Toward A Pentecostal Hermeneutic

Toward A Pentecostal Hermeneutic

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Toward a Pentecostal Hermeneutic

Mark D. McLean*

To begin with, is there a Pentecostal theology? In one sense,
the answer is “NO!” (William Menzies)’ I
I remember attending a charismatic meeting during the early
1970s in Southern California at which Dennis Bennett was the
featured speaker. In his attempt to allay the fears of his
audience that his charismatic message was some sort of
spiritual elitism of recent innovation, he used the metaphor of
two carpenters working on similar projects. Both have exactly
the same tools at their disposal. One proceeds to build a piece of
furniture using a drill, dowels, and glue. The other carpenter
takes out a hammer and nails and quickly finishes the project
while the former carpenter slowly labors on. He then assured
the audience that we all have had the hammer and nails there all
the time. Pentecostals do not possess something which non-
Pentecostals do not have, but rather, they have learned to use
this tool which is available to all, and is, indeed, something that
all Christians possess. It simply needs to be recognized.2
Dr. Menzies makes much the same point by insisting that
there is no Pentecostal theology because a Pentecostal theology
is simply a “full Gospel” biblical theology that restores the
experience of Pentecost to its rightful place in Christian
theology. Thus, Christian theology is evangelical/
fundamentalist orthodoxy with the role and function of the
Holy Spirit in the life of the church restored to its rightful
place.3 If this is the case, Pentecostal/ evangelical/ fundamentalist
hermeneutics must be identical.4 Therefore, there can be no
uniquely Pentecostal hermeneutic.
Actually, the insistence on the unity of Pentecostal and
evangelical theology and hermeneutics is based upon the very
real and recurring tendency of charismatic groups to abandon
the canon for “fresh and authoritative revelations” of the Holy
Spirit to the charismatic worshipper.s Though this
abandonment of the canon is often subtle at first, it can and at
times it does continue to express itself in grotesque forms, such
as the insanity called “soul marriage”6
Even when there is outwardly a strong commitment to canon,
the argument revolves around the use of the “plain sense”


(sensus literalis) of the text and tlie intentionality of the author
found by “grammatico-historical, critical-contextual
exegesis”7 and the possibility of a fuller sense of the text, the
“rhema word,” as the jargon of one strand of the current
charistmatic “popular religion” names it,8 the personal
revelation of the Holy Spirit to the individual which transcends
the plain sense of the written canonical text.9 The very
reasonable fear of many Pentecostal leaders and educators is
that a Pentecostal hermeneutic will soon abandon or so distort
the Scripture that the twentieth century Pentecostal movement
will founder and cease to be Christian. «
Yet, it is my contention that not only is a Pentecostal
hermeneutic a vital necessity if we are to have an effective
ministry to our “modern” world, it is inescapable. A
Pentecostal hermeneutic will either be a well articulated,
canonically based expression of normative Christianity, or the
twentieth century Pentecostal movements will wither after the
deaths of their charismatic leaders and become the religious
oddities discussed in the opening chapters of future books like
Gelpi’s which study the twenty-first or twenty-second century
“neo-charismatic” movements. If we lose our hold on the Bible,
that infallible rule of our faith, and conduct, we are lost.


With its strong commitment to a critical-historical exegesis,
traditional hermeneutics has opted for an epistemology that
either abdicated faith for reason, or conversely sought to
validate faith epistemologically by a category of special
pleading in the interests of propositional theology. (Howard
E rvinl ‘ I’ I
The other side of the coin from that of “pentecostal space
cadets” is a total commitment to evangelical/ fundamentalist
hermeneutics which ultimately interprets the classical
Pentecostal experience out of the Bible. Pentecostal theology is
admittedly an ex post facto theology. 12 Being Bible centered
Christians, we, just as our early leaders did, want to be assured
that our “experience” is a canonically based, scripturally sound
part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the life of the Church. To
many Pentecostals past and present, the book of Acts seems to
provide the exegetical basis for such an assurance. The
traditional Pentecostal exegesis of Acts suggested that a
subsequent act of the Holy Spirit, an enduement of power for


service, distinct from conversion, initially evidenced by
speaking in tongues, known as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, is
to be expected and sought, and, indeed, could be called a
normative expectation. 13
Yet, in recent times we have witnessed a number of attempts
not only from without, but also from within the Pentecostal/ neo-
charismatic movement to deny the validity of the distinctive
doctrine of “initial evidence” which gave the twentieth century
Pentecostal movement its identity. 14 Ironically, these attempts
are also basically ex post facto in their nature.
From within the Pentecostal movement the problem often
centers around third generation Pentecostals who, despite their
fervent faith in God, their sense of the power of the Holy Spirit
in their lives, have not experienced that “initial evidence” of
speaking in tongues. This leaves them, despite their
“Pentecostal heritage”, on the outside looking in. Being Bible
centered Christians, they want to be sure that their experience is
a canonically based, scripturally sound part of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ and the life of the Church. To many of these third
generation “Pentecostals,” as well as the neo-charismatics who
have not experienced the initial evidence, as well as non-
charismatic Christians, the exegetical works of James D. G.
Dunn and the hermeneutical principle for the book of Acts
suggested by Gordon Fee seem to fill a vital need in allowing
them to understand their “experience” of the Holy Spirit. 15
It is not the purpose of this discussion, however, to solve the
“initial evidence” issue, but rather to indicate that a strict
adherence to traditional evangelical/fundamentalist
hermeneutical principles leads to a position which, in its most
positive forms, suggests the distinctives of the twentieth
century Pentecostal movement are perhaps nice, but not
necessary; important but not vital to the life of the Church in
the twentieth century. ‘ In its more negative forms, it leads to a
total rejection of Pentecostal phenomena. _

What is at stake is not which one has done the more adequate
conceptual analysis of key Christian ideas, but which has the
more adequate or apt imaginative grasp of the basic discrimen
governing all Christian theology, viz, the mode of God’s
presence pro nobis. (David Kelsey)»


It is once we have understood Kelsey’s incisive insight into
the way theologians (i.e., anyone who is trying to make sense of
the Bible, from licensed professionals to the newly reborn babes
in Christ) actually do theology, that we realize there is no
possibility of avoiding the existence of a distinctive Pentecostal
theology and hermeneutic. The discrimen is a pair of criteria
“that are organically related to one another as reciprocal
coefficients, viz, the presence of God among the faithful in
conjunction with the uses of scripture in the church’s common
life. 18 The manner in which the discrimen is articulated by any
given theologian is not only given to vary somewhat from one
individual to another within the same tradition, but it is
certainly going to be different for a Pentecostal theologian and
a non-Pentecostal theologian.
What are some of those differences going to be? In rough
outline, the understanding of the rightful role and function of
the Holy Spirit in the common life of the Church is quite
different. The Pentecostal will insist that not only are the fruit
of the Spirit a vital part of the believer’s life, but so are the
operation of the gifts of the Spirit as pictured in the New
Testament and as experienced by the contemporary Pentecostal
movements. The Pentecostal will insist on the continuity of the
mode of God’s presence in and among the faithful from the
creation down to this very day. Therefore, God is as much of an
active causative agent today as He is pictured in the biblical
writings. Perhaps more importantly, rather than expressing a
constant nostalgia for “biblical times,” the Pentecostal will
insist that these are the last days as proclaimed by Peter in Acts
These broad confessional statements are vital if the
Pentecostal movements are to retain their self-identity and
remain faithful to their task.z? The loss of our Pentecostal, and
even our Christian identity, stems from several conflicting but
contemporaneous forces. We have already alluded to the very
reasonable and historically founded fears of “pentecostal wild
fire” that can destroy the ties of a Pentecostal movement with
the Christian Church and lead to separatist cults which
ultimately wither away. In their more tragic forms, these cults
are epitomized by Jonestown. This has led to the nearly
irresistible pressure of the leadership in many of the Pentecostal
groups to identify ourselves with the “evangelical wing of the
Church.” The other contributing factor to this identification is
based on the reasonable and historically founded fears of
“modernist thought” that allows for no specific divine activity
in the space-time continuum.


As we set aside the extremes of “enthusiastic wild fire” and
“neo-liberalism”, it may be noted that the dangers to the
Pentecostal movement from the non-Pentecostal evangelical
wing of the Church take on two major forms. On the
conservative side, we have a set of exegetical and hermeneutical
principles which when rigorously followed, posit a
fundamentally different mode of God’s presence in and among
the faithful during the formative period of the canon and. today.
Indeed, while some evangelicals affirm God was an active
causative agent in the biblical period, they teach that such
causative activity will not again be seen until the rapture
inaugurates the Great Tribulation, putting us at present in a
somewhat deistic hiatus in which God’s activity is for the most
part limited to illuminating Scripture through the agency of the
Holy Spirit and through the proclamation of the Gospel.
From the other side of the evangelical spectrum comes the
seductive call of a revived neo-orthodoxy. As Gerald Sheppard
pointed out in 1977, this “neo-orthodoxy” is not the product of
the so-called “liberal” seminaries, but of the evangelical
seminaries themselves.2′ The “cutting edge” or “frontiers of
theology” at the “liberal” seminaries is rather the neo-
liberalism (for lack of a better term) of those like Gordon D.
Kaufman22 For these theologians, Langdon B. Gilkey put the
stake through the heart of neo-orthodoxy in 1961 with his
watershed article, “Cosmology, Ontology and the Travail of
Biblical Language.23
Essentially, Gilkey publically admitted to himself and his
colleagues in the Biblical Theology movement, that having
already accepted the “liberal insistence on the causal
continuum of space-time experience,” the use of such biblical
language as “God said,” and “God acted” no longer had any
real semantic value because the subject of such phrases had no
referent in reality.24 Gilkey concluded in part, “Finally, our
language is self-contradictory because while we use the
language of orthodoxy, what we really mean is concepts and
explanations more appropriate to liberal religion.25
Yet, as Gilkey pointed out, the proponents of the Biblical
Theology movement as epitomized in B. Anderson and G. E.
Wright, openly asserted that “the Bible is about the real acts of
God, that our religion is founded thereon, and that Christian
theology must recite these acts of God.26
Similar assertions of commitment to the authority of the
biblical text as the source of Christian religon are found in the
introduction to LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush’s Dld Testament


We are committed to the inspiration and the authority of
the Bible, including every part of the Old Testament, and
seek to honor it as Holy Scripture in all we say about it …
we have been constrained to suggest the relationships of
the Uld Testament themes to the New Testament, the
creedal affirmations of the early Church, and the
evangelical confessions of the Reformation-all of which
govern and express what we believe and teach.
Out of that commitment to the reality and authority of the
divine revelation flows a concern to take with full
seriousness the historical, cultural and social setting of
scripture together with the literary and linguistic means by
which it was recorded; that concern necessarily entails the
reverent use of the tools of textual, literary, and form
criticism in order to hear the nuances with which God
spoke to the first hearers of his word.2?
Let me make it clear that I am by no means impugning the
statement of faith made by these scholars nor am I repudiating
their methodology. Rather, I want to note that one’s
confessional statement may suggest to one’s readers,
particularly evangelical readers, a certain sense of where the
reader believes the scholar’s research should lead. That
expectation may be shattered by the actual results of the
scholar’s research, or conversely, may be accepted without the
depth of critical evaluation required of the reader due to a
confidence in the scholar based upon the “introductory
statement of faith.28
Let us consider a specific issue in LaSor’s Old Testament
Survey. On the date of the Exodus, we find “the general period
that seems to fit best most of the biblical and extra-biblical
evidence is the first half of the thirteenth century.29 This dating
matches perfectly with my training at Harvard, and as is
pointed out, represents a general consensus among historical
critical scholars. Citing J. J. Bimson’s suggestion of redating
the Exodus to the fifteenth century, the authors write:
Bimson’s study is a thorough and well documented
treatment … (but) is largely based upon lowering the date
for the end of the Middle Bronze to 1450/1400. The
viability of this redating remains to be seen. However, his
critique of the evidence on which the thirteenth century
date is based clearly reveals the tenuous nature of that
Now compare this with John Bright’s comments concerning
the date of the Exodus and the Conquest. Of Bimson’s work and
the fifteenth century date, Bright notes that “Bimson’s


arguments are well presented, but they depend in good part on
lowering the date for the end of the Middle Bronze Age by
approximately a century, which seems questionable.”3′ But, of
the recent arguments for a twelfth century date he writes:
When all is said, the precise date of the main phase of the
Israelite conquest is at present uncertain. The thirteenth-
century date still has much in its favor and will doubtless
continue to find defenders. But there is a growing number
of scholars who, on both archaeological and other
grounds, argue that the date should be lowered into the
twelfth century. One suspects that they may well prove
correct. The question for the present must remain sub
It is interesting that as the former neo-orthodox scholars
prepare to abandon the thirteenth century date for the twelfth
century date, that the evangelical seminaries find themselves
defending it. If the twelfth century date becomes the new
consensus of modern critical scholars on the basis of
“archaeological and other grounds,”can the evangelical writers
accept conclusions which simply collapse any period of the
Judges into an historical impossibility?33
Why, then, is this revivified neo-orthodoxy so seductive to
evangelical scholars and students? Let me illustrate the problem
from a recent classroom experience. In the summer of 1983, I
taught a course on Early Hebrew History focusing on the books
of Joshua, Judges and Ruth. One of my better students had
commented on his concern that most of his texts were somewhat
neo-orthodox in perspective in light of the distinctions between
the earlier Christian liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, and orthodoxy
with which I try to acquaint my students. I agreed that I shared
his concern. I determined to use a text from a conservative
evangelical/ fundamentalist viewpoint. After researching the
available books, I chose Leon Wood’s Distressing Days of the
Judges.34 The other text chosen was Bright’s A History of
Israel, third edition.
It was not my intention to play off the one book against the
other. I had chosen Wood as a known conservative scholar who
had written a major work on our period of study. I chose Bright
because his text would give us background to the period
including that of Joshua and Ruth, which were not a part of
Wood’s text, and for the broad overview of Israel’s history and
culture which it provides. I was very careful to discuss the
modernist presuppositions behind Bright’s work to be sure the
students would understand his work and its implications.3s
Yet, as I am sure you have already realized, the text the


students, including the student who had expressed his concern
about the lack of conservative texts, found the most
informative, which provided the best consideration of all the
factors concerned, was Bright’s. Their problems with Wood
centered around what they perceivea to be a plethora of
arbitrary judgments of just what the intention of God was in
every given situation, as well as his insistence on theocracy as
the best of all possible govern-ments, when one of the major
functions of Judges in the Hebrew canon was to make it clear
that the period of the Judges was one of political and
theological anarchy because “In those days there was no king in
Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges
17:6; 21:25; cf. 18:1; 19:1 ).
If one compares LaSor’s Old Testament Survey with the
available books from the evangelical and fundamentalist view-
points, despite its “neo-orthodox” tendencies, it is still the most
up-to-date, comprehensive survey that I can leave in my
student’s hands. I offer no apology for using it in my Old
Testament Survey courses.
The above illustrates a specific example of the problem, but
the basic issue centers around the question of the Double
Revelation Theory. This originally pejorative terminology
drawn from creationist controversies, bemoans the tendency of
some scholars to allow extra-biblical evidence to take
precedence over the biblical revelation. Yet, the balance between
the two sources is hard to achieve because, as Arthur Holmes
expresses it, “the early church fathers summed this up in what
has become a guidepost for Christian Scholars ever since-All
Truth is God’s truth, wherever it be found.”36 Thus, extra-
biblical evidence must always be taken seriously. The question
is how do we know when the extra-biblical evidence requires a
modification of our understanding of the biblical revelation
such as in the controversy in which Copernicus found himself
involved with the Church’s misunderstanding of the biblical
revelation in his day.
There are three possibilities a student of the Bible faces when
confronted with apparent disagreements between one’s
understanding of the biblical revelation and one’s
understanding of the extra-biblical evidence. First, one’s inter-
pretation of the biblical evidence is correct and the
understanding of the extra-biblical evidence is faulty. The
second possibility is that one’s interpretation of the extra-
biblical evidence is correct (as with Copernicus) and one’s
understanding of the biblical evidence is faulty. Finally, both
one’s understanding of biblical evidence on any given issue and


of the extra-biblical evidence are wrong.
The ever changing scope of extra-biblical knowledge is why
theology is never static, but always dynamic, even though we
might wish it were not so. Each generation must reaffirm its
theology in light of the biblical and extra-biblical evidence that
has come to that generation, so that it may understand how the
living eternal Word of God is speaking to it, judging its culture
and world and calling it to repentance and salvation.

If God, then, is the name of the individual agent-indeed, of
the individual to which no other is properly comparable-then
knowledge of him, if any is to be had by men, will have to be
gained through our concrete historical relations with him. God
will be known in and through a positive history, not primarily
through general ideas, theoretical constructs, or extrapolations
from and interpretations of common experience (Gordon
Kaufman, 1971)
The stark facts of total human responsibility for the future of
humanity, which a potential nuclear catastrophe symbolizes,
call into question all this traditional talk-held together so
tightly and meaningfully in the symbol of the divine
sovereignty-of God’s power and purposes and love as the
proper and only adequate ground for hope in such a desperate
situation …
The personalistic conception of God,… far from being salvific
of the human, now appear(s) to be part of the problem….
In consequence, instead of understanding ourselves largely as
handers-on of these traditions, as having a task simply of
interpretation, we must be prepared to enter into the most
radical kind of deconstruction and reconstruction of the
traditions we have inherited, including especially their most
central and precious symbols, God and Jesus Christ and Torah
(Gordon D. Kaufman, 1983).37
Sections I-III have focused on what might be termed the
inter-community discussion taking place among those who
would identify with the evangelical/ conservative wing of the
Christian Church. However, for those who have made their
pilgrimage from the older Christian liberalism and neo-
orthodoxy of the biblical theology movement to the neo-


liberalism of the modern “cutting edge” theologians, such as
Gordon Kaufman, all that use have said is a “tempest in a
On the “frontiers of theology,” the discussion is focused on a
single issue. Can a modern person, who lives in a world made up
solely of natural cause and effect and human relationships,
make any meaningful statement about a subject, God, which
has no referent in the space-time continuum of natural cause
and effect? As Ogden states, it is not one problem among many,
“it is the only problem there is.”38
Notice the logical and valid progression of thought which
follows the acceptance of Kaufman’s axiom on the ability to
know God in the 1971 quotation above. First of all we must note
that the statement is truly axiomatic. Just as it is impossible
that we could give a full and accurate description of another
human being, known to us only by name, through
extrapolations of what it is to be human, the same is even more
self-evident in any attempt to describe accurately The Divine
Person of whom we know only a name, or perhaps an even more
vague apprehension than something greater than us must exist
out there somewhere, or even the apprehension of an individual
“to which no other is properly comparable. “39
Second, we must realize that the modern person, perhaps as
personified in Gordon Kaufman, has no experience of
“concrete historical relations” nor of a “positive history” in
which The Individual-to which no other is properly
comparable-has spoken or done something which Kaufman
can identify as the act of a personal God. Indeed, his personal
worldview simply precludes even the possibility of such a
history occurring. And because of the potential nuclear holo-
caust which humanity threatens to bring upon itself, though
there are other considerations involved, he has concluded that
the personalistic conception of God which is ours from our
biblical tradition is not salvific but part of the very threat itself.
Thus his call for the “radical deconstruction” [read
destruction] and reconstruction” of the symbols God, Jesus
Christ, and Torah.4o
Third, we must note that despite the fact of the “notable
growth of evangelical churches, … and the proliferation of all
forms of psychic-occult mysticism,”41 Gilkey’s assessment of
the pervasive influence of modern naturalistic thought is not to
be denied. He notes that:
… a powerful `naturalistic’viewpoint, which finds belief in
God anachronistic and incredible and thus a religious
relation to God either offensive or irrelevant, has arisen


and spread pervasively throughout the Western and
Communist worlds into almost every class … this
naturalistic humanism has dominated the cultural scene.42
If the church is going to have an effective witness in this
“naturalistic culture’ it is going to require a living
demonstration of not only the fruit of the Spirit, but the gifts of
the Spirit. It is also going to require a recognition that God,
who is the creator of all things, is the most natural of all
causative agents in the space-time continuum. We cannot allow
ourselves to be backed into the supernaturalistic corner which
limits “acts of God” to inexplicable events which seem to
“violate” the natural order of the world as we experience it.
From a Pentecostal perspective, what can be more natural
than the God who created all things, manipulating the stuff of
creation in ways that do not violate that creation, but are in
harmony with the realities of that creation which our
sophisticated scientific study, as great and as valuable as it is,
has not yet discerned, let alone understood. We as Pentecostals
assert that we have experienced the divine person directly
acting in our lives, not only by internal renewal, but external
experiences such as healings, not merely “religiously sensitive
reflections,” but an infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, we have to understand that any evidence that we might
bring as a testimony is rejected a priori by the naturalism of
modernity. For the god-of-the-gaps model used here is that of
scientific discovery. Thus, the modern person may well be
forced to admit a healing took place, or some other outwardly
identifiable event happened. Yet the presupposition of the total
lack of any observable divine activity, results in the explanation
that whatever caused the “miracle” to happen had nothing to do
with a divine causative agent. As our scientific knowledge
expands, we will one day know and be able to catalog or even
manipulate the electro-chemical responses of the human body
that allow a person to heal herself, that allow a word of
knowledge to pass a need to a “sensitive person” without any
verbal communication.
This pervasive naturalism requires us to understand that
neither we nor signs nor wonders can bring anyone to Christ
and to a salvation experience. Though it may seem to some to be
a Christian truism, only the personal experience of the power of
the Holy Spirit can bring anyone to Christ. Yet we cannot allow
the truth of that statement to relieve us of that responsibility to
have an answer ready for anyone who asks us for the reason for
the hope that is within us ( Peter 3:15).
It is in this very area that a Pentecostal hermeneutic becomes


vital to the life and witness of the Church. For, in language
similar to that found in the naturalism of modernity, we
proclaim that God acts and speaks today just as He did speaking
and acting today. Therefore, for the modernist God never spoke
in the biblical period either. Thus, for the modernist, the Bible
is a collection of the reflections of religiously sensitive writers
and their community of faith to the world of natural cause and
effect and human relations they experienced.
Pentecostals also assert that God speaks and acts today, just
as He did in biblical times.43 While the Bible is indeed a
collection of the writings of “spiritually sensitive human
beings,” these writers are a witness to their concrete historical
relations with God, the positive history upon which their
writings are founded, a positive history and concrete
relationship which we claim continues on today with no
ontological break between God’s activity then and now.
It is at this point that modernity requires us to recognize the
full implications of such an assertion for our understanding of
the biblical witness to God’s causative agency and that divine
action we claim to experience today.


Whatever the Hebrews believed, we believe that the biblical
people lived in the same causal continuum of space and time in
which we live, and so one in which no divine wonders transpired
and no divine voices were heard.
Put in the language of contemporary semantic discussion, both
the biblical and the orthodox under-standing of theological
language was univocal. That is, when God was said to have
“spoken,” it was believed that an audible voice was heard by the
person addressed. In other words, the words “act” and “speak”
were used in the same sense of God as of man. (Langdon Gilkey,

It would be difficult to count the number of times in the
course of a personal testimony, whether from the pulpit, in a
classroom, or in casual conversation that I have heard the
speaker use a phrase such as, “God told me,” or “God said to
me,” and then immediately correct himself by saying, “I am not
saying I heard an audible voice,” lest the audience

misunderstand his theological language for univocal language.
What Gilkey asserts about the orthodox and liberal


interpretation of the biblical language as univocal is un-
equivocally true. Pentecostals have allowed themselves to be
pulled into this assumption of an ontologically different mode
of God’s presence and activity in biblical times as opposed to
the here and now. But, we want to assert that God speaks and
acts today on behalf of his creation, as he did then, with no
ontological distinction between the mode of God’s presence in
and among his people. Yet in our naivete, we have all accepted a
scholarly consensus which assumes an understanding of the
phrases “God spoke” or “God acted” which is at odds with the
biblical record and with our Pentecostal experience in the
twentieth century.
Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and
attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David,
“Go and attack the Philistines and save Kei’lah.” … Then
David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD
answered him, “Arise, go down to Kei’lah; for I will give
the Philistines into your hand….” When Abi’athar the son
of Ahimelek fled to David to Kei’lah, he came down with
an ephod in his hand … he (David) said to Abi’athar the
priest, “Bring the ephod here.” (I Samuel 23:2, 4, 6, 9,
Revised Standard Version).
The ephod contained a set of Urim and Thummim, whatever
they were, which were used to cast lots to determine the will of
the LORD. The person inquiring of the LORD asked his
question or questions. The priest did whatever he was to do with
these devices and reported the word of the LORD to the
inquirer in sentence form, which is recorded in the narrative as,
“The LORD said to X, do thus and so.” How long have we
glossed over the presence of the ephod and wished God would
“speak” to us with an “audible” voice as he did with David? This
is not to deny that the biblical record included direct reference
to God’s speaking in what seems to be reported as an audible
And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood
at the door of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and
. they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If

there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself
known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not
so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my
house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not
in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why
then were you not afraid to speak against my servant
Moses?” (Numbers 12:5-8, RSV).
Yet, when one goes through the passages carefully, many that
we might suppose to report audible voices are often in the


context of a vision or a dream. The promise of Joel 2:28-29 is
And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the menservants and the maidservants
in those days, will I pour out my spirit. (RSV).
Peter, in describing the experience of Pentecost states,
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,…”And
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of
you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For
the promise is to you and to your children and to all that
are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
(Acts 2:16, 38-39, RSV).
The univocal use of the words “speak” and “act” imputed to
Scripture by biblical interpreters, from orthodox to neo-
liberal, in the vast majority of the cases, is a violation of the
text. We might paraphrase Gilkey and say,
whatever the Hebrews believed, we believe they believed
that whenever God spoke to an individual, whether king,
priest, prophet or lay petitioner, it involved an “audible
voice,” and whenever God is said to have “acted” it
involved a direct causative action that was physically
verifiable by empirical observation.
For the most part, the naivete has been ours, not that of the
biblical writers.

It is my firm belief that the Assemblies of God has the ability
to come to a mature understanding of the Bible, God’s inspired
word, without falling into a destructive liberalism, because of
our continued experience of the on-going activity of God in the
person of the Holy Spirit.
I penned this thought in 1974 in an essay describing my hopes
and aspirations for higher education within the Assemblies of
God. Then, as now, I am not quite sure what that mature
understanding might entail. However, I believe that I have a
better sense of where this never-ending, never fully achieved,


process of maturation will lead. Our first task will be that of
understanding and articulating our imaginative (inspired)
judgment of the Pentecostal discrimen. In rough form, we will
assert that the mode ot Ciod’s presence in and among his people
is the same today as it was in biblical times; and that while it
includes the very real possibility of audible voices and
particularly observable causative acts by God such as healings,
the most common forms of God’s activity as a causative agent
will continue to be expressed through visions, dreams, tongues
and interpretations, prophecy, and personal direction, in which
no public audible voice is heard, but in which the divine
command is manifested internally, even as it is being expressed
outwardly through the human speaker. This indwelling and
‘ outflowing of the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the use of
Scripture in the common life of the Church, will find that
Scripture to be our “infallible, authoritative rule of faith and
conduct,” the walls along that straight and narrow path down
which we careen, bouncing off the walls with each stride, as we
seek the One who bids us to come to Him. Without those walls,
we in our Pentecostal enthusiasm would fall off. However, our
understanding of the word of God will not be limited merely to
reciting what it meant, that is, what the ancients believed, but
rather “what does that eternal word mean; what are we to
As noted above in the discussion of univocal language, it will
mean at times a need for us to catch up our understanding of
God’s activity and communication, known and understood by.
the biblical writers, but somehow lost by us over the centuries in
our hunger for “external, supernatural voices and events”. At
other times it will be, in terms of what we already recognize in
the Bible as progressive revelation, a more mature
understanding of the biblical and extra-biblical evidence in
determining our ever maturing, but never fully arriving,
confessional declarations. This will not mean a total rejection
of the hermeneutical tools which are a part of our evangelical
heritage, but a further sharpening of the tools in reference to
our ongoing experience of the activity of God in our lives.
As Kelsey has stated, “theology is inescapably a “reformist”
activity”.45 The purpose of the theologian’s task is to make
proposals as to how the forms, speech and actions of the Church
ought to be reformed, not to make over the Church in the
theologian’s image, but to enable the Church to remain faithful
to her task and to retain her self-identity as given to her by
God.46 For the Pentecostal wing of the Church, this will require
a review of the theory of the “univocal” use of the words


“speak” and “act” by the biblical writers, not with the purpose
of denying or trying to explain away those passages where the
“univocal” use of such words is clearly evident, but by the same
token refusing to allow an interpretative presupposition to
violate the text every time it “speaks” of God “speaking” or
“acting”. It will mean a turning away from the nostalgic longing
(evidenced in much of orthodoxy) for an ontologically distinct
era in which God spoke audibly and acted concretely in history,
but rather, an embracing of the outpouring of the divine
presence and activity promised by Joel, proclaimed by Peter,
and experienced by us. It will mean attempting fully to live out
that “Full Gospel” message that God is speaking and acting
today, just as he did in biblical times, and understanding that
the promise of his presence is for us, and our children, and to all
who are afar off.
It is simply time to admit that the Pentecostal understanding
of the mode of God’s presence among his people in conjunction
with our use of Scripture in the common life of the Church
results in a Pentecostal hermeneutic and theology, that at major
point is different from an orthodox non-Pentecostal
hermeneutic and theology. The task before us now is to realize
and explore the implications of that fact for our understanding
of God’s continued activity in the world, for our understanding
of our witness to that activity in the world, and for our
understanding of our self-identify and tasks given to us by the
living, acting and speaking Creator of all things.


*Mark Mclean received his Ph.D from Harvard University. He
is Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies and Philosophy at
Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri. This paper was
originally presented at the 1984 annual meeting of the Society
for Pentecostal Studies.
1. William Menzies, “Synoptic Theology: An Essay on Pentecostal
Hermeneutics,” Paraclete 13:.1 (Winter, 1979), 14.
2. The illustration makes its point well. However, in terms of
woodworking, the first carpenter will make the better furniture.
3. Ibid., 14
4. Most Pentecostals are fundamentalists in that they believe in the
five fundamentals: The inspiration and infallibility of Scripture; the
deity of Jesus Christ; his virgin birth and miracles; his physical death
for our sins and his physical resurrection, and his coming personal
return. However, many Pentecostals prefer to describe themselves as
evangelicals for the reasons elucidated by J.I. Packer in
Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958) 24-40.
5. For a Roman Catholic viewpoint see Donald L. Gelpi, S. J.
Pentecostalism: A Theological Viewpoint (New York: Paulist Press,
1971 ), 4-42. For a Protestant perspective see Stanley M. Burgess, The
Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson
Publishers, 1984), and his forthcoming volume, The Spirit and the
Church: Medieval (late 1985 or early 1986).
6. Basically, soul marriage is the identification of one’s sexual
desires with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Close friends of my
family went through this destructive “leading of the Holy Spirit” when
their son-in-law became involved with a married woman in the church
singing group. They rationalized their desires as the leading of the
Holy Spirit for them to leave their current mates for the “vital and
fulfilling” singing ministry the Holy Spirit had ordained for them.
When confronted with canonical passages which flatly preclude any
such possibility, the response was, “It feels so right. If it is wrong, pray
that the Holy Spirit will reveal it to us.”The pastor of the independent
charismatic church they attended was of no help either. Having been
divorced and remarried, he was personally convinced his second wife
was indeed the mate God had intended for him. His response was that
he could say nothing to the couple involved; they had to listen to the
Holy Spirit. The result to this point is three broken marriages, the two
original marriages and the “soul marriage” which later failed, not to
mention the destructive nature of divorce on the children caught up in
this “holy” disaster. Cf. Gelpi, Ibid., 21-30 who reports on John
Humphrey Noyes.
7. Howard Ervin, “Hermeneutics: A Pentecostal Option,” Pneuma
3:2 (Fall, 1981), 24.


8. By “popular religion”, I mean the religion of the members and
adherents of any given denomination, fellowship or sect as it is lived
out by its members. Popular religion is an amalgamation of normative
religion, that is, the scripturally based statements of faith of any given
group, and the non-normative elements which we drag in with us from
our umbrella culture, as well as misinterpretations of Scripture. Each
generation struggles to determine what is normative on the basis of the
canon, or the canon plus new authoritative revelations. For example,
the scriptural record makes it clear that the Yahwistic reforms of
Hezekiah and Josiah met with strong opposition from the popular
religion of their day (see 2 Kings 18:17-25 and Jeremiah 44). The
canonical prophets reflect only one strand of the religious life of Israel
and Judah. They are the strand that proved to be inspired and
normative for later generations. But for the contemporaries of Isaiah
and Jeremiah, the religious ferment and ambiguities of their day were
certainly no less complex than those a Pentecostal or an evangelical
faces today.
9. I have no quarrel with the notion that the Holy Spirit speaks to us
today through the Scripture in a way that may give us personal
guidance for a current situation. However, it is important to realize
that the distinction between rhema and logos is a modern charismatic
distinction which is anachronistic. One might say it is a “rhema”
definition. The danger is that in the “charismatic popular religion” the
“rhema word” begins to replace the canonical word as the
authoritative word of God. Cf. R. Hollis Gause, “Issues in
Pentecostalism,” in Russell P. Spittler, ed. Perspectives on the New
Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 114-115.
Richard Quebedeaux The New Charismatics II (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, Publishers, 1983), 132-133, highlights this situation
by noting “Neo-pentecostal intellectuals maintain that biblical
authority (the Word written) must always be subservient to the
authority of the living “dynamic” Word of God made known through
the present activity of the Spirit itself.”
10. The recent article, “The Rev. Terry Has a Gospel to Cheer the Me
Generation,” in the Wall Street Journal, August 23, 1984, illustrates
how easily the worst of these fears are realized. The Reverend Terry
Cole-Whittaker says of herself, “I do rebirth, do yoga, gestalt therapy.
I have had my primal scream. I’m an explorer. I’m a metaphysical,
evangelical, pentecostal space cadet.”
11. Ervin, Ibid., 12.
12. William G. MacDonald, “Pentecostal Theology: A Classical
Viewpoint,” in Russell P. Spittler, Perspectives on the New

Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 65. Cf.
James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1970), 2.
13. Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible
(Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937), 308-320; cf. Dunn,
Ibid., 2.


14. Carl Brumback, Suddenly… From Heaven (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1961), 23.
15. Dunn, Ibid. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read
the Bible for All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing
House, 1982), 87-102; and “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent-
A Major Problem in Pentecostal Hermeneutics,”in Russell P. Spittler,
ed. Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1976), 118-132, I am by no means suggesting that Dr. Fee
is not a practicing Pentecostal who has experienced the “initial
evidence” of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. He is thoroughly
Pentecostal. Rather, his concern focuses on the use of the word
“normative” which for him suggests “a hard and fast rule, never to see
an exception.” He prefers the term “paradigmatic,” or perhaps better, ‘
“normal” by which he means “the model to be desired and followed,”
but by no means a rule without exception. Conversations of Gordon
Fee with the Biblical Studies and Philosophy Department Faculty,
Evangel College, March, 1983. However, the semantic range of these
words has such an extensive overlap that, without a concise definition
by the speaker as to how she is using one or the other of these words, the
degree of theological agreement or disagreement between the parties of
the conversation remains uncommunicated.
16. J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, N.J.:
Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984), 199, seeks to suggest that the
Pentecostal neo-charismatic movement is less distinctive than it would
like to portray itself. See the brief review by Zenas Bicket in Advance
20: I (November, 1984), 37, for his concern about the overall negative
tone of Packer for Pentecostalism.
17. David H. Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology
(Philadelphia: Fortress Pres, 1975), 163. It is important for the reader
to realize that Kelsey’s book is not a prescriptive statement of how one
ought to do theology, but rather a detailed analysis of what we all do
when we do theology. Also, for those who are not presently acquainted
with Kelsey’s work, his use of “imaginative” does not imply fantasy or
flights of imagination. Rather, he is speaking of a thoroughly studied,
thought out (in Pentecostal terminology we would say “inspired”)
attempt to articulate the essence of the theologian’s community of
18. Ibid. 193
19. Hardy W. Steinberg made this same assertion during a sermon at
the Faculty Prayers at Evangel College on September 10, 1984.
20. Kelsey captures the normative function of theology in its essence.
“As a critical activity, theology is inescapably a “reformist” activity. It
is not exhausted by descriptive analysis of the forms of action and
speech currently practiced in the church’s common life. Rather, it
consists mainly in proposing how they ought to be reformed if the
Church is to remain faithful to her task and to retain her self identity.
Ibid., 159-160.


21. “Biblical Hermeneutics: The Academic Language of Evangelical
Identity,” Union Theological Seminary Quarterly 22:2 (Winter, 1977),
89,90, especially 94, n. 33.
22. The basic directions of this “neo-liberalism” and its relation to
the Pentecostal movements will be discussed below.
23. The Journal of Religion 41:3 (July, 1961 ), 194-205.
24. Gilkey, Ibid., 194, 196, 204-205. See Brevard Childs Biblical
Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), for a
comprehensive review of the rise and fall of the Biblical Theology
25. Gilkey, Ibid., 203.
26. Gilkey, Ibid., 199. Gilkey cites B. Anderson’s Understanding the
Old Testament (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1957) and G. E.
Wright’s Book of the Acts of God (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959)
in his article.
27. William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and Fredric
Wm. Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), viii.
28. Let me also make it clear that I am fully aware of the same
possibility for my students. There is the danger that there may be those
among my students who will be inclined to be favorable to the
suggestions of this paper because of their personal knowledge of my
faith and commitment to the Pentecostal movement, particularly as
defined by the Assemblies of God. However, I am sure that will not be a
problem among those gathered for this meeting, nor among later
readers who may find my imaginative judgment of the Pentecostal
discrimen to lead to some uncomfortably new specific suggestions.
29. LaSor, Ibid., 125.
30. Ibid., 127, n. 27. See John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and
Conquest, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement
Series, 5, (1978).
31. John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1981), Third Edition, 123, n. 36.
32. Ibid., 133.
33. The period of the Judges can fit into the thirteenth century date
without doing any real violence to the text. The collapse of the 410
years allowed by the fifteenth century date to the approximately 180
years of the thirteenth century is possible. But to squeeze the period of
the Judges in between a twelfth century conquest and the rise of Saul
(c. 1020 BC) and David (1000 BC) is nigh unto impossible.
34. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
35. This is the same reason I insist all my students own, read, and
apply Mortimer Adler and Charles VanDoren’s, How to Read a Book
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972).


36. The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 25.
37. “What Shall We Do with the Bible,” Interpretation 25:11
(January, 1971), 100; and “Nuclear Eschatology and the Study of
Religion,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin 13:3 (February/ March, 1983), 8,
38. Schubert M. Ogden, The Reality of God (New York: Harper and
Row, 1966. Cf. Langdon Gilkey, “God,” in Peter C. Hodgson and
Robert H. King, eds. Christian Theology: An Introduction to Its
Traditions and Tasks Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 62-63,
“(modernity has) challenged the very possibility of an idea of God, its
knowability, it coherence, and its meaning; to much of modernity such
an idea is on a number of grounds an impossible idea and, as a
consequence, the whole enterprise of a theistic religion appears as a
futile, expensive, and even harmful activity.”
39. Kaufman, “What Shall We Do with the Bible?” 100. It is not
within the purview of this article to discuss the full range of the
implications of the axiom for “orthodox” theology. But, we probably
should mention in passing, that a Pentecostal theology and
hermeneutic will have to ask some hard questions of “orthodoxy” as
the “usual or established doctrines” as opposed to “orthodoxy” as the
“right belief.” This will be discussed more specifically in the following
40. Kaufman, “Nuclear Eschatology and the Study of Religion,” 8-9.
1 think that the term “deconstruction” is a bit too polite, diplomatic, or
euphemistic for the course of action Kaufman is urging upon us. Still,
one cannot but sympathize with Kaufman against two of the theo-
logically inappropriate responses toward the potential of nuclear
holocaust coming from Christian traditionalists that have raised his
ire. The one suggests that “God is sovereign; God is good; God will not
allow such a tragedy to occur. Therefore, Christians need not worry
about it.” The other suggests, “if a nuclear exchange occurs it will be a
part of God’s sovereign plan for the Great Tribulation and is not to be
resisted.” Neither is an appropriate biblical or human response to the
human suffering and sin a nuclear holocaust would involve. However,
as for Kaufman’s proposed solution, I would say that a maxim from
Seneca that I try to keep in mind at all times applies. “Some remedies
are more grave than the dangers themselves.”
41. Ervin, Ibid., 15-16.
42. Gilkey, Ibid., 71. The very seductiveness of neo-orthodox
thought, whether of the older type or new evangelical orthodox, is also
evidence of the pervasiveness of this “naturalism.”
43. Quebedeaux, Ibid., 133.


44. Gilkey, Ibid., 196. Gilkey uses univocal in contrast to analogical,
rather than in contrast to equivocal. One could also use the word
unequivocal to describe the way in which the scholarly consensus has
interpreted the words “act” and “speak” to have been used by the
biblical writers.
45. Kelsey, Ibid., 159.
46. Ibid., 159-160.

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