PhD Programs for Pentecostals

So I’ve been in the process of applying for PhD programs over the last couple of years as I was finishing my M.Div.Honours at Providence Theological Seminary.  In my researching, I discovered there are a few schools offering PhD programs which are particularly pentecostally friendly (and all of them are somewhat new programs): Assembly of God Theological Seminary (Springfield, MO), Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA), Bangor University (Wales, UK), University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK), and the Hollenweger Center (Amsterdam, The Netherlands).  All of these programs are interestingly enough distance programs…which may (in part) be due to the Pentecostal ethos of pragmatics (though this is just an assumption on my part) since they allow for continuing ministry while pursuing academics.

AGTS’s program is the newest (starting 2011) and offers the more traditional American track for PhD work which involves fairly extensive course requirements accomplished twice a year (for a two week stint on-campus) prior to dissertation writing.  This program is still in its infancy and hopefully will move toward more rigorous application requirements (beyond the VERY minimal language requirements in particular — one year of Greek and Hebrew).  There are four tracks available: Biblical Theology, OT Studies, NT Studies, and Systematic Theology.  One of the difficulties with this program at present is also that there are simply not a great number of faculty to supervise students.

Regent University’s program similarly offers coursework prior to official dissertation work.  The requirements for entrance are more stringent as are the requirements for maintaining status as a student.  Technically, this program is NOT a Pentecostal program…it is a “Renewal Studies” program offering tracks in Biblical Studies (OT or NT specialization), History of Global Christianity, and Christian Theology.  The distinction should not be dismissed lightly.  The “Renewal” nature of this program means it is more concerned with generalized understandings of the Spirit’s work rather than functioning within a Pentecostally constructed framework (such as one finds in Classical Pentecostalism).  This program requires on-site studies for two week stints three times a year.  The faculty of Regent are top-notch Renewal/Pentecostal/Charismatic scholars in their field (Estrelda Alexander, Stanley Burgess, Dale Coulter, and Vinson Synan), but sadly the OT focus (which is mine) is the weakest of all the programs for faculty qualifications.

Bangor University’s program follows the British model for PhD work which is entirely research/writing as opposed to the coursework of a U.S. program.  While the U.S. programs prepare a student for future studies in a broader preparation, the British program offers the self-motivated student the opportunity to jump right into the research they are intending for their final project.  Bangor’s program is in conjunction with Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN; via John Christopher Thomas – Clarence J. Abbott Professor of Biblical Studies).  This program facilitates the Pentecostal scholar to write from an explicitly Pentecostal perspective (see the works of Ken Archer, Chris Thomas and Lee Roy Martin for examples).  The program functions somewhat in conjunction with the Centre for Pentecostal Theology.  The student is only required to attend discussions/critiques of their current dissertation writing twice a year (for a two day stint each time) at the CPT location in Cleveland, TN (along with monthly supervisions via Skype)…and then to defend their final work onsite at Bangor (the viva).

Birmingham also (naturally) follows the British model of research/writing.  They require one two-week stint onsite per year and then attendance for the viva.  The Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies (at Birmingham) offers consider resources for such research and writing and offers several notable faculty (Walter Hollenweger was one of these).

The Hollenweger Center is based in Amsterdam and is a part of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.   There is no requirement to know or learn Dutch as a part of this program, but one must regularly visit and research onsite over the four year period intended for the dissertation (see requirements HERE).  There are no specific course requirements, but any given number of seminars should be taken to aid the student in their research and studies.

Alphacrucis College in Sydney, Australia now (2016) offers a PhD in business, education or theology that is taught be leading scholars in their field. It is an entirely research/writing based program that requires no residency nor a viva/oral-defence following standard Australian academic procedure.
If I’ve missed any I would love to know so that I could add them to this post.  I would welcome any comments or questions about these programs as I’ve done the application work for all of them (plus others) [I did not apply to either Birmingham or The Hollenweger Center], but determined Bangor was the best fit for me.

[updated March 15, 2016]

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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.
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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.

Notes on Gideon and the God of Israel: Fire and Dew, Evening and Morning

angel-and-gideonThe account of Gideon requiring a sign from the God who has called him to rise up as a deliverer for Israel, has long puzzled interpreters (Judges 6.33-40). Gideon receives a messenger from Yahweh who calls him to action. This angel of Yahweh (6.11, 21; or “of God” in verse 20) is asked for a sign of confirmation by Gideon that he will indeed be successful in battle against the armies of the east and that it is indeed Yahweh (the god of Israel) that is calling him. Gideon prepares an offering of food, is commanded to put it on a rock. The angel  touches the food with his staff and fire flames from the rock consuming everything on it. The god of Israel has answered by fire for the man sent to destroy the altar of Baal and the Asherah pole.

He sets out in the cover of night to destroy the shrine to Baal and Asherah  that apparently is situated on his own father’s property. The people discover his act the following morning and intend to kill him. His father rescues him by arguing for Baal to be responsible in dealing with Gideon who thus receives the nick-name Jerubbaal (which is interpreted by Judges as “let Baal contend [with him]”). Yet Baal is silent against Gideon.

dewImmediately following this account, the Spirit of Yahweh clothes* Gideon and Gideon thus musters the armies of some of the northern tribes of Israel (6.34-35). Yet before he sets out to wage war, he calls upon this god to respond with a further sign of assurance. The sign is that of a wool fleece on the ground being soaked by “dew” (Heb. טָּל tal) in the morning and the ground being dry (6.36-37). The sign is granted (6.38). Then he asks for a further confirmation with the ground being wet in the morning with dew and the wool fleece being dry (6.39). The sign is granted (6.40).

The first testing of Yahweh was answered by fire. The second (and third) testing was by dew. As it turns out, both signs challenge the power of Baal as the Canaanite god who sends both fire and dew. The god of the storm (Baal Hadad) alone sends fire. Yet it is Yahweh’s emissary who answers by fire. Further, it is Baal who is so identified with the dew that in the Ugaritic literature (KTU 1.3 I.23-25) he is described as having a daughter called “Morning Dew” (tallay) which is the cognate term with the Hebrew tal in our narrative. Yet Baal is not the god who answers by controlling the dew in Judges 6.

Gideon (that is Jerubbaal) is not testing whether Yahweh can overcome Baal in battle (as if Baal were the god of his enemies, the Midianites, Amalekites and others of the east), he is testing which god has the power in the land he dwells in to act and to deliver. He is testing which god is the proper god of Israel. And it is decisively Yahweh who is god in Israel and this god alone can deliver any time of the day: evening and morning. In the morning, the citizens of Ophrah find their god Baal unable to protect his shrine. In the morning, Gideon (and the armies of Israel) find Yahweh able to control the “dew”. It was at night that Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal and build the altar of Yahweh and it was at night that Gideon shared in the destruction of the Midianite horde under the authority of Yahweh as god of Israel. Baal could not act nor could Baal rescue Israel. For the writer of Judges, Baal was the very reason for the troubling Midianites (6.1, 10). It was only in obedience to Yahweh that this community could enjoy peace in the land.

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* “clothes” might literally be translated that the Spirit puts Gideon on as clothing if one follows the normal sense of the Qal stem for the Hebrew labash.

When King Jesus Reigns: “They will pick up snakes”

This second Sunday of Advent, one of the readings was Isaiah 11.1-10 (and the one from which I preached):

11 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (NIV 2011, emphasis added)

In the reign of King Jesus, the promised “shoot” from the “stump of Jesse” and the “root of Jesse”, there would be a full undoing of the present order of existence: injustice and violence as normal parts of life.

The Spirit endowed King would cause even the animal kingdom to align with his reign of life and righteousness over the whole earth. The serpents become not even an enemy whose head would be crushed (see Gen. 3.15) and who would bruise the heel of the ‘seed’ of woman. Instead, the serpent and child live as friends. Seeming eternal enemies playing together. What a strange world indeed! The very image of the toddler with serpent strikes fear into my heart!

snake-and-baby

And the fear I felt sent my thoughts rushing to Mark 16.18* which reports the words of Jesus concerning those whom he was sending out into the world as witnesses of the good news of his reign: “they will pick of up snakes with their hands” without being harmed.

The Messianic Age imagined by the prophet Isaiah appears to be taken up by Mark as the reality of the apostolic witnesses! The King enthroned signaled the end of injustice and violence (even that which was considered “normal” to the order of life as experienced)…the end of the dangers of this age. It was the dawning of a new day…indeed a new creation order! The end was not yet, but was already witnessed in the undoing of injustice and violence at the hands of the apostles, in the undoing of the animosity of serpent and ‘seed’.

King Jesus ascended. His reign commenced. His servants gathered to his banner. He would come again and all of creation would be set to rights. Until that day, the citizens of his kingdom would go out and “pick up snakes with their hands”** as testimony to his soon coming.

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* Despite the later addition of the long ending of Mark this text still offers an intriguing literary and theological intersection with the Isaiah 11 passage.

** I am not here advocating for “snake-handling” as certain within the Pentecostal traditions. In other words, DON’T PICK UP SNAKES! Those who have made this a practice are regularly harmed (and many have died, including the founder of this movement: George Hensley) by doing such. Their experiences actually reveal that the kingdom is not witnessed among them, but offers a deeper understanding of the remaking of creation. I am advocating for the working in light of the reigning King as those who live between worlds and testify to a new heavens and new earth even as we bear the cruciform marks of our Lord Jesus in this world of sin and sorrow.

Enter the Pastor-Theologian

flowers
J. Roswell and Alice Reynolds Flower, ca. 1950

There is no better place for doing theology than in the life of the local church. It is in the local church that the rubber hits the road and one’s attempts at careful theological reflection need to be applied to the life of God’s work in the world. Where there can be no mere hypothesizing, but praxis is called for if one desires to be a faithful minister and disciple.

Andy, over at Hopeful Realism, has just posted a couple of articles on the pastor-theologian in the mega-church and in the small church. His introduction to the topic offers several strengths to each context.

Certainly the complexities of pastoral ministry, whether in a mega-church or small church, can seem enough of a challenge without attempting to be a so-called “pastor-theologian”. However, the responsibilities of caring for Christ’s church should demand that we take up the charge to study to show ourselves approved unto God in every way. This is not a day for leaving the work of careful theological reflection to those who do not serve in the context of the pastorate.

We NEED more pastors committing to applying themselves to intensive study of the Scriptures (original languages, hermeneutics, homiletics, etc.) and theology (historical, contemporary, systematic, biblical, etc). Our churches NEED ministers who will vigorously study and apply what is studied to writing, preaching, counseling, and pastoral care. And will do this all in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is a HUGE task, but it is one that is essential to the overall health of the community of believers (locally and globally).  We need more women and men committed to the task. We need more Augustines, Teresas, Calvins, Wesleys, and Alice Reynolds and J. Roswell Flowers. Will you give yourself wholly to the work set before you?

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Originally posted by myself at bluechippastor.org on April 25, 2013.

Take a Chance

Somebody believed in you or at least trusted you enough to give you a ministry in the church. While I cannot remember each pastor I had as a kid (we moved every few years), I can remember the sense of encouragement to serve by being trained and released to do ministry in the church even as a young person. Here are a couple of highlights that I remember (thanks Twyla Kuntz for posting something like this on Facebook):

Age 9 – altar boy (I can’t believe they let me play with fire in church)
Age 12-13 – peewee Bible quiz coach (I can’t believe they let me coach kids)
Age 14-17 – kids church worker with 50 kids (I can’t believe I was brought in for crowd control)
Age 17-20 – youth sponsor and speaker (I can’t believe they let me preach and teach)

So how were you invested in as a young person? Who are you training and supporting as they grow up and follow whatever God would lead them into for life and ministry? Take a chance on a kid. Sure it might seem scary (I mean WHO in their right mind would EVER trust me with fire in a church…and I’m talking about present day, let alone when I was a kid 😉 ). You just never know what God will do in that kid’s life.

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Originally posted by me at bluechippastor.org on April 16, 2013