Between conviction and critique : A hermeneutical exploration of the nexus between academic and ecclesial praxis within the Australian Pentecostal community

PhD Thesis

Kumar, Johnny. (2022). Between conviction and critique : A hermeneutical exploration of the nexus between academic and ecclesial praxis within the Australian Pentecostal community [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University
AuthorsKumar, Johnny
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Pentecostals have conventionally been defined as a group who avoid critical reflection on the biblical text in favour of Spirit-led experience. This weighting encourages a general anti-intellectual disposition often taken as representative or defining of the movement. While this description may well be a matter of stereotyping, it is a view that holds considerable force.

This thesis explores the nexus between the practice of a Pentecostal academy and Pentecostal ecclesial praxis within the Australian context and their role in influencing or maintaining this view. An initial intuition of incompatibility between Pentecostal academia and Pentecostal ecclesial praxis inspired the design and distribution of a survey in an attempt to understand and explain the perceived incongruence. An analysis of the survey results highlights what I take to be the underlying issue, namely, a matter of hermeneutics. Accordingly, the thesis examined the discipline of hermeneutics and the philosophical issues that exert influence on the Pentecostal interpretation of the biblical text. This examination emphasised the importance of pre-conceptions, one’s contextual situatedness, along with the possibilities and desirability of multi-vocality in interpretation with respect to Australian Pentecostalism. Having canvased the development of Australian Pentecostalism with an eye to the pre-conceptions embedded in biblical interpretation, the tension between Pentecostal academics and ecclesial practice is shown to be a constant theme throughout the movement's history and something which contributes significantly to an anti-intellectual disposition. However, what has not, I suggest, been explored in sufficient detail elsewhere is the character of academic engagement with the biblical text that has occurred since the inception of Pentecostalism. Accordingly, the thesis considers the development of Pentecostal hermeneutics and establishes that while certain evangelical approaches to and perspectives on critical biblical scholarship may have helped Pentecostals establish academic credibility and acceptance, that same partnership downplayed the significance of spiritual experience in the overall hermeneutical process. This exploration emphasised the need for ongoing exploration of a distinct and distinctive Pentecostal hermeneutic. To contribute to this discussion, I explored the Catholic tradition’s approach to hermeneutical issues relating to the interpretation of the Bible to offer a counterpoint for Pentecostal reflection. Having explored the documents that led to the Second Vatican Council and those that emerged subsequently, the thesis does not propose a “framework” within which Pentecostal interpretation can be controlled. On the contrary, it looks to stimulate discussion on frameworks that might shed light on how specific and often unidentified hermeneutical issues can be identified and discussed.

The principle analytical issue is one of hermeneutics, and the search for a hermeneutical framework that is appropriate to and defining of the Pentecostal community in Australia. The thesis, then, is not an attempt to resolve or dissolve a problem. It is instead a contribution to a rigorous definition of a problem and an invitation to a process of discernment in which the question is what remains to the fore and guides investigation and reflection.

Keywordshermeneutics; historical-critical method; Pentecostal; Second Vatican Council; Australian Christian churches
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Page range1-342
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online08 Feb 2023
Publication process dates
CompletedDec 2022
Deposited08 Feb 2023
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