The Pentecostal Controversy

The Pentecostal Controversy March 17, 2010

Over the past month, I’ve both requested help from the Pentecostal readers of this blog for assistance with my paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and then posted that paper in several parts.  All the while, I kept under wraps the controversy that surrounded my invitation to that group.  I did so out of respect for my hosts.

However, Arlene Sánchez-Walsh has gone public with her feelings on the matter at Religion Dispatches.  So now I’ll weigh in on the matter publicly.

But first, some background.

The Society for Pentecostal Studies is a society of scholars, founded in 1970, to advance the study of Pentecostalism.  Their website states,

The Society for Pentecostal Studies began in 1970 and is an organization of scholars dedicated to providing a forum of discussion for all academic disciplines as a spiritual service to the kingdom of God. The purpose of the society is to stimulate, encourage, recognize, and publicize the work of Pentecostal and charismatic scholars; to study the implications of Pentecostal theology in relation to other academic disciplines, seeking a Pentecostal world-and-life view; and to support fully, to the extent appropriate for an academic society, the statement of purposes of the World Pentecostal Fellowship.

This last line will come into play later.

As often happens in academic guilds, the 2010 program was set prior to the 2009 meeting in Eugene, Oregon, and it was announced at that meeting.  I was initially invited by Kimberly Alexander (PDF) on February 6, 2009.  She told me that the 2010 conference was to be held at North Central University in the Twin Cities, and that the theme was to be “New Voices, New Visions:  The Future and Hope of Pentecostal Theology.”  She asked if I would address what the emerging church movement and Pentecostalism could learn from one another.  I happily and readily accepted her invitation, and thought nothing of it…

…Until I heard from Kim again a few months later, when she informed me that my invitation had caused quite a kerfuffle.  George Wood, the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God had caught wind of my invitation, and had emailed the Executive Director of SPS to express his dismay.  In Wood’s opinion, inviting me to address this scholarly society was on par with asking someone who publicly advocates adultery, abortion, or bestiality.  My advocacy of legal same sex marriage disqualified me from being an appropriate partner in conversation for Pentecostal scholars.

Over several months, many emails were exchanged (most of which I have not seen), and several conference calls convened.  Wood attempted to get me disinvited from the conference, going so far as to threaten that any Assemblies of God-affiliated scholar would be told not to attend if I were allowed to speak (a threat that was not realized).  A (temporary?) reapproachment was ultimately reached between SPS and the AG, in what Sanchez-Walsh calls “a conference call that was basically a shakedown of the leadership of the SPS.”

But then, North Central University turned up the heat, threatening to scuttle the entire conference if I was allowed to speak on their campus.  I was assured by Kim that, in the name of academic freedom and integrity, the conference would be moved to a hotel nearby, even though SPS had no idea how they would pay for a relocation.  NCU circulated the following statement:

Position of the NCU Executive Committee of the Board Regarding the Society of Pentecostal Studies and Tony Jones

  1. We, the Board of NCU, affirm our stand against the position taken by Tony Jones and express our extreme displeasure and disappointment with SPS for allowing a speaker with these expressed views to be featured at their conference;
  2. We are displeased with the insensitivity of SPS to our stated position on homosexuality which is consistent with our Pentecostal values;
  3. We will not host an SPS conference in the future if SPS does not change its process and values in the selection of speakers;
  4. We affirm that we will not allow Tony Jones to be a participant in any events on the NCU campus during the scheduled event in March 2010;
  5. We are opposed to homosexuality in any form.  That this is consistent with our biblical world view, and that of mainstream Pentecostal theology and practice;
  6. We urge the leadership of SPS to take corrective action in the future to avoid this kind of division among Pentecostals;
  7. We urge SPS to promote the values of the World Pentecostal Fellowship.

The problems with this statement are manifold.  First, both NCU and the AG knew of my invitation for months before starting to protest.  Second, NCU at first stated that they would not act as censors, even though they were unhappy with the invitation extended to me.  Third, SPS had decided to hold my plenary session off campus many months earlier, at some expense to them, and in sensitivity to NCU.  And fourth, neither the AG nor NCU had ever before raised any objections to any speaker at SPS in years past, including some that are several clicks to my left.

In the end, it mattered not if another scholar present thought that a person is saved via the sacraments (which a couple of the Catholics priests present might contend) or that glossolalia is really a psychological hiccup.  What mattered was that I’d violated the current shibboleth among evangelicals: What we do with the gays.

I commend the scholars in SPS for taking a stand for academic independence (particularly Kim Alexander, who had no idea the hot water she’d stepped in when she invited me), and I commend Arlene Sánchez-Walsh for resigning in December when she felt, according to her RD post, that she could no longer serve in the leadership of a society that had been compromised by the pressures of a confessional group.

But the problem for SPS, it seems, is that final line of their “About” statement:

…and to support fully, to the extent appropriate for an academic society, the statement of purposes of the World Pentecostal Fellowship.

With that statement, SPS is no longer a strictly academic gathering of the scholars of (and in) Pentecostalism, but is also committed to advancing the theological agenda of a confessional group.  While I can find nothing on the World Pentecostal Fellowship website that refers to WPF “values,” they do have a purpose statement, under which there is a lengthy statement of faith, wherein one reads,

The optimum environment for society is the family. In observing not only life, but the quality of life of each individual, we understand the optimum environment for the growth, nurture, and well-being of each member of society is the biblical model of the family. This comprises one man and one woman as husband and wife, (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-9; Ephesians 5:22-25,28) married in accordance with law and biblical guidelines, an includes all the offspring of such a couple, whether biological or adopted (Psalms 127:3; James 1:27; Leviticus 14:29). The extended family is comprised of those relatives of blood and marriage resulting from the lawful union of a man and woman (Lev. 25:25; Numbers 27:6-11; Judges 18:19; Acts 10:2,11-14, 16:31,32). The family is the foundational social institution for the maintenance of an ordered society.

I guess that’s pretty clear (although I don’t know if they’ve read much of the Bible if they think that the biblical form of a family is a monogamous, nuclear family).

In her post, Sánchez-Walsh charges that SPS is not a true academic society, but an echo chamber in which confessionally committed scholars read papers to one another.  In response, she has formed a new group, GloPent-Americas (Global Pentecostalisms in the Americas), that will meet in November, “for a reasoned conversation about all those things we could never talk about in the SPS echo chamber: sexuality, race, gender, politics, hegemony.”

Personally, I don’t think that SPS is a lost cause, but I do think that in order to achieve academic freedom, they will have to sever themselves from the theological commitments of the WPF.

The larger issue, I think, is how the tables have turned.  Pentecostals, once (and sometimes still) kept out of groups of “orthodox” Christians because of their particularity (speaking in tongues), are now setting themselves up as the gatekeepers.  With this context, I reprint here the final stanzas of my SPS paper:

Fourth, and finally, I think that the emergent movement might serve as the conscience of Pentecostalism.  I know that it hasn’t always been easy to be Pentecostal over the past century.  Often, Pentecostals have been misunderstood, caricatured, and even sinned against by the rest of the Christian church.  I imagine, for instance, that it’s harder to get tenure at a public university if you speak in tongues.  And I bet it’s harder to get elected to political office.  I know that recently, the Southern Baptist Convention has attempted to purge itself of Pentecostals.  And it doesn’t take much time in Google to discover that the very elements of faith that you consider spiritual gifts, others within Christendom regard as marks of the devil.

To me, this kind of behavior among fellow Christians borders on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  I take Jesus’ admonition against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12 extremely seriously, as should all Christians.  So much so, that I think our default response to novel movements within the church should be that they are of God, not that they are diabolical.  Because if we get it wrong – if we point to something that is the work of the Spirit and instead claim that it’s the work of the devil – well, I don’t need to tell you that kind of mistake comes with consequences.

And yet, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding my invitation, it doesn’t take long for those who were once excluded to become the new gatekeepers.  In only a century, the tables have turned, insofar as some from outside this group, self-appointed “theology police” it seems, attempted to interfere with the academic discourse fostered by SPS.  It’s just ironic to me that it wasn’t so very long ago that the “tongue-talking holy rollers” would have been the ones moved off campus.  In other words, don’t forget your roots, and don’t forget what the experience of being the outsider, the misunderstood one.

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  • Tony, I so want to say something *snarky* about Pentecostals, but I won’t.

    What I will say is that the word for “abomination” that’s used in the OT in relation to homosexuality has NO moral connotation whatsoever. It means that homosexuality is not normal, meaning below statistical average – that’s all. Homosexuality is equated with women having short hair and eating shrimp. ( I learned that from watching a documentary called, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” You’re in the right on this one. They don’t know the Bible as well as they think they do.

    • I’m calling shenanigans. First, the term translated as abomination or detestable is Tô`ëbâ, which has two general meanings. The first is in the ritual sense and is equated with unclean food, the worship of idols, sacrificing of children, or the repulsiveness of Israel’s sacrifices later in their history. The second is in the ethical sense and is equated with unchastity, being against God and His people, etc. Also, while there are laws in the Torah which do indeed deal with things like short hair on women and not eating shrimp, in the immediate context homosexuality is listed with other sexual sins like bestiality and incest. Also, the Torah prescribes death as the punishment for homosexuality, which puts it on a level not with eating shrimp, but with murder.
      FYI, I have no problem with gay marriage from the legal standpoint. I think that in America homosexuals should be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals. I do think homosexuality is a sin, but America is not in covenant with God, regardless of what some might like to think. However, we need to realize what the Bible does and does not say, and not try to pretend it says something else. The Torah clearly equates homosexuality with something extremely negative and against God.

  • As a Pentecostal and an Assemblies of God minister, I apologize. I have heard you speak, read your books, and count you a long-distance mentor and theological leader. We are not always the open-minded bunch, but dogmatic we are.

    Thanks for letting us know of the situation, albeit unfortunate. It would have been great to have your voice within our “fellowship.”

  • Bec Cranford

    I really enjoyed the conversations at S.P.S. I am very glad you came!
    I identify myself as a Pentecostal due to my “psychological hiccupping” of glosslalia. I asked God post-overdose, “Please do not make me Pentecostal!” I happened to be raised- Georgian Appalachian Southern-Baptist/Pentecostal almost frighteningly fundamentalist.
    I thought he would grant me that request.
    As a green-haired tattooed freak I also thought I might be accepted in some different fellowships. Yet one day during a prayer request, a bubbling over of verbalization happened. Clearly, this could not have been “glosslalia.” I honestly did not think it existed. I fought it- thinking perhaps my language skills were unconsciously manifesting themselves. I rationalized it, having read arguments from Cessasionists.
    Unfortunately, despite my dismay- God chose for me to be a “tongue” talker…kind of like good ole Saint Patrick in his “Confessio” where he stated suddenly an ecstasy came over him and he made incoherent noises…yeah, that happened to me, miss- I-don’t-want-to-be-like-any-kind-of-thing-I-experienced-growing up.
    So here I am now, trying to be a scholar, but mostly trying to figure out punk rock music and the place of art in the sacred.
    I enjoy what you have to add to our experience. I think we agree on a lot. So what we do not agree on everything- I dig that you were willing to come be a part of “SPS.”
    I am also in the Assemblies of God movement. I don’t like labels- wish we could move beyond them to a post-denomination John 17 one kind of thing. But hierarchies and their systems will exist until Kingdom come. I identify myself here because of the love I have received, being a punk-rock slightly left Woman tattooed freak.
    Dr. Wood reports to all those people who send letters and angry emails and takes those phone calls from Brother Bill out in Appalachia Georgia, too. His job is hard. Tony, you may never influence Brother Bill, but you are influencing other Pentecostals. I hope this now pink-headed Pentecostal is influencing you. Keep on rocking for Jesus. Bec Cranford

  • as a cradle pentecostal who had to leave my tradition for many of those same reasons you encountered, I am not surprised but I am sorry you had to go through this. We have a little joke between my husband, myself and a couple friends…any time we get into a really great theological, philosophical or academic discussion, at some point someone will throw up his/her hands in mock despair and scream “that’s all great but WHAT ABOUT THE GAYS?!”. And of course, the joke comes from some very real and horrible experiences we’ve had to endure at the hands of the gatekeepers. That’s what I see going on here.

  • Interesting that Ms. Walsh’s original article and its comments were lost due to a “technical error.” The article has subsequently been reposted but the comments have been lost. The controversy becomes conspiracy! Really, just kidding.


  • The Pentecostal exclusion of you, Tony, is terrible, and further, terribly inconsistent with any idea of Christian charity and hospitality.

    In 60 years, when your position is the majority and the Penties’ view the minority, I hope that the majority will remember and be gracious to not cause a kerfluffle when the minority wants to speak at your conferences.

  • Found this online (here)today, and thought it was relevant:

    Why is censorship wrong?

    ‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

    John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

    ‘The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.’

    Henry Steele Commager

    ‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’

    John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

    What does censorship tell you about a society?

    ‘Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.’

    Potter Stewart

    ‘To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.’

    Claude-Adrien Helvétius

    ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’

    John F. Kennedy

    Why censorship will never work?

    ‘Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.’

    Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

    ‘You can cage the singer but not the song.’

    Harry Belafonte


    What is the only good censorship?

    ‘The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.’

    Tommy Smothers

  • wow. shameful. sorry about that, tony. don’t let it getcha down!

  • Thanks for all of your comments so far. And I appreciate the good wishes, but this really wasn’t much of a drag for me. In fact, I was treated wonderfully by the SPS folks, and they pretty much shielded me from the ugly stuff. (Though it is weird to read emails about me that were going around.)

  • Where is the Tony Jones that faced down the establishment, tore down the walls and yelled at the top of his lungs? That has obviously worked so well in the past, I am not happy that you did not get up there and scream from the rafters…

    Good Job Tony. Thank you for being grace filled in your response. It makes me all the more comfortable to call myself emergent and feeling that we have a place at the greater communion table of Christ. We just have to stick to our guns and be willing to do what you just did. Stand on your beliefs and share them in a godly and humble way.

  • Okay, I’m always the sort to look at both sides of the coin, because a quarter can’t have a heads without a tails. It’s still the same coin, no matter which side is facing up at the moment.

    First of all, I feel the Bible makes itself pretty clear on things regarding homosexuality with the infamous “abomination” verse: Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Forget the debate over what “abomination” might mean, this is one verse in a major list of sex sins not to do, so I think the Bible’s quite clear that this is one of the things not to do.

    Now, that being said, that doesn’t mean that the actions and emotional responses of people in ANY denomination that leads to hatred or exclusion is the right way. We are all sinners saved by grace, and it matters not what that sin is. Pride, lying, cheating on taxes, hating (the same as killing according to Jesus), greed, putting money toward your building fund at the expense of helping the poor in your community. These are all sins too. And all sin is equal in the sight of God.

    So anyone judging a homosexual with the mistreatment that usually occurs with that sin (and judging those having an abortion too, for that matter with the same mistreatment) and still engages in sin of any kind is a hypocrit.

    Frankly, the arrogance they gave you is just astounding! I certainly will keep you in prayer and hope that things go well for you in the future.

  • I don’t know much about you Tony, but you seem like a decent guy. (At least thats what Charlie McGlynn tells me 🙂 There are a lot of different angles to come at this. The actions of G.Sup. Wood, those to whom he is responsible, the SPS and their mission, the exploration of controversial ideas in an academic setting, and the things that happen behind closed doors about which we will never know.

    With that being said, the process of beginning to defend or debate anyone regarding the decision made to exclude you is too complicated with what little time I have. However as a pentecostal, NCU grad, current graduate student (Univ. of St. Andrews) and most importantly a fellow believer, I do want to say that I am ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4:3) with you.

    The one bone I have to pick regards the gatekeepers remark. I think you’re presenting a false dichotomy, as if the only two options are those who advance free-thought and those who seek to squelch it.

    Firstly, Pentecostals have always had doctrinal disputes, from sanctification to the Trinity to the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. No strangers to controversy, they were, however, suspicious of those with ‘theological finesse’ (Blumhofer). I don’t say this boastfully, only to illustrate that right doctrine has always been of great import in our tradition.

    Secondly, the dichotomy between the ‘unorthodox’ theological pioneers and the gatekeeper is at least oversimplified, if not false. It’s not charisma vs. institution. It is always a combination (albeit unbalanced). Modern Pentecostalism needs to and I believe is attempting to find that balance of the charismatic and structure. Karkkainen called it the Spirit breathing life into the ‘dry bones’ of Church offices and structure.

    There are always going to be gatekeepers. There needs to be. I think its important to clearly identify that the issue at hand is how/when the ‘gatekeeper’ exercises its power.

  • Kimberly Ervin Alexander

    Thanks, Tony for your honest and fair telling of this interesting story that has so dominated my life over the past year!

    A few remarks: As program chair for the meeting, I felt that having this conversation was the right thing to do, even a vital thing to do. Since the meeting was on your turf, it seemed a given to me that you were the guy we should talk to and hear from. Your plenary address and the lunch conversation were two sessions in a much larger program that I hoped would create space for younger scholars, other theological approaches and methods, etc. I was very much impressed with how you entered into the assignment. You took it seriously, engaging Pentecostals here on your blog, reading our books and offered an address that showed appreciation for the movement that is not often shown by other-than-Pentecostals. And you challenged us in ways we needed to be challenged.

    While I respect Arlene and her decision to resign, and while I deeply appreciate her support of me, I have to say that I didn’t experience the controversy in exactly the same way that she apparently did. The Executive Committee had many, many email exchanges and at least one conference call. I felt that the conversations were helpful and, overall, felt they supported my position. In fact, we unanimously voted not to rescind the invitation. This was no small thing! Had we been forced to move off the NCU campus entirely, we would have incurred much more expense and would have, no doubt, gone in the hole financially. These are lean times for academics, many of whom have had their travel budgets cut. So, for the cause of academic freedom, we took a risk. As it turned out, we were proven right. The meeting was extremely well-attended ( a record attendance, in fact!) and extremely well-received.

    In all fairness and in the final analysis, NCU was extremely hospitable. It may be that the Society has never had a better host.

    For the record, I am a member of a Classical Pentecostal denomination (Church of God-Cleveland, TN) and teach at our seminary (Pentecostal Theological Seminary). I had nothing but support from the administration of the seminary and the denominational officials stayed out of the fray, though they were informed. I am deeply grateful for this.

    And for the record, I feel compelled to remind everyone that Pentecostalism is a global movement (fastest growing in history) and is NOT best defined by what one sees here in the US, where it has been co-opted in many areas by Evangelicalism—or better stated, where it has accommodated itself to Evangelical culture.

    With regard to the future of SPS and its identity, as a result of this “controversy” the Executive Committee is appointing a task force to examine our constitution, purpose and identity. The early founders of SPS were all from Classical Pentecostal denominations. As the Society grew, so did its diversity in make-up. In the 80s, the more pronounced confessional statements were dropped and the more generic WPF affinity statements adopted. Now that SPS is 40 years old, it is felt that we must, again, examine who we are.

    When I was elected to serve on the Executive Committee a few years ago, I never imagined that it would be on my watch that these issues would emerge. But you, Tony, have served us well by helping these issues of identity to surface. So–looks like my agenda for my year as President (2010-2011) has been clearly defined! Should be a piece of cake after this past year!

    I’ll keep you posted!

  • Arlene Sanchez Walsh


    Sorry to have never met you, I hear that you handled yourself well, and the fact that you were unaware of all the goings on, well, that is par for the course. I hear that you now know what happened, you have all the info you need, and I think reasonable people can disagree with what I said in my RD article, and of course we all have different lenses with which we see events…as a woman of color working in the academy, my lens views most things through the prism of power, and as such, this whole thing, to me was a power play…I appreciate people of faith trying to work things out, I admire their diligence, but there needs to be alternatives, the subaltern have to speak (with tongues or not), and that is what GLO-Pent Americas will do…we certainly invite you to follow our progress and evolution as an astute commentator and fellow academic…


  • Tony,

    Your readers will know that you and I have not always agreed, but this seems as good a time as any to say how glad I am for your leadership within and beyond the Christian community. You continue to reflect seriously and challenge relentlessly, and the rest of us are better for it. Thanks for your hard work and faithfulness.


  • Kim: Thanks for the thorough comment and context. You really did lead with grace under pressure. I will be interested to see how SPS evolves over time. Several people there commented that the SPS annual meeting is like their “family reunion,” — which is fine, but puts SPS in an awkward place as an academic guild, because the reunion feel is primarily because the vast majority of scholars there are professing Pentecostals. I tend to think that a non-Pentecostal scholar — say, a sociologist of religion — who studies Pentecostalism at a secular state research university might feel more comfortable in GLO-Pent Americas if it is a distinctly non-sectarian society. That’s the crossroads for SPS at the moment.

    Arlene: Thanks for commenting. I wish you well, and I’d love to be involved in your new group, just as I hope to maintain connections to SPS.

    John: Thanks, friend! 🙂

  • Thanks for being a part of SPS. I enjoyed the conversations and wish they could have been expanded to focus more on the issues we share and even to speak more practically about our local churches.

    The loudest voice seldom represents the whole. I would hate for this to turn into a “the Pentecostals vs. the Emergent” or “the tongue-talkers vs. Tony Jones”.

    There were many “Emerging Pentecostals” at SPS. I suspect that many identified themselves to you. I had many conversations that weekend that were appreciative of the discussion and of you being there.

    I hope the weekend opens the door to more dialogue within SPS especially between the more evangelical and post-evangelical ends of the spectrum.

  • When the former outsiders become the gatekeepers, there is a problem… Maybe someday soon Tony will be one of the gatekeepers…

  • Josh

    As a lay minister at an AG church, and having grown up in the AG I do understand what most peoples concerns are with the movement. The problem with groups or individuals who take a hard stand against one thing or another biblically is that they attach a weight to it. This is the problem with most religious people. As a minister I wish “church people” would stop this. Personally I view homosexuality no different than murder, drinking, or even telling a “white lie”. Theyall carry equal weight with God, and my errors in life are no different than anyone elses. I personally believe this is what not only the apostles of the new testament church preached, but Christ Himself. Paul addressed issues with Peter quite often telling him to in essence “chill”. People are fallible, and people mess up everyday, I dont think I need to list every ministers errors to prove this, it doesn’t mean that these are no longer sins, and to preach tolerance is equally wrong. I do wish however this was handled better, but I do not feel that as a minister with the AG that I need to apologize for a small group handling something wrong. The AG should not “try” to throw weight around, if the SPS wants to have you speak then let them, but for people to come against AG churchs and ministers in general is equally wrong, and I am sure someone such as yourself Tony would have to agree that the age old saying of two wrongs don’t make a right would have to come into play. What these Heads of organizations did is wrong, and there are people that act wrong in all organizations, but it doesn’t make the movement and all the people in it evil.
    Once again I wish this never happened, but I cannot change the past, I can only move forward and try to change the future.

    Bro. Josh

    Minister/changer of futures

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  • Tony,

    Just let me say that as a Christ follower with Pentecostal roots, I am very sorry for the way this situation was handled. I came up in a very strict Penetecostal group and my family history with the movement dates back to the early 1900’s. I have heard the stories of how churches were burned, people beaten and lives even threatened simply because of one adherence to the Pentecostal message.

    I was taught that Pentecostalism was a journey to more truth. Yet, I find that many are no longer seeking more, but rather homesteading around what they have. I have found myself now on the out’s with many I came up with because I hunger and want to seek more. There has got to be more out there–more unfolding truth about God.

    Though, I embrace my Pentecostal heritage, I am not bound to it nor will I allow myself to be controlled by it. I have began a journey myself, lead by my 26 year old son. He has left our Penetcostal church and is launching a conversational community. This has impassioned his soul and I see the evidence of God’s hand on his life. I attend his conversations and listen–it has been revolutionary for me.

    Keep on doing what you do. There are Pentecostals out there that are searching for more.

  • Dave

    Tony, I attended the SPS conference in Minneapolis and I listened carefully to your presentation on the emergent church. What I heard, among other things, is that you believe 1) it is not proper to label anything sin that Jesus himself did not directly address, 2) Christians should not sign declarations if they include the identity of homosexuality or homosexual union as sin, and 3) consensus of the (local) body of believers is the ultimate authority in defining what is sin. Of course you said much more than this, but these are the salient points.

    While I think it is fine for you hold these viewpoints, I also fully understand why denominational leaders who evidently are aware of your positions in these areas (all of which clearly are relevant to your belief in divinely sanctioned homosexual union) would express concern over your choice as a presenter. Any serious Pentecostal scholar knows that your viewpoints are disharmonious with the history of the 20th century Pentecostal movement, which gave birth to the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

    Your reaction to the objection of Pentecostal denominational leaders to your invitation is like an anti global warming scientist wondering why Sierra Club leaders would question why she or he was invited to speak at one of their global warming advocacy conferences.

    I know of no one in my circle of Pentecostal colleagues who is not open to scholarly discussion about matters regarding gender identity and sexual orientation – from whence it arises, its psychological dimension, and how it is to be defined and addressed by the church. In fact I am confident in asserting that Pentecostals are among the leaders of Christianity in empathetic and rehabilitative ministry to those who are enslaved by lifestyles they label sin, including homosexuality.

    • Dave, I’m afraid you didn’t listen as well as you had hoped. 1) I never said or implied anything close to that; 2) I said that Christians should not sign declarations. Period; and 3) I said that the individual is the ultimate hermeneutic authority, and that the best community for us to shape our hermeneutics is the local community, but that many people abdicate their hermeneutic authority to others, like bishops, general superintendents, and “anointed” leaders.

      I think that the way you heard my talk, and my responses, is a great lesson in hermeneutics, actually, because it seems that you heard what you were predisposed to hear, as opposed to what I actually said (plus, what I meant to say and what I actually said is not in perfect alignment).

  • Dave

    Tony, thank you for responding to my comments. I appreciate your willingness to dialogue. Please permit me to offer these further comments.

    2) During the q and a I am was sure I heard you accurately when you discussed the signing of declarations. You talked about exercising caution in signing declarations because they can tend toward disunity. For the record, I have never signed any kind of ecclesiastical declaration ( though I do subscribe to specific Pentecostal truths shared by many others) nor have I participated in activities such as anti-abortion, anti-gay, or other similar forums or rallies.

    My reason is different than yours, however. I am not concerned that the signing of declarations will create disunity among Christians. There are too many other factors at work that create sufficient disunity. My concern is that it is not the appropriate Scriptural response to addressing sin in society…I Cor. 9:19-23 if you wish to reference the Scriptural hermeneutic for my position.

    Notwithstanding, I do not recall that you stated Christians should not sign declarations. You did specifically refer to the Manhattan Declaration when you stated that declarations such as these can create disunity. I did listen carefully and I took notes, but if I am wrong I stand corrected. In any event, this is a minor point since we agree in principle, yet for different reasons.

    3) As to your statement “the individual is the ultimate hermeneutic authority, and the best community for us to shape our hermeneutics is the local community,” I’m not really sure how different that is from my characterization of your comments as “consensus of the (local) body of believers is the ultimate authority in defining what is sin.”

    Am I to conclude that though the “best community for us to shape our hermeneutics is the local community” (your words) you do not believe that this means “the (local) body is the authority in defining what is sin” (my words)?

    1) On this point I understood you to say that “it is not proper to label anything sin that Jesus himself did not directly address.” I admit this is an oversimplification, and one I had the most trouble following. Perhaps this is because, as you stated, “what I meant to say and what I actually said is not in perfect alignment.” If this is in fact the case, I apologize for my inability to separate what you actually said from what you meant to say.

    Your comment that “it seems you heard what you were predisposed to hear, as opposed to what I actually said” is a bit confusing to me also. Perhaps by assuming you know what I was predisposed to hear what I posted and what you heard me post was also not in perfect alignment. Just kidding. I couldn’t resist.

    • Dave, Ha! Fair enough. I knew I was on thin ice guessing about your aural predispositions. Forgive me.

      Regarding Jesus, I don’t recall mentioning anything about what he considered sin versus what I or the Manhattan Declaration considers sin. Obviously, there’s a lot of sin beyond Jesus’ own statements regarding what is and is not sin.

      I did speak about Jesus’ warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, for I think that some of my theological critics are verging on that. And I stand by that statement.

  • Marlon

    Tony, I moderated the first session at which you spoke, and was aware of some of the controversy. After now reading Arlene’s post on Religion Dispatches, I share my response to that here with you. I basically believe this was a pissing contest between WASPs … and as such to the extent it was a culture war, it functioned within the echo chamber of the theological normativity of whiteness in American theology of any sort. Arlene frankly fails to account for that most apparent of problems for those such as myself that find SPS too defined by this hegemonic norm. Nay, we find emergence too defined by this norm as well. Hence, you all may be more alike than different … that said, the post itself:

    While it may be true that Dr. Sanchez-Walsh is Pentecostal (perhaps with a small “p”), I don’t think her argument turns on whether she is a Pentecostal scholar per se. The argument turns on whether the Society for Pentecostal Studies functions sufficiently as a forum for critical religious studies of Pentecostalism? It probably does not, and was not ever intended to function that way. SPS has an overwhelming “theological” bias. A bias I share, insofar as I am at least more interested in critical Pentecostalism than I am in critical studies of Pentecostalism.

    Denominational affiliation to whatever extent SPS has had it was because most scholars were trying to generally affirm Pentecostalism in an academic way, not interrogate it on the path toward university tenure. Before this be what folks respond to, this is not what I’m suggesting Dr. Sanchez-Walsh is doing.

    But I am suggesting that she herself may, even as a Pentecostal, be more interested in critical studies about Pentecostalism, rather than critical Pentecostalism. The latter would be a theological concern, and the former would be a religious studies concern.

    Since, I actually believe the field of studies about Pentecostalism is littered with the former, it’s the latter that is actually the problem which arises for the former, when the Tony Jones debate gets viewed as a “culture” war, rather than a theological debate, which it is. I mean, many in SPS would be as up in arms if a self-professed AIC follower or Apostolic Pentecostal were to become president of the society. The concerns would be theological. Can someone who does not believe in the Trinity, or someone whose faith practices appear syncretistic speak for a group of (trinitarian) Pentecostals?

    All this said, would really needs expanding in SPS is theological room. It might be worthwhile that religious studies make its exodus, as its telos is different, and perhaps worth theological critique.

    And in that regard, the pissing contest between AG superintendents and Tony Jones to me points to the theological problem of whiteness in Pentecostalism and American Protestantism and American exceptionalism than to a need for more academic freedom, for I thought, theologically speaking, the one who Jesus sets free is free indeed. And what is at stake is a theological interrogation of who is free — Jones, AG, neither, or both?

    And I would much rather see that tackled theologically, than through some interrogation of culture wars, which basically are still theological problems of whiteness.

    Hence the need for theological expansion in SPS, and perhaps a creation of another space where the theological is not important, and rather, the cultural is privileged.

    • Marlon, Good points. I think you’re probably right about the proper understanding of, and focus of, SPS, at least as presently constituted. And your critique of my “whiteness” is, of course, not debatable.

      However, let it be known that, whether or not it was a “pissing contest” is a matter of opinion, but it was not between the “AG superintendents and Tony Jones.” I only really heard about the debate from afar and ex post facto. I have no axe to grind with the AG.

      That being said, I agree that it would have been a lot more beneficial to the Kingdom of God had the debate been theological in nature (and public), rather than more culture war silliness.

  • Marlon

    Thanks Tony.

    I speak in somewhat an exaggerated manner when I say “pissing contest.”

    But I do think even “culture war silliness” is a theological debate and should be read as such. But Sanchez-Walsh is a professor of history, whose approach to the discipline may vary vis a vis how I think these issues ought to be couched.

    However, what I think was missing in the whole debate are “younger” voices who see themselves as P/C and Emergent/c 🙂 who might have negotiated the tension.

    For I, on the one hand, value material like Scot McKnight’s and John Caputo for that matter, while on the other, recognize that this hegemonic norm hasn’t been overcome, generally, even in emergent.

    And younger white P/C voices could have articulated why they live the tension of both streams. I find it interesting that after a few hostile questions to you from older gentleman, the younger gentleman got up and talked about how emergent has influenced him.

    That’s what I’m sure people like George Wood are afraid of.

    Intellectualism in the service of respect for the tradition is one thing — thinking as a way of revising, renewing or critiquing the tradition is entirely different.

    But that is where we are, even in P/C traditions.

    Thanks again.

  • Hi Tony……be encouraged……..things will change eventually.

    Already in Australia we are seeing significant shifts in peoples understanding and attitudes re sexual orientation.

  • Connie

    This was my first SPS meeting to attend. When I discovered that the Emerging church was being discussed, I was excited since I am a novice on the subject. I did not know who you were, nor was I aware of the background controversies surrounding you and the issues. I came to the evening session excited to hear what you had to share about the emerging church phenomenon. About half way through the session however I began to sense you were upset. I could not understand why you seemed to be giving us a “tongue lashing.” For some reason, to me, you seemed condescending, arrogant, and scolding. During the Q&A when a member of the SPS asked you a question, you hit your hand on the podium and exclaimed, “THAT was NOT a question!!” I left the meeting that night dumbfounded and wondered who on earth you were!! Still interested in the emerging church topic, I went to the luncheon the next day (since I had already paid for the meal). It was at this meeting that I understood what had transpired prior to the SPS conference. I am sad that you came to the meeting with what appeared to be a “chip on your shoulder” from the preceding controversies. It would have been nice to hear your perspective in an informative way, rather than sitting in the audience feeling the need to protect myself. You may be angry with the way the AG leadership and NCU handled the situation, but I was equally dismayed with your conduct at the conference. In the academic arena we learn to courageously speak our opinions in the face of controversy — and at the same time, accept with humility the consequences of expressing those opinions when others disagree with us. I am glad you came . . . and I am glad that the AG leadership was concerned enough about the issues at stake to make their views known.

  • Dave


    I too was a bit perplexed by the fist pounding incident and the overall condescending tone, especially after others had already violated the “only ask questions” rule by making supporting statements, but I ascribed it to inexperience and possibly some inner conflict. I simply tried to deal with the specifics of what was said, which is how I always try to react and respond to those with whom I have disagreements.

    I was also perplexed by the accusation of “blasphemy,” which was again reinforced in this blog when it was stated:

    “I did speak about Jesus’ warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, for I think that some of my theological critics are verging on that. And I stand by that statement.”

    It always trouble me when accusations like these are levied at those who disagree with us because it moves the debate from scholarly inquiry to the playground. I don’t like it regardless of which side it comes from.

  • Dan


    This was my first year to attend the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Thankfully, I had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the aforementioned “controversy” before coming to the conference. As a result, I was not really surprised by your actions and responses to questions which seemed to challenge your thinking. For some reason, I thought the ability to explain and defend one’s position functioned as a necessity of serving as a member of the academe. In my view, SPS is and should be an open forum for discussion of all academic disciplines. At the same time, we must remember it is dealing with the question of “Pentecostal theology” and should therefore maintain the Scripture as its foundation.

    To be completely honest, I agree with Wood’s opinion concerning the parallels of your invitation and invitations being sent to those advocating various sins as noted in Scripture. Ultimately, I would say your “advocacy of legal same sex marriage” was not the ultimate disqualifying factor. It was the fact that you stand against the idea of the authority of Scripture in the life of the Christian.

    There are many things over which Christian scholars are able to debate: Calvinism, Arminianism, Women in Ministry, Eschatology, etc. There is definite support for the various positions found within Scripture. Therefore, one’s approach to the metanarrative of Scripture should come into play (at least in my opinion). Your position on homosexuality contradicts the congruent testimony of Scripture across time and culture. As a result, your approach to “orthodoxy as an event” does nothing more than turn Christianity into Mormonism (with their latter revelations overruling previous ones).

    Your use of the idea of Pentecostals blaspheming the Spirit by way of rejecting some of your ideas places you as God and everyone else as subject to your authority. Such a misuse of Scripture (particularly by pulling it out of its Scriptural context), leads me to believe you need remedial classes in exegesis and hermeneutics. The Bible tells Christ-followers to “test the Spirits” (1 John 4:1) and to weigh what is said when a prophet speaks (1 Cor. 14:29). With this statement coming as a command of Scripture it would have been foolish of the people in that room to have blindly followed anyone’s position, especially yours.

  • Joe

    Well, Tony and others, thanks for the interesting comments. I have to say that Arlene Sanchez-Walsh is over-reacting in my own view, especially after reading her article.

    I really hate this divide between scholars and the church, and, to be fair, it’s both sides. Scholars, many times in my view, use academic freedom as a license to pontificate on all kinds of topics while at the same time carefully weeding out the pool in their own midst. If you don’t think scholars shut down speech all the time, then you’re living in a cave somewhere (not you Tony, I mean a generic you).

    I have seen many scholars work behind the scenes to shut out paper topics and proposals before the conference even begins (and this is regardless of whether they are left, right or in between). It’s a much more sinister form of “group pressure” because it’s “understood” that you just don’t take those kinds of stances here. I had a good friend who almost got flushed out of a doctoral program at Rice University because he would not sign on to his advisor’s view of Mark’s gospel. After ten years, he had to switch to a history track in order to get the Ph.D. I had another friend who was not granted tenure by his colleagues on purely ideological grounds that had nothing to do with his scholarship or teaching. It was that he was a conservative Catholic amidst progressive Catholics who did not want his brand of Catholicism around. Academia is full of such stories. The same is true of academic journals in which certain topics are simply off limits, and the journal editors make sure they never see the light of day.

    Let’s just all be honest that there are gatekeepers everywhere! I wish scholars would stop trumpeting academia as though it’s some pristine playground where everyone gets a fair shot. Ideology abounds, which is one of the reasons why SPS was formed in the first place. Pentecostal scholars found themselves either having to “stay in the closet” about their Pentecostalism or talk about it as though it was some alien creature, you know, to maintain academic “objectivity” and all that. With that said, I’ll watch and see if this new forum that Walsh creates really does welcome “everyone,” or if it’s just a more subterranean form of ideological bias.

    I know this is a rant, but, since we’re using the word piss a lot here, it pisses me off to see all this Orwellian pretense, “church is bad, scholarship is good; church is oppressive, the academy is liberating.”

    From what I can tell based on your post and Kimberly Alexander’s post, you were invited, the SPS leadership stood firm, and it worked in the end. And, from what Alexander said, Pentecostal denominations had different reactions with her own denominational leaders supporting it while AG leaders did not. Image that, diversity among those fundy Pentecostals. Wow, maybe they can play well with others. Yes, there were bumps, but there will always be bumps. We either learn to play together, or we do what some seem to want to do, pick up their toys and play somewhere else. I might note that the president of SPS is an African-American pentecostal scholar who spoke on issues of race, gender, and sexual identity in her presidential address and received a standing ovation from what I’ve heard.

    OK, I’m now going to put on some light jazz and drink some herbal tea.

  • Joe

    OK, there is one more point to make about this “controversy.” It should be remembered that the leadership of SPS in the fall when this hit was fairly diverse. In fact, the names are still up on the SPS web site.

    president: african-american woman
    1st vice president: caucasian woman
    2nd vice president: hispanic woman
    immediate past president: asian-american man
    executive director: caucasian man
    secretary: caucasian man

    Tell me, Tony, what evangelical organization has such diversity in its leadership? We’re not talking about some presbyterian all white male club here. The fact that Arlene Sanchez-Walsh was the only one on this committee who interpreted the “controversy” as SPS somehow capitulating to the church and thus requiring that she start a new forum ought to be weighted against this backdrop. There is always another layer to the onion, and everyone, I mean everyone, leaves out important parts of the narrative–a lesson in hermeneutics indeed!

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  • Pete P


    Will you post your lectures at the SPS for download?

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  • daniel

    Daniel Marsh
    6539 Linville drive
    Brighton, MI 48116-9531 USA

    Hi Brother, Recently some LDS missionaries came to my door. They claimed that they are the true church because they have Apostles, Prophets and the 70. In hindsight, I realize that I need to study up on the Five Fold Minstry of Apostles, Prophets…etc., Prayer wise, I am unemployed due to care giving responsibilities to My Father in Law, Aunt Gladys and My Mother, also I am dealing with health problems – degenerative bone disease(very painful), cancer is in wait and see stage again. May I, have any books or articles that deals with these subjects, free of charge, please.

    Thank You