In the Times Literary Supplement this week, David Martin explores the history of the Pentecostal Movement and why it’s spreading worldwide, citing Palin’s nomination as a marker of the movement’s growing significance in history. But Palin is but one example of Pentecostalism’s far-reaching influence, as Martin describes, noting it’s second only to Catholicism in attracting new adherents from Orthodoxy.
Pentecostalism is the contemporary religio-cultural phenomenon. It claims the exuberant gifts of the Spirit originally manifested on the first day of Pentecost as narrated in Acts 2, and it represents a global indigenization of the original Methodist “enthusiasm” that mobilized migrants in the Industrial Revolution. It creates autonomous social capital for (say) a quarter of a billion migrants trekking to the contemporary megacity. Mainstream Churches feel embarrassed and wary, just as established Churches did faced with revival in eighteenth-century Britain and later on the American frontier. The favela of La Pintana, Santiago, Chile, which nobody visits but social workers, Catholic priests and alcohol vendors, is honeycombed with tiny Pentecostal churches. You find those churches, with hundreds of different colourful names, anywhere from Manila to Accra and Johannesburg to Seoul.
After this introduction, Martin digests several books into one summary/review: Randall Stephens’ The Fire Spreads, Michael Bergunder’s The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century, Asonzeh Ukah’s A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power: A Study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Ogbu Kalu’s African Pentecostalism.
On Stephens, whose book is a history of the origins of Pentecostalism in the U.S:
This was a time when the tastes of Methodists in the urban middle and upper classes of the wealthy New South often ran to Victorian Gothic and pew rentals, as well as to costly apparel, theatregoing, smoking and drinking. Rural Southern holiness advocates battled against what they saw as over-sophistication and moral decay, and some of the more radical preachers flaunted markers of difference and dissent. They disapproved, for example, of coffee, pork and wearing neckties. Yet although these attitudes were rooted in rural Southern values, holiness people reached beyond the South.
On Bergunder, whose book examines parallel developments in South India:
He offers an initial discussion of how far Pentecostal origins were really multi-centred, given the Indian and other revivals prior to, or parallel with, the events in Los Angeles. He argues it was the (mainly Anglo-American) Evangelical mission movement, for example in England the Keswick convention and the China Inland Mission, that laid down the global trails followed by Pentecostalism. There was already a vast and vague international network in place, serviced by itinerant preachers, who expected signs and wonders. Moreover, those who entertained immediate millennial expectations felt the need first to carry their witness to all nations, for which the gift of tongues seemed providentially provided.
Asonzeh Ukah’s study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God is specifically focused on the arrival of prosperity teaching in Africa. The RCCG is one of the most successful and controversial of the new mega-churches, in part because it combines the organizational format of an international corporation with an ethos rooted in Yoruba tradition. Ukah brings out its extraordinary ability to fuse deep local roots in an African spirituality based on healing, protection against malign powers, prognostication, trance and visionary dreams, with a modern go-getting organization promoting itself through every marketing device
And finally, on Kalu, who takes a wider perspective on Nigeria, in particular, and Africa and provides some insight on the rivalry between Pentecostalism and Islam:
Kalu has reservations about the kind of “inculturation” sought by mainstream bodies and about a Western critique of Pentecostalism as “fundamentalist” when it is better understood as reviving the spiritual gifts of the New Testament.
Read the entire essay, with all four reviews, here.