Surely Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement is a book that confronts Western stereotypes and expectations concerning Pentecostals. I recall hearing the excitement in a young college student as she described what she had heard was happening in far off Africa. People delivered from demons, being healed of their diseases and even raised from the dead! Hidden, more to her than to me, was her own hunger for a tangible sense of God’s presence in her life and affairs, but even more importantly within “her” world. What she expressed was a yearning for an experience of God’s presence, more than doctrinal affirmation. I wonder if she would have associated the steady, committed work illustrated again and again in this book with the same enthusiasm. Whichever way it might be, Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori have provided not only in depth analysis they have also focused on the potential of the gospel through their steady level handed approach. Might there be an experience of God that does not see the “miracle” as the end or point of the experience, but something that is a part?
I raise the question because in my late teens and twenties during the 1970’s I could have been like my younger friend. During that time in many places in North America there was a Jesus People movement. Larry Norman, Johnny Cash, Love Song, and (even) Kris Kristofferson were among those on stage at Expo ‘72. Fusing together music and evangelism in a Woodstock like event (without the rain since it was in Dallas, Texas). Today you could probably trace contemporary worship music to this gathering. I wore out my record listening to the songs. But this movement was not just music, there was a recognized belief in things of the Spirit – miracles, healings and a very high expectation that Jesus was returning driving evangelism. Heck, I even had a “Maranatha” t-shirt complete with “BAC” for born again Christian!
What was missing was any sense of social transformation. This crucial aspect draws the focus of Miller and Yamamori, one they define as Progressive Pentecostalism. “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.” Is this holistic approach what was missing in my earlier years? Is the lack of holistic concern a significant contributing factor to the petering out of the visible charismatic presence? Or was it because our Christian faith does not have the testing crucible present in other cultural contexts?
I am wonder (not in doubt but in observation) at the interwoven nature of presence and experience referenced by the authors in the stories and global places of their research. While we in Western Christian culture seem to be more linear – A then B followed by C or if this, then that. Miller and Yamamori related the transference of the Spirit’s presence from individual and corporate worship and prayer into their everyday common life. The Spirit is here and there. So why would we not be there?
While on one hand miracles have and do take place, there is a sense that the same Spirit is in the trenches to undo systemic oppression. Thinking back on our time and witness in South Africa there are similar connections.
Within the spiritual dimension is the commitment to human self-esteem, the value of each individual. At JL Zwane Memorial Church in Guglulethu they are “committed to protecting the dignity of the individual, developing human capital, rescuing hope through Word and Deed with Christ in the centre of our lives.” This commitment is demonstrated in their pioneering work with victims of AIDS/HIV regardless of sexual orientation. There is no “don’t ask, don’t tell”; there is just do for the least of these.
The authors noted that they were continually impressed by both humility and risk taking among Progressive Pentecostal organizations. Here we wait for people to complete training or to have training. We put a high value on professional competence. This is more often not the case among the ministries highlighted in their research. Central was both a sense of call and reliance upon the Spirit, a learning culture rather than a learned individual.
Sitting in church on Sunday morning in Cape Town I was more a spectator than a participant. The language sung was not my language and yet it seemed to me that the women leading out in song were leading the congregation in both heartfelt worship and in intercession. “We believe that the root of Pentecostal social engagement is the experience of collective worship. It is the divine-human encounter that empowers people to help their immediate neighbor as well as engage in various community-building activities.” I read and re-read that statement as I do I am struck by the contrast to the contemporary, even liturgical worship that I often experience. One that is more centered on the individual or the individual church community than it is upon the community at large. What is it I wonder about the distinction that we create in terms of mission and missional?
This book is certainly not a “how to” book. It is however, a mirror of reflection. “Progressive Pentecostals are not trying to reform social structures or challenge government policies so much as they are attempting to build from the ground up an alternative social reality.” Subversive and risk taking walk hand in hand.
 Ibid., 12.
 Quoted from photo taken of statement at the Church on 28 September 2014. www.jlzswane.sun.ac.za.
 Miller and Yamamori, 128.
 Ibid. 196.
 Ibid., 4.