Education and Career
His father, a sixteen year old Methodist was converted at a Pentecostal Holiness tent meeting near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He later planted five Pentecostal Holiness congregations in the Tidewater area of Virginia before serving as a bishop of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, a position he held for 24 years. Synan’s formative years revolved around his Pentecostal Holiness church. His call to ministry came shortly after his conversion in 1951, while living in Memphis, Tennessee, during the time he was seeking his experience of the “second blessing” of entire sanctification. Nine months later, at the age of seventeen, he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He began his preaching ministry the same year, and in 1954 was ordained in the Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Synan then completed a two year liberal arts degree from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. In 1955 and after a one year pastoral apprenticeship, he became an evangelist in the Eastern Virginia PHC Conference. Synan graduated from the University of Richmond with a B.A. in American history in 1958, and in the fall of the same year began his teaching career.
From 1956 to 1962, he helped plant three churches in Virginia and from 1967 to 1974 he planted one in Georgia. From 1963 to 1975, he also taught history at his alma mater, Emmanuel College.
As Synan was making preparation for his academic career, Oral Roberts, a friend of the family, offered him a full scholarship to earn a Ph.D. in theology at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton if he would return and teach at Oral Roberts University. Synan however declined the offer since he had already received a full scholarship with stipend from the State of Georgia to prepare for his calling as a historian. In 1965, he completed his M.A. and in 1967 his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in American Social and Intellectual History.
In order to prepare his dissertation for publication, Synan spent the summer of 1968 reading through major Pentecostal journals. His travels took him to the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) where he met with several leaders. Significant among them was Horace Ward who was serving as the dean of students at Lee College. Together they discussed the possibility of a future colloquium where Pentecostal scholars could share ideas. He later met with William Menzies while reviewing the Assemblies of God archives in Springfield, MO. Following a similar conversation regarding the organization of Pentecostal scholars, Ward, Menzies and Synan proposed their idea at the Pentecostal World Conference held in Dallas, Texas in 1970. The outcome was the birth of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Synan was elected as the first General Secretary and served as the editor of their newsletters for several years.
From 1973 to 1977, Synan served as the General Secretary for the Pentecostal Holiness Church while also teaching at Oklahoma City Southwestern College and served as the acting president in 1980. He was elected as Assistant General Superintendent of his denomination in 1977 and served until 1981 when he became the Director of Evangelism, a position which he held for the next four years.
In 1977, Synan was the chairman of the Pentecostal track for the General Conference on Charismatic Renewal held in Arrow Head Stadium in Kansas City. This event packed the stadium with 50,000 charismatic worshipers and attracted attention from around the world. It also opened up many doors of ministry for Synan and he became a frequently invited guest on such television programs as The PTL Club, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and The 700 Club to discuss the Renewal that was occurring among Catholics and the exploding growth of Pentecostalism around the world.
During the years of 1990 and 1994, Synan was professor of Pentecostal and Charismatic History and served as the Director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For twelve years, from 1994 to 2006, he served as the Dean of the Regent University School of Divinity. Under his leadership the School of Divinity implemented both a Doctorate of Ministry and a non-residential and on-line Ph.D. program in Renewal Studies, which was the first of its kind in the world. Presently, Synan serves as Professor of Pentecostal and Charismatic History and Dean Emeritus of Regent University.
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