When I left the modern pentecostal movement I made the wise choice to study pentecostalism academically because I valued the mystical and spirit-filled orientation they had.
When I went to grad school and got a masters in divinity, I made a major study of early pentecostals.
The early pentecostals were not concerned with inerrancy. In fact, they were the opposite end of the spectrum from the modernist fundamentalists. The modern fundamentalist movement is based on the idea that the bible, if read in a holy, righteous manner with a sound mind, and solid scholarship, can only be interpreted in one way. This is the opposite of early pentecostals.
A mainline, traditional modernist in the 1900s scoffed and mocked when he heard two pentecostal preachers used the same bible passage in the same worship service where one said the verse meant one thing, and the other said it meant another. He wrote this was proof that they were ignorant and that the spirit did not guide them.
When asked about this, one member said, “Well the spirit needed to say one thing to one person, and another thing to another.” The modernist fundamentalist said this was proof that the pentecostals were backwoods bumpkins. I say it was proof that they were mystics who understood the complexity of reality and truth.
So why are modern pentecostals such bible thumpers and inerrantists? It was a defensive reaction. The pentecostals valued the bible, but did not take it literally. They did not, in their theology, need the bible to be a perfect book like modern inerrantists. But..their mortal enemies, the fundamentalist presbyterians and other church groups who were paying missionaries to come to the mountains…who has the money and power…did. The pentecostal has very little social power outside their church. The major conservative groups outside of pentecostalism accused the pentecostals of playing fast and loose with scripture. The early pentecostals were poorly educated. And the liberal scholarship that would have validated their beliefs that the bible did not have to be taken literally would was tied into many beliefs pentecostals were suspicious of or hated. The literalism of fundamentalism fit with the pentecostal commitment to being EXTREME and RADICAL. And to the those without much formal training, biblical literalism and inerrancy not only make sense, they seem to say more clearly and loudly that the bible matters.
By adopting inerrancy and literalism, pentecostals staved off their critics and helped themselves be more respectable to non-pentecostals.
So, in effect, they traded away a belief that the holy spirit guided their interpretation of scripture and could be trusted for the modernist fundamentalist belief that the bible has to be interepreted “the correct way” which usually means:
- if you are smart enough
- holy enough
You are the most right.
One fight you see in pentecostal circles will be when someone says “you need to stick to the bible…your doctrine is too far from the bible.” This is kind of a funny thing to say in a spirit oriented movement and shows the cognitive dissonance between their fundamentalism “we should be conservative and stick to proper doctrine” and their desire to be led by spirit. The irony is the entire pentecostal movement is a radical reinterpretation of what it means to be a christian mystic, and a formalization and “industrialization” of the mystical. Before pentecostals, a mystic was allowed to have a unique experience with God. In a radical break with scripture, history, etc.. Classical pentecostalim is based on the very tenuous and extra-biblical theory that a all christians should experience the spirit of God the same way. In effect, that the wind of the spirit does not blow where it will but blows how THEY say it blows. Classical Pentecostalism for all of its good qualities, is the Mcdonalds of Mysticism. It is the one size fits all, this is your burger..we only serve burgers, you better eat your burger. Some neo-pentecostal groups claim that have moved away from this because they don’t require “tongues” but then they go and create new shibboleths that just as extra-biblical. Like the group that I was in that said that young unmarried men should not date when they first joined homegroups..Based on what bible verse or christian doctrine?
But you see, no one challenged that extra-biblical idea that unmarried men should not date when they first join homegroup. The irony was that I saw many people whine and complain that certain things were “not doctrinal” while we did many many things that had no “bible basis” and no one ever noticed.
That is all.