one like it?

This was not the first scholarly event the Center has sponsored (see a list of prior symposia and consultations), and next year’s is already on the schedule. Is it too much to hope that next year’s event will not just be about renewal across the Americas but might also participate in the renewing work of the Spirit across the Western hemisphere? What do you expect? Perhaps you will come to the next meeting?

Saving the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Wolfgang Vondey

The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) is entering a critical phase of its existence. At its annual meeting this March, the members of the Society will decide whether the SPS should change its “admission policy” and add a particular faith statement as requirement for membership. The nature of the faith statement does not concern me here. Neither am I interested in debating the need for a faith statement or its effects on the Society. Proponents of a faith statement wish to safeguard the Society from admitting non-Christians and non-Pentecostals; opponents to this move wish to protect the academic and ecumenical character of the Society. I consider both perspectives to be valid, even if I prefer one over the other. What does concern me is the manner in which proponents of a faith statement have abused the situation to rally support for their cause.

A number of advocates of a faith statement have voiced their opinion rather loudly, even on the internet (no, I am not providing a link). Some gather signatures, other personal support behind the scenes and among friends  for what seems to become a show-down business meeting of the Society. In the interest of “saving the Society for Pentecostal Studies,” these members contribute to the slow death of their own organization. Young and inexperienced members (some with no postgraduate degrees), who have not held any position of leadership in the Society, have the audacity to voice their opinions without respect for the well-being of the SPS, its diverse members, its history, and the opportunities created in recent years to expand the reach of Pentecostal scholarship. Denominational interests and personal persuasions steamroll over relationships, seniority, and scholarship. I certainly have my own opinion on the matter, but I do not believe that trumpeting my own convictions is in the best interest of the Society. And that is what really matters: not the faith statement, not its potential absence or revision, but the life and well-being of the SPS and Pentecostal scholarship. We should not change recommendations of the executive committee in public before these have been presented to the members of the Society and discussed by the body in its official gathering. We should not post our own proposals for a policy of the Society before others with more seniority, experience, and scholarship have had a chance to speak on behalf of the Society. And we should not rally support for our own agenda behind the scenes as if we are running for office before we have first offered our service and dedication to the Society.

The decision to be made at this year’s meeting will inevitably divide SPS. If we adopt a required faith statement, several members who cannot sign the statement (whether for confessional or academic reasons) will have to abstain from the meetings. If we do not adopt a faith statement as required for membership, those who advocate it currently will likely cease to attend the meetings in the future. So what do we need?

  1. SPS needs a strong, experienced, discerning, and dedicated leadership to face this crisis. The current praxis of a rotating executive committee is perhaps not the best way to give stability to the Society. We need to seek leadership from among those who are dedicated to the SPS and who can provide long-term stability. At the meeting, the members will also vote for a new second vice president who will lead the society in two years. This decision should not be taken lightly, those nominated should ask themselves if their commitment to SPS is sufficient to accept nomination, and those voting should vote not based on personal preference but on character, scholarship, and care for Pentecostal studies.
  2. Official discussions should always have priority over private opinion. We need a membership that engages in the business of the Society. To encourage such engagement, business meetings should not be the last agenda on the last day of the meeting but be given adequate time to discuss and resolve matters concerning the health of the SPS.
  3. Members need to keep a proper perspective on the Society and the care for those who call themselves Pentecostal scholars or scholars of Pentecostalism. This small group of perhaps 500 PhDs deserves to treat each other with respect and dignity. Denominationalism and divisions may be a part of Pentecostal history, but it should not divide Pentecostal scholarship–a young and fragile discipline. Pentecostalism deserves better!  Pentecostal scholarship deserves better!

The proposal on the table will have to be decided. We will have to take a stand. However, on whatever side we are, the first decision should be for the unity of the body. After almost 20 years with the Society, where I have found a home for my scholarship and many personal friends, I am ashamed of those who use SPS to advance their own agenda, denominational persuasion, or scholarship as much as of those who deny their institutions to attend SPS for confessional or doctrinal reasons. I am afraid of those who feel privileged to voice their opinion before seeking together the council of God and the well-being of the community. The Society for Pentecostal Studies now needs to be rescued. This salvation can only come from all of us, all who have come together year after year, who have developed friendships, scholarly bonds, new interests and passions. The SPS is worth saving! What matters is not a faith statement or the absence of a faith statement. What matters is the unity of its members! Repentance, forgiveness, and love may help bring about this unity. I am willing to stand up for this cause. We will have to see who else is …


Letter to the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS)

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 by Wolfgang Vondey

Dear Society for Pentecostal Studies,

For some time now, I have been pondering the history and nature of Pentecostal scholarship. My peers struggle with the idea that Pentecostals engaged in theological scholarship may perhaps not be contradictory, but that it is not taken seriously. Among my friends, Pentecostal scholarship just does not seem to be advertised sufficiently. Although much of the creative theological thinking that today is taking place among Pentecostals has emerged from the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), almost none of my non-Pentecostal friends has even heard of your organization. Even among my Pentecostal friends, there are many who are uncertain about the intentions of the Society and whether the SPS has a future. What I would like to know is, what role exactly does the SPS serve in the development of Pentecostal scholarship?  What is the vision of the Society? What role will it play in the future of Pentecostal thought in and beyond North America? In order to explain my dilemma, I would like to revisit what I understand to be a long-standing problem–a problem that has resurfaced in recent debates about requiring a faith commitment from members of the Society. Of course, I cannot give an an answer to this debate, but I suggest that in order to resolve what I sense to be very serious disagreements among the membership, the Society should first direct its attention to its own self-understanding. Read the rest of this entry »