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]

What Are You Doing Pastor? Growing the Church

PurposeSo what exactly is the job of a “pastor”? It would seem it is about the formation of God’s people and not about the gathering of people (God’s or otherwise). The call to serve the Church by serving a local gathering of those who call on the name of the Lord is not a call to gather crowds. It is a call to see folks transformed by the power of the Spirit into the community of God. It is to see God’s kingdom in the lives of God’s people. It is to share in the life of Jesus and to grow in our staying in step with the Spirit. It is about reconciliation, whole-ness, and holiness. It is about the making of disciples, not the growing of numbers in a service.

Preaching and teaching play their part in this. The public (and private) hearing and obedience to Scripture. Praying without ceasing. Guarding one’s life, family, and church against the wiles of the enemy by walking in mercy and holiness. I could go on, but the point is that it is about the formation (really, the transformation) of God’s people as saints who are being discipled and making disciples. It is not about numbers. It is about people…God’s people.

So what is the job (perhaps I should say “calling”) of a pastor? To be a faithful, Spirit-empowered equipper of the saints who, together with all those whom God by His Spirit gifts, serves to see the whole community of God’s people growing together in

“unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT)

Amen and amen! This is actually the only “growth” laid out for the pastor (indeed for all of the Church). Growth in Christ Jesus as Lord of all!

________________

Originally blogged by me at bluechippastor.org on March 25, 2013.

A Brief Rejoinder to “The Mega-Problem Behind the ‘Falls’ of Megachurch Pastors”

Pastor_0The ouster of Perry Noble has led to a spate of articles and blogs including a recent article in Relevant Magazine (online) which touts the title: “The Mega-Problem Behind the ‘Falls’ of Megachurch Pastors”. The article’s author, Eddie Kaufholz, proposes that the stresses of the megachurch are partly to blame given the enormity of the responsibilities on these megachurch lead pastors. And I have a rejoinder. Sorry Eddie.

This is not a megachurch pastor issue. Perhaps the stresses of such a context are exponentially greater…or perhaps not. They may have the stress of staff, but the solo-pastor of a small church has the stress of being the only one to blame when things go poorly. At least a pastor with staff can remove others as the ones to blame (I’ve seen that happen all too often).

This is a people issue and it is a sin issue. The only reason this makes news is because a megachurch pastor has more people already taking notice of them…listening to them…reading them. It happens often enough among pastors of churches of all sizes (as I have sadly walked through in a pastor-of-pastors leadership role).

While the cult of personality is an issue, it is an issue no matter the size. I’ve known wandering lonely “prophets” who believed in themselves when all others saw them as mentally and/or spiritually disturbed. They were convinced that they were the end-all. The savior complex creeps in no matter the size of a congregation (or lack there-of). Again, this is a sin issue; we have one Lord and Savior.

In reality, we must do something to address the proper training and care of ministers to best aid them in walking in holiness, humility and faithfulness in whatever context they find themselves (this is what I do as a professor training ministers and continuing to mentor ministers). Discipleship and accountability is the name of the game. We must also move toward greater congregational involvement in the regular ministry of the local church so that such contexts become less about the individual and more about the gathered body empowered by the Spirit to carry out the work of the ministry.

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.

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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!

What Is Your Story?

My StoryI don’t know about your church, but in mine we typically have an open testimony time (hey, we are Pentecostal after all). We like to tell our stories and that sure works well (sometimes not so much) in a post-modern personal narrative obsessed culture.

What I’m thinking of, though, is your story of first knowingly encountering Christ. Do you recall what he has done in your life? Do you remember a moment (or perhaps a longer time period) of the dawning of your need for him? It is a powerful reminder to think on your own story of encountering the resurrected Jesus in the power of his Spirit. We need to remind ourselves as those tasked with leading the church of this (ongoing) story and remind ourselves of where we’ve been led personally and congregationally. We need to allow our churches to share and relive their own stories, even as they continue to encounter Jesus in new ways in their lives. To re-awaken that first transformative love for Christ and his work in the world is to re-awaken ourselves to sharing the good news of Jesus with others.

I was reminded of my own story the other day (which I won’t share here and now) as I was listening to another pastor share his own story of being set free from a life of selfishness, drugs, and sex (his own words). A life being destroyed by sin. And then he shared his wife’s story of coming to faith as a six year old raised in a Christian home. The thing is: both stories are radically invigorating to hear and he admitted as much. After all, what isn’t amazing about the dead being raised to life? Neither story is about simple reform of sinners. Both are about those once dead in their sins who are now raised to new life in Christ. That is the amazing wonder of a regenerating encounter with the Lord and Giver of Life.

So my question is: Do you allow for folks in your church community to share their stories of encounter with the Lord and his redemptive work? When was the last time you shared yours?

_____________

Edited from an original post by me at bluechippastor.org from March 6, 2013.

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”.

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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.:-)

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

Student FAQ for the Society for Pentecostal Studies

SPS Student CaucusWhile this is not an official FAQ of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), I offer it in response to a series of questions I was asked by a friend who is a student member wishing to submit a proposal for a paper to be presented at an SPS Annual Meeting. I have also offered a few of my own questions which I thought might be beneficial. I have been an active member of the Society since 2008 and helped to found the SPS Student Caucus in order to assist students in developing as scholars within the broad field of Pentecostal studies and as Pentecostal scholars. I believe my responses to his questions might prove helpful to others who might also be wondering similar things about writing and presenting research for SPS.

What is the standard length of a paper submitted to SPS?

There is no official standard length for papers. Some present papers of only 10 pages while others have submitted papers over 50 pages. The key is how much time your session will allow for presentation and questions afterward. Typically there is about 20-30 minutes for presentation and questions which means a paper of 15-20 pages is almost all that one has time to read in that timeframe. Longer papers are not discouraged, but that means much of the material will need to be summarized rather than shared outright.

Does the paper have to be completely written before you submit a proposal?

No. For student members it is better to have already written the paper (or much of the paper) prior to submission of the proposal since it can be difficult to meet the time demands of writing a paper after being approved. Proposals are submitted by the June deadline, approved by August-September then the paper is expected to be submitted in January. While this sounds like a lot of time it can slip away rather quickly in the midst of study and work.

Does a paper have to fit the theme for SPS?

No. It is helpful to use the proposed theme for the upcoming meeting in order to offer something which is more likely to be approved, but members are welcomed to submit on any number of topics which may or may not have anything to do with the overall theme.

Are all papers that are accepted also presented at the SPS conference?

That is the agreement made when submitting the proposal. If a student submits a proposal they are agreeing to write the paper, renew their membership, and attend the conference to present. The approval process is approving papers for presenting and the schedule of the conference is developed according to the papers approved.

How would I go about finding 2 respondents?

It isn’t necessary to have two respondents, but if you know people who are a part of SPS and might have some expertise or interest in your topic then they can be included. Most papers do not have respondents in my experience. I’ve only ever had one respondent and it was not even a person that I knew nor had I put their name down, but they were an expert in the field and their feedback was excellent.

 I have done something similar for my thesis, but I haven’t written a paper for a conference yet. Is this something I should wait on and try to attend SPS and see how it is done?

You are always welcome to attend an SPS conference to see how such things flow. Many other conferences function similarly so it isn’t necessary to attend SPS to see how an academic conference can be run. However, the spirituality and the comradery of SPS are unlike any conferences I have had the pleasure of sharing in or attending. I would personally say that presenting at SPS is an excellent opportunity for students beginning their engagements within the broader academic world as the members of SPS are primarily sympathetic and constructive. You would likely find that the feedback and engagement with your presented work will benefit its further development.

How would I join a special interest group?

You “join” a special interest group by attending that group’s meeting at the annual SPS meeting. It is as simple as saying you want to be a part of a particular group because you feel it intersects best with your reason for being a part of SPS. When filling in the interest group information online for your proposal simply select the group which seems to best fit the broad field of study being proposed. For instance, several years ago I wrote on an engagement between Post Modern and Pentecostal homiletics so I submitted the proposal to the “Practical Theology” interest group. My typically writes philosophical works and thus typically submits to the “Philosophy” interest group. Most years I propose something that is primarily exegetical (with theological orientation) and thus submit my proposals to the “Biblical Studies” interest group.

I trust these are helpful and would welcome any further questions that are felt to be pertinent particularly to student members of the Society.