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Stephen Barkley: Pentecostal Prophets

Stephen D. Barkley, Pentecostal Prophets: Experience in Old Testament Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2023) 157 pages, ISBN 9781666768022.

Stephen D. Barkley, director of pastoral leadership and campus pastor at Master’s College and Seminary in Ontario, Canada, offers an intriguing study on contemporary prophetic practice in the Pentecostal/Charismatic context. Barkley, being a Pentecostal scholar and practitioner, explores anew the prophetic ministry through the lens of socio-theological inquiry. His utilization of both social scientific lenses and theological lenses resulted in this empirical study that explores, analyzes, and consequently validates the sacramental and contemporary significance of prophecy in the Christian church today.

The prophetic ministry has been plagued by controversies both within and outside Pentecostal circles. Numerous publications have been produced in the theological effort of exploring, understanding, and analyzing the ongoing practice of prophecy in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches worldwide. Barkley joins the conversation by dialoguing Old Testament prophecy with present-day personal experiences in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles. Interestingly, he finds an avenue for dialectic conversation in the intersection of social science and theology. The resulting research became his dissertation, now published in this book form, Pentecostal Prophets.

The prophetic ministry has been plagued by controversies both within and outside Pentecostal circles.

Barkley begins his academic study with a question: “What does the practice of charismatic prophecy in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) and Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL) cohere with the experience of the Old Testament prophets?” His narrowed context allows for in-depth study of prophetic ministries without closing doors to global conversations. Using the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador as representative samples for the North American phenomenon of Pentecostal prophetic ministries, he enables readers to delve into a specific theology and practice of a particular setting, while challenging the same to reflect on similarities or dissimilarities in their contexts.

Barkley validates the sacramental and contemporary significance of prophecy in the Christian church today.

At the onset, Barkley states clearly that the book assumes the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2) as the inauguration of the prophethood of all believers (ix). Canadian Pentecostal scholar, Roger Stronstad coined this theory in his opus, the Prophethood of all Believers, stating that Pentecostal/Charismatic experience of prophecy is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth [Editor’s note: See Amos Yong’s review of Prophethood]. Tracing the prophetic ministry from the Old Testament, to Jesus, the prophet par excellence, to the New Testament prophets, and to modern day prophetic ministers, Barkley (so Stronstad) argues that Pentecostal/Charismatic believers today prophesy through the enablement of the Spirit of prophecy, the same Spirit who inspired the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus. Hence, for Barkley there is coherence between Old Testament prophecy and contemporary prophetic practices.

Having clearly stated the book’s underlying assumption, Barkley describes charismatic prophecy as a “leitmotiv” in the Bible as well as in Christian Church history (11). Simply defined, prophecy for him, is a message communicated from God through a spokesperson for a recipient (whether a community, an individual, or an occasion) (13). Barkley affirms the centrality of prophecy in the ministries of Pentecostals, and its various streams like those affiliated with the Third Wave movement or those considered as Charismatic or Neocharismatic. For Pentecostals, prophecy or the prophetic experience is a key component of Christian spirituality.

How similar is prophecy and prophetic ministry before the coming of Christ to its practice after the Church began?

Barkley triangulates three methods: practical theology, practice-led research, and phenomenology. Using three methods strengthens the internal validity of the study, but also allows for a candid presentation of presuppositions and experiences in the investigative process. With practical theology, one can explore how areas of coherence between Old Testament prophets and current prophetic practices in the PAOC and PAONL are relevant to the development of policy on sound prophetic ministry (21). With practice-led research, people’s experiences can be considered as valid data in theologizing (22). With phenomenology, the researcher can find “common meaning for several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon” (22). Finally, Barkley theologically reflects on the data and themes gathered from the three methodological frameworks to answer the study’s questions. Overall, Barkley’s multi-layered methods provide a strong theoretical framework for exploring and understanding the practice of prophecy.

The book comprising of six chapters flows like a dissertation report, but with reader-friendly editing. In the first chapter the basic details of the study are clearly laid out, including research questions, assumptions, and methods. In chapter two, the literature review is presented. In said chapter, theoretical and empirical studies done on the practice of prophecy are thematically discussed. The chapter ends with Barkley by offering the study as a contribution to the ongoing theological discussion and a corrective to the over-emphasis on discontinuity between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy.

In chapter 3, Barkley discusses the experience of Hebrew prophets, specifically highlighting Jeremiah. In chapter 4, he presents data on contemporary experience of prophecy from personal experience, as well as from respondents who are practitioners in prophetic ministry. In chapter 5, the author brings both worlds of Old Testament prophets and contemporary prophets in dialectical conversation. The final chapter offers the author’s findings, limitations, conclusions, and suggested areas for research. The book is a tightly presented case for Pentecostal/Charismatic prophecy.

If prophetic ministry is biblical, as Pentecostal/charismatics affirm, can anyone fully understand its practice without experiencing it firsthand?

The nature of the book’s research allows for a straightforward confession of presuppositions. The prophethood of all believers as the main edifice of the study assumes the continuation of prophecy in contemporary ministry. Barkley argues clearly for the coherence between Old Testament prophets and modern Pentecostal/charismatic prophets. Nevertheless, he also recognizes areas where coherence is lacking. His endeavors in using multiple theoretical frameworks to strengthen the findings of the study is commendable. Moreover, the use of prophetic experiences as a source for theological reflection is quite admirable. Although personal experience can be controversial, one cannot deny the experiential aspect of prophetic ministry. I think one cannot fully understand prophetic practice without experiencing it firsthand. Barkley comes to the table as both a practitioner and scholar, and he does so with an irenic spirit.

I recommend the book to those interested in understanding prophetic practice and spirituality. As Barkley explains, the book is beneficial to “the ordinary, the ecclesial and the academic” (17). His study certainly gives us a new perspective in understanding the similarities (or dissimilarities) between Old Testament prophetic practice and contemporary prophetic practice. It also provides insights into a specific context of prophetic ministry, namely that of the PAOC and PAONL. The theological reflections offered can guide the praxis and policy development of prophetic practice in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches today.

Reviewed by Lora Angeline E. Timenia


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Category: Spirit, Winter 2024

About the Author: Lora Angeline Embudo Timenia, M. Th., is a Filipino Pentecostal scholar ordained with the Philippine General Council of the Assemblies of God. Currently, she serves as a regular faculty of the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary and adjunct faculty of Bethel Bible College of the Assemblies of God. She also serves as Accreditation Committee secretary of the Asia Pacific Theological Association. She is the author of Third Wave Pentecostalism in the Philippines: Understanding Toronto Blessing Revivalism's Theology of Signs and Wonders in the Philippines.

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