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

By way of background, which may serve to make this study on globalization more understandable, perhaps it might be apropos to sketch some of the opposition faced as this globalization transpired.  It is well known that Pentecostals never had a narrowly conceived Sola Scriptura mentality, but vigorously investigated Church history for charismatic precedents and backgrounds for their tradition of Christian experience.[21]   They sensed an under emphasis on activities of the Holy Spirit in doctrinal pursuits and practice in Christian tradition prior to themselves, for they saw little Lukan expectation in that regard, while at the same time seeking to unite the work of the Spirit to biblical interpretation.[22]  They rejected the traditional formulation of a supposed apostolic age with Lukan characters encapsulated therein.  Filtering the examples and precedents Luke-Acts provides with respect to the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit through a selective dispensational grid lacked realistic and convincing appeal.  While they understood Scripture to be trustworthy and reliable, they did not raise the experience of reading texts[23] above participation in the christocentric experiences the texts should apparently be designed or interpreted to convey.  Inspiration is better than information, interactivity with God through Christ and fellowship with the Life Eternal as highlighted by John in his first letter (1 Jn 1:2, 3) being the primary goal.[24]  When a narrow understanding of Sola Scriptura became doctrinally linked to the expunging of the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit from Scriptura and was further linked in a frozen paleoreformed paradigm with the additional truncation of Pauline gifts whose supernatural function threatened liturgical control, it became unacceptable.  This unacceptability was reciprocated by this sector of Evangelicalism, which denied Pentecostal students access to their seminaries and generated a deluge of popular polemical material against the movement.[25]  Within this narrow paradigm, which Pentecostals argued was difficult to find in Scriptura, experience described by narrative and discursive texts appeared minimalized to sustain two primary ends: 1) that grace may supposedly be sacramentally transmitted via the clergy, and/or 2) that experiential examples[26] from Scripture may not be used to teach, even if texts are reasonably suggestive to the contrary (supporting the silencing of the prophetic ministry of the laity via cessationist claims for spiritual gifts as well as via cessationist claims for Lukan examples and precedents).[27]  Yet such suggestion by New Testament writers was not enough, proof was demanded, while little substantive analysis rising to the level of proof was required by those protecting the established positions of Lukan cessationism and Pauline truncation.[28]  Supernaturalist expectations were made suspect or denigrated as outside the traditionally acceptable paradigm.  With regard to Luke’s narrative and its theological intentions, any expectations Luke may have had for his readers were further extinguished by claims that contemporary prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit according to the teaching of the earthly Jesus was “dispensationally misapplied.”[29]  Examples of belief in the earthly Jesus were redescribed as “receiving Jesus as your personal Savior,” whereas examples of “receiving the Spirit” or similar New Testament language was relegated, ecclesiologically, to the status of permanent total eclipse.  Language obviously drafted out of experience by New Testament writers and their predecessors was either ignored or made consistent with contemporary non-experience.  To Pentecostal scholars in this century, such an approach to New Testament texts appeared to be somewhat more illustrative of reinterpretation in the guise of exegesis, based on philosophical speculation, than exegesis itself; particularly where texts so expunged dictated pastoral administration and where what became known as cessationism was vigorously defended.  Protectors of this paleoreformed paradigm appeared, until very recently, to be uninterested in any serious inquiry or dialogue which could bring into focus the question of whether cessationistic exegesis, and the systematic theology wedded thereto, were consistent with the rhetorical tradition of examples and precedents so prevalent in the Graeco-Roman world where the texts so operated upon were produced.[30]

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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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