PENTECOSTAL Reflections on the Contributions of Four Past-Presidents

PENTECOSTAL Reflections on the Contributions of Four Past-Presidents

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Kimberly Ervin Alexander

When the editors of Pneuma asked me to write an article about the four past-presidents of the Society for Pentecostal Studies who passed away within a year, I eagerly accepted, honored by the invitation. In a Spring of what was to be only the beginning of a year of grief and loss, honoring those on whose shoulders I and all who are involved in pentecostal studies stand seemed almost therapeutic. I had not anticipated the difficulties I would encounter and soon realized how daunting this project was. How do you write about the contributions of four such giants in a way that makes clear the enormity of their contributions? As I began to gather sources, I soon realized how challenging even that phase of the assignment was. First, I began this process during a global pandemic and quarantine; libraries, archives, and even faculty offices were off-limits indefinitely. In some places, archivists weren’t allowed into the buildings to access collections. Second, I learned that the most obvious sources for beginning a discussion of their contributions to SPS, their presidential addresses, were largely unavailable; none of the four addresses was published in Pneuma. After contacting colleagues, family members, and friends of the four, in the final analysis only two of the four presidential addresses were ever located in any form. In spite of the difficulties, the process of writing this brief tribute has been a testimony to the value of SPS—a community of scholars whose collective memory and encouragement is exactly what was envisioned by these and other leaders who have come before us.

Between April 2019 and April 2020, the Society for Pentecostal Studies and the larger world of pentecostal studies grieved the loss of four scholars, all of whom had served as president of the society. In a time of exceptional loss of life, it was particularly poignant to lose such scholars and influencers. Magnifying the loss is the reality that many SPS members and scholars of Pentecostalism had been personally taught or mentored by these pioneers; nearly all had heard them present papers at meetings as recently as 2018 and 2019; nearly all have had to grapple with the findings and challenges of their pioneering work. It is a profound loss.

Much can be and has been said of the contributions to scholarship and the pentecostal church of Vinson Synan, Leonard Lovett, Edith Blumhofer, and Donald Dayton. Important tributes may be found in leading evangelical, Wesleyan, and pentecostal publications and blogs. This essay will not attempt to eulogize or even to fully explore their impact on wider scholarship, but following the chronology of their tenure in SPS leadership, it will focus on their contributions to pentecostal studies as expressed in the ongoing work of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. An examination of those contributions reveals that they embodied, in their work and in their voices, the gifts of the society, but also the inherent tensions within SPS specifically and pentecostal studies generally.

1 Vinson Synan: Founder; SPS President (1974); Executive Secretary (1970–1972)1

“There would be no society if it weren’t for Vinson. Period.”2 It is likely that there would be little argument from anyone within the SPS orbit with Bill Faupel’s assessment. An unsigned article, “Dr. Vinson Synan Elected Secretary of Society for Pentecostal Studies,” published in the Pentecostal Holiness Advocate in January of 1971, describes Synan’s initial role: “This new organization grew out of a research trip taken by Dr. Vinson Synan in the summer of 1969 which took him to the archives of several pentecostal denominations. In each place he found a strong desire for an interdenominational society of Pentecostal scholars.”3 Synan describes how in meeting pentecostal scholars on that trip he “felt the exhilaration and joy of discovering kindred Pentecostal spirits.”4 That experience of joy and koinonia may well be the essential DNA of the society, what scholars of Pentecostalism have found in the annual meetings for the past fifty years.

It was the groundbreaking work The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement,5 a 1971 publication of his 1967 University of Georgia dissertation, that positioned him as an early authority on the pentecostal movement’s origins. Synan’s monograph was contemporary with those of Walter J. Hollenweger, whose mammoth study first appeared in English in 1972 as The Pentecostals, and that of John Thomas Nichol, which appear first as Pentecostalism (1966) and then also as The Pentecostals (1971). While Hollenweger and Nichol, importantly, document the rise of the already quickly expanding movement globally, Synan happily traced the trajectory from John Wesley, whom he dubs the “spiritual and intellectual father of the modern Holiness and Pentecostal movements,” focusing on the United States.6 Once a contract with Wm. B. Eerdmans was in hand, he amended the title from the dissertation’s “The Pentecostal Movement in the United States” to “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States,” given that the first four chapters focused on the Methodist-Holiness trajectory. Additionally, he added two chapters on developments in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR).7 These two modifications directly impacted the trajectory of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

First, as Synan later reflected,

It was not until after its publication in 1971 that I understood the reason for the four-year delay in getting the book into print. Had I published it earlier, the Catholics would have had less interest in it as a resource book. The decision to add the Catholic story was also a risk to my standing in the Pentecostal world since I included the Catholic renewal as an authentic part of the whole Pentecostal phenomenon.8

Synan’s work appeared at just the time that the Jesus movement and charismatic movement were attracting the attention of ecclesial leaders in other traditions as well as the religious and secular press. A review of the 1971 work in the Lutheran Quarterly makes just this connection:

On the religious scene in America today, no movement seems to be growing more rapidly than that of Pentecostalism. It has made strong inroads within Roman Catholic circles. It appears in a substantial number of Jesus Movement groups. It shows up in drug rehabilitation programs. It is found in some of the new rural communities. Individual congregations have been torn apart by parts of it. Thus, it is especially timely to have available this sober and penetrating study.9

As ideas for the beginnings of SPS were emerging, David du Plessis was planning a dialogue between Catholic and pentecostal-charismatic scholars; CCR participant and scholar Father Kilian McDonnell addressed the first meeting of SPS in Dallas.10 Because Synan had extended his trajectory of the Holiness-Pentecostal movement to include the CCR, the text was widely read by Roman Catholic scholars and bishops. Synan received an invitation from Fr. McDonnell to address the 3rd annual Catholic Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame in June 1972. What Synan witnessed there challenged his theology and the views of his tradition, but his very pentecostal experience in the extended prayer and praise services on that campus led not only to a revival at Emmanuel11 but also to further invitations and relationships; those relationships grew as the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue developed and, later, began meeting concurrently with SPS. Subsequent leadership of the society, at all levels, reflects this early conversation and shared experience.

A second outcome of the publication of Synan’s 1971 work, having direct impact on the trajectory of SPS, was that the intentional family linkage between Wesleyans and Pentecostals drew the attention of the movement’s estranged siblings, Wesleyan practitioners and scholars. David Bundy and Donald Dayton, then at Asbury Theological Seminary, sought out Synan, finding him on the Emmanuel College tennis courts in Franklin Springs, Georgia. According to Bundy, in Franklin Springs, Synan proudly showed them “all the reviews of his book that were in a large binder on the coffee table.” On their drive back to Kentucky, Bundy suggested to Dayton that they invite him to give a lecture; as director of the library, Dayton had access to the library lecture room; Bundy was editor of the student paper, The Short Circuit, and could raise money for an honorarium.12 The event gained much attention and was “standing room only”13 and, according to Bundy “caused much commotion and reprimands from the President, and more!”14 This led to further correspondence between Dayton and Synan15 and the beginning of a significant shift in relations between heretofore divided scholars of the two movements. That shift and Dayton’s influence on SPS may be traced to this relationship with SPS founder Vinson Synan.

Synan’s interests can be seen in the program he planned as president-elect in 1973, convening at Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee. The theme was “Aspects of Pentecostal Origins,” with papers presented that focused on the history of the movement and were later published as Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins.16 In that publication, scholars from within and outside classical Pentecostalism—including Melvin Dieter, Larry Christenson, Edward O’Connor, and Martin Marty—made contributions. Importantly, the presentations were intentionally inclusive of the history of Oneness Pentecostalism, with a contribution by David Reed, and of African-American Pentecostalism, as evidenced in the contribution by upcoming SPS vice-president Leonard Lovett. Also included was an essay by the winner of the 1973 Student Essay Contest, Donald W. Dayton. According to Synan’s 1974 presidential address, observers present at the 1973 meeting included those from the World Council of Churches, the Vatican Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and the Wesleyan Theological Society.17 The imprint of Synan’s vision, as well as future directions of SPS, may be seen in both the program and its attendees. In his words,

This meeting illustrated one of the major hopes of the society—to serve as a forum between the major sectors of the pentecostal-charismatic revival, where representatives can discuss honest differences in our academic atmosphere without making any ecclesiastical commitments that would be binding on any party. This, we hope, will continue to be the case in the future.18

Synan’s contributions to pentecostal studies continued over his lifetime, as he directed the Holy Spirit Research Center at ORU, served as dean of two pentecostal-charismatic graduate schools, and helped to found PhD programs in those schools to develop future scholars. He continued to write, publishing over nineteen books, scores of book chapters and articles, and presented at numerous SPS meetings through the years. Synan and his ever-present companion Carol Lee attended the 2019 meeting of SPS in College Park, Maryland, where he made his last SPS presentation, “Charles Stanley’s Pentecostal Roots.”19

In 2005, at the 34th annual meeting of the society he helped to found, Synan reflected on the beginnings of the group: “As usual, I again make the point that I am the only person that has never missed a meeting of the Society from its organization in 1970. I hope that I can make that statement when the Society observes its golden anniversary in 2020.”20 Synan didn’t quite reach that goal, passing on March 15, 2020, shortly before the meeting would have convened on March 18—a meeting that had to be cancelled at the beginning of a year of loss.

As a result of Synan’s vision for the pentecostal movement and pentecostal studies, SPS moved beyond the boundaries of the classical pentecostal denominations, embracing scholars from its genetic past and future. SPS became a place where that original joy and koinonia is experienced, just as he experienced on those research trips more than fifty years ago.

2 Leonard Lovett: SPS Vice-President and Program Chair (1974); President (1975)21

In many ways, Leonard Lovett’s introduction to SPS was a foreshadowing of the important contributions he would make to the society and to pentecostal studies. Bill Faupel recalls that Lovett came to the meeting at Lee College in 1973 with a group of students from Charles Harrison Mason Theological Seminary in Atlanta and challenged the leadership on the lack of inclusion. Faupel remembers that he “really shook things up” and that the leadership and society “confessed” their ignorance of the scholars and seminary and “promptly elected him” as vice-president.22 In the October 1973 society newsletter’s “Message from the President of the Society,” Russell P. Spittler explains the history of this omission, taking responsibility for it. He acknowledges that Mason Theological Seminary “is probably the only accredited Pentecostal seminary in North America.” He offers an apology to “our brethren in the Black Pentecostal and charismatic communities.”23

Lovett’s disruption challenged the new society to make specific and intentional moves toward inclusivity. The annual meeting dates were changed to accommodate Church of God in Christ scholars; Lovett was elected to leadership.

In Lovett’s essay, included in Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, which was written for an audience drawn to pentecostal historical studies and based on the work of Synan and other white classical pentecostal scholars, Lovett offered both a deconstruction and reconstruction of theories of pentecostal origins. He challenged the theories that see the beginnings of Pentecostalism as not just white, but interracial. After examining the work of John Hardon and Vinson Synan, he boldly asserted, “The problem with Synan’s and Hardon’s interracial theories is that both fail to make the clear-cut distinction between early interracial stages of the movement and the actual founding. Whites came to an already black Azusa Street revival.”24 From here, Lovett went on to challenge the “sincerity of whites who claim to be in true fellowship with blacks” because of their refusal and failure to act in defiant ways and submit to Black leadership. Lovett constructed a theory of Black origins, drawing on the roots of Pentecostalism in African and slave religion, proclaiming, “It may be categorically stated that black pentecostalism emerged out of the context of the brokenness of black existence.”25 Further, Lovett moved pentecostal studies and, therefore, SPS toward embracing or at least having conversations with liberation theologies: “Black Pentecostalism affirms with dogmatic insistence that liberation is always the consequence of the presence of the Spirit … No man can genuinely experience the fullness of the Spirit and remain a bona fide racist.”26 This theme of liberation and this challenge to white pentecostal scholars followed Lovett’s involvement with SPS and is a continuing conversation.

Lovett’s 1974 program focused on “The Third Force and The Third World.” Plenary sessions planned by Lovett included addresses by leading Black scholars Howard Thurman (“Reflection on the Spirit and the Disinherited”); Ithiel Clemmons (“The Historical Implications of Pentecostalism in the Third World”); James Forbes, Jr. (“The Spirit as Empowerment for Third World Liberation”); and Bennie Goodwin (“Pentecostal Education as Liberation”). Walter J. Hollenweger challenged the society with regard to implications of pentecostal theology for third-world contexts.27

Lovett’s presidential address, in 1975, reaffirmed his commitment to liberation and called for a Pentecostalism that fully embraced the work of social justice:

While it cannot be denied that the trend toward individualism may be a common trend among Pentecostal-Charismatics, it can also be argued that Pentecostal encounter need not result in social or political indifference and involvement. That an authentic encounter with Jesus the baptizer in the Holy Spirit can become an event which will enable persons to break through established cultural patterns, values, ideologies, and achieve new levels of ethical sensitivity and responsibility, especially in the cause of human liberation.28

Setting an agenda for the future of pentecostal studies and for SPS, Lovett’s address to the society went on to iterate “possible directions” from his “perspective as a member of the oppressed community.”29 He asked, “Where is God moving at this hour in history?” Illustrating his assessment that “during every period since the earliest inception of the pentecostal movement where people were struggling for liberation from historic chains of circumstances, the hot winds of Pentecost were blowing simultaneously,” Lovett described the history of the twentieth-century struggle by Black Americans for civil rights and power, correlating that struggle with the development of the pentecostal-charismatic movement. However, he conceded that while the movements were emerging simultaneously, they had little influence on each other.30

The second challenge issued by President Lovett was a call for a “special witness in love” that involves “speaking the truth” but also “doing the truth,” citing Sojourner Truth’s reading of Luke 4:18, “the mandate of liberation.” Lovett’s final challenge was that Pentecostalism must “become identified with the oppressed.” Building on the work of James Cone and Paul Tillich, Lovett presciently and prophetically declared, “Whenever the church, for example, condemns the rioters and blesses, by silence, the conditions that cause the riots, it forfeits its right to be called a true community of Jesus Christ.”31 Forty-two years later, just outside of Ferguson, Missouri, African American pentecostal scholars would again challenge SPS with similar words.32

Lovett’s prophetic challenge to the SPS community continued with his contributions to various publications, including Pneuma. In 1987, after having completed his PhD in social ethics a decade earlier, he continued his exploration of liberation as interaction between the Spirit of God and humans in history.33 Provocatively, Lovett built his argument, beginning with a section titled “The Problem of God as Holy Spirit in a Niggarized World.”34 Here, again, he placed the movement and work of the Spirit among those in the struggle. Lovett called for an intentionally political method on the part of Pentecostals. Echoing King’s dream, and applying it to Pentecostals and Charismatics, Lovett described his dream of a Spirit-led movement “so sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit and God’s initiative and liberating activity that they will know when to tear down oppressive structures, and when to build new structures or they will receive wisdom to work within existing institutional structures as change agents.”35 For SPS, he wrote,

I dream of a time when members of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and other scholarly and professional societies will return to their denomination, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and seek ways to engage in responsible dialogue with their leadership about the church’s opportunity to participate with the Lord of the church in the act of liberation. I dream that we will be willing to suffer ostracizement, expulsion, unemployment or social abandonment for the opportunity of identification with the oppressed.36

This call for Pentecostals to engage in works of social justice was developed more fully in other chapters and articles throughout his life. In a 2008 article titled “Neither Did They Arrive Empty: Leadership and Social Action: African-American Experience,” published in the Journal of the International Theological Center, Lovett called for a “grassroots theology of power utilizing a serious theological-pneumatological discourse of the oral tradition.”37 In his 2009 volume Kingdom beyond Color: Re-Examining the Phenomenon of Racism, which he called “prophetic protest writing,” he sought to call the community of faith to action, especially in the form of testimony.38

Later publications directed toward the society continued to challenge the pentecostal-charismatic community, especially the scholars. In a Pneuma roundtable discussion of the Memphis meetings, Lovett plainly laments and even rebukes, “To label what took place in Memphis in October of 1994 the ‘Memphis Miracle’ was premature … In hindsight what took place in Memphis was no more than cosmetic to say the least.”39 For Lovett, reconciliation was not possible without honest assessment of the past and present racism ingrained in society.

Leonard Lovett continued in his work as a self-proclaimed “Afro-Pentecostal Radical,” responding to papers on race and peacemaking at the 2011 SPS meeting in Memphis, TN.40 Still dreaming, Lovett contributed to ecumenical discussions and dialogues,41 serving as the Executive Director of the Office of Ecumenical Relations and Urban Affairs for the Church of God in Christ. In that post, and in his travels, Lovett was able to circle back to the issues raised in his 1974 SPS program as he witnessed in the Global South that “[s]pirituality and social awareness now go hand in hand, so that Spirit-filled believers realize their lives are no longer defined by oppressive circumstances.” Recalling the prophetic analysis of his presidential address, he observed, “Their chains of oppression are being challenged with a new freshness and vigor, which they attribute to the presence and power of the Spirit.”42

3 Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer: SPS 2nd Vice-president (1985); 1st Vice-president, Program Chair (1986); President (1987)43

While Edith Blumhofer’s election to executive leadership of SPS in 1985 may be considered a shattering of the stained-glass ceiling of pentecostal studies, it should be noted that it was a full fifteen years before that barrier cracked.44 While Leonard Lovett had challenged the racism of SPS and was elected to office a full dozen years before, and the first Roman Catholic to hold executive leadership—Fr. Peter Hocken—was elected in 1984, Edith Blumhofer’s contributions and potential as a leader in pentecostal studies weren’t formally recognized by her peers until the society had entered its second decade. So, Blumhofer’s program theme in 1986 marked the eightieth anniversary of the movement that had celebrated the prophesying of daughters and had granted them liberty—limited though it turned out to be45—but was only after four decades electing a woman to help advance its scholarly reflection.

Raised in a deeply pentecostal home in Brooklyn, New York, and involved for decades (until 2019) in the church’s summer camp in the Adirondacks, she was a committed pentecostal. But she was also a committed scholar. By the time Blumhofer was elected to leadership of SPS, she had held a PhD in American Religious History from Harvard since 1977, where she was a Danforth Fellow, had held teaching posts at Southwest Missouri State and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and had served at the Assemblies of God General Headquarters. She had published in Pneuma as early as 1979.46 The year of her presidency, she joined the history faculty at Wheaton. In other words, she was eminently qualified to lead.

Blumhofer’s dissertation, another contribution to the study of the theological lineage of the pentecostal movement, included the Wesleyan Holiness roots but also worked to recover the Keswick Higher Life influences. In her denominational histories of the Assemblies of God, and in later work on the recovery of women’s voices in Pentecostalism, she analyzed the role of restorationism as well as dispensationalism. For those working to answer the question “what went wrong?” in a movement that held the promise of egalitarianism, her analysis of the impact of restorationism is invaluable.

With this “prehistory” approach to the study of Pentecostalism, Blumhofer’s 1986 program “Azusa Street Revisited: Facets of the American Pentecostal Experience” convened in Costa Mesa, California. Appropriately, in its revisiting of the 1906 revival, she convened a panel discussion, “Researching Pentecostalism,” with presentations by archivists Karen Robinson, Clyde R. Root, Robert Shuster, and Russell Spittler. Having just published a popular history of the Assemblies of God,47 Blumhofer would publish the official history, The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism48 three years later. A critical volume, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture, followed in 1993.49 In Faupel’s review in The Christian Century of the 1989 volume, he evaluates her emphasis on restorationism as the “embracing theme that held the early Pentecostal vision together” as a convincing one and the book’s “most valuable contribution.”50 In the intervening years between the 1989 and 1993 volumes, Blumhofer’s examination of the more recent history of the AG would challenge not just historians but denominational leadership as well. An article coauthored with AG pastor Paul B. Tinlin and published in The Christian Century, to which Blumhofer by this time was a regular contributor, explored the tensions between the widely touted growth of the denomination and its internal decline, not merely in numbers but also in youthful vitality and spirituality. The authors pointed to the denomination’s lack of internal scrutiny with regard to contemporary social and theological issues.51 This hard-hitting analysis, published in another form as an epilogue in Restoring the Faith, resulted in Blumhofer’s being “disinvited” as a keynote speaker at a seminar on women and evangelism sponsored by the Women’s Ministries Department of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. The “disinvitation” by secretary Sandra G. Clopine explained, “Your expressions indicate to me that you are not the role model of a woman in ministry that Assemblies of God women want to emulate.”52

Ironically, during this period Blumhofer was doing groundbreaking work on recovering women’s voices in pentecostal history. In the same year that Restoring the Faith was published, her monumental biography Aimee Semple McPhersonEverybody’s Sister was published in Wm. B. Eerdmans’ Library of Religious Biography series.53 Rather than doing a gender analysis of Aimee,54 Blumhofer recovered her voice through the lenses of cultural analysis and experiences of brokenness (which she pointed out cuts across lines of race, gender, and class).55

At this time, Blumhofer served as guest editor for an issue of Pneuma focusing on women and Pentecostalism. In addition to articles on the history and present experience of women in the North American pentecostal and charismatic movements—though limited to trinitarian and Anglo expressions—it also included the presidential address of the second female president of SPS, Cheryl Bridges Johns.56

Two pieces of critical information about Blumhofer’s influence on SPS are unavailable in any official records. Her presidential address, delivered at Regent University on November 13, 1987, was never published. Not even a title of the address appears in any official documents, programs, or histories.57 Her long-time friend and colleague, also a former SPS president, Grant Wacker, recalls that it addressed the role of women in Pentecostalism and that it “was one of the first SPS presidential addresses that was truly historical, not a varnished version of the officially approved story. Very courageous. It was also based on deep research in hard-to-find sources.”58 Though that address in its original form appears to be lost, Blumhofer’s publications during this era are extensive and, perhaps, provide a clue. Three years later, in 1990, she published an important survey titled “A Confused Legacy: Reflections of Evangelical Attitudes toward Ministering Women in the Past Century.”59 Blumhofer’s research raised a challenge to previously held “generalizations about acceptance of women in Pentecostalism.”

A second critical piece of Blumhofer’s engagement with SPS revolves around her eventual departure from the society. Her last recorded involvement was in the twenty-fifth anniversary meeting in 1996, at which she participated in a plenary discussion of “The Pentecostal/Charismatic Tradition in Canadian History and Culture.” This meeting also included a plenary focusing on her book Everybody’s Sister with responses by Roberta Semple Salter and Phyllis Airhart.60 SPS members and officers during this time period remember well the tensions that were again surfacing revolving around the purpose of the society and especially its relationship to other academic societies such as the Evangelical Theological Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society for Biblical Literature.61 Grant Wacker’s sympathetic assessment is that Blumhofer preferred SPS to be “a society for studying pentecostals and their work, regardless of the scholar’s personal stance” rather than “a society for Pentecostals to declare their work, regardless of topic.”62

Whatever the reasons for her lack of engagement in the last two decades of SPS, Blumhofer’s mark upon the society and on pentecostal studies and, importantly, the inspiration she provided for the many female scholars to follow, is not in dispute. She led the society not just by modeling capable female leadership but also by navigating difficult ecclesial waters, and by doing important historiographical work. Wacker recalls one SPS session in which she was confronted by a male scholar about her reading of the history of women’s marginalization in Pentecostalism. The man challenged, “How did you come up with such a story?” Quietly, Blumhofer responded with a single-word answer: “Research.”

4 Donald W. Dayton: SPS 2nd Vice-president (1987); 1st Vice-president and Program Chair (1988); President (1989)63

Donald W. Dayton was nothing if not distinct. He holds the distinction of being the officer of SPS not to identify as either pentecostal or charismatic. Beyond that, he is the only scholar, to date, to have been president of both SPS and the Wesleyan Theological Society, simultaneously—if only for one week.64 The importance of that intersection will be made clear.65

As noted earlier, Dayton first addressed SPS in 1973, when he won the first student essay contest and presented a paper titled “From ‘Christian Perfection’ to the ‘Baptism of the Holy Ghost’: A Study in the Origin of Pentecostalism.”66 After the Synan meeting with Asbury students, Dayton continued a lively correspondence with the pentecostal historian while serving as director of the library at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. On November 7, 1972, Dayton wrote to Synan, reporting on the WTS meeting that had met a week earlier:

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done it, but in a business session I stood up and drew the attention of the society to the Pneuma 72 meeting.67 I spoke of the distinguished list of speakers, etc. and mentioned a number of the individuals. I pointed out that we (the WTS) had much in common with your society (historically, theologically, and spiritually), that to some extent the WTS had been the model of SPS, etc. On this basis and in a spirit of ecumenical witness I then (1) informally proposed that WTS make some effort to meet with the SPS to discuss the meaning of the baptism of the H.S. (this was just a suggestion that was then passed on to the program committee), and (2) formally moved that WTS send fraternal greetings to the SPS.68

Dayton continued to narrate the response of WTS to his proposal, noting that the “membership was stunned and squirmed.” There were suggestions about sending both official and unofficial delegates. Parenthetically Dayton recalled that “G.A. Turner slyly said something like—why not just call him a spy and be done with it.” When the delegate idea was put to a vote, there were only two votes in favor. When Dayton’s motion about sending fraternal greetings was voted upon, his was the only vote in favor. He also noted that someone suggested that the “discussion be expunged from the minutes” and, in that case, Dayton’s was the only vote against the motion. Though Dayton humorously recalled that incident many times in later accounts of the history of SPS and WTS, in formal and informal settings, in his letter to Synan he concludes, “It was all very sad.”69

As their correspondence continued for a number of years, Dayton persisted in attempting to bring the societies into dialogue. After a challenge toward openness to others outside the WTS boundaries by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop in her 1974 presidential address, Dayton, who was then on the executive and nominating committees of the Wesleyan society, along with president-elect Rob Staples, attempted to procure an invitation for Synan to present a paper at the next annual meeting.70 Synan responded that he would accept the invitation if invited and would “with great fear approach the task, but I hope in the right spirit.”71 That invitation was issued by Staples when he and Synan met over dinner in Oklahoma City; Synan accepted the invitation and was scheduled to address the society on November 7, 1975.72 However, the invitation was rescinded when it was “blocked” by Charles W. Carter, a former editor of the WTS journal with much influence.73

That early correspondence situates Dayton’s influence on SPS, as well as on WTS, more than a decade before the publication of his groundbreaking Theological Roots of Pentecostalism and his election to the SPS executive committee, both in 1987. These incidents also illustrate Dayton’s lifelong mission of explaining theological connections and trajectories, countering accepted metanarratives, uncovering what had been covered, and, essentially, stirring the pot. Seemingly proud to wear the label of provocateur in his maturity, the letters reveal a young scholar with great respect for Synan and one with an ecumenical heart.

Still, not one to drop many arguments,74 Dayton continued to make scholars see what they had missed or didn’t want to see. As early as 1976, in the first edition of Discovering an Evangelical Heritage,75 he had begun a reconstruction of evangelical history that made room for Holiness and pentecostal folk. It was also his agenda to “reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable”76—the conservative Holiness Evangelical subculture of his own tradition and the radical civil rights and social justice dispositions of his days as a student in the 1960s. In that process, Dayton discovered the roots of feminism and the Social Gospel in an unexpected place—nineteenth-century revivalism. That same voyage of discovery led him to the connections and shared visions with early Pentecostalism—and to continue to challenge Pentecostals in the same direct way he was challenging Evangelicals and Wesleyans.

The point is, Dayton was elected to leadership in SPS at the very time he was issuing these challenges. It should be noted that he published the purposefully provocative article “Yet Another Layer of the Onion: Or Opening the Ecumenical Door to let the Riffraff In”77 while serving on the executive committee of SPS and WTS, both of the “riffraff” variety in Dayton’s historiography. Dayton’s 1988 SPS program convened at Asbury Theological Seminary; while this did not yet constitute a joint meeting of the two societies, still, following his own metaphor, it certainly opened the door to what would later become regularized. The theme, “Pentecostalism in the Context of the Holiness Revival,” allowed the intersections to be explored—on Holiness soil, but facilitated by those in pentecostal studies. The keynote address, “The Wesleyan/Holiness and Pentecostal Movements: Commonalities, Confrontation, and Dialogue” by Asbury Theological Seminary faculty member Melvin Dieter, approached the shared theological roots head-on. A post-meeting session titled “The Holiness and Pentecostal Traditions in Dialogue” brought together Howard Snyder, a Free Methodist missionary and scholar with charismatic sensitivities, and Vinson Synan. At last, Dayton’s dream of having Synan engage in conversation with Wesleyan scholars was made a reality.

Sadly, Dayton’s presidential address, “Toward a Pentecostal Doctrine of Scripture,” presented in 1989 at California Theological Seminary in Fresno, California, has not been located.78 Rickie D. Moore recalls, “I do remember appreciating that address for the way it encouraged all the thinking we were doing back in those days to break out of those rigid and confining evangelical paradigms for understanding Scripture.” Moore, who saw Dayton’s address as being on the “same trail” as Clark Pinnock’s 1984 breakthrough work The Scripture Principle,79 recalls two important points of Dayton’s address:

  1. His starting point in Hebrews 1:1, God’s speaking “in many and diverse ways by his prophets.” Now, there’s a much more dynamic way to approach the word of God and frame the discussion.
  2. His emphasis upon “canon” not just as “the measured books” but as “the books that measure,” that is, function as an ongoing means of measuring God’s ongoing speaking.80

In a chapter titled “The Pietist Theological Critique of Biblical Inerrancy” published in Evangelicals and Scripture: Tradition, Authority, and Hermeneutics in 2004, Dayton raises this issue that “the locus classicus for answering how we know about God” is Hebrews 1:1 rather than 2 Timothy 3:16. He goes on to assert that “the Princetonians and neo-evangelicals” began with the latter text “because they were already committed to the answer that ‘God wrote a book.’ ”81 Seemingly replying to the insights Moore gleaned from the presidential address upon hearing it, Dayton ends the chapter on the Pietist critique with this rhetorical question: “Wouldn’t it be ironic if it should turn out that the despised and suppressed traditions of Pietism and its successors [in which he would place Pentecostalism] turned out to provide the clues one needs to escape the impasses of the orthodox doctrine of Scripture to find a better way to a more adequate doctrine of Scripture?”82

Dayton continued to attend SPS meetings on a regular basis, meeting with friends and colleagues for the last time in 2017 in St. Louis, where a panel celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. As usual, Dayton responded with gratitude, humor, and … provocation.83

5 An Unfinished Task

In examining the contributions of this diverse group of leaders and scholars, it seems clear that they represent both the best that SPS has been and all that it promises to be: vision, prophetic engagement, academic rigor, and inclusivity. Each brought discerning discoveries to the scholarly conversation. In the joy of that koinonia that Vinson Synan found in meeting other pentecostal scholars in the late 1960s, these scholars, Leonard Lovett, Edith Blumhofer, and Donald Dayton, elected by their peers, prodded the Society for Pentecostal Scholars to do the hard work of research, ecumenism, examination, deconstruction and reconstruction, and boundary-pushing. As the Society for Pentecostal Studies moves into its next fifty years, may we continue to remember in order to press on.

1An excellent treatment of Synan’s biography and contributions may be found in S. David Moore’s “Vinson Synan: Pentecostal, Historian, Bridge Builder,” in Renewal History and Theology: Essays in Honor of H. Vinson Synan, ed. S. David Moore and James M. Henderson (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2014). For tributes to Synan appearing in other publications see Sally Jo Shelton, “In Memoriam: Vinson Synan: Model of Spirit-led Leadership,” Spiritus, 5, no. 2 (2020), 181–197; Daniel Sillman, “Died: Vinson Synan, Historian Who Saw Breadth of Pentecostalism,” Christianity Today March 17, 2020

2D. William Faupel, email to Kimberly Ervin Alexander, June 2, 2020.

3No author, “Dr. Vinson Synan Elected Secretary of Society for Pentecostal Studies,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 54:18 (January 2, 1971), 15.

4Vinson Synan, “The Beginnings of the Society for Pentecostal Studies,” paper presented in a plenary session at the 34th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies at Regent University, March 12, 2005, 9., accessed March 7, 2021.

5Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), later revised and published as The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997). While the first edition is dedicated to his parents, “Bishop and Mrs. Joseph A. Synan,” significantly the second edition is dedicated to “Bill Menzies and Horace Ward, gentlemen scholars and colleagues, who joined with me in founding the Society for Pentecostal Studies at the Pentecostal World Conference in Dallas, Texas, in 1970.”

6Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement, 13.

7Vinson Synan, Where He Leads Me: The Vinson Synan Story (Franklin Springs, GA: LifeSprings Resources, 2019), 86.

8Synan, Where He Leads Me, 86.

9Erling Jorstad, “The Holiness Pentecostal Movement in the United States,” Lutheran Quarterly 24, no. 2 (May 1972): 215. Reviewer Jorstad goes on to note that the “impressive” body of research “demonstrates conclusively that the movement cannot be understood without constant reference to the theological issues at stake, and that reducing it to social class origins results in misunderstanding.” The “timely” appearance of the book is also noted by Marvin T. Judy in “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement,” The Perkins School of Theology Journal 25, no. 2 (Spring 1972): 45–46. Other reviews, some from unlikely sources, place value on Synan’s establishing of Holiness-Pentecostalism as “deeply grounded in American religious and cultural history.” R.C. Scharfe, “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States,” Westminster Theological Journal 35, no. 3 (Spring 1973): 375. For a review that sees the work as “successful” but still disparaging of his assessment of Pentecostalism as “emotionally charged” and “theologically naïve,” see a review by Robert Swanton, “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States,” The Reformed Theological Journal 31, no. 2 (May–August 1972), 67–68. Garth M. Rosell notes the importance of this addition to the body of literature in order for “students to gain insights into a field which has too long been the exclusive province of the denominational specialist.” Garth M. Rosell, “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 41 no. 4 (Dec. 4, 1973), 657–658.

10Synan, Where He Leads Me, 82. See also Synan, “The Beginnings of SPS,” 11–12.

11Synan, Where He Leads Me, 95.

12Email correspondence with David Bundy, May 12, 2020.

13Synan, Where He Leads Me, 87.

14Bundy, email correspondence.

15Original copies of correspondence between Synan and Dayton from the early 1970s may be found in the Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. Also present in those correspondence files is a letter from and another to David D. Daniels, while in his first year of study at Yale Divinity School.

16Vinson Synan, ed., Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975).

17Synan, “Presidential Address,” 6.

18Synan, “Presidential Address,” 6.

19Vinson Synan, “Charles Stanley’s Pentecostal Roots,” Spiritus 5, no. 2 (2020), 275–286.

20Synan, “Beginnings,” 1.

21For a tribute from the Church of God in Christ see “COGIC Mourns the Loss of Dr. Leonard Lovett, Theological Seminary Founding Dean,”

22Email correspondence with Faupel, June 2, 2020. He also recalls anti-Catholic rhetoric and charges of racism, along with Martin Marty having to read his paper over the telephone from O’Hara Airport because of a snowstorm. He writes, “It was, in other words, a great Pentecostal conference.” Becoming a “truly open society” would take years and more confrontation, writes Faupel.

23Russell P. Spittler, “A Message from the President of the Society,” Society for Pentecostal Studies Newsletter 3, no. 4 (October 1973), 2. For more history of this omission and later inclusion, see Glen W. Menzies, “The First Fifty Years of the Society for Pentecostal Studies: A Brief History,” Pneuma 42, no. 3 (2020): 339–341.

24Leonard Lovett, “Black Origins of the Pentecostal Movement,” in Synan, Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, 136. A version of this chapter was presented at the Second Annual Meeting of The Society for the Study of Black Religion, October 27–28, 1972, New York, and published as “Perspectives on the Black Origins of the Contemporary Pentecostal Movement” in The Journal of the International Theological Center 1, no. 1 (Fall 1973), 36–49.

25Lovett, “Black Origins,” 138. This contention was expanded in Leonard Lovett, “From the Womb of Blackness to Black-Holiness Pentecostalism,” Journal of the International Theological Center 44 (Fall-Spring 2016–2017): 59–79.

26Lovett, “Black Origins,” 140.

274th Annual Meeting, The Society for Pentecostal Studies Commemorating Thirty Years of Annual Meetings 1970–2001 (Society for Pentecostal Studies, 2011), 11.

28Leonard Lovett, “Presidential Address,” presented at the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, The Word of God Community, Ann Arbor, MI, December 6, 1975. Audio recording housed in Box 111, Collection 0032, D. William Faupel Collection, Fuller Theological Seminary Archives, Pasadena, California. Transcription by Kimberly Ervin Alexander, July 26, 2020.

29Lovett, “Presidential Address.”

30Lovett, “Presidential Address.”

31Lovett, “Presidential Address.”

32“Black Lives and the Black Pentecostal Church” was the theme of both a preconference event on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 and a lunch panel discussion on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

33Leonard Lovett, “Liberation: A Duel-Edged Sword,” Pneuma (Fall 1987): 155–171.

34Lovett, “Liberation,” 156.

35Lovett, “Liberation,” 168.

36Lovett, “Liberation,” 169.

37Leonard Lovett, “Neither Did They Arrive Empty: Leadership and Social Action: African-American Experience,” Journal of the International Theological Center 35, nos. 1–2 (Fall-Spring 2007–2008): 150.

38Leonard Lovett, Kingdom beyond Color: Re-Examining the Phenomenon of Racism (Leonard Lovett, 2009).

39Leonard Lovett, “Looking Back to Go Forward,” Pneuma 18, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 122. Lovett was joined in this discussion, which was facilitated by Pneuma editor Frank Macchia, by diverse pentecostal scholars from within the North American contexts. Lovett’s critique of the “Memphis Miracle” is also offered in his Kingdom beyond Color.

40See program of the 2011 annual meeting, “Receiving the Future: An Anointed Heritage.”

41See “Aspects of the Spiritual Legacy of the Church of God in Christ: Ecumenical Implications,” Mid-Stream 24, no. 4 (October 1985), 389–397; “The Spiritual Legacy and Role of Black Pentecostalism in the Development of American Culture,” One in Christ 23, nos. 1–2 (1987), 144–156.

42Leonard Lovett, “Ethics in a Prophetic Mode: Reflections of an Afro-Pentecostal Radical,” in Estrelda Y. Alexander and Amos Yong, eds., Afro-Pentecostalism: Black Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in History and Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 162.

43For tributes see Amy Collier Artman, “What Edith Blumhofer Taught Me on Writing about Strong Women,” Christianity Today (March 8, 2020),; and Grant Wacker, “Remembering the Life and Legacy of Edith L. Blumhofer (1950–2020),” Fides et Historia 52, no. 2 (Summer-Fall 2020): 92–95.

44Blumhofer was no stranger to the difficulties women faced in the ecclesially dominated world of Pentecostal academe. Grant Wacker recalls her telling him of being asked to make and serve coffee at AGTS faculty meetings and at the first commencement being asked by the president to sit with the “ ‘other ladies,’ the secretaries, not the faculty, all of whom were men.” Grant Wacker, email correspondence, October 9, 2020.

45See David G. Roebuck, “Limiting Liberty: The Church of God and Women Ministers, 1886–1996,” PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 1997; and Estrelda Y. Alexander, Limited Liberty: The Legacy of Four Pentecostal Women Preachers (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2008).

46Edith Waldvogel, “The ‘Overcoming’ Life: A Study in the Reformed Evangelical Contribution to Pentecostalism,” Pneuma 1 (Spring 1979): 7–19.

47Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer, The Assemblies of God: A Popular History (Springfield, MO: Radiant Books, 1985).

48Edith Blumhofer, The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House), 1989.

49Edith L. Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture (Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

50D. William Faupel, “The Restoration Vision in Pentecostalism,” The Christian Century (October 17, 1990), 940.

51Edith L. Blumhofer and Paul B. Tinlin, “Decade of Decline or Harvest? Dilemmas of the Assemblies of God,” The Christian Century 108, no. 21 (July 10–17, 1991), 684–687.

52“Blumhofer Disinvited,” The Christian Century 108, no. 24 (August 21–28, 1991): 769.

53Edith L. Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993).

54See Leah Payne, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalsim, CHARIS: Christianity and Renewal—Interdisciplinary Studies Series (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); and Linda M. Ambrose and Leah Payne, “Reflections on the Potential of Gender Theory for North American Pentecostal History”, Pneuma 36, no. 1 (2014): 44–62.

55Edith L. Blumhofer, “Reflections on the Source of Aimee Semple McPherson’s Voice,” Pneuma 17, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 21–24.

56The issue featured her analysis of sources of Aimee’s voice, as well as articles on women in the Church of God by David G. Roebuck; Kathryn Kuhlman by Wayne E. Warner; Alice Belle Garrigus by Kurt O. Berends; and on women in the Assemblies of God by Deborah M. Gill. Pneuma 17, no. 1 (Spring 1995).

57Archival searches at the officially designated SPS archive at Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent University, where the address was delivered, as well as at the Holy Spirit Research Center at ORU, the Hal Bernard Dixon Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, TN, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, MO were unable to uncover either a printed or an audio version of Blumhofer’s address. Consultations with SPS members of long standing, Blumhofer’s colleagues, and family were also unsuccessful in recovering the address.

58Grant Wacker, email correspondence, October 8, 2020.

59Edith L. Blumhofer, “A Confused Legacy: Reflections of Evangelical Attitudes toward Ministering Women in the Past Century,” Fides et Historia 22, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 1990): 49–61.

60“30th Annual Meeting,” The Society for Pentecostal Studies Commemorating Thirty Years of Annual Meetings 1970–2001, 32.

61D. William Faupel, email correspondence, June 2, 2020; David Bundy, email correspondence, October 7, 2020.

62Wacker, email correspondence. Though Wacker remained involved and in leadership of SPS for a number of years, serving as president in 1997, he agreed with her assessment. For general analysis of these tensions see Menzies, “The First Fifty Years,” 337–339, 365–366. See also Kate McGinn and D. William Faupel, “The Society for Pentecostal Studies: A Brief History,” Ecumenism 132 (December 1998): 25–27.

63For tributes see Christian Collins Winn, “Donald Dayton: The Heart Makes the Theologian,” Christianity Today (May 12, 2020),; and Scott Kisker, “Saying Goodbye to a Master: A Tribute to Donald Dayton (1942–2020),” Firebrand Magazine

64Donald W. Dayton, “The Dayton Response,” in Wesleyan Theological Society: The Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration Volume, ed. Barry L. Callen (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2015), 105–106.

65For the most careful and extensive study of Dayton’s body of work, see the festschrift edited by Christian T. Collins Winn, From the Margins: A Celebration of the Theological Work of Donald W. Dayton (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2007). This volume contains both reprints and previously unpublished essays by Dayton along with responses by scholars of Evangelicalism, Wesleyan theology, and Pentecostalism.

66Spittler, “A Message from the President of the Society,” 1.

67SPS meetings were known as Pneuma followed by the year, such as Pneuma ’72, for several years in the early 1970s.

68Letter from Donald W. Dayton to Vinson Synan, November 7, 1972; “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

69Dayton, letter to Synan.

70Letter from Donald W. Dayton to Vinson Synan, November 4, 1974, “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. See also letter from Donald Dayton to Vinson Synan, December 16, 1974, “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. Carter’s rejection of the work of Synan, but also of Dayton’s early work is detailed by Dayton in the essay “Revisiting the ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’ Controversy: A Response to My Critics” in Winn, From the Margins, 158–160.

71Letter from Vinson Synan to Donald Dayton, November 7, 1974, “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

72Letter from Vinson Synan to Donald Dayton, January 7, 1975, “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

73Letter from Donald W. Dayton to Vinson Synan, June 27, 1975, “Wesleyan Matters” folder, Vinson Synan Papers, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

74See the extensive debate between Dayton and Larry Wood over John Wesley and John Fletcher’s appropriation of pentecostal language in Pneuma between Fall 2004 and Fall 2006. See also “Revisiting the ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’ Controversy” in Winn, From the Margins.

75Donald W. Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). The text was reprinted and revised as Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage: The Tradition and Trajectory of Integrating Piety and Justice with Douglas M. Strong (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014).

76Dayton, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage, 1.

77Donald W. Dayton, “Yet Another Layer of the Onion: Or Opening the Ecumenical Door to Let the Riffraff In,” Ecumenical Review 40, no. 1 (1988), 87–110.

78A note from the author appeared in the 1989 program: “This is my presidential address given informally without a text. Part of the material (on the interpretation of II TIM 3:16) was incorporated into a paper published by InterVarsity in a volume of papers from the Wheaton College theology conference on ‘Evangelical and Scripture.’ More will appear in the projected OXFORD HANDBOOK OF PENTECOSTAL STUDIES.” David Daniels, email correspondence, June 19, 2020.

79Clark H. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

80Rickie D. Moore, email correspondence, October 7, 2020.

81Donald W. Dayton, “The Pietist Theological Critique of Biblical Inerrancy,” reprinted in From the Margins, 194–195.

82Dayton, “The Pietist Theological Critique,” 205.

83The session was convened on March 9, 2017 and was facilitated by Bernie Van De Walle, a doctoral student. Panelists included Kimberly Ervin Alexander, D. William Faupel, Henry H. Knight, III, Paulo Ayres Mattos, and Craig Scandrett-Leatherman.

1 Comment

  • Reply January 27, 2024


    DeSantes OUT for good Link Hudson what now? Philip Williams

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