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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Not your father’s Pentecostalism

Written by: on December 1, 2017

In Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement authors Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori assert that, contrary to the images that the word sometimes conjures – like the picture of the snake handlers on the right – that Pentecostalism is a ‘highly adaptable movement and typically incorporates features of the local cultural context’ (20).

Only someone completely disconnected from religious practice and understanding would actually think that all Pentecostals handle snakes, but there are many widely held stereotypes about Pentecostals that undermine the acceptance of Miller and Yamamori’s findings about their rise and growing prominence in world Christianity.

The authors highlight three myths that are important to recognize if we are to understand the movement that is quickly becoming the leading force in Christianity in many parts of the world.  First, and this one is for those slightly more informed about what it ‘means’ to be Pentecostal, while Pentecostals certainly believe in the Holy Spirit, not every worship service is filled with some supernatural representation of the Spirit’s presence, healing or being ‘slain in the Spirit’.  Worship is characteristically warm and expressive, but not necessarily chaotic (20).

The second stereotype is that all Pentecostals are poor, from lower classes and are simply seeking an ‘opiate’.  Miller and Yamamori make clear that there are a lot of Pentecostals for whom, at least the social standing piece is accurate, but especially as the movement multiplies and expands it engages a significantly broader swath of society (21).

The third myth, that ‘Pentecostals are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good’ (21), is the one that was the most fully based in reality and is perhaps the most rapidly changing, as the so-called (by the authors) ‘Progressive Pentecostals’ embrace a more holistic gospel that seeks to address both the physical as well as spiritual needs (22).

This change in focus from only saving souls to an approach that focuses on the earthly needs of the community it serves is, undoubtedly a key element of what is fueling the growth of Pentecostalism in our world.  The focus on just ‘getting saved’, avoiding hell, etc. requires an preconceived acceptance of the need for spiritual salvation to be in any way effective.  Conversely, the holistic model that seeks to make a real and noticeable difference in the local community which often serves as an opening for the gospel to be heard and accepted.

Much like the Methodist church in the American Midwest in the 1800’s, which grew so quickly in part because it was particularly well suited to take advantage of the cultural and literal landscape.    People are interested in and looking for what the Pentecostal church has to offer and it is structured in a way as to be able to respond and adapt to the changing culture of the moment:

  • an element of order and meaning in a chaotic world
  • A caring community
  • Warm, expressive worship that engages one’s emotions
  • the expression of ‘neighborly love’ shown to the community and it’s members
  • A certain familiarity for those coming from cultures where shaminism is practiced because of the prominence of the spiritual world.  (23-24)

More than all of these though, Miller and Yamamori state this important element to Pentecostalism’s growth:

An argument has been made that Pentecostalism is a direct response to modernity.  According to this explanation, the Enlightenment produced a flat, materialistic worldview.  All the Magic disappeared (emphasis mine).  Everything could be explained rationally through empirical verification.  While this philosophy produced one scientific revolution after another, it also put a squeeze on the human spirit.  Pentecostalism, therefore, is a reaction to this worldview.  It is resuscitating the ‘feeling dimension’ of human life by introducing the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, into everyday life.  While it is possible that Pentecostalism is filling what Harvey Cox called the ‘ecstasy deficit’ in our postmodern world, it is also possible that Pentecostalism is actually a postmodern phenomenon rather than simply a protest against modernity(25)

I don’t think it is necessarily an either or response to modernity or postmodern phenomenon – rather I think it is likely both.  However, in  the aspect that is a response to our ‘loss of magic’ and at the same time a response to the chaotic world we currently live in.

I see in Pentecostalism’s rise and growth, strangely, a mirror into our current political moment – in the USA and around the world, where people’s response is often about feelings and (often detached from any basis in reality) beliefs not logical thought, thinking and facts.   The successful politicians in more most recent national elections purveyors of ideas to be sure, but more than that, of powerful emotions: hope, fear, anger.

What do you see when you look at the rise of Pentecostalism and what emotions does it stir within you?

About the Author

mm

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

11 responses to “Not your father’s Pentecostalism”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Chip, great engagement with the idea of exploding the myths. I wonder if that is part of the problem with so many groups? We believe the myths instead of trying to go as Miller and Yamamori did and find out what the people are really like.
    In answer to your question – The emotion that arises for me is – relief. It’s about time. I am an eternal optimist. I see the move toward holistic ministry to be a wonderful thing!

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Chip I too addressed the myths of the Pentecostal church. I am glad that the authors addressed the issue but I wonder did they take it too far as one to be the lead in the Christianity world?

    At the point in the world, people are barely wearing clothes. I grew up where you dress could not be higher than three inches above the knee. They measured by use getting on our knees and measuring from the floor.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “I see in Pentecostalism’s rise and growth, strangely, a mirror into our current political moment – in the USA and around the world, where people’s response is often about feelings and (often detached from any basis in reality) beliefs not logical thought, thinking and facts. ”

    If Pentecostalism was limited to Bennie Hinn and other televangelists like him, I might agree with your above statement.

    Yet, I do not think that most Pentecostal Christian’s beliefs are in opposition to “logical thought, thinking, and facts.” I believe that there are many Pentecostals who are trying to live out the teaching of scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit. They have embraced the Holy Spirit while many Christians ignore Him.

    One of my favorite books on the Holy Spirit is “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. This book does a good job of confronting the fact that many denominations, like mine, have reacted to the Charismatic movement by devaluing one third of the Trinity.

    • Stu,
      Based on your – and a few of our other cohort’s responses, it is clear to me that I didn’t communicate my thought here very well at all.
      While I have some very negative thoughts about our current political moment – and do think that a lot of people’s decisions go against logical thought – I didn’t mean to extend that disdain to the Pentecostal movement generally.
      You highlight some that might fit the bill (Benny Hinn, etc.) but that is, as we all know, is not truly representative of what it means to be Pentecostal.
      The connection for me was in the importance of feeling and emotion, the willing embrace of expressiveness.
      I come from a tradition that places a great deal of emphasis on education and theological depth in preaching is a hallmark of our denomination (preaching quality is a completely different story, however 🙂
      I have always really appreciated that, I still do. But I do think that focus has often come at the cost of ignoring the feelings and emotions that are a part of an engaging worship service (warm as our authors described it) and as you point out with Chan – we have often forgotten the Spirit, much to our detriment.

      • Stu Cocanougher says:

        Chip, thanks for the clarification. We live in a complicated time in America when politics and religion seem to be so intertwined… on both the right and the left and everywhere in between.
        I think that you and Jim and I can all agree that there are Presbyterian, Baptist, and Assemblies of God leaders whom we admire… and others that are outright embarrassing.
        (By the way, my family is from East Tennessee, ground zero for snake handling).

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    On another note: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGNmY9-M2RE

    (I really love this song)

    I HANDLE SNAKES by Tonio K

    It’s my life
    It’s my decision
    It’s my idea of a good time
    It’s my religion
    I don’t make no sudden movements
    Can’t afford to make mistakes
    I’m a fearless man
    I handle snakes (y’all)

    The lord of hosts
    Has got to like me
    Else this thing here
    (This one right here)
    Would surely strike me
    The one man lays down ten percent
    Another man trembles and quakes
    I save my money
    I handle snakes (y’all)

    I handle snakes
    Well I hug ’em and I kiss ’em
    I handle snakes
    And if they kill me
    I’ll sure miss ’em

    (I handle snakes
    I love it when they listen
    Listen)
    I handle snakes
    And if they kill me
    I’m sure gonna miss ’em

    ‘Cause it’s my life
    It’s my decision
    It’s my idea of a good time (yes it is yes it is)
    It’s my religion
    However
    I don’t say hallelujah
    I don’t even say grace
    But I make my statement
    I say it with snakes

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Chip, those 3 descriptors are classic stereotypes of Pentecostalism.

    Isn’t this describing the church?
    “-an element of order and meaning in a chaotic world
    -A caring community
    -Warm, expressive worship that engages one’s emotions
    -the expression of ‘neighborly love’ shown to the community and it’s members
    -A certain familiarity for those coming from cultures where shaminism is practiced because of the prominence of the spiritual world. (23-24)”

    I’m curious, in your denomination, do you see or experience Pentecostalism as defined by the book? Do you see this to be something within your denomination? My religious experience is I’ve seen Pentecostalism show up in every denomination.
    Thanks Chip for your thoughtful post.

    • Jennifer,
      I think you are 100% correct that – as it is defined here there are ‘Pentecostals’ in every denomination. In the Presbytery of Boston probably 30% of the churches would fit that mold – a large part of our congregation would for sure.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Chip I think one of the largest misconceptions with pentecostalism is that it seeks to explore the mystical, magical and emotionalism of faith and not the logical and factual. I have found this to be untrue for pentecostals as a whole. In any people grouping, there are those who may fall into this way of thinking and living but globally as miller stated its growth negates many of the stereotypes that have once defined “what is pentecostalism?”

    • Christal,
      You are definitely true that most Pentecostals aren’t opposed to logic and facts – and that isn’t what I meant to imply.
      I do think that one of the factors to the rise of Pentecostalism is the openness to things ‘beyond’ the factual and/or logical…. the feelings that go beyond what we can explain and even understand.
      Whether it is the focus on the Holy Spirit or the ‘warmth’ of worship or whatever, that is a contrast to many churches/denominations/movements

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “I don’t think it is necessarily an either or response to modernity or postmodern phenomenon – rather I think it is likely both.”
    I think you are right, Chip. There is an orderliness that remains, even with the Pentecostal engagement with mystery and “magic.” This is why there can be Pentecostal or Charismatic branches of just about any tradition. To me, Pentecostalism looks like a willingness to follow the Spirit, even when it feels illogical. I am learning that when God says, “My ways are not your ways,” God means that those ways will not appear logical to us. That’s one of the reasons we have been given the Spirit – to teach us to use God’s reason and vision rather than our own.

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