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Douglas Jacobsen: Thinking in the Spirit, reviewed by Amos Yong


Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2003), xvi + 418 pages, ISBN 9780253343208.

This is a book long overdue, and places us all in debt to Douglas Jacobsen, Distinguished Professor of Church History and Theology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. While a large volume, it is nevertheless very focused and precise. On the one hand, Jacobsen limits his survey of early pentecostal theologies to those articulated during the first twenty-five years or so of the movement. On the other hand, Jacobsen is the consummate narrator and historian of theology in these pages, describing early pentecostal theologies with immaculate detail and allowing the theologians he is presenting to speak with their own voices, all the while keeping his own theological perspective effectively muted. He hopes in the concluding chapter that “this book will help contemporary pentecostal theologians and church leaders engage each other in constructive ways, reminding them that a vigorous diversity of opinion has been part of the pentecostal heritage from the very beginning of the movement” (p. 355). This work accomplishes the author’s objectives admirably, in this reviewer’s opinion. Let me mention three reasons why.

First, as Jacobsen notes, is the very important reminder regarding the diversity of pentecostal theologies even among the earliest thinkers of the movement. The six chapters present twelve theologians: the “original visions” of Charles Fox Parham and Richard Spurling (later influential in the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee); the Azusa Street era theologies of William J. Seymour, George Floyd Taylor (later of the Pentecostal Holiness Church), and David Wesley Myland (a convert to pentecostalism from the Christian Missionary Alliance); the Finished-Work theology of William H. Durham and the Holiness Pentecostal theology of Joseph Hillery King; the Oneness theologies of Garfield T. Haywood and Andrew David Urshan; the Afrocentric and anti-racist theology of Robert Clarence Lawson; and the “boundary” theologies of independent evangelist Fred Francis Bosworth and mystical thinker Esek William Kenyon. The plurality of early pentecostal theologies should be evident simply given this listing. Jacobsen’s gift to contemporary pentecostal theologians and church leaders is to provide a coherent narrative demonstrating the interconnectedness of these various ideas and systems of thought without compromising their distinctive contributions and perspectives. Here, as in the day of Pentecost, we have a plurality of voices giving testimony to the wondrous workings of the Spirit of God.

“Here, as in the day of Pentecost, we have a plurality of voices giving testimony to the wondrous workings of the Spirit of God.”

Second, Jacobsen’s account highlights the dynamism and fluidity of early pentecostal theologies. This, no doubt, was related to the experiential and existential nature of pentecostal theologizing. Jacobsen provides spiritual biographies of each thinker which help locating the broader social, ecclesial and intellectual contexts within which their ideas germinated. Thus readers are enabled to appreciate how even the contrasting theologies of Durham (one finished work of grace) and King (three works of grace: justification, sanctification and baptism in the Holy Spirit) were yet “pentecostal” given how both theologians provided subtly nuanced soteriologies amidst their polemics. We see how Durham admitted to the gradual process of spiritual growth following the one saving work of God even as King understood the multiple works of grace to be but aspects of one salvation experienced sequentially—e.g., initially and then fully. Further, the originality of thinkers like Parham and Seymour, the anti-establishment message of Lawson, and the resistance of Bosworth’s theology to being easily categorized according to any pre-existing (pentecostal or other) scheme illustrates the wide-ranging contexts, interests and concerns of early pentecostal theologies. Finally, Taylor’s and Haywood’s willingness and interest in engaging the historical and scientific ideas of their times, and the important influence of Kenyon’s ideas on early and later pentecostal thinkers, show that pentecostals were not reluctant to draw from a wide variety of sources, even those outside the movement. In each case, contemporary pentecostal theologians can learn from their forefathers in being directed toward experience as more or less reliable resources for theologizing, and in being set at ease that even theologies that aspire to systematic coherence can be provisional and dynamic relative to the ongoing nature of theological reflection and engagement.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2004

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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