Pentecost, Scholarship, And Learning In A Postmodern World

Pentecost, Scholarship, And Learning In A Postmodern World

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Pentecostal Theology, Volume 27, No. 1, Spring 2005

Pentecost, Scholarship, and Learning

in a Postmodern World

Gordon Anderson

Scholarship and Christian Faith, by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, makes a significant contribution to the discussion of the integration of faith and learning. The book illustrates the fact that the discussion might better be characterized as the relationship of faith and learning, since true integration may be impossible to achieve. The rela- tionship has many possibilities, including contradiction, subordination, imbrication, integration, and perhaps others. How can Pentecostals make a contribution and enlarge the conversation with regard to the work of scholarship and learning in a postmodern world? To answer this question I will outline the context from which I make my observations. This will establish the practical dimensions of my thought. I will endeavor to define Pentecostals to establish a philosophical/theological outline and then offer the Pentecostal side of a conversation with a few selected conversants. This will, I hope, prove to be helpful to those engaged in the discussion.


I serve as president of North Central University (NCU), Minneapolis, Minnesota, and have been at the institution for twenty-two years, thirteen years as a full-time faculty member teaching philosophy, hermeneutics, and early church history, and nine years as president. North Central University is part of the Assemblies of God, which places it within the classical or traditional Pentecostal stream. The school is regionally accred- ited and offers degrees in both church vocational and non-church voca- tional fields. Historically the school has been a Bible institute, a Bible college accredited with the American Association of Bible Colleges (now called the Association for Bible Higher Education), and a university, with regional accreditation. NCU has struggled continuously with the need to define what it means to be a Pentecostal school and to develop policies, curricula, and models of education that satisfy the various constituencies that have a stake in the school. This is no easy task, but it has proven to be enormously fruitful.

NCU sees its work as being preparational, not only educational. Edu- cation is a part of this process, but is not the only component. Preparation



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requires information (names, dates, facts, and figures), education (synthesis, analysis, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate clearly), demon- stration (hands-on work and service), and transformation (spiritual devel- opment, sanctification, empowerment, and overall spirituality). If a student develops well in all four of these areas, then we may say that he or she is prepared and that we have succeeded.

NCU has a holistic model of the preparational process and uses the metaphors of scholar, servant, saint, and speaker to refer to the four impor- tant categories in our preparational paradigm. We feel that this holistic model is essentially Pentecostal and that it deeply informs the prepara- tion process. Enumerated, they are: scholar (head, mind, rationality, logic, learning, reflection, study in the library, and publication); servant (hand, the effective domain, service, work, practical application of knowledge, spiritual gifts, and demonstration on the street); saint (the affective domain, worship, prayer, fasting, intercession at the altar, character, and spiritual fruit); and speaker (mouth, prophetic witness and projection, profession, teaching, description in various classrooms, and conveying knowledge and wisdom).

What is a Pentecostal?

Russell Spittler, noted Assemblies of God scholar, identifies five essen- tial characteristics of Pentecostals. They are experience, orality, spon- taneity, otherworldliness, and biblical authority.1 Walter Hollenweger, in an interview, has characterized his view of Pentecost as: “. . . not tongues, but a different way of being Christian.”2 I concur, but expand these out- lines to include other characteristics that influence Pentecostal theology, practice, ministry, and education. They are:

1. Supernatural worldview: Pentecostals see the world in terms more like that found in non-Western cultures. God, demons, angels, and spir- its are common features in the Pentecostal landscape. Spirits, along with or even more frequently than natural forces, are responsible for sickness, war, mental illness, blessings, and prosperity. The conflict between God and Satan is cast in dualistic terms and is seen more as a power struggle than as a truth struggle. The world is a hostile place for spiritual people.


Russell Spittler, “Spirituality, Pentecostal and Charismatic,” in Stanley Burgess, ed., International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1096–08.


“Pentecostalism’s Global Language,” Link Interview with Walter J. Hollenweger, Christian History 58 (spring 1998): 42–44.



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2. Holistic anthropology: The Spirit affects the whole person, including the body, emotions, will, and mind. This results in a holistic response that accounts for highly physical worship forms and emotional services, alongside serious Bible study and a commitment to the authority of Scripture.

3. Appreciation for the supernatural: This includes emphasis on the super-rational (not irrational) domain, for the miraculous and the mysti- cal, including dreams, visions, discernment, prophecy, revelation, divine leading, sensing the Spirit, and feeling the presence of God.

4. Dependence on the supernatural: Pentecostals believe that life and ministry are not accomplished primarily by might, power, knowledge, intelligence, organization, or money, but more by the Spirit, by the power of God.

5. Restorationist ecclesiology: Pentecostals see the first century of the church as a model and measure of current doctrines and practices.

6. Restorationist piety: Personal devotion and corporate services are deeply rooted in the characteristics named above. The goal of piety is to enter into and be an expression of the supernatural. This view explains the personal devotional and the corporate worship practices of Pentecostals. They strive to connect with the supernatural domain and construct per- sonal and corporate liturgical practices directed toward that goal.

The practical, philosophical, and theological aspects of my view of Pentecostalism and its contribution to scholarship and education can now be put into dialogue with a few conversants in an effort to enlarge the discussion among Pentecostals and other scholars and educators.


1. Conversation with epistemology, phenomenology in particular: Kant claimed that pure knowledge cannot be attained through empiricism or rationalism. Various philosophers have tried to resolve the epistemologi- cal skepticism to which Kant consigned us. It could be that Pentecostals, perhaps in league with others, have something to say in the matter.

Edmund Husserl, along with other thinkers, created a different episte- mology called “phenomenology.” Phenomenology can be misunderstood because people tend to see only the first of two definitions of it. In the first instance, phenomenology is the work of describing phenomena and, as such, is empirical in nature. Some stop here and see it only as a form of empiricism, but it is more than that. Phenomenologists explain that phenomenology is not an empirical methodology and that



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phenomenological statements are not empirical. This is because with the phenomenological method, the essential reality of a thing is intuited, that is, it is apprehended by an immediate presentation of itself to the under- standing. Immediate presentation means that it does not pass through the ordinary human senses that are used in the rational/empirical process. For Husserl and the phenomenologists, intuition is a different way of know- ing. It is different from empiricism and rationalism and it is able to put the knower in direct contact with the essential reality of a thing.

Husserl’s insights fall out along two lines as he asserts that there are other ways the knowing person knows a thing or event. First, intuition allows the knower to grasp immediately the essence of the thing. Second, this intuitional process occurs within the context of the knower’s episte- mological apparatus, that is, the framework that governs how the intuitional insights are framed within the existing categories of the knowing mind.

Phenomenology is an innovative way to try to escape the epistemological skepticism of Kant, but it seems to fail. This is for two reasons. First, try as they might, the phenomenologists are not able to describe their method in a way that discloses how intuition really works. They assert the power of intuition to ascertain reality, but their explanations of what happens when one “brackets” (“epoche”) an event or thing always seem to fall short of the goal. It might be that this intuitive event is only a subcon- scious comparative process the mind conducts by which it sets the brack- eted thing alongside other things it already knows, and when the process is completed and the mind generates an evaluation, what is produced “feels” like it is the result of a new epistemological process (intuition), when, in fact, it is just a different way of doing empiricism and rationalism. Whether that is true or not, it remains that philosophers have yet to affirm phenomenology as the savior it claims to be.

But a second failure of phenomenology may be due to the fact that it tries to explain the reality of an epistemological event without reference to the spiritual processes that make the “intuitive” moment possible. This may provide Pentecostals with an opportunity to speak to the issue. It is certainly worth considering the possibility that what the phenomenolo- gists call “intuition” is really “revelation.” Pentecostals are quite famil- iar with that “aha” moment when they sense that they have had a complete and accurate insight into the reality of a situation or thing. Their expla- nation is that the Spirit of God makes something known (word of knowl- edge, word of wisdom, revelation, discernment) and that it is done “immediately.” Now, empiricists and rationalists probably will not be impressed by all this because it fails to play the game by the established



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rules, but many believe that the established rules are incomplete, so the phenomenological/Pentecostal effort should at least be considered. If the phenomenological process of intuition is really the spiritual process of revelation, then Pentecostals might hold a key to understanding how cer- tain knowledge is conveyed, apart from the limited capacity of ratio/empiri- cism. If one cannot achieve complete knowledge without including faith and the supernatural in the process, then a Pentecostal approach might be helpful. In some respects, the well-known outlines of Van Til’s presup- positionalism argue along the same lines. Talk about enlarging the con- versation! Just think about a discussion with Husserl, Van Til, and a Pentecostal. We should also invite James Loder.3 He has outlined major elements in what could be called a phenomenological/Pentecostal approach to knowledge. Including his work would be immensely helpful.

2. Conversation with hermeneutics: Is there such a thing as a Pentecostal hermeneutic? A few years ago, when the Reformed tradition held all the high hermeneutical ground, the only way Pentecostals would be given a hearing would be if they accepted the established rationalistic presuppo- sitions and offered their opinions only within that framework. This is akin to Mark Noll’s lament that the evangelical mind is a scandal because it does not conform to modern ways of thinking, and that if evangelicals are ever to be respected, they must do the modern thing every bit as well as the moderns do it.4 All that has changed and it seems that Pentecostals have found a voice in this conversation.

Just a few years ago the highly respected Pentecostal scholar Gordon Fee offered a Pentecostal perspective on hermeneutics, but upon reflection, it fell largely along traditional evangelical (rationalistic) lines. He claims that only the propositional literature should be used to establish doctrine, since the narrative literature is merely descriptive and cannot be taken as normative or prescriptive.5 Roger Stronstad has made a significant con- tribution to the debate by showing that narrative literature should be used to establish doctrine.6An even bolder claim is made by J. Rodman Williams,


James E. Loder, The Transforming Moment (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Helmers & Howard, 1989).


Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994).


See Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), and Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991).


Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke(Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1984), and Stronstad, Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (Baguio City, Philippines: Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Press, 1995).



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who writes that whenever possible the narrative or descriptive literature should be given priority over the propositional.7 William Menzies modifies the traditional evangelical position when he asserts that proper hermeneu- tics must always include induction (meaning drawn the narratives), deduc- tion (meaning drawn from the propostional literature), and verification (meaning and doctrine verified by subsequent experience).8 Howard Ervin, French Arrington, and Richard Israel, among others, have also made significant contributions.

It seems that this discussion is occurring on the edge of a very slip- pery slope. A level and apparently safe place had been carved out by the traditional approach by which rationalism, applied to the Bible, could pro- vide what seemed to be accurate meanings and theology. But as people have begun to question the adequacy of modern ways (rationalism and empiricism), new approaches to hermeneutics have been advanced. Pen- tecostals may be able to help.

Pentecostals are a unique hybrid of conservative commitments to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, confidence in the Bible, and the possibility of ascertaining its meanings with clarity. But at the same time they are exploring hermeneutical methods that present different ways of determining the meaning of the Bible. I believe they are on to something.

One way to get a start on Pentecostal hermeneutics is to consider the way Jesus taught and answered questions. To the Western, modern mind, Jesus is frustrating. When asked about the Kingdom of God, he did not give a straight answer—e.g., define his terms, set out clear propositions, and draw logical conclusions. Rather, Jesus talked about flowers and fishnets, expecting his listeners to draw some insight from these descriptions. What he showed is that real meanings can be found in non-propositional language. Perhaps Jesus thought we can “intuit” the inner essence of some- thing in this way. Now, every evangelical interprets parables, but there is a greater confidence in interpreting Paul, who, for the most part, set out his thought in ways that the Western mind finds comfortable. Paul defined his terms and offered clear propositions.

Here is where Pentecostals might be very helpful. Most of the world, for most of its history, has been primarily oral in the communication of culture (religion, values, etc.). Pentecostals are quite comfortable in an


J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990), 182, fn. 4.


William Menzies, “The Methodology of Pentecostal Theology: An Essay on Her- meneutics,” in Paul Elbert, ed., Essays on Apostolic Themes (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 1–14.



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oral culture. As Hollenweger and Spittler point out, they are an oral culture. This predisposes Pentecostals to appreciating and valuing narrative, and to pragmatic ways of determining meaning. Hence, they include or even focus on the non-propositional literature in the Bible and on its narratives, in particular. Their preaching of these texts includes a great deal of narrative (story telling), a natural outcome of thinking within a narrative framework.

Pentecostals have a significant contribution to make to this conversa- tion. They are positioned to merge commitments to the authority of Scripture (with insightful ideas about the meaning of inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility), with the appropriate application of rationalistic methods, with helpful and safe ways to include both narrative and experience in the establishment and verification of meaning and doctrine.

Here is a hint at a Pentecostal hermeneutic. Their sympathy (Einver- ständnis) with the supernatural and the non-propositional literature gives them an advantageous starting point. Fundamentalists and rationalistic evangelicals get stuck on passages that seemingly make no sense now or do not appear to have any meaningful application. For example, the Bible says that women are not allowed teach. Pentecostals are inclined to inter- pret these passages in light of other evidence because they think there is verifiable proof that God wants women to preach and teach, namely, that many do so under a powerful anointing and have been effective evange- lists, missionaries, and pastors. A good deal of the propulsion in the direc- tion of this conclusion is provided by experience, not exegesis, but in explaining it, much effort goes into tying the conclusions to exegetical work. Conservative evangelicals lament this process and see shades of Schleiermacher (existentialism) in this approach. Although there are the apparent dangers of a lurking liberalism in all this, there are more dangerous proclivities at hand when one tries to get to God’s meaning in a text exclu- sively through the limited methods of strict rationalism.

3. Conversation with the postmodern world: The basic tenets of an emerging postmodernism are well known and do not need to be rehearsed here. Suffice it to say that the modern worldview and the epistemologies associated with it are being questioned and, in some cases, thrown out. Some lament the loss of modern ways and decry those who have fallen into this new pit of subjectivism, and existentialism, but the Church must be prepared to respond to this emerging phenomenon.

I do have concerns that the postmodern world may be another kind of Dark Age. With the advent of television (images, sights, and sounds that hold attention, rather than books, to which attention must be paid—an important human ability) and computers (massive amounts of information




that can be downloaded into a paper or the mind without intellectual scrutiny and processing—another important human ability), truth can be a casualty, along with the very notion that truth can be known. However, the empirical and rationalistic methods of the modern world have still left people in the dark, so dusting them off and polishing them up will not do. Something new is needed.

Pentecostals may be in position to speak to the postmodern world in ways that will be heard, in ways that will allow the truth of the gospel to be embraced. Consider this: the gospel and the Kingdom of God were designed to be effective regardless of where they are preached. I don’t think God designed the kingdom to work only in modern settings. God may not be as upset over the demise of modernism as are some of the modern theologians. In fact, God may see an opportunity here. Pentecostals surely do.

Paul said that he did not come merely with eloquent words, but also with power and demonstration. That is a very Pentecostal approach. Preaching and power. Description and demonstration. Truth with passion. Pentecost links rational discourse with powerful demonstrations and emo- tional responses. It moves preaching from the sterile pulpit and lecture hall of rationality and transforms it into prophetic witness in the very untidy arena and marketplace of street level experience. Pentecostals feel right at home in the messy and noisy non-Western, non-modern world.

An illustration of these principles can be seen in the story of Peter at the household of Cornelius. Had Peter been a modern rationalist he would never have gotten through this one. But Peter was able to integrate his rationalism (the Old Testament) and his experiences (trances, visions, voices, and visitors) and, as a result, was able to participate in the two baptisms of Cornelius and his household.

If you want to see a funny movie, run this one in your mind. Picture Peter explaining what happened (Acts 11) to a modern, rationalistic seminary audience. His lines go like this: “You see, I was in a trance, and saw a vision, and heard a voice, then some men came who had been sent by an angel, and so I went with them to the house of a Gentile and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, so I baptized them in water. And, despite my training in the scriptures, it just seemed to be the right thing to do!” Yes, it was the right thing to do, but the way he found out would surely create a dilemma for a modern, rationalistic sem- inary audience. Their lines go like this: “Peter, you can’t base a doctrine on experience. You must show us in the scriptures where God proposes that what you have done is appropriate.” But this event makes sense



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to Pentecostals, who are familiar with this world of supernatural, super- rational activity. And it will make lot of sense to postmoderns who are hungry for God and are willing to consider a God who enters into the human fray to demonstrate himself in both word and deed. Pentecostals can talk to them in a language they understand. We have a lot of work to do to avoid the subjective and existential traps, but I believe we are on the right track.

As Jacobsen and Jacobsen suggest, the conversation about the rela- tionship between faith and learning can be enlarged and it seems that Pentecostals can make a meaningful contribution. They might even bring some unexpected guests to join with them as well. Pentecostals will prob- ably not try to integrate faith and learning in the ways in which the effort has been understood to this point. I think they may find a comrade in Crystal Downing, whose imbrication model resembles the suggestions I have made, that is, an overlapping conversation in which the participants, as unique as they might seem to be, still are able to offer insights that are rather similar in significant ways.

I am truly excited about the possibilities for Pentecostals in a post- modern world and look forward eagerly to the ongoing conversation.



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