Pentecostal Hermeneutics

Pentecostal Hermeneutics

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215 Pentecostal Hermeneutics Roger Stronstad* A Review Essay of Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991). 160 pp. $9.95, paper. At this point in his academic career every new book by Dr. Gordon D. Fee, professor of New Testament at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, is expected to be a tour de force. One thinks, for example, of his commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles and, especially, on 1 Corinthians. Further, his eagerly awaited forthcoming study on the Holy Spirit in the Pauline Epistles promises to be not only his magnum opus but also the standard work on the subject for the next generation of scholars. When measured by the standard of his recently published and forthcoming books, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics is, however, something of an anomaly. Because of the circumstantial and polemical nature of some chapters, it does not contain within its pages the promise of the lasting or enduring importance which his other books do. Perhaps it is also the victim of Fee’s own success for it fails to meet the standard of his other works. In Gospel and Spirit Fee has collected eight essays, all of which have had a previous publishing history. Prior to their original publication all were formerly given as oral lectures. In Gospel aud Spirit these essays have become eight chapters: 1) Hermeneutics and Common Sense: An Exploratory Essay on the Hermeneutics of the Epistles, (1-23); 2) The Evangelical Dilemma: Hermeneutics and the Nature of Scripture, (24-36); 3) Normativeness and Authorial Intent: A Proposal Regarding New Testament Imperatives, (37-51); 4) The Great Watershed–Intentionality and Particularity/Eternality: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as a Test Case, (52-65); 5) Hermeneutics, Exegesis, and the Role of Tradition, (66-82); 6) Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent–A Major Issue in Pentecostal Hermeneutics, (83-104); 7) Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence, (105-119); and 8) Laos and Leadership Under the New Covenant: Some Exegetical and Hermeneutical Observations on Church Order, (120-143). As these chapter titles remind us several of these essays had origins in debates about the battle for the Bible, the right and role of women in ministry, and the validity of Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology. Consequently, they have a varied provenance and date (published between 1976 and 1990). The unity of subject matter is to be found only in the fact that these essays are about issues in New *Roger Stronstad is the Academic Dean at Western Pentecostal Bible College in Clayburn, British Columbia, Canada. 1 216 Testament hermeneutics, the author. In this some select Before proceeding competence which is reflected Contents, “Menzies, ‘Trends’.” It should presentation about Pentecostal Hermeneutics.” In the ‘Methodology’.” nine pages either very these flaws mar the students, friends.” Any briefly agenda and, of course, in the integrity and maturity of review of Gospel and ,Spirit, I will only focus on issues which are to be found in Fee’s discussion of Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology. to discuss the issues hermeneutics and theology which Fee raises, a word about the editorial in the book is in order. There are a number of obvious flaws in the book. For example, in the Table of chapter 6 is entitled, “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent: A Major Problem in Pentecostal book itself chapter 6 is entitled, “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent–A Major Issue in Pentecostal Hermeneutics” (italics added). There is also understandable but unresolved confusion about the genre of the chapters. In the text the genre is variously and capriciously identified as: 1 ) paper (20, 23, 68, 121), chapter (23, 52, 64), essay (24, 37, 52, 62, 67), or lecture (24, 67). Finally, there is at least one example of faulty documentation. On page 91 there is a footnote, be “Menzies, Incidentally, the full and first form of the footnote is given later. These flaws indicate that the editing was done hurriedly or else very indifferently. Admittedly, more than the substance. The irony of this breakdown in competent editing, however, is that Fee dedicates Gospel and Spirit to “Steve Hendrickson, David Townsley, Patrick Alexander, and Phil Frank of Hendrickson Publishers: Former scholar, but especially one who will dedicate his book to his publisher, deserves better editorial support than Fee received. In the discussion which follows I have a twofold focus. First, I will discuss three issues which Fee raises about Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology. These are: 1) the three categories doctrinal statements, 2) the problem of historical precedent, and 3) the definition of “normal” and “normative.” Second, I will propose a new for discussing Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology. This redefinition is necessary because critics of Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology, such as Fee, have misunderstood, and even from which misrepresented, the Pentecostals’ theology of interpretation of Acts, they derive their distinctive theology. My thesis is that Pentecostal is not derived from the narratives of Acts on the principle of historical precedent. To the contrary, it is derived from the teaching of Jesus and from the sermons and teaching of the apostles. In chapter 6, “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent–A Major Issue in Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” Fee discusses, among many other things, “Establishing Doctrine from Scripture” He observes: In general doctrinal statements fall into three categories: .( 1 ) Christian theology (what Christians believe), (2) Christian ethics (how Christians 2 217 ought to behave), and (3) Christian experience or practice (what Christians do in terms of religious practices). He also observes that within these three categories statements may be either primary (i. e., what is intended) or secondary (what is derived incidentally, by implication or by precedent). He concludes: “The doctrine of a baptism in the Holy Spirit as subsequent to conversion and accompanied by tongues seems to belong to the secondary level of doctrinal statements in my third category” (93-94). This classification of doctrinal statements into three categories is very important to Fee’s discussion of how Pentecostals do hermeneutics, and he once wrote to me about my failure to discuss this in my own writings on hermeneutics. In his letter to me of January 18, 1990, he complained, “… I am a bit disappointed that neither you nor Bill Menzies took seriously my attempt to draw distinctions between the kifids of doctrinal statements that we are required to make–theology, ethics, praxis.” In a paper, “The Biblical Precedent for Historical Precedent,” which I presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, I, for the first time, did take seriously his distinctions between the kinds of doctrinal statements we are I required to make.’ In responding to Fee’s challenge to take seriously distinctions between the kinds of doctrinal statements–theology, ethics, praxis–I observed, in turn, that his third category–praxis–is a catch-all category. He assigns “baptism in the Holy Spirit” to this category along with the Lord’s Supper and water baptism (93). Spirit-baptism, however, is not a practice (what Christians do in terms of religious practice) such as the Lord’s Supper or water baptism. It is something that God does to the Christian not something that Christians do (in the sense of celebrating the Lord’s Supper or being baptized in water). Two conclusions follow from the fact that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a practice. First, doctrinal statements fall into four categories; namely, 1) Christian theology, 2) Christian ethics, 3) spiritual experience, such as baptism in the Holy Spirit, and 4) Christian practice. Second, everything that Fee writes about praxis, no matter how valid it is for the Lord’s Supper, water baptism or other religious practices, is, therefore, irrelevant for the hermeneutics relating to the baptism in the Holy Spirit.2 2 Fee discusses “Specific Principles for the Use of Historical Precedent” at length He begins his discussion with the thesis: “The use of historical precedent as an analogy by which to establish a ‘ Subsequently published as Roger Stronstad, “The Biblical Precedent for Historical Precedent,” Paraclete 27 (Summer 1993): 1-10. 2 See, “Response to Roger Stronstad’s. ‘The Biblical Precedent for Historical Precedent’,” Paraclete 27 (Summer 1993): 12 for Fee’s response to these observations. 3 218 norm is never valid in itself Such a process (drawing universal norms from particular events) produces a non sequitur and is therefore irrelevant” (94.). Though it is never valid to use historical precedent to establish a norm, “historical narratives do have illustrative and, sometimes, ‘pattern’ value” (95). For example, “… Jesus used the example of David as a historical precedent to justify his disciples’ sabbath actions (Mark 2:23-28 and parallels)” (95). Nevertheless, “… especially in cases where the precedent justifies a present action, that precedent does not establish a norm for specific action” (95). Further, “… for a biblical precedent to justify a present action, the principle of the action must be taught elsewhere, where it is the primary intent so to teach” (95). The logic of the above position is persuasive, but it does not stand the test of Luke’s own record of the use of historical precedent in the early church. For example, the testy issue of the basis of Gentile conversion was resolved at the Jerusalem Council on the basis of historical precedent. First, Peter addresses the apostles and elders, reporting how God had chosen him to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles so that they might believe (Acts 15-.7ff). Next, Paul and Barnabas report about “the signs and wonders which God has done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). Finally, James, by now the preeminent leader of the Church in Jerusalem, addresses the brethren. He reminds them about what Peter had just said about God’s purpose in making the Gentiles his people (Acts 15:14). James continues by observing that the prophets, such as Amos, agree with this understanding of the Gentile mission (Acts 15:15-18). Three observations arise out of this deliberation at the Jerusalem Council. One, Peter’s argument for the conversion of the Gentiles apart from the necessity of circumcision is based on historical precedent and James supports Peter’s position on the basis of the same historical precedent. Two, this proof from historical precedent is prior to, and superior to, the proof from Scripture, for it is Scripture which agrees with historical precedent and not the other way around. Three, this historical precedent establishes a normative doctrine in the Church; namely, Gentiles do not have to be circumcised to be saved. Thus, as far as Luke’s report of the Jerusalem Council is concerned, it is this proof by historical precedent which is decisive for the decision. This evidence forces us to conclude that Fee’s view of historical precedent–specifically, “the use of historical precedent as an analogy by which to establish a norm is never valid in itself’–is simply not valid in itself As I have demonstrated, the use of historical precedent as an analogy by which to establish a norm was, in itself, valid on at least one occasion. This Lucan report of the use of historical precedent at the Jerusalem Council is the biblical precedent for the contemporary use of historical precedent. ‘ 4 219 The semantics of the terms “normal,” “normative,” and “precedent” are important to Fee’s hermeneutics. In the “Postscript” to his chapter, “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent,” he defines the way in which he understands and uses the terms. More recently, in his article, “Response to Roger Stronstad’s ‘The Biblical Precedent for Historical Precedent’,” in the Summer 1993 issue of Paraclete,’ Fee clarifies his understanding of these terms further. He writes: “… `norm’ and `normative’ have to do with ‘must’ and ‘have to’ not with ‘may’ or the ‘valid repetition’ of what was assumed as ‘normal’ for them” (13). In many ways Fee’s definition of these terms is the crux in the conflict about the way in which Luke’s theology is to be applied to twentieth-century Christianity. Moreover, in Gospel and Spirit, Fee seems to equivocate on his definitions. On the one hand, Fee is, “… convinced that the dynamic, empowering dimension of life in the Spirit was the ‘norm’ in the early church” (102). On the other hand, he writes, because I understand this dimension of life in the Spirit to be the New Precisely Testament norm, I think it is repeatable. and should be so, as the norm of the later church. Where I would tend to disagree with my tradition in the articulation of this norm is when they use language that seems more obligatory to me than I find in the New Testament documents themselves ( 103 ). The two quotations from Paraclete and Gospel and Spirit appear to be contradictory. In his Paraclete “Response,” he defines “norm” in terms of “must” and “have to.” However, in the “Postscript” of his Gospel and Spirit, he concedes that the early church’s dynamic, empowering dimension of life in the Spirit should be, “the norm of the later church,” and yet doubts that it should be obligatory, the very aspect he has defined a norm to be. Further, since normative means that which is normal his definition of normative is too restrictive. The final word can rest with another New Testament scholar, J. Ramsey Michaels, who writes: “There is nothing wrong in principle with deriving normative beliefs and practices from narratives.”‘ For the past twenty years or so Pentecostal scholars have been busy defining, explaining and defending Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology. For the most part this has been a defensive or a rear guard action. This apologetic approach is because at both the popular and the scholarly levels critics of Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology, such as Drs. John R. W. Stott, James D. G. Dunn, and Gordon D. Fee, have set the agenda, or established the parameters of the debate. Their agenda has focused on issues such as the genre of Acts as historical narrative, and whether or not Luke’s narrative has theological and ‘ Fee. “Response.” 11-14. J. Ramsey Michaels, “Evidences of the Spirit.” in Initial Evidence. ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 203. 5 220 didactic functions, historical precedent, and authorial intent. Depending on one’s point of view, Pentecostal scholars have given an adequate response to the criticisms which have been leveled against Pentecostal hermeneutics by these and other critics.s It is now time to observe that these critics have misunderstood, and even distorted, the complementary issues of the hermeneutics of historical narrative and the theology of Pentecostal experience. Even though historical precedent is a valid hermeneutical principle, and in spite of how Pentecostals may have expressed it with their “Pentecost as pattern” terminology, Pentecostal theology is not primarily derived from historical narrative on the basis of historical precedent. To the contrary, Pentecostal theology is derived from the so-called didactic portions of Luke’s narrative. Specifically it is derived from the following didactic portions: 1) the teaching of Jesus, 2) the sermons and the teaching of the apostles, and 3) theological terms which are embedded in the historical narrative whose meanings are shaped by their prehistory, rather than from the narrative itself In what follows I will briefly outline this threefold basis for Pentecostal theology. First, Pentecostal theology is derived, in part, from Luke’s reports about the teaching of Jesus. For example, Jesus taught that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13). In other words, the disciples could pray to receive the Holy Spirit. That the disciples understood Jesus’ teaching in this way is evidenced by the prayer of Peter and John that the believers in Samaria might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15-17). Jesus, moreover, identified this promised gift of the Holy Spirit as the disciples being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1 :4-5). Furthermore, Jesus identified the purpose for the Holy Spirit coming upon those disciples. It was so that they would receive “power” for a worldwide witness. Clearly, Pentecostal theology not only aligns itself closer to the explicit teaching of Jesus than its critics often recognize but it is also closer to this teaching of Jesus than is the pneumatology of many of its critics. Second, Pentecostal theology is also based on the sermons and teaching of the apostles. For example, in Acts 2 Luke reports the signs of the pouring forth of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4), the wonder of the crowd which witnessed this miracle (2:5-13), and Peter’s s sermon (2:14-36), which begins with an explanation of the pouring forth of the Spirit (2:14-21). In his sermon Peter makes three primary points: 1) this pouring forth of the Spirit is the eschatological gift of the ‘For example. see William W. Menzies, “The Methodology of Pentecostal An Essay on Hermcneutics,” in Essavs on Apostolic Themes: Studies in Honor of Howard AI. Ervin, Theology: ed. P. Elbert (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 1-14: Robert P. Menzies. “The Distinctive Character of Luke’s Pneumatology.” Paraclete 25 (Fall 1991): 17-30; Roger Stronstad. “Pentecostal and Hermeneutics,” Paraclete 26 (Winter 1992): 1`t-30; and, Stronstad. “The Biblical Precedent for Historical Precedent,” 1-10. Experience ‘ 6 221 Spirit (2:17a): 2) it is (potentially) universal–crossing all age, gender and social/economic boundaries, and available from generation to generation (2:17b-18a, 39): and, 3) it is the pouring forth of the Spirit of prophecy (2:17b-18). These three points are supported by the evidence of exegesis. Only by eisegesis can one interpret Luke’s report about the pouring forth of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost to be about initiation-incorporation. Furthermore, in Acts 11:1-18 Luke reports Peter’s defense of himself for going to uncircumcised men, that is, the household of Cornelius, and eating with them ( 11:3). As part of his defense, Peter reported: As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say. “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the If God therefore Holy Spirit.” gave to them the same as He Lord Jesus gift gave to us after in the believing Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way? ( 11:15-17). Peter makes two primary points. Peter emphasized the point that the experience of the household of Cornelius is after the pattern of Pentecost. In other words, the Holy Spirit fell upon the household of Cornelius just as he had earlier fallen upon the 120 disciples; that is, Cornelius and his household received the same gift as was earlier poured forth on the day of Pentecost. As Acts 2:17-18 makes clear this gift is nothing less than the pouring forth of the Spirit of prophecy. Peter emphasized the further point that Cornelius’ experience, evidenced by speaking with other tongues, was being baptized with the Holy Spirit. By extension, this pattern applies to other episodes of the pouring forth of the Spirit, such as, upon the believers at Samaria (Acts 8:15-17) and the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6). Clearly it is Peter, and not the Pentecostals, who established the principle of a pattern for the various episodes of the pouring forth of the Spirit. Third, even where Pentecostals derive elements of their theology from narrative portions in addition to the teaching of Jesus and the sermons and teaching of the apostles, they do not base their theology on historical precedent. Rather, they base it on terms which have a prehistory. For example, in Acts 2:4 Luke reports: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” The prehistory of the term, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” has two dimensions: 1) it appears five times in the LXX, each time in a charismatic context (Exodus 28:31; 31:3; 35 :31 ; Deuteronomy 34:9; Isaiah 11:1-3); and, 2) it appears three times in Luke, each time in a context of a prophetic ministry (Luke 1:15-17) or of prophetic inspiration (Luke 1:41 ff, Indeed, every term which Luke uses to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit, with the exception of the term, “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” is to be found 7 222 in charismatic contexts in the LXX.6 Clearly, the meaning of these terms is not derived exclusively from the narrative itself, but is conditioned by the way the same term is used in the LXX, the Bible of both Luke and his first readers. In light of the above survey which illustrates the didactic rather than the narratival basis for Pentecostal theology, I conclude that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the hermeneutical debate. On the one hand, it is time to refocus the debate on the didactic portions of Luke’s s narrative, specifically on the teaching of Jesus, on the sermons and teaching of the apostles, and on Luke’s selection of septuagintal theological terms. On the other hand, it is also time to abandon the debate about issues such as historical precedent, which, in the final analysis, is pointless because Pentecostal theology, as I have illustrated, is not primarily derived from historical narrative on the basis of historical precedent. 6 For a full discussion of this prehistory see Roger Stronstad, “The Influence of the Old Testament on the Charismatic Theology of St. Luke,” Pneuma: The Journal the of Society for Pentecostal Theology 2 (Spring 1980): 32-50. 8

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