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Pilgrimage Into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin

The Pentecostal walk in the Spirit forces one inexorably to re-examine all sectarian dogma in the light of the overarching unity of the Spirit which they experience with other Christians of the most diverse theological backgrounds.                  — Howard M. Ervin

Ervin is an example of what it means to be ecumenical, but this has not always been his history. When he began his ministry, as a good Baptist he was quite prejudiced against many of the liturgical traditions. Like Saul of Tarsus, Ervin accuses himself of been the worst of those who were anti-Catholic.28 Ervin grew up in a time a in a part of Pennsylvania where there was deep hatred between Protestants and Catholics.29 Ironically, when the renewal began in his church, Ervin found himself praying for an Episcopalian man with a Catholic wife to receive the baptism in the Spirit.30 This confused him because in his evangelicalism, he really didn’t believe that they were even saved. He comments, “My problem was this. I was an evangelical Baptist, I had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and I was having all kinds of problems sorting out my theology.”31 Through his pilgrimage into Pentecost, the Holy Spirit melted his heart for believers of all traditions. He truly believes that the Pentecostal movement is the vehicle to bring all denominations together in unity. He believes that theological dogma divides, but the Spirit unites the church. He says, “The Pentecostal walk in the Spirit forces one inexorably to re-examine all sectarian dogma in the light of the overarching unity of the Spirit which they experience with other Christians of the most diverse theological backgrounds.”32 Ervin truly became ecumenical because of his Pentecostal experience. Because of this, thousands of believers from all traditions experienced the Holy Spirit through his ministry.

Howard Ervin also never left his Baptist heritage. Ervin remains to this day an American Baptist. Even after coming to ORU, Ervin attended an American Baptist Church in Tulsa. Ervin was also influential in the Charismatic wing of the American Baptist Church. As the Charismatic wing of his own denomination began to gain momentum, many American Baptist pastors gathered to share their common experience. In 1975, Ervin was one of the keynote speakers at the first American Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit where he gave a “Rationale for Tongues.”33 Dr. Gary Clark, the long-time chairman of the Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries in American Baptist Churches, worked with Ervin in those early days. He says, “He was the patriarch of the movement, definitely. He was the trained, Th.D from Princeton, theologian. He was the biblical authority. We wanted him to give us the biblical foundation…He was very influential and his teaching was very good. It was the solid basis on which the early years of the American Baptist Movement, was built.”34 Everyone looked to Ervin for solid teaching and articulate communication about the Pentecostal life.


Influence on Pentecostal Scholarship

Beginning with Howard Ervin’s scholarly book on Pentecostalism in 1968, a door was opened in the academic world to begin to defend Pentecostalism as a legitimate stream of evangelicalism. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the evangelical community felt a need to respond the growing number of Pentecostals and their influence on the church as a whole. This produced several evangelical works by scholars like James Dunn, F.D. Bruner and Anthony Hoekema. James Dunn comments, “Since 1960 Pentecostal teaching has been making a significant penetration in older denominations. Taken together these facts make imperative a close study of the distinctive Pentecostal doctrines.”35 Thus, it was the force of the Pentecostal movement that spurred on New Testament scholarship to study the issue of baptism in the Holy Spirit and consequently to understand Luke-Acts better. William and Robert Menzies comment, “With the emergence of the Charismatic renewal, which by the decade of the 1960’s included not only mainline Protestants but a significant penetration of the Roman Catholic Church, literature relating to the person and work of the Holy Spirit has appeared in a veritable explosion on the Christian world.”36 A simple rebuttal would not be enough; evangelicalism needed to have a firm hold on its own understanding of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, since 1970, the amount of works on all sides of the debate has grown into a whole new realm of theological emphasis.

Howard M. Ervin was one of the earliest defenders of the Pentecostal faith from an academic standpoint. While Pentecostals have always been able to articulate their experience, they have not always been on the side of sound exegesis. Many found Ervin’s teachings and writings to be a welcome defense of the Pentecostal faith. Few people with the credentials of Ervin were on the side of the Pentecostals. Ervin stepped into that void with sound exegesis and consistent theology.


Pentecost’s New Voice

The effect of Howard Ervin’s Pneumatology on the Pentecostal world is hard to articulate. Ervin is appreciated by colleagues, scholars and ministers from diverse backgrounds. Dr. Thomson Mathew, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University, points out, “It is almost fashionable to be a Pentecostal today. This is not our history…at such a time, God raised up Dr. Howard Ervin to produce the first academic, exegetical defense of the Pentecostal experience that our critics had to respect.”37 He also called him “the most articulate defender of Pentecostalism.”38 H.I. Lederle, in his book Treasures Old and New, identifies Ervin as a leader in the Neo-Pentecostal tradition. He remarks, “In These Are Not Drunken, As Ye Suppose Howard Ervin presents a defense of the neo-Pentecostal position, one of the earliest scholarly accounts available.”39 The noted Assembly of God scholar William Menzies remarks, “Back in the 1960’s, there were few engaged in serious academic efforts to present the classical Pentecostal view of Spirit Baptism. Ervin was one of the early ‘pioneers’ of this enterprise. His work was a great encouragement to me as a young, budding Pentecostal professor. He ably engaged dissident views, such as those held by Gordon Fee and James Dunn. This was an important influence on my own studies. I owe him a great debt of gratitude.”40

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Category: Fall 2009, Spirit

About the Author: Daniel Isgrigg, B.A. and M.A. (Oral Roberts University), is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Bangor University in Wales working on the origins of Assemblies of God eschatology. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, a member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and is the Director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University. Daniel is also the author of Pilgrimage Into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin (Word & Spirit Press, 2008) and Why I Want To Be Left Behind (Word & Spirit Press, 2008). Facebook

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