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

Ervin will be best known in the academic world for his treatise on Pentecostalism published in 1968 called These are Not Drunken as Ye Suppose.41 His contributions to the discussion of Pentecost and in particular the theology of Luke-Acts was a major shift in New Testament studies. Paul Elbert compiled a festschrift in honor of Dr. Ervin’s sixty-fifth birthday. He says, “Howard did a good job at that particular moment in history, in expressing views that were new and I thought were good and right…I thought this man’s work was worthy of complements.”42 Elbert believed that Ervin was a pioneer in this interpretation of Luke-Acts. Elbert recognized that the evangelical world view was dominating New Testament studies of Acts. He recognized that Ervin was able to open that door of discussion of Pentecostal pneumatology from an exegetical point of view. In Elbert’s tribute he writes, “Dr. Ervin will be warmly remembered as being in the forefront of those scholars who have entered into this historically neglected area. Stepping into the gap with fresh considerations he exposed the weak underpinnings of theories which unduly confined the Holy Spirit to a restricted range of activity.”43 Elbert recognized that Ervin’s perspective on the unique theology offered by Luke was ground breaking in the area of Pentecostal scholarship. Elbert says, “I regarded him as a pioneer in terms of interpreting Luke-Acts at a time when in the United States, there was a lot of polemic coming from the larger publishing houses against looking at Luke-Acts this way.”44 Elbert compiled this work with articles from scholars who involved in similar work in the area of Luke-Acts. Many of these scholars such as James Forbes, F.F. Bruce, and James Dunn recognized Ervin’s contribution to Pentecostal scholarship. James Forbes says, “At a time when I was looking for a solid biblical/theological foundation in support of my faith and experience, I was greatly helped by the scholarly efforts of Howard Ervin.”45 Even James Dunn comments, “His work on the Holy Spirit has provided both a challenge to scholarship and an opportunity for dialogue for those seeking to understand this dimension of our Christian faith.”46

Though many Pentecostals offered a defense for their faith, until Ervin, there was very little Pentecostal scholarship that gave the exegetical and theological foundation. Ervin not only defended the Pentecostal position, but he engaged the evangelical views with substantial critiques. Robert Graves, the president of the Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, remarks, “Between Carl Brumback’s What Meaneth This? (1947) and Ervin’s These Are Not Drunken As You Suppose (1967), I am aware of no substantial Pentecostal defenses, and when Ervin’s was published, it took the Pentecostal polemic to another level, rendering Brumback’s defense, which was already dated, obsolete.”47 At this time, Pentecostals were just beginning to defend this once maligned faith in the academic market place of ideas. Graves comments, “To my knowledge, no Pentecostal, neo-Pentecostal, or Charismatic has matched Ervin’s production of quality Pentecostal literature defending the distinctive doctrines of the continuity of the gifts of the Spirit and the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a subsequent Christian experience signaled by glossolalic utterances while bringing power for witness and service.”48 It is high praise that this Baptist pastor with a Th.D. from Princeton would have so much influence on the arena of classical Pentecostal scholarship.

 

Ervin Responds to James D.G. Dunn

James Dunn, the noted New Testament scholar and professor of Divinity at University of Durham, introduced a book in 1970 on the Holy Spirit. His work Baptism in the Holy Spirit became popular amongst scholars and is considered one of the best treatments of the Evangelical view of Spirit Baptism. In it, Dunn argues for a conversion-initiation view of Spirit Baptism. Dunn’s work takes particular issue with the Pentecostal understanding of Acts. Writing just two years after Ervin published These Are Not Drunken, As Ye Suppose, Dunn interacts with Ervin as one of the Pentecostal sources for his critique. Though Dunn dealt with several Pentecostal sources in addition to Ervin including G. Lindsay (1964), L. Christenson (1964), R.M. Riggs (1949), Ervin seems to get particular attention from him.

In November of 1980, the annual meeting of Society of Pentecostal Studies was on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During that time, Robert Graves took time to interview Howard Ervin about James Dunn’s treatment of his work. Surprisingly, Ervin had not yet read the book or even given much consideration to Dunn’s arguments.49 After discussing Dunn’s arguments, Graves challenged Ervin to answer Dunn. Always up for a good argument, Ervin said, “I’ll have to do a critique of Dunn.”50 The following semester, Ervin would offer an argument by argument rebuttal to Dunn’s conversion-initiation view of baptism in the Holy Spirit. One by one Ervin exposed Dunn’s neglect of the particular theology of Luke and his presuppositional exegesis. Conversion-Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit would eventually become a rallying point for Pentecostals in response to Dunn’s evangelical views. Many other Pentecostal scholars would follow with their own critiques of Dunn’s anti-Pentecostal view.

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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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