What’s Happening in the Assemblies of God Today? | Influence Podcast


Welcome to the Influence Podcast, a collection of inspiring and challenging conversations, aimed at empowering the entire spectrum of church leadership, from lead pastor to lead volunteer

In Episode 207, I’m talking to Doug Clay about the good things God is doing in the Assemblies of God. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Doug Clay is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. He will share his unique perspective on our Fellowship after a brief word from our sponsor.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Including Children with Disabilitiespart of the Momentum Training Series.

Whether you already have children in your church with disabilities or just want to be prepared for all students, this resource will show you how to share the love of Jesus with everyone who enters your class. Including Children with Disabilities is also available in Spanish.

For more information visit MomentumTrainingSeries.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Pentecostals and the Poor | Book Review


Pentecostals and the Poor began to take shape when the Asia Pacific Theological Association invited Ivan Satyavrata to present four lectures on the theme, “Power, Tradition, and Social Engagement,” at its fall 2011 General Assembly in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Satyavrata reworked those lectures into the resulting monograph, the inaugural volume in The APTS Press Occasional Papers Series. It outlines the author’s mature reflections on four topics: (1) the Pentecostal tradition of social engagement, (2) the biblical perspective on Pentecost and mission, (3) a Pentecostal theology of social engagement, and (4) the role of Pentecostal theological education.

Satyavrata is, in the words of his publisher’s website, “Senior Pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Kolkata, which has close to 4,000 people and a significant social outreach, providing education and basic nutrition for several thousand children in and around the city of Kolkata. He has played an active role in Christian leadership training as President of the Centre for Global Leadership Development (formerly SABC), Bangalore, of which he now serves as Board Chairman, and has recently been invited to serve as International Deputy Director for the Lausanne Movement in South Asia. His chief interest has been in issues relating to the Christian witness to people of other faiths.”

Regarding (1), Satyavrata argues that “strictly speaking there is no one Pentecostal tradition; what we do have is multiple Pentecostal traditions which bear a certain family resemblance.” That resemblance centers around “the immediate, manifested presence of the Holy Spirit experienced by the early Church in Acts [which] is normative for the Christian faith community today.” Crucially, social engagement has always been part of that tradition. “Pentecostals today offer not only spiritual refuge from the problems of this world but concrete and authentic social engagement alternatives. They have in fact done so from the very beginning [of Pentecostal history] as a natural extension of their evangelism and missionary efforts.”

Turning to (2), Satyavrata argues that biblically, “the Church’s mission [should be seen] as a continuation of the mission of Jesus.” Jesus’ self-conception revolved around the concept of the kingdom of God. According to Satyavrata, “three crucial aspects of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom have bearing on our understanding of mission”: (a) announcement of the kingdom’s arrival, (b) demonstration of the kingdom’s reality, and (c) extension of God’s kingdom-rule. Just as the Spirit of God empowered Jesus’ mission, so the Spirit continues to empower the Church’s mission. “Pentecost made the church a witnessing church, and her witness was spontaneous, immediate, effective and directed to ever widening circles of men,” Satyavrata writes.

Based on critical reflection on the biblical witness, Satyavrata arrives at the following conclusion: “A theologically robust Pentecostal understanding of mission thus views mission in terms of God’s ongoing redemptive project of extending his kingdom-rule to people of all nations as the Holy Spirit empowers the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.”

Flowing out of this broad understanding of mission, Satyavrata then turns to (3) a Pentecostal theology of social engagement. At the outset, he makes the following statements: “The extraordinary success of the Pentecostal movement is largely due to its outreach to those on the periphery of society…. The genius of Pentecostalism has thus been its relevance to the powerless—its ability to penetrate enslaving power structures of the socially and economically marginalized.” American readers need to keep in mind as they read these words that Satyavrata is referring to the global Pentecostal movement, not just the expressions of that movement in America. (American Pentecostals are both like and very unlike Pentecostals throughout the rest of the world.) Satyavrata also notes that Pentecostals “have in general been better at doing it [i.e., social ministry] than articulating it in statements of faith or theological formulations.”

Following on his understanding of mission, Satyavrata notes the relevance of the kingdom concept to the church’s social ethic: “The kingdom ethic of Jesus is made operational within the charismatic community by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and becomes thereafter the moral foundation for the life of the early church.” He then examines “how Pentecostal spirituality shapes Pentecostalism’s social response” by looking at five key features of that spirituality: prayer/worship, liberation, healing, community, and hope.

In the final section of his monograph, Satyavrata sketches (4) the role of Pentecostal theological education in mission. He defines theological education as “the Church’s mandate to disciple God’s people, further their growth in vocational giftedness and maturity in Christ, and thus equip them to fulfill the kingdom-mission of Christ.” This means that the aim of theological education is transformation holistically understood, including the transformation of (a) spiritual passion, (b) theological formation, (c) community, and (d) mission. He concludes: “Since education is for mission it must generate creative and fervent missionary engagement and make a difference in the whole world!”

Pentecostals and the Poor is a short, easily digested monograph worthy of your consideration. Although its origins lie in an academic context, its reasoning and conclusions are stated clearly and is well worth reading by pastors and other leaders in local churches.

(Full disclosure: he Satyavrata is a professor and friend of mine.

Book Reviewed
Ivan Satyavrata, Pentecostals and the Poor: Reflections from the Indian Context (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

America’s Religious History | Book Review


American Christians, generally speaking, are ignorant of the history of their own religion in this country, let alone of other religions here. This is not due to a lack of excellent scholarly resources. If anything, there is a surfeit of excellent studies of American religion. The problem is that most Americans won’t read them because they are either too academic or too specific. (Or too long.)

Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. His faith perspective is evangelical Christian generally and Southern Baptist specifically. His scholarly expertise is colonial and early U.S. history. Earlier this year, he published a two-volume survey, American History, for college students. Now, he’s published America’s Religious History, a single-volume introduction to that topic, also intended for college students—it’s published by Zondervan Academic—but readily accessible to a broad readership.

America’s religious history did not start with Christianity, of course, which was only introduced to the Western hemisphere beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Kidd touches briefly on aspects of indigenous religious before colonization, but the main line of his story starts with first Catholic and then Protestant colonization efforts. While Catholicism always played an important role in the history of those lands that eventually became the United States, Kidd’s main focus throughout the book is on “the fate of Protestantism in America,” which is the nation’s “most powerful religious strain.” He does mention developments in other religions too, as well as in nonreligious, skeptical points of view.

As a Pentecostal Christian and ordained minister in the Assemblies of God, I was delighted by Kidd’s treatment of Pentecostalism in the last few chapters of the book. While I acknowledge that our tribe has problems—televangelist scandals, prosperity gospel preachers, etc.—our history also demonstrates a spiritual vitality and ethnic diversity that bode well for our future.

Kidd begins the book with three sentences that identify a thread running throughout America’s Religious History: “The story of American religion is a study in contrasts. Secular clashes with the sacred; demagoguery with devotion. Perhaps most conspicuously, religious vitality has existed alongside religious violence.” Readers looking for a chirpily cheery national history of Christianity specifically or religion generally will be disappointed by Kidd’s work. There’s much in America’s “lived religion,” its daily practice of faith, that is heartening, of course, but disheartening episodes abound too, especially when it comes to evangelicals and politics.

Kidd closes each chapter with a list of “Works Cited and Further Reading.” This list makes an excellent next step for readers who want go deeper on the historical developments surveyed in that chapter. While the publisher probably intends this book for use in a college classroom setting, I think it can also be used profitably by Sunday school classes, small groups, and book clubs. Or, of course, for the solitary reader seeking a better understanding of this nation’s religious history.

Book Reviewed
Thomas S. Kidd, America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

Embracing the Apostolic and the Prophetic With Discernment | Influence Podcast


In Ephesians 4:11–12, the apostle Paul writes, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Pentecostals believe this fivefold ministry continues today. Any spiritual gift can be abused, however. And when it comes to the apostolic and the prophetic specifically, unfortunately, abuses are all too common. How, then, should Pentecostals develop the proper use of apostolic and prophetic gifts, even as they discern their misuse and abuse?

That’s the question I ask Dr. Joseph Girdler and Dr. Carolyn Tennant in this episode of the Influence Podcast. Girdler is superintendent of the Kentucky Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God, and Tennant is professor emerita at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are coauthors of Keys to the Apostolic and Prophetic: Embracing the Authentic — Avoiding the Bizarre, just out from Meadow Stream Publishing.

Is Contemplative Spirituality Christian? | Influence Podcast


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hotin the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to John Coe and Kyle Strobel about whether contemplative spirituality is Christian, and if so, how. Coe and Strobel are professors at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Both are active in the university’s Institute for Spiritual Formation, Coe as the director and Strobel as a teacher. They are the editors of Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, published by IVP Academic earlier this year.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN PODCAST

P.S. This episode of the Influence Podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

God Forgive Us for Being Women | Book Review


In 1924, Ruth and Elizabeth Weidman — my great-aunt and grandmother, respectively — sailed from the U.S. for China. Like many Pentecostal women, they felt God had called and empowered them to share the gospel as missionaries. Other Pentecostal women felt a similar call and empowerment to minister in the United States.

This call to ministry was part and parcel of their baptism in the Holy Spirit, an empowerment for service promised by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8 and first realized on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1–11. The apostle Peter interpreted the event of Pentecost as the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17,18, emphasis added; cf. Joel 2:28,29).

These passages, especially alongside Galatians 3:28, seem to equalize the ministries of men and women. Yet Pentecostals also read passages from Paul’s letters — 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15, especially — that appear to order hierarchically men’s and women’s ministries. (I would argue that this hierarchy is more apparent than real.)

Thus, even as hundreds of early Pentecostal women pioneered mission fields and planted churches, they often met resistance from men (typically) who felt the need to put them in their place by limiting their authority in the local church. My friend Joy Qualls explores this tension — between Pentecostal empowerment and hierarchical resistance, especially in the Assemblies of God — in her new book, God Forgive Us for Being Women.

She takes the book’s title from the exasperated complaint of Mae Eleanor Frey, an early Pentecostal evangelist affiliated with the AG. From 1914 to 1935, the Fellowship debated what level of credentials women could hold. In a 1928 letter to a national executive, Frey wrote: “At this last Council I felt like a criminal as they brought up this foolish woman question again …. One felt like asking God to forgive us for being women. There is nothing in the word of God that forbids a woman from preaching the Gospel or conducting a work.”

Qualls is a lifelong AG adherent and professor of communications at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Her book, a revision of her doctoral dissertation, explores how the Fellowship negotiated the tension between the Pentecostal rhetoric of empowerment and the hierarchical rhetoric of authority.

In 1935, the General Council settled this debate, at least in principle, by affirming that God’s call and empowerment to all levels of ministry are equal for men and women. In practice, however, as Qualls shows, there remains a gap between what we believe and how we behave. Though women can receive ordination to all ministry levels by the denomination, they often find the doors to leadership in the local church locked because of their sex.

God Forgive Us for Being Women occasionally makes for difficult reading. This is partly because of the academic tone of the writing, but mostly because it’s heartbreaking to see the challenges women have faced in their efforts to pursue God’s call on their lives. Dr. Jim Bradford, former general secretary of the Assemblies of God, recently preached a sermon that included this exhortation to women in the congregation: “You should never be in a place where men are putting you in your place.” After reading this book, I fervently hope that I never become that kind of man nor the Assemblies of God that kind of Fellowship.

Book Reviewed
Joy E. A. Qualls, God Forgive Us for Being Women: Rhetoric, Theology, and the Role of Women in the Pentecostal Tradition (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission and will appear in the July-August 2018 print issue of Influence magazine.

What’s Driving Christianity’s Global Growth? | Influence Podcast


In this episode, I talk to Brian Stiller about five drivers behind Christianity’s explosive growth worldwide.

Stiller is a global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and author of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity, recently published by IVP Books.

To learn more about Brian Stiller, visit BrianStiller.com.


Episode Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction of podcast
  • 00:45 TruFire Sunday school curriculum sponsor ad
  • 01:08 Introduction of Brian Stiller
  • 01:18 What From Jerusalem to Timbuktu is about
  • 03:30 Evangelicalism’s explosive growth over the last century
  • 05:46 An overview of the five drivers behind this growth
  • 07:28 Driver #1: The Holy Spirit
  • 11:57 Drivers #2 and 3: Bible translation and indigeneity
  • 19:19 Drivers #4 and 5: Engaging the public square and holistic ministry
  • 24:29 Hopeful or fearful about Christianity’s future?
  • 27:39 How to follow Brian Stiller or the World Evangelical Alliance online
  • 28:20 Conclusion

The Azusa Street Revival | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I interview Prof. Mel Robeck about the Azusa Street Revival. Mel is a friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister, but in his day job, he’s senior professor of church history and ecumenics at my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House (see my reviews here and here). If you’re ever in the Los Angeles area, make sure to take Mel’s self-guided tour of early Pentecostal sites.

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