Pentecostal "Schools": Cleveland (!) and Springfield (?)

cptRecently I was asked the following question via Facebook Messenger (see…Facebook can be useful and constructive):

Do you see any differences between the “Springfield school” and “Cleveland School” of Pentecostalism? If so, what do you think they are?
My response to this question is rooted in numerous conversations with several other PhD students writing on various Pentecostal matters and working to develop constructive Pentecostal theologies. This person’s question was the result of a good friend, Daniel Isgrigg (PhD, ABD),  who has used the language of “Springfield School” in his doctoral work with regard to the Assemblies of God stream of Pentecostalism as other than the previously labelled “Cleveland School” (due to its location in Cleveland, Tennessee as part of the work of Pentecostal Theological Seminary and more properly the Centre for Pentecostal Theology).
My answer follows:
I’ve had multiple conversations with Daniel Isgrigg about his use of the label “Springfield School”. It is highly problematic and the only (to my knowledge) one who ever used it in writing is James K.A. Smith who wrote “Springfield School (?)” in a footnote and does not appear to himself regard it as a “School” of thought or methodology.[1] My own argument is that it is not actually a “School” even though whatever it is may in fact represent majority views of interpretation, etc. within broader Pentecostal circles.
However, the Cleveland School holds to particular ideas and methods [2], has a publishing house producing significant works of constructive Pentecostal theologies, operates the Journal for Pentecostal Theology and continues to produce numerous PhDs following its trajectories.
I believe my Facebook friend’s follow-up response largely represents the distinctions even if only the Cleveland one might properly be called a “School” in the proper sense by my reckoning.
My observation (perhaps I’m wrong) is that the “Springfield School” leans more Reformed, Evangelical, Dispensational, Fundamentalist, whereas the “Cleveland School” leaned more Wesleyan and strives to produce a hermeneutical distinction between Pentecostalism and the rest of Evangelicalism. The Cleveland School *seems* to be more comfortable with the Great Tradition of the Church than the “Springfield School”. Am I off base? There just seems to be a different “feel”, for lack of a better word.
As such, my contention is for a legitimate burgeoning Cleveland School of Pentecostal theology, but remain unpersuaded that any actual “Springfield School” has ever coalesced into anything comparable. Not to say that it will not or that the institutions (publishing and academic) associated with it have not produced anything. They have and will continue to, but not at this point in the same distinct fashion as the more properly labelled Cleveland School.
Full disclosure: I am ordained with and teaching/administrating at a college that is associated with Springfield, yet I am completing a PhD via the Cleveland School and make great use of its methodological and spiritual tools.
1.  J.K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p. 6n13, is the footnote where Smith questions whether there might be a “Springfield School (?)”.
2.  K.J. Archer, ‘The Making of an Academic Pentecostal Tradition: The Cleveland School’. A paper presented at the Society for Pentecostal Studies (March 2016). Archer contends in this paper for a number of key figures related to the “Cleveland School” as well as certain features of it such as hermeneutics, epistomology, and spirituality.
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9 Responses to Pentecostal "Schools": Cleveland (!) and Springfield (?)

  1. Both are a far cry from classic Pentecostalism and in some ways are hostile to Pentecostals. In short, they are far from the revivals that started both.

    • Rick Wadholm says:

      This would require that you actually define “classic Pentecostalism” differently than the traditional manner which has to do with the issue of initial physical evidence (among a few other criteria). Both are actually categorically within “classic Pentecostalism”. And there are any number of areas globally in our various Pentecostal fellowships experiencing all manner of revival and renewal.

      And as to the “schools” I’m discussing…these are not even directly associated with the Fellowships (AG and CoG), but the one “Cleveland School” is about the renewal of Pentecostal hermeneutics and theology along the lines of early Pentecostalism’s Christocentristic message of the Full Gospel (among some other things which Kenneth Archer suggested in a paper at SPS several years ago now).

      • Peter Vandever says:

        Conduct a survey at Evangel and Lee with the following questions and see how off we are….

        Do you pray in tongues daily?
        Can you point to one example of God’s in your life?
        Do you believe in that divine healing is ingetral to the gospel?
        Do you live in expectation of the catching up?

        That’s without asking about personal holiness issues 🙂

        • Rick Wadholm says:

          None of that would have anything to do with the “School” of thought I’m addressing as part of a very specific conversation about ideas of identity and methodologies.

  2. Daniel says:

    Hello Rick,

    I was curious if you’d be willing to comment on Robert Menzies’ taxonomy/categorisation of Pentecostal Schools with not only the “Springfield School”, and “Cleveland School” but also what has been called the “Birmingham School” as well in the section below and also found in a written interview published through Brazilian AG magazine “Obreiro Aprovado” (“Approved Worked”).

    7) Some Pentecostal theologians have said that there are three theological currents in Pentecostal theology today: the Springfield School (evangelical), the Cleveland School (preaches a break with evangelicalism) and the Birmingham School (more ecumenist). Do you agree with this classification?

    “Yes, I do believe this classification captures well the various theological streams that we see in the Pentecostal academy today. However, I would emphasize that these categories, while they may helpfully describe the main currents in the Pentecostal academy, they do not equally represent the beliefs and practices found in grass-roots Pentecostal churches. The vast majority of Pentecostal churches, in my opinion, reflect the theological emphases and message of the “Evangelical plus” group. A much smaller group identifies with the Cleveland School and very few actually reflect the values and ethos of the Birmingham School.

    I identify with the “Evangelical plus” school, as my recent book, Christ-Centered: The Evangelical Nature of Pentecostal Theology (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020; soon to be translated into Portuguese), makes clear. I believe that the Pentecostal movement has always affirmed core Evangelical commitments—the authority of the Bible; that salvation is found only in Jesus; and that evangelism is a priority for the church—while at the same time adding significant theological emphases to these core beliefs (how we read Acts, our understanding of baptism in the Spirit, and the way we relate this experience to speaking in tongues). I describe these distinctive contributions in my book, Pentecost: This Story is Our Story (GPH, 2013), which has been translated into Portuguese.

    The Cleveland School emphasizes a post-modern, experientially-driven hermeneutic, but seeks to anchor the Pentecostal church’s belief and practice in an emphasis on tradition, the Five-fold Gospel (Jesus as Savior, Healer, Sanctifier, Spirit Baptizer, and Coming King). The focus here seems to be more on spirituality and experience than doctrine. My fear, however, is that with its subjective hermeneutic and flexible approach to Scripture, the Cleveland School will lead to a turbulent and uncertain future for the church. When the current leaders pass from the stage, what theological commitments will guide the next generation? The danger of a focus on experience that loses sight of the historical meaning of the biblical text is illustrated in the trajectory of Pietism, which influenced Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher, the Father of Liberal Theology.

    The Birmingham School rejects the notion that the Pentecostal movement can be defined by any unifying theological affirmation. This view also rejects the view that the Pentecostal movement was “birthed” in the U.S. at the beginning of the last century, whether this “birth” be linked to Parham’s Bible school in Topeka, Kansas or the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Rather, the Birmingham School and its leading figures, Walter Hollenweger and Allan Anderson, maintain that there were multiple origins of the modern Pentecostal movement. In short, the Birmingham School insists that the Pentecostal movement is so diverse that it defies theological description. Thus, the Birmingham school tends to emphasize phenomenological (or experiential) rather than theological categories for analyzing Pentecostal groups.”

    Looking forward to your thoughts

    • Rick Wadholm says:

      Brother Daniel,
      Thanks for the comments. The two specific “Schools” of my original post still remain to really be defined with specificity even as there are general traits which have been noted. They were really a footnoted comment by James K. A. Smith that has become somewhat of an embraced and traced out notion (particularly with regard to the so-called “Cleveland School”). Kenneth Archer (professor at Southeastern University) did a presentation at the Society for Pentecostal Studies several years ago (I believe it was the 2015 meeting) attempting to document/propose a number of features of the “Cleveland School” but to my knowledge he has not published this (if I’m wrong would you let me know where he published it?).

      I still find speaking of a discreet “Springfield School” as not proven sufficiently as a discreet approach to Pentecostal matters but more of a catchall not included in the proposed “Cleveland School”. However, it does appear there are more and more folks picking up this language and seeking to follow through with it toward something more specific (Robert Menzies being one of those). I know there have been proposals for other “schools” such as the one discussed in the interview (the Birmingham one) as well as other proposals. One such proposal only refers to “two schools”: the Cleveland School and the Regent School — this is described and engaged in Hannah R. K. Mather “The Interpreting Spirit: Spirit, Scripture, and Interpretation in the Renewal Tradition” (Pickwick, 2020), pp. 128-170. Unfortunately, Mather’s work which had suggested “Regent School” seems no longer relevant as Regent University is not a center for Pentecostal thought as it was when she was doing her research. This has since really been supplanted by Birmingham as a sort of Pentecostal constructive center of thought for some. Birmingham might be more “ecumenical” (thinking of folks associated there such as A. Anderson, W. Vondey, and D. Augustine) than the “Cleveland School”. We are to be reminded of the multiplicity of PentecostalismS (I have intentionally highlighted the plural form to highlight the multiplicities of approaches and loci within the global movement/s called by such a name as “Pentecostal”) by the approach offered by the folks associated with “Birmingham” (and others as well).

      Menzies seems to miss that there are a number of us belonging to the four-fold Full Gospel stream of Pentecostalism who may identify more closely with the “Cleveland School” than the “Springfield School” (with this one being the “Evangelical plus” approach he mentioned). He seems to treat “Cleveland School” almost as shorthand for the Wesleyan Holiness stream of Pentecostalism that argued for the five-fold Gospel message. However, there are folks which in some ways may be connected or identify in some fashion with the “Cleveland School” (thinking of myself as one among numerous others) who do not in fact confess the five-fold message.

      Further, I would say Menzies is only somewhat correct in his claims of the “Cleveland School” being “post-modern, experientially-driven hermeneutic” with “emphasis on tradition”. The “post-modern” claim is not actually accurate. There is appreciation for the post-modern contributions to knowledge, truth, etc. that function as a sharp critique of the modernist approaches (of which Menzies himself seems more prone). Kenneth Archer uses the label “para-modern” as his preferred term in “A Pentecostal Hermeneutic” (reprint: CPT Press, 2009) and I frankly find this more a fitting proposal as there are not any (to my knowledge) of those self-confessed “Cleveland School” scholars who are offering a full-fledged “post-modern” approach, but all of them showing a serious appreciation of the post-modern critiques of the modernist approaches.

      The “experientially-driven hermeneutic” is precisely what Pentecostals have seemed to do from the earliest years down to our very own, yet this language betrays Menzies. I think what he means to claim is that supposedly the “Cleveland School” puts experience first in their hermeneutic. But this misses that the Scriptures are always foundational for the “Cleveland School” who intentionally seeks to integrate the experiential into our faithful hearing of Scripture (thinking here even of the likes of Craig Keener’s “Spirit Hermeneutics” who would not self-claim to be “Cleveland School” but is emphatic on the reality and need for experiental-driven hermeneutics in the spiral of interpretation).

      On the proposed “emphasis on tradition”, Menzies seems to me to miss that we are all deeply informed by those before us within our tradition/s (whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not) which I’m certain he is aware of in his own work. I can only guess he is referring to the use of Wirkungsgeschichte (sometimes translated “reception history”) as a way of retrieving earlier Pentecostal readings of Scripture and theologies (for an examples of such, see my edited work in: Daniel Isgrigg, Martin Mittelstadt, and Rick Wadholm, eds., “Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal Tradition: A Reception History” (CPT Press, 2021) and note that all three editors of this volume are Assemblies of God ministers and scholars, thus see my above comments on Menzies’ “five-fold” argument). This turn to tradition is a turn to hear others and not simply imagine we hear the Spirit alone or in our day. It is a posture of humility and not simply a replaying of what others said or believed, but seeking to hear those who have gone before us as we also seek to hear faithfully.

      There is, of course, more I might say about things such as the proposed “Springfield School” as “Evangelical Plus” that seems to myself (and many others) to be imagining “initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit” to be very nearly the only difference between Pentecostals and Evangelicals, but I’ll leave that for now as I simply see that misses the ways in which Pentecostalism(s) is infused within the spirituality, hermeneutic, and theologizing of Pentecostals in a myriad of different expressions (not unlike the ever-abounding life of the Spirit who gives many different gifts as needed to bear faithful witness to Jesus).

      • Daniel says:

        Wow, I didn’t realize that there were other proposed schools such as Regent before. Thanks for giving me so much to chew on. I’m curious then, given that the language of schools came en vogue with J.K. Smith’s footnote, how do scholars, seminaries or even denominations take on the mantle that constitute “schools” if at all in the first place? Simply by virtue of them ticking the right doctrinal or praxis box on these institutional categories?

        I must confess that I feel like the language of the Springfield School assumes the predominance of denominations like the AG are the sole heirs of this type of Classical Pentecostalism which almost seems like “evangelical +” in my circles today to be problematic and I’m heartened to hear that there are people within the aforementioned Springfield school who are employing more creative and para-modern Spirit-engaged methologies in their work.

        I wonder, however if this conversation might be lost on those who find this language of “schools” to be rather (White) American centric and doesn’t yield to categories of identification for other forms of pentecostalisms outside the (White) American experience, such as those of COGIC in the US or other denominations with a more liturgical, ecumenical, global or international perspectives (like the True Jesus Church or the RCOG which I know could be highly controversial). I do understand that the missional impact of many White Western Pentecostal denominations have by and large set the course for many others expressions around the world, but I’m wondering about the relevance of some indeginous-led pentecostalisms around the globe and how they might factor into this questionable taxonomy of Pentecostal institutions of higher education. In other words, what I’m questioning is whether these categories serve the Global movements of pentecostalisms around the world or if they seem to chart or serve the expressions of a privileged (euro-american-centric) few. Sorry for making things more complicated than they should be.

        Once again, thank you for your wisdom and appreciate your work in the Lord.

        • Rick Wadholm says:

          If I may offer what seems perhaps a needed clarification. The “Schools” noted here are not intended as directly denominational affiliations (as if “Cleveland” is only a reference to COG or “Springfield” to AOG) nor even technically to institutions in those respective cities, but more as a moniker for identifying “schools” of thought/methodology/etc. The “Cleveland School” is so-called because many who are early voices of this approach were connected with Lee University, Pentecostal Theological Seminary (formerly Church of God Theological Seminary), the Journal of Pentecostal Theology (which has been “housed” in Cleveland, TN, because the editors have been located there), and the Centre for Pentecostal Theology (a book publisher and research center). The “Springfield School” was really just the catch-all of the “Evangelical Plus” folks that were fairly typical of certain voices that have been prominent in the AG such as Robert Menzies (as a prime example) and others like Gordon Fee (and quite frankly many Pentecostal biblical scholars in the U.S. who have tended toward historical critical approaches in hermeneutics regardless of denominational/Fellowship affiliation). I may be misunderstanding how you were using the term in your reply, but thought I noted this may be a misunderstanding of sorts. In other words, the names are not intended as “taxonomy of Pentecostal institutions”. There are faculty members located in Cleveland that practice what is being labeled the “Springfield School” and there are faculty members located in Springfield that practice what is being labeled the “Cleveland School”.

          As to your comments on this being a White-American centric issue…I think you are spot-on. Part of this has been because of those directly involved in these conversations responding to each other. This was a necessary critique by Nestor Medina of Ken Archer’s proposal about the “Cleveland School” at that same SPS meeting I mentioned above. This is also one reason to welcome what Allan Anderson has attempted in the de-centering of Pentecostalism/s globally (particularly as regards “origin stories” but also theologizings, etc.). You correctly point to a massive lacuna even in the context of the U.S. conversation as it largely has not taken account of non-Anglo voices sufficiently (or all too often not at all). This is not even beginning to speak of the lack of global contexts. Yet conversations do have to begin somewhere and about somewhere (wherever that may end up being) and in this particular case has been located in the context of the U.S. (and Canada) primarily. However, the conversation is expanding (and needs to) and other conversations have been happening globally that need to also be heard and engaged as part of the chorus of many voices of the Spirit speaking.

          • Daniel says:

            Oh, I see. Wow, that changes my thoughts on and language of “taxonomy of Pentecostal institutions” altogether, which was I now see as rather confused. Thank you for the much needed clarification.

            Yes, I agree that we all have to start somewhere, but glad to hear that there are trajectories expanding conversations towards including more global approach(es). I suspect then the recent release of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Global Pentecostalism is an appropriate start to engage Nestor Medina’s critique. I’m excited to see what might be next for pentecostal scholarship.

            Once again, thank you for your wisdom and clarity. Cheers!

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