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Pentecostals' Pursuit of Higher Education Sees 'Explosive Growth'

A growing number of Pentecostals and charismatics are pursuing higher education to go along with a higher calling.

A growing number of Pentecostals and charismatics are pursuing higher education to go along with a higher calling. Enrollment at seminaries has increased by 22 percent in the last decade, according to the Association of Theological Schools, a membership organization of graduate schools in the United States and Canada.

Vinson Synan, a well-known Pentecostal historian, says that schools that have a Pentecostal distinctive have seen "explosive growth" in recent years. Synan, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, says that enrollment at his school shot up 32 percent in the 2003-2004 academic year, while its distance-education component doubled.

Synan credits this growth to an increasing number of congregations who have grown beyond their pastors' training. "They pastor very large churches with middle-class and professional people," says Synan, and adds, "They feel they have to get better prepared to minister to more sophisticated congregations."

However, Pentecostals harbored distrust for years toward higher education, he notes. Some feared education would prove a Trojan horse that would introduce liberal ideas and unbelief into the church; others felt it might quench the Spirit by embracing intellectualism.

While misgivings still exist in some quarters, Synan says Pentecostals have largely overcome such objections. The first Pentecostal Holiness Bible College, today known as Emmanuel College, opened in 1919; the first Assemblies of God liberal-arts school (Evangel College, now known as Evangel University) followed in 1955. Today, Pentecostals are making up for lost time.

"Once they moved into education they came in with a vengeance," says Synan, noting many have turned Bible schools into colleges and universities. "That reticence toward education was misguided in the sense that people could have been much more effective if they had an education." "The idea that ignorance is good was a terrible misconception," Synan adds. "Pentecostals who understood the Scriptures knew they had nothing to fear from education."

To pastors and church officials who question the value of higher education, Bob Proy, a former pastor with more than 20 years of experience, who earned master's degrees in communication and marriage and family counseling from Oral Roberts University in 2003, points out that leaders are to be healers in a world where people are hurting and dealing with complex issues in every area of life. Proy, 53, says God demands that His servants be equipped and trained to bring that healing touch. Without a well-informed touch, Proy thinks ministers can do more harm than good.

Synan agrees, noting that: "The Bible says, 'He will guide you into all truth.' So even though we have all these educational systems, colleges and so forth, in the end ... the Holy Spirit is the prime teacher, even in the classroom."

Adapted from news story by CharismaNOW. Used with permission. http://www.charismanews.com/a.php?ArticleID=8780