Posts Tagged ‘SPS’

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 »

Letter to a Pentecostal Scholar V: the new face of Pentecostal theology

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 by Wolfgang Vondey

Dear Prudence,

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?

Read the rest of this entry »

Renewing the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

Chances are you have not heard of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. For some, the idea of Pentecostals engaged in scholarship may even seem contradictory. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, much of the creative theological thinking today is taking place among Pentecostals. The Society, founded in 1970, has moved far along since its early days and hosts an annual conference with hundreds of scholars. This week, March 10-13, 2011, the conference meets in Memphis, Tennessee, with the theme “Receiving the Future: An Anointed Heritage.” Check out the Society’s website!

Moving towards the half-a-century hallmark, the Society is subject to to the powers of change. One of the most visible changes is the age and diversity of scholars at the meetings. This transition offers an opportunity to revisit the self-understanding of the Society. I have attended the annual meetings for the past 15 years, and it seems to me that there are two kinds of attitudes dominant among scholars. We can characterize them by a different construction of the title of the Society. When asked what “SPS” stands for, you will readily get two different answers: Society FOR Pentecostal Studies or Society OF Pentecostal Studies. Considering that  single iota has proven significant in the history of Christian doctrine, it seems to me that the difference of an entire preposition should not be overlooked. So which is it, friends and colleagues? It is time to settle the question! Read the rest of this entry »