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Pentecostal Hermeneutics: Approach and Methodology

An encounter with God through the Holy Spirit is main sphere of cognition in Pentecostal hermeneutics. The Spirit-believer relationship is the basic tool for both spiritual and practical knowledge. As Arrington illustrates, “Pentecostals see knowledge not as a cognitive recognition of a set of precepts but as a relationship with the one who has established the precepts by which we live.”[22] The same observations are made by David Jones. He asserts: “for Pentecostals all knowledge is grounded in God and God is known through encounter.”[23] This experiential-relational knowledge becomes the basis for Pentecostals’ emphasis on the infilling and baptism of the Spirit.

The role of biblical narrative is an imperative concept in Pentecostal hermeneutics that needs to be explored. For Pentecostals, the Bible is a story of redemption. It presents the story of salvation in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It is a story that has both a past and a present continuous presence. One needs to be connected with this salvation story in order to experience salvation. With this view in mind, Janet Powers states: “Pentecostals look to biblical narratives to discover a pattern of experience and assume that this narrative has normative theological value.”[24] Powers further asserts that the continuity of the biblical narrative from its past through the present and into the future avails a significant relevance to the Pentecostal hermeneutist. Since the basis of the salvation story is the kingdom of God, the futuristic benefits and the power of the kingdom are available in the present through the Holy Spirit, the author of Pentecost.[25]

Experiential Approach

Most Pentecostal do what Davis calls “‘agendad reading’ of the Bible-reading with an intended result and goal in mind.”[26] To them, the Bible has value when it enriches the reader’s personal spiritual expectations and becomes relevant to his immediate needs. To the Pentecostal, the Bible becomes the word of God for the individual when it is read and appropriated according to his immediate context. To them the power of the Bible is best realized when read and applied. The Bible’s transformative influence is felt only when it is read. Thus for the Pentecostal, reading of the Bible should be part of the believer’s lifestyle.

Experience then becomes an important ingredient in the understanding of the scripture in Pentecostalism. Doctrine and experience are set at par, but experience draws more attention than doctrine. The believer wants to ‘feel’ God in his life. The experience approves the authenticity of the doctrine. This is what Powers observes when he affirms: “Pentecostal hermeneutics offers a paradigm which asserts that right experience leads to the right doctrine, so Pentecostals are much more concerned with locating their experiences in biblical narrative than determining theological prepositions based on biblical text.”[27] The Pentecostal does not go to the Bible to develop a theology; he goes to the Bible to develop a lifestyle and to experience God.

The experiential interpretation mode however, presents a major challenge that the Pentecostal needs to take seriously, namely selective reading. When the primary concern is what the passage means to the individual personally, then verses that hold less meaning are ignored. Due to their Spirit baptism motif, conversion motif and perhaps the ‘by faith’ motif, most Pentecostals have increasingly put their dependency on texts that emphasize such motifs. Such a bias in my opinion needs to be addressed. Pentecostals needs to be encouraged to read all scriptural texts, even those that do not resonate with their immediate theological conjectures or experiences. Such a goal can be achieved through communal Bible expositions. Perhaps this is where the academy needs to come in and help to shape the Pentecostal community.

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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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