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Edward Irving: Preacher, Prophet and Charismatic Theologian


The final and most direct historical connection is found between Pentecostalism and Irving in the writings of Charles Parham. It was Parham’s association between Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues that formed the theological impetus of the Pentecostal revival. Pentecostal enthusiasts hailed speaking in tongues as the initial Bible evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As previously noted, Irving taught that speaking in tongues was the standing sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. While these two statements are a reflection of each other, Irving’s “standing sign” did not necessarily breed Parham’s “initial Bible evidence.” However Irving’s passion for the practice of speaking in tongues served as a historical precedent for Parham. This strengthened Parham’s interpretation of Acts 2:4. Parham writes,

We have found that the early Catholic Fathers upon reaching the coast of Japan spoke in the native tongue; that the Irvingites, a sect that arose under the teachings of Irving, a Scotchman, during the last century, received not only the eight recorded gifts of 1 Cor. 12, but also the speaking in other tongues, which the Holy Ghost reserved as the evidence of his coming.46

Irving’s ministry, although brief, is a testimony of the power of God concentrated through the pen of a theologian. Irving’s imprint on the Church in charismatic renewal is that the moving of the Spirit does not have to be irrational or anti-intellectual. Irving consistently defended his experience of the Spirit with a thoughtful exposition from the Scripture. It was not choice between theological accuracy and spiritual vitality. He deeply longed for both to be evident in his ministry. The life and ministry of Edward Irving—although historically disassociated from the Pentecostal movement—is worth the attention of scholars, pastors and thoughtful Christians who desire the life of the Spirit and the rightly divided word of truth.




Further Reading:

Book review: David Malcolm Bennett, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement (Wipf & Stock, 2014), reviewed by John R. Miller.




1 The Collected Works of S. T. Coleridge Vol. 10, Katheleen Coburn, ed., (Princeton University, 1976), 143. As quoted by Arnold Dallimore, The Life of Edward Irving: The Fore-Runner of the Charismatic Movement, Gavin Carlisle ed., (Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 46. It should be noted that Coleridge was not a professing Christian. His comment concerning Irving was from one who was a philosopher, poet and orator. Dallimore argues that Coleridge influenced Irving and tainted Irving’s theology with unorthodox elements in three areas 1) the denial of the deity of Christ, 2) the coming judgment of mankind, and 3) the preacher as the “voice of the Holy Spirit” (See Dallimore, 46-47). There is not space here to provide a complete rebuttal, but let me make a few responses to Dallimore’s claim. First, Irving never denied the deity of Christ. For example, Irving wrote,

Into what power hath Christ entered; and how much of that power is it His good pleasure to put forth upon this earth during this dispensation of His absence? With respect to the first part of the question, I answer in His own word: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Seated in God the Father’s throne, He holdeth God the Father’s sceptre, and excerciseth God the Father’s dominion. He is now creation’s God, as He was heretofore creation’s Surety and Bondsman: He is now creation’s sceptre-bearer, as He was heretofore creation’s burden-bearer. Formerly He shewed Himself the suffering, mortal man; now He shews Himself the ruling, life-quickening God (emphasis mine). [The Collected Writings of Edward Irving Vol. 5, G. Carlyle ed., (London: Alexander Strahan, 1865), 451]

Irving biographer Andrew Drummond agrees. He writes, “Beyond all doubt he (Irving) affirmed his belief in his Saviour’s divinity.” [Andrew Drummond, Edward Irving and His Circle, (London: James Clarke & Co., LTD., 1936), 219.]

Concerning the coming judgment of Christ—this is more of an eschatological opinion than a question of orthodoxy. At the time of Irving, most ministers preached a postmillennial eschatology, believing that the Church would produce great social prosperity that would usher in the return of Christ. Irving preached a pre-millennial eschatology that emphasized that wickedness would continue before the return of Christ. Neither option is considered heresy. Finally, Irving’s teaching on the “voice of the Holy Spirit,” is not a claim of absolute divine authority, but of Irving’s understanding that people of God speak on behalf of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. While this was considered unsound doctrine during the high time of dispensational theology. Today the charismatic renewal has touched the academy and dispensational theology has been dethroned.

2 The Church of the Seceders was a separatist group that left the Church of Scotland in order to preserve doctrinal purity and spiritual vitality. (See Dallimore, 5 & Drummond, 16-17.

3 Drummond notes that Irving made quite an impression on his students. They picked up on Irving’s flair for the dramatic and many sought to emulate their teacher. Some in the town called the boys “Irvingites”—not in derision, but in a celebration of the affectionate bond of the group. See Drumond, 45.

4 Dallimore, 25.

5 Mike Johnson, Edward Irving: A Charismatic Pioneer, unpublished paper, 2. An adaptation of the paper is published online at (Last accessed 6/26/01).

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Category: Church History, Spring 2002

About the Author: Derek Vreeland, MDiv (Oral Roberts University), DMin (Asbury Theological Seminary), is the Discipleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of Shape Shifters: How God Changes the Human Heart: A Trinitarian Vision of Spiritual Transformation (Word & Spirit Press, 2008), Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostles' Creed (Doctrina Press, 2011), and Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader's Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015). Twitter: @DerekVreeland

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