Howard M. Ervin

41eTLmculdLThe Life & Legacy of Howard M. Ervin by Daniel Isgrigg

Howard M. Ervin, a Spirit-filled American Baptist pastor and Pentecostal scholar, paved the way for other scholars to defend the Pentecostal faith in the academic world. During the last half of the twentieth century, charismatics, evangelicals and Pentecostals scholars have debated the nature and function of Spirit baptism. Early in the debate, Howard Ervin offered a view of Spirit baptism that centered on Luke’s unique pneumatology in Luke-Acts and meaning of the term “filled with the Spirit.” Ervin’s work, These Are Not Drunken as Ye Suppose (1968), was one of the first books to enter the scholarly debate from the Pentecostal position. Some of the leading Evangelical scholars, such as Anthony Hoekema and James D. G. Dunn, would offer a critique of Ervin and the growing Pentecostal position in the early 70’s. In response, Ervin offered his own rebuttal against renowned New Testament scholar James Dunn’s treatment of the Pentecostal position in Conversion-Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit.[1] Today scholars are still debating the nature of Spirit baptism and what it means to be filled with the Spirit.  Though his works were written in a different time, Howard Ervin’s pneumatology can speak to the theological issues of today.

Biography

Howard Matthew Ervin was born into the family of Harry and Florence Ervin on September 21st, 1915 in the small coal mining town of St. Nicholas, Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school, this self-described “practical agnostic” had little interest in religion until he encountered the witness of a Baptist minister one day in his father’s barber shop in Mahanoy City, PA. As he was considering the minister’s words one evening, Jesus appeared to him in his room and he saw him face to face. That night, December 23rd, 1939, Howard Ervin entered the kingdom of God at the age of 25. Recognizing his call to ministry Ervin pursued his training at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. It was at Eastern where he met his Latvian-born bride to be, Marta Vaskis. Dr. and Mrs. Ervin married in April of 1944. Scan10181Together they would eventually have three daughters, Gretchen, Deborah and Judith as well as five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.[3] Ervin continued his education at Eastern as he completed his B.A. and Th.B. degree. He also earned a M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from Asia Institute and a B.D. from New Brunswick Theological Seminary.[4] As impressive as the previous four degrees were, Ervin went on to receive a Th.D. in Old Testament Studies from Princeton Theological Seminary while ministering in New Jersey. With a keen theological mind and a scholar’s vocabulary, Ervin has the ability to speak on any biblical or theological subject with excellence.

Though he is a scholar of impeccable credentials, Ervin has a pastor’s heart. On January 17th, 1946, Howard Ervin was ordained by the Northern Baptist Convention of New Jersey. Ervin’s first opportunity to pastor came when he was asked to fill the vacant pulpit of Dr. A.L. Murray, the man who had witnessed to him in his father’s barbershop. He was appointed as the interim pastor at the First Baptist Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania while Dr. Murray fulfilled his military chaplain position. Three years later, in February of 1946, he left Pennsylvania for Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey to pastor Central Baptist Church. He was recommended by the previous pastor, Richard Shearer who was Ervin’s classmate at Eastern Baptist Seminary. After three years, Ervin left Central and founded Emmanuel Baptist Church in February of 1949. It was his seventeen years there that would be the fertile ground for the experiences that would fuel over fifty years of Pentecostal belief and teaching.

 

Oral Roberts University

74620013In 1966, Pastor Howard Ervin became Professor Howard Ervin when he joined the founding faculty of the nation’s first charismatic university, Oral Roberts University. Prior to Ervin joining the faculty, Oral Roberts had invited Ervin to be an advisor in the creation of the School of Theology.[14] Ervin was asked personally by Oral Roberts and Dr. R.O. Corvin the dean of the seminary, to be one of the founding members of the faculty of ORU.[15] The founder, first president and current chancellor of Oral Roberts University commented that when building the university, “God knew I needed Howard Ervin.”[16]   Because of his impressive credentials, he was quickly drawn into leadership and served as the Associate Dean of the School of Theology.[17] In the summer of 1967, Howard Ervin became the acting dean of the School of Theology. As he quickly encountered the challenges of running a new seminary, Ervin realized that the young university was not ready for a Seminary. In 1968, he asked Oral to close the seminary.  With the seminary now closed, he began the process of building an accredited undergraduate Theology department. Howard Ervin served as the Chairman of the Department of Theology from 1969-1978 and designed an excellent academic undergraduate program. In 1978 the School of Theology and Missions was reopened and Ervin became the Professor of Old Testament and the seminary’s most senior professor. Though qualified for leadership, he preferred his first love of teaching. Dr. Ervin taught classes in his two areas of expertise, Old Testament and Pneumatology. One class became known as Dr. Ervin’s signature class; GTHE 692: Pneumatology. Ervin taught this class every year of his forty year academic career.

ervin emeritasHe has received multiple Outstanding Faculty awards. In 2006, Ervin was named the outstanding teacher of theology and the outstanding teacher of the University.[18] Howard Ervin retired from his duties as professor in the Fall of 2006. At age 91, Ervin completed a teaching career that spanned 40 years. This writer was privileged to be part of the final Pneumatology class of Dr. Ervin’s career in the Spring semester of 2006. Ervin passed away at the age of 93 in August of 2009.

Ervin’s Legacy

Ervin Oct 1966 -4Howard M. Ervin’s pilgrimage into Pentecost has produced a legacy of influence that reaches from the university to the local church. He is respected by Pentecostals, evangelicals and sacramentalists. His work with FGBMFI and ORU has brought the message of Pentecost to people from all backgrounds who desired to experience the reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives. His scholarly works are recognized by Pentecostals as groundbreaking exegetical defenses of Pentecostal theology and exegesis. His influence on the students and faculty of Oral Roberts University has spanned 40 years. These students have brought the message of Pentecost all around the world. Thousands were lead into the baptism in the Holy Spirit through the many years of Oral Roberts Ministry Partners Seminars.[1] Howard Ervin’s presence has truly been felt by people around the world.

Howard Ervin was at the cutting edge of Pentecostal apologetics. Yet his works did not have a broad or lasting effect on Pentecostal scholarship. Ervin wrote in a time when many Pentecostals focused on the practical and experiential and were not necessarily interested in the exegesis of Pentecost. Ervin helped pave the way for the explosion of work in the area of pneumatology and Luke-Acts in particular. In this way, his books may have come before their time.

Perhaps Ervin’s greatest contribution was in the lives of the people that he ministered to. From parishioners, to members of mainline denominations, to students, to faculty, Howard Ervin’s legacy is the impact his life and ministry had on individuals. This author was greatly impacted by Dr. Ervin’s commitment to scholarship with a pastor’s heart. His Pneumatology class showed this author that one can be both Pentecostal and sound in one’s theology and exegesis. Ervin exemplifies the commitment to the Word and Spirit. His pilgrimage into Pentecost demonstrates an example of how the Holy Spirit can truly change one’s life. But Dr. Ervin did not allow these experiences to be just for his own personal edification. From the beginning he knew that what he found in his relationship with God was to be shared with others. He broke down the usual barriers between denominations with the unifying experience of the fullness of the Spirit. This will be his legacy when he stands before the Savior that he so faithfully served.

His view of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a comprehensive one. His views are held together in a consistent whole that is true to the scripture and explains all the difficult passages and issues. This paper is a call for Pentecostals to re-examine his views again and discover the strength of his theology for Pentecostals. Ervin will not be accepted by everyone, but Pentecostals can take advantage of the commitment to scripture and the quality of scholarship that Ervin brings to the debate. Though his works were written in a different time, the message is still valid for today. The next generation of Pentecostals can stand on the shoulders of those who came before. This generation of Pentecostals can rediscover the strength of Howard M. Ervin’s Pneumatology for the 21st Century Church.

Bibliography

Howard Ervin is not only an educator and pastor, he is a capable writer. He produced six books on the subject of pneumatology between 1968 and 2002 as well as several articles. His works show the quality and scholarship that he maintains. In 1968, Ervin produced his first work on the Pentecostal experience under the title, These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose.[2]   This work outlines all Dr. Ervin learned and taught in his church on the subject of Spirit baptism. Considered one of the first scholarly works from a Pentecostal position, Ervin makes a strong exegetical argument for the purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues as evidence, one baptism-one filling and an evaluation of spiritual gifts. The tone and spirit of this text is apologetic. Ervin systematically explains each of the issues of Spirit baptism and Acts. This work is written for the pastor or educator and masterfully reflects the practical and theological arguments of his pneumatology.

In 1971, Ervin published a series of letters that he had written to a member of his former congregation. And Forbid Not to Speak with Tongues[3] contains answers to Tony’s questions brought about by Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s critique of tongues. Ervin answers pastorally the questions addressed in his previous book. This short book was written to be understandable by the layman and easy to read. Ervin shows his ability to expose the exegesis and presuppositions of the anti-Pentecostals.

In 1972, Logos published his third work, That Which Ye See and Hear.[4] As a series of essays, Ervin discusses further issues brought about by questions raised in his first work. Touted as a “Layman’s Guide to the Holy Spirit,” this writer would find it hard to recommend this work to laymen. Ervin seems to stray from his usual clear and logical arguments. But this work does take on topics such as an understanding of the full metaphor, the purpose of Pentecost and tongues as prophecy and signs.

In 1972, Ervin contributed to the book, The Layman’s Commentary on the Holy Spirit, edited by his friend and colleague, John Rea.[5] Ervin was one of the contributing editors along with R.O Corvin, the original dean of the School of Theology at ORU, David du Plessis, and Rodman Williams. This work is a commentary on the Holy Spirit, but there is no direct reference to any one particular editor’s comments. Ervin’s contributions are not discernable from any of the other editors.

In 1984, Ervin produced his stunning exegetical response to James Dunn’s classic with his work, Conversion-Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit.[6] This work provides an argument-by-argument critique of Dunn’s treatment of Pentecostal theology. With additional exegetical support for the Pentecostal viewpoint and a defense of his own views, Ervin shows how the Pentecostal exegesis is sound and consistent. Simple arguments as well as complex exegesis make this work important for any Pentecostal looking for solid defense of their faith.

In 1987, Ervin republished his classic work These are Not Drunken as Ye Suppose as Spirit Baptism: A Biblical Investigation, published by Hendrickson.[7] This work re-organizes and clarifies some of his best arguments. With added clarity and additional exegetical arguments, as well as a restructuring of the progression of the book, Spirit Baptism provides a fresh look at Ervin’s Pentecostal theology and is an excellent addition to the Pentecostal library. This book provides the same scholarship but adds the insights made over the previous twenty years of speaking, lecturing, and teaching. With a logical progression and clear arguments, it remains one of the best explanations of Pentecostalism.

In 2002, Ervin published his latest book, Healing: Sign of the Kingdom.[8] This book outlines clearly his understanding of healing as a sign that the kingdom of God is present. He discusses the difference between signs and wonders and spiritual gifts of healing. He discusses the nature of healing and the difficult questions of healing and faith. The book is well written with easy to follow arguments. At just over a hundred pages it is a great work for the scholar or layman.

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The Author with Dr. Howard M. Ervin in 2008.

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[2]Ervin, These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose.

[3]Howard M. Ervin, And Forbid Not To Speak With Tongues (Plainfield, NJ: Logos Publishing, 1971)

[4]Howard M. Ervin, That Which You See and Hear (Plainfield, NJ: Logos Publishing, 1972).

[5]The Layman’s Commentary on the Holy Spirit, ed. John Rae (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1972

[6]Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[7]Howard M. Ervin, Spirit Baptism: A Biblical Investigation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987)

[8]Howard M. Ervin, Healing: Sign of the Kingdom (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).

[1]Howard M. Ervin, “Pilgrimage into Pentecost,” Ervin Publications, Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK, n.d., audiocassette

[2]Charles Farrah and Steve Durasoff, “Biographic and Bibliographical Sketch,” in Essays on Apostolic Themes: Studies in Honor of Howard M. Ervin Presented to Him by Colleagues and Friends on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Paul Elbert (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1985), xi

[3] Marta was Ervin’s love and constant companion until she passed away in October of 2004.

[4]P. H. Alexander, “Ervin, Howard Matthew,” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1988), 263.

[5]Howard Ervin, Professor of Old Testament at Oral Roberts University, interview by author, Tulsa, OK, 9 February 2006.

[6]Ervin, interview by author, 9 February 2006.

[7]Ervin, interview by author, 9 February 2006.

[8] Howard M. Ervin, “Pilgrimage into Pentecost,” Ervin Publications, Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK, n.d., audiocassette.

[9]Ervin, “Pilgrimage into Pentecost.”

[10] Howard M. Ervin, “My Testimony,” Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University,

Tulsa, OK, 1968, audiocassette.

[11]Howard M. Ervin, “My Testimony,” Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University,Tulsa, OK, 1968, audiocassette.

[12]Howard M. Ervin, “My Testimony,” Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK, 3 October 1969, audiocassette,

[13]Paul Elbert, “Editors Preface,” in Essays on Apostolic Themes: Studies in Honor of Howard M. Ervin Presented to Him by Colleagues and Friends on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday. ed. Paul Elbert (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1985), xii.

[14]Howard M. Ervin, “For Such a Time as This.” Outreach, no. 1 (1965): 24.

[15]Howard M. Ervin, Professor of Old Testament at Oral Roberts University, interview by author, Tulsa, OK, 26 February 2007.

[16]Letter to Howard Ervin read by Dr. Ralph Fagin, Vice President for Academic Affairs, “Howard M. Ervin Retirement Reception,” Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK, 5 December 2006, Mp3 recording by author.

[17]Farrah and Durasoff, xii.

[18]Elizabeth Porter, “Dr. Howard Ervin Retires after 40 Years of Teaching.” The University Oracle, 8 December 2006, sec. A, p. 2.

 

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