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By Arlene M. SÁnchez Walsh
Whither Pentecostal Scholarship?
A common topic of debate in my grad-school history classes was "who can tell whose stories?" (Postmodern historians eschew the term history, too loaded with leanings toward a metanarrative.) Can men tell women's stories? Euro Americans tell African Americans'? Latinos'? Asians'? Where does the authority reside? Strangely, though, one category was never debated: whether the nonreligious could tell the stories of the religious. It was presumed, if you were religious, you could not be trusted to tell your own story; only the nonreligious scholar could be trusted to handle such combustible material. (Somehow, when it came to religion, "objectivity" snuck in through the back door.)
It's not surprising, then, that in the recent flood of books on Pentecostalism from secular academic presses, there are relatively few by Pentecostal scholars. Where, I wondered some months ago, were Pentecostal scholars being published? Perhaps by evangelical presses, where secular suspicion of faith-based scholarship would not prevail. But when I examined catalogues from the academic divisions of the most prominent evangelical publishers--InterVarsity Press, Baker Book House, Zondervan, and so on--there was an obvious lack of Pentecostal scholarship. In order to understand this discrepancy, I decided to query my colleagues in the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), speak to representatives of various evangelical presses, and place this evangelical/Pentecostal division in historical context.
For some, the idea of Pentecostal scholarship is an oxymoron. Pentecostals historically did not bother to develop an intellectual tradition. Most recently, Grant Wacker's exceptional work Heaven Below chronicles the anti-intellectual nature of early Pentecostalism.1 In addition to supporting the idea that Pentecostalism's eschatological and missionary zeal made intellectual endeavors a waste of precious time, Wacker noted that the leaderless nature of the early movement, which eschewed being called an organized ...