The Regions and Tribes of Evangelical Theology: The Revisionists Part I: Pentecostal Revisionist Evangelicals

This is the seventh of eight articles exploring the present state of Evangelical theology. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth can be found hereherehere, here, here, and here.


And so we come to our last tribe in the Evangelical country: Pentecostal Revisionist Evangelicals (PRE). Like the Barthian Revisionists, PRE has journeyed out of the Classical Postconservatism to the Revisionist Region and formed its own distinct – and growing - grouping. Indeed, if this series of articles were to be read in forty years’ time, they may be surprised at the lack of space given. ‘Just one article?’ they may ask. ‘Surely this is more a whole region by itself?’ It is likely that as Christianity shifts south and east in a Pentecostal vein, theology will follow suit. Christopher Stephenson has already noted the four ‘types’ of Pentecostal theology, most of which are represented to a certain degree by PRE.[1] As such, if such a series of articles are written several decades down the line, there may be two or even three articles on different forms of Pentecostal theology. Whether most Pentecostal theologians will follow the path of PRE is a different question. However, the far-reaching thought of such theology makes it one of the most exciting phenomena to come out of not just Evangelical theology, but theology in general.

Pentecostalism has had astonishing growth in the last 100+ years (where you locate the historical beginning of Pentecostalism is more than likely connected to your theological presuppositions…). It is clearly the third biggest denominational grouping in the world and is now possibly the second. Indeed, it is perhaps likely that by the end of the 21st Century, Protestant theology will mostly be either Pentecostal or charismatic – something which Wolfhart Pannenberg noted in the 70s. Due to its genesis within the American Holiness movement, Pentecostalism found itself closely aligned with American fundamentalism. However, this was not always a comfortable fit, especially in that most fundamentalists rejected the Pentecostal understanding of Biblical charismata. Even in its more conservative forms, Pentecostalism somewhat chafed at the given restraints. There is a continuous emphasis given to a pneumatological understanding of doctrinal points such as the sacraments, ecclesiology and the Trinity even in a conservative example of ‘Classical Pentecostal Theology’, the Elim document Pentecostal Doctrine.[2]

For PRE theologians, the longevity and global reach of Pentecostalism means that there is no longer any need to pay such deference to sceptical Fundamentalism. Such doctrines as creationism, the rapture, inerrancy are more accidental accommodations of the Fundamentalist context in which Pentecostalism emerged than the substance of its theology. A ‘pneumatological’ Pentecostal theology has greater possibilities. This is not simply ‘Third Article Theology’ – the emerging doctrinal fields which views every dogmatic loci from a pneumatological perspective. Instead, it comes from an increased confidence in the validity of Pentecostal practice as both internally and externally valid and also bubbling with theological possibilities. This can be broken down into four areas:

  • The hermeneutical centrality of Luke-Acts
  • The experience of Spirit Baptism and its outward ‘charismatic’ manifestations
  • The liturgical ‘playfulness’ of Pentecostal worship
  • The global potential of inculturated Pentecostal practice


Lucan Theology

Pentecostals have always emphasised the centrality of Luke-Acts for interpreting Scripture and everyday life.[3] Indeed, Pentecostalism emerged through a direct engagement with reading Acts and believing its validity for the present day. If this is a practice that early Pentecostalism felt it had to defend against its much stronger opponents, this is no longer the case. Drawing on the Wirkungsgeschtichte theory of Biblical scholar Ulrich Luz, Melissa Archer has argued that whilst the Biblical text itself is stable and does not change, ‘interpretations of texts do change as they are read in new situations or as a result of new experiences in the life of the interpreter.’[4] Instead, it is important to study how the Biblical text has affected readers and how readers in turn interpret the text. Scholars should not be afraid to read Scripture from their own traditioned perspective (a theory which has remarkable overlaps with the thinking of Hermann Bavinck quoted in the second article in this series). Pentecostals have been affected by reading the Scriptures through the lens of Luke-Acts much like the Reformers read it through the Pauline Epistles. For Archer, this is something to be embraced, rather than embarrassed about.

PRE theologians have use the Spirit- and miracle-drenched writings of Luke through which to interpret the Old Testament,[5] the other Gospels[6] and the Epistles.[7] This has proven fruitful, especially in Pauline studies, which previously undervalued the role Paul gave to the Spirit. At the forefront is the work of Gordon Fee, whose God’s Empowering Presence is a magisterial reclamation of Pauline pneumatology.[8] This is the culmination of multiple studies on the Spirit in the New Testament, including hermeneutics, ecclesiology, vocation and Christology.[9] This has in turn led to the rich interactions between biblical theology and systematics found in Frank Macchia’s Justified in the Spirit. Macchia argues that both classical Catholic and Protestant theories of justification have overplayed the legal and crucicentric aspects and underplayed the eschatological dimensions of a ‘pneumatic existence in the image of Jesus.’ Instead, the justification of the sinner is ‘a mutual embrace between God and the sinner that comes through Christ crucified and as risen and as the Spirit baptizer. Justification is a just relationship that has self-giving and indwelling as its substance.’[10] For Macchia, the Acts description of Spirit Baptism is an ecumenically potent ‘third way’ for understanding justification beyond Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.


Pneumatological Theology

Because of the emphasis that the miraculous world of Luke-Acts remains a pneumatological possibility for today, Pentecostals practiced speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and expected the miraculous. This was all possible through ‘Spirit Baptism’, in which a life is transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to go beyond the ‘natural’. Whereas earlier Pentecostalism was in apologetic mode, PRE theologians are wanting to explore the philosophical, doctrinal and ethical possibilities of Spirit Baptism and its ‘more-than-natural’ manifestations. Arguing that Pentecostalism is more a ‘social imaginary’ – a fully holistic and encompassing worldview - James K.A. Smith’s Thinking in Tongues encourages the emergence of Pentecostal philosophy. Practices such as glossolalia, testimony, healing, and the like offer surprisingly rich potential for a Pentecostal way of thinking through philosophy of language, epistemology, and ontology.[11] For philosopher Nimi Wariboko, the Pentecostal experience of ‘newness’ from the miraculous gift of the Spirit goes beyond mere ‘novelty’ (the new combination of old structures), in that the Spirit replicates the miraculous in the Church. In his interactions with philosophers Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Luc Nancy, he argues that this can act as an ethical principle for political and economic theology which unites and goes beyond Tillich’s ‘Catholic substance’ and ‘Protestant principle’.[12]

Other theologians use Spirit Baptism as a dogmatic lens through which to explore different loci: Macchia uses it to bring a new perspective on subjects such as Christology, the sacraments, and ecclesiology.[13]  Herschel Odell Bryant has explored various forms of ‘Spirit Christologies’ throughout Christian history.[14] Steven Studebaker presents a ‘Spirit Baptized’ dogmatics on the Trinity – emphasising the role of the Spirit for integrating our Trinitarian thinking. Indeed, for Studebaker, the Holy Spirit ‘plays a co-constitutional role in the formation of the personal identities of the Father and the Son.’[15] Daniela Augustine has explored the ways in which pneumatology can transform political and ethical theology, especially in an age of ecological crisis, calling for a Pentecostal ‘radical hospitality’ of the Spirit.[16]


Liturgical Theology

Whereas the more formally structured liturgies of mainline and Evangelical worship tend to restrict variation and improvisation, the carefully orchestrated worship of Pentecostalism tends to work less like a classical symphony and more like jazz-improvisation. This hardly surprising considering that both jazz and Pentecostalism emerged in the midst of the African-American community. There is a sense of ‘play’. For Nimi Wariboko, ‘what gives worship meaning for pentecostals is not measured by its ability to achieve any goal or celebrate any purpose. It is judged by the Holy Spirit’s involvement in it and it is the Spirit alone who can make it meaningful and fruitful.’[17] This ‘play’ emerges through the interaction between ordered liturgy and improvisation. For instance, although worship will follow a set pattern – upbeat songs, devotional songs, sermon, response – within this structure there is always an element of surprise through being open to the Spirit (a message in tongues, a prophetic word, an elastic sense of time). Such an improvisational playfulness has helped form a Pentecostal ‘worldview’.[18] Theologians have used it to develop several avenues in liturgical theology, including the sacraments,[19] homiletics[20] and spirituality.[21] In particular, the liturgical theology of Simon Chan has emphasised that Pentecostal worship acts as a formation for a ‘traditioning community.’[22]

Charismatic Reformed theologian Jean-Jacques Suurmond felt that this ‘playfulness’ could be pushed beyond the confines of liturgical theology alone. For Suurmond, the interaction between ‘Word and Spirit’ is integral to creation (i.e. in the interaction between order and dynamism). Pentecostal worship is therefore an expression of creation in its integrity. It thus has liberational potential in areas of psychology, ethics and politics.[23] Suurmonds theory of play opened up the potential of Pentecostal interaction with liberation theology and other avenues, something which is being developed in the 21st Century. Combining such thinking with the theology of the great Nigerian Pentecostal theologian Ogbu Kalu, Nimi Wariboko has taken up this banner of ‘theology as play’ across a variety of disciplines, including economics, work, and urban sociology.[24] Ethics can be part of that same ‘pneumatological surprise’ – i.e. ethical practice need not be constrained by the practice of the past. ‘Play is the gift of grace. Play is an expression of the freedom of the Spirit. Play is the courage to be surprised.’[25] Wolfgang Vondey has developed this in a different direction, arguing that doctrine itself can be somewhat improvisatory, ‘riffing-off’ Scripture and the Creed in jazz-like unexpected combinations and permutations.


Global Theology

It is this improvisatory potential and playfulness that has helped Pentecostal’s extraordinary global growth. Because worship is not tied down to any one cultural style, it is free to express itself in a myriad of liturgical forms – a Pentecostal service in South Korea and Uganda share similar family resemblances, but are nevertheless unique to their own culture. For PRE theologians, this means that Pentecostal theology is in essence globally inculturated.[26] In his Beyond Pentecostalism, Wolfgang Vondey argues that the heart of Pentecostal theology is not the American Fundamentalist Classical form that emerged in the interwar years. Instead, it is Pentecostalism’s new global reach that is its lifeblood. He seeks to ‘go beyond’ the traditional Pentecostal framework through its transformation into a truly global movement. He desires

  • To go beyond the geographical, cultural, ethnic, and religious particularity of the North American Pentecostal tradition.
  • To go beyond the notion that the historical roots of classical Pentecostalism form the heart of the movement
  • To go beyond the isolated ecclesial definition of Pentecostalism as one alternative to the established mainline Christian traditions.
  • To go beyond the idea that Pentecostal theology is essentially synonymous with a theology of the Holy Spirit
  • To go beyond the perception that Pentecostalism is a limited religious phenomenon.[27]

This global, playful-improvisatory form of Pentecostalism means that it can engage with whoever it wants. Latin American Pentecostals are likely to engage with Liberation Theology, South Koreans with Minjung, American Americans with Black Liberation Theology, Chinese with Buddhism and Confucianism, Nigerians with West African tribal faiths, Indians with Hindu theology. This is not to say that this means syncretism, in the same way that the Patristic engagement with Plato wasn’t syncretistic. It is to say that this gives Pentecostalism a remarkable ability to ‘speak in the tongues’ – or worldviews – of many nations.



Pentecostal theology is beginning to make its impact on the wider theological world (beyond the confines of the Evangelical country). This first came about through the work of Miroslav Volf, who came to international attention through his magisterial theology of reconciliation Exclusion and Embrace.[28] His contribution to ecclesiology used the latest in social trinitarianism to argue for a free church alternative to the ecclesiologies of Orthodox Zizioulas and Roman Catholic Ratzinger.[29] Increasingly, Volf has moved away from his Pentecostal roots, and now worships as an Episcopalian. Nevertheless, his contributions have sparked off the imaginations of many younger Pentecostal theologians. One such theologian is the Finnish scholar Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. After producing many excellent introductory volumes on dogmatic loci, Kärkkäinen has recently completed a remarkable multi-volume dogmatics, which explored every dogmatic loci from a Pentecostal perspective.[30]

But for the future possible directions of PRE, we must turn to the Pentecostal theologian par excellence, Amos Yong. His numerous books show a remarkable dialogue with a dazzling number of subjects: science, hermeneutics, dogmatics, inter-faith, ethics, disability, political theology, homiletics, and mission, amongst others.[31] He has edited a variety of books and journals on Pentecostalism, emphasising an inter-disciplinary theology which brings together conversations in Pentecostal studies, including sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, politics, and the arts. His own books demonstrate the agility of this dialogical and playful approach to theology. His The Spirit of Creation develops a profound creational ontology that creates a dialogue between evolutionary science, process theology and an Luke-Acts emphasis on supernatural warfare, miracles and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit Poured Out On All Flesh is a ‘global theology’ which combines the possibilities of weaving together Logos and Spirit Christologies with such unexpected conversation partners as Pentecostal ecological practices in southern Africa.[32]

Nevertheless, it is difficult to predict which ways in which PRE theology will develop – its improvisatory character puts pay to the idea that it has an inevitable direction. For example, in researching this article, I saw a new book by Jonathan Black on Pentecostalism and theosis,[33] demonstrating the fecund directions PRE theology could take. There are risks that a turn away from Pentecostalism’s Fundamentalist roots could take this tribe in a liberal direction, similar to how Methodism shorn of its Evangelical roots produced Process theology and Death of God theologians. Such liberal signs can be found in the work of theologian Robert Beckford, with his emphasis on ‘Progressive Pentecostalism’.[34] However, the passionate defence of orthodoxy riffed with Pentecostal experience indicates that this is not a risk that has mainstream appeal anytime soon. And as an increasing number of high quality Pentecostal literature is published – whether that be the Pneuma Journal, the Journal of Pentecostal Theology, the Pentecostal Manifestos series, CPT Press, T&T Clark’s new series in Pentecostal Systematics, or Brill’s Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies – it is certain that PRE theology is here to stay.



[1] Christopher A. Stephenson, Types of Pentecostal Theology: Method, System, Spirit (Oxford: OUP, 2016)

[2] P.S. Brewster, Pentecostal Doctrine (Grenehurst Press, 1976)

[3] See Martin William Mittelstadt, Reading Luke-Acts in the Pentecostal Tradition (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2011)

[4] Melissa L. Archer, ‘I Was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’: A Pentecostal Engagement with Worship in the Apocalypse (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2015), p.55

[5] Lloyd R. Neve, The Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2011)

[6] Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010)

[7] French L. Arrington, Paul’s Aeon Theology in 1 Corinthians (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2019)

[8] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009)

[9] Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1991), Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), Offer Yourselves to God: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Paul’s Epistles (Cascade Books, 2019), Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic)

[10] Frank D. Macchia, Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption and the Triune God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2010), p.318

[11] James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 2010)

[12] Nimi Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2012)

[13] Frank Macchia’s systematic approach to this can be found in his Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).

[14] Herscel Odell Bryant, Spirit Christology in the Christian Tradition: From the Patristic Period to the Rise of Pentecostalism in the Twentieth Century (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2015)

[15] Steven M. Studebaker, From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2012), p.269

[16] Daneila C. Augustine, Pentecost, Hospitality and Transfiguration: Toward a Spirit-inspired Vision of Social Transformation (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012) and The Spirit and the Common Good: Shared Flourishing in the Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmanns, 2019)

[17] Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle, p.180

[18] Josh P.S. Samuel, The Holy Spirit in Worship, Music, Preaching and the Altar: Renewing Pentecostal Corporate Worship (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2018)

[19] Chris E.W. Green, Towards a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012)

[20] Lee Roy Martin (ed.), Towards a Pentecostal Theology of Preaching (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2015)

[21] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010)

[22] Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011)

[23] Jean-Jacques Suurmond, Word and Spirit at Play: Towards a Charismatic Theology (London: SCM, 1994)

[24] Nimi Wariboko, The Split Economy: Saint Paul Goes to Wall Street (New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 2020), The Depth and Destiny of Work: An African Theological Interpretation (African World Press, 2008), The Charismatic City and the Resurgence of Public Religion: A Pentecostal Social Ethics of Cosmopolitan Urban Life (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014)

[25] Wariboko, The Pentecostal Principle, p.161

[26] Harold D. Hunter and Neil Ormerod The Many Faces of Global Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2010), (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2013)

[27] Wolfgang Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2010), p.7

[28] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)

[29] Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1998)

[30] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christ and Reconciliation (2013), Trinity and Revelation (2014), Creation and Humanity (2015), Spirit and Salvation (2016), and Hope and Community (2017) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans)

[31] Amos Yong, The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2011), Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2006), The Hermeneutical Spirit: Theological Interpretation and Scriptural Imagination for the 21st Century (Cascade Books, 2017), Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity (Baylor University Press, 2014), Beyond the Impasse: Towards a Pneumatological Theology of Religion (Wipf and Stock, 2014), Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices and the Neighbour (Orbis Books, 2008), The Bible, Disability and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 2011), Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity (Baylor University Press, 2007), In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 2010), The Kerygmatic Spirit: Apostolic Preaching in the 21st Century (Cascade Books, 2018), The Missiological Spirit: Christian Mission Theology in the Third Millennium Global Context (Cascade Books, 2013). It is remarkable that Yong has any time to sleep.

[32] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005)

[33] Jonathan Black, The Theosis of the Body of Christ: From the Early British Apostolics to a Pentecostal Trinitarian Ecclesiology (BRILL, 2020). I haven’t had an opportunity to read this yet.

[34] Robert Beckford, Dread and Pentecostal: A Political Theology for the Black Church in Britain (Wipf and Stock, 2011)

1 thought on “The Regions and Tribes of Evangelical Theology: The Revisionists Part I: Pentecostal Revisionist Evangelicals”

  1. This is an outstanding and very informative series by Joshua Penduck. Is there any intention by Fulcrum anglican to publish it in print form? – a Grove booklet perhaps?

    I would be interested to know where Joshua thinks theologians like James Barr and Peter Enns fit into the scheme of things.

    After reading it all I’m still trying to work out where I fit… !

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