Brave New (Pentecostal) World

Picking up on a post from last week, a few thoughts about the new reality of a heavily Pentecostalized Christianity newly re-centered on the global South/Majority World.  If the Christian world is now potentially one-quarter Pentecostal and becoming moreso every day, I see the following:

1.  The West will need to come to terms with its new status as minority representatives of the Faith even while it (for the short term at least) maintains most of the financial, institutional, and educational power.

2.  Majority Christianity will begin to take on more and more characteristics (even as it already has) of the cultures in which it is indigenizing.  As with the Christianity that grew in Western Europe in the first thousand years of the faith, issues like syncretism–both real and feared–will make practitioners of older forms of Christianity uncomfortable.

3.  One derivation of Pentecostalism that already finds itself indigenizing well, especially in Africa, is the so-called “prosperity” or “health and wellness” gospel.  While present in the broad stream of American Pentecostalism, it is still somewhat marginalized.  But because of its popularity elsewhere and the fact that it takes its starting point from some central tenets of Pentecostal faith and practice (especially with regard to divine healing), it will not go quietly…and may even become accepted doctrine for the majority of world believers.

4.  Conservative tendencies including but not limited to theologies of homosexuality will cause increasing tensions between old-line and rising Christianities.  This is already taking place in the Anglican Communion, where leaders in Africa and elsewhere have declared independence over these issues.

5.  Hyperpentecostal tendencies not seen in classical Pentecostalism in a generation or more will cause even their Spirit-baptized Western sisters and brothers to become more cautious and guarded.  This has the possibility of leading to a) attempts by settled Pentecostals to control their more effusive coreligionists, b) a counter-reaction that further tamps down Western Pentecostal expressiveness, or c) both.

6.  In the wake of these developments, the West might adopt a paternalistic approach to former colonized peoples, opening up a host of charges related to religious imperialism or neo-colonialism which will leave many stymied and unsure how to proceed.  If the West picks up a so-called “White Man’s Burden” to correct the assumed theological deficiencies of the Majority World, trouble will certainly ensue.

7.  Most hopefully, another narrative could emerge.  It has long been held that Pentecostalism has always had at its root a kind of nascent ecumenism.  Pentecostal scholar Walter Hollenweger felt this strongly and the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 1970s simply assumed that the spiritual unity of the body of Christ was their ultimate destination.  If the world is to become more Pentecostal and Charismatic, it is possible that in a unity of Christian experience and practice, “lived faith” may become a place where believers can come together despite theological variance.  True: we have never seen this happen.  But we’ve also never seen Christianity in this form before.

Anything, I suppose, is possible.


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