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Do Full-Gospel Ministers Need Theology? by Larry Taylor

Premiere Issue: Pneuma Review Fall 1998

Pastor, scholar, businessman Larry Taylor shows that there is no need to fear theology and answers that there is a great need for a Biblical theology today.

Pascal, never known for his affection for the rationalism of his day, once said that faith “is captured by the heart.”1 He was referring to his belief that God must be experienced in ways the human mind cannot fully comprehend. Recently, a minister was heard encouraging his congregation to “let God speak your heart not to your head,” as if to echo Pascal. As catchy as these words seemed, I could not help noting how they expressed but little appreciation for the mind, even the mind transformed by God. Instead of denouncing any particular philosophy or theological system, the minister seemed to imply that the mind is an enemy. It seems that the value of the reasoning process has been widely discounted within full-gospel ranks, and that theology has been overtly condemned as a hindrance to fidelity to God.

We may laud Pascal’s condemnation of “modern rationalism,” the exaltation of abstract reasoning as the source of truth. Reasoning however, is crucial to the formulation of sound Biblical ideas. The questions addressed in this article is: Do full-gospel ministers need to do theology which, by definition, requires intellectual inquiry into, and reasonable explication of, their beliefs? Our proposed solution may be found in the following propositions: (1) that full-gospel ministers have had misconceptions about the meaning and function of theology; and (2) that theology has a practical role in communication the teachings of Scripture to the church.

I. A Lesson From History

Anyone acquainted with the efforts of men like Augustine, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or Charles G. Finney knows that these were champions of the faith. They were also men of expert learning, skilled at wielding the sword of truth against the attack of agnostic or heretical contemporaries. These men never questioned the relationship between their faith and their capacity to reason, because they believed God embraces both. They were abreast of their times, educated and, most importantly, devout students of the Word. At critical junctures in church history, they successfully guided it along a steady course.

The irony of full-gospel history in this country is that it produced a rich heritage of dialogue about the person and work of the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the uncompromising gospel of Jesus Christ, yet rejected in principle a structured elucidation of Biblical precepts.

On the other hand, other successful spiritual leaders were not known for being theologically lettered. Billy Sunday, for instance, and in the early years of the Pentecostal movement Charles Parham and William Seymour experienced tremendous evangelistic success with little emphasis upon the value of education or theology. Yet, in the founding years of the Pentecostal revival, a “full-gospel theology” was already emerging which would ultimately become a dividing factor, spawning the first Pentecostal denominations.2 Paradoxically, it was theology which divided the movement but it was also theology which facilitated the effective organization of these factions, leading to further church growth in this country.

The independent bodies continued to develop their “revival doctrines,” teachings on the tabernacle, and the “mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In this important aspect, all full-gospel bodies, whether denominations or independent churches, have clearly adopted particular “theologies.” For whenever there are explicit teachings on the nature of Jesus Christ, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the church and its government, theology is present!

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Category: Fall 1998, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Larry L. Taylor, M.A., D.Min., is Affiliate Faculty at Regis University in the Denver area and formerly professor of humanities at Portland Bible College. Larry Taylor founded a church in Colorado and has 17 years of pastoral experience.

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