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Pentecostal Hermeneutics: Approach and Methodology

Introduction

Defining an ultimate Pentecostal hermeneutic is not an easy thing. This is because Pentecostalism by itself is a diverse phenomenon consisting of different types of groups. There is no homogeneity in Pentecostal grouping because different Pentecostal factions are established within different traditions,[1] even though the underlying theological formation is the same. This diversity in traditions brings with it varied theological approaches and thinking when establishing Pentecostal hermeneutics. But as Kenneth Archer observes “it is this diversity along with Pentecostalism’s ability to adapt without losing its essential beliefs and practices that has aided its growth.”[2]Pentecostal movements in different parts of the world have different factors behind their origins, but most of them have similar social-political and religious grounding. The early American Pentecostal movements, as Archer observes, have their basis on the post civil war era, which comprised of industrialization, urbanization and mass migrations. As the American society sought to discover a new identity, most spiritual movements, and especially Protestants, saw the possibility of moral reform through spiritual revival built on private action and personal responsibility.[3] It was out of these revivalist movements and social chaos that characterized post civil war America that American Pentecostalism was born. Similarly, as Ogbu Kalu argues, African Pentecostalism was born out of the African postcolonial identity crisis.[4] As Africans sought their true identity and responded to the white missionary ecclesiological structures and hermeneutics, a new approach to worship that was pneumatic in nature was born. It should however be observed, even in light of Kalu’s assertion that African Pentecostalism is not an extension of American Pentecostalism,[5] African Pentecostalism has been and continues to be highly influenced by American Pentecostalism. In both cases, Pentecostalism emerged as movements protesting the increasing evils in their immediate societies and the presumed “coldness” of the then mainline churches.[6]

Central to the Pentecostal belief and theology is the conversion experience and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals see holy living as an essential duty of the Christian. This holy life can only be obtained through the individual’s submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. Conversion is a personal choice and calls the individual Christian to personal responsibility. Every believer needs to maintain a life of holiness. This holiness cannot be attained through mere abstinence to sin, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit hence the need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, an experience that assures the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer. The Spirit gives the believer power over sin and enables them to proclaim the Gospel with power, testifying the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Speaking in other tongues is the main evidence of one’s baptism in the Spirit. These similarities in origin and doctrine become the common denominator in which Pentecostal hermeneutics can be discussed. This paper attempts to explore the general hermeneutical approach, methodology and theological direction that the whole of Pentecostalism embraces.

Pentecostal Theology and Interpretation

Hermeneutics has been defined as both the science and the art of interpretation.[7] “As a science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results. As an art, it teaches what application these principles should have, and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in elucidation of the more difficult scriptures.”[8] Hermeneutics involves drawing meaning from the immediate context of the literature and at the same time it “is the search for the meaning of the text here and now.”[9] Thus we can clearly observe that biblical interpretation has two main dimensions. The first one seeks to find out the original meaning of the text; the one that the author intended for the first readers. The second one looks at the meaning that the readers of the Bible might attach to it. This second dimension shows that the environment and the experiences of the interpreter largely influence the meaning he/she attaches to Scriptures.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2014

About the Author: Michael Muoki Wambua, M.Th. cand. (Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya), and B.A (East Africa School of Theology) is the Vice Chairman of Africa Capacity Building Initiative, a Lecturer at African Center for Great Commission in Nairobi and a Church minister with Nairobi Pentecostal Church.

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