This chapter offers a typology of
methodologies in systematic Pentecostal theology that introduces the reader to the varieties of this theological
tradition. This task faces several challenges: (1) Pentecostal theologians do not always demonstrate that they are aware of the methodological features of their own theology. Some make explicit statements on this score, but others simply proceed without acknowledging these matters. Of course, a theologian’s awareness of one’s own methodology is neither necessary nor sufficient for assessing the methodology. An interpreter can evaluate theological method without explicit statements of the author’s awareness of methodology, and an author’s explicit statements of methodology do not guarantee that the theologian in fact follows the methodological features thus identified. (2) Such a task inevitably requires one to assess the theology of several figures who are still active and, therefore, whose theology is still developing. Small and subtle shifts in successive publications can affect the broad contours of a theologian’s thought. (3) As with any typology, there may be more than one way to arrange the same data and to present it in a way that is
faithful to the primary sources in question. Therefore, I offer what I believe is not the only but the most accurate typology of
systematic Pentecostal theology. This typology, I argue, provides important perspectives for anyone who seeks to understand the scope and nature of Pentecostal theology in light of the diversity of perspectives of this theological tradition.
The above challenges invite humility when classifying the various methodologies. Nonetheless, some theological characteristics are more fundamental than others. While a few characteristics might surface in most or all Pentecostal theologies, there are deeper similarities and differences in areas lik e the relationship between Scripture and tradition,
philosophical sophistication, the relationship between theology and other disciplines, and points of continuity and discontinuity with theologies outside the Pentecostal tradition. Although one cannot altogether separate the formal and material components of Pentecostal theology, I focus here on the basic theological contours of representative Pentecostal theologians rather than trying to give account of the details of each theologian’s views. Herein, “theological method” refers to the ways that Pentecostals go about thinking and writing theologically, not to a stultifying procedure that guarantees precise theological statements if one only makes sure to follow perfectly defined steps and procedures.
All of the figures that I discuss in this chapter have written either a book that addresses several traditional loci in systematic theology or a constructive volume with implications for theological method. An important fact about the recent surge in Pentecostal systematic theology is that it coincides with a growing distrust for intellectual systems in parts of the academy. Some theologians now prefer “constructive” theology instead of “systematic” theology because they fear that any attempt to organize all theological concerns around one theme or principle—an abiding approach in Western systematic theology—inevitably marginalizes people groups and perspectives. They are also concerned that “systematic” connotes an arrangement of timeless truths immune from constant criticism and reformulation (Coakley 2013, 33–60; Wyman 2017). Pentecostal theologians are only beginning to navigate these questions and have not yet expressed a decided preference for one term over the other, so that I use the designation “systematic theology” to include theology around a thematic principle, as well as constructive,
philosophical, fundamental, spiritual, and
liturgical theology. I exclude purely scriptural or historical works. Although my presentation is representative rather than exhaustive (Stephenson 2013), I suggest that one can identify six broad types of the way Pentecostals pursue the theological task. I describe and assess each type, in turn, and conclude with some reflections on the impact of this typology for the study of Pentecostal theology.
Theology as Bible doctrines
The first type of Pentecostal systematic theology can be labeled “Bible doctrines” and is represented by the works of Myer Pearlman, E. S. Williams, and French L Arrington. This methodology is primarily a categorical arrangement of the biblical texts presented as a simplified version of biblical studies within a structure composed of traditional loci of systematic theology. This methodology features literal readings of
Scripture that tend to see equal value for theological reflection in all statements in the Bible, since the
Holy Spirit inspires all of the Bible. In short, the Bible doctrines approach largely reduces systematic theological method to biblical interpretation.
Pearlman, Williams, and Arrington usually interpret Scripture in a straightforward fashion that avoids tropes like allegory and seeks the so-called plain sense of Scripture. Thus, Arrington notes the value of scholarly tools for studying the Bible and insists that the average Christian can understand Scripture with the Spirit’s help and largely without these tools. This insistence is one of the hallmarks of the influence of common-sense realism on classical Pentecostalism. The three representatives also make word study primary when interpreting Scripture. They seem to assume that words have static meanings that one can uncover by vocabulary-based study, and they employ lexical resources to expound on the meanings of individual Hebrew or Greek words. Rather than detailed exegesis based on historical, grammatical, and literary investigations, one finds word study of biblical terms (Pearlman 1937, 85–86; Williams 1953, 1, 131–35; Arrington 1992–94, 2: 121). The presupposition for this methodology is the assertion that the Bible is the primary source for learning doctrine. That is, to know what to believe about a doctrine, one reads all portions of Scripture related to the topic, since relying on a statement here or there is not sufficient for attaining a comprehensive perspective on a Christian teaching. Pearlman, Williams, and Arrington treat the Bible as if it were a collection of data that one must pour over in order to reach general conclusions. Thus, Pearlman and Williams sometimes do no more than state a proposition followed by Scripture references that serve as prooftexts for a particular belief.
Related to this assumed relationship between Scripture and doctrine are other categories such as dogma and systematic theology. For example, by “doctrines,” Pearlman means
complete ideas contained in the Bible, not ideas extrapolated from Scripture that undergo further development and achieve more nuanced articulation in the theological tradition that is in keeping with their biblical points of departure. “Dogmas,” however, are later human developments that formulate the “doctrines” revealed in Scripture into creeds. As an illustration of these conceptual distinctions and their relationships to each other, Pearlman says that early Christians safeguarded the truth of the “doctrine” of the
Trinity by formulating “dogmas” such as the Athanasian creed. “Dogmas,” he suggests, are necessary to deter erroneous interpretation of “doctrines” in the Bible (Pearlman 1937, 20–21, 71, 144–46).
Each representative places at the beginning of his systematic theology a rudimentary theological
epistemology with the Bible as its central component. That is, each discusses Scripture as the means for justifying the claim that one can have knowledge of
God. While none of the authors show awareness of basic questions in metaphysics or epistemology, each one operates, even if unconsciously, with presuppositions surrounding the epistemological crisis of the late modern world and the corollary skepticism of some thinkers about the possibility of metaphysics. For Pearlman, Williams, and Arrington, Scripture guarantees that humans can have genuine knowledge of God and that systematic theology (from the perspective of this methodology) is a legitimate enterprise. This practice of starting with theological epistemology highlights the following elements: (1) before one considers various topics in systematic theology one must first give an account of how one claims to have any knowledge of Christian truth or doctrine; (2) God’s
revelation alone is the source of this knowledge; (3) some knowledge of God may be attained through general revelation; (4) the inadequacy of general revelation—due in part to the noetic effects of
sin—makes special revelation necessary for sufficient knowledge of God; (5) Scripture is the most important form of special revelation; (6) the trustworthiness of Scripture depends on the Spirit’s inspiration of it; (7) one’s ability to interpret Scripture correctly depends on the Spirit’s illumination of it; and (8) all of these seven characteristics are predicated on the conceptual distinctions among revelation, inspiration, and illumination.
Theology and spirituality
The second type makes primary the relationship between theology and Christian spirituality, and two major representatives are Steven J. Land and Simon K. H. Chan. Both address the place of elements such as
affections, virtues, and spiritual disciplines in systematic theology. Land argues that spirituality is the very means through which Pentecostals express their theology, and Chan argues that Pentecostal theologians should rejuvenate theology and spirituality by incorporating aspects of the wider Christian spiritual tradition and by adopting a normative liturgy centered on word and sacrament.
Land (1993, 1) describes spirituality as “the integration of beliefs and practices in the affections which are themselves evoked and expressed by those beliefs and practices,” the integration of
orthopathy, and Pentecostal spirituality consists of the various manifestations of this triad (Land 1993, 112). One of the most important Pentecostal beliefs for Land is the fivefold
gospel—the confession that
Jesus is savior, sanctifier, baptizer in the Holy Spirit, healer, and soon-coming king. Frequent Pentecostal practices are
water baptism, the Lord’s Supper,
footwashing, singing, praying,
spiritual gifts, and
preaching. Affections norm beliefs and practices and are also normed by beliefs and practices. Affections give rise to beliefs and practices and are also fueled by beliefs and practices (Land 1993, 120–21, 138). Key Pentecostal affections are gratitude, compassion, and courage.
According to Land, Pentecostal
affections are far more than emotions, and maintain Pentecostal spirituality as a way of living. Apocalyptic
vision intensifies the affections by adding to them a sense of urgency about the church’s
mission. The Holy Spirit ignites a
passion for the kingdom of
God, which governs all other Christian affections and gives them their distinctively Pentecostal tenor (Land 1993, 136–37). The emphasis on Jesus as soon-coming king invigorates all other Pentecostal beliefs. For Land, then, Pentecostal spirituality’s
eschatological context must receive proper consideration for the spirituality to be comprehensible. In fact, the eschatological impulse is the driving force of the Pentecostal tradition (Land 1993, 22–23, 29, 56–64).
In Land’s view, the entire worshipping
community carries out the theological process, which involves discerning reflection on lived reality. Spirituality—the fundament and precondition of all theology—calls for theology that is concerned precisely with this discerning reflection. In turn, both theology’s process and its result reflect the distinctively Pentecostal spirituality (Land 1993, 192, 218–19). In short, spirituality is theology’s content, medium, and mode of expression, and the theological process establishes spirituality by integrating beliefs, practices, and affections.
mystical theology figures prominently in Chan’s descriptions of the relationship between spirituality and theology (Chan 1998, 9–18). Chan insists that Pentecostals must discern the place of their own spirituality within and in light of the broader Christian spiritual tradition. This
discernment is necessary because only it can lend the coherence to Pentecostal beliefs and values required for Pentecostals to communicate them successfully to future generations (see Chapter 9
). Chan calls this process “traditioning” and maintains that it requires the integrative thinking of systematic theology and the development of a detailed theology of the spiritual life (Chan 2000, 7–12).
The failure of Pent...