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.
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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.

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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!

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.

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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.

 

Three Things That Keep Me in My Church Tradition

Rather than simply answer in the comments section to Dan’s post about “What Keeps You In Your Church Tradition?,” I have decided to reply via a post and offer it as my own personal answer (because I have in fact been asked this very question at other times).  I decided three was a rather Biblical sounding number…so that should make this a very spiritual response.

First, I remain in my fellowship/tradition (the Assemblies of God) because it is where my deepest roots and greatest familiarity lay.  By that, I mean to say, I am most fully aware of the church structures and practices of this particular tradition.  I am well integrated into this tradition as well as being heavily networked with other A/G churches, ministries and ministers.  There is something to be said about the knowability factor.  Were I to join another tradition it would mean moving into unknown waters.  This may seem a rather pragmatic approach, but, hey, this is reality.

Second, I am kept in my tradition by its Pentecostal confession and practice.  I am unabashedly Pentecostal.  I believe God desires to empower His Church via the rich outpouring of Christ’s Spirit.  I believe in the continuing demonstration of the ministry of the Spirit in and through the communion of saints.  I remain because the A/G emphasizes this desire and passion for God’s Spirit to glorify Christ in and among us (even if at times we have not followed through either as genuine practitioners of the life of the Spirit or have simply gone wacko and blamed it on the Spirit).  I still fully believe God’s Spirit is at work in the wider Church and see the A/G as playing (hopefully) a pivotal role in seeing the Spirit poured out in greater measure on all varieties of congregations and traditions.  I have told Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics…Pentecostal experience of the Spirit is no respecter of denominational boundaries.

Third, and finally, I remain in the Assemblies because of missions.  This tradition stated from its inception that we are committed to “the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen”.  We remain committed to this and have continued to demonstrate it through our unprecedented mission program.  I am thrilled to be a part of a fellowship and tradition that makes its aim to reach the lost with the good news of the Kingdom.

So, how is that for my answer to the question Dan Thompson posed?  What are your thoughts on this?
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Originally published at Bluechippastor.org on August 15, 2012

What Defines Us?

BoxIn a recent conversation with Andrea Wheeldon (a PAOC minister and friend, and staff member at Providence Theological Seminary), we were discussing what we are known by as the local church.  There are many who have identified themselves by their stance AGAINST certain hot-topic issues (like homosexuality, abortion, etc.).  But is this what should define us?  Then today I read Andrea’s blog on being “outside the box” (a REALLY great post if you ask me) and was reminded again that we cannot simply define ourselves by what we are against or not.  How about we define ourselves by what we are?

Have we fallen into the trap of allowing other things to define us than the God who conforms us to His image?  For example, are we against homosexuality, or are we for whole, reconciling, godly relationships because we have been reconciled to God in Christ and are being renewed by God’s own Spirit?  I thought it was good food for thought.  (Thanks Adrea!)

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Originally published at Bluechippastor.org on August 1, 2012