Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

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AG Doctrine: What Was, Is, and What Should Be

book-banner-61In my time studying AG doctrine I have had many conversations with people about how I feel about AG eschatology.  Usually people are asking about my work because they are uncomfortable with some particular point of AG doctrine that they would like to see changed.  The more one is exposed to education and differing point of views, the more that ministers want to see doctrinal positions develop or change to keep up with theological development.  For instance, there are some who would argue for the need for a different eschatological position than the AG’s historic premillennial and dispensational position.  As a student of theology, I understand that there other positions out there that would perhaps fit our theological orientation better. I understand the desire to see doctrine develop, but I also think it is important to better understand what WAS and IS before we can properly discuss what SHOULD BE.   Let me explain.

What WAS the AG position?  This is the question that historians like myself are trying to answer. This is what my dissertation is dealing with. I am attempting to understand where the doctrines came from, who influenced them and what has been the historic position.  But history makes no judgement on what was. It is simply is telling the story. In my opinion, very few people understand nuances of the actual historical position of the AG on eschatology. Many times people have criticized the position without really understanding how it came about.  First you must know what it was before you can begin to understand what it is.

What IS the AG position?  This is the role the denomination plays.  Every group has the right to define its doctrinal position. For the AG, Statement of Fundamental Truths has defined the beliefs of this fellowship.  There may be some who are not comfortable with where the AG stands on various issues (such as eschatology or initial evidence) and are interested in seeing these positions change. But how realistic is that expectation? Changing official doctrine of an established denomination is not an easy task.  The AG must have an official position that it upholds and they also must defend that position in order to maintain unity.  Even if George Wood personally felt like aspects of AG doctrine needed to change (and I am not saying he does), his personal convictions would not change the position.  No one person has the right to define the fellowship. General Superintendent E. S. Williams said in the Introduction of PC Nelson’s Bible Doctrines (1936), “It is not the prerogative of any one person infallibly to interpret for the entire General Council its doctrinal declaration… Neither can a lone individual, though elected to office in the General Council, (can) speak infallibly for the entire Council Fellowship in endorsing the work of one person who seeks to interpret the meaning of the Fundamental Truths adopted by the body.”

What SHOULD be the AG position? This is an altogether different question and it is answered differently by different people.  The historian does not necessarily have an answer; it is what it was. The denomination does have an answer; it is what it is. The theologian on the other hand can answer it differently. The theologian’s job is to reflect on what it could be.  They can explore the breadth of theological reflection and weigh out the positions in order to find out if there is a better way. For example, there are scholars who are saying that there are ways in which AG eschatology can be more ‘Pentecostal’ in its orientation.  This process of imagining what it could be and even what should be is what theologians do.

This is where many ministers get frustrated. The more educated ministers are the more they are interested in this reflective process. But they are expecting the denomination to act like a college of theologians.  The denomination is not built to do this kind of theological reflection. Denominations are built to proclaim and to preserve doctrine.  At the same time, denominations get frustrated with theologians. They expect theologians to fulfill a dogmatic role of  defending the positions of the church. But that is not what they are designed to do. The theologian’s task is to explore the possibilities and suggest changes that could be made or developed. (For a great example of this discussion see Richard Dresslehaus, ‘What Can The Academy Do For The Church’ AJPS 3.2 (2000), pp. 319-323).

 

Remembering that the way doctrine is discussed is different in each of these realms can help in aiding the conversation within a theological community without making enemies of the various parties.  It can also help ministers understand why things don’t change as easily as perhaps we think we should.  It can also help the denomination to avoid being suspicious of the academy.  We have to work together.  The more cooperation and understanding there is between these theological and ecclesiastical institutions the more possibility there is for development of AG doctrine.

Questions about the Development of AG Doctrine

header-doctrine
The past few months haven’t been as productive as I have needed them to be. The holiday season interrupted the usual rhythm of my weekly schedule. It has been harder to carve out the time to write.  So I have been using this opportunity to do some reading in the area of the development of doctrine.  Since my study is an account of how Assemblies of God doctrine began and was developed, this subject is very important.  Some of the questions I have been asking in my research are:

  1. When the AG wrote its statement of faith, what theological influences were they drawing from that would constitute what AG doctrine would become?
  2. After AG doctrine was articulated, how would those who wrote books or commented on the doctrine understand it?
  3. How has AG doctrine grown or developed over the past 100 years?

Inherent in these questions is a question of AG methodology.  The statement of fundamental truths of the Assemblies of God is written as list of “bible truths.”  In as far as the founders understood it, what they articulated is what the ‘Bible teaches.”   If you account for doctrine in that way, doctrine becomes simple statements that are either true or false.  The are simply propositional statements of perceived truth by the community that declared them.

Theology, though, does not work that way.  As knowledge continues to grow and research is done, the field of understanding what the Church believes is growing.  In that sense, it is totally possible that we may know more about a theological subject or concept than in the day it was written. We also have the ecumenical problem of how different theological concepts lead to different and new theological communities.  The Pentecostal movement is one such community.  Born from a mix of Weslyan -holiness and reformed-baptistic influences, Pentecostal movement adopted ideas from these other communities and brought it into their own community, adding to it their own distinctive doctrine of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The Pentecostal faith itself is a development of doctrine, not just a set of beliefs drawn from the Bible.

Early AG leaders adopted the evangelical view of doctrine as simply propositional statements of truth.  In thier minds, statements of truth are plain in the scripture and are always true in every context.  This is a reflection of Princetonian/proto-fundamentalist understanding of truth.  It sees the bible as a simple book of facts about God.  But where is the Holy Spirit in this view?  Does the Spirit continue revelation or only reveal that which is already revealed?

More modern approaches to doctrine recognize that at some level, doctrine is located in time and space. There is a historical and cultural situation in which doctrine arises. And these understandings are important for exegeting doctrine.  So the community in which doctrine is developed and the circumstances in which it is developed are important as well. How do we understand doctrine and how can we provide space for doctrine to develop without violating the sence in which doctrine is true?  I have enjoyed reading on this topic and here is a few ideas I think are helpful in this conversation:

  • George Lindbeck argues that doctrine should be understood as the language of the community. His cultural linguistic theory understands doctrine with these hermeneutical understandings.  If a doctrine has a cultural history, then such doctrines are allowed to develop as the community develops.
  • Jaroslav Pelikan also understands doctrine as truth located in the community. He defines doctrine as that which is “believed, taught and confessed.” (Pelikan, The Emergance of the Catholic Tradition, p. 4). Doctrine begins with the experience of faith, that faith is then taught from the scriptures and in turn that understanding of faith that is taught is adopted by the community as a confession.
  • Richard Heyduck also believes that development of doctrine is important if any community wants to preserve its doctrine.  He argues that doctrine has focused on the validity of doctrinal positions. But a contextual approach (which he calls canonical linguistic) understands doctrine in its genesis.  When it was originated, it was a  declaration of by the church of what the church believed.  Therefore, doctrine to Heyduck is simply a ‘speech act of the church, spoken to the church, and heard by the church.’ (Heyduck, The Recovery of Doctrine, p 77. )
  • Clark Pinnok (Flame of Love) suggests an important understanding of doctrine in terms of the Holy Spirit.  He argues that truth is a revelatory work of the Spirit.  The Spirit not only declared truth in the scripture, but He is presently active in revealing truth today.  No community has all the truth completely understood. The Spirit emphasizes certain aspects of God’s truth in different times and in different contexts. The development of the doctrine of the trinity or the nature of Christ is an example of this reality.  Rather than a once for all understanding of the truth of scripture, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth in every historical setting and in every community.  Therefore, each setting could have an understanding of the same truth of scripture, but revealed in the community in a different way.  Therefore, Doctrine cannot be individually understood, we must learn from the whole church over all time.
  • Alister McGrath offers a different approach. (McGrath, Genesis of Doctrine)  His four theses of doctrinal development take into account more than just propositional or cultural linguistics.  McGrath’s “four theses” of doctrinal criticism look at the way doctrine functions as social demarcation, narrative theology, articulation of experience and truth claim.  Doctrine has all of these elements. It is a truth claim from scripture. But different communities use the same passages and have different understandings of doctrine. Doctrine is also an explanation of the person’s place in the narrative of God’s story.  An example is the view of Sprit baptism as an end time phenomenon.  It is developed as a way of expressing a persons experience as well. For Pentecostals, Baptism in the Spirit and tongues were not just believed, they were expreienced. That experiential hermeneutic is vital to their doctrine. But it also has a cultural and theological history. There were aspects in which the doctrine defined them social as a separate distinct theology.  So for McGrath, there is more than one way to describe doctrine. It has to be understood in all these ways in order for doctrine to develop into new contexts.  McGrath argues that “Doctrinal criticism obliges us to ask what specific theological insights lie behind a specific doctrinal formulation, and what historical contingencies influenced both those insights and the manner in which they were thus being articulated, with a view to restating (if necessary) that formulation.” McGrath, Genesis of Doctrine, pg 7-8.
All of these approaches to doctrinal development are attempting to answer the same question. Is doctrine permanent? Is truth, as understood by particular Christian community, subject to change and development?  This is the question I am asking in the Assemblies of God and our understanding of doctrine.  Can the AG doctrine develop without losing our distinctive Pentecostal understanding of theology?
Statement of Fundamental Truths
 No doubt the Statement of Fundamental truths had a cultural linguistic function.  It defined the doctrinal issues that were present at the time of its formation.  The preamble says:
“ No claim is made that it contains all truth in the Bible, only that it covers our present needs as to these fundamental matters.” (GC Minutes, 1916)

The way forward for the Assemblies of God is not the abandon our distinctive doctrines.  It is to allow our doctrines to continue to develop.  We need to become more Pentecostal in all our expression of all our beliefs. In order to do that, we have hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church today.  That requires a more nuanced understanding of the genesis and development of doctrine. That is what I hope for my dissertation to accomplish.

A Timeline of Assemblies of God Doctrinal Books

The primary emphasis of my research this Summer has been to find and develop a chronological timeline of all of the Assemblies of God books that discuss AG doctrine.  Gospel Publishing House has produced works for Pentecostal minsters and lay people nearly from the beginning of the AG.  Soon after the AG began, GPH published tracts on various topics that were advertised in the PE and available to purchase.  A decade later, various books were beginning to emerge from the press.  They have continued to produce materials for the Assemblies of God.

My research has been focused on collecting the rescources that attempt to articulate  Assemblies of God doctrine.   These books, I believe, will tell the story of the development of our doctrine as our leaders attempted to flesh out the truths included in the Statement of Fundamental Truths that was adopted in 1916.  It is this pivotal relationship between the bible doctrine and the fundamental truths that I hope to investigate.

In doing so I have a running timeline of resources produced by the Gospel Publishing House on the topics of Bible Doctrine & Fundamentals and a list of resources on Eschatology.  For those interested in this topic, I thought I would share my list.  Perhaps it will benefit your research as well.  If you know of any others, please comment so I can add them to my list.

A couple observations from developing this timeline:

  • The first full bible doctrine book was produced 20 years after the AG wrote its Statement of Fundamental truths.  The first systematic theology was written nearly 40 years after the AG started.  Although there were many article about various doctrinal or bible truths in the Pentecostal Evangel, very little was produced as a comprehensive understanding of the theology of the AG.  Consequently, not much has been done in the second half of the century either. P.C. Nelson’s Bible Doctrines, first written in 1936, is still used as a text for new AG minister today.  Only two new works on doctrine have been produced in the past 30 years despite the explosion of Assemblies of God ministers & educators holding post-graduate degrees.
  • Works on eschatology were some of the first books produced by GPH.  Frank Boyd was by far the most influential eschatological writer in the period of 1925-1960.  Horton carried the eschatological tradition forward from 1960 to the present. Since 1975, despite the popularity of books on the End Times, there have only been five books on eschatology published by GPH and four of them were by Stanley Horton.

It’s unclear what all this means at this point. This is the task of this dissertation. I am attempting to construct a narrative of the development of Assemblies of God doctrine with particular emphasis on its eschatology.  This is the fun part of this PhD journey.  I hope I am enjoying it just as much 4 years from now.

Bible Doctrines Timeline

1926 – Pillars of Truth – S. A. Jamieson

1927 – Fundamentals of the Faith – D. W. Kerr

1936 – Bible Doctrines – P. C. Nelson (SWBC edition)

1937 – Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible – Myer Pearlman

1948 – Pentecostal Truth – Pearlman and Boyd

1948 – Bible Doctrines – P. C. Nelson (GPH edition)

1953 – Systematic Theology E. S. Williams

1954 – We Believe…A Comprehensive Statement of Christian Faith Riggs – GPH

1954 – What My Church Believes: Assemblies of God Cornerstone series book two Ralph Riggs GPH

1955 – Into All Truth – Stanley M. Horton GPH

1963 – Our Faith and Fellowship – Ralph W. Harris – Teacher’s Manual

1963 – Fundamentals of the Faith Donald Johns – Teachers Manual

1973 – We Hold these Truths – Zenas J. Bicket – GPH

1977 – Our Faith and Our Fellowship – G. Raymond Carlson GPH

1980 – Understanding Our Doctrine – William Menzies

1993 – Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective – Menzies & Horton Logion

1994 – Systematic Theology – Ed. Stanley M. Horton

Eschatology Book Timeline

1925 – The Budding Fig Tree – Frank Boyd

1928 – Things Which Must Shortly Come To Pass – Stanley Frodsham

1928? – Jesus coming at hand (collection of articles) GPH

1937 – The Path of Prophecy – Ralph M. Riggs*

1948 – Introduction to Prophecy – Frank Boyd

1948 – Studies in Revelation – J. Narver Gortner* intro by Frank Boyd

1950s – Signs of the Times – Frank Boyd

1955 – Ages and Dispensations – Frank Boyd

1959 – Waiting… C.M. Ward (evidential)

1962 – God’s Calendar of Coming Events – Riggs

1963 – Bible Prophecy – Stanley Horton (teachers manual)

1963 – Dispensational Studies – Ralph Riggs*

1967 – Promise of His Coming – Stanley Horton

1967 – Studies in the Revelation of Jesus Christ – Frank Boyd (Berean)

1968 – Prophetic Light – Frank Boyd

1968 – The Story of the Future – Ralph Riggs

1975 – Its Getting Late – Commentary on first Thessalonians – Stanley Horton

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – C M. Ward (adapted from Horton)*

1977 – God’s Plan for this Planet – Ian Macpherson (GPH)

1981 – What’s Ahead: A Study of End-Times Events (book) Charles Harris

1982 – What’s Ahead (Teacher Guide) – Carol A. Ball

1991 – The Ultimate Victory – Stanley Horton

1995 – Bible Prophecy: Understanding Future Events – Stanley Horton*

1996 – Our Destiny: Biblical Teachings on Last Things – Stanley Horton

(Image is an advertisement for GPH’s first Prophecy book in the Pentecostal Evangel in 1927)

Boyd Budding fig Tree Advertisement PE 1926_01_02

Pastors: Can I have your books?

20150630_095701Dear AG Pastor,

I know you have too many books.  We pastors love books. My shelves are overflowing.  I know yours are too. Here is a chance to get rid of some of them.   I am working on my PhD doing research on Assemblies of God doctrine.  Right now I am looking for sources in two areas: Bible Doctrines and Eschatology (Bible Prophecy).  I am surveying all of these books to understand what the AG believes on these topics and how these sources relate to the Statement of Fundamental Truths.  Most of these books were published between 1930-1960.  I can read them the ORU Library, but they don’t have all of them.  I would LOVE to have my own copies of all of these books.  I will be working with them for the next 6 years and having my own copies would be a great blessing.  Plus, I just love collecting primary sources when I study a topic.   Many of these books are probably in your office or in your church library collecting dust. Can  I have your books?

I am looking for all editions, the older the better, published by Gospel Publishing House on the topics of either Bible Doctrine (16 Fundamentals) or Bible Prophecy (Eschatology, Return of Jesus, Dispensational Studies, Revelation).

Major authors include:

  • P. C. Nelson – Bible Doctrines
  • E. S. Williams – Systematic Theology
  • Myer Pearlman – Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible

Other Authors include:

  • Frank Boyd – All his Prophecy books
  • Stanley Frodsham – Things Shortly Come to Pass
  • Ralph Riggs
  • Ralph W. Harris
  • Stanley Horton
  • John G. Hall

If you have any of these old AG books published by Gospel Publishing House and would be willing to donate them to me for my work, I would be so grateful.

Email me at pastorisgrigg@gmail.com

Below is a bibliography of works I am looking for:

Carlson, G. Ramond Our Faith and Our Fellowship (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1977).

Johns, Donald F. Fundamentals of the Faith (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1962)

Ralph W. Harris Our Faith and Fellowship (Teachers Manual) (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1963).

Horton, Stanley M. Bible Prophecy (Teachers Manual) (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1963)

Horton, Stanley Into All Truth (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1955)

Horton, Stanley It’s Getting Late (Springfield, MO; Gospel Publishing House, 1975)

Hall, J. G. Dispensations of the Eternal Program of God (Springfield, MO: 1957).

Hall, J. G. Prophecy Marches On (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1963).

Hall, J. G. Prophecy Marches On (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1966)

Pearlman, Myer Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible (GPH)

Pearlman, Myer, Seeing the Story of the Bible (GPH)

Riggs, R. M. The Bible’s Backbone (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1945).

Riggs, Ralph M. God’s Calendar of Coming Events (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1962).

Riggs, Ralph M. The Path of Prophecy (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1937).

Riggs, Ralph M. The Story of the Future (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1968). Bs647.2.r5

Riggs, Ralph M. We Believe (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1954)

Ward, C. M. What You Should Know About Prophecy (Springfield, MO: Radient Books, 1975) 7

Williams, E. S. Systematic Theology Vol 1-3 (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1953).

Winehouse, Irwin The Assemblies of God: A Popular Survey (New York: NY: Vantage Press, 1959)

“Those Things Most Surely Believed Among Us”

1914_04

Since going to my first seminar in May, I have been focusing my research on several areas that deal with what the Assemblies of God believes about eschatology.  Right now I am doing research in the primary sources, particularly early sources like periodicals and books published by the AG.  The goal is to find out what the AG says they believe (16 Fundamental truths), what those who write about what the AG believes say they believe (Bible Doctrine books), and what those who are in the AG, who write about what they believe, say they believe (articles in the periodicals).

1.  AG Periodicals

I  have been reading through the early issues of Word and Witness (1912-1915), a periodical by E.N. Bell.  I have been looking at every article that mentions eschatology and making notes of significant thoughts and ideas from these early works. I am looking for common threads of their belief in the return of Jesus. More so, I am trying to see how these early pentecostals related the outpouring of the Spirit to their belief in the return of Jesus.  Did they have a “Pentecostal” eschatology.  This is slow work, but important.  I have many more issues to go of this and other periodicals of the Assemblies of God.

2.  AG Bible Doctrine Books 

The other place I am doing research is to read all the AG books about the bible doctrines to see how they relate to the statement of Fundamental Truths.  Some of the books are direct articulations of each of the 16 Fundamentals. Some are organized like systematic theology texts and group the chapters by theological categories such as Doctrine of God, Man, Sin, Salvation, etc.  It is interesting reading.  I am surprised by two observations:  1) I had often heard and believed that early AG founders and writers were not trained theologians.  Its not true. Many of these writers were well trained and understood theology, but chose to write works that only quoted scripture.  They had the capacity to interact with other theological traditions and views, but chose instead to try to set out what “the Bible says”.  2) There are relatively few Bible Doctrine books for the Assemblies of God.  Infact, the most popular book used by ministers is Bible Doctrines by P.C. Nelson which was written in 1936 and is still in print. So far I have identified around a dozen works devoted simply to explanation of the doctrine of the Assemblies of God.

3. SPS Proposal

This leads to the final part of my research this month.  I have been working on something I could submit as a paper to the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies next March.  SPS is an annual meeting of Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars for the purpose of presenting and receiving peer feedback on work they are doing in their field of study.  I presented a paper on my work on Howard M. Ervin in 2008 at Duke University.  I am excited to return now that I am back in my program.

Following my research on these Bible doctrine books, I have found it interesting to observe how these works function as expressions of the 16 Fundamental truths.  Some of them are Truth by Truth explanations of each statement.  Some, however, neither mention the STF or the Assemblies of God.  Many have introductions written by important officials of the Assemblies of God.  What these leaders say about each work varies as to how authoritatively the author speaks on behalf of AG doctrine. o I have much more research to do to understand this relationship. But this is the paper that I will be presenting next March at SPS.   Below is my proposal.  I am excited about it.  Not bad for my first month of work. Here is my proposal:

“Those Things Most Surely Believed Among Us: The Shifting Roll of the Bible Doctrine Genre As An Authoritative Interpretation of the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths.”

This paper will look at the relationship of the books on bible doctrine produced by Assemblies of God leaders to the Statement of Fundamental truths.   The Statement of Fundamental Truths was not intended to be a “creed” for the fellowship but a statement of unification on essential beliefs. Further clarification of “those things most surely believed among us” we often expressed in various articles in the early AG periodicals. Some early leaders and educators at the AG Bible Institutes saw the need for a more comprehensive work on the doctrines of the Bible to be book form. The first such book on AG bible doctrine, P.C. Nelson’s Bible Doctrines was published twenty years after the STF was adopted. Others followed in what Jacobsen calls the “Scholastic Period” of the Assemblies of God. This paper will analyze how these works functioned as an expression of the SFT. As clarification was given to what the AG believed, what authority would these books on bible doctrine hold? How would these works serve as authoritative interpretations of the Statement of Fundamental truths? This paper will look the stated purpose of more than a dozen books on Bible doctrines that were published by Gospel Publishing House up to the present day. This paper will demonstrate a shift in relationship over time of these works on Bible Doctrine and their place as authoritative interpretations of the Statement of Fundamental Truths.