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Do Full-Gospel Ministers Need Theology? by Larry Taylor

II. Fearing the Conquest of Reason

Accompanying a general skepticism about the value of theology is a widespread phobia for higher learning. Some would insist that a formal Bible or seminary education is the first step of departure from the cross, and instills serious doubt in the mind of an unsuspecting believer. It is conceivable that exposure to problems of Bible criticism or a skeptical approach toward God’s miraculous activity today could leave a Christian student with a callused or confused view of the Scriptures and a weakened spirituality. This is what full-gospel ministers fear the most in their young and curious members, and why they fail to encourage people to pursue a theological education.

Nothing is wrong with not having the answers. It is when we attack the sojourner simply for his inquisitiveness that we miss the mark.

Admittedly, there is always the danger of exchanging the living, pulsating gospel inheritance for a mess of academic pottage. Some have even abandoned their full-gospel stance out of an appetite to “be somebody” theologically. In reality, they are like those characterized by the apostle Paul as “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7), as though enchanted by the serpent guised as “super-mind.” But theology devoid of the cross leaves us grossly self-centered; and theology which attempts to undermine the authority of Scripture becomes destitute of the richness of the Spirit, casting its lot with the popular quackeries of science and the impotent ideologies of the secular world.

Avoiding exposure to theological disciplines is no solution, however. For when a church or its leaders fail to take into account the wealth of theological history, or to recognize general rules applied to the interpretation of Scripture, they fall prey to their own “dogmatic relativism.” When we deliberately and irresponsibly project to our listeners what we want the Scriptures to say, independent of careful research and honest reflection, we start to become paranoid authoritarians. If we cannot show others the reasons why we believe what we believe, we tend to assert our beliefs upon the basis of who we are.

The greater question, by far, is why we tend to polarize these equally crucial elements in the Christian faith, spiritual experience itself and the mental perception and reasoning process applied to our living relationship with the Lord. I agree with Josh McDowell when he says, “Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that you kiss you brains goodbye.” We needn’t go far afield to find evidence of this principle. Those who have failed to unite spirituality with theology have sometimes found themselves in the throes of heresy and death. The story of Jim Jones is not merely a tale of someone whose twisted aspirations gained dominance, but also a story of a movement which employed no framework for interpreting the Scripture in judging one man’s personal revelations. Theology has a way of keeping us from going into such tragic extremes.

The barriers falsely erected between the life of the Spirit and the world of the mind need to be abolished. The mind is irrefutably God’s property, as are the body and the soul.

As full-gospel people, we have enjoyed a rich history of revival and church growth, largely because we have offered a living experience instead of serving dry-bones doctrine to the spiritually starved. Many former main-line church members have joined Pentecostal and charismatic churches in order to escape the empty traditions of their past denominations. But lest we become complacent about this, we need to be reminded that a significant number of people have left their full-gospel heritage and joined other evangelical churches. Though some surely departed out of suspect motives, others sought answers which took on a theological character, but their full-gospel leaders told them not to bother with such questions. The evangelical ministers had answers, even if they did not conform to the full-gospel message. Furthermore, non-charismatic evangelical churches learned to digest the main points of Christian theology into practical teachings by which their members could live.

Clearly, no movement or local body should be expected to have all the answers. But in some churches there has been a marked suspicion of people who have questions, leaving one to wonder whether the ministers are trying to veil their own ignorance. Nothing is wrong with not having the answers. It is when we attack the spiritual sojourner simply for his inquisitiveness that we miss the mark.

Within the mainstream evangelicalism, the full-gospel community is characterized by a distinctive standpoint, as well as a wealth of tradition. It has inscribed an indelible mark on the pages of church history, and promises to be a significantly greater movement in the future. But the time has arrived for the full-gospel community to identify its legacy and begin to fearlessly articulate its beliefs to a generation who want to know why it believes what it believes. The barriers falsely erected between the life of the Spirit and the world of the mind need to be abolished. The mind is irrefutably God’s property, as are the body and the soul, and we are obliged to exercise it as stewards of the grace of God. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action!” (1 Peter 1:13 NIV).

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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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