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), the Hollenweger Center (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), and Alphacrucis College (Australia).  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 considerable 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-defense 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 November 22, 2017]

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God Our Father/Mother (?): On the Divine Name in Christian Scripture

On a number of occasions I have engaged in conversations, or heard podcasts (I’m thinking here of the October 17, 2017 of The Liturgists Podcast on “God Our Mother”), or read articles (or quotes like the one pictured here of Julian of Norwich) by those who contend for broader language in regard to what we might properly call our deity within the Church. Some have contended that the NT language of “Father” is more a construct of cultural embeddedness related to a bygone era that needs this metaphor to be expanded to any number of other possibilities, such as “Mother” that would be more appropriately inclusive and thus representative of the non-gendered deity we claim to worship.

This is an abstracted illusion as it fails to appreciate the very context from which we (the Church) have inherited our language of addressing the divine: Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christopher Seitz has a helpful chapter engaging this very subject in Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Baylor University Press, 2004), pp. 251-262. I include his closing paragraph as giving voice to my own reading of this issue (p. 262):

To call God “mother” or “she” would be to call attention to God as truly gendered, simply by the fact that such language means to serve as a replacement for or improvement on the biblically grounded language has the capacity to transcend this framework of discussion, because it emerges as a testimony to God’s own name and initiative in revealing it, rather than because it conforms to metaphors whose fitness is determined by human debate or divine defense. To defend God as “father” by appeal to suitability of metaphor would in fact undo the logic with which the language emerged in the first place, which is riveted to Israel’s particular experience of God’s revelation and, through the work of Christ, its extension at Pentecost to all nations and peoples. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” emerges from a particular story. Our use of this language preserves that particular story and the God who brought it and us into being, making us his people and allowing us to be faithful witnesses who call upon his name, for our own sakes and for the sake of his creation.

We have not constructed our language for the divine, but have received it and do well to faithfully pass this story along in our invocation of the Name. To do otherwise, is to abstract “God” from the story of Israel and God’s self-revelation in and through Jesus as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

How we confess God is a matter of faithfulness to that self-revelation and not a matter of cultural speculation and debate. While metaphors for the divine abound in Scripture (including those which are feminine or motherly) we do well to take up the language of God’s self-giving in prayer and praise, and we refuse the very specificity of God’s self-revelation to do otherwise.

Goin’ Fishin’: A Brief Comment on John 21:11

Fishing in the TiberiasI was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:

St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.

Hearing and Seeing the Apocalypse: A Sunday School Introduction

The following are my brief notes written as a Sunday School introduction for adults to the book of the Revelation that I taught May 13, 2018 at New Life Assembly of God in Ellendale, ND.

What is “apocalypse”? It is a “revealing” of something. This book belongs to a broader genre of writings known to the second temple period of Jewish writings (and early Christian writings) that involved visions, dreams, angelic guides, experiences of the heavenly realm/s all with an eye (and ear) toward the culmination of all things wherein God will set everything right in final judgment (with reward and punishment).

Introduction (1.1-3) – What is the point of this book? Jesus! And remaining faithful to Jesus no matter what comes as God’s self-giving revelation testified to in the Spirit. If we get distracted by anything else in the Revelation than we miss the very point.

Traveling with John the Revelator (these reveal one cannot follow John of their own accord toward understanding)

  • In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1.10)
  • In the Spirit in Heaven (4.2)
  • In the Spirit in the Desert (17.3)
  • In the Spirit to a great and high mountain (21.10)

On “hearing” and “seeing” in the Apocalypse

  • 1.3 – Blessed are those who hear… others of the seven beatitudes (14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14)
  • Overcomers “hear” in faithfulness and obedience: 2.7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3.5-6, 12-13, 21-22.
  • Hearing and seeing function to highlight and expound (offering interpretations and expansions of each other to further the knowing and worship of those who would hear and see), examples: 1.10-20; 5.1-14; 7.1-17.

A hearing and seeing of sevens (suggesting there is much more than what meets the ears and eyes in the enumeration):

  • Horns and Eyes/Spirits (5.6)
  • Churches (and their angels: 2-3)
  • Seals on the scroll (5-8.5)
  • Trumpets (8.6-11.19)
  • Thunders (silenced: 10.3-4)
  • Bowls with plagues (15-16.21)

Women in Ministry: The Spirit, Creation and Eschaton (with Podcast)

Sister Aimee Semple McPherson
Sister Aimee Semple McPherson of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

This post is borne out of a need to briefly share my view of women serving in ministry. I am an unabashed Egalitarian. I believe women (and men) can and must serve the Church (global and local) in any capacity that they are called to as ministers of the good news of Jesus in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This in no way sets aside, ignores, or rejects the teachings of the Scripture on the subject. I take the Scriptures with all seriousness. However, what are the markers by which we interpret Scripture are paramount for me (and what interpretive methodologies we use matter). This is not a post that discusses (or exegetes) specific texts (I’ve done some of that elsewhere), but one that is orienting for my approach to the subject in light of the over-arching orientation of Scripture.

I find three basic orienting testimonies in Scripture address this issue for myself:

  1. The Spirit testifies. This testimony is the most basic to my understanding that whatever the Spirit testifies to must be affirmed. This functions in the way that the Spirit testified for the early church concerning full Gentile inclusion in every way (Acts 15). The same Spirit that is poured out on men is poured out on women. The same Spirit that empowers for witness, the same Spirit that calls to ministry, the same Spirit that sanctifies, anoints, secures and gifts towards the full maturation of the Church until we all come into the fullness of Christ. [Just such a trajectory is proposed in J. C. Thomas, ‘Women, Pentecostals, and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5 (1994), pp. 41-56].
  2. The creation testifies. While complementarians say they appeal to creation order, they actually appeal to the order of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Genesis one and two address women as co-equals in the call to care for the earth and accomplish the purposes of God in the earth. This is the account pre-Fall and should take precedence as the “order” in which God made things precedes the “order” into which things descended in sinfulness. Redemption, thus, is oriented by creation toward new creation in the midst of fallen-ness, but does not take its first cue from fallen-ness.
  3. The eschaton testifies. While many seem to order their lives by the “now” this disregards the “then” of what God is doing to set all things to rights in the cosmos. The eschaton (or “end”) of all things points to the end of relationship structures as conceived between husband and wife (according to Jesus being “neither married nor given in marriage” Matthew 22:30). It points to the end for which we were created. This end is that for which the Church is oriented in Christ Jesus. Yet we do not simply await that end, but we begin even now to live in light of that end even as we still marry and are given in marriage. Our continuing in marriage is under the banner of Christ’s soon coming kingdom when such structures must be conformed to his intent in everything–that is, in mutual submission, and in living in wholeness towards God and world in redemption.

While I in no way anticipate that this is persuasive for those who hold alternative views, it is at least a look inside my own approach (for whatever that is worth). Related to this (and briefly discussing such things), here is a 13 minute podcast I did three years ago tackling the idea of women in ministry (along with a few other things). It never aired, so I requested permissions to post it myself here.

For a helpful exegetical reading of Paul’s writings on the subject, see Craig Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker Academic, 1992).

Why Narrative Theology?

Within Protestantism (and more specifically Evangelicalism) there has been a tendency toward the abstractions of doctrinal confessions. Theology has most often tended toward bullet pointed statements of confession. While this has its place it fails to grapple with the revelation of God which we confess as such: the very form of the Scriptures. The nature of Scripture itself is not first and foremost abstract universal claims, but primarily story. Why is this? Should it affect the manner in which we reflect upon our theological confessions? How might it be reflected appropriately without simply becoming (like so many sermons) three points and a poem? (Even the “world” regards story as more important to communication than bullet-points).

The following were listed by David F. Ford* as reasons offered “for the attractiveness of narrative” in theological reflection (ironically enough offered in bullet-pointed fashion):

  • it is the main genre of the Bible
  • it is the underlying structure of the Christian creeds, baptism and eucharist
  • its concreteness and particularity deserve primacy in relation to the more abstract, generalizing approach of much doctrine and theology
  • it gives a proper prominence to people in interaction, to specific contexts and to actions and events, all of which tend to be marginalized or treated too generally and abstractly by traditional theological discourse
  • it provides a way into doctrine and ethics which is definite, imaginative and well-suited to the gospel while not claiming an exclusive or imperialistic universality
  • it is the basic, irreducible way to express human experience and identity
  • it enables a fresh approach to the relationship of historical fact to Christian truth
  • it provides a forum for encounter and discussion, not only between very different types of Christian theology, but also between various religions and cultures (all of which have their stories) and between theology and other disciplines (e.g. literary studies, history, psychology, anthropology).

The story of God is the story of redemption and life. It is the story we find ourselves caught up in and carrying various threads of the divine narrative toward their culmination in new creation. The story of Scripture is our story and the cosmos’ story. So let’s at least speak in ways that flows from God’s own self revelation in Scripture, in the Word made flesh, and in the Spirit within. Let us tell the old, old story as the new experience of the divine life…as reflecting Father, Son and Spirit.

_______________________________

* D. F. Ford, ‘Narrative Theology,’ pp.489-91 in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds, A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (London: SCM, 1990), pp.489, 490.

Livin’ Large and Makin’ Babies: A Sermon

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737.pngThe following is a sermon I preached for chapel at Trinity Bible College & Graduate School on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

“But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” Isaiah 53:10 (NLT)

“Livin’ Large and Makin’ Babies” (Isaiah 53:10)

The Fig Tree Withers: A Sermon

withered_tree1The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)

“The Fig Tree Withers” (Matthew 21:18-19)