In recent news, the term “Evangelical” has been used a lot. It was used during last year’s American elections due to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and recently, the term has come up in response to scandals involving politician Ray Moore.
Whenever I see the term “Evangelical” used today, it always refers to a very specific group of people. It is always used in the context of politically/socially conservative American Protestants, especially from the southern United States. However, this use of the term is both historically and theologically inaccurate, and I believe that this needs to be addressed. This is especially true because of this organization — Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is in fact a part of the wider Evangelical tradition, so I think that we need to discuss what that term means in its wider context. Continue reading What Do We Mean By “Evangelical”?→
In my opinion, many evangelicals have neglected, if not denied, the supernatural due to a general search for respectability. Nowhere is this evangelical search for respectability more evident to me than among Pentecostals. All Pentecostal Christians pay lip service to miracles, but how many actually believe in and pray for miracles? Many do, but I would guess their number is fewer than fifty years ago. To a very large extent, according to my observations, American Pentecostals have blended in with American society and lost their particularity—except on paper.
One notable feature of Pentecostalism that is gradually changing is its anti-intellectualism and that I consider a positive sign of maturation. In the past, intellectually inclined Pentecostals had to work outside their tradition (in non-Pentecostal evangelical organizations and institutions) or leave Pentecostalism altogether. Today there is a rich and growing intellectual subculture among American Pentecostals evidenced by the large and flourishing Society for Pentecostal Studies and its scholarly journal Pneuma. Pentecostal leaders are far less devoted to anti-intellectualism than fifty years ago. It’s not difficult to identify Pentecostal scholars with reputations beyond the movement’s borders: Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Amos Yong, Gary Tyra, Frank Macchia, Gerald Sheppard, Russell Spittler, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Stephen Land, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, James Smith. Continue reading Why American Pentecostals Stopped Being Pacifists→
Ever since rev. Campbell Morgan called Pentecostalism “the last vomit of Satan” and the Los Angeles Times warned the public about the “new sect of fanatics [that] is breaking loose” from Azusa Street, Spirit-filled Christians have had a bad rap. Other Christians as well as non-Christians oftentimes find us weird, and sometimes a bit dangerous. A lot of those perceptions are based on myths and misconceptions. Here are nine common beliefs about Pentecostals and Charismatics that are totally wrong.
1. It’s a small movement
Depending on where you’re located, the Pentecostal and Charismatic (P&C) movement might seem pretty small. But when you look at it on a global level, it turns out that 600 million people are P&Cs. 200 million are Pentecostals, 100 million are charismatic Catholics, and 300 million are charismatics in a big variety of denominations and churches. Since the number of P&Cs amounted to around zero in the beginning of the 20th century, the P&C movement is commonly described as the fastest growing religious movement in the world.
2. It’s a Cult
I’ve heard surprisingly many casually state “All of Pentecostalism is a cult”, to which I like to respond “That’s about as true as the statement ‘The moon is a tomato’.” Cult is not synonymous with “religion I don’t like”, it has an academic meaning of an isolated group with an authoritarian leader, and while there surely are several sad examples of charismatic churches that have developed into cults it is simply ridiculous to claim that we all would be part of some sort of Jonestown. At least that’s what my Leader tells me and he’s always infallible when he drinks goat blood.
It is a known story that some group of radical Jews wanted to go against the Roman Empire fighting for the independence of the land of Israel. In such a context, the figure of Jesus was at least contradictory. He claimed to be a king though without a land to rule, he said his realm was not of this world and he proclaimed freedom for the slaves, but not Israeli independence. It was understandable to see some Jews rejecting him, because why should we follow a liberator that can’t give political freedom?
This story has a different meaning depending on the place where it is remembered. For instance, it is not the same to speak about it being a Christian of a first world country like England -that was a big Christian empire until just some years ago- or United States -that still looks to be like a kind of empire for many parts of the world-, than to reflect on it from a third world country like a Latin-American one. Continue reading Pentecostals vs the Empire→
R. Hollis Gause, a prominent Pentecostal theologian (Church of God, Cleveland, TN), elucidates an alternative to fundamentalist dispensationalism through a careful comparison-contrast of dispensational theology and a theology of progressive revelation. Gause explains that progressive revelation does not divide up biblical history as dispensationalism. It does not hermeneutically distinguish between the Church, Israel, and the kingdom of God. The nature of God, the history of salvation, and the character of the people of God are progressively revealed. Earlier events anticipate and predict later events. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives Scripture a progressive and even prophetic or predictive quality.
In stark contrast to the hermeneutical compartmentalizing of dispensationalism, progressive revelation affirms a more unified approach to biblical interpretation and understanding. Gause concludes that “the view of progressive and unified revelation of the history of salvation offers the better interpretation of Scripture.” For Gause, considerations of the unchangeableness and unity of God and God’s Word consistently lead to this conclusion. Continue reading A Pentecostal Alternative to Dispensationalism→
The original movement behind modern Charismatic Christianity is Pentecostalism. The name “Pentecostal”, as we all likely know, comes directly from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In that chapter, on the day of Pentecost (referring to the fiftieth day after Passover), the early church received an amazing gift (charism): the Holy Spirit descended upon them. The Bible says:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).
The story of Pentecost is powerful. It testifies to us the importance of the Spirit in the church. However, we in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement have a tendency to stop reading the chapter not long after this. We heavily emphasize spiritual gifts and revival, but we ignore the following verses in this chapter, in which the early church’s social dynamic is described to us. Continue reading Community of Goods: Economics According to the New Testament→
Pentecostal biblical scholar French Arrington details the popularization of dispensationalism by John Nelson Darby and by C. I. Scofield. Arrington describes dispensationalism as “an interpretive scheme grafted onto the traditional body of Christian doctrine.” He defines it more specifically as a “basic assumption that God deals with the human race in successive dispensations.” A dispensation is a period of time marked by a beginning, a test, and termination in judgment through human failure or sin.
Though dispensationalism has influenced Pentecostal theology, probably because of the avid attachment of both to eschatology, “the earliest Pentecostal teachings were not tied to directly to dispensationalism.” In Arrington’s opinion, the statements of faith of major Pentecostal denominations do “commit them to premillennialism but not necessarily to dispensationalism.” Continue reading Why Did Pentecostalism Merge With Fundamentalism?→