Types of Pentecostal Theology

Method, System, Spirit

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Christopher A. Stephenson
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     2016.
     234 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780190634322.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

How are Pentecostal theologies continuing to evolve in their purpose, approach, and engagements? What are the key shifts in the shape of Pentecostal thinking as the movement—which really can be spoken of in terms of movements—enters its second century of existence? How are Pentecostal theologies benefiting from engagement with systematic, philosophical theological, and critical discourses? How can these theologies inform and be informed by the practices of Christian traditions emphasizing a pneumatic framework? Christopher A. Stephenson’s Types of Pentecostal Theology: Method, System, Spirit is a timely contribution to Pentecostal studies in light of the work he does to give readers a comprehensive lay-of-the-land when it comes to the development of Pentecostal theology. From its earliest manifestations as Bible doctrines—identifying broad theological themes within the biblical narrative that support church doctrine—to the present day approaches of scholars such as Frank D. Macchia and Amos Yong, this text shows the genuine intellectual movement in the theological methods of Pentecostal academics. The driving force of Stephenson’s argument—which he successfully locates within, and distinguishes from, existing Pentecostal theological systems—is that “future pentecostal theological method should incorporate a form of lex orandi, lex credendi for the benefit of constructive pentecostal theology and spirituality” (5). Rather than being a mere scholarly exercise, Pentecostal theological method(s) should inform spirituality as it is simultaneously critically informed by spirituality.

There are two particularly important strengths in Types of Pentecostal Theology that readers should note as they engage with this text. First, Stephenson demonstrates an awareness of the deep connections between Pentecostal theologies and faith practice. It is of no coincidence that the major figures in the text are academics working within Pentecostal studies who are simultaneously participants in Pentecostal movements. It becomes clear through Stephenson’s text that part of what gives Pentecostal theology its distinctive angle is that its significant scholars do not keep actual Pentecostal practices and faith commitments at arm’s length. Rather, Pentecostal practice within the context of the local/global movement is fertile ground for deep thinking and ascription of theological meaning.

Second, Types of Pentecostal Theology is very much aware of the gaps and problematics within Pentecostal thought. While there has been much maturity in the area of Pentecostal systematic theology, Stephenson is able to identify where those efforts have either limited themselves to a systematic exposition of apparent general themes in the biblical narrative (Myer Pearlman, E.S. Williams, and French Arrington), a systematic examination of Christian spirituality that is informed by aspects of systematic theology (Steven J. Land and Simon Chan), or engaged in significant systematic methods that leave certain questions wanting (Frank D. Macchia and Amos Yong). Rather than proposing an entirely new theological method, Stephenson builds on a model of theological exploration that emphasizes the mutual shaping that spirituality and Pentecostal thought have on one another, culminating in his constructive chapter that makes space for “regula spiritualitatis, regula doctrinae” (115).

Overall, Types of Pentecostal Theology accomplishes a significant review of Pentecostal theological discourses—particularly those arising out of the academy—and clearly states the work that they do. Readers gain a sense of the major concerns of Pentecostal theology and their deep connections with the praxis of Christian confessional communities who emphasize God’s Trinitarian presence in the world through the Spirit of Christ. Stephenson’s book makes an excellent addition to courses dealing with developments in contemporary theology and/or survey courses dealing with Pentecostal studies. Furthermore, his review of the literature is quite helpful for graduate students working on projects in the area of Pentecostal theologies and studies. Hopefully, this project will encourage further exploration of the types of Pentecostal theology that occur outside of Western contexts and in ways that are radically challenging to systematic theological methods.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Anthony Roberts is assistant professor of Christian theology at Southeastern University.

Date of Review: 
May 5, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Christopher A. Stephenson is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He received his Ph.D. in religious studies from Marquette University and has published articles in Religion Compass and The Journal of Pentecostal Theology. He regularly presents his research at the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. He was the recipient of a dissertation fellowship from the Louisville Institute.

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