Pentecostal Theology

Living the Full Gospel

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Wolfgang Vondey
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , July
     2017.
     320 pages.
     $110.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567275394.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Wolfgang Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel is a substantial publication that will no doubt become recognized as seminal. Although Vondey has published extensively on many theological and ecumenical themes, including Pentecostal and Charismatic theology, with this publication he has made an indelible mark in the academy for academic Pentecostal theology. 

The genius of the work lies in how Vondey has creatively synthesized the best of Pentecostal scholarship, while drawing on others outside the tradition, into a robust yet systematic theological narrative that is thoroughly Pentecostal. His methodological move of integrating three key components of Pentecostal spirituality for the constructive articulation of a Pentecostal theology makes it formatively valuable to the Pentecostal Churches and the academy. First, Vondey grounds and shapes theology by means of Pentecostalism’s unique story, the Fivefold or Full Gospel (Jesus is the Savoir, Sanctifier, Spirit Baptizer, Healer and King soon returning, 21 and 27). Second, he interprets this theology through the Pentecost event (Acts 2), for this is Pentecostalism’s primary theological symbol. The third key component in Vondey’s methodology is the importance of the “altar” (5-10, 40-45) in Pentecostal worship, for such a “playful” (12-14, 18-19) space becomes the means of experiential encounter of the sacred in Pentecostal spirituality. The altar mediates transformative grace, which in turn shapes the affections as well as enlivens the Pentecostal imagination. Thus, “Pentecost is the core theological symbol of Pentecostal theology, and its theological narrative is the full gospel” (1). As Vondey writes, “the Altar as a theological metaphor displays how the Pentecostal story is able to move from the day of Pentecost (as historical event) to Pentecost (as a theological symbol), to Pentecostalism (as a theological tradition), and back again” (5).  

Following an important introduction that clearly explains his methodology, Vondey logically organizes the monograph into two major sections. Part 1 is more narrative in genre, as he theologizes on the “Full Gospel Story” which arises out of the altar experience. The themes of Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Spirit Baptizer, Healer and King coming (the Full Gospel) are repackaged into five chapters, each of which addresses one of the folds of the Full Gospel. Although Vondey follows the doxological narrative, he does much more than simply retrieve traditional Pentecostal understandings of it. For example, in the chapter titled “Healed,” Vondey identifies Pentecostalism as rediscovery of signs and wonders (122), and then enters into a metaphysical discussion concerning the concepts of supernaturalism, naturalism, and cessationism. He argues that Pentecostal theology cannot be cessationist, but neither is it strictly “supernaturalism,” even though such a view is popular among more Westernized laity. Pentecostal emphasis on healing affirms the materialistic nature of soteriology and grounds the so-called miraculous into the materiality of salvation, thus enabling nature to be open to sporadic, sanctifying moments of intensified transformation (122-30).   

Part 2, called “The Full Gospel Theology,” is less descriptive than part 1. It is a prescriptive, constructive, systematic theological presentation that draws on and “mirrors” the five themes of part one (8). Part 2 also has five “doctrinal” chapters: Creation (addressing cosmology); Humanity (addressing anthropology); Society (addressing social and cultural anthropology); Church (addressing ecclesiology); and God (addressing doxology). The flow from creation to God is intentional: it is the altar, the playful space of worship of God and the wrestling with sin and evil, which reforms, transforms, and shapes the theological imagination of the community. Metaphorically speaking, the altar is the relational meeting place for transcendence to interface with immanence, and thus be gathered up for a proleptic moment into the presence of God. For Vondey, “Pentecost symbolizes the pathos of the Pentecostal movement, the full gospel narrates Pentecostal beliefs, and the Pentecostal liturgy [altar] holds together the array of traditions, rituals, and practices of the Pentecostal community” (293). 

Those familiar with scholarly discussions about Pentecostal theology and hermeneutics will recognize that Vondey has picked up on and further developed the theological perspective of what has become known as the Cleveland School. Vondey completed his MDiv at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN, and is consequently well-versed in the formative period of this school of thought. The Cleveland School is a group of scholars who have argued for a distinct theology of Pentecostalism to be held together through common understanding of a Fivefold Gospel. The so-called Cleveland School has attempted to do two things simultaneously, which this work illustrates: one, that Pentecostalism is a living Christian tradition in its own right (hence one reason that this book has exhaustively cited Pentecostal and Charismatic scholarship); and two, that it is a tradition that engages in ecumenical and global concerns from within a theologically-contextualized sociocultural perspective and place. It wants to be neither exclusive nor dismissive, but simply invited to play with the other traditions in what it views as the common attempt to faithfully live the (full) Gospel. Vondey presents himself as a representative of such a spirituality, for his life journey reflects the pilgrim spirituality of the Pentecostal theology presented in his book. Thus this work rightly sits in the “Systematic Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology” series published by Bloomsbury. 

Pentecostal Theology will find critics for various reasons: its almost exclusive engagement of Pentecostal academic sources or Pentecostal conversations, or that it moves too far from classic Pentecostal theology. Yet one cannot fault the scholarly tone, the creative engagement with current concerns, and the logical ordering of the work. If anything, this work helps to validate that Pentecostal spirituality can give birth to a Pentecostal theology that is ethical, ecumenical, and spiritual. 

The book does not intend to be exhaustive, nor does it desire to be strictly for Pentecostals, even though it is decidedly a Pentecostal theology. It is an invitation for those interested to explore the folds of the Gospel and to see how the Pentecost event might further contribute to theological concerns associated with pneumatology and charismatic forms of Christianity. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kenneth J. Archer is Professor of Theology and Pentecostal Studies at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL.  He is also a Recognized Ph.D. Supervisor for the University of Birmingham in the UK.

Note: For transparency, Archer wrote an endorsement for the cover of the monograph and serves as a supervisor for researchers at the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, which is directed by the author of the book being reviewed. 

Date of Review: 
June 1, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Wolfgang Vondey is reader in contemporary Christianity and pentecostal studies at the University of Birmingham and director at the centre for Pentecostal and charismatic studies.

Keywords: 

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