Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies

Keith Warrington, Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter

Pentecostal theology, being both experiential and self-analytical, is
very difficult to define. Keith Warrington, the Welch Pentecostal
scholar, is conscious of the difficulty in defining this
multidenominational, multidimensional, global movement. One’s first
thought upon picking up this book is, “How can this medium-sized
book cover such a broad topic?” He clarifies, however, in his preface
that his intention is not to provide a systematic or comprehensive study
of all that Pentecostals believe. Rather, his intention is to highlight
those aspects which are unique to Pentecostals. His intention is to
provide a book that will assist Pentecostal theology as it develops
beyond its adolescence into maturity. Each chapter ends with “some
ways forward” toward this goal.
The subtitle, “A Theology of Encounter” reflects the idea that,
while non-Pentecostal theologies often deal primarily with a set of
beliefs, Pentecostal theology explores its beliefs within the context of
praxis. Pentecostals are not simply those who adhere to a list of beliefs,
they are those who have encountered those beliefs experientially.
Warrington is well aware of the dangers inherent in a theology based
on experience (emotionalism, triumphalism, subjectivism, etc.).
Nevertheless, he asserts that Pentecostal theology will only be
understood along these lines.
After dealing with the difficulties of defining Pentecostal theology,
Warrington goes on to do so. He begins, appropriately, with God.
Pentecostals are mainly Trinitarian (the significant exception being the
Oneness Pentecostals), though they tend to be more personal as they
“practically relate to the individual members of the God head as if they
were three different persons” (30). It is perhaps in the area of God’s
relationship with people that Pentecostalism has most to contribute to
theology. It is the real, personal, life-changing relationship that
Pentecostals have with God, through Christ, empowered and guided by
the Holy Spirit that often distinguishes them from the rest of
Predictably, Warrington focuses his “God” chapter on the Holy
Spirit. He has already established that, despite being called “Spirit
centered” by others, Pentecostalism is actually Christocentric, or
perhaps “pneumatalogically Christocentric” (34). Having done so, he
spends about fifty pages describing Pentecostalism’s perspective on the Holy Spirit, the believer’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, and the
charismata. The rest of the chapter deals with Baptism in the Spirit, a
central facet of Pentecostal theology. He deals with subsequent and
initial evidence, making an effort to explain various perspectives within
Warrington next discusses the church. Ecclesiology, he points out,
is a weak point in Pentecostal theology, which is generally more
interested in soteriology (132), though this weakness is being corrected
by such authors as Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Simon Chan, and Frank
Macchia, among others. Pentecostals have an expectation that the
church will experience the immediate, transforming, and empowering
presence of God. As he describes various aspects of the church, he
focuses on the differences in Pentecostal praxis, such as the role of
women in church leadership (143). He also spends considerable time in
this chapter describing “some ways forward” in areas such as higher
education, ordinances, and ecumenism.
In “The Bible” (ch. 5), after an overview of orthodox Christian
theology, Warrington steps into the Pentecostal world to discuss the
importance of application, the use of narrative, and the value of
personal experience in interpreting Scripture. Of particular concern to
him is that Pentecostals must continue to grow in their value of using
their intellect in interpreting the Bible, using established rules of
hermeneutics to do so.
Chapter 6, “Spirituality and Ethics” appears to be a place for
Warrington to put topics that did not readily fit anywhere else. He
briefly mentions the importance of sanctification and the desire for
holiness, which he sees as decreasing within Pentecostalism (211). One
reason for the deep spirituality that often characterizes Pentecostals is
the emphasis on prayer, which is seen as relational and corporate (as
well as individual). Worship, expectant and spontaneous, is also an
important part of a Pentecostal’s spirituality as a regular means of
encountering God. This chapter also addresses the accusation that
Pentecostals neglect social and political concerns. While this may have
been somewhat true in the past, Warrington shows that Pentecostals are
now significantly engaged in political and social issues all over the
Next, in the chapter about “Mission,” the passionate Pentecostal
commitment to spreading the gospel throughout the world is seen as
central to understanding the movement. Pentecostals have inherent
advantages as missionaries. Their firm commitment to the Great
Commission, their empowering Spirit baptism, the signs and wonders that have accompanied them, their spiritual worldview, their
pragmatism, and their belief in the imminent return of Christ have
given them an enthusiasm and efficacy in missions that has changed the
“Healing, Exorcism and Suffering” are specialties of Warrington,
who has extensively researched and written on these topics. He briefly
deals with many issues within the doctrine of healing, such as the role
of faith, prayer, sin, the name of Jesus, the use of oil, and the laying on
of hands. He also addresses the question of whether healing is
guaranteed by the atonement. As he examines Matthew 8:14-17, Isaiah
53:4-5, and 1 Peter 2:24, Warrington reveals his own belief that this
doctrine is erroneous and has led Pentecostals to neglect the reality and
importance of suffering.
The final chapter, which discusses eschatology, is mainly a
description of different perspectives on the millennium, the parousia,
and eternal life (heaven or hell). Warrington shows the variety (and
uncertainty) that exists within Pentecostalism in these matters and
encourages openness to different perspectives in the interest of
fellowship and unity (323).
Warrington is successful in achieving his goal to set forth a basic
Pentecostal theology as a starting point for further discussion. He does
very well at presenting a global view of Pentecostalism, which is
refreshing in a world dominated by American publishing. The brevity
of his descriptions and explanations is both a strength and a weakness.
On one hand, the book is easy to read and easy to understand, but on
the other hand it is at best introductory on all these topics.
Another strength of this book is the largely unbiased manner in
which he presents Pentecostalism and the various views within the
movement. He is realistic about the faults of existing Pentecostal
theologies. By candidly exposing the weaknesses of Pentecostal
theology, he provides a motivation and means to encourage its
The footnotes are extensive and show that Warrington’s aim is not
to simply assert his own opinion of what constitutes Pentecostal
theology, but to describe the position of the entire global movement. He
does this ably, by quoting not only Western scholars, but Asians,
Africans, Latin Americans, and many missionaries also.
One significant weakness of this book is the lack of a bibliography.
The introductory nature of the book begs further study. The natural
place to begin such a study is with the authors mentioned by
Warrington, but the only bibliographic information is found in the footnotes. Also, the index, hardly more than one page, would be much
more useful if it were expanded to include more subtopics.
In the “some ways forward” sections, the ideas are presented rather
roughly. They are simply stated and few of them are argued in any way.
Perhaps he intends this simple format to encourage discussion on the
topics, but the impression is more that these are sketchy thoughts that
he didn’t have the time to develop more fully within each chapter.
This book will be very useful as a textbook in either an
undergraduate or graduate “Introduction to Pentecostalism” course.
Additionally, it would be useful for non-Pentecostals who desire to
understand the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostals who want to
understand their own beliefs more fully might find this book useful as a
starting point, but will quickly find that it is inadequate for any kind of
in-depth study.
Anyone would surely be intimidated by the thought of writing a
book called “Pentecostal Theology.” Who would dare to put his name
on such a work? Yet Warrington has not only written such a book, but
written it in such a way that it represents the multifaceted Pentecostal
movement simply and modestly. His intention is to help move
Pentecostal theology along toward maturity and he does so by defining
where it is at this time. Therefore, this book will serve well as part of a
foundation from which Pentecostalism can put out branches as it
explores, clarifies, establishes, and defines its theology.

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