Making Progress

Making_Progress_ComputerI often get asked how things are going on writing my thesis.  I am so blessed that people are interested in what I am doing. So I thought it may be time for an update on my progress. Since I rejoined my PhD program in 2015, I have been writing in various chapters but none of them were complete enough to submit.  Last year I concentrated on completing chapter one and in November I submitted it.

In March, I stepped down from my position as Pastor because I felt like the Lord told us it was time.  However, I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do next.  All I knew to do was to write. So that’s what I have been doing.  The last two months have been a sovereign gift to my life.  I have made tremendous progress.    Since I left the church, I have been able to work full time on writing while we have been waiting on God for what he wants me to do next.  Turns out, for now, this is what he wants me to do. He wants me to make progress.  I have been able to spend most of my days and many of my nights writing.  It has been a wonderful gift. It hasn’t been easy and sometimes its quite lonely. But truly, I have enjoyed it all.  It feels like a true sabbatical.

I have to say, that without Amonda, none of this would be possible.  She has been amazing. She has been willing to sacrifice to allow me this time to work toward completion. She has steadied me when I get nervous and re-assured me of God’s plan and showed faith even when I have doubted. Most of all, she has supported me and the call on my life and for our family.  I am so grateful for her. I am so blessed. There is no greater gift in my life than she is. Since we are not pastoring we have been able to worship together as a family for the first time in our married life.  We also have been able to visit different churches of some of my pastor friends.  I even got to be a guest speaker a few weeks back.

The past two months have been a tremendous season of grace and progress.  Since March I have completed chapter 2 and chapter 3 and submitted them to my supervisor.  Now I am working on chapter 4, which is mostly written, and hope to submit it later this month.  Also, Chapter 5 is about half way written.  This leaves only my final chapter to be written.  So in total, I have about 4 1/2 of 6 chapters written, 3 of which have been submitted. My page total is somewhere around 230 of 250 pages. I can see the finish line!  Praise God!

Since I have made so much progress I wanted to share a brief synopsis of each chapter for those who want to know more about what I am researching.

Chapter 1:  This is the introduction chapter where I outline the scope of the study and the question I am trying to answer. My main research question is why did the Assemblies of God chose the particular positions on eschatology that they chose.  Four out of the sixteen doctrines in the Statement of Fundamental Truths has to do with eschatology. Why is that?  And is the eschatology they chose reflective of their Pentecostal Spirituality or was it just adopted from the primary evangelical positions of the day.

Chapter 2: This is my literature review. I look at all of the scholarchip pertaining the the AG and to the topic of Pentecostal eschatology. You might be surprised to know that Pentecostal eschatology is a popular topic among scolars today.  This chapter helps paint the picture of what they are saying.

Chapter 3: In this chapter I look at the rise of Pentecostalism and the influences that were present in 19th Century Evangelicalism that gave rise to the Pentecostal movement.  Here I trace back all the language of the Holy Spirit and the eschatological metaphors, such as the Bride of Christ and Latter rain, into the movement. I look at the eschatology of Darby, Scofield, Parham, Seymour, and Durham.  From there I build a narrative of what type of theology and eschatology contributed to the forming of the AG.  I conclude by discussing the role of the AG as part of the Finished Work Stream of Pentecostalism and how that influenced their theology.

Chapter 4: In this chapter I discuss the origin of the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths.  I go through each of the eschatological truths and trace the ways in which they have been revised and changed over the past 100 years. (There is whole lot of misunderstanding about what the AG actually believes!).  I also chart all of the doctrinal controversies the AG has responded to  over the years and how that effected the AG positions.

Chapter 5:  IN this chapter I go through 100 years of articles on eschatology in the Evangel.  I also outline the eschatological positions in the various doctrinal books published by the AG.  The goal is to chart the way in which the AG has expressed eschatology and the nuances of how they have seen it function as a part of their Pentecostal theology.

Chapter 6:  This is my concluding chapter where I will summarize my findings and make some suggestions for areas in which AG eschatology needs to develop. The final goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of AG eschatology.

Keep me in you prayers as I continue to make progress. If I keep my current pace, I feel like I could potentially complete my writing by the end of summer. Its an ambitious goal but one I am working hard to try to accomplish.  The rest I am leaving in God’s hands. He has a place for me.  Until then, we will continue to wait on the Lord.

 

 

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The Assemblies of God and Varieties of Pentecostal Theology

20160523_092405This past week was my latest doctoral seminar for my PhD at Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, TN. Every time I go to these meetings I am so very encouraged not only as a scholar but also by the way in which the individuals take seriously the pursuit of articulating a truly Pentecostal theology.  Anyone who attends a Pentecostal or Charismatic church knows that Spirit-filled people just have a different perspective on spirituality and theology. The Spirit plays a large role in how we worship, how we read the scripture and how we do theology.  Those essential differences is what the CPT is trying to explore.

For my part, I am researching Assemblies of God eschatology and asking the question, “Is there anything uniquely “Pentecostal” about AG doctrine?  My chapter I submitted for this seminar was building the case that there are two approaches to Pentecostal theology that affect the way in which the AG does Pentecostal theology.

The first approach is the historical AG position.  It sees Pentecostalism as a stream of Evangelical theology that has experienced Spirit baptism.  This model was adopted very early.  As early as 1919, J. Roswell Flower commented that the AG was ‘just like all other Evangelicals’ but believed in the additional doctrine of Spirit baptism.  Later, a group of presbyters who were charged with re-writing the constitution proposed that the AG change its name to “Pentecostal Evangelical Church.”  The measure was not adopted.  Yet, this way of seeing ourselves as essentially the same as Evangelicals except we believe in the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit has been the way the AG has seen itself for the past 100 years.

The second approach is a recent move among Pentecostal scholars who appreciate the Protestant/Evangelical heritage, but argue that Pentecostalism has its own unique way of seeing theology.  The Spirit not only effects a Pentecostal view of Spirit baptism, but it also effects our view of Salvation, sanctification, healing, the Lord Supper, Baptism, ecclesiology and eschatology.  Not to mention the ways in which Pentecostals practice community, gifts, worship, and prayer are all effected by the role of the Spirit.  Evangelical theology is not sufficient to express Pentecostal Theology.  Pentecostal theology is more than just Baptist or Reformed theology plus an openness to the Holy Spirit.  It is a complete foundational orientation in both thought and practice.

Just to give you an idea of how this works out, my fellow PhD students are studying the following topics:

What is a Pentecostal understanding of water baptism?

What is a Pentecostal understanding of sanctification?

How does the the Spirit effect the reading of the Torah?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Jeremiah’s lament passages?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Ezekiel’s visions?

How does the Spirit effect the way in which Pentecostals worship?

How does the Spirit function as one reads the Spirit passages in Judges, Kings and Samuel?

How does the Spirit help with the memories of terror and the ways in which that effect society?

As you can see from this list, the role of the Spirit is vital as an orientation for the ways in which Pentecostals are reading, thinking, theologizing, expressing doctrine and relating to society.  This is Pentecostal theology.  It is a Spirit-oriented expression of every area of faith and practice.  It recognizes that we as Pentecostals do theology from our experience with the Spirit. Its more than just Protestant theology plus speaking in tongues.

This is what I love about this program. I am so blessed to be a part of it. I am excited about the future of theology for the AG as we join in the conversation and look at our own doctrine.  There is so much more than needs to be done to express AG theology in ways that capture that Spirit-orientation toward a unique perspective on theology.  Spirit baptism has been a hallmark of our theology. But we still need the Spirit to inform our whole theology so that we are Pentecostal from first to last, rather than just adding on a Pentecostal doctrine to someone else’s theology.  I am hoping my contribution to that conversation will spur on others to join in the conversation.

 

Pilgrimage Into PhD Studies Pt. 2


20150519_121041This 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.

Bangor_UniversityThe 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.

20150518_154721Five 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.