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!!!

A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets: A Pentecostal Perspective — PhD Thesis

I recently learned (thanks Daniel Isgrigg) that my PhD thesis “A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets: A Pentecostal Perspective” is available free online through my doctoral alma mater: Bangor University, Wales. For those interested it can be read in whole HERE. An edited version of this work is due to be published within the year (under the same title) by CPT Press.

The following is the abstract:

This thesis works toward a constructive Pentecostal theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets. Chapter one provides a history of interpretation (from 1896 to present) of major works engaging the Former Prophets with regard to the Spirit. Chapter two offers a Pentecostal hermeneutic of the Former Prophets. Chapter three provides a history of effects (or Wirkungsgeschichte) approach by hearing the Spirit texts of the Former Prophets alongside of early North American Pentecostals (specifically the journals from 1906-1920) in order to offer a better orientation to how Pentecostal communities have interpreted these texts in their formative years. Chapters four through seven apply the hermeneutic of chapter two to the groupings of texts of the Spirit in the Former Prophets. As such, the chapters that follow are larger literary units which include multiple references to the Spirit of Yahweh/God, but are grouped together as narratological units. Chapter four addresses the judges who explicitly experience the liberating Spirit of Yahweh. Chapter five addresses Saul and David’s musical and prophetic experiences of the Spirit of Yahweh/God both for good and ill. Chapter six addresses the ambiguities of the Spirit in the context of the prophet Micaiah. Chapter seven addresses the passing of the Spirit of true prophetic sonship from Elijah to Elisha. Chapter eight then attempts a constructive Pentecostal theology of the Spirit in light of the study of the Spirit in the Former Prophets laid out in the preceding exegetical chapters and the Wirkungsgeschichte of chapter three. Finally, the concluding chapter briefly summarizes the contributions of this study and entertains multiple potential directions for future study brought to light through this study.

Challenging Gendered Leadership in the Old Testament: A Webinar at Co-Laborate

HERE is a webinar I was invited to speak for at “Co-Laborate: Men & Women Together: Pentecostal Theology & Praxis” with host Dr. Debbie Fulthorp on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. I spoke on the topic “Challenging Gendered Leadership in the Old Testament”.

The three primary ideas/images regarding the role and function of women in leadership in the OT that I selected to share about are:

  • Mother
  • Prophet
  • Wisdom

I present a few texts from the OT in reference to each idea/image and offer these as related to my own hermeneutic of discerning the trajectory of Scripture rather than simply extracting principles. I regard such images in the OT as indicative of what the Spirit has always been at work doing to empower for life and redemption.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the webinar and any of the texts and subjects discussed (provided it is done with civility and love).

Pentecostal Oral Liturgy

I’m taking a number of Trinity students to the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (hosted in Cleveland, TN this year) in a few weeks. Every Thursday for the last several months we’ve met for about a half hour to talk about various aspects of the trip including topics/papers that will be a part of the gathering. One of the papers that I summarized today (and handed out a copy of) was from a dear friend (thanks Monte) who is engaging (in part) ways that the poor find their voice in the Pentecostal oral liturgy, all the while most of life mutes their voices.
Likely you may not think Pentecostals have “liturgy”. However, it is simply those practices which form such a gathering into the image of Christ. I was asking for examples of such and the students helpfully offered such things as praying in tongues, singing, prayers, and preaching. I should mention that each Thursday, just prior to our half hour gathering for particular trips, we are together as a full campus singing to the Lord, offering prayers and testimonies. During our corporate time today our Director of Student Ministries called for us to join in prayer for the mass shooting in a school in Parkland, Florida yesterday. As he mentioned this there were audible groans from several places in the chapel.
I pointed to those groans as a poignant example of Pentecostal oral liturgy. Those groans belong to the Spirit who also groans with creation for redemption. Such groans function to address the deep anguish of heart in the face of such darkness. It longs, it cries, for response. Inexpressible groans that long for the kingdom of our God to become the kingdom of this world. Groans for the King to return and set all things to right.
Moments like this remind me of the value of the integration of scholarship with practice, worship flowing into theological reflection and that theology answering back as further worshipful response to God in the midst of his people in the midst of the world.

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.

Walter Hollenweger Memoriam

foto_hollenwegerIt is with a heavy heart I announce that the Swiss Pentecostal scholar Walter Hollenweger passed away August 10, 2016. His contributions to Pentecostalism are profound. One finds him footnoted throughout Pentecostal journals, theses/dissertations (including my own) and monographs. His vast publishing contributions fill 47 pages (a complete bibliography up to 2005 can be found HERE)! He was truly a global and ecumenical theologian worthy of emulation.
 
Hollenweger taught and promoted Pentecostal/charismatic (P/c) studies globally (and ecumenically) as a part of the University of Birmingham beginning in 1971 where he also later founded the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies as a resource and training centre for such interests. His scholastic namesake, the Hollenweger Centre of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has also provided significant resources and supervision for many research projects and PhD students within P/c studies. While he has specifically contributed to P/c studies within the European context, these two Centres have impacted the globe via their significant collections and gathering of scholars as part of his vision to share the joy of studying such things as P/c history, theology, and practices. Hollenweger’s contributions to Pentecostals and Charismatics will be felt for many decades to come as a pioneer of P/c scholarship.

The Azusa Street Papers

IMG_1337One of my co-workers just found and gave me a copy of The Azusa Street Papers which is a reproduction of the thirteen issues of The Apostolic Faith (1906-1908) published by the Apostolic Faith Mission at Azusa Street (Los Angeles, CA) by William J. Seymour. It records countless testimonies of the redemptive and empowering work of the Lord Jesus from around the world as the Spirit was being poured out on all flesh. This journal was key in spreading the Pentecostal message in those early years connected to the revival at the Mission.

William_seymour
William J. Seymour

While I typically give out down-sized copies from a PDF of the first several issues in my Pentecostal Heritage class, I was overjoyed to receive this volume that now allows me to show the students the papers in their original size and to personally own the papers (which are otherwise publicly available free of charge). This volume also includes a glossary of terms and an extensive index of terms and names.
Related to this, I would be remiss to not mention that one can access these papers (and many others at pentecostalarchives.org. This website is an invaluable tool for those interested in researching early Pentecostalism. It is a consortium of databases containing many of the periodicals and minutes of Pentecostal history. It also includes blog posts and book reviews on related subjects.
I have a strong interest in early Pentecostal literature for numerous personal reasons:

  • I am currently writing on the early Pentecostal interpretations of certain Biblical texts (Joshua through Kings),
  • I have taught a course numerous times on the history and theology of Pentecostalism/s,
  • I serve on the Library and Research Committee of the Society for Pentecostal Studies,
  • I find my own faith to be enlivened and challenged in the reading of these early works,
  • and I long for a wider audience to enjoy the benefit of open access to such resources.

All of this being said, if you have (or know of) any literature or audio/video materials related to early Pentecostalism I would encourage you to contact one of the organizations associated with the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives. Particularly the leading holder and purveyor of such: The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
And thanks for the gift, Twyla! I am nerding out on early Pentecostal history. 🙂

Two Literary Women of Pentecost

As I pour over the early Pentecostal periodicals, I am struck that despite the many limitations concerning leadership placed upon women within Pentecostal fellowships, there were numerous women preachers and writers who were making profound impact for the Kingdom.
Several women appear throughout these journals: Pandita Ramabai receives mention for her work in India, Maria Woodworth-Etter was used mightily to heal the sick, and Aimee Semple McPhearson boldly preached the full gospel message. While these names at least bear mention in many volumes dealing with Pentecostal history (due to their public ministries), I am yet more impressed by, and grateful for, the literary work of the likes of two women I wanted to highlight that have impacted me as I work on my PhD studies: E.A. Sexton and A.R. Flower.
Elizabeth A. Sexton initially served as the associate editor for G.B. Cashwell’s Atlanta based journal Bridegroom’s Messenger (founded 1907), but in 1908 took the helm as editor until 1923  at which point she was followed by her daughter, Hattie M. Barth. These two women (along with Hattie’s husband, Paul) founded The Association of Pentecostal Assemblies in 1921 (later merging into The International Pentecostal Church of Christ which still maintains the Bridegroom’s Messenger as its official periodical).  She also was the impetus (and a founding trustee) for Hattie and Paul to launch a Pentecostal school in Atlanta known as Beulah Heights Bible Institute (now Beulah Heights University). Sexton gave voice to thousands of Pentecostals spread across the globe as she shared their articles, testimonies, and letters along with her own editorial works.

Alice Reynolds Flower
Alice Reynolds Flower

Another woman who has stood out in my research is Alice Reynolds Flower who, along with her husband J. Roswell, founded The Christian Evangel in 1913 (which later became The Pentecostal Evangel and the official publication of the Assemblies of God). She contributed the weekly Sunday school lessons in the Evangel along with providing numerous poems and books addressing spiritual matters. (HERE is an interview with her in 1980 by Delbert Tarr concerning the early years of the U.S. Pentecostal movement and the founding of the A/G).
These women are unsung champions of the Pentecostal faith. They wrote and edited works over those early formative decades to help spread the message of Jesus in His fullness as Savior, Sanctifier, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Soon Coming King. And I, for one, am grateful for their faithful work and witness! May the Father raise up many more such daughters to carry forward His mission to the world!

A Brief Snake Handling Journey

I visited Tennessee this week to meet with my PhD supervisor (who is based in Cleveland even though my school is Bangor University, Wales). I had decided this visit that since I was “in the neighborhood” of the origins of the “serpent handler” churches, I’d like to visit the original site: Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following (you know its fun when a church name is that long).
As it happens, I also do a lecture on the origin and theology of snake handling for an undergraduate course I teach every Spring–Pentecostal Heritage. In part, I do this lecture as my final lecture of the semester in order to assure students will show up on the last day of class. I also do it because…well…its just plain fascinating to me and thus a fun way to end the course.
A Brief History of the Founder
The “founder” of snake handling churches, George Hensley, had been a moonshiner who came to the Lord at special meetings held by Homer Tomlinson just north of Cleveland, TN. Hensley took to preaching himself around Owl Hollow (eventually joining the Church of God Cleveland TN for a time) and was doing so on Mark 16:17-20, but some of his former moonshining buddies thought to scare off the meeting by tossing a box of poisonous snakes into their midst. While the congregation fled in terror, Hensley snatched up the snakes “like a boy would gather stovewood in his arms to carry into the house” (Tomlinson p. 41). This was apparently the beginning of Hensley handling serpents, but appears to have created quite a sensation throughout the region gaining the attention of A. J. Tomlinson. Of note is an invitation in 1914 by A. J. Tomlinson to Hensley to the General Assembly of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) in order to demonstrate the handling of serpents. Hensley apparently had a difficult time in life as he was married four times and went back and forth preaching and handling snakes to making moonshine even spending time jailed for both practices (Olsen p.24). A not-so-surprising end, he died on July 24, 1955 as the result of a snake bite for which he denied medical care and was declared to have committed “suicide”.

300px-Snakehandling
Snake handling service held in Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky at the Pentecostal Church of God, September 15, 1946 (National Archives and Records Administration, photo by Russell Lee)

My Surprises
I set up my visit to see the site of the Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following (Hensley’s church which was torn down decades ago). Church of God historian Dr. David Roebuck kindly arranged the trip north a half hour to Owl Hollow and Dolly Pond. As it turned out he had asked Bishop Wade Phillips to guide us. Bishop Phillips had just published the first volume of a series on the history of the Church of God and I was familiar with his work. This was a pleasant surprise tour guide.
We arrived at the site (where now a Church of God of Prophecy stands nearby) and saw something laying on what appeared to be the foundation of the Dolly Pond church we were looking for. It was a sloughed snake skin. A delightful find indeed. Especially as it was not a live snake. 🙂
 
 
IMG_1256
Sloughed snake skin on the “foundation” of the location of the Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following.

Naturally we posed with the serpent remains.
IMG_1260
Bishop Wade H. Phillips, Dr. David G. Roebuck, and myself (holding the sloughed snake skin we found)

While wandering around the site, Phillips mentioned that he had been told (some 20 years prior by a nearby neighbor) that there was a small gathering of graves up on a hill near where the church had stood. We climbed the hill in search of the graves of potential members of the Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following and were again delighted by our find. We found a grave of one “Minnie L. Harden” (maiden name of Parker) buried near her parents Ben and Maggie Parker.
IMG_1263
Minnie L. (Parker) Harden’s grave on the hill just up from the Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following

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Picture from W.H. Phillips, “Quest to Restore God’s House” p. 356.

As it turned out Minnie had been pictured in Phillips’ book Quest to Restore God’s House: A Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) Volume 1, 1886-1923, where she has a rattlesnake draped across her forehead with the sign “The Dolley [sic] Pond Church of God With Signs Following” just over her shoulder.
While I know this is not a typical trip (for anyone), it was a fun historical adventure reminding me of locating historical figures and movements in their times and contexts. It also reminds me that even when I vehemently oppose a practice I can still appreciate the sense of experiencing the stories of others and how they may have handled issues of faith and practice.
Works Cited
Olsen, Ted. “They Shall Take Up Serpents,” Christian History 17.2 (May 1998): p.24.
Phillips, Wade H. Quest to Restore God’s House: A Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) Volume 1, 1886-1923. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2014.
Tomlinson, Homer A. “It Came to Pass in Those Days”: The Shout of a King. Queens Village, N.Y.: Church of God, U.S.A. Headquarters, 1968.