Thursday, May 12, 2011

Myths About Pentecostals

Although my course was cancelled (not enough numbers) I thought I'd share a few fun things I learned while prepping it. I'll start with three fun misconceptions about Pentecostalism.

1) Pentecostals are Fundamentalists. I've probably made this generalization myself. But it is completely untrue. Not only did Fundamentalists have a hate on for Pentecostals, their operative eschatology is completely different. At least in terms of Classic Pentecostals, they did adopt a dispensationalist form of premillennialism. But the paradigm was one of restoration and it has a socially optimistic (read revivalistic) orientation. Fundamentalists gravitated to a more pessimistic, Darbyesque version. Fundamentalists were adamant cessationists simply because their view is always one of the world getting worse and worse and threatening the church more and more until the end. Pentecostals saw a church being restored to its place of power and evangelism. They anticipated that this would culminate in a massive revival that would likely be global in dimensions.

Pentecostals also would never take up literalism in the same way as Fundamentalists. Their driving hermeneutic is completely different and their expectation is that the church relies on both Scripture and the Spirit. Contrast this with the Fundamentalists who are holding very modernist claims and relying on the veracity of Scripture as their only proof. Fundamentalist certainty is based on how they construct their argument - evidences that they think demand a verdict. Pentecostals expect more than that - they convince with experience and radical acts of faith. It is wrong to assume Pentecostals are Fundamentalists.

2) Pentecostalism just appears out of nowhere with Azusa. This myth seems to live strongest amongst Pentecostals themselves. The reality is that Pentecostalism is really just the logical progression of the Methodist Holiness theologies that were so popular at that time. Pentecostals articulate their cluster of theologies a bit differently than these Methodist forerunners, for instance tongues was not an evidential aspect of Spirit Baptism for the Holiness groups - but it was a fairly common practice. Pentecostalism is really just a re-configuration of the Holiness movement - and one that has incredible appeal around the world.

3) Pentecostalism is all about ecstatic experiences. This is the thinking behind judgments that Pentecostals are 'holy rollers' or 'Noizerenes'. While ecstatics are definitely a strong part of Pentecostal culture and liturgy - Pentecostalism is actually a readily defined cluster of ideas. This is why, I believe, Pentecostalism has been so adaptive and persuasive. Tongues is not unique enough to define a movement - but theological positions are.


Josh Hopping said...

I would add one more myth:

The Pentecostal movement is NOT the same as the Charismatic movement.

I mention this because most people lump the two movements together, but their theology is very, very different. Pentecostals are, like you mentioned, not Fundamentalists. They are actually more pre-modern in their thinking.

Charismatics, on the other hand, tend to be folks from more Fundamental churches who discover the power of the Holy Spirit. As such, they keep a lot of their old theology and way of thinking.

This split can be seen clearly in the way the two movements view the atonement. Pentecostals tend to favor the Christus Victor view while the Charismatics held to a Penal Substitution view.

Charismatics also tended to be more Reform in their theology while Pentecostalism was more Arminianism, as one would expect coming out of the Methodist holiness movements.

Josh Hopping said...

hmm... I think I worded that first part incorrectly... the myth is that the two movements are the same - should have left the word "not" out of the sentence.


One of Freedom said...

Hey Josh,

I think it is actually more complicated than that - but you are right Charismatics are not Pentecostals. There is a growing concern for this sort of precision and the proposal is that classic Pentecostals is used to describe those movements with Methodist roots (primarily) and more of a narrative mode of thinking. Charismatics are those movements from and within more traditional churches that have a pentecostal experience but frame their theology out of their own tradition (ie. Fundamenatlists, Catholics, Lutherans, etc.) There is a third group with a distinct theology, the neo-pentecostals (sometimes neo-charismatics) which usually have some relationship to a classic Pentecostal movement but have a different shape to their theology. My own denomination is here - Vineyard comes from a movement that comes out of the Pentecostal world (Calvary Chapel - comes from Foursquare) and Quakers. The term pentecostal (small p) is used as a blanket for all of these groups - but it would be wrong to assume they are all the same.

One of Freedom said...

And I just realized that you are also a Vineyardite! :-) You probably already knew that about us.

Josh Hopping said...


One reason why I pointed out the difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics is because I recently discovered it. In my early year, my family attended more Pentecostal churches (my grandfather and grand-grandma were both Pentecostal pastors). Later on in high school and college, I attended more Charismatic churches - without ever thinking about the differences.

Now that I am in the Vineyard movement (home, home at last!), I am beginning to see some of the differences between the different movements and how they effected my view of the Bible and church.

James KA Smith's book "Thinking in Tongues" has been a huge help in allowing me rediscover the "narrative mode of thinking" that I think is crucial to doing church in the future (abet, with a Kingdom Theology twist). :)

Anonymous said...

Talking about myths...

Not all the Pentecostals trace their origins to Azusa. Allan Anderson on his book on Global Pentecostalism debunks it.

Not all Pentecostal movements are outgrown from Holiness movement. There are Calvinist Reformed Pentecostals in Canada and Brazil, Pietistic Lutherans in Nordic countries, Pentecostals rooted in the Orthodox church traditions and so on.

Not all Pentecostals are "pre-modern". The Mulheim Association, one of the most ancient Pentecostal fellowships in Germany is pretty much along with recent scientific discoveries and social change. They are historically mainlines Protestant Pentecostals.

Overall, great job de-mythologizing Pentecostalism.

One of Freedom said...

Great additions Leonard. I think the sheer diversity of forms of Pentecostalism, new and old, speaks of its adaptability as a movement (or number of movements). It is similar to the complexity of trying to define evangelicals.