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The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Review Article, by Paul Elbert

Pentecostals’ view of narrative and their application of its didactic intentions is entirely consistent with, and essentially the same as, how it was regarded in the Graeco-Roman world at the time Luke-Acts was written, where the narrative-rhetorical tradition was regarded as a means to persuade with clarity and plausibility, to set forth vivid examples and precedents, and to provide the reasons for why such actions occurred.[11]  Therefore, one may appropriately mention that the criticism or condemnation of using Luke’s narrative to establish what Luke expects believers to pray for and what Luke expects God to do in answer to prayer – because Lukan characters who bear witness to Jesus also pray and receive the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit – is, from the perspective of Pentecostal tradition, negative criticism that misunderstands Luke as having only strictly historical motives, not theological motives.  It is widely viewed as virtually the same cessationist position that Calvin finally adopted toward the gift of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, amended (recently by some) with the corollary that all the Pauline spiritual gifts are for today.  In disagreement with Evangelicalism, it is also reasonably understandable as a neo-cessationist non-Lukan position which has been long protected in the Reformed tradition and by others overly deferent to that tradition,[12] a position broadly perceived from within the sector of Christendom under consideration in this volume as driving a narratively poisonous wedge between the earthly Jesus (His teachings, actions, and examples) and the heavenly Jesus who pours out the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit.

Further, to suggest, as does Ma, that the immediacy of God’s Word in Scripture has been a long held Pentecostal value, even before the “postmodern” concept caught on in American social sciences, seems to imply that an intuitive reading of Scripture is somehow assisted by Postmodernism.  And this brings us to exactly what is meant by this term, which is nowhere in this volume cogently defined or critiqued.  This is the fault of the editors who have assumed at the Costa Rica symposium that such a notion is well-accepted and understood, and hence contributors had no need to interact with it in a critical fashion when they employed it.  This lapse by the editors resulted in a lack of precision and an overly deferential treatment given the notion by some of the contributors.  In Ma’s case this oversight is thankfully very minor indeed.  The tenor of Ma’s Pentecostal insights resonates much better with those of Hesselgrave, insofar as Pentecostal missiologists could well “devote less time and effort to the erection of theological systems… and give more attention to the kind of biblical theology that will arrest the minds and change the hearts of people of various religions and cultures,”[13] than to the ephemeral philosophical theories of postmodernism.  The very useful assessment of such theories provided by Clark[14] illustrates just how ephemeral they really are, perhaps something yet to be fully realized by some scholars.   Ma’s assessment that “Given their revivalist identities, Pentecostals believed they had a call to bring a spiritual dimension to the institutionalized church world” (63) is fair.  The implication is that Pentecostals today believe this, but their methods may be different.  It is still true however that such zeal arouses hostility as well as reception, given that the Pentecostal’s evangelization is another person’s proselytism.  Ma concludes soundly that the healthy existence and continued development of Pentecostal scholarship lies in its ability to provide “solid biblical foundations which preserve and revitalize Pentecostal uniqueness” (64).

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About the Author: Paul Elbert, physicist-theologian and New Testament scholar, teaches theology and science at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. He is co-chair of the Formation of Luke-Acts section in the Society of Biblical Literature and is a research advisor to the Dominican Biblical Institute, Limerick, Ireland. His writings have appeared, for example, in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft and in Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He served as editor of two anniversary volumes for Old Testament scholars, Essays on Apostolic Themes (1985) and Faces of Renewal (1988).

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