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Global Pentecostal Renaissance? Reflections on Pentecostalism, Culture, and Higher Education, by Jeff Hittenberger

Great gains in Christian education were made during the Renaissance and Reformation when Christian thinkers and artists like Dante, Chaucer, Petrarch, Erasmus, and Luther, each in his own way, advocated for learning. While a branch of Renaissance humanism eventually veered off into secularism and Enlightenment skepticism, many of the heirs of the Renaissance and Reformation, like Comenius and John Milton, championed Christian education. Milton wrote: “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.”23

In the centuries preceding the birth of the contemporary Pentecostal movement many Christian institutions of higher education were established, though many later departed from their Christian mission for reasons of market, status, or philosophy.24 Some retained and continuously renewed a commitment to a deeply Christian approach to higher education.

According to Arthur Holmes, “The Christian believes that in all that he does intellectually, socially or artistically, he is handling God’s creation and that is sacred.”25 Moreover, “The student must realize that his education is a Christian vocation, his prime calling from God for these years, that his education must be an act of love, of worship, of stewardship, a wholehearted response to God.”26

“The Christian believes that in all that he does intellectually, socially or artistically, he is handling God’s creation and that is sacred.” —Arthur Holmes

While some have criticized Holmes’ approach as being “too rationalistic” and not giving sufficient importance to the emotions, the intuition, and the Spirit in the learning process, he helped to lay foundations for the academic enterprise that have been of great value to Pentecostal educators.27

Pentecostals in higher education seek to cultivate more than a cognitive worldview. Pentecostal integration seeks to weave faith, learning, and life together in all dimensions of our humanity, such that they constitute a “life way” and not merely a worldview, shaping not only the mind, but also the affections.28 Drawing on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals have the resources to live lives that are holistic and exploratory, in communities that are global and diverse, and to experience a transformative relationship with Christ that reshapes all facets of life through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

Still, Pentecostal educators are now faced with a new set of challenges. With graduate and professional programs now growing, many Pentecostal institutions, some with more than two thousand students enrolled, now face this question: “What does it mean to be a Pentecostal university?” How, indeed, might Pentecostal higher education contribute to a Global Pentecostal Renaissance?

Just as Comenius strove to integrate a learning renaissance and a spiritual renaissance in the seventeenth century so Pentecostal educators in the twenty-first century are seeking to cultivate the minds and spirits of their students at scores of Pentecostal institutions of higher education around the world.

The challenges to Pentecostal higher education are many. The 2011 closure of Bethany University, affiliated with the AG, illustrates the seriousness of the financial challenges. In addition to these financial challenges, and related to them, are the governance and organizational challenges that institutions face as they seek to change in response to changing demographics, changing accreditation requirements, and changing markets, including new competition from “for-profit” institutions, and changing modes of delivery, such as the explosion of online learning.

Given that widespread involvement in higher education is a relatively recent development for Pentecostals, the number of Pentecostal candidates qualified and applying for positions in a variety of fields is limited, presenting a challenge for Pentecostal colleges or universities seeking to fill positions in departments like Chemistry or Sociology.

With changes in types and varieties of academic programs and, in many cases with a more denominationally diverse student bodies and faculties, Pentecostal colleges and universities are sometimes challenged to maintain a strong partnership with their sponsoring denominations, and this relationship must be constantly nurtured or risk becoming unproductive for both college and church.

However, challenges such as these are to be expected and are not unique to Pentecostal institutions. Serious efforts are being made by the colleges and their partner churches to navigate these challenges so that the powerful calling of Pentecostal higher education can be fulfilled.

A few examples will suffice to illustrate how Pentecostal colleges and universities are, in fact, contributing to a Global Pentecostal Renaissance in a variety of domains. These are just a few of the myriad examples that could be provided and are weighted toward those institutions I know best. The brief descriptions below are accompanied by references to websites where the reader can learn more about these institutions and their initiatives.

Pentecostal colleges contribute to Global Pentecostal Renaissance through theology and ministry preparation. Pentecostal colleges and universities of all kinds have a rich history of preparing ministers and contributing to theological reflection in institutions around the world. These range from the powerful preparation being provided in two-year programs like the Associate degree program in Bible and Ministry at Latin American Bible Institute in La Puente, California29 to the internationally influential scholarship being carried out by faculty in programs like Regent University’s Ph.D. in Renewal Studies.30 Global University is pioneering the use of Kindle devices to provide full theological libraries and programs of study in e-book format for pastors in nations with limited or no access to theological libraries or seminaries.31

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: Jeff Hittenberger, Ph.D. (University of Southern California), serves as Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs at Vanguard University. He previously served as Director of Graduate Studies at Evangel University and as Dean of the School of Education at Vanguard University. He served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at Mohamed V University in Rabat, Morocco, has served as a consultant and researcher in Cameroon, Mali, South Africa, Israel, and Haiti.

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