Pentecostal Theological Education

Pentecostal Theological Education

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected



Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


“Epistemology, Ethos, and Environment”: In Search of a Theology of Pentecostal

Theological Education1

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

Professor of Systematic Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, USA

Docent of Ecumenics, Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki, Finland


The purpose of this essay is to take a theological look at Pentecostal theological education at the global level. While dialoguing widely with various current and historical discussions of the theology of theological education, particularly with David Kelsey of Yale University, the essay urges Pentecostals to negotiate an epistemology that corrects and goes beyond both modernity and postmodernity. The essay also urges Pentecostals to negotiate several seeming opposites such as “academic” versus “spiritual” or “doctrinal” versus “critical.” The final part of the essay offers Pentecostals some advice and inspiration from the reservoirs of the long history and experience of non-Pentecostal theological institutions.


Pentecostal theological education, theology of theological education, epistemology, modernity, postmodernity

First Words: Is Bigger Always Better?

Educators like to imagine that education matters. We like to believe that the leadership of a congregation is improved when that person has a graduate degree and three years of study. We like to think that pouring resources into education is worthwhile. We argue that the more resources we devote to theological education, the better.2

1 This essay is a slightly revised version of my presentation at the World Alliance for Pentecos- tal Theological Education Consultation in Stockholm, Sweden, August 25 2010.

2 Ian S. Markham, “Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century,” Anglican Theological Review 92, no. 1 (2010): 157.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI: 10.1163/157007412X639889



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

Against this commonsense expectation, the Anglican seminary professor Ian S. Markman bluntly says that in reality, however, it is sometimes the case that denominations such as his own that invest huge amounts of resources in theo- logical education are declining in membership and activity. Markman reports that the Presbyterian Church (USA) with some of the most highly acclaimed theological schools in the world (Princeton and Columbia, among others) has lost two hundred thousand members between 1999 and 2004 — the biggest loss during that time period among all mainline churches! On the contrary, the Anglican Ian S. Markham further observes, Pentecostals with “very limited and informal” training are growing rapidly all over the world, including in some parts of the USA.3

This is, of course, not to establish any negative causality between the high level of education and low level of church activity — an intriguing PhD study topic in itself! — but it should, rather, shake any unfounded belief in the effects of higher education. Indeed, a classic study conducted in the 1960s by the Swiss sociologist Lalive d’Epinay showed that the traditional theological academic training received by mainline Methodist and Presbyterian pastors in Chile was far from making them more effective pastors and church planters than Pente- costal pastors and pioneers in the same location, who had received the mini- mal amount of education.4 Again, it is wise not to draw conclusions too hastily concerning the cause and effects. While it can be the case that theological edu- cation in itself may have a counter-effect on efficacy in church work, it may also true that the counter-effects are due, rather, to a poor theological education. It is well to recall the critical observation offered by a theological schools’ accred- itation official on the effects of seminary education: “There is no other profes- sional organization in the world that is as functionally incompetent as . . . seminaries. Most of our students emerge from seminaries less prepared than they entered, biblically uncertain, spiritually cold, theologically confused, rela- tionally calloused and professionally unequipped.”5

Before Pentecostals start saying “Amen and Hallelujah! I knew that!,” per- haps they should pause to reflect. It seems to me that very few Pentecostal churches suffer from over-education! On the contrary, we could probably com-

3 Ibid.

4 Christian Lalive d’Epinay, “The Training of Pastors and Theological Education: The Case of Chile,” International Review of Missions 56 (April 1967): 185-92.

5 The remark comes from Timothy Dearborn, Director of the Seattle Association for Theologi- cal Education, reported in Jon M. Ruthven, “Are Pentecostal Seminaries a Good Idea?” n.p., avail- able at pdf (accessed 7/12/2010).


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


pile a long list of Pentecostal churches, planted and started well, that have become stagnant because they lacked trained leadership to facilitate and nur- ture congregational and denominational life. Indeed, there is a dearth of aca- demically trained leadership among Pentecostals, not only in the Global South, where most Pentecostal churches (with a few exceptions, such as those in South Korea) suffer from severe lack of economic and other resources, but also in Europe and the USA.6 Let me just take as an example the US Assemblies of God, one of the most established and resourceful Pentecostal bodies in the world. A recent study of educational levels among Assemblies of God clergy revealed that among senior pastors, 12% had no education beyond high school and 4.3% claimed no ministerial training at all. While 30.6% claimed some training in college or at a technical school, 27.4% had taken a certificate course or had completed some correspondence courses in ministerial training. Some 55.6% had attended Bible college, although only 41.3% completed a degree. While 12.4% held a master’s degree, only 9.9% held a seminary degree [often in counseling] and 2.8% held an advanced degree in ministry.7 This example alone tells us that Pentecostals are approaching the task of considering the nature and role of higher education in theology from a very different vantage point than the mainline traditions.

As the title indicates, my focus will be on the theology — rather than, say, pedagogy or philosophy or finances — of Pentecostal theological education. Therefore, I have to leave many things unsaid. My main goal is to urge Pente- costal theologians and educators to collaborate in developing a solid and dynamic theology as the proper ground for theological education. Mainline churches are ahead of us in this work — understandably so, since they have had more time to “practice.” There is much to learn from those explorations and experiments.

My argumentation moves in three main parts. First I will take a look at the epistemological options for Pentecostal theological education. Second, build- ing on that discussion, I seek to discern some key dimensions in the ethos of Pentecostal education. Third, I will offer some reflections as to different envi- ronments for Pentecostal theological education.

6 For a fine essay with ample documentation on the history and current state of Pentecostal theological education, see Paul Lewis, “Explorations in Pentecostal Theological Education,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Theology 10, no. 2 (2007): 161-76.

7 “Fact* Survey Results: A 2000 Survey of Assemblies of God Churches” (Springfield, MO: Office of the General Secretary, 2000), 9. Copies of this survey are available from the Office of Statistics or from the Office of the General Secretary in Springfield, Missouri. I am indebted to Cecil M. Robeck, my colleague at Fuller, for providing me with this information.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

Epistemology: Four “Cities”

In a highly acclaimed and programmatic essay titled Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Debate, David H. Kelsey of Yale University outlines the underly- ing epistemology and theology of theological education using two cities as paradigms.8 “Athens” refers to the goals and methods of theological education that are derived from classical Greek philosophical educational methodology, paideia. The early church adopted and adapted this model. The primary goal of this form of education is the transformation of the individual. It is about char- acter formation and learning to achieve the ultimate goal, which is the knowl- edge of God rather than merely knowing about God. “It is not primarily about theology, that is, the formal study of the knowledge of God, but it is more about what Kelsey calls theologia, that is, gaining the wisdom of God. It is the transfor- mation of character to be God-like. The emphasis therefore falls upon personal development and spiritual formation.”9 The second pole of Kelsey’s typology, “Berlin,” is based on the Enlightenment epistemology and ideals. (This turn in theological education was first taken at the University of Berlin.) Whereas the classical model of “Athens” accepted the sacred texts as revelation containing the wisdom of God and not only knowledge about God, in the “Berlin” model, rational reasoning and critical enquiry reign. The ultimate goal of theological training is no longer personal formation based on the study of authoritative texts. Rather, it aims at training people intellectually.

It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that, as helpful as this scheme is, it only says so much. There is more to the picture of the underlying epistemology and theology of theological education. Two other models could be added to the equation before an assessment from a Pentecostal perspective is in order.10 My former colleague at Fuller Seminary Robert Banks has suggested a third model, which can appropriately be identified with the city of “Jerusalem,” as it denotes the missionary impulse of the Christian church to spread the gospel from Jeru- salem to the ends of the earth. In an important work titled Revisioning Theo- logical Education,11 Banks argues that if Martin Kähler’s classic dictum “Mission is the Mother of Theology” is true, it means that theology should be missional

8 David H. Kelsey, Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerd- mans, 1993).

9 Brian Edgar, “The Theology of Theological Education,” Evangelical Review of Theology 29, no. 3 (2005): 209.

10 I am indebted to the essay by Edgar, “Theology of Theological Education,” for helping find connections between the four models.

11 Robert Banks, Revisioning Theological Education (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


in orientation. The ultimate goal and context of theological education should thus be missional, which at the end of the day fosters and energizes the church’s mission. It is, however, more than what is usually thought of as “missiological” education as in the training of foreign missionaries. It is about theological edu- cation buildingthe “foundation” that is the mission of the church in all aspects of the church’s life and work. This missional orientation is, of course, in keeping with the current ecclesiological conviction that mission is not just one task given to the church among other tasks, such as teaching or children’s work, but, rather, that the church is missional by its very nature, and thus, everything the church does derives from the missional nature.

Yet one further model can be added to the scheme. Named “Geneva” after the great center of the Reformation, it cherishes a confessional approach to theological education. It seeks to help the students to know God both through the study of the creeds and the confessions and as the means of grace. Forma- tion is focused on the living traditions of the community. “Formation occurs through in-formation about the tradition and en-culturation within it.”12

What would a Pentecostal assessment on this typology be? Pentecostals cer- tainly prefer “Athens” over “Berlin” and “Jerusalem” over “Geneva.” So the ques- tion is settled. Or is it? I don’t think so. We all agree that it would be too cheap to settle on a couple of appealing choices and move from there. The issue is more complicated — and it has to do, I repeat, with both epistemology and theology.

The choice between the classic model of “Athens” and critical model of “Ber- lin” reflects the dramatic intellectual change brought about by the Enlighten- ment. From a Pentecostal point of view, two overly simple responses to the Enlightenment can be mentioned: First, it is bad! Second, it is inevitable! What I want to say here is that even though it would be safe and soothing to be able to go back to the pre-Enlightenment mentality in which the biblical authority, the uniqueness of Jesus, and other key faith convictions could be taken at their face value — and are being taken as such among the common folks, not only among Pentecostals but in almost all other traditions as well — for an aca- demically trained person living in our times it is not a feasible option. To pre- tend that the Enlightenment never happened is the worst kind of self-delusion.

What about postmodernity? Wouldn’t postmodernity’s critique and rejec- tion of modernity’s legacy come as a God-sent aid to those who are troubled about the rule of reason? Indeed, many Pentecostals are enthusiastic about the

12 Edgar, “Theology of Theological Education,” 211.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

promises of postmodernity; I myself am much more reserved. Indeed, what is happening in the beginning of the third millennium is that there is a continu- ing debate, at times even a conflict, between three poles when it comes to epis- temology. Following Ernest Gellner’s suggestive book title, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion,13 they can be named as religion, modernity, and postmo- dernity. Whereas “religion” (cf. “Athens” and “Geneva”) builds on authoritative revelation, “modernity” (cf. “Berlin”) seeks to replace all faith commitments for critical inquiry and postmodernity deconstructs all big narratives in turning to everyone’s own stories and explanations. “Religion” is between a rock and a hard place. Neither modernity nor postmodernity looks like a great ally. The lesson to Pentecostal theological education may be simply this: Even though Pentecostals with all other “Bible believers” seek to build on the author- itative revelation of God in Christ (“Athens”), that cannot be done in isolation from the challenges brought about by both modernity and postmodernity. Pen- tecostal theological education should seek to find a way of education in which the challenges of both of these prevailing epistemologies are being engaged in an honest and intellectually integral way. Two other lessons that guide us in reflection on the ethos of Pentecostal theological education in the next main part of the essay follow from this discussion. It is clear and uncontested that Pentecostals should incorporate the missional impulse (“Jerusalem”) into the core of their education. Furthermore, I urge Pentecostals also to consider the importance of a confessional (“Geneva”) approach, not exclusively, but rather as a complementary way.

Ethos: Four Polarities

Building on these tentative conclusions based on the epistemological discus- sion, let me continue my reflections on the theology of Pentecostal theological education by discerning and highlighting four dynamic continuums or polari- ties. Polarities are not just opposite ends, they are also processes and orienta- tions in dynamic tension with each other. I think it is important to hold on to the healthy and constructive dynamisms when speaking of the theological education of this movement that was birthed by a dynamic movement of the Spirit. This is what makes the ethos of Pentecostal theological education. I name these four polarities in the following way:

13 Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992).


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


• “Academic” versus “Spiritual”

• “Indoctrinal” versus “Critical”

• “Practical” versus “Theoretical” • “Tradition-Driven” versus “Change-Driven”

“Academic” versus “Spiritual”

Everyone who has worked in the context of Pentecostal or any other revivalistic theological training knows that there is a built-in tension between spiritual exercises and academic pursuit. In contrast, the “Berlin” model pretty much leaves that tension behind because only academic excellence is pursued. Every- one who has worked in “secular” theological faculties knows what I mean by this.

The “Athens” models suggest that knowledge and wisdom are not alterna- tives, nor can they be subsumed under each other. Knowledge is the way to wisdom, the true “knowing” of God. The noted American theologian Ellen Cherry describes this in a most useful way as she reflects on the lost heritage of the Augustinian and patristic way of doing and teaching theology: “Theology is to enable people to advance in the spiritual life. Spiritual advancement is the driving force behind all of Augustine’s works. Theories about God and the things of God (i.e., doctrines) are important and wanted, but they are to a fur- ther end: to enable people to know, love, and enjoy God better and thereby to flourish.”14 Augustine is a wonderful example to lift up here because alongside deep spirituality, he is also well known for his highly intellectual and analytic mind. Let me just take up one example. As you read his classic autobiographi- cal Confessions, you will soon notice that in the true spirit of Pentecostal-type testimonials he shares about his life before turning to Christ and the dramatic change he underwent. At the same time, this book also contains one of the most sophisticated inquiries into divinity and theology, including the famous chapter 11 on the theology and philosophy of time! Spirituality and academics seem to go well together with the bishop of Hippo.

Whereas for Augustine and likeminded thinkers theology was spiritual by its nature — an aid to help Christians know, love, and enjoy God — post- Enlightenment academic education as conducted in the university setting has strayed so far from this ethos that recently courses in “spirituality” had to be

14 Ellen T. Cherry, “Educating for Wisdom: Theological Studies as a Spiritual Exercise,” Theology Today 66, no. 3 (2009): 298.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

added to the curriculum!15 As if studying God — logos about theos — were not a spiritually nourishing exercise in itself.

“Indoctrinal” versus “Critical”

Pentecostal preaching and testimonies are about persuasion — and often amplified with a loud voice! Not only that, but the Pentecostal way of discern- ing God’s will is geared toward nonmediated, direct encounters with God. In that environment, critical thinking, analysis, and argumentation often sit uncomfortably.Coupled with this is the Bible school mentality of much of Pen- tecostal training that, in opposition to critical academic faculties in the univer- sities, was set up to combat reigning liberalism. In other words, the “Berlin” model doesn’t seem to be a viable option in that kind of environment. Mark Hutchinson describes aptly the dynamic field in which Pentecostal theological education often finds itself in the midst of conflicting expectations:

It would be true to say that most leaders in our movement have little understanding of educational processes, and little expectation about the intelligence of their members. The model of the charismatic leader is to hear from God and then tell the people what he has heard. The concept that they may be in fact serving a community which can hear from God and which is capable of dealing with what they’ve heard is not a common one. And yet, the community model is precisely what a uni-versity is — it is a commu- nity of scholarship. With the prevailing church model, education tends to default towards indoctrination, with more emphasis on character outcomes and opinions than on intellectual formation and knowledge.16

There is a clash of cultures between the church and the academic institution; only the Bible school environment usually avoids this dynamic by going smoothly with the church culture. A Pentecostal academic institution of theo- logical knowledge “exists as a place where definite, charismatic, revelational knowledge and certainty exist alongside and in interaction with the indefinite but progressive search for truth,” whereas a typical church setting calls for a definite, authoritative settling of the issues under discussion. In order to keep this dynamic tension in a healthy measure, “[l]eaders and pastors will have to acknowledge that their revelational knowledge and ecclesial authority is not

15 See further, Cherry, “Educating for Wisdom,” 296-97.

16 Mark Hutchinson, “ ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic of Learning’: Thoughts on Academic Freedom in a Pentecostal College,” Australasian Pentecostal Theology 9 (July 2005/6): 10.


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


absolute, while teachers will have to admit that their academic freedom and scholarly knowledge are not absolute goods.”17

A Pentecostal academic mindset should be able to make a distinction between two kinds of understandings of the term critical. The first meaning that usually comes to the popular mind is something like “tearing apart” or “breaking down” beliefs dearly held — as in radical forms of biblical criticism. That kind of use of critical faculties often replicates the naïve and unfounded understanding of rationality à la the Enlightenment whereby one assumes the location to be a context-free “no-man’s land” in which one is able to know something neutrally, without prejudice or bias. That modernist illusion is, of course, thoroughly prejudiced and biased. If postmodernity has taught us any- thing, it is that all of our knowledge is “perspectival”; there is “no view from nowhere.” This takes me to the other, more constructive meaning of critical, which means something like “sorting out” or “weighing” between various opin- ions, options, viewpoints. On the way to a confident opinion or belief, the intel- lectual capacities are put in use to ensure that one’s opinion is justified in light of current knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

The Pentecostal movement at large would be greatly helped by soberly trained leaders who have been taught how to exercise healthy criticism, includ- ing self-criticism. Pentecostals would, for example, learn that “bigger is not always better.” Even though it is not an easy task, by taking the “Athens” model as the basis and the “Berlin” model as a necessary aid, Pentecostal theological education would benefit greatly. In practical terms this means teaching the basics of biblical and doctrinal criticism as part of the curriculum, doing histo- riography rather than hagiography when studying the past of the movement, subjecting prevailing leadership or church growth patterns and ideals to scru- tiny, and so forth.

“Practical” versus “Theoretical”

A recent essay by the newly elected president of Union Theological Seminary (NY), Serene Jones, discloses the depth of the problem that has haunted theo- logical education, particularly ministerial training, from the beginning, namely, how to balance “practical” and “theoretical” aspects. She makes painfully clear just how far academic theology too often has strayed from its practical task. Her title “Practical Theology in Two Modes” is an admission that systematic theol- ogy, her own discipline, needs practical theology by its side as a separate field

17 Ibid.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

of study, although at the same time she acknowledges that “everything we do in the divinity school is practical; it’s about faith and people’s lives.”18 The divide between theoretical and practical is another child of modernity, although the distinction, of course, serves heuristic purposes and everyday needs; think, for example, of how useful it is to study first about traffic signs in class (“theory”) before venturing into actual traffic (“practice”). Common sense dictates that in some manner, the distinction should be maintained. In the case of theological education, as long as it has ministerial training as its goal, the separation cannot be accepted. Theological education that does not lead into the adoption of “practices” and virtues relevant and conducive to Christian life and ministry is simply a failed exercise.19

Theology is a peculiar form of cognitive reflection, for its goal is not simply the expan- sion of knowledge. Theology has a quite practical goal — what I would call the forma- tion of religious identity. Theology must once again become an activity forming religious identity and character. For it to play that role, theologians must be engaged in reflection upon religious practices. Some of those practices will be located within reli- gious communities, while others may be broadly distributed within society. Theolo- gians need to attend both to the practices of congregations — worship, preaching and counseling, for example — and to societal practices that have religious and moral dimensions . . . .20

When beginning a new course in systematic theology for seminary students, I usually tell the students that my discipline may be the most “practical” and “relevant” of all fields in the theological curriculum. Students often respond by asking, isn’t systematic theology rather about thinking, argumentation, doc- trines? My counter-response affirms that but also adds that, in the final analy- sis, what else could be more “practical” to pastors, counselors, and missionaries than thinking deeply about what we believe, why we believe, and how we best try to formulate it? That is what shapes sermons, testimonies, worship, coun- seling, evangelism, finances, marriage, and so forth. Although such an exercise may not seem to be as “practical” in a shorter view as, say, basics of homiletics

18  Serene Jones, “Practical Theology in Two Modes,” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, ed. Dorothy C. Bass and Craig Dykstra (Grand Rap- ids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 195.

19 For an important discussion of “practices,” see Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, ed. Miroslav Volf and Dorothy Bass (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

20 Ronald F. Thiemann, “Making Theology Central in Theological Education,” Christian Century, February 4-11, 1987, 106-8, available at (accessed July 11, 2006).


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


or church administration, its long-term effects may be far more relevant than one would assume.

This observation is worth repeating: The study of theology that fails to posi- tively shape a person’s identity, faith, character, and passion for God has simply failed its calling. An alternative is not to drop altogether the pursuit of theo- logical education, but rather, to work hard for the revising and rectifying of training.

The focus of the “Jerusalem” model, missional orientation, comes into con- sideration here. If it is true that mission is far more than one of the many tasks that the church does — namely, that the church is mission, mission is some- thing that has to do with everything the church is doing, its raison d’être — then it means that the ultimate horizon of theological education is the mission of the church.21 Pentecostalism with its eschatologically loaded missionary enthusiasm and yearning for the power of the Spirit has all the potential of redeeming that promise. Yet, a word of warning is in order here. While Pente- costals have rightly lifted up the needs of the mission as the key factor in shap- ing education, they have often done so in a way that has shortsightedly promoted merely “practical” tools of effectiveness. The urgency of mission does not mean, therefore, that it need not be theologically grounded or reflected upon. On the contrary, if mission is the mode of existence for the church, it means we should continue careful theological reflection along with praxis of mission, both affirming our praxis and offering needed self-criticism.

“Tradition-Driven” versus “Chang e-Driven”

“Tradition” is a bad word in Pentecostal vocabulary. Indeed, a main impulse that helped birth Pentecostalism was an opposition to the traditions, creeds, and rites of traditional churches. Pentecostalism breathes renewal and revital- ization. As it turned its attention to the future rather than the past, there emerged also a curious view of church history: basically it was a leap from the Book of Acts straight to the beginning of the movement in the twentieth century.

As a result, Pentecostalism is known for innovation, creativity, boldness, and “frontier spirit,” which have helped cultivate spontaneity, loose structures, and the use of unheard-of techniques. Ever-new discoveries in church growth, evangelism, leadership, and the like catch the imagination of Pentecostals.

21 For an important call by a noted ecumenist from India to renew missional commitment in all theological education, see Christopher Duraisingh, “Ministerial Formation for Mission: Impli- cations for Theological Education,” International Review of Mission 81, no. 1 (January 1992): 33-45.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

Tradition represents everything stagnant, archaic, irrelevant, and dead. Or does it? For Paul, in what may be the oldest section of the New Testament in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, it was of utmost importance to pass on tradition about Jesus and his salvific work. The term tradition, of course, comes from the Latin word to “pass on.” The Johannine Jesus promised his disciples that after his exit, the Holy Spirit would continue working in their midst to help them embrace and gain a deeper insight into Jesus’ teaching, “tradition.” In the Chris- tian view, tradition is but the work of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit helps each new generation to delve more deeply and in a more relevant way into the knowledge, power, and mind of Christ.

Although a Pentecostal approach to theological education cannot be based solely or even primarily on the “Geneva” model, neither should it ignore or downplay its importance. There are two facets to Pentecostalism’s relation to tradition. First of all, the Pentecostal movement stands firmly on the tradition of Christ’s church. Hence, a sufficient study of the whole of the church’s theo- logical, creedal, and historical tradition should belong to the core of the cur- riculum. Second, Pentecostalism in itself represents a growing tradition. As much as new revivalistic movements seek to live in the denial of the inevitable, there is no denying the accumulating effects of tradition and traditions.

Any effective theological education needs to be a good training in the tradition. Given the social reality of knowing, we must work within a framework of texts and commu- nity. Each one of us is born into a family and learns a particular language. From day one, each person looks at the world in a certain way. Knowledge is the result of the hard work of communities that struggle with the complexity of the world and start arriving at a more plausible account.22

As this word of wisdom from Markham illustrates, a proper attention to tradi- tion also helps bring in the importance of community. Communal orientation is needed in order to redeem Pentecostalism, including its leadership, from hopeless individualism. This is nothing but the ecclesiological model of Acts 2.

The important task for Pentecostal theologians is to discern and bring to light the key elements of what makes Pentecostal tradition. What, for example, is the role of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal living tradition?23 Change and tradition, new and old, should be kept in some kind of dynamic balance; that is a continuing challenge.24

22 Markham, “Theological Education,” 159. 23 See Lewis, “Explorations,” 162.

24 See further, Markham, “Theological Education,” 164.


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


Environment: Four Locations

The term environment in this essay refers to two interrelated aspects of Pente- costal theological education. The first has to do with the setting in which the training is done, whether in a church-based Bible school, theological college, or theological seminary, or in collaboration with “secular” university faculties such as in the Free University of Amsterdam. The second meaning of the envi- ronment relates to whether Pentecostal theological education is “Pentecostal” or, as it most often is alternatively, “Evangelical” with some Pentecostal tinsel. Let me begin with this latter meaning.

Anyone familiar with typical Pentecostal theological schools knows that much of what is taught has little or no direct relation to Pentecostalism; it is, rather, borrowed materials from the Evangelical storehouses. Pentecostal dynamics and philosophy of education are due to the “reliance upon pedagogi- cal and philosophical models that are more Evangelical (or fundamentalist) than Pentecostal . . . [and] written resources on educational philosophy and pedagogy authored by Pentecostals for Pentecostal educators are lacking, espe- cially for higher education.”25 In other words: although Pentecostal students study in a Pentecostal environment, their education is not often distinctively Pentecostal. It is, rather, the extracurricular activities that are more Pentecostal in nature. As a result, Pentecostals become vulnerable to losing their distinc- tive nature and identity.

Behind this malaise is not only the lack of developed Pentecostal theology or textbooks but also a general orientation in much of Pentecostal theological scholarship that often tends to major in repeating uncritically the voices of Evangelicalism, at times even Fundamentalism — even though it is the Funda- mentalists who have been most vocal opponents of anything charismatic! I am thinking here of Fundamentalistic views such as the doctrine of Scripture and inspiration (inerrancy), dispensationalist eschatology, and so on, which have been adopted without a concerted theological assessment of how well, or how badly, these views fit Pentecostalism.26 Henry Lederle of South Africa, himself a Charismatic Reformed, rightly remarks: “It is an irony of recent ecclesiastical history that much of Pentecostal scholarship has sought to align itself so closely with the rationalistic heritage of American Fundamentalism . . . without fully

25 Jeffrey Hittenberger, “Toward a Pentecostal Philosophy of Education,” Pneuma 23, no. 2 (2001): 226, 230; I am indebted to Lewis, “Explorations” (p. 172) for this citation.

26 For an enlightening analysis of the uneasy relationship between Pentecostalism and Funda- mentalism, see Gerald T. Sheppard, “Pentecostalism and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship,” Pneuma 6, no. 2 (1984): 5-34.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

recognizing how hostile these theological views are to Pentecostal and Charis- matic convictions about present-day prophecy, healing miracles and other spiritual charisms.”27 Now, in principle there is, of course, no problem with bor- rowing from others. It would be only foolish to decline to drink from the com- mon Christian wells and take advantage of other churches’ millennia-long traditions of theological reflection. However, the way in which Pentecostals have done that — and seemingly continue doing it — is what raises concerns. In most cases, I fear, Pentecostal theologians do not acknowledge the fact that what they claim to be presenting as a “Pentecostal” theological view is often nothing more than a “Spirit-baptized” Evangelical, often even Fundamentalis- tic, view taken from others with little or no integral connection to the core of Pentecostal identity.

Pentecostals have much to learn from older traditions. Let me take just one current example. In the above-mentioned essay, Markham carefully considers what are the key elements in his own Anglican tradition and, on the basis of that investigation, lays out three broad theological principles with regard to Anglican theological education: first, it should be creedal because of the cen- trality of the ancient creeds and later Anglican dogmatic formulae; second, it should be liturgical because of the center of the church life in worship and lit- urgy; and third, it should be engaged because of Anglicanism’s deep desire to engage the society at large, including politics, culture, arts, science, etc.28 Now, these are not theological underpinnings for Pentecostal higher education. But I admire the clarity, consistency, and boldness of being true to one’s own tradi- tion without being hostile to others.

Building on one’s own identity and tradition is in no way an excuse or ratio- nale for excluding others or fostering anti-ecumenical attitudes (those are prevalent enough without much training, unfortunately!). On the contrary, from the “foundation” of a clearly formulated identity and belonging to one’s community grows an irenic spirit toward others. In keeping with this goal is the set of guidelines from the global working group of theological educators who prepared a useful document for the Edinburgh 2010 World Missionary Confer- ence in relation to theological educators:

27 Henry I. Lederle, “Pentecostals and Ecumenical Theological Education,” Ministerial Forma- tion 80 (January 1998): 46.

28 Markham, “Theological Education,” 160-62.


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


a.  they should strengthen the denominational identity of future pastors and church

workers, so that graduates will have a very clear understanding of the church to

which they belong (theologicaleducation as denominational initiation);

b.  they should introduce students to the wider horizons of the worldwide church so

that they will understand that they also belong to the ecumenical fellowship of

churches (theological education as discovery of catholicity);

c.  they should prepare candidates to engage models of church unity, to reflect theo-

logically on ‘unity in diversity’ and to ask how the relation between local or denomi-

national identity and the ecumenical worldwide fellowship can be lived out

(theological education as enabling forecumenical learning).29

As mentioned above, Pentecostal theological training by and large takes place in four different environments.30 Both church-based Bible schools and bibli- cal/theological colleges have rendered an invaluable service to the global Pen- tecostal movement. Indeed, one can safely say that, without this network of grassroots-level training that owes its beginning to the end of the nineteenth- century Holiness and other Evangelical movements’ example, the establish- ment of Pentecostal churches all around the world might not have been possible. Even today these schools play a critical role in ministerial training, as is the case, for example, in most Latin American Pentecostal movements. The mode of rationality in those settings is markedly different from that of higher education proper. Their frame of reference is practical, short-term training of workers rather than academic education based on research and new knowledge.

In this essay, my focus has been on the academic section of Pentecostal theo- logical education as conducted in theological seminaries and theological col- leges with graduate departments; as mentioned, there is also emerging a new breed of Pentecostal theological training, that located in “secular” university faculties.

In the process of seeking a proper balance between the epistemologies of “Athens” and “Berlin” and consequently between the ethos of passing on tradi- tion and critical scrutiny thereof, the important question regarding the relation between the church and academia emerges (“church” here stands for all levels of ecclesiastical life from local churches to global networks of national movements).

29 “Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education in the 21st Century: Pointers for a New International Debate on Theological Education,” Short version, Edinburgh 2010 — Interna- tional study group on theological education, World Study Report 2009, p. 8, available at http:// (accessed 7/13/2010).

30 In addition, there are locations that are difficult to classify such as the Folkhögskola (“Folk High School”) institutions in Nordic countries, which play an important role, for example, in Swe- den and in Finland.



V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261

Unlike university-based theology faculties — unless directly related to the given church, as is still the case in many Roman Catholic settings — that, in the name of academic freedom, resist any kind of supervision from the church, Pentecostal theological institutions better nurture a constructive, mutual rela- tion to the church. As discussed above, this kind of relationship is not without the challenges arising from two different rationalities and intellectual climates. The above-mentioned Edinburgh 2010 document summarizes in a most help- ful way some of the key principles in this regard under the title “Theological education and the church — a relationship of service, ownership, and critical distance.” The document takes as its starting point the overarching principle of closeness and distance, which helps the church to be the church and academia to be academia, yet in a way that makes the relationship mutually conditioning:

a.  There is no fundamental contradiction between the principles of academic learning

or intellectual discipline on one hand and a church-related faith commitment on

the other, although at times there may be tension between the two. It is the task of

theological education to strengthen the commitment to Christian faith and to

develop a proper understanding and practice of it, which may include liberating

faith from narrow-minded or uninformed concepts and/or practices.

b.  Theological education has a critical and liberating function in relation to the exist-

ing church; with reference to both Biblical and Christian tradition, theological edu-

cation can remind Christian communities of their proper tasks and key mandates. c.  The church has a critical and alerting function over against theological education

and the forms of cultural captivity and blindedness theological education can find

itself in due to its particular environment and internal value systems. Serious com-

plaints are being heard that the theological academy in the West has lost its world-

wide, ecumenical perspective and its missionary impact, and that it is not sufficiently

cognizant of emerging shifts in World Christianity today.

d.  Theological education therefore needs regular contact with the existing realities of

church life, involvement and close touch with the challenges of mission, ministry

and life witness of churches today, but it also needs critical distance and a certain

degree of autonomy from the daily pressures of church work and from the direct

governing processes and power interests of church institutions.31

Last Words: “An Unfinished Agenda”

Following the title of the late missionary-bishop Lesslie Newbigin’s autobiogra- phy, An Unfinished Agenda, suffice it to say that the continuing work toward a

31 “Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education,” 6.


V.-M. Kärkkäinen / Pneuma 34 (2012) 245-261


more coherent and comprehensive theology of Pentecostal theological educa- tion is a task for the worldwide Pentecostal movement.

That said, I would like to come back to the question I raised in the beginning of the essay, namely, is bigger always better? Jon Ruthven formulates this ques- tion in a helpful way: “Could it be that the extreme reluctance of Pentecostal leadership to bow to pressures for the establishment of theological seminaries has merit? Instead of dismissing them as anti-intellectual, perhaps we might pause to consider if these leaders were onto something.”32 Professor Ruthven himself teaches in a seminary/divinity school setting; this surprising question is thus not meant to dismiss or even downplay the importance of highest-level theological training for Pentecostals. The way I take it is that in the midst of many and variegated efforts to update the level of theological education among Pentecostals, it would only be counterproductive to be so carried over by this effort as to lose the bigger perspective. As a bumper put it succinctly: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The key is to work toward a form and content of theological education that bears the marks of an authentic Pentecostal spirituality and identity.

Ultimately, “theological education is part of the holistic mission of the Chris- tian church,” says the World Council of Churches’ Oslo (1996) statement to which Pentecostals can only say, “Amen and Amen.”

There is consensus among us on the holistic character of theological education and ministerial formation, which is grounded in worship, and combines and inter-relates spirituality, academic excellence, mission and evangelism, justice and peace, pastoral sensitivity and competence, and the formation of character. For it brings together edu- cation of:

the ear to hear God’s word and the cry of God’s people;

the heart to heed and respond to the suffering;

the tongue to speak to both the weary and the arrogant;

the hands to work with the lowly;

the mind to reflect on the good news of the gospel;

the will to respond to God’s call;

the spirit to wait on God in prayer, to struggle and wrestle with God, to be silent in penitence and humility and to intercede for the church and the world; the body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.33

32 Ruthven, “Pentecostal Seminaries,” n.p.

33 Cited in “Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education,” 5.


Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.