Answering Pentecostalism: Biblical theology

Pentecostalism is a distinct theological system with its own distinctive method, doctrines and practices. Although similarities exist between Pentecostalism and Protestantism, Evangelicalism, even Catholicism, the former is separate from such theological systems because of its specific origin in the more recent American movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century, such as Methodism, Dispensationalism, Millennialism and the Holiness movement. Within this context, Pentecostalism emerged in the early twentieth-century when a new generation departed from such movements by taking further steps away from an understanding of the gospel based in the historic events of the Old Testament.

Graeme Goldsworthy has observed that when the loss of understanding of the historical meaning of the Old Testament has occurred in the church in the past, the result has been a shift in emphasis from the New Testament’s focus on the historical basis in the Old Testament of the gospel. After the fourth-century A.D, with the rise of Catholicism, Christianity turned inward as the church during the medieval era and into the dark ages increasingly emphasised the personal sacraments:
“When the plain meaning of the Old Testament was lost to parts of the early church, often through the adoption of a dehistoricizing, allegorical interpretation of the Bible, the gospel ceased to be regarded as primarily what God has done in the historical Christ. The emphasis shifted to what God does inwardly in the human soul through piety and the sacramental ministrations of the church.” (Goldsworthy, G., New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 523) [1]
The same may be said to have occurred more recently following the American revivalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century movements that gave birth to Pentecostalism: The lack of basis in Pentecostalism on a historical understanding of Old Testament, which had been central in the Reformation era, has blurred the gospel itself, (the work of God for Christians through Christ) by a refocus inward that is evident in Pentecostalism’s primary emphasises on the fruit of the gospel (the work of God in Christians by his Holy Spirit). Pentecostalism’s central basis of an experience of Spirit-baptism that produces tongues speaking is a charismatic sacramentalism. This, together with their focus on personal worship and the Spirit’s inner voice, gives Pentecostalism has more in common with the subjective focus of Catholicism’s sacramentalism than many realise.

The fundamental problem with Pentecostal theology is its lack of understanding of the meaning of the Old Testament. Just as the message of the Bible is a progressive story from creation to new creation, the message of God’s Word is to be understood in terms of his promises and revealed plan and their historical fulfilment. These are the revelation of a mystery, previously hidden in Israel’s historical development, and now disclosed through the writings of the New Testament apostles and prophets, though still yet awaiting completion in history. (Romans 1:2; 16: 25-26, Ephesians 3:4-5)

What is needed by Pentecostals is a careful reading of the meaning of the Bible’s message in its progressive historical revelation of the gospel of God, through the words, grammar, and contexts of the various writings of the Biblical authors, in their various genres, who make known God’s purposes for his own glory, of which salvation for his people is one aspect.

The Biblical authors demonstrate that the message of the Bible is self-interpreting, and as such the only appropriate means of comprehending the meaning of Scripture is to allow its own unfolding unity to give its interpretation. This way of reading, popularly called ‘Biblical theology’ – referring to the Bible’s own method of doing theology – is the answer for today’s Pentecostal and charismatic movements.

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[1] Of great use for understanding the historical meaning of the Old Testament is G. Goldsworthy’s According to Plan: The unfolding revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 1991). talkingpentecostalism.blogspot.com | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.