Putting Things in Perspective

Tony SigI hope that I’m not sounding too much like an anti-intellectual, but there are definitely times where I am reminded about the frustrating gap between certain academic conversations and the real needs of the Church, as well as the indulgent curriculum offered at some seminaries reflecting more the desires of professors than the recognition of appropriate classes for pastoral training.  (See these two articles to really fill this out more – here and here).

My father makes an annual trip to India to evangelize and work with local pastors.  A significant number of these country pastors, as it happens, cannot even read.  Not a Bible, not a hymnal.  When he told me this I remember wondering to myself how they could even perform their pastoral duties.

Now, I am in total support of educated clergy, indeed that is why this tidbit of information really got my imagination going, once again, as it is prone so to do, about seminary education.  If one were to teach these pastors, just what might be an appropriate “core” to enable and empower them?  And by thinking about this, it began to prompt thoughts on our own seminary education here in the States.

It seems to me that apart from needing first to teach them to read, and considering it is totally impractical to expect these pastors to attend a residential seminary, an appropriate “core” would ideally revolve around four books:  The Bible, a Prayer Book, a hymnal and a catechism.

At first I questioned this – surely this is a peculiarly Anglican way of looking at things?  But inasmuch as there could be developed a Pentecostal (Pentecostal because my father is an Assemblies of God minister) “Prayer Book, hymnal and catechism”  it began to strike me as far more appropriate than I would’ve thought at first.  Precisely because these clergy have a “blank slate” when it comes to the Faith, and precisely because they couldn’t be expected to leave their responsibilities for too long, by teaching them to read and giving them these elementary tools, what they lacked in “full training” they made up in practice by really getting to know these books.

What it seems the A/G might need, then, is a Book of Common Prayer -of sorts! – appropriate to their tradition, for the training of clergy where otherwise training is unavailable.  And as for us, perhaps our own core should revolve around these rather than having so many electives open for “Feminist readings in Daniel” or whatever.



  1. See the FIRE Bible the AG distributes to pastors in developing world countries. It is available through Christian Book Distributors.


  2. Oooohhhh, excellent! Thanks Steve for pointing this out. As good as this tool is, it seems to me still to need expansion. It’s essentially a Pentecostal Study Bible, which is great, but not quite organized enough to provide for all the things I’m thinking about. So for instance one of the main purposes behind a catechism is to confirm people in the faith, before and/or after Baptism. A Study Bible isn’t arranged in a pedagogical manner appropriate to this kind of discipleship.


  3. I like this idea. I’ve even toyed with writing a catechism for Pentecostals using the Nicene Creed, with the Statement of Fundamental Truths as an explanation of the Third Article of the Creed.


    1. George – Precisely! There’s no reason that the A/G couldn’t form a catechism around the Creed w/ attention to Pentecostal distinctives.


  4. I wonder, given their colonial past, if there aren’t people in “postcolonial theology” already doing something like this (and if it isn’t totally unrelated to feminist readings of Daniel, he said just to be a pain in the ass). What I mean: what kind of seminary training/pedagogy are practiced among the Latin American base communities? I imagine these might strike an interesting note, and probably not be as “book-based” as us white guys would like 🙂


    1. Odd, I find your comment curious, Joey. Not that it changes the fact that it’s great to hear from you! Translating Scripture and service books are a very ancient missionary practice so I’m not at all concerned that my suggestion is a peculiarly ‘white guy book-based’ approach. And as I pointed out to someone on FB, I find the suggestion that I’m ragging on feminist hermeneutics odd. I do not by any means think that they are unimportant – Christian feminist readings are very important, but I would include them in a hermeneutics or historical theology class. I picked Daniel randomly because it’s a rather obscure book thus making the theoretical class an obtuse one. The point being not a jab at feminism but at a curriculum that is based more around professors and their interests than in pastoral training. Again, what might be appropriate for a university, or a grad school or for training theologians and christian philosophers might be very different than what is needed to train clergy and to get them onto the mission field or into a parish.


  5. I said I was being a pain in the ass, didn’t I? I’m kidding partly, but here’s the serious part…sometimes I wonder if we’re not being anti-intellectual enough. I retain some part inside of me that constantly reminds myself that my studying is a good thing, but that Christianity did pretty well before things like the creeds and canons came along. I wouldn’t want to be without any of the treasures that have been passed on to me by the faithful saints before me. But I also want to know what the faithful saints are doing right now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to love and serve the Lord in those contexts that I will probably never understand. We mostly agree, I think. Especially in the sense that we need to prioritize our mission work.

    Anecdote: One of the people that I thought I needed to evangelize is the one whose quiet faith brought me through hard times and into a deeper fellowship with God and the Church. I was just too steeped in my own prejudices to know what faith looked like in “that type of person” to recognize that I was the mission instead of the missionary. This has resulted in a habit of asking a lot of “what ifs”. No intention to derail perfectly good ideas in your original post.


    1. Joey

      “Christianity did pretty well before things like the creeds and canons came along.”

      Actually, I don’t think it did. It suffered from various kinds of heresies from gnosticism to marcionism to arianism. The Creed is a triumph of the “radical orthodoxy” (ha!) of the Christian affirmation of the Incarnation and Trinity over lesser Christian confessions. Perhaps you still buy into the narrative that the councils were just “constantinian intellecutal Greek elitists” oppressing the less metaphysical, less Greek “simple” and “biblical” faith of the “early church…?” I too am prodding harder than I’m intending, but I do believe in the main points I’m raising. I fell I know what you’re trying to say, and at the heart of it I think I agree, “Christianity is not a collection of dogmas or a moralism but an experience” (Ratzinger), but the faith of the Church is larger than the conscious mental assent of individuals, so at the end of the day, if you think I’m suggesting that what makes Christianity what it is is the uniform movement of individual wills, then you’re misunderstanding me. Nevertheless, we do, for better and worse, “pass on the faith,” it doesn’t just spring up spontaneously from the ground fed by utterly transcendent springs.

      Fr. Owen – amen


      “Perhaps Pentecostals do not have doctrines to articulte and defend and pass on, but have a basic orientation to God and world that enlivens dogma and liturgy, etc?”

      That’s how I think too. It’s also one of the only ways for me to persistently hang onto the faith my parents gave me. Also, I totally agree on the need for direction of Pentecostal prayer, great points. My youthful spirituality was very intense but also intensely subjective and this led me to a heterodox faith that prayer and worship should be “making me feel a certain way,” which can only lead to a bad path. My worship leading fed this too, what with always trying to “call down the presence of God” and all.

      I too have considered writing a catechism or two, though I continue to entertain the option of one centered around the Church year so as to infuse it with a more “natural” scriptural flow as well as incorporating the affectual aspect of the liturgy into the “intellectual” aspect of catechising. I’m nowhere near a point where I could be trusted with such an endeavor, but perhaps, should your project be delayed, we could even confer with one another?

      One thing I’m curious about – Considering your enthusiastic Jensonianism (is that a word?), what would prompt you to compose another catechism rather than simply using his?

      Steve – I can assure you that I was raised in a Classical Pentecostal environment where the many ecstatic “Gifts of the Spirit” were regularly practiced. I must admit I don’t really understand what you mean by “prophetic prayer” nor with the emphasis on public tongues. I’m pretty sure Paul is strongly against public Tongues unless they are “interpreted.” I think the idea that something like BCP prayer must be set against “Spirit led prayer” shows just what Chris is talking about. That’s simply an unbiblical way to talk.


  6. The suggested focus on Bible, Prayer Book, hymnal and catechism reminds me of something that Anglican priest Frederick Denison Maurice said in a sermon he preached on the Lord’s Prayer in 1848 that those of us who considers ourselves “too sophisticated” for the basics perhaps do well to take to heart:

    “At certain periods in the history of the Church, especially when some reformation was at hand, men have exhibited a weariness of their ordinary theological teaching. It seemed to them that they needed something less common, more refined than that which they possessed. As the light broke in upon them, they perceived that they needed what was less refined, more common. The Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer were found to contain the treasures for which they were seeking. The signs of such a period are surely to be seen in our day. We can scarcely think that we require reformation less than our fathers. I believe, if we are to obtain it, we too must turn to these simple documents; we must inquire whether they cannot interpret the dream of our lives better than all the soothsayers whom we have consulted about it hitherto.”


  7. ADH,

    Thanks for this post. As you already know, it raises questions and points to answers that have been swirling in my head and heart, as well. I think a catechism is desparately needed for the process of Christian formation, and I am very much intrigued by George Wood’s suggestion of a creedally-ordered catechism that makes Nicene sense. However, I wonder if Pentecostalism is something that can be so codified? Perhaps Pentecostals do not have doctrines to articulte and defend and pass on, but have a basic orientation to God and world that enlivens dogma and liturgy, etc? That, at least, is how I personally think of Pentecostalism.

    For what it’s worth, I plan to write two catechisms (not in the near future!), including, first, one for children, and then a “larger” one that imitates the model laid out by Robert Jenson.

    But perhaps we (here I’m referring specifically to Pentecostals and non-denom charismatics) need a prayer book even more than we need a catechism? Too often, Pentecostal spirituality suffers from its own strengths, and as C.S.L. taught me, if prayer and worship are always being generated out of our own affections and imagination, we will soon be impoverished and (almost certainly) heterodox. As a Pentecostal (of a kind), I would say that we have to find a way to subject our own subjectivity to a Christian discipline, not least as a way of training ourselves that the Holy Spirit is not subsumed in our own spirit(uality)!


  8. In the AG church I have been attending the prayers have typically been me, my, and my church oriented. This is a short coming of the training these people have received. This church typically refuses to pray out loud in tongues, even in their prayer room, for fear it will scare people away. Praying out loud in tongues is not in their “DNA.” I believe this is characteristic of nominal Pentecostalism.

    The Common Book of Prayer is a beautiful composition with a touching liturgy that has been improved over the centuries. But as a Pentecostal I would prefer to pray prophetically as led by the Holy Spirit, either in tongues or a known language. It seems some Pentecostals do limit their prayer times and consequently fail to enter into Spirit led prayer. Pentecostals should pray prophetically in accordance to the will of God (Romans 8:26 & 27). Again, not praying prophetically is a failure of nominal Pentecostalism.

    You gentlemen identify yourselves as former Pentecostals. I wonder if your background could be more nominal Pentecostal than authentic Pentecostal. Where the gifts of tongues, interpretation, prophecy, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, discernment of spirits active in your former Pentecostal churches?

    George: Is the Pentecostal textbook project still going and are they working on a new Pentecostal systematic theology textbook? I was disappointed to have bought a reformed systematic theology textbook (Mallard Erickson) in a Pentecostal seminary.


  9. Tony – I see the purpose of prayer language or prayer in tongues is to pray prophetically. Initial physical evidence tongues is nearly always prayer rather than prophetic utterance which requires interpretation.

    To be led by the Spirit (in prayer and otherwise) is to live in the prophetic. There is a wonderful book on the prophetic by Canadian Pentecostal Roger Stronstad. Not sure of what you would think of it but it is titled “Prophethood of All Believers.” I think it is on its third or fourth printing and it has stirred classical Pentecostal thinking, especially in academic circles.


  10. Tony,

    For all my love of Jenson, I of course don’t slavishly agree with him on every point, and even where I do agree I find myself wanting to articulate the point differently, in ways perhaps truer to my context. Besides, I think the discipline of crafting a catechism is an opportunity for discipleship, Christification. I’d be delighted to cooperate with you on that project if and when the time comes.

    In relation to the questions/concerns raised by Steve, I think it’s important to point out that Scripture is full of “formalized prayers” (not least, the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer) that were ritually and liturgically prayed by Israel, by the apostles and apostolic community, and by the Lord himself. This seems to me to make the point inarguable: God intends us to take up prayers that are not of our own devising, which is not to say that we aren’t to pray them from the heart. In fact, I think it is often if not always precisely these “ready-made prayers” that make possible the most genunine emotional expression. In any case, there’s nothing inherent in Pentecostal spirituality that forbids liturgical/formalized praying. What makes prayer “prophetic” is not the force of our subjectivity, but the truthfulness of the prayer itself. That is, no prayer is as prophetic as the Our Father prayed in the right Spirit by the faithful community.


  11. About 25 years ago I attended a southern AG church where the Saturday night prayer meetings where unusually short if they lasted less than 3 hours and dancing in the aisle was common on Sundays. The local Episcopal church had a pastoral change and the new priest was non-Charismatic so we had an influx of Episcopalians. We were dedicating some new property to build upon. To make the former Episcopalians more comfortable, I was assigned to read a BCP prayer. Never have I been so severely criticized for doing something in church. That BCP prayer was not in that church’s DNA. Perhaps I do have some prejudice.


  12. Steve,

    As far as I can tell, it was authentic. People babbled incoherently; people were slathered in oil as others babbled incoherently; people babbled incoherently, then slathered disabled people with oil and then tried to pull disabled people out of their wheel chairs; People that babbled incoherently went on and on about how Jesus is coming back at any second to pull the babblers out of the world in order to pour wrath out on all those non-babblers so that they could go to hell and be tortured some more; people would babble incoherently and then tell fortunes and futures that never came true; People that babbled incoherently would condemn those that didn’t share their political views; people that babbled incoherently looked down on people that didn’t babble incoherently and questioned whether their experiences were authentic.

    So, yeah, I’d say it was pretty authentic as far as authentic Pentecostal experience goes.


  13. Shawn,

    Sorry to hear that. Thanks for sharing.

    It seems a pastor let it get out of control and allowed operating in the flesh. Pastors and other leaders need the gift of discerning spirits and need to correct by exercising leadership.

    There are two kinds of excesses: too much nonsense and too much nothing. Churches that have no Spiritual manifestations over time are just as unfortunate as those churches that operate in the flesh thinking they are spiritual. As with so many things, there is an appropriate balance.


  14. Steve,

    I agree, in part at least, that the problem is “operating in the flesh.” But we almost certainly disagree about what this in fact means. I suspect you take “flesh” to mean something like “bad subjectivity.” That isn’t what Paul means, I’m sure, but I don’t think it works in any case. IMO, the Christian life cannot be reduced to those categories or sustained by a spirituality that thinks and acts only in such domains. That’s the genius of Tony’s suggestions for training clergy: it privileges texts and practices that sanctify our subjectivity, bring our spirituality under cruciformed discipline.


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