Kenneth Archer’s book provides a history, analysis and critique of Pentecostal hermeneutics in the contemporary church. After describing the tradition of the Pentecostal Church and the context of the movement in the nineteenth century in the United States, he proposes a basis of biblical interpretation that draws upon the biblical text, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the Pentecostal community. The book reads as a combination of current American history, analysis of community interactions, and biblical hermeneutics.
Archer’s thesis is that the Pentecostal movement was seen as involving a “populist” scripture interpretation that was less intellectual than contemporary mainstream hermeneutic practice in the larger Christian church. After a wide-ranging introduction, Archer attempts to define Pentecostalism in terms of its origin and social setting. The goal of the first section is to show that Pentecostalism is more than a social movement that was established on the margins of society in an atmosphere of deprivation. Archer describes the Pentecostal movement as founded on a basic scripture message in the context of a community with a certain demographic that, while experiencing social upheaval, also experienced rapid growth.
In the next four chapters, Archer fleshes out the movement of the early Pentecostal community away from speaking in tongues and tent revivals to a Bible reading process in which adherents lived the Gospel message faithfully before God in the life of the community. While mainstream theology was involved in proving the existence of God, Pentecostal activity was focused on living authentic religious experiences through the reading of Scripture. His thesis is that initially the Pentecostal community lived out the authority of Scripture through the real-life experiences of the members of the community. Archer describes a move away from this path to a hermeneutic that followed the modern path of intellectual interpretation of scripture. Archer clearly prefers the early “Bible Reading Method” that was a pre-critical, commonsense approach to Scripture. He believes that Pentecostals’ immediate experience of the Gospel had more in common with the New Testament writers than the critical approach of modernity. One can almost hear the music of the tent revival playing in the background of Archer’s book.
The book concludes with Archer’s attempt to describe the present combination of text, Community, and Holy Spirit. So much has happened to the social context in which Pentecostals read the Bible that it has inevitably complicated the early and simple method for the interpretation of the scripture that early Pentecostals lived out in their community life. Archer attempts to move forward with a new Pentecostal hermeneutic that stresses the role of the community as the embodiment of the interpretive process. Though his attempts are noble and his method intellectually sound, the book loses its fire in the last chapter. After an early recounting of the history of Pentecostalism in the United States, the book concludes with a vague description of a new hermeneutic for the Pentecostal movement and its future. Archer’s book will interest scholars in biblical studies, but it will confound most lay people who search for a compelling message in its rambling attempt at biblical interpretation in a complex world community.