Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Apparently more people are Pentecostal than realize it (and other shocking revelations [no pun intended])

Written by: on October 20, 2014

Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement by Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori is certainly an interesting text with a lot of first-person research underscoring its perspectives. The text is particularly interesting in that a president of a major Christian related development organization – Food for the Hungry – who happens to be Evangelical and a sociology professor who happens to be Episcopal collaborated together in the authorship of the text and found their pre-existing biases challenged.

Overall, I found the book very interesting from a general theoretical perspective and from a general informational perspective. However, while recognizing the difficulty of what the authors have undertaken, I did not find the authors defining of Pentecostal to be wholly adequate. The authors’ primary goal in the text is to consider a particular category of Pentacostal expression that they refer to as “Progressive Pentacostalism” and “Progressive Pentacostals.”[1] They do delineate this category out from more general Pentecostalism, but not by much when the push-comes-to-shove. In my eyes, there are indeed Christian Pentecostal churches that do not fit their category of Progressive Pentacostalism. However, while understanding the variation they seek to establish, the actual definition of Progressive Pentacostal they offer makes it more difficult than not to find a non-Pentacostal Christian church that doesn’t look like it could be Progressive Pentacostal. Early on they define Progressive Pentecostal as, “Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in their community.”[2] So, this definition fits the large majority of Christian churches that consider themselves to adhere to a Trinitarian understanding of the Divine including Catholic, Evangelical, other so-called Mainline denominations, expressions of Quaker, Mennonite, Brethren, etc., etc.

Again, as I noted, it’s not that I have not found the text to be extremely intriguing…I have. It’s simply that I have found the defining of Pentacostalism (especially, Progressive Pentacostalism) to be exceptionally broad – even with some of the limiting factors that the authors note they put on their categorization.[3] Now, overall, I don’t mind this per se with this text, as I have found the some of the larger sociological/theological conjecturing helpful, but it does appear to be an aspect that needs further clarification. For instance, it would have been interesting to see how many (if any) of the churches the authors studied that are defining themselves as Pentecostal require people to “speak in tongues” in order to be “saved” and if so, if any of the churches in this category fit into the authors understanding of Progressive Pentacostalism.

The authors note that there may be influence by Evangelicals occurring in this process of Pentecostals more broadly caring about broad-based, societal engagement [and of course, the general suggestion in the literature is that Evangelicals were influenced in this manner by Mainline denominations with the whole matter being based on integrative societal principles related to upward mobility],[4] but of course this would be the case since I find that according to the definition as I understand it many Progressive Pentecostals are actually Evangelicals.

Overall, in my perspective the redeeming and the best qualities of this text are the authors engagement with the sociological/theological orientations of Liberation Theology, the Social Gospel, Marx, Freud, Rudolf Otto, William James and the like; all of the first-person research and the presentation of this in the text; and the general descriptive engagement around Pentacostalism such as their “three ways that Pentecostalism has the potential to be an agent of social transformation,” their “five different expressions” and their “four different emphases” of Pentacostalism…again, for me, not primarily as descriptions of Pentecostal manifestation per se, but as a general world-wide movement of religious expression.[5]

I would suggest reading this text less with an interest in Pentecostalism and more with an interest in the ongoing, post-modern/pre-modern worldwide (re/in)surgence in religious engagement that has turned Secularization Theory on its head. Critique of Secularization Theory has of course been done many times and in many ways before at this point, but I find this to be where the authors’ educational and practical expertise truly shines.




[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 1-2.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 22-38.

About the Author

Clint Baldwin

Leave a Reply