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Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition

Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition is a scholarly but straightforward read. Its logical flow and development are succinct but not simple. It can be challenging at times but is consistently stimulating. A great strength of the book is its defense of traditional Pentecostal emphases simultaneous with their development through conversation with the Christian spiritual tradition. Its treatment of speaking in tongues and Spirit baptism affirms the general direction of classical Pentecostal theology and spirituality but attempts greater depth. Thus, it embraces the value of the categories of the subsequence of Spirit baptism and evidential tongues but argues for a repeatable pattern of spiritual growth and charismatic giftedness more directly connected to contemplative prayer and transformative experience. Accordingly, “traditional” Pentecostal ideas and experiences are not diminished but rather deeply developed in dynamic directions. A most fascinating example is Chan’s comparison of the historical origin and development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church with the historical origin and development of the doctrine of initial evidence in the Pentecostal movement. The comparison suggests enormous potential for contemporary mining.

Here is a gifted theological writer working hard to be faithful to the fundamental constructs of his particular tradition, Pentecostalism, while rigorously interpreting it in the context of a larger Christian spiritual tradition. Usually the outcomes are interesting and illuminating to say the least, and, more often than not, immensely exciting. However, at times one is hard pressed to discern which controls which. This ambiguity is probably most evident in his discussion of ecclesiology. Protestants may be surprised at lavish praise heaped upon Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Church. Pentecostals will surely struggle with a “Mother Church” hierarchical ecclesiological model. Prismatic observation of Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts through the sacraments may certainly sound novel to many. Yet usually Chan is able to steer clearly through such waters. Nevertheless, important questions call for careful address. At what point does interpreting become re-interpreting? When does recovery become reconstruction? However, in a day when some conscientious and committed Pentecostals are feeling forced to “abandon ship,” so to speak, on controversial topics in the Pentecostal tradition, while other equally conscientious and committed Pentecostals are having “knee jerk” reactions to what they see as a compromising trend, this honest and intense effort simultaneously to defend and extend Pentecostalism is surely something of a welcome relief. The key is to sustain the simultaneity.

Reviewed by Tony Richie


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Category: In Depth, Winter 2010

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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