The Pentecostal movement has been growing radically around the world, and many seemed surprise that this may be the new face of Christianity. For those of us who are in that tribe, it does not come as a shock. Donald Miller’s book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, highlights what many of us have seen firsthand around the world. Pentecostalism is shaping many societies outside of the Western church. By 2025, Miller cites that one out of every three Christians will be Pentecostal (p.18). The Pentecostal movement is growing so rapidly in the global south, Africa and Asia that according to Phillip Jenkins book, The Next Christendom, “By 2050 only about one-fifth of the world’s 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.
Miller’s outstanding research identifies a new form of Pentecostalism and labels them “Progressive Pentecostals.” In previous generations, Miller rightly asserts, that the majority of the twentieth century Pentecostals were highly focused on the imminent return of Jesus. The Pentecostal church was largely focused on converting souls rather than providing for better societies. Miller states that “Pentecostals no longer see the world as a place from which to escape – the sectarian view – but instead as a place to make better (p. 30).”
A great example of this is the Assembly of God church in Calcutta. In a city wrecked with poverty, there is a 173-bed hospital and 16,800 students being educated (p.74). Speaking from my experience in Calcutta and my relationship to this ministry, Mark (1923-1989) and Huldah Buntain truly helped pioneer the efforts of a social gospel in Calcutta. Arriving in Calcutta by boat in 1954, they preached the Gospel to a hurting people. It was in an old church building that a local beggar told Mark, “Preacher, feed our bellies and then try to tell us that there is a God who loves us (Quote from Huldah Buntain). The ministry that is displayed in Calcutta and other parts of the world was resisted at first by the Assemblies of God, but pioneers like Mark and Huldah saw the need for social engagement that is categorized in Miller’s book (You can see more of the Buntain story by clicking here).
Miller’s work touches on my dissertation research, and I think can have significant impact on the Western church if stewarded well. While millions of Millennials have drifted away from the church in the West as presented by writers such as James Emory White, Gabe Lyons, David Kinnaman and many others, the one question that many church thinkers are pondering is how to attract that generation back to the church? I propose that the answer lies within Miller’s book. If the Pentecostal church in the west can refocus to the missional purpose of the Charismatic gifts, then it could quite possibly create an awakening within the heart of the Millennials. After all, social engagement, economic justice, and healing our societies tend to attract many within that generation. Miller explains, “Many recognize that the religious belief and practice (of Pentecostals) have the potential to tap into the most profound desires for human meaning – which for some people may involve service to others, the pursuit of social justice, and the possibility of unconditional love (p.36).”
Pentecostalism is reshaping the Christian world, and many in the world are starting to take notice. As recently as this week, the Economist magazine published an article entitled, “ Ecstasy and Exodus: Charismatic Christianity Thrives Among People on the Move (economist.com).” At the close of the article, author Ireland Letterkenny states, “But wherever people are on the move, and are culturally receptive to Christianity in some form, charismatic religion will surely follow.” The face of Christianity is changing.