With help from Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark).
Earlier this month, just before Good Friday, I was invited to preach a three message series for a church camp this coming June. I was given a theme (“Let Your Light Shine”) and asked to come up with something, “inspirational.” On Saturday before Easter, I prayed to God, “Lord, what am I going to do? What would you have me to say? Keep in mind that that the Saturday before Easter is traditionally called, Holy Saturday. And it was surely for me, a Holy Saturday for within an hour’s time, the whole series flashed before me: “Pentecost.” Moreover, what also emerged that hour was a very clear outline, preaching texts, themes and aims, for the whole three nights. That was a real “ah ha” moment; a redemptive, or redeeming insight.
Now I what greatly aided this sudden inspiration was that I had spent several months extensively reviewing and engaging Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark). I have earlier written some reviews on his book (see below for links). In my earlier reviews, I stress the book’s aesthetic qualities, imagery rich yet simple vocabulary, and highly readable and profoundly edifying prose. For these reasons, I also described it as a systematic theology that may richly fund Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership with formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes—evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost.
Now that I have actually started crafting some messages with help from Vondey’s text, it seems to me that some of you may benefit from these practical examples on how his work can function as a powerful resource for structuring messages on core Pentecostal themes. I will thus proceed in two steps. I will begin by presenting the broad outline I have developed, along with the main points of my first two messages. Then in Part Two, I will explain how Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book funded my sermon preparation.
PART 1: three sermons on “Back to Pentecost”
Introduction to preaching series
Pentecost. Back to Pentecost.
Back to the light that comes from the fires of Pentecost.
Fires that warm the heart / make bright the face / and empower us—
For overcoming / fruit-bearing / victoriously prospering— Christian life.
Yes, let it be our aim for these nights before God
In whom within Himself burns an altar that generates—
Life-giving fires of Pentecost.
Let us come back— to Pentecost.
That’s why Church camp is often called, “retreat”; church retreat.
We cannot advance, without times of “retreat”— to holy ground.
Coming back to the mountains of sacred encounter.
Coming back to the fires of Pentecost
Falling down from the heavenly altar— where burns the loving heart of God.
We’ll be encountering this light, through a journey.
A transforming journey— across three mountains. Three mountain peaks.
Where at each mountain top, we’ll encounter God— at the altar / on holy ground.
A map for the journey:
|1st session||2nd session||3rd session|
|Text||Ex 3.1-5||Acts 1.8; 2.1-4; 17-21||Mt 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20|
|Title||“Behold the Light”||“Receive the Light”||“Show Forth the Light”|
|To the altar
|At the altar
|From the altar
1st sermon outline (“Behold the Light”; Exodus 3.1-5):
- The desert is the place— of God-encounter.
- The holiest God-encounters are always— altar calls.
- God’s heart is an altar: it generates— Pentecost.
- Coming to God’s altar, starts with focused worship.
2nd sermon outline (“Receive the Light”; Acts 1.8; 2.1-4, 17-21)
- God’s love.
- Visions and dreams.
- Boundary-breaking prayer: tongues speech.
- Passion for God’s coming kingdom.
3rd sermon outline (“Show Forth the Light”; Mat 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20)
Not developed yet.
End-camp practical take-away:
Three spiritual formation practices in the key of Pentecostal spirituality
The three messages suggest a practical “take-away,” that participants may practice as a “rhythm” within their ongoing spiritual formation. Each cycle comprises a narrative journey, yet can be also viewed as a spiralling process.
|Life practice||God encountered as:|
|1||To the altar / Behold||Saviour/Sanctifier|
|2||At the altar / Receive||Spirit Baptiser / Healer|
|3||From the altar / Show forth||Coming King|
PART 2: Themes retrieved from Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book
For a summary of and reviews I have made on Vondey’s book, see the following links:
My review at Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies: http://www.apts.edu/aeimages/File/AJPS_PDF/18-1-BR-Monte-Lee-Rice.pdf
Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), in Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 21. No. 1 (February 2018): 98-103.
What I want to specifically mention here, is Vondey’s main thesis, and how he has conceptualised the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel as a “narrative” of common Pentecostal practices that are commonly performed within a given movement related to a metaphoric place Pentecostals have historically typified as the “altar.”
Vondey’s main thesis is this:
“Pentecost is the core theological symbol of Pentecostal theology, and its theological narrative is the full gospel.” (p. 1). Coupled to this thesis is another major argument Vondey stresses. Namely, that in Pentecostal liturgical life, the notion of “altar” or “altar space,” is a core “metaphor” describing a “ritual space” (p. 5, 40) around which the Fivefold Gospel narrates Pentecostal movement to, at, and from a place of God-encounter, to the world in mission, and back to the altar (pp. 5, 30-31, 55, 84-85, 90, 108-109, 288-289, 292).
Therefore, and this is most important to note, Vondey suggests that in Pentecostalism the Full Gospel actually functions not just or even primarily as a doctrinal confession, but rather as a narrative of common Pentecostal practices that both shape and emerge from the Pentecostal experiences of salvation, sanctification, Spirit baptism, healing, and reign of God, which Pentecostals also experience as increasing eschatological passion for the soon coming of Christ and God’s kingdom in its fullness (pp. 288-294). Hence, Vondey proposes that the Fivefold gospel expresses a narrative movement around the altar that goes like this:
Saviour: To the altar.
Sanctifier: At the altar.
Spirit Baptiser: Through the altar.
Healer: From the altar to the world.
Coming King: Away from the altar in the world.
We must note that Vondey stresses this narrative movement as a heuristic reading, not an absolute structure. Hence, the narrative is a generalised observation, recognising there are diversities to the movement that do not always necessarily follow this scheme or narrated structure. Yet he also asserts that phenomenologically, the narrative broadly describes the ritual life of Pentecostals worldwide. In my three message series, I have condensed Vondey’s narrative into three movements.
To conclude by reiterating my earlier statement, Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book provides salient resources for funding Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership. It does so through formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes— evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost. I hope my own present work at crafting out a message series that draws deeply from some of Vondey’s main themes, provides a helpful example to other preachers who may benefit from this germane homiletical resource.
 For further clarity to this theme of the “altar” as a metaphor for the Pentecostal ritual space, see also Vondey, “Pentecostal Sacramentality and the Theology of the Altar,” in Scripting Pentecost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy, eds. Mark J. Cartledge and A.J. Swoboda (New York, NY: Routledge, 2017), 94-107 (98-101).
 For further clarity to how the Full Gospel narrates pentecostal “altar”-rooted practices, see Vondey, “Embodied Gospel: The Materiality of Pentecostal Theology,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion: Volume 8: Pentecostals and the Body, eds., Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse (The Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2017), 102-119 (103).