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Hendel and SBL: The REAL Issue

June 28, 2010

Ron Hendel wrote an article in Biblical Archaeology Review, “Farewell to SBL.” There has been no shortage of responses to his criticism of his perception that the SBL has allowed some faith groups into the fold thereby confusing their academic mandate.

James McGrath’s posted a roundup of many of the responses. Bob Cargill highlighted the SBL’s professional response in asking for feedback from their membership on the issue. That conversation took place on the SBL web site.

But it seems to me that everyone has missed the real important question from his piece: Pentecostals are involved in biblical studies?


Hmmmm… I wonder if their sessions would look like this


or maybe this…

Actually, truth be told: if their sessions were like the last video you might find me in the back row taking in the spectacle!

First, you have to take issue with a denomination that has this in their statement of faith:

We believe the full gospel includes holiness of heart and life, healing for the body and baptism in the Holy Spirit, with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.

Now, I don’t think that is theologically or exegetically sustainable, but whatever… it’s not my purpose here to critique charismatic theology.

However, I did grow up charismatic… and I have the emotional and psychological scars to prove it! So my first thought after reading the article was: Pentecostals are doing biblical studies? Real biblical studies? Is that even possible?

So I checked. I went to the Society for Pentecostal Studies. And was promptly greeted by this first image:

Skepticism now turned on…

But I continued. Their purpose statement from their constitution

The purpose of this Society shall be to provide a forum of discussion for all academic disciplines as a spiritual service to the kingdom of God by the implementation of the following objectives:
1. To stimulate, encourage, recognize, and publicize the work of Pentecostal scholars;
2. To study the implications of Pentecostal theology in relation to other academic disciplines, seeking a Pentecostal world-and-life view;
3. To support fully, to the extent appropriate for an academic Society, the statement of purposes of the World Pentecostal Fellowship, which reads as follows:
(a) To encourage fellowship and facilitate co-ordination of effort among Pentecostal believers throughout the world.
(b) To demonstrate to the world the essential unity of Spirit-baptized believers, fulfilling the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, “That they all may be one” (John 17:21).
(c) To cooperate in an endeavor to respond to the unchanging commission of the Lord Jesus, to carry His message to all people of all nations.
(d) To promote courtesy and mutual understanding, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, until we all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:3,13).
(e) To afford prayerful and practical assistance to any Pentecostal body in need of such.
(f) To promote and maintain the scriptural purity of the [World Pentecostal] Fellowship by Bible study and prayer.
(g) To uphold and maintain those Pentecostal truths, “most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1)

Disposition of doubt activated.

Seems more theologically and religiously motivated to me, but maybe it’s possible they might be doing some biblical studies. Not very probable based on the above, but still possible… maybe?

So I soldiered on some more, and took a peek at the Article Index for their journal Pneuma… hey, it’s a Greek word, maybe there is still a chance!

“A Biblical Foundation For a Prophetic Mantle”

“Bishop J. H. King and the Emergence of Holiness Pentecostalism”

“Foursquare Missions: Doing More With Less”

“The Fury and Wonder: Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality in Theological Education”

“The Indwelling, Baptism, and Infilling with the Holy Spirit: A Differentiation of Terms”

That”s page one… it doesn’t get much better, though I admit I couldn’t get very far. But let’s be honest: no one is doing any biblical studies there.

Now let’s not confuse the matter: it’s OK to do what they are doing but let’s use the correct terminology for it: theology. If the SBL wants to have theological sessions at their meetings I really don’t care. I simply will not go to those sessions just like there are a lot of sessions I won’t go to. No one makes it to them all. However, I would still say let’s not confuse eisegetical defenses of theological presuppositions as ‘biblical studies’.

Maybe they can get my new favorite preacher in for one of their sessions. I would definitely be in attendance:

Hot dang



I fixed it

I’m sensitive

And it’s good

That’s that

I rule

I’m serious

I express

My puberty


I’m a god


It’s Biblical Studies! “Out of the Mouths of Infants: The Glossolalia of Children. A Biblical Defense.” Sign me up for Atlanta!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 10:59 am

    the fact is, pentecostalism is just montanism in a new dress. an old heresy with the same old heretical nonsense as the foundation.

  2. June 28, 2010 11:17 pm

    Part of the problem is that biblical theology could mean just about anything. At least it is applied to just about anything, regardless of the diligence paid to studying the texts themselves. I’m not a biblical theologian, but I read a lot of theology that purports to be biblical and really only has a scandalous relationship with the Biblical texts. I do draw from the work of actual biblical scholars – but I interpret their work in systematic frameworks fully acknowledging my own indebtedness to their arguments as I make my own. What you won’t find in my work are references to biblical passages. I don’t need them because I’m not pretending to be something I’m not (namely a biblical scholar). Other than biblical scholar I think we should ditch the term biblical as a qualifier for theology, etc. It isn’t helpful.

  3. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    June 28, 2010 11:20 pm

    The only Pentecostal scholar I’ve ever heard of is Gordon Fee. I’ve got a couple of his books. I know a few Reformed guys who don’t like him because he made a case that textual variants suggest that earlier manuscripts of 1 Corinthian may not have included Paul’s blanket “shut up” to women.

  4. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    June 28, 2010 11:21 pm

    If we’re going to ditch “biblical” as a modifier to everything I feel like being a smart-ass today and suggesting that lots of Christians these days don’t really want a “biblical” marriage!

  5. June 29, 2010 8:39 am

    Actually, the problem is WTF is a “biblical” marriage anyway? Certainly marriage in either testament does not look anything like what is thought to be normative in North America. But isn’t that the problem? Calling something “biblical” is a pseudopygryphal accretion. It is done as a sort of power trip and has nothing, usually, to do with being about the biblical texts but about some idea we want to assert has the same authority as scripture.

    In terms of Pentecostal scholars, actually this is the world I come out of and I am encouraged that it is getting better. Fee is probably one of the better known ones, but certainly it is a movement that is finally maturing. I left Pentecostalism largely because at a pastoral level it is very pre-critical and takes itself entirely too seriously. But there are things about Pentecostal spirituality that I really think are valuable – including the openness to ecstatic expressions (that’s going to fly on this site I know, but I think it is too easy to point to the abusers of this and have a laugh and miss the good things that can come from ecstatic expressions – challenging racial segregation being one that was big for early Pentecostalism.) I just think that on a whole the theology is immature – but what encourages me is that there are more and more academics breaking this stereotype.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
      June 29, 2010 1:16 pm

      I used to be in Pentacostal circles, too. The older I get the more I realize I was immensely fortunate to have befriended an Assemblies of God youth pastor who introduced me to Gordon Fee, Solzhenitsyn, Francis Schaeffer, and had actually read Kierkegaard (he told me the meditations on Christian love are great, the apologetics not so great). Suffice to say AG youth pastors who have read that stuff are probably at least as rare today as they were twenty years ago.

  6. June 29, 2010 1:04 pm

    a biblical marriage is one where the bible is obliquely referred to by the officiant- or, where the man and woman light the ‘unity candle’ and repeat the phrase from ruth (where, they apparently don’t realize, a woman was speaking to a woman…) . i hate the unity candle. it’s stupid and it misappropriates the biblical (! HA, take that!!!!) text.

  7. June 29, 2010 4:33 pm

    I have actually attended sessions of the Society of Pentecostal Scholars meetings, when it jointly met with the Wesleyan Theological Society. They are not that bad; I ran into one scholar at SPS whose work on Luke was quite impressive.

  8. June 30, 2010 8:32 am

    We believe the full gospel includes holiness of heart and life, healing for the body and baptism in the Holy Spirit, with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.

    What denomination is that? Not the UPC/Oneness Pentecostals is it?

    • June 30, 2010 12:48 pm

      I took it from the North American Pentecostal statement of faith, but–and I may be mistaken here–I believe this is fairly standard Pentecostal theology. It’s in the PAOC statement of faith as well…

  9. July 1, 2010 1:38 am

    include Craig Keener as a Pentecostal who does solid work in biblical studies as well – his John commentary is noted by Richard Bauckham as “rivaling” Brown’s. Note also his massive works on NT Backgrounds, Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Paul and Women, etc.

    But generally you are right, Pentecostals are not known to be big practioners of Biblical Studies necessarily. They are out there, just not always well published unfortunately. I think Richard Hays is also a Pentecostal (or Charismatic) who does good work in the biblical studies arena (I could be wrong on this though).

  10. Helgi permalink
    July 3, 2010 5:02 pm

    The term pentecostal is extremely broad. It’s like any term, like ‘evangelical’ or ‘protestant’. Those videos you posted might just as well be posted to make ‘evangelicals’ or ‘protestants’ look bad because the people in those videos are definitely both evangelical and protestant.

    There are many pentecostal groups out there that are definitely unwilling to engage in serous critical study of the Bible, just as there are fundamentalist baptists or very conservative catholics out there with a similar disposition.

    I grew up in a pentecostal church, I am now finishing my M.A. in theology in a secular university. In my experience pentecostals are not more biased or likely to let there preconceived ideas affect their work than other people are. The pentecostal is more likely to see apparent tensions in Paul to be only ‘apparent,’ those from a more liberal background wouldn’t consider anything other than inconsistencies and anti-feminist tendencies in Paul. A professor recently shared that in his experience students with a pentecostal background usually turned out to be the best exegetes because they grew up with the texts. Most of my fellow students (I’d say around 80%) haven’t read the New Testament for themselves.

    I think pentecostal scholarship can be a breath of fresh air, but I am very aware that there’s a significant part of the pentecostal world that prefers pseudo-academics. The rest should be disregarded because of that.

    I usually enjoy the crazy videos you post of insane pentecostal things, but I’d never not read a book by Gordon Fee because he’s a pentecostal, or presume that the people that go to SBL meetings are like that.

  11. Helgi permalink
    July 3, 2010 5:04 pm

    Of course that was supposed to be ‘the rest shouldn’t be disregarded because of that…”

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