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

Progressive Pentecostals on The March

Written by: on October 10, 2013

Miller and Yamamori’s book, “Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, is an encouraging read in the sense that it serves as a literary ‘news cast’ of sorts, giving the reader a multitude of updates on the many and various ways Pentecostals are engaging social ministries around the globe.  The authors, on three separate occasions, state the thesis of the book and each time provide a nuanced flavor.
  • First thesis statement:  ”Given the moribund status of the Social Gospel movement and the declining influence of Liberation Theology, there is a breach to be filled, and our thesis is that this vacuum might potentially be occupied, at least in part, by Progressive Pentecostals.” (1)
  • Second thesis statement: “In fact, the thesis of this book is that some of the most innovative social programs in the world are being initiated by fast-growing Pentecostal churches.” (2)
  • Third thesis statement: “The thesis of this book is that Pentecostals are increasingly engaged in community-based social ministries.” (3)
I find it difficult to see in any of the three thesis statements enough specificity to warrant the book.  The content is encouraging as I stated above, but the thesis statements are not persuasive enough nor peculiar enough to justify the text.  The authors paint with a wide brush; including faith expressions that are similar to the “progressive Pentecostals” they purport to study.  Their definition belies that tendency, “we define Progressive Pentecostals 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.” (4).  This definition could apply to many faith movements that would not want to be defined so closely to Pentecostals!
The real value of the book is the extensive research accomplished that stories the various ways that churches are engaging the social ills of their culture in four continents and twenty countries. (5)  They examined a plethora of social ministries including: poverty, medical, economic development, substance abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, marital abuse, and others.  I did appreciate the few findings mentioned by the authors.  In contradistinction to liberation theology activities, they pointed out that the Progressive Pentecostals were more inclined to create new ways to engage social needs than simply to criticize or destroy those they do not appreciate (6).  They also related how youthful their congregations were. (7).  This is of particular value and interest.  I wish that they had delved more deeply into the cause for this generational phenomena but they only related that the youth were activist in terms of their worship and more intentional to make lifestyle changes to engage their society for the cause of Christ.
I was very disappointed to read that in all of their travels to visit high power Pentecostal churches they only found one woman in charge.  If the authors are right that this Progressive Pentecostal movement may fill the vacuum left by the proponents of Liberation Theology, it will certainly need to make room at the top for female leadership.  Another observation I appreciated was that of the role of the Spirit in the movement.  They write, “Pentecostals believe that the animating force in their lives is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.” (8).  Certainly, an argument could be made that this is the central dynamic in the Pentecostal movement.  Not that it does not exist outside the movement, but in the way that Pentecostals related every aspect of life to the transcendent activity of the Spirit of God.
Finally, the authors write, “the single most important element that empowers Progressive Pentecostals, the answer unequivocally is the energizing experience of worship.” (9).  I do not find this surprising though it is certainly not unique to Pentecostals.  In congregations where there is a high percentage of youthful believers I would expect that dynamic worship is expected and common.  Very little was mentioned about leadership development and nothing was written about discipleship or spiritual formation practices among the Progressive Pentecostals.  I wish the authors would have given those topics more attention.
The many stories about the various social ministries are alone worth reading the book!  The stories, however, could have been written about a number of other faith movements who honor the Spirit’s leading and who engage in intense and expressive worship.
(1) Donald E. Miller;Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Kindle Locations 65-66). Kindle Edition.
(2) Ibid. Kindle Locations 82-83.
(3) Ibid. Kindle Locations 2518-2519.
(4) Ibid. Kindle Locations 42-43.
(5) Ibid. Kindle Location 84.
(6) Ibid. Kindle Location 2551.
(7) Ibid. Kindle Location 2583.
(8) Ibid. Kindle Locations 2602-2603.
(9) Ibid. Kindle Location 2630.

About the Author

David Toth

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