God Forgive Us For Being Women: A Theological Response

What follows is my “theological response” delivered today at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies as one of four panel respondents to Joy E. A. Qualls’ God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition ( Frameworks: Interdisciplinary Studies for Faith and Learning; Pickwick, 2018).

“God Forgive Us for Being Women”:

A Theological Response

Practical Theology Interest Group

Rick Wadholm Jr.

Trinity Bible College & Graduate School

Presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies

Introduction and Testimony

I am grateful for the work of Joy Qualls regarding her publication of this invaluable work on women in ministry in the Assemblies of God. Her work continues to open the way for further studies of the use of rhetoric in Pentecostal circles, but more importantly in addressing the issues of women serving in leadership in the broader Pentecostal Church. In the movement through the various ways in which the Assemblies of God has addressed this subject, there were many stories and accounts, which gave room for considered pause and reflection. Many more (quite honestly) caused anger sufficiently that I was forced to put the book away for a while (and even tossed the book at one point). There were still other moments where I sensed the Spirit’s call to action on my own part in raising up a new generation of ministers for the good news of the kingdom in preparation for Jesus’ soon coming.

By way of offering some frame of context for my responses to this volume I offer the following. As a professor in an Assembly of God Bible college, I pour my life into discipling women and men called into vocational ministry. I serve several graduate schools and seminaries in the Assemblies of God globally and do likewise in those contexts realizing those students are transformative for the national churches they represent as these women and men are in their pursuit of graduate ministerial training. I am committed to this work. I long to see the sons and daughters of God empowered by the Spirit, educated for the work of the ministry, and serving to the Spirit’s fullest potential in and through them. I have contended for at least one U.S. District Council of the Assemblies of God to revise completely their bylaws to change the explicitly masculine language regarding the opportunities of serving in the presbytery and district leadership (with such a change being made in the upcoming District Council). I count this one small victory, but note that Qualls’ work reminds me that even should the rhetoric turn toward allowing women, this does not necessarily entail the actual election of women to such positions.

As a Pentecostal, I cannot but help to share a personal testimony as well. My mother as a teenager was invited to a revival service in the “Black side of town” at a racially mixed Pentecostal church holding services in a Quonset hut. Sister Lang was the evangelist preaching that evening. During the service, Sister Lang gave a word of knowledge to my mother in the crowd regarding her need for healing. She invited my mom to the altar where she began by asking if my mom had committed her life to Jesus. That very night my mother was saved, healed, and baptized in the Holy Spirit thanks to the prophetic preaching ministry of Sister Lang. In this fashion, I owe my own salvation and Pentecostal heritage to the ministry of Sister Lang.

Three Theological Words of Appreciation

While there could be any number of pointed comments made regarding specific points of Qualls work, I will leave such to others. Further, while there are many things praiseworthy in this volume, I will offer only three specific points. Thus, I would like to offer the following three specific theological ways in which I believe Qualls has helped to further this long-overdue conversation.

First, I would offer that her work on the history of one specific Pentecostal fellowship provides an avenue of investing the development and contours of a sort of theological history. In the case of this project, the Assemblies of God has been examined in ways previously not engaged. As such, Qualls has helpfully offered this gift of taking the reader on a journey through the various movements of Assembly of God leadership and their responses to women in ministry. Such a historic turn allows for a critical self-reflection for those on the inside of said fellowship, and speaks to potential self-reflection for other Pentecostal fellowships to consider their own journeys (for good or bad, for empowerment or silencing) and to offer ways to look to the future in what God has done and might still do among us as we sort through our specific theological claims and discern how the Spirit is speaking.

Second, Qualls has reminded the Pentecostal community that our rhetoric matters. We only often imagine we understand speech as those given to emphasizing divine speech patterns and forms. However, Qualls offers her prophetic rebuke, by way of historical examination, of the ways we have failed to appreciate our rhetoric. The way we describe, respond to, affirm, confront, empower, or silence women in ministry reveals more about our own hearts than it does about the Spirit per se. Our claims seek to draw upon the Scriptures, but seem to prefer cultural adaptations and entrapments more than we might like to admit. We cannot escape our contexts and the ways this shapes our speech (word choices, patterns, etc.), but we can (and must) be enabled to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.           

Third, in a fashion reminiscent of early Pentecostals (like Sister Aimee), Qualls has not based her work upon any forms of Feminism (though she could properly have done so). Instead, she has sought to be descriptive of the Assemblies of God’s history and to root her work in the theology of the outpoured Spirit and Pentecostal testimony to such as engagement of the Scripture’s own witness. My appreciation of this point is not because Qualls chose not to make use of Feminism, but because she instead chose other bases for her work to offer ways (through careful choice of rhetoric) to persuade readers to hear what she says without offering the stumbling block for many who might not otherwise give their ears to hear.

Three Theological Words of Commendation

By commending Qualls work, I mean first off to give thanks for the ways she is helping us to speak to each other and listen better toward faithfulness to our Lord. Second, I mean to commend this work toward ways in which it might be better clarified and strengthened in its contentions. Third, I mean to commend this work for our hearing in call and response to what God is at work doing among us already and desires to do toward that Day. With such explanation of my meaning to commend this work, let me humbly offer the following three specific commendations.

First, this work would be better served through a clarification of language regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit and pastoral ministry/authority. The baptism in the Holy Spirit functions as empowerment for witness and is not calling to vocational ministry. This failure to distinguish between empowerment as witnesses to Jesus and those called vocationally among those empowered for witness makes for argumentation that does not appreciate the fullest import of the empowerment of the baptism for all, and the distinguishing features of specific gifts within the church for individual members of the body.

Second, and related to the first, there seems to be at times a collapsing of language wherein terms are not sufficiently clarified or distinguished. Qualls seems to collapse such terms as calling and authority, and preaching and pastoring. These terms could use careful distinction as calling to ministry does not essentially entail authority within the church, nor does preaching entail pastoring. In relation to such terminological ambiguities, one might wonder in what ways “pastor” is made use of since many within Pentecostalism seem good with women pastoring women, children, or youth, but somehow not preaching in the Sunday AM worship setting as the regular preacher nor leading a board of elders.

Third, there appears at times to be an over-simplification of the unity of thought in early Pentecostalism (or at any other time in Pentecostalism) that regards the Assemblies of God as primarily in favor of women in ministry, pacifist, etc. There has always been a mixed response to these issues. What we are dealing with is predominant voices who were published and whose writings are extant. We do well not to overplay these nor to imagine things as more cohesive than they might have likely been. While Qualls at times allows for variant voices to be heard in her reporting of history, this work would be further strengthened in the recognition that always we are only dealing with those literate leading voices who were published and preserved. This may or may not be actually indicative of the Assemblies of God even as it is representative of specific leading voices. The broader constituency likely is not aware of such and may not even care. This is perhaps a problem of theological education wherein leadership may speak to issues, but the broader church simply does not hold such in individualized contexts.

Four Theological Orientations of Response

Finally, I would like to offer a four-fold (without offence to our five-fold brothers and sisters) orientation toward a stronger theological reading of Scripture and expression of such through our practice as the Pentecostal Church in better orienting our vision and language regarding women in ministry.

First, creation (as pre-Fall). Qualls rightly notes the ways in which Evangelicals have tended toward appealing to a proposed creation idea of the role of women in the Church drawn primarily from the post-Fall narrative of Genesis. Qualls does well indicating the ways in which appealing to pre-Fall creation is the ideal and ought to inform our trajectory within the redemptive community of God. I would press this yet further along the lines of interpretation offered by J. Richard Middleton’s The Liberating Image.[1] Creation of humans in the image of God was creation liberated into freedom toward and for one another. It was not bounded by relations of power and authority over and against, or exclusionary, but relations in light of God’s own inner communion: Father, Son and Spirit … mutual self-giving in love one for the other. Pentecostals, as those who live in light of God’s soon coming kingdom, also live in light of this beginning (and have perhaps missed this as orientative toward God’s intent in creation). To borrow the German terms for those points, which lay beyond historical investigation – urzeit and endzeit – Pentecostals are well served to draw upon our theology of urzeit (without exclusion of the endzeit), but it should actually be the urzeit to which we appeal as God’s intent and not the sin-filled world of historical experience. These times belong to the margins as those things outside of our experience and belonging to the revelation of God distinctly calling for belief, and to be enacted by faith. These are believed and experienced only by faith as that which belongs not to the fallen world groaning for redemption, but as the world “very good” and where God is with his people and his people with God. Such life is indeed liberating from the very beginning as a move toward the end. While Qualls makes certain overtures toward such a reappropriation of this true beginning, readers would do well to take up this task toward a more fully developed theology of creation pre-Fall.

Second, being in Christ. As Pentecostals we have already begun to experience the new creation breaking in upon us in our experience of the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-anointing Messiah. While this is a foretaste, it means that in our experience of Jesus we are experiencing what was intended from the beginning and have been liberated to a world already being made new in Christ. This inclusion in Christ, and only in Christ, toward that life calls for a rethinking of gendered relations. If indeed, there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3.28) what does this mean in the praxis of the Church? It certainly does not mean a removal of gendered life in Christ, but does point beyond simply an idea of “salvation” as inclusion in the community of God. It entails a remaking of all peoples as the one people, a testimony against the relations of distinction used against one another and an entering into unity where the “other” is received as Christ. This is not degendering, nor regendering, but engendering all of God’s people into Christ Jesus, the man from Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God. This is a freeing to be male and female beyond cultural boundedness, but also within cultural expressions as embodying Christ with us.

Third, pneumatologic rhetoric. Perhaps, further we might begin to think pneumatologically and thus see in the “shy member of the Trinity”[2] the very work women (as Qualls helpfully states throughout) in Pentecostalism have taken up as they point to another, the Christ, rather than themselves. There are a number of directions this might develop, but perhaps most relevant to the project of Pentecostal rhetoric is an opening of speaking by the Spirit in tongues. To speak in tongues is to speak beyond the boundedness of the world as we know and experience it and to speak toward the language of the kingdom coming.[3] This is, partially, to exercise the tongue with “pneumatological imagination.”[4] This is to speak by the Spirit, a pneumatologic rhetoric, that points to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom over and beyond all words with imagined power in the present passing age. This liberating of the tongue is orientative toward God’s future where one people live fully in the one Spirit as those speaking in many tongues with one voice. This is the pneumatologic rhetoric of the distinctions among us enabled by the Spirit to bear witness to the one God and Father of all. Following Leonardo Boff, “The Spirit sets humankind free from an obsession with its origins, its desire to return to the original paradise, access to which had been finally closed (Gen. 3:23). The Spirit moves us on toward the promised land, the destiny that has to be built and revealed in the future.”[5] This pneumatologic move points us, orients us, and even draws us, eschatologically as God’s future in-breaks by the Spirit into the present.

Fourth, eschatology, specifically an eschatological hermeneutic.[6] A hermeneutic of eschatological orientation is at play in how Pentecostals read Scripture (or ought to be), make our theological confessions, and our Pentecostal Christopraxis.[7] An eschatological hermeneutic as Christopraxis hears Scripture toward their aim (when all things are brought into the life of Christ Jesus as from the Father) rather than simply via a historical-grammatical reading of Scripture. Such a hermeneutic might be regarded as prophetic which is language which Qualls proposes as the potential of Pentecostalism and as truer of early Pentecostalism. Qualls’ contention was that this earlier hearing of Scripture was impacted by a shift toward priestly understandings over and against prophetic understandings. While a specifically gendered bias might appear in a priestly turn (it is not inherently so), to paint the priestly as inherently conservative and the prophetic as somehow progressive or not conservative, seems to miss the very conservative nature of the prophetic as pointed out in the works of Terence Fretheim and James Barr.[8] Thus, while one might argue for a return to a prophetic engagement with Scripture, such would be ultimately “conservative”, that is, it is thoroughly in light of creation pre-Fall, being in Christ, pneumatologically proclaimed, in light of the making of all things new. Further, a truly “priestly” and “prophetic” turn is a turn to King Jesus as true beginning and end. Perhaps the notion even of “conservative” in such a sense alters the term as many have come to define it in light of life in a sin-fallen world who are not seeming to take seriously the in-breaking kingdom of God. Such an eschatological orientation cannot but hear beyond the historical context and potential historical intent of the texts of Scripture and see these in light of Jesus the Christ in whom those previously in Adam find themselves by the Spirit declaring a world that is testified to by the life of the en-Spirited community toward that dawning day of his return. This is why Bonhoeffer would say, “The church of Christ witnesses to the end of all things. It lives from the end. It thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.”[9] And thus may it ever be so of those claiming Pentecost, and the God of Pentecost, as their shared experience.

I would actually have utterly missed the point of this book if I did not end where Qualls begins: with a prayer for forgiveness. But here, instead of a rhetorical word of confession by a wounded and abused member of the body of Pentecostal fellowships, I offer a confession of my sins (and our sins), of omission and commission. I have sinned against my sisters here in failing to speak up on their behalf as often and as boldly as the Spirit has compelled me to. I have sinned against my sisters here in speaking and acting in ways that dismissed and damaged God’s fullest calling on their lives to minister fully on his behalf. I have sinned against my sisters here in not always affirming their imaging of God in Christ with regard to the call to care for the flock of God. I have sinned against my sisters here as a man thinking first of being a man among brothers, and have not raised up my sisters as the prophetic witnesses they are in God’s congregation. 

Dear Church, we have sinned against our sisters … and we have sinned against God. We have sinned against Christ’s body. We have sinned against the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we can only begin towards redemption here by saying, “God, forgive us….”


[1] Middleton, J. Richard. The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005).

[2] Frederic Dale Bruner and William E. Hordern, The Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); see also, T. F. Torrance, Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (T & T Clark, 2001), 63; Andrew K. Gabriel, The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 94. Gabriel prefers the term “the Forgotten God,” 100.

[3] On which see, Robert Jenson, Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 57.

[4] Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 133-217.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 192-193.

[6] On just such an example of eschatological orientation in our hermeneutic and speech toward the telos of creation as defining for Pentecostalism/s, see Yong, Spirit-Word-Community, 47-48.

[7] On the construction of a Christopraxis, see Ray Sherman Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

[8] Terence E. Fretheim, “The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda”, Word and World 28 (2008): 159-168, and James Barr, “The Bible as a Political Document,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 62 (1980): 278-279.

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 3; ed. John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 21.

To Be Human: Thinking with Bonhoeffer

What does it mean to “be human”? Have we given sufficiently careful consideration to this topic? Or have we simply made the assumption that it is whatever we are doing? Is it to be rooted only in description of how “we” are or prescriptive of how “we” ought to be? Or is it yet some other thing?

I taught an adult Sunday school class a few years ago where I was asked to address the subject of “being human.” In the course of the conversations, a discussion of holiness was brought up. Someone mentioned that “we know we will sin, because we are all humans after all”. This struck me in light of Bonhoeffer’s statement that popped into my mind at that moment: “While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings” (D. Bonhoeffer, Ethics [Vol. 6; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005], p. 84, emphasis added). While this statement assumes that we strive to be more than human (because we believe our being human is something to be overcome), I wonder if this is not the basis for the excuse echoed in my Sunday school that day.

We blame our humanity for our sinfulness. It struck me that Paul never does this, John never does this, and Peter never does this. The Scriptures blame our sinful or “fleshly” nature (the language of Paul). And, perhaps surprisingly for many, I don’t believe this should be confused with “being human”, truly human. The reason being that Jesus is True Man and all else is but a pale image of the true, being marred by sin. I would actually contend that our sinfulness deprives us of our humanity, because it is only in obedience to the Father that one is truly human in the fullest sense. And this can only come about by the regenerating work of God’s Spirit (the spirit of adoption crying “Abba, Father!”) conforming us into the image of the Son, who Himself is the true image of God.

So what are some potential outcomes of this change of perspective which seems to follow the trajectory proposed by Bonhoeffer?

(1) To be human is to be taken up into Christ. It is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God which is acceptable and pleasing. It is the humanity of God in Christ taking up our sinful humanity and glorifying God through the obedience of redemption. To be truly human is to be counted as those who are in Christ: the righteousness of God and the First Adam.

(2) To be human is to set aside excuses for sinning. We can no longer say that we will continue to sin because “we are just human after all”. NO! We have been delivered from death to life. The Spirit of Christ Jesus now lives in us. We have been baptized with Christ and our sins have been once for all dealt with. We are not the children of the devil, but the children of God who no longer are slaves to sin and death. We are slaves of Christ Jesus our Lord and have been delivered from death to life! Therefore, to be “real human beings” is to live by the power of the Spirit! To live free! Free of the bonds of sin.

(3) To be human is to live free for the other and free for God. There is no constraint, but the one to love. This is the greatest commandment and all it entails: humanity unleashed from the bonds of self-serving, self-loving rebellion against God and God’s will for creation. The true human is the one who lives for the other because of being made in God’s image. Therefore, the other who is made in God’s image becomes the one by which we grow into the image of God in communion as those created and purchased by God.  As those bearing God’s image, by God’s Spirit we reflect the ineffable God in Christ. Unbounded love for God and for the other: this is being truly human…to be in Christ Jesus.

So I would charge you fully to embrace your humanity; God did!

_______________________

This was originally published by me in December 2015 thebonhoeffercenter.org

Andrew K. Gabriel’s “Simply Spirit-Filled”: A Book Review

I am grateful to Andrew Gabriel for the opportunity to review Simply Spirit Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).

Andrew K. Gabriel (PhD, McMaster Divinity College) serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Vice President of Academics at Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatoon, SK. He is a member of the Theological Study Commission of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (with which he is also an Ordained Minister) and the author of three books, including The Lord Is the Spirit: The Holy and the Divine Attributes.

Gabriel’s desire for his readers regarding the life of the Spirit in “Simply Spirit-Filled” is that they be: “Open, but not gullible. Discerning, but not cynical. Engaging, but not fanatical. My hope is that you would be simply Spirit-filled” (10). His style of writing is approachable and engaging offering an intelligent, but readily accessible read for persons from teenagers to adult with any concern for the Spirit (whether wrestling with basic questions, or just seeking a deepened engagement). Personal anecdotes, testimonials, and reflections permeate the chapters and offer pastoral insight in leading others alongside for living as those who keep in step with the Spirit.

After sharing briefly about his personal spiritual journey in chapter 1, he opens in chapter 2 discussing two experiences typical in many Pentecostal and charismatic settings: shaking and being “slain in the Spirit” (he refers to these two as “shake and bake”). Sifting through multiple Biblical texts which have been used for supporting such experiences, Gabriel helps the readers to discern ways of hearing Scripture more properly with regard to experience, but also to remain critically humble in enjoying what the Spirit may in fact  be doing.

Chapter 3 engages issues of hearing God speak to us. The interweaving of personal story and Biblical/theological reflection calls for readers to reflect more carefully along with Gabriel on the ways in which the Spirit is in fact already speaking. To become better listeners. To attune ourselves to hearing well. (This chapter bears many similarities to the ways I continually seek to counsel church-goers and students toward hearing what the Spirit is saying…an issue which often creates tremendous anxiety especially for young college students).

Chapter 4 broaches the subject of tongues. Here he specifically provides responses to three common challenges to speaking in tongues (tongues are only a sign of Spirit baptism, tongues are just for a few people, and it’s “magical” or it’s “just me”). In the end, he clarifies the spiritual gains of speaking in tongues and along the way offers some brief comments toward interpreting Paul in 1 Corinthians well with regard to Paul’s understanding of the place and function of tongues within the life of the Church.

Chapter 5 engages the health-and-wealth/prosperity gospel and “Word of Faith” theology in light of God’s plans to heal and bless. Here he even names numerous such preachers/teachers in order to at least highlight some specifics of what he is addressing before addressing a healthy (pun intended) approach to healing and wholeness. Gabriel’s discussion of “faith” and the many ways it gets abused (usually with regard to someone else’s “faith”) turns to pointing toward a trust in God when we do not understand or do not clearly see an answer as we might desire. Regarding praying for healing, he comments, “If you think you must use a specific technique or formula when praying for healing, you may have a hangover from prosperity teaching” (118). His response, ask for healing and trust God. It remains God’s gift to give.

Chapter 7 concludes this book with a portrait of what it might look like to be Spirit-filled. To be Spirit-filled is to be captured by the love of God…a love which answers in love for God and others. This is to be “spiritual” in the language of Paul…to be ones guided and in step with the Spirit as those who are yielded to the life of the Spirit among us making us to be more like Jesus.

As a tool for reflective devotional purposes, Gabriel provides a prayer in relation to the contents of the chapter along with numerous helpful pointed questions regarding the chapter’s contents. These provide a direct resource for making use of this book for a personal devotional reading, group study, Sunday School, or discipleship, thus adding to the overall value of the book for continued deeper consideration and application. Gabriel is to be commended as a scholar for producing such a work that may prove to bear much fruit for the wider Church should it gain its needed wide reading. Pastors and church leaders would benefit greatly from reading this volume and finding ways to either lead congregations through its contents or to preach and teach upon the topics laid out with specific attention to the Biblical texts discussed.

One notable curiosity from my reading, Gabriel does not discuss the Spirit at all in chapter 5 (on faith and healing) all the while the gifts of “faith” and “healings” belong as gifts of the Spirit given to the body of Christ. His discussion of the topic is pastorally careful and reflective, but seems to lack the integration of the role or function of the Spirit specifically in the processes of faith and wholeness here (though he takes up the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 6). While one will find him offering multiple engagements toward perceiving the life of the Spirit in the other chapters, this chapter could have used a clarification throughout toward faith as the work of the Spirit in us (as gift even) along with the life-giving enjoyment of the Spirit who purposes to make a world fit for our God and Father and His glorious Son, King Jesus.

_____________________

I was provided a complimentary pre-publication copy by Andrew K. Gabriel for review purposes only for this review and am offering my review freely.

Brief Comments on the Old Testament as Canon

I was asked by a student if the early Jews (of the second Temple period) held to a canon of the likes of the later Church.

Here is my brief response:

No. There was considerable debate. For instance, the Sadducees of Jesus’ day only held to the Torah/Pentateuch. They rejected everything else. Same with the Samaritans. The Pharisees seem to represent a group that held to what we know as the OT (which was a collection of 22/24 scrolls equivalent to our 39). While the community (?) at Qumran seems to have held to a wider idea of sacred Scripture that included other texts. And still others, Greek speaking Jews, made use of what we have come to call the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon later received in the Roman Catholic tradition.

This causes me pause with regard to the certitude we can occasionally speak with regarding our ideas of canonicity. These are questions complicated by the communities we find ourselves a part of and the traditions we have received.

For an attempt at addressing the issue of “original text” of the OT, see my “Formation of Canonical Texts”

For an attempt at addressing “Formation of an OT Canon or Formation of a Community”

For a short “fun” attempt at what I’ve deemed a Midrashic history of the OT text/s. (apologies for the Greek/Hebrew texts going wonky in these early attempts…I should fix the unicode).

A Great Host of Women Preaching

The Lord giveth the word: The women that publish the tidings are a great host.” Psalms 68:11 RV1885

As I’ve been feverishly working to complete my conference paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies (Titled: “‘Until I, Deborah, Arose’ (Judges 4–5): A Pentecostal Reception History of Deborah Toward Women in Ministry”), I’ve been poring over the early Pentecostal periodicals (up through 1935). The unanimous voices of these early Pentecostals was for women to join men in the work of preaching the good news. I was struck by the repeated reference to this Psalm that I had never previously heard in reference to women preaching (many translations obscure it, but even those have often included the language of “women” in their footnote).

I was actually surprised to discover the unanimous voices of divergent streams of early Pentecostals (Wesleyan and Finished Work; independent, Assemblies of God, Church of God-Cleveland, Pentecostal Holiness Church, Foursquare): women who have been empowered by the Spirit and heard the call must answer to proclaim the everlasting gospel. In fact, women preaching becomes, for some, one of the very evidences of Jesus’ soon coming (as the promised Spirit is being poured out on the daughters as well). As such, the early Pentecostals could not help but respond to what they believed God was doing.

The harvest is great; the laborers, few.

There is a greater need for more workers in our day than even in their’s. Lord, send more women (and men) full of the Holy Spirit to declare the good news of the kingdom!

Bruce Gunderson: The Passing of a Pentecostal Preacher

I have gone back and forth about writing up a blog post about the passing of my father-in-law, Bruce William Gunderson (Nov. 17, 1948-Dec. 16, 2018), who died at home Sunday morning. I had been by his side for nearly two weeks, but had returned home briefly Saturday evening to be with my four kids and preach in the morning before heading back to his bed-side. He passed before I could return. I received the call shortly before preaching. I write what follows simply as a reflection on a number of the ways in which his life and ministry were a shining example to me (and many others) of a faithful Spirit-filled preacher (not to mention the other relationships in his life).

I first met Bruce a little over 22 years ago while working at Lakewood Park Bible Camp. His daughter, Jenn, was also working for the camp on a ministry scholarship that the two of us had received. Bruce started up a conversation asking me about my calling to the ministry. I shared my heart for missions, Muslims, and Iran. Bruce took it all in with numerous questions (as was typical I would find), but eventually was satisfied by my answers sufficiently to meander elsewhere at the camp. I later discovered he had determined I would be a good fit for his daughter (without telling me this). We were not dating at the time, but it would be less than a year later that we would be married. Bruce welcomed me into his family of what would be seven girls and two boys.

Bruce was one of my all time favorite preachers to listen to: the power of his booming baritone voice, his cadence as he broke into an old hymn as he preached, his pointed prophetic calls to hear the word and offer obedience. Scripture would flow from his heart where he had committed it to memory. I have often found myself reflecting him in my own preaching and teaching ministry. He was persuaded of the simplicity of the good news making it accessible to all ages, but offering depth of thought and insight to fire up the imaginations of those willing to dig deeper.

Bruce had felt a call to ministry while a Catholic, but found few answers to the many questions he was asking. While he initially trained as a science teacher in Bismarck he would actually receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit by simply reading the book of Acts and asking the Lord to do for him what he read. It would be a while before he would have some Church of God folks speak to him about “tongues” to which he replied had already been doing in his prayer life. Bruce eventually graduated from the Church of God Bible college located in Minot, ND. He would eventually take his first pastorate at a non-denominational Pentecostal church in Watford City, ND. When he led this church into a merger with the local Assembly of God he ended up joining the A/G and pastoring several more congregations across ND (Golden Valley, Halliday, and Carrington). Bruce would hold revival services in several states, speak for a number of camps across the region, and serve on multiple ministry boards (such as Lakewood Park Bible Camp and Teen Challenge in ND). His commitment to rural Pentecostal ministry has been a remarkable demonstration of the faithfulness of the Lord. Many have come to know Jesus, to be healed, delivered, and baptized in water and the Spirit through Bruce’s faithful service.

Bruce inspired me to pastor. When I was unsure of myself to take a church, it was Bruce who prophetically drew the pastoral gifts out of me. He spoke confidently that the Lord had indeed called and gifted me to pastor. I took my first church the day after graduating Bible college because of his inspiring words over me. And when I faced difficulties and had questions, I knew I could call Bruce and he would offer wisdom that I simply did not hear elsewhere. I even remember once having my own dad (himself a pastor) call me asking for advice on some pastoral issue, and I told him, “Call Bruce. He will tell you things others won’t and even if you don’t agree with him, he will have provoked such new thoughts that you will be able to discern what you are supposed to do.” And that was exactly what my dad did. Dad called me later to say I was spot on about Bruce’s wisdom. I always knew if I asked Bruce about any passage of Scripture, theological or pastoral issue, that he would offer insights one did not find in books and commentaries. He always seemed to have a way of seeing things slant in a way that was both uplifting and positive toward a solution.

Bruce was passionate about living the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit. He loved people and he loved telling people about the goodness of God and about life in Jesus. I can remember his ministry to Nicaragua where he looked to bring many dozens of glasses for those lacking proper vision care. I think of his making many (MANY) dozens of pizzas for a missions fund-raiser for his church in Halliday, ND (this may have been one of the reasons he was elected mayor as a write-in against an incumbent because some folks wanted him to run). Just about six weeks ago he returned from ministry in India where he was able to help train pastors, build a church building, and minister in preaching. He had been having great difficulty walking as he prepared to leave for this ministry trip enough that I worried how he might do. I asked him how it went when he returned and he told me he felt greater strength and health than he had in years in those two weeks of ministry. He was persuaded the Spirit had enabled him to do the work Jesus had called him to do. The renal cancer that took his life these weeks later would not keep him from declaring Jesus as Lord in India. And I praise the Lord for his vision and passion and obedience.

Bruce has not simply been my father-in-law these last 21+ years … he has been my friend and mentor. I have loved him like a father. He has given me an example to follow in following Jesus. And I am blessed to have shared life with him, to have received teaching, preaching and prophetic words from him. To have been encouraged, challenged and comforted. I am ever grateful to have spent the last two weeks holding his hand, praying with him, reading Scripture, and singing over him. I carry his passion for Jesus and people in my heart! Thank you Bruce for loving Jesus and loving people well!!!

Could It Be … Satan

I was recently asked by a friend how I might answer someone claiming to see Satan in the message of Ezekiel 28:1-19 (HERE is the passage).

Here is my brief response:

First, I point to 28.2 which specifically says “prince of Tyre” and this message is embedded within a series of messages against the kingdom/city and ruler (26-28) and surrounded by other texts against other kingdoms and rulers (25-32). To make this passage suddenly about “Satan” or “the devil” would be to potentially be ignoring the context.

Second, the individual addressed is human and ONLY thinks themselves to be like a god: v. 2 “you are only a man”, vv. 4-5, 16 amassing great wealth, vv. 7-10, 17-18 suffering judgment by a foreign military, vv. 10, 19 and dying.

Third, the prophetic imagery of “cherub” (vv. 14, 16) in “Eden” (v. 13) draws upon ancient story, but not the Biblical one preserved in Genesis 2-3. It draws upon that same world (and apparently was known in Tyre and likely some part of their mythology). A similar prophetic image function happens with Egypt and Pharaoh being a water monster of the Nile (29.3-5).

The connection people have made to Satan from this passage has been the language of Eden (ignoring the rest of the context of the passage ultimately) and presuming that any reference to an angelic like being in Eden must be referring to the serpent of Genesis 2-3. However, that serpent is called a “creature of the field” and never anything more. It is never called a cherub nor hinted at. The only reference to a cherub in Genesis 2-3 is with regard to the one left with a sword guarding the eastern entrance back into the garden once the man and woman are evicted.

Though reading Satan into this text has a long tradition behind it, it simply does not bear up under any real scrutiny. (As an aside, one could also examine Isaiah 14’s reference to the “morning star” [poorly translated “Lucifer” by some], but that is for another blog post on another day.

Thoughts in a Day: Some Reflections

It has been a full day (though many feel that way). It has also been a good day. I was just reflecting on some of the happenings of the day and the goodness of God through it all.

  • A video chat with a friend not seen nearly often enough who is ministering elsewhere in the world and just needing some encouragement, an ear to hear, and prayers shared.
  • Sitting with my daughter Abbi (who skipped a class at the high school) in chapel to hear a missionary testifying about their calling to share Jesus. And knowing that she is stirred (as I am) to share Jesus to the ends of the earth.
  • Running into a man who recognized me as the mission leader that brought a team of Americans to work in another country where he was an intern placed in my team. He shared the way that was a decisive time for him and how he has given the rest of his life to serving full-time in missions.
  • Intending to go to coffee only to discover a student waiting patiently for me at my office to discuss a Scripture that they are wrestling with and finding themselves overcome by this Word as we read, meditate, discuss, consider, and reflect on the text before us to hear what the Spirit is saying.
  • Making a new friend who also loves Muslim peoples and invited me to do some writing with him for others on this topic.
  • Interviewing a couple of ministerial students as they share their callings and journey toward vocational ministry where our Biblical and Theological Studies faculty speak prophetically over them and offer heart-felt prayers for them.
  • Discussing the traumas of specific people in a class on Jeremiah where words seemed to fail as we felt some manner of the weight of judgment, sorrows, and pain and the manner in which the LORD takes these up into himself in suffering alongside us and for us.
  • Participating in a faculty in-service meeting led by a great missionary leader who shared his own testimony of God’s calling for him to “stay” as a mobilizer of others and hearing my own journey in those words (even as we are both committed to “going”).
  • Hearing a student who was so moved by a sermon last year in chapel that they have been on a quest to become a voice for the voiceless and thus led a couple of hours of spirited discussion among faculty, staff, students and community members regarding our responsibilities to be just and live justly reflecting Jesus in all spheres of life.

I find my heart full and my thoughts tracing through this day. I’m grateful. And God is good.

Review: Introducing Theological Method by Mary M. Veeneman

This last Friday I gratefully received a review copy of Mary M. Veeneman’s book Introducing Theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches (2017) from Baker Academic. I so enjoyed the volume that I nearly read it straight through from the moment it arrived at my doorstep. (I’m not sure what this says about me or about the quality of the writing, but I’m going with the quality of the writing rather than simply my drive to read 🙂 ).

Veeneman’s writing is both engaging and enlightening as she offers numerous approaches through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century of theological methods. She covers ressourcement and neo-orthodox theologies (Avery Dulles, Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg), theologies of correlation (Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan), postliberal theologies (George Lindbeck, Hans Frei), evangelical theologies (Millard Erickson, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer, Clark Pinnock), political theologies (Johann Baptist Metz, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone), feminist theologies (Elizabeth Johnson, Delores Williams), and closing with discussions of responses to religious pluralism and comparative theologies. While I have engaged many of these authors in my readings over the last number of years there were several whom I had not (notably Dulles, Metz, Cone, and Williams).

One aspect of this volume that belongs very near to my own work is that of the place of hermeneutics in theology or even the hermeneutics of theology. The values, senses, meanings, significance, signs, etc. of theological confession, development, and methodology belongs inextricably attached to one’s hermeneutic. It is likely my own interests in Biblical interpretation as such that also drives my interests in theological interpretation (not meaning just of Scripture, but of such things as the use of theological language, its context/s, and its meaning and function).

From my own readings of these authors (not likely as extensive as hers), Veeneman seems to have managed to been charitable in her descriptions of their methodological contributions without necessarily contradicting or negating them. This does not mean she has not offered critiques of the various methods and various authors engaged. Her work critically engages, but does so in a fashion to allow the reader of her work to do their own assessment toward considering ways to construct theologies within their own contexts. This makes the volume helpful for students of theology as way of introducing both significant theologians, theologies, and their methods of theological development.

This also serves as a call for myself to note the many ways which may still remain open for future theological developments as a conversation always in process. I particularly regard this as being the case given my own sense of desire to work as a constructive Pentecostal theologian who works for the benefit of the wider Church and indeed for the world (as Christ in, over and soon-coming to the world).

What one will not find in this volume is a list of “how-tos” for developing any particular theological method. Instead, the survey of the various approaches allows for a considerably diverse picture of the landscape of contemporary theological methodologies each with different foci and contexts. The diversity of voices represented might provide some small sampling toward a wider consideration of ways of doing theology for its readers even if missing many voices as well that simply have not written or are less well known.

Finishing this volume, I found myself already adding several of the recommended books to my own Amazon wishlists. I would personally consider using this volume should I teach my independent study course on “Readings in Theology” again in the future as a way of introduction to the contemporary theological landscape toward our own attempts at theologizing.

Book Recommendations for a Pastor in Training

The following is an email reply I sent to one of my students regarding recommendations for books as he prepares for a couple of years from now to enter full-time ministry. I thought others might benefit from this as well.

Shawn,
Take note of syllabi. They often include such works we have found beneficial. While we will include other works there are some listed there that would aid you (depending upon the subject matter and your interest and calling).

Commentaries. I would encourage you to purchase and read several commentaries for each sermon series you do in ministry. There are resources to help in sifting commentaries that may be most beneficial and we’re all willing to make such recommendations as needed.

Preaching. I’d encourage you to just work through one or two (at least) books a year on some aspect of preaching. Find a friend to discuss these with and consider even buying a copy for them. Also, don’t forget to consider how you are applying what you read. 🙂

Theology. Find books on various aspects of theology to read and reflect on. Read classics and older works like Church Fathers who were both pastors and theologians: Tertullian, Augustine, the Cappadocian fathers, Ephrem the Syrian, etc. And read historical theologians like Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, etc…all of whom also had pastoral care in mind. And read contemporaries who do likewise like Eugene Peterson, N. T. Wright, etc.

There are numerous other things you shouldn’t ignore that I’m not listing like missions biographies and theologies, theological/bible dictionaries, high literature (like the classics), popular literature (I’m thinking whether fiction or non-fiction), pastoral care, classic devotional works (like Thomas a Kempis), etc. Read widely. Read well.

Acquire resources that will serve you for the long term rather than consuming only whatever seems fad-ish. And all of these are really things to particularly engage over a lifetime rather than simply to purchase now (you can’t afford it in money or time, but in the long run you will slowly gain what you should). I’d encourage you to engage any given professor you are taking classes from about any specific works they might recommend on that topic beyond the required readings. 🙂
Blessings on the journey.
Rick