Review: Ivan Q. Spencer on the Faith Life

Ivan Q Spencer

Faith: Living the Crucified Life, by Ivan Q. Spencer, selected and edited by Edie Mourey. Big Flats, NY: Furrow Press, 2008.

When Ivan Quay Spencer was healed of typhoid fever in 1909, this event set him on a trajectory to become a leader within the emerging Pentecostal movement. He soon identified with Elim Tabernacle (Rochester, NY), the influential Pentecostal congregation led by the Duncan sisters. In 1911 he matriculated at Rochester Bible Training School, which was affiliated with the church. Following several years of pastoral ministry with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Assemblies of God, Spencer launched out on his own and started Elim Bible Institute at Endwell, NY in 1924. Spencer intended his school to carry on the mantle of the Duncan sisters’ school, which had closed. He began editing the Elim Pentecostal Herald (now called Elim Herald) in January 1931. The following year, Elim Ministerial Fellowship (renamed Elim Missionary Assemblies in 1947, then Elim Fellowship in 1972) was formed to commission and credential graduates of the school.

Spencer charted a course marked by interdenominational cooperation and openness to new revival movements. He attended the constitutional convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943 and served on the board of administration for the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America at its inception in 1948. Spencer also led the school and denomination to accept the New Order of the Latter Rain, a revival movement beginning in 1948 that was rejected by most other Pentecostal denominations. Elim later became a prominent supporter of the charismatic movement. Spencer’s son, Ivan Carlton Spencer, succeeded him as president of the school in 1949 and as chairman of the fellowship in 1954. Elim, while maintaining a strong base in the northeastern states, has made a broad impact through its graduates who have ministered across the globe.

The important story of Ivan Q. Spencer’s life and ministry was told by Marion Meloon in the book, Ivan Spencer: Willow in the Wind (Logos, 1974). Now Spencer’s granddaughter, Edie Mourey, has assembled a book of his writings on the faith life. Mourey’s compilation, Faith: Living the Crucified Life, is important for a number of reasons. First, Spencer’s influence on the Pentecostal movement outstripped the size of his own organization. Many independent Pentecostal ministries drew upon his spiritual leadership. Spencer’s insights into the faith life – culled from his writings published from the 1930s through the 1950s – illustrate theological themes important to a whole segment within Pentecostalism. Second, Spencer’s reflective devotional musings challenge the assumption, held by certain critics, that early Pentecostals lacked theological substance. Third, Faith: Living the Crucified Life could be considered a companion volume of primary source essays to accompany the biography by Meloon.

This is not Mourey’s first book on the subject. She previously wrote a history of the school and fellowship — Elim: Living in the Flow (Elim, 1999). Spencer’s lessons on the faith life remain relevant today. In one essay, “Christ’s poverty is faith’s school,” he critiqued the tendency of the Church in his day to boast of material prosperity “as an evidence of spirituality” (p. 67). In another essay, he admonished believers, “Faith will reach out when there is love; but when there is little love, there is little faith” (p. 45). Faith: Living the Crucified Life will be of interest to Pentecostal historians, to those whose spiritual journeys have been impacted by Spencer, and to church leaders and people in the pew seeking devotional reading to challenge their own faith lives.

Reviewed by Darrin J. Rodgers

Paperback, 112 pages. $12.95 plus postage. Order from: Furrow Press, P.O. Box 98, Big Flats, NY 14814-0098. Email: info@furrowpress.com; Phone: 607-207-1923.

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