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.