Review: “To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity”

9780195386424_p0_v2_s260x420Allan Anderson currently serves as Professor of Mission and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham (UK).  His new monograph To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity is but the latest in a series of books and articles marking him as one of the world’s foremost Pentecostal scholars.  Anderson’s previous work An Introduction to Pentecostalism (soon to be in its second edition) is one of the standard texts in the field.  With this new volume, he further explicates the movement to which he has devoted his life’s scholarly energies.

I should note here that Professor Anderson also served as a reader on my dissertation committee.  In that role he provided important insight into my project and was a valued voice in that process.

The goal of To the Ends of the Earth is rather simple: in Anderson’s words, to take “the fact of Pentecostalism’s growth as its starting point and…[give] an explanation for it.”   The dynamics and popularity of the movement are described as follows:

The emphasis on the Spirit, the “born-again” experience, incessant evangelism, healing and deliverance, cultural flexibility, a place-to-feel-at-home, religious continuity, an egalitarian community, meeting “felt needs”; all these features combine to provide an overarching explanation for the appeal of Pentecostalism and the transformation of Christianity in the majority world.

Arranged in a broadly topical fashion, To The Ends of the Earth looks at the attraction of world Pentecostalism from a variety of perspectives.  Notable chapters include: “Women and Family” (giving attention to both the overt and sometimes silent ways that Pentecostalism empowers women), “Bible and Community” (helpfully describing the movement’s deep and dynamic relationship with the Scriptures), and “Transformation and Independence” (dealing with the ways in which the movement has been and continues to be uniquely indigenous the world over).Global-ReOrient

As Anderson further goes about his task, he spends time walking through areas of Pentecostal history familiar to many students of the movement.  At the same time he does not limit himself to the tale as traditionally told.  Because of his commitment to analyzing Pentecostalism as the world movement it is today, he is also able to unveil the ways in which it is a  translocal and diverse phenomenon.  The global approach is helpful here and is accomplished with more skill and readability than I have ever seen.  Despite the fact that he is dealing with diverse forms over multiple continents, Anderson’s skills are such that the whole story holds together in a compelling fashion.

Notwithstanding the insight he provides, I do wonder about Anderson’s tendencies in his particular discussion of Pentecostal origins.  As this is a study on world Christianity, his focus on elements around the globe makes sense.  Further, because he (and others) are concerned with a previous overemphasis on American primacy in much of the early scholarly literature on the movement (even though he admits that Azusa has “merit”), relevant alternatives are rightly considered.  In his words, “the macro-context must not be lost.”  To this end the evidence he marshals is powerful.

But claiming that “Pentecostalism is neither a movement with distinct beginnings in the United States or anywhere else” may end up obscuring certain realities even as it seeks to reveal others.  The United States did have a vital role–one could argue the vital role–in Pentecostalism’s genesis.  While nuance is important here, I do wonder whether the current focus on the independence and uniqueness of Majority World religion therefore affects this discussion more than it should.   Make no mistake: contemporary Pentecostalism is deeply indigenized and diverse.  It is not the particular province of America, but a thing unto itself.  I understand Anderson’s concerns here.  But even if it was historically proven that every single Pentecostal group around the world traced their origins to Azusa (and certainly they do not), this would do nothing to detract from the uniquely powerful forms and shapes they take today.

icon-pentecost1Despite these potential historiographical quibbles, To the Ends of the Earth is a marvelous work.  It reminds me of a comment I once heard at a panel discussion of Heaven Below, Grant Wacker’s study of early American Pentecostals.  One of the reviewers said something to the effect that what Wacker had done “sounded like the Pentecostals they knew.”  From a certain perspective, no higher praise can be given.  In the same way, then, I would say that what Anderson has accomplished here also “sounds like” the Pentecostalism in which I belong and to which I have devoted my academic efforts.

Ultimately, To the Ends of the Earth performs a valuable scholarly service, is written in a compelling manner, and is representative and holistic in its approach.  I highly recommend the book for all those interested in the contemporary beliefs and practice of a growing number of world Christians.  Scholars will be blessed with the work as a ready resource in this expanding area of research.  As for me, I plan on assigning the book as a supplementary text in my Church History II class next semester.  Both my students and I will richly benefit from the experience.

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