Pentecostalism understood itself as an end-times revival from the beginning. Drawing on the language of Joel 2:23 (KJV), early Pentecostals distinguished between the “former rain” of Acts 2 and the “latter rain” of their own revival experiences. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a sign of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
The Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths reflects the ongoing importance of eschatology to Pentecostals. Four of its 16 articles deal with end-time themes: “The Blessed Hope” (Article 13), “The Millennial Reign of Christ” (Article 14), “The Final Judgment” (Article 15), and “The New Heavens and the New Earth” (Article 16).
These articles demonstrate the Fellowship’s historic commitment to premillennialism, especially of the pre- and mid-tribulation varieties, though other views are allowed to a degree.
Advocates of premillennialism, including in the AG, have always been tempted to speculate about the end-time significance of current events, or even to set a date for the Lord’s return. Giving in to those temptations tends to cast doubt on the doctrine because the predictions never pan out. Embarrassed, other ministers who affirm premillennialism theologically begin to deemphasize it practically.
In Imagining the Future, Daniel Isgrigg asks, “How could it be that, for a fellowship that placed such a large emphasis on eschatology, the only options were either obsession or avoidance?”
To answer that question, Isgrigg surveys the development of AG eschatology in the Statement of Fundamental Truths, the Bylaws (especially the section on eschatological errors), and 100 years’ worth of articles in the Pentecostal Evangel. He concludes that the AG largely followed “the script of dispensational events” even as it “intentionally modified” that script to “fit their pneumatology.”
Rejecting cessationism was an obvious (and necessary) modification. Another was how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit changed the affective texture of end-times doctrine. Isgrigg explains this by comparing dispensationalist “signs” to Pentecostal “sighs.”
Dispensationalists looked for signs of the End, based on Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) and related prophetic Bible passages. These signs were negative — war, famine, persecution, among others. They induced fear among Christians and a desire to escape.
By contrast, Pentecostals noticed the sighs (or groans) that the Spirit prays along with us in our troubles (Romans 8:22,23,26). These sighs are offered “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (verses 20–21). Hope displaces fear, and the longing for liberation replaces escapism.
The contrast between dispensational signs and Pentecostal sighs is a matter of ideal types. In reality, Isgrigg concedes that AG theologians have vacillated between fearful signs and hopeful sighs throughout its history.
Still, the ideal is suggestive. After surveying the development of AG eschatology, Isgrigg offers a constructive suggestion about how to reframe Articles 13–16 in the Statement of Fundamental Truths as “images of hope”: “Each … will be explored as a pneumatological image expressed as an eschatological longing that is a characteristic of Pentecostal spirituality.”
Article 13 — our Blessed Hope for Jesus’ return — names our longing for “individual resurrection.” Article 14 deals with our hope for “earthly justice.” Article 15 expresses our hope for “cosmic justice,” in which God overcomes the devil and his curse. And Article 16 embodies the hope of “cosmic resurrection,” a new heaven and new earth. Reframed this way, AG eschatology neither frightens believers nor promotes escapism. It is hopeful and engaged.
Whether or not you agree with the entirety of Isgrigg’s analysis and proposal, Imagining the Future is useful for rekindling interest in Christ’s return and is recommended as such.
Daniel D. Isgrigg, Imagining the Future: The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology (Tulsa, OK: ORU Press, 2021).
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P.P.S. This review appears in the spring 2022 issue of Influence magazine, as well as at InfluenceMagazine.com. It is cross-posted here by permission.