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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Were Early AG Leaders Anti-Intellectual?

From the beginning, the Pentecostal movement had a careful relationship with theology and the pursuit of education. Even today, many of my educated AG pastor friends are often frustrated with the way in which people within our fellowship are suspicious of education.  Roger Olsen speaks of the these attitudes.  He says, ‘Endemic to Pentecostalism is a profoundly anti-intellectual ethos. It is manifested in a deep suspicion of scholars and educators and especially biblical scholars and theologians.’[1] Some early Pentecostals rejected the need for education because they believed the Holy Spirit and the power of God was a greater validation of ministry than human approval. Elizabeth Sisson, a veteran missionary and evangelist who joined the AG in 1917, rejected the notion that she needed any credentials, education, or degrees to validate her ministry. She remarked,

You might hold all the offices of the church, and append to your name all the letters of the alphabet bestowed by all the universities of Europe and America, but these things of the power and learning and intellect of man will not release the demon oppressed, will not heal the sick, etc. But praise God, through the simple believer, under the power of the Holy Ghost, these things are wrought.[3]

Sisson’s application for credentials with the AG reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

The problem with education for many Pentecostals was not the pursuit of knowledge; it was education at the expense of simple faith in Jesus and the Scriptures. The main concern was the way in which seminaries were indoctrinating its clergy in Higher Criticism. Denominational seminaries were believed to be guilty anti-supernatural bias the sought to ‘tear the blessed Book of Life to pieces’.[8]   A.G. Jeffries, a British AG evangelist, describes the situation.

For fifty years the American people have been cursed with head, and starved for heart preaching. Many churches have demanded of their ministers a classical education before ordination, and have made little or no demands of them along spiritual lines. It has been all head and no heart, and this very thing has brought on a spiritual dearth that has been and is appalling indeed.[4]

The return to heart Christianity over head Christianity was part of the lure of the Pentecostal faith.  Because of this, many late 19th Century evangelicals turned to the Bible School model where they emphasized spiritual formation as well as knowledge. Many early Bible schools boasted of having ‘No book but the Bible’ and ‘No teacher but the Holy Spirit.’

The reaction to modernism and education did not necessarily mean that Pentecostals were anti-education.  This is certainly the case when one looks at  Assemblies of God leaders.  Some of the most prominent early leaders of the AG were themselves educated in colleges and seminaries. These were not lay-theologians who were articulating a populist Pentecostal theology. [5] E. N. Bell, a well-educated Southern Baptist Pastor, held a bachelors degree from Stetson University and a seminary degree from Theological Seminary in Louisville  as well as spent 3 years at University of Chicago. J.R. Flower was not trained in theology but spent two years preparing for law career in Indianapolis. S. A. Jamieson was a ‘scholarly’ Presbyterian minister who spent nine years in Wabash College and Lane Theological Seminary.[6] Arch P. Collins did his training at Baylor University. T. K. Leonard spent two years at Findlay College, a Church of God institution. P. C. Nelson was trained at Denison University and later Rochester Theological Seminary where he trained under Augustus H. Strong.[7]

The first AG Bible school where subjects were taught including OT and NT interpretation, Church History, and Homiletics.

The relatively high level of education in many of the early AG leaders was vital to the preservation of the fellowship through several theological debates that took place in the first decade. These leaders had to formulate a doctrinal statement, defend the orthodox views of the Trinity, and articulate their Pentecostal distinctive.  Their ability to articulate sound theological views was greatly helped by the education they brought with them into the fellowship.

While some  still have the attitude that education is detrimental to Pentecostal Spirituality, there is a legacy in the AG of educated ministers and a commitment to higher education. In a future post I will share a bit about AG education and the origin of AG Bible schools. Hopefully this post is a reminder that attitudes about Pentecostals should always be understood in context.  While it is true that anti-education sentiment was part of early Pentecostalism, it certainly was not the whole story.  The AG benefitted greatly from the education level of many of its founders and early leaders.  It is part of our history. It is a part that I am grateful for and hope will continue to be important for this generation.

 

[1] Roger E. Olsen, ‘Pentecostalism’s Dark Side’ Christian Century (Mar 7, 2006), p. 27. See also Paul Lewis, ‘Why have Scholars Left Classical Pentecostal Denominations?’ AJPS, 11:1 (2008), pp. 69-86; William W. Menzies, Anointed to Serve (GPH 1971)p. 141.

[2] Sisson’s application for credentials reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

[3] Elizabeth Sission, ‘The Coming Glory’ PE, (Nov 26, 1927), p. 2.

[4] A.G. Jeffries, ‘The Limit of Divine Revelation’ PE (Mar 18, 1916), p. 6.

[5] Spittler argues that ‘The tradition survives, however, in classical Pentecostal circles of esteemed pastors and church leaders producing doctrinal expressions.’ Spittler, ‘Theological Style,’ pg 299.

[6] S. A. Jamieson, ‘How a Presbyterian Preacher Received the Baptism’ PE (Jan 31, 1931) p. 2, Brumback, Like A River, pg 136.

[7] Gary B. McGee, ‘Nelson, Peter Christopher’ in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements Ed. Stanley Burgess & Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: 1988), 636-637.

[8] PE (Jan 20, 1920), p. 8.

[9] ‘Announcement of Bible School’ CE (Feb 24, 1917), p. 14.

[10] PE (Jan 10, 1920), p. 8; PE (Jul 10, 1920), p. 2; Brumback, Like A River, p. 87.

[11] ‘Pentecostal Bible Schools’ PE, (Mar 19, 1921), p. 9.

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.

 

 

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.

Word Counts

wordcount.pngI remember writing papers early in my schooling. I was always looking for ways to pad my word count to reach the desired number of pages.  That is no longer the case for me.  These days I am learning how to abide by a word count.

This morning I submitted a paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting coming up in March.  I submitted a proposal of some research I was working on so I was confident I would have something to present.  However, when my proposal was accepted, the instructions said my presentation could only be 15 minutes long.  My first draft of my paper was 36 pages in length.  As I timed myself, I was only able to cover a third of the paper in 15 minutes.  That’s a problem.

For the past few months I have been paring down that 36 pages of research to 13 pages.  It has been a painful process.  It took me hours and hours of writing to produce those 36 pages. Now I was deleting whole paragraphs and excluding valuable research.  However as I slowly trimmed and reworded my paper, a much better version of my research emerged.  I was making my argument clearer by including only  the most important research.  I have learned that the impulse to add words that I had learned early in my career was hurting my ability to write. Had it not been for a word count, I would not have given my best research in the paper.

In my writing I am learning to say more in less words.  (and blogging. Only 300 words!). My next goal is to do the same for my preaching. In fact, I think it would be good if i limited my words in all kinds of areas like my opinions, my relationships and on social media.

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.

 

I don’t need a PhD

LifeAfterPhDA lot of people ask me why I a getting a PhD.  Am I doing it so I can teach? So I can write?  I have thought about that lot over this journey.

Nearly 20 years ago, God first put it in my heart to get a PhD.  I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my first year at ORU doing an undergraduate degree in theology. I had no idea I would go to post graduate work.  In fact, I didn’t even know how to get to that level of education.  My parents had both finished a masters in education in college. But neither of them stayed in education.  And I don’t remember going to college being stressed all that often growing up.  But that day in my first year at ORU, I heard God speak and ever since I have been on that journey.

In 2000, I graduated with my Bachelors.  I also started working full time in ministry so I wasn’t concerned about doing my masters right away. But it soon became clear, I couldn’t get away from it. So in 2002 I started a masters and finished 5 years later.  At that point I knew i was ready to start post-graduate work.  My professors insprired me with a love for theology and encouraged my gifts. In 2008 I started applying.  I loved ORU so much I wanted to come back to be a teacher there.  But you can’t teach theology without a terminal degree. If you were to ask me at that point, why I was doing it I would have said, “so I can teach at ORU.”  At that time, in my mind, I needed degree to get where I am going. I needed a PhD.

In 2010, God called me to pastor at New Life Center and I put that dream on hold. Something happened during that 5 year break. God has slowly been teaching me that  my whole life is a calling.  Pastoring has a way of purging your own desires for the sake of God’s dreams for your life.  Everything God asks me to do in my life is a calling. Who I marry, how I parent, where I pastor and what degrees I pursue. He told me to be a pastor.  It was not my choice.  There is no end game. I am not serving in order to become something else. Pastoring is not a stepping stone. It is a calling. I do it for Him and for as long as he needs me to do it.

Five years later, now that I am back pursuit of a PhD, I do it for different reasons.  I don’t need a PhD. I am not doing it gain the necessary credentials to be a professor. I am not doing it achieve a level in church ministry.  I don’t even care about the title.  At this point, I don’t even care if I ever end up at ORU like I had dreamed years ago.   I am doing my PhD because I am called to do so.  God has an assignment for me, whether I ever “use” this degree or not.

This is the beauty of my journey right now.  I believe the work I am doing in my research on the Assemblies of God is valuable in and of itself. It will ultimately be a gift to the body of Christ that God has called me to give.  This degree is a calling.  I don’t need it, but do need to do it.  God has called me.  So I write. And to quote Eric Liddell, “When I write, I feel His pleasure.”

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

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.

Pilgrimage into PhD Studies Pt. 1

Bangor_UniversityThis week I go to my first residency requirement for my PhD at Bangor University, UK.  It has been five years since I left the program in order to focus on my position as pastor of New Life Center.  But this weekend I return to those pursuits officially.  It has been a long journey. Shortly after high school, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

As I grew as a Christian, people began to recognize my ability to understand God’s word and help others understand it as well.  It didn’t take long to see that God was calling me to ministry.  So I began to look at options for college.  My parents were both educated and I assumed I would go to college as well.  But being called to ministry, I questioned the need to go college and decided to enroll in Rhema Bible College in Broken Arrow.

The day I was supposed to go to Rhema for my freshman orientation, I was driving by our local community college and I heard God say as clearly as any time in my life, “Pull in.”  I pulled into the circle drive in front of the college and God said, “Don’t go to Rhema.  Enroll here.”  I didn’t understand it at the time but God clearly wanted me to go to a university and not bible college.  After a semester at TCC, I applied to Oral Roberts University.


121787-004-CE54490EIt didn’t take long at ORU to understand  why God changed my path.  From the very first class at ORU i realized God made me for theological education.   I loved my theology classes.  They opened my eyes to so many aspects of God that I would have missed in a bible college.  I began to hunger for theology, church history, early church fathers and systematic theology. As a new ORU student, they made me go to a few different seminars on student life.  One of them changed my life forever.  A communications professor, Dr. Jonny MacAllen, did a talk on achieving our dreams.  He talked about growing up poor and yet reaching to the highest level of education when he earned a PhD.  Dr Mac told us, “If a poor kid like me can achieve a dream of PhD, you can too.”  In that moment, God spoke to my heart.  From that day, I decided that God was calling me to pursue higher education.  I knew God was leading me to do a PhD.

This weekend I pick up that dream from 18 years ago.  Don’t give up on your dream.  If a kid like me can become a PhD, you can too. In my next blog, I will share how I found my program.