In the Beginning There Was a Theology: The Precedence of Theology over Experience in the Pentecostal Movement

In the Beginning There Was a Theology: The Precedence of Theology over Experience in the Pentecostal Movement[1]

Lee, Chang-Soung

I. Introduction

Did the Pentecostal movement start with experience, or with theology? Some people have erroneously insisted that Pentecostalism started with experience, and then theology followed.  This “experience first” or “experience priority theory” has produced revisionist perspectives that seek to deny the intrinsic relationship between the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, the nucleus of Pentecostalism.  But, in fact, Pentecostalism did not begin with experience; but rather, with serious study of the Bible that sought to illuminate a particular theological theme.  In other words, Pentecostalism started with theology, and then experience followed.  The Pentecostal movement was born with the process: 1) Bible study (seeking to answer the question, “What is the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?”); 2) Extraction of a theological hypothesis from the study of the Bible (i.e., speaking in tongues is the evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit); 3) Experience (i.e., speaking in tongues), the confirmation of the hypothesis and establishment of the principle through experience.  From the beginning of the Pentecostal movement, theology preceded experience.  There was a theology in the beginning! True Pentecostal theology is grounded in a proper understanding of the priority of theology over experience in the Pentecostal movement.

In this essay we will first examine the erroneous view that promotes the “experience first” theory, and the product of this viewpoint, a revisionist view of Pentecostal theology.  Then, we will argue for the historical veracity of the “theology first” theory.  We will put forth our argument by analyzing the historical events through which Charles F. Parham established the Pentecostal movement. This study will, in this way, reveal that theological reflection preceded experience in the crucial events that led to the formation of the modern Pentecostal movement.  As a result, this study calls into question the often cited but erroneous view that the Pentecostal movement is a movement of experience rather than theology.

II. False Opinion: Experience First

Some scholars claim that Pentecostalism started with the experience of tongues; and then, after this experience, Pentecostals developed their theology.  The origin of the “experience first” perspective might be traced to New Testament theologian, Gordon Fee.  Classical Pentecostals have, from the beginning, insisted that Spirit Baptism is accompanied by speaking in tongues and that the Pentecostal experience of Acts is the norm which believers today should follow.  But American scholar Gordon Fee rejected this Pentecostal position and maintained that Acts merely presents glossolalia as a common experience, not a normative experience that marks baptism in the Spirit.  Fee stated the matter bluntly, “in general the Pentecostals’ experience has preceded their hermeneutics. In a sense, the Pentecostal tends to exegete his experience.”[2]

A pro-Pentecostal, Dawk-Mahn Bae, a historical theologian, stated the Parham came to recognize speaking in tongues as the definite evidence of the Spirit Baptism after observing Agnes Ozman speaking in tongues.  This experience led Parham to formulate Pentecostal theology as he did.[3] According to Dawk-Mahn Bae, when Parham observed Ozman speaking in tongues, he then began to interpret this tongues speech as the initial evidence of the Spirit Baptism.  Thus Parham produced the unique Pentecostal doctrine that distinguished the movement from Methodism and Holiness movement.[4]  Dawk-Mahn Bae clearly states that the modern Pentecostal movement was not born naturally as a result of biblical and theological reflection; but rather, upon the experience of speaking in tongues.  Glossolalia came first, biblical and theological reflection followed.[5]

Proponents of this “Experience First” understanding of the Pentecostal movement are strongly represented in the stream which has taken W. J. Seymour as the father of Pentecostal movement. For example, W. Hollenweger, who established the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at Birmingham University, traced the origins of the Pentecostal movement back to Seymour, and suggested the movement was the product of African American oral culture.  According to Hollenweger, the rapid growth of the Pentecostal movement was the result, not of a unique doctrine; but rather, it flowed from the orality and narrativity of early Pentecostal experience and witness.[6]  This assessment flowed naturally from Hollenweger’s rejection of the theological architect of the Pentecostal movement, Charles Parham, as the true father of Pentecostal movement.[7]

A member of the Swiss Reformed Church, Jean-Daniel Plüss, also studied the Azusa Revival and came to similar conclusions.  Plüss also insisted that, for the early Pentecostals, experience occurred first, and then theology followed.  He states: “In the beginning there was an experience and a testimony, then came an explanation in the form of a theological construct.”[8]  Drawing heavily from Plüss, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, a Finish professor of Fuller Theological Seminary, also suggests that the distinctive element of Pentecostalism is its orality.[9] In his evaluation of early North American Pentecostalism, Allan Anderson, who succeeded Hollenweger, asserted, “In its beginnings, Pentecostalism in the western world was an ecumenical movement of people claiming a common experience rather than a common doctrine.”[10]

This erroneous “Experience First” thesis is closely connected to an emphasis on the priority of experience over doctrine.  Keith Warrington, a UK Elim Pentecostalist at Regents Bible College, argues that because in our day core doctrines are not unified and there are different theological perspectives within the worldwide Pentecostal movement, a theological doctrine cannot be the core of Pentecostalism.  So, Warrington defines the relationship between Pentcostalism and experience with the phrase, “Experience: The sine qua non of Pentecostalism.” For Warrington, then, experience is the necessary and defining element of Pentecostalism rather than doctrine.[11] Warrington’s tendency to minimize the importance of a distinctive Pentecostal theology is clearly articulated when, referring to Pentecostals, he declares, “although there are many differences in theological beliefs and practices, the emphasis on experience is central.”[12] Additionally, Warrington flatly states that Pentecostal currents “are not creedal or theological movements.”[13]

The proponents of the “Experience First” theory face a very real problem, that of criteria for discernment.  How does one evaluate experience?  The question becomes especially acute if theological reflection and doctrine is marginalized.  A British Catholic Charismatic priest, Peter Hocken, suggests that we must insert discernment between experience and doctrine.  Thus, he traces the process as “experience → discernment → doctrine.”[14] However, this is in reality very deceptive.  How can there be discernment without any biblical or doctrinal criteria for assessing one’s experience?  If we have an experience without any biblical criteria for evaluation, then attempts to discern the validity or meaning of our experience are destined to cause confusion and controversary. But, if we evaluate our experience with clear biblical criteria in view, we will not find it difficult to discern the genuineness and value of our experience.

Ah! Frank D. Macchia, a representative systematic theologian among Classical Pentecotalists, has been contaminated by the “Experience First” theory.  He has accepted the delusion that the Pentecostal movement had its beginning with an experience of speaking in tongues, and that until now it is still striving to search for the theological meaning of this experience.  Of course this perspective seriously minimizes the theological work and foundations provided by the early Pentecostal leaders.  According to Macchia, Pentecostal speaking in tongues was not rooted in a theological doctrine, but in an experience.  When Macchia refers to “doctrine” he probably has in mind the Assemblies of God “Statement of Fundamental Truths.”  Yet his mistake is that he has missed the fact that theology was present from (and the impetus of) the beginning of the Pentecostalism.  Thus, Macchia writes:

It is important to explore further the conviction that we have moved away from the proper place and immediacy of tongues as an experience by formalizing its connection with Spirit baptism in the form of a doctrine. Tongues did not begin as a doctrine among Pentecostals, but as an experience that was expected to accompany Spirit baptism for obvious reasons explained above. The link between tongues and Spirit baptism did not begin as a doctrine either, but as a testimony that implied an integral relationship between the experience of Spirit baptism and the symbolism of tongues. All that the doctrine did was to provide a formal statement of this relationship in a language that can be corporately agreed upon.[15]

The “Experience First” theory is producing a revisionist reading of Pentecostal origins and theology that seeks to compel classical Pentecostalists to change their theological doctrine, which is after all our understanding of our experience.  Drawing upon the Catholic Sacramental theology of Karl Rahner and E Schillebeeckx, Frank D. Macchia describes the spiritual reality (Spirit Baptism) as something which has a visible sign (speaking in tongues) and which is experienced through the visible sign in the process of signification.[16] However, according to Macchia, the physical evidence does not need to be speaking in tongues.  Pentecostals like Macchia have rejected the notion of tongues as “evidence” which was historically drawn from the narrative pattern in Acts.  Macchia rejects the connection between Spirit baptism and tongues as a fixed law because the term, “evidence,” is deemed too scientific.[17] Again, this negative assessment flows from Macchia’s judgment that experience rather than theological reflection accounts for the beginning of Pentecostal movement.  It represents a diminished view of the value of theological reflection and unfortunately pits theology against experience, when in reality both are mutually interdependent.  So, Macchia discards the theological term, “evidence,” which had firmly linked speaking in tongues to Spirit baptism. Macchia prefers the term, “sign,” but this choice of terminology really serves to undermine the necessary connection between the sign and the experience.  The sign, after all, may or may not be present in Macchia’s view.  And so Macchia is swept away by the tide of revisionist thinking:

Spirit baptism is not just about tongues. We cannot lock Spirit baptism into a glossolalic straight-jacket so that the former becomes inconceivable apart from the latter. But viewed in the context of our discussion, Spirit baptism is fundamentally and integrally about what tongues symbolize. As such, the initial-evidence doctrine has value even though it requires theological reflection and revisioning.[18]

III. The Fact: Bible Study and Theological Reflection First

It can be said that at the first Jerusalem Pentecost, experience preceded doctrine and theological reflection.  David Du Plessis, who was called Mr. Pentecost as a result of his Pentecostal witness within World Council of Churches circles, said that in the lives of Apostles the experience of Pentecostal Spirit baptism came first, and after that experience the Apostles developed their doctrine and theology.  Initially, they had the experience, but no doctrine.[19] Surely, they could not and did not anticipate the experience of speaking in tongues at that first Pentecost. Nevertheless, the doctrine of Spirit baptism did exist before the first Pentecost.  John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11), Jesus taught about the coming of the Spirit in some detail to his disciples (John 14-16), and He commanded his disciples to wait for the promised baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).  It is better to say that the Apostles had a doctrine of Spirit baptism in some measure before their Pentecostal experience than to say that they had no doctrine. Therefore, it will be reasonable to state that at the Apostolic Pentecost, on the one hand, experience preceded theology with regard to speaking in tongues; but on the other hand, theology preceded experience with regard to Spirit baptism.

However, the modern Pentecostal movement began not with experience but with the establishment of a theological hypothesis from a Bible study on a theological subject and the proof of the hypothesis came through experience.  The Pentecostal movement irrupted as a result of a theological conviction rooted in the inductive study of the Bible. This conviction was rooted in the witness and theology of the Apostles, who had already experienced speaking in tongues in conjunction with Spirit baptism.  This precedence of theology can be clearly traced in the writings of Charles F. Parham, the Father of the Modern Pentecostal movement, and others.  In October, 1900 he established Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas.[20] There was just one textbook in the School. That textbook was the Bible.

On Oct. 15, 1900, we were led to open in Topeka, Kansas, a Bible School which became widely known sometime later as “the College of Bethel.” Its unique features and teachings became subjects of the daily papers throughout the land. Its only text-book was the Bible; its only object utter abandonment in obedience to the commandments of Jesus, however unconventional and impractical this might seem to the world today.[21]

The aim of the school was to know the Bible as a matter of the heart rather than merely the head, and to obey literally all the commandments that Jesus gave.  In other words, the aim was to interpret the Bible literally and to understand it through experience.

Our purpose in this Bible School was not to learn these things in our heads only but to have each thing in the Scriptures wrought out in our hearts. And that every command that Jesus Christ gave should be literally obeyed.[22]

Lilian Thistlethwaite, one of the students at the school, explained the method of their study of the Bible.  After they selected a theological subject, they then examined the verses of the Bible related to the subject, recited the verses in front of the class, and prayed for assurance of the message.[23]  Besides Bible study, Parham taught through lectures. He instructed 40 students about theological subjects: repentance, conversion, consecration, sanctification, divine healing, and the second coming.  And the students took examinations on these subjects in December, 1900.  A question was raised in one subject.  The question was, “What is the Bible evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit?”  At that time, various movements, such as the Holiness movement, took shouting and jumping, etc., to be the evidence of Spirit baptism.[24]  But for Parham, they fell short of Acts 2. So Parham gave his students an assignment.

In December of 1900 we had had our examination upon the subject of repentance, conversion, consecration, sanctification, healing and the soon coming of the Lord. We had reached in our studies a problem. What about the 2nd Chapter of Acts? . . .  Having heard so many different religious bodies claim different proofs as the evidence of their having the Pentecostal baptism, I set the students at work studying out diligently what was the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.[25]

The students of Bethel Bible School wrestled with the Bible.[26] They presented the results of their study to Parham who returned from a three-day revival meeting. Their answer was unanimous.  They concluded that the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism was speaking in tongues.

Leaving the school for three days at this task, I went to Kansas City for three days of services. I returned to the school on the morning preceding Watch Night services in the year 1900. At about 10 o’clock in the morning I rang the bell calling all the students into the Chapel to get their report on the matter in hand. To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while different things occurred when the Pentecostal blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spoke with other tongues.[27]

That night about 75 people gathered together.  At 10:30 pm, Agnes N. Ozman asked Parham to lay his hands on her head.  She wanted to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and go abroad as a missionary.  At first, Parham refused to lay his hands on her because he himself had no experience of speaking in tongues.  But finally he put himself under the Name, Jesus, and, laying his hands on her head, began to pray.  Only after a few words, Ozman started to speak in Chinese.

About 75 people besides the students at the school, which consisted of 40 students, had gathered for the watch night service. A mighty spiritual power filled the entire school. Sister Agnes N. Ozman, (now LaBerge) asked that hands might be laid upon her to receive the Holy Spirit as she hoped to go to foreign fields. At first I refused not having the experience myself. Then being further pressed to do it humbly in the name of Jesus, I laid my hand upon her head and prayed. I had scarcely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking in the Chinese language.[28]

Three days later Parham at last received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues.  As already mentioned, Parham had not yet spoken in tongues when he came to his theological conviction borne of his study of the Bible nor had he yet spoken in tongues when he laid his hands on and prayed for Agnes Ozman.  It was on Jan. 3, 1901, four days after coming to his theological conviction of the connection between Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues, that he had his own experience.  Those at the school who saw the restoration of Pentecostal power took the beds from an upper room in the school building and waited there for the Spirit to descend.  After a group returned to the school from a witness meeting in a Free Methodist Church, Parham heard an amazing sound.  When he entered the room, the students were speaking in tongues in the fullness of the Spirit.  He knelt behind a table, gave thanks to God, and prayed for the same blessing.  Suddenly his tongue was twisted, and he began to speak in tongues.

Right then there came a slight twist in my throat, a glory fell over me and I began to worship God in the Swedish tongue, which later changed to other languages and continued so until the morning.[29]

Speaking in tongues had been experienced in the Holiness Movement and by other Christians before the work of Parham.  But it was Parham who articulated the theological principle that the Bible evidence of Spirit Baptism is speaking in tongues.  This theological understanding came from the study of the Bible in response to a specific question.  The answer flowed from the conviction that today, as in the Bible, speaking in tongues accompanies Spirit Baptism.  The process was this: first, came the theological hypothesis; later, experience proved the hypothesis; and finally the hypothesis became the established theory, the theological foundation of the Pentecostal movement.[30]  The Pentecostal movement did not begin with experience.  Rather, it began with the study of the Bible and theological reflection.  Theology gave birth to the Pentecostal movement.

Even if Seymour could be taken as the starting point of Pentecostalism, the fact that theology preceded experience in the Azusa revival stills remain.  Seymour learned that the Bible evidence was tongues in Parham’s Houston Bible school and accepted this teaching.  But at that time he had not yet experienced speaking in tongues.[31]  Although the Azusa revival began with Seymour’s theological teaching that the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism was speaking in tongues, Seymour himself had not yet had this experience.

Douglas J. Nelson wrote his Ph.D thesis on Seymour.  Nelson minimizes Parham’s influence on Pentecostalism and maintains that Seymour is the Father of the modern Pentecostal movement. Nelson does not mention that Seymour learned that speaking in tongues was the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism from Parham.  But Nelson could not conceal that Seymour had no experience of tongue at the start of the Azusa Street Revival.  Nelson ntoes, “Seymour himself had not so spoken but he believed in it.”[32]  On April 9, 1906, the baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues began to fall on a group gather together at Bonnie Brae Street, but it was three days later that Seymour first began to speak in tongues.[33] Theology preceded experience at Azusa Street as at Topeka.  Seymour reflects on this process through his recollection of events:

The Lord sent the means, and I came to take charge of a mission on Santa Fe Street, and one night they locked the door against me, and afterwards got Bro. Roberts, the president of the Holiness Association, to come down and settle the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, that it was simply sanctification. He came down and a good many holiness preachers with him, and they stated that sanctification was the baptism with the Holy Ghost. But yet they did not have the evidence at the second chapter of Acts, for when the disciples were all filled with the Holy Ghost, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance. After the president heard me speak of what the true baptism of the Holy Ghost was, he said he wanted it too, and told me that when I had received it to let him know. So I received it and let him know. The beginning of the Pentecost started in a cottage prayer meeting at 214 Bonnie Brae.[34]

Seymour’s colleagues pointed to Parham’s Bethel Bible School as the beginning of the Azusa Street revival in the same publication that contained Seymour’s recollections of the revival’s origins. And these colleagues also understood the history as beginning with a Bible study on the appointed theological question, what is the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism?[35] Seymour and his colleagues recognized very well that Pentecostal movement started with theology, not with experience.

John Thomas Nichol, who recorded the history of the Pentecostal movement in the 1960s, recognized very well the precedence of Bible study over experience.  He decalared, “Late in December, 1900, Parham had to go to Kansas City.  Before departing, he instructed each of his students to study the Bible individually and to see if there were some sort of special witness to the fact that a person has been baptized with the Holy Spirit.” According to Nichol, when Parham put this question to his students after returning, they answered that when believers were baptized in the Spirit in the Apostolic age, one outer manifestation occurred, and that manifestation was speaking in tongues.  Nichol also reported that after Parham’s laying of his hands, Agnes Ozman was baptized in the Spirit and could speak in tongues.[36]

The precedence of Bible study rather than experience at Parham’s Bethel community was also noted by Vinson Synan.  In the 1970s Synan wrote a history of Charismatic movements in the Holiness and Pentecostal tradition.  Synan states, “By December 1900, Parham had led his students through a study of the major tenets of the holiness movement, including sanctification and divine healing. When they arrived at the second chapter of Acts they studied the events that transpired on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, including speaking in tongues.”  Synan continues, “At this juncture, Parham had to leave the school for three days on a speaking engagement. Before leaving, he asked his students to study their Bibles in an effort to find the scriptural evidence for the reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Upon returning he asked the students to state the conclusion of their study, and to his astonishment they all answered unanimously that the evidence was speaking with other tongues.” He reported, “Apparently convinced that this conclusion was a proper interpretation of the Scriptures, Parham and his students conducted a watch night service on December 31, 1900 . . . In this service, a student named Agnes N. Ozman requested Parham to lay hands on her head and pray for her to be baptized with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues. . . Miss Ozman reportedly began speaking in the Chinese language.”  And Synan added this evaluation, “This event is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in America.”[37]

James R. Goff, Jr. wrote a biography of Parham and received his PhD in 1987.  Thus he became the first historical expert on Parham.  Goff also recognized the priority or precedence of theological study.  Goff, quoting Parham’s writings directly, describes the process that led to Ozman’s experience of speaking in tongues.  This process began with a Bible study of the book of Acts which in turn led to Ozman’s experience of tongues.[38]

William W. Menzies also saw the crucial importance of the role of theological study in the first stage of Pentecostal movement.  Menzies had taught at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary for a long time, and rightly evaluated the speaking in tongues of Agnes Ozman. According to Menzies, even though there had been many cases of speaking in tongues before her own experience, “What was unique about the experience of Miss Ozman . . . is that her experience occurred within a conscious theological understanding that baptism in the Spirit . . . is marked by the accompanying sign of speaking in other tongues.”[39]  In addition to this evaluation, Menzies noted, “It is significant that this revival began in the context of Bible study and that its theological identity was given form here.”[40] Menzies perceived well that the Pentecostal movement started with theology, and the later experience was defined by an already established theological criterion.

The hermeneutics of William W. Menzies are very similar to that of Parham.  Menzies’ hermeneutical concern was summarized in his “Pentecostal Theology: An Essay in Hermeneutics.”[41] His hermeneutical process had three steps: 1) the inductive level, 2) the deductive level, 3) the verification level.  The inductive step involves the exegesis of a text. The last step, verification, featured experience.  Menzies argued that “If a biblical truth is to be promulgated, then it ought to be demonstrable in life.”[42]  In other words, for Menzies, experience, in and of itself, did not provide the content of theology, but experience could prove or verify a theological truth.  His hermeneutics exactly reflected Parham’s hermeneutics which began with the study of the Bible, and then set up a hypothesis.  Finally, this hypothesis was verified through experience and thus called “evidence.”  Menzies highlighted this point:

It was the inductive study of the Bible that led the students at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, in 1900-01 to expect a baptism in the Spirit with the accompanying sign of speaking in tongues. When they in fact experienced precisely what they thought the Bible was teaching, they were then able to affirm the continuity between biblical concept and experiential reality. Their whole understanding of the apostolic church was transformed. They discovered a synthesis of truth at the inductive level, at the deductive level, and at the verificational level![43]

Donald W. Dayton also offers support for the “precedence of theology” theory.  Although Dayton is not a Pentecostal, he insists that Pentecostalism was not founded simply on the basis of an experiential event; but rather, it was grounded in a distinctive theological development.[44] Of course, his theological bias is reflected in his judgment that Pentecostalism should not continue to feature speaking in tongues, as did the early Pentecostal founders.[45] Nevertheless, Dayton describes well the transition that occurred in the way that Christians came to understand Spirit baptism.  Christians who once viewed this experience as the source of holiness came to understand it primarily in terms of empowerment.  This understanding of Spirit baptism came into prominence just before the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement.[46] According to Dayton, the Pentecostal movement is not simply experiential, but the result of a distinctive theological understanding and process.

Another outsider, Douglas Jacobsen, who has taught Church history and theology at Messiah College and is well versed in the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, understands the heart of Pentecostalism more accurately than most insiders.  Jacobsen regards the early Pentecostal leaders as “thinkers.”  According to him, they were “creative thinkers” who could know “how to turn a theological phrase.”[47]  Furthermore, their works were not abstract speculations, but theological reflections grounded in real life.[48]  In Jacobsen’s eyes, although experience was  crucial for the early Pentecostal movement, theological truth guided their experience[49] “Experience alone did not make one a pentecostal. It was experience interpreted in a pentecostal way that made one a pentecostal.”[50] For Jacobsen, even though Parham himself had not yet received the baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues, he made the theological doctrine a centerpiece of the curriculum at Bethel Bible School.  He encouraged his students to seek the baptism, and he “interpreted his students’ experience as direct proof of the truth of his theology.”[51]  Jacobsen perhaps overstates the matter when he declares that Parham’s “theology had a more causal impact, even to the point of . . . creating the experience.”[52] Eventually, Jacobsen concludes that at Parham’s Bible school “theology preceded experience.”[53] This phrase can be taken as the standard for the “precedence of theology” theory.

IV. Conclusion

The Pentecostal movement began with theology, which was followed by experience. It flowed from and followed this process: 1) a theological question is raised, what is the Bible evidence of the Spirit baptism?, 2) a theological hypothesis is presented, 3) prayer for wisdom and guidance is offered in order to discern the validity of the hypothesis, 4) finally, the hypothesis is confirmed or challenged through experience.  The Pentecostal movement is a theological movement, one that began with serious study of the Bible and theological reflection, the results of which were confirmed by validating experience.  The precedence of theology should be firmly understood, taught, and practiced in the Pentecostal movement.

Of course, it cannot be denied that experience is an important part of the Pentecostal movement.  But we must recognize that this experience did not precede or take priority over the study of the Bible and theological reflection in the Pentecostal movement.  Our experience flowed from our understanding of the Bible.  Experience alone does not make one a Pentecostal.  For the Pentecostal, then, naked experience (without understanding or description) is thus not the most important thing or more important than theology.[54]  Therefore, the “experience first” theory is wrong and should be rejected.  Additionally, revisionist views of Pentecostal history and theology, which often feature the “experience first” theory and try to detach speaking in tongues from Spirit baptism, should be rejected as well.  Theology is more important than experience in the Pentecostal movement.  Serious study of the Bible marked the beginning of the Pentecostal movement, and theology preceded experience.

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Plessis, David Du. A Man Called Mr. Pentecost. Plainfield, New Jersey: Logos, 1977.

Seymour, William J. The Apostolic Faith 1:1 (September, 1906), 1.

Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Warrington, Keith. “Experience: The sina qua non of Pentecostalism.” Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (2007).


Endnotes

[1] Originally, this article was written in the Korean language and was printed in the Journal of Yongsan Theology 32 (2014), 71-96, and translated by the author himself.

[2] G. Fee, “Hermeneutics and Historical Precedent: A Major Problem in Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” in ed. R. Spittler, Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1976), 123.

[3] 배덕만(Dawk-Mahn Bae), “정결을 넘어 권능으로: 오순절운동의 기원,” 『성령을 받으라: 오순절운동의 역사와 신학』 (대전: 대장간, 2012), 10, 30-31.

[4] 배덕만, “하나님의 나라는 말이 아니라 능력에: 오순절운동의 성령론,” 『성령을 받으라: 오순절운동의 역사와 신학』, 51.

[5] 배덕만, “성령의 말하게 하심을 따라: 오순절운동과 방언,” 『성령을 받으라: 오순절운동의 역사와 신학』, 102.

[6] Walter J. Hollenweger, Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), 18.

[7] Dawk-Mahn Bae defined Charles F. Parham as the father of Pentecostal movement in “신사도개혁운동: 너는 누구니?” <국제성령신학연구원 특강> (2013년 7월 15일), 3. But he insisted experience precedence. There is confusion in him.

[8] Jean-Daniel Plüss, “Azusa and Other Myths: The Long and Winding Road from Experience to Stated Belief and Back Again,” Pneuma 15:2 (1993), 192.

[9] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Toward a Pneumatologycal Theology: Pentecostal and Ecumenical Perspectives on Ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology of Mission (Lanham, NY, Oxford: University Press of America, Inc., 2002), 6.

[10] Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 60.

[11] Keith Warrington, “Experience: The sine qua non of Pentecostalism,” Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (2007), 1.

[12] Keith Warrington, “Experience: The sine qua non of Pentecostalism,” 5.

[13] Keith Warrington, “Experience: The sine qua non of Pentecostalism,” 8.

[14] Peter Hocken, “The Significance and Potential of Pentecostalism,” in New Heaven? New Earth? (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1976), 34-35.

[15] Frank D. Macchia, “Groans Too Deep for Words: Towards A Theology of Tongues as Initial Evidence,” AJPS 1:2 (1998), 168.

[16] Frank D. Macchia, “Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience,” Pneuma 15:1 (Spring, 1993), 62.

[17] Frank D. Macchia, “Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience,” 66, 68. Such Macchia’s evaluation is very similar to Simon Chan’s. Simon K. H. Chan, “The Language Game of Glossolalia, or Making Sense of the ‘Initial Evidence’.” Ed. Wonsuk Ma & Robert P. Menzies. Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies. JPTSup. 11 (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 62.

[18] Frank D. Macchia, “Groans Too Deep for Words: Towards A Theology of Tongues as Initial Evidence,” 165.

[19] David Du Plessis, A Man Called Mr. Pentecost (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1977), 183-184.

[20] Sarah E. Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham (New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985), 51.

[21] Charles F. Parham, “Baptism of the Holy Spirit-Speaking in Other Tongues-Sealing of the Church and Bride,” A Voice Crying in The Wilderness (Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1902, 1910), 32.

[22] Charles F. Parham, “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements,” The Life of Charles F. Parham, 51.

[23] Lilian Thistlethwaite, “The Wonderful History of the Latter Rain: The First Shower of the Latter Rain-Bethel Bible School,” in Sarah E. Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement, 58.  A record of her speaking in tongues states: “Mr. Parham called Miss Lilian Thistlethrate [Thistlethwaite] into the room and asked her if she could talk some. She at first answered that the Lord had not inspired her to say anything but soon began to utter strange words which sounded like this: ‘Euossa, Euossa, use rela sema calah mala kanah leulla ssage nalan. Ligle logle lazie logle. Ene mine mo, sah rah el me sah rah me.’  These sentences were translated as meaning, ‘Jesus is mighty to save,’ ‘Jesus is ready to hear,’ ‘and ‘God is love’” [“Hindoo and Zulu Both Are Represented at Bethel School,” Topeka State Journal (Jan. 9, 1901)]. “My tongue began to get thick and great floods of laughter came into my heart. I could no longer think of words of praise, for my mind was sealed, but my mouth was filled with a rush of words I didn’t understand. I tried not to laugh for I feared to grieve the Spirit. I tried to praise Him in English but could not, so I just let the praise come as it would in the new language…” [Larry Martin, The Topeka Outpouring of 1901 (Joplin, MO: Christian Life Books, 1997), 61]. Note also that her poem appeared with Parham’s writings in Apostolic Faith (Baxter) 2 (July, 1926), 2.

[24] Charles F. Parham, “Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” The Sermons of Charles F. Parham (Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 1941), 65.

[25] Charles F. Parham, “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements,” 51-52.

[26] Lilian Thistlethwaite, “The Wonderful History of the Latter Rain: The First Shower of the Latter Rain-Bethel Bible School,” in Sarah E. Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham, 13.

[27] Charles F. Parham, “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements,” 52.

[28] Charles F. Parham, “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements,” 52.

[29] Charles F. Parham, “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements,” 54.

[30] James King recognized this point well.  He saw that Parham’s community first had a new interpretation of the Bible, which was then confirmed by their experience.  Only then did the community accept their new interpretation as doctrine.  James Gordon King, Jr.1, “Fundamentalism and Pentecostal Charismology: A Paradigm for Understanding the Development of Pentecostal Theology,” A Paper Delivered at the 1991 Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 22.

[31] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 94.

[32] Douglas J. Nelson, “For Such a Time as This: The Story of Bishop William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival,” (Ph.D Dissertation, University of Birmingham, 1981), 168.

[33] “Seven Months of Pentecostal Showers,” The Apostolic Faith 1:4 (December, 1906), 1.

[34] “Bro. Seymour’s Call,” The Apostolic Faith 1:1 (September, 1906), 1.

[35] “The Old-Time Pentecost,” The Apostolic Faith 1:1 (September, 1906), 1.

[36] John Thomas Nichol, Pentecostalism (New York, NY: Evanson, and London: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1966), 27-28.

[37] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, 90-91.

[38] James R. Goff Jr., Fields Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and The Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism (Fayetteville, London: The University of Arkansas Press, 1988), 66-67.

[39] William W. Menzies & Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 16.

[40] William W. Menzies & Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience, 16.

[41] William W. Menzies, “The Methodology of Pentecostal Theology: An Essay on Hermeneutics,” Paul Elbert ed. Essays on Apostolic Themes: Studies in Honor of Howard M. Ervin. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 1-14.

[42] William W. Menzies, “The Methodology of Pentecostal Theology: An Essay on Hermeneutics,” 13.

[43] William W. Menzies, “The Methodology of Pentecostal Theology: An Essay on Hermeneutics,” 13. Kenneth Archer recognized this point well. Archer states that Parham and his students used a popular and pietistic Bible reading method, a method which united inductive study with deductive reasoning in order to try to reach a commonsense understanding of a particular subject. However, in his description of this method, Archer does not refer to the confirmation step of experience.  He only describes this method as gathering together texts related to a subject in the Bible, and then weaving these texts harmoniously together through the use of commonsense deduction and reasoning.  Kenneth J. Archer, “Early Pentecostal Biblical Interpretation: Blurring the Boundaries,” A paper presented to the 29th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (March 2000), 14-15.

[44] Steven J. Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom (New York & London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 28.

[45] Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987), 15-16.

[46] Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 87-114.

[47] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003), x. Although he was not a Pentecostal, he wrestled with the texts of early Pentecostal leaders for three years, and published the results.

[48] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, xi.

[49] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 3.

[50] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 3. Robert Mapes tried to show that most of the leaders were simple farmers rather than preachers. But James Gordon King regarded the early Pentecostal leaders, including Parham, as theologians. He argued that though most of them did not receive professional systematic theological education, they were theologians who pursued systematic theology.  King saw that in spite of their weakness, they developed theological systems in order to explain the gifts of the Spirit. Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 100; James Gordon King, Jr., “Fundamentalism and Primitive Pentecostal Charismology: A Paradigm for Understanding the Development of Pentecostal Theology,” 22.

[51] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 4.

[52] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 5. The extreme form of such thinking can be seen in the so-called Post-modern reader-centered criticism and hermeneutic which insists that theological understanding is simply the product of the culture of a community and, as such, it is not only affected by experience, but also creates experience.

[53] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement, 5. It is not clear that whether his words were written to refute the words of Jean-Daniel Plüss or not.  Perhaps Jacobsen could respond to Plüss’ comments.

[54] The Pentecostal movement often has been condemned as an anti-intellectual movement. Yet this is not really correct.  The Pentecostal movement started with a distinctive theological discovery and thus with theological reflection.  It is, then, an intellectual movement.  The early Pentecostal leaders did not oppose the intellect or intellectual pursuits.  Rather, they opposed false doctrines and erroneous theology.  In the midst of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, they opposed the arrogance of enlightenment reasoning which rejected the supernatural and affirmed cessationism.  An entire monograph is required to do justice to this topic.

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