by Rev Prof Jacqueline Grey
Growing up in a charismatic Uniting church in western Sydney, Australia, the only women I noticed who were active in professional ministry were missionaries. Sensing a call to God’s work, I subsequently (wrongly) assumed that missionary service was the only real avenue for women to be ministers. Yet, when reading the Bible, I encountered Spirit-empowered women in all kinds of roles and situations. Resolutely, I began to prepare for missionary vocation by enrolling in an undergraduate degree in linguistics at Sydney University. During my undergraduate years (1991-4), I became engaged in student ministry and moved into a pentecostal fellowship. I delighted in encouraging fellow students in their faith. I continued in university ministry for several years following graduation as the Campus Director for Students for Christ and AOG Chaplain at Sydney University (1995-8).
This involvement in university ministry reinforced my sense of calling and desire to help others navigate their own faith journey. I decided that if I was serious about this ministry business then I needed to attend bible college. So, I did. My intent was to quickly complete my studies then move overseas to finally begin “real” ministry work. Instead, as the world of the bible opened to me, I discovered a great passion for reading and interpreting the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I also discovered unknown doors of opportunity for women in the world of theological education. In 2002, I became the first female faculty member of Alphacrucis College (the Assemblies of God college in Australia) and one of the first faculty members to complete doctoral studies (2006). My doctoral thesis explored “pentecostal hermeneutics” of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible using Isaiah as a case study. That is, I wanted to understand how everyday pentecostal and charismatic readers interpreted the bible in practise, not just theory. Fifteen years later, I am still serving in the same college. I have functioned in numerous roles during this time, including a part-time position while I fulfilled my desire to minister overseas in Izmir, Turkey (2015-8). Currently, I serve as Dean of Theology and Professor of Biblical Studies at Alphacrucis College, and also Research Fellow at the University of South Africa and the Centre for Pentecostal Theology.
This narrative of my personal journey into theological education is what pentecostals mostly call “testimony.” Sharing stories of God at work in our everyday lives is central to the identity and spirituality of the pentecostal community. As we “testify” we make sense of our experience by weaving it into the larger narrative of God’s redemption.[i] As I reflect on my own testimony, it seems that my stumbling into academia was accidental—as though I fell into this calling. I had not planned a career in academia. I am the only person in my wider family to complete post-graduate studies—I didn’t even know what a career in academia looked like! Yet, as I look back over my life so far, I see both God’s grace and guidance. For this, I am extremely thankful.
My location as both a member of the pentecostal community and researcher in pentecostal theology has been challenging. Pentecostalism has been wildly misunderstood and sometimes treated with suspicion by the wider academic community. Yet, it has also been the impetus for much renewed interest in theological matters such as pneumatology and ecclesiology. This accords with the origins of pentecostalism as a reform movement within Christianity. Today, pentecostals are the fastest growing segment of global Christianity. In 2020 Pentecostal/Charismatics make up over one quarter of all Christians. By 2050, this is expected to grow to 29.4 percent.[ii] Due to this growth, there is increased interest in the pentecostal community. One of my goals is to communicate the theological emphases of pentecostalism for Christian and wider communities and help locate it within ecumenical discussion. In this sense, my research and interests have a public function. Therefore, much of my research to date has been focused on understanding pentecostalism from academics (Three’s A Crowd: Pentecostalism, Hermeneutics and the Old Testament (2011)) to a popular audience (Them, Us & Me: How the Bible Speaks Today (2008), as well as co-edited volumes (Raising Women Leaders (2009), Pentecostalism in the Asia-Pacific (2019), Key Approaches to Biblical Ethics (2021)), and almost 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters (see here for a list of those publications).
My current research continues to explore the intersections of pentecostal hermeneutics, ethics, pneumatology, and experience. These interests have led to engagement with academic communities within pentecostalism as well as with other ecumenical and inter-religious gatherings. In terms of the pentecostal academic community, I have benefitted greatly from my participation in the Society for Pentecostal Studies, including election to President of the Society in 2017. Within this group I have found deep friendships and encouragement. I have also found rich camaraderie among other academic societies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature, where I am co-chair of the Biblical Ethics section.
Like most academics navigating the world of theological education, I juggle teaching, supervision of research and doctoral students, academic administration, community engagement, and my own research. There are numerous research and scholarship projects in which I am currently absorbed, including: co-writing a textbook (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic)); writing a commentary on Isaiah 1-39 as part of the Pentecostal Commentary Series (Brill); and editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Australasian Pentecostal Studies.
My encouragement to other women and men pursuing a career in academia is to treasure the friendships along the way. My life has been enriched by the friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in my life, even those that were only for a season. Many of these friendships have grown out of small interactions and chance meetings. Most have come from attending gatherings and conferences. Such in-person attendance is, of course, highly problematic now and guaranteed to look different in the future. However, even some online interactions can plant the seed of a burgeoning relationship. If, like me, you are quite shy then my advice is to be brave and show up. Then, keep showing up. Slowly you get to know people, slowly you begin to feel like you belong, and slowly you do belong. Then you will have your own testimony to share of finding a home in the world of theological education.
[i] James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) 51.
[ii] Johnson, Todd M., “Counting Pentecostals Worldwide”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of Global Pentecostalism Online, Edited by: Michael Wilkinson, Connie Au, Jörg Haustein, Todd M. Johnson. Consulted online on 14 June 2021 <http://dx.doi.org.alphacrucis.idm.oclc.org/10.1163/2589-3807_EGPO_COM_042780>
Rev Prof Jacqueline Grey is Dean of Theology at Alphacrucis College, and Research Fellow at the University of South Africa, and Centre for Pentecostal Studies (Cleveland, Tennessee USA).