Pentecostals have been noted for their success in evangelism and missions. They have also left their mark on academia. The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), an organization for Pentecostal scholars, was launched a little over 50 years ago. A notice in the Pentecostal Evangel reported on the organizational meeting, held in conjunction with the 9th Pentecostal World Conference in Dallas.
SPS was the brainchild of three Pentecostal educators representing different schools and denominations — William Menzies (Evangel College/Assemblies of God), Vinson Synan (Emmanuel College/Pentecostal Holiness Church), and Horace Ward (Lee College/Church of God). With the blessing of Pentecostal World Conference leader Yonggi Cho, they invited attendees to an organizational meeting held on Nov. 6, 1970. Klaude Kendrick, former president of Evangel College, spoke about Pentecostal scholarship, and the theme of the meeting was “Following the Spirit of Truth.”
Pentecostal leaders from a variety of backgrounds attended this first meeting, including U.S. AG General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman, Yonggi Cho, and David du Plessis (one of the founders of the charismatic movement), as well as Roman Catholic priest Kilian McDonnell, who was a noted scholar of the charismatic movement.
At the founding meeting, 139 individuals who identified with the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions gathered to discuss organizing a society to promote the study of Pentecostalism. In anticipation of the meeting, Synan wrote a draft constitution and bylaws based on the existing constitutions of the Wesleyan Theological Society and the Evangelical Theological Society. Bishop D. E. Underwood (Pentecostal Holiness Church) chaired the constitutional meeting. The SPS constitution included the classical Pentecostal statement of faith held by the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America.
The society was formed with the intent “to serve the church world by providing an authoritative interpretation of the Pentecostal Movement.” Later this was clarified by identifying this group as “a scholarly forum to interpret the Pentecostal movement.”
The original name that was considered was the Society of Pentecostal Scholars, but after some discussion, the name Society for Pentecostal Studies was approved. Scholars came from a variety of backgrounds, including Trinitarians, Oneness Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Charismatics, members of classical Pentecostal denominations, and independent scholars, as well as African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups. In 1979 the society adopted the World Pentecostal Fellowship statement of purpose as the basis for full membership.
The society began with 108 charter members, and the membership has increased through the years. Since 1979, the society has published Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. The society holds an annual conference which includes lectures on various topics related to Pentecostalism. These have been held in various localities in North America, including one conference held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
This year, in 2021, the Society for Pentecostal Studies will return to Dallas for its annual meeting and to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Read more in “Society for Pentecostal Studies Launched at Dallas Conference” on page 14 of the Feb. 7, 1971, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Springs Still Flow,” by R. L. Cox
• “Baptized With the Spirit,” by Robert C. Cunningham
• “It Happened 60 Years Ago,” by William F. P. Burton
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Picture: Founding officers of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (l to r): Edward Wood, treasurer; William Menzies, president; Hollis Gause, vice president; and Vinson Synan, secretary.