This past weekend I went to my first PhD seminar at the Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was an amazing experience. I am so excited to be part of the Bangor University (Wales) PhD program. I was so impressed with the environment of great scholarship and warm hospitality. I was able to sit around a table with 15 other future Pentecostal scholars and discuss issues important to my research. And the scholars who lead the program are not only brilliant, but were also very kind and encouraging. For my pursuits in Pentecostal Theology, I don’t believe there is a better program. But Bangor was not my original plan when I set out to get a PhD nearly a decade ago.
In 2007, when I graduated with a MA in Theology from ORU, I began to make plans to apply to PhD programs. My wife and I had always wanted to live in Great Britain. Doing a PhD there was the perfect way to see that dream come true. My ORU advisor, Dr. Daniel Thimell had studied in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen and his friend and fellow PhD student Trevor Hart was now a professor at St. Andrews in Scotland. Dr. Hart had published a work on eschatology and his colleague, Richard Bauckham is one of the foremost experts on the Book of Revelation. Bauckham’s book The Theology of The Book of Revelation was one of the reasons I wanted to study eschatology in my PhD. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.
I applied in 2008 to St. Andrews and was accepted into the PhD program. However, we found out that St. Andrews also wanted me to do a MPhil (which is very common) before entering the PhD program. That meant I would have to add another year to my study there. Not long after, we found out we were pregnant with our first child. I didn’t see how I could move my wife and new-born child to Scotland and have no way to provide for them for 5-6 years. We discussed it, prayed about it and I decided to decline my acceptance to St. Andrews. It was very hard to do because it had been a dream for so long. But God had a plan to fulfill that dream in a different way than I thought.
At that moment, the dream of doing a PhD in the UK was over. I needed a new dream now. I knew I had to go back to the basics of what I knew for sure. I knew I wanted to get a PhD. I knew I wanted to write about Pentecostal Eschatology. I knew I wanted my PhD to be from a UK University. PhD programs are different in the UK than they are in the US. The US system begins with a couple of years of classes before you begin doing your research and writing. The British PhD is purely research and writing. That sounded much better to me.
While I was preparing my thesis proposal for St. Andrews, I contacted Dr. Peter Althouse, a Pentecostal scholar at Southeastern (Assemblies of God) University. Dr. Althouse had just published a work on Pentecostal Eschatology and I wanted to find out what he thought of my thesis idea. Peter told me that if I ever changed my mind about St. Andrews, that Southeastern was offering a PhD through Bangor University in Wales. He thought my research interests would be perfect for the new program. Months later when I made the decision to decline acceptance to St. Andrews, I knew I had another option that could fit my research. So I decided to join the Bangor program at Southeastern.
The Bangor PhD in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies was founded at Bangor University in Wales by Pentecostal Scholar and Educator, William K. Kay. Professor Kay began this program to offer PhD opportunities to students interested in Pentecostal theology and history. Dr. Kay began working with Southeastern University in Lakeland Florida to offer the PhD to American students. Dr. Kay, Dr. Althouse and several others would supervise students in this program and students only had to come to SEU twice a year to fulfill the residency requirement for a UK PhD. I decided to apply, was accepted and began my new journey to PhD in Pentecostal Eschatology in 2009. William Kay and Peter Althouse agreed to supervise me and I began working on my thesis.
In March of 2010 when I came to New Life Center to be the lead pastor I decided to drop out of the program for a while. I didn’t have the emotional energy (or monetary resources) to pastor my first church and work on my PhD. Plus, the program went through some changes that resulted in Dr. Kay moving to another university in Wales.
Five years later, I am back in the program. Bangor’s Centre for Pentecostal Theology is now operating out of the campus of the Church of God Seminary in Cleveland Tennessee. The new director is John Christopher Thomas, a well-known NT scholar in the area of Pentecostal studies. CPT has grown in its influence in the past 5 years. This Bangor PhD is producing many great Pentecostal scholars. CPT has its own journal (Journal for Pentecostal Theology) and its own academic press (CPT Press). Most of the dissertations done at CPT have the opportunity to be published after graduating from Bangor.
As I look back on this pilgrimage into my PhD studies, the move to the Bangor Program was very important for me in several ways:
1. Bangor is a Pentecostal PhD. My PhD at St. Andrews would be in Theology, but at CPT I get to do my best work in the area of my own Pentecostal tradition with the input of Pentecostal scholars. Being at Bangor has helped me realize that what is most important to me is to contribute to Pentecostal theology. That is where I want to make my mark.
2. My supervisors at Bangor are experts in my field of Pentecostal Eschatology. William Kay is a prolific scholar in the areas of Pentecostalism, the Assemblies of God, and Eschatology. J.C. Thomas is a Biblical scholar who has written about Pentecostal History, Eschatology and the Book of Revelation. And Peter Althouse is a expert in Pentecostal Eschatology and is an example of how an AG professor can make a positive contribution to the conversation about current AG doctrine. I couldn’t ask for better theological mentors than these.
3. Bangor has allowed me to stay where we are, raise our family around our extended family, and pastor a wonderful AG church. Choosing Bangor gave me opportunity to do ministry, provide for my family and gain experience in being a Pentecostal Pastor, not just a Pentecostal scholar. This would not have been the case most likely in Scotland.
4. Bangor will provide many more opportunities for my work. I have better access to opportunities to publish in the JPT journal and my dissertation will get published with CPT Press when I am finished. Plus, CPT is where Pentecostals are doing research right now. This center is growing in its reach and influence.
We didn’t get to live the dream of living in the UK. But God is fulfilling that dream in a different way through this Bangor PhD from CPT. I am so blessed to be part of the outstanding scholarship, nurturing peer relationships and accessibility provided in this program. I am right where God wants me to be.