By Nancy Zugschwert
They say curiosity killed the cat, but for Richard A. Pruitt, curiosity led to a Ph.D., and a new book.
Pruitt, who is Assistant Professor of Theology and Academic Support Specialist at North Central University, recently released the book, Theology through Community: Luke’s Portrayal of the Role of the First-Century Community of Believers in Theological Creativity (Wipf & Stock, 2019).
Renea Brathwaite, Ph.D., Dean of Graduate & Professional Education at North Central, sees Pruitt’s work as an important contribution to theological studies. Brathwaite writes, “Building cordially upon prior work in this field, Pruitt’s book represents another important addition to the chorus of voices calling for … a. more mature approach to biblical and theological hermeneutics within Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions.”
But how did curiosity lead to the writing of the book? For the answer, we reached out to the author himself, who shares highlights about the book and the process of writing it.
Why did Theology through Community need to be written?
“During my PhD studies at Regent University, I was required to take a variety of courses on interpretive methodologies, also known as hermeneutics, the science or “art” of interpreting Scripture. During those studies, I could see that much had been written on the influence and role of the Spirit and Scripture concerning the interpretive process. But what about the community’s role? Most scholars are afraid of the subject given the concern of rampant subjectivism or bias beyond the protections afforded by a fundamental reliance on the Spirit and/or Scripture.
“However, it seems obvious that the community must play some meaningful role. But what is it? And how can it be analyzed? As a result, I became ‘obsessed’ with the question, ‘What is the role of the community in the interpretive process?’ This single question occupied my mind day and night. My concern was on how or in what way the community functioned in that process and whether there might be a way to observe it.”
What part of your experience contributed most to the content for the book?
“Anyone who’s been through the dissertation process will tell you that it is not easy to stay focused on separating the ‘problem’ from the ‘solution.’ It is easy to collapse the two, to argue for a solution before clarifying the problem that entangles the process to a solution in the first place. To clarify the problem in specific terms and then to build a chain of evidence to a solution proved to be, for me, the most critical aspect in the whole process. The experience of learning and honing that process, I think, contributed most to the outcome.”
What do you hope people will think/do/feel as a result of reading your book?
“I hope that those who read Theology through Community will discover that the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, is committed to partnering with the Church, the community of believers, in the process of discovering his will, his way, and the solutions to the monumental social problems we face in the twenty-first century. An experience of reciprocity between the Spirit, the Community, and Scripture is, in my view, God’s way of sharing himself with us while instilling value in us. I don’t think God wants to ‘tell us what to do, think, or feel.’ Rather, I think he wants us to discover it alongside him. If my book can aid in that process of discovery, then my hope will be fulfilled.”
Other scholars have commended Pruitt’s work, as well. Wolfgang Vondey, Professor of Theology & Director of the Centre [sic] for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at the University of Birmingham, writes, “Demonstrating the importance of the first-century community for theological development in the Acts of the Apostles, Theology through Community issues a clarion call to Pentecostals and others to focus attention on our communities as central to our theological identity and creativity, thereby demanding a renewed interest in the heritage, stories, and testimony that shape the church.”
Pruitt is enthusiastic about his work, and while it’s an exploration of what to some may seem like intimidating theological discussions, he sees practical applications, as well, noting, “I think the principles outlined in the exegesis could provide a way forward in dealing with a number of social issues today.”