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Bill Oliverio: Theological Hermeneutics in the Classical Pentecostal Tradition

Historically paralleling the “contextual-pentecostal hermeneutic,” the “ecumenical-pentecostal hermeneutic” stresses need for consensual engagement with older Christian traditions in order to draw out theological resources that are compatible and helpful towards developing Pentecostal theological methods. Oliverio thus urges further development of this hermeneutic within present-day Pentecostalism, because it decisively recovers the ecumenical vision of early classical Pentecostalism while forwarding that vision, by recognizing the needful role of all church and theological traditions towards funding spiritual renewal and advancing theological knowledge (e.g., growing in the knowledge of God) throughout the whole Church Catholic.

What I have surveyed thus far builds towards Olivero’s concluding chapter titled, “Towards a Hermeneutical Realism for Pentecostal Theological Hermeneutics.” This is his most dense chapter. Yet I will try to briefly summarise his proposal and raise some important implications. As I understand him, Oliverio foremost premises his proposal on James Smith’s “creational-pneumatic” hermeneutical model (The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic [Baker, 2012]). In contrast to common hermeneutical models influencing much of Evangelical hermeneutics that presumes the act of interpretation (and hence the phenomena of hermeneutical pluralism) as resulting from human fallen-ness, Smith argues that hermeneutical pluralism emerges not from human fallen-ness but from God’s commissional blessing on the perspectival pluralism constitutive of creational goodness. Hermeneutical acts thus emerge from God’s pronounced Edenic blessing (Gen. 1:31), and His blessing on our embodied creaturehood. He therefore argues that “interpretation” is a “creational task,” and that hermeneutical pluralism emerges from our commissioned hermeneutical vocation.

Oliverio forwards Smith’s project vis-à-vis Thomas S. Kuhn’s work on the emergence of new “paradigms” and Imre Lakato’s scientific research methodology that requires openness to new knowledge. Keep in mind that Oliverio affirms that in any given point, some paradigms provide better accounts of reality than others. Yet he also refers to Miroslav Volf’s suggestion that God’s truth is “panlocal,” comprising “the truth about each and all perspectives” (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace).

In his final paragraph, Oliverio writes, “After recounting my typology of the development of Pentecostal theological hermeneutics, I have described what I consider to be the best way forward for Pentecostal theology. It is found in a hermeneutical realism which allows for multiple productive hermeneutics to emerge that can faithfully account for the reality of the faith. While new beliefs and practices will surely emerge as a result of the continuing growth of Pentecostalism, this approach allows for more truth to be manifest than what would come through a single prescribed methodology. The complex and holistic tasks of discerning between these understandings is thus of special importance for the implementation of this approach. The attempt to achieve certainty, as least for now, is a hopeless and potentially idolatrous quest. But to mature into adulthood in the faith, cultivating understanding and to be filled with faith, hope and love, is to embody and speak a life of faith the God who is love (1 Ocr. 13:8-13).”

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2015

About the Author: Monte Lee Rice is a Pentecostal minister based in Singapore who served in churches and Bible colleges as a pastor, church planting director, and theological educator. He has ministered within some 15 nations in Southeast Asia and Africa, and graduated from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary with a M.Div. in theology (summa cum laude, 2002). He is an independent scholar in Pentecostal theology, co-administers the Pentecostal Theology Worldwide Facebook group, and is impassioned towards the global renewing of Pentecostal spirituality, its theological tradition, and its ecumenical promise for the Church worldwide. Visit his blog at: LinkedIn Twitter: @MonteLeeRice.

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