I wrote the personal reflection below in response to Ed Kozar's inquiry in June 2014 about my reaction to Thomas Fudge's recently published Heretics and Politics.
I was a little depressed—I guess is the right word —when I finished reading Thomas Fudge's new book. I was unaware of the details of the "collapse" of Don Fisher's life—especially his treatment of his family. This left me feeling quite sad. I wonder if any good he ever did or any vision he ever had can survive this final legacy.
My involvement in all of this was limited to Jackson College of Ministries (JCM)—the first half of the book—and I thought Thomas made a pretty good presentation here. I think he correctly depicted the dynamic between my scholarly drive and Dan Lewis' application of these ideas to United Pentecostal Church doctrine. Thomas made the point —but I wish he had made it a bit stronger—that in my teaching at JCM I was not really dealing in the traditional apostolic Pentecostal categories at all. In fact, I consciously avoided talking about UPC distinctives.
At this time, I was very much influenced by the "new evangelicalism" of Fuller Theological Seminary. The NT theology of George Eldon Ladd pushed me into serious study of the synoptic Gospels. I was deeply influenced by the moderate thought of C. H. Dodd and Joachim Jeremias and even the more challenging thinking of Bornkamm, Conzelmann, Kasemann, and Norman Perrin. I read but was not greatly influenced by the form criticism of Bultmann. (NOTE: I bought all these books at Luther Seminary and read them while a student at Apostolic Bible Institute (ABI) in St. Paul. Everything the late Rev. Robert Sabin said I should not read, I immediately purchased. Surely, he must bear some of the blame for my academic adventurousness.)
At JCM, I taught about the inauguration of the kingdom of God as central to the teachings of Jesus and primitive Christianity. I taught about the historical roots of Pentecostalism in Wesleyan and Reformation circles—clearly an outgrowth of the influence of Robert Sabin. When I taught about water baptism, I took at strongly sacramental position that baptism was a means of grace—that something happens to you when you are baptized—which ran in opposition to the Pentecostal Church Incorporated (PCI) teachings on baptism often associated with JCM instructors. I always affirmed that the most primitive baptismal formula was "in Jesus' name"—although I said nothing about the validity of any other form of baptism. When I spoke of the Holy Spirit, it was always in the context of Joel 2:28 and the primitive kerygma's assertion that a "new thing" had happened in Jesus and that with the dawning of the kingdom, the promised Holy Spirit was available to all. (Clearly, my "kingdom theology" was an obvious attack on dispensational premillennialism, although I do not ever remember attacking these ideas explicitly. The first step of many evangelical scholars—both Dan Lewis and I included—toward broader academic thinking is often the rejection of Darby's dispensationalism and the structure it imposes on reading the Bible. For us, "rightly dividing the word of truth" came to mean more than applying Scofield's notes to all biblical interpretation.)
In my JCM instruction, I also placed a lot of emphasis on the 8th century prophets—something I learned from Wendell Gleason at ABI—and the centrality of ethics in ethical monotheism. I introduced students to the social dimension of Christian obligations that had largely been missing in apostolic Pentecostalism. I portrayed Jesus as a conscious successor of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. I was even beginning to approach—at this early date—the "Jewishness" of Jesus which has been the center of my study to this day.
In my earliest time at JCM, I honestly did not think I was attacking UPC doctrine. I felt that UPC doctrine would be strengthened by restatement in Reformation terms of grace and faith. (Interestingly, David Bernard's subsequent writings take a step in this direction.) I did not—and still do not—see how serious Bible study using the best methods available could ever be a bad thing.
But I was VERY young—22 years old in the fall of 1979—when I largely rewrote the JCM curriculum and embarked on my teaching career. I was only 25 when the "JCM tragedy" came to an end.
I am more than willing to bear my share of blame for this debacle. I was so naïve. Initially, I really believed that I was faithfully serving the community of my heritage. (My grandfather was a Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ (PAJC) man before the merger with the PCI formed the UPC. I was raised under O. C. Crabtree's ministry. I had no roots in the PCI tradition that is sometimes associated with the influence of C. H. Yadon on JCM.) Apostolic Pentecostalism was my theological home as much as anyone's. Clearly, I knew that we were stretching the limits. But by the time I realized we had stretched them too far, it was too late. Don Fisher was my great "protector" in all of this. At the time, I thought this was a great blessing. With hindsight, I am not so sure.
Since my departure from JCM, I have tried to do the honorable thing by withdrawing from the UPC public view. My dissertation topic was "demanded" by my graduate committee. My post-doctoral writings and research have been in other areas. (Actually, I was so isolated from the UPC world that I was unaware of the change in Don Fisher's life and his eventual death until I was contacted by Thomas Fudge for an interview for his book Christianity Without the Cross. I knew almost nothing of the Westburg Resolution until I read about it in Thomas' book. Much of that interview made its way into the pages of Heretics and Politics.)
Of course, social media (as well as Fudge's publications) have brought me back into contact with many of my former colleagues from JCM and ABI. But even now, I try to play down the events of the JCM years. Those debates and deep feelings are probably best left to the past.