The Heart of Pentecostalism

300px-AFM_on_azusa_streetOver the next few months I will be working on a writing assignment about “The Charismatic Renewal” for Brill.  The piece will be but one chapter in a larger volume on World Christianity.

Broadly conceived, “The Charismatic Renewal” (CR) constitutes all those elements of Christianity in the past 150 years or so that are Spirit-based or pnuema-centric.  This mix therefore includes traditional Pentecostal denominations and the Charismatic Movement within the mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches as well as independent and/or non-denominational Christian groups with an emphasis on the active role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

At present, I’ve been considering a few different approaches to the chapter.  I think that it makes sense to choose an organizing theme or idea that will encompass what the editor wants.  An effort to settle on such a “catch-all” category for defining the rather broad “Charismatic Renewal in Christianity” has therefore led me to a number of different (and insightful) ideas already considered by various scholars.  Here are some:

  • Primitivism: Not in the Modernist sense of backwardness, but rather the idea that the revival sought to restore the early (or primitive) aspects of Christianity (i.e. the Book of Acts).11623353-indoor-fire-pot
  • Piety vs. Pragmatism: A notion of Grant Wacker’s in Heaven Below.  Speaking of early Pentecostals, he notes that they were simultaneously caught up in the Spirit and deeply realistic about the realities of life around them.
  • Eschatological: The corollary to the primitivism motif.  The idea that even as the Church is being restored to its earliest days it is being prepared for the end times.
  • Center/Periphery: The notion that the movement is often one at the margins, rejected more mainstream elements of the world and/or traditional Christianity.  It works well to describe early Pentecostals, but also emerging elements of the revival in the Majority (i.e. developing) world.
  • Encounter/Experience: Keith Warrington has written an entire book on Pentecostal Theology with the subtitle “A Theology of Encounter.”  Because living in the Spirit is, to a person, a very deep individual and communal encounter with God, such a description makes sense.   There is more to the movement that this, however.

I could go on and talk about globalization/indigenization, anti-denominationalism, or parse Pentecostal scholar William Hollenweger‘s numerous “roots” of Pentecostalism.  All are helpful markers for understanding this “third stream” of Christianity.  For brevity, though, I will simply reveal the theme I upon which I am slowly settling: ecumenism.  As a thing of the whole Church, ecumenism has been an idea and movement that seeks to consider the ways in which Christians are not only theologically one in Christ but how this unity may take place in our world.

Within the Church, much time has been spent in the past century in the broader Ecumenical Movement, as various parties have discussed theology and practice while reflecting on unity.  Within the “Charismatic” side of Christianity, however, a new reality of ecumenism has become possible: one of shared experience of the Holy Spirit that implicitly rejects nearly two millennia Christian division.  As Allan Anderson writes, “Pentecostalism in the western world was an ecumenical group of people claiming a common experience rather than a common doctrine.”

indexWhat was true of believers in the West is also true, I would contend, of Charismatic Christians the world over.  Deep and profound experience of the Holy Spirit–no matter the outward trappings–is both the sine qua non of the revival and that which gives it a kind of unity.d  Experience is important here, but the shared experience the movement brings carries even greater weight.  While many branches with the CR have shown a tendency towards division and they can be contentious one with another, the idea that God has “shown up” and the “Spirit blows where it wills” (John 3:8) is a powerful idea and experience.  It is at once a sociological reality for Charismatic believers even as it is something that really unites–and has the potential to unite–all of those within the amorphous and ever-growing movement.

Though the idea of an “ecumenism of experience” will by definition be theologically difficult to work through (especially because academic theology is NOT its starting point), it is the place that I will probably begin.  It provides a central theme around which “lived religion” and the moving of the Spirit–historically, in the present day, and in the future–can be described and, at least partially, explained.   My hope is that it will provide a helpful window into the topic that will be both accurate and compelling.

More on this and related ideas as I continue my work on the project.


2 comments on “The Heart of Pentecostalism

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