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Fire From Heaven: an interview with Harvey Cox

Harvey Cox: Eschatology was anything but last on the list for the Pentecostals.

We always have a great session on eschatology. Eschatology seems in some ways to have dropped out of many a theological curriculum, maybe because it is last on the list and the professor never gets to it. It was anything but last on the list for the Pentecostals. I remember starting one session by just standing up, looking at Eldin and saying, “Eldin, whatever happened to the latter rain?” What happened to the enormous focus that we were living in the last days, which was characteristic of early Pentecostals? One doesn’t hear that much in most Pentecostal churches now. There is an occasional kind of allusion to it, but it is not there.

We deal with the dramatic contribution that women have made and are making in Pentecostalism, and yet the reluctance on the part of certain Pentecostal churches to ordain women. That is a controversial issue. Here at Harvard Divinity School, we have a lot of women preparing for ministry in various churches who are tired of hearing some of the same arguments about why they shouldn’t. What I’m saying is we don’t avoid the debatable issues. We confront them. We disagree as brothers in Christ, and part as friends, but we air these issues and I think that everybody gets something out of it.


How has the course been received?

Very well. The students have generally given it a very positive reception. We schedule it for the evening so people who are serving in one or another capacity in Pentecostal churches who are frequently people who work at another job during the day can come. I found that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere. People come in and it has a little less of the rigid atmosphere of some classrooms. I think the Pentecostal participants bring some of that too. They contribute a flavor as well as their own experience to it. We try to recast it some each time. This will be the first time we will have given the course after my book is available. The paperback edition is coming out in January [1997]. We think we will use that, as well as a couple other things that have come out in the mean time.


How has all of your investigation of and involvement with Pentecostals affected you personally?

Positively. First, I am grateful to have been so warmly received and welcomed in Pentecostal circles. I frequently attend Pentecostal churches now, even though I’m not doing research anymore. I often forgot that I was there for research purposes when I went to some of these churches. I was touched by the Spirit. I learned how to worship and felt that I was praying and being spoken to in ways that don’t happen as much in my own congregation. I belong to a Baptist church. I’m always there when I’m in town on the weekend, but it is pretty conventional. One of the churches that I most enjoy visiting is a black Pentecostal church just five minutes from here. I sometimes take visitors there, people who are visiting Harvard, or have read my book and don’t know anything about this. It is a powerful experience of worship there and part of it is that I feel I am with people who have gotten less than an even handed deal from the world. These are people who have been treated shabbily in many respects. But in this church they know that their standing with God is assured and there is a kind of joy and buoyancy about it that I appreciate a lot. Overall, I think the Pentecostals recognize there is a place for feeling and emotion more than is generally acknowledged in Christian worship. I’m grateful for that.



Preview Fire from Heaven:


This interview first appeared in the March-April 1996 issue of Vista Magazine, which is the official publication of the Christian Church of North America which is now known as the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. Used with permission.
Special thanks to Professor Harvey Cox and the IFCA for allowing to make this available to our global audience.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2015

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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