Pentecostalism and the Disconnect

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 7, 2005

Few could argue with the evidence; pentecostalism is growing rapidly throughout the world.  Some might say that it is the dominant Christian perspective outside of the West.  So, why don’t people in the West talk about it more? Obviously, as global Christians begin to permeate the West, the church in the West is going to have reinterpret itself. 

I am not a tremendous fan of Pentecostalism.  We all know about the abuses that sometimes happen.  However, as a (for lack of a better term) post-charismatic or neo-charismatic (my early years of faith were very charismatic…I haven’t disowned my early years, but I have tempered and challenged them) I can see the benefits of having the church in the West embrace global pentecostalism in measured and intentional ways.  How do you think we ought to relate to the growing global pentecostalism?  Why don’t you think there has been much discussion about this?

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18 Responses to “Pentecostalism and the Disconnect”

  1. Chris on May 7th, 2005 9:52 pm

    This is a really interesting question to me. I hear about the situation in south America, where 85% of the population is Catholic (nominally), but Pentecostals are growing by leaps and bounds. To countries and cultures with ancient Christian traditions (India with its Thomas Christians and South America with its Catholicism e.g.), Pentecostalism seems alive with purpose and life in a way that indigenous expressions don’t perhaps seem. What would your answer to your questions be?

  2. steve struthers on May 8th, 2005 6:27 pm

    Mark, I live in Minneapolis and I am interested in the Mission Think/Christians in a Consumer Culture confrence. What ways could I get involved?

  3. steve struthers on May 8th, 2005 6:33 pm

    opps the email address didn’t show up,
    email me at:

    Maybe we can get together sometime, Hard Times Cafe? I have a large amount of work due on a reserch paper this week, but anytime after friday May 13 would work great.

  4. steve struthers on May 8th, 2005 10:43 pm

    Mark, the two messages above were both mine, I have no idea why the first one posted me as “Chris”. Anyway I am interested in the Mission Think/Christians in a Consumer Culture confrence. What ways could I get involved?

  5. steve on May 8th, 2005 10:45 pm

    ok, I feel like an idiot. I just reallized the posting puts the person’s name below the post. I really hope this doesn’t form a lasting impression of me.

  6. Blorge on May 9th, 2005 9:37 am

    I think a major reason why pentecostalism doesn’t get more attention has to do with the anti-intellectualism that has been present in so many of their communities. The first generation of charismatic/pentecostal scholars is really starting to hit it academics stride within the last few years. It takes time for all of this to filter down through the church ranks.

    I can probably count on one hand the “important” or “well-known” pentecostal scholars out there. As a 20-something seminarian, I can’t say I’ve read too much by any Pentecostal, even though I’ve studied under some.

    About the 2/3rds world pentecostals: they get accused of synchretism and are easy to dismiss by people not into it.

  7. Tim Bednar on May 9th, 2005 9:44 am

    As a Pentecostal (formerly Assemblies of God), I have found it strange how squeamish the emerging church is of folks like me. I guess I would land in the neo- or post-pentecostal sort of definition.

    I just find it funny that so many emerging churchers are able to accept the questions that Brian McLaren poses in his recent books, (i.e. hell)–but God-forbid that anyone actually believe in speaking in tongues or prophecy.

    I have found it hard to get anyone to actually discuss the subject with any sort of honesty, accept for folks who are already Pentecostals.

    I personally think that Pentecostalism and its familiarity with the “supernatural” is often better able to process many of the mystical and quasi-supernatural questions now posed by our culture. We actually have a lot in common with Catholics (I’m a former Catholic) who are open to seeing a vision of Mary in a piece of toast or see Jesus in an ultrasound photo or actually believe in the dogma of transubstantiation.

    I just happen to actually believe that in speaking in tongues, in prayer, I commune in a immediate way with the Holy Spirit. I feel that any discussion of the Holy Spirit in the emerging church is lacking, He is simply absent from the theological/doctrine of the emerging church.


    As far as abuses, find any tradition without abuses? I just love how Pentecostalism is always qualified in such terms. We rarely qualify other traditions that way–I suppose I can thank Jimmy Swaggart or Benny Hinn. Anyways, I wrote this a long time ago…

    Bottomline, there are wacko Pentecostals. For all I know, I’m one of them. But sometimes, some of them may really speak the truth. But at least, they are passionate and take lots of risks. Often, they are the true subversives in the church.

    I’ve just always found lots of courage and hope in the fervent, tongues interlaced prayers of Pentecostals. There is nothing much like a real, Holy Spirit encounter at the alter of a Pentecostal church.

  8. Van S on May 9th, 2005 12:48 pm

    Good stuff Tim. I am a “neo-charismatic” of sorts. I became a Christian in the charismatic movement and though I rejected it for a while, have become enamored with the Holy Spirit in the last few years. I decided to drop my beef with the charismatic church and start reapproaching the issues from both a biblical and theological vantagepoint. As someone in the emergent movement (sort of, at least…I’m not sure what the qualifications actually are *wink*), I am on the same page as you. I pray in tongues and all that junk. And while I’m all for leaving charismatic baggage behind, I think we shouldn’t throw out the Spirit with the Bathwater.


    It is true that pentecostals are often anti-intellectual. However, intellectuals are just as much anti-pentecostal. I think the role of the theologian shouldn’t just be to set new agendas for the Church (if theologians even do that anymore), but to help it understand itself better. If this is part of their goal, then they need to address the radical testimony of the New Testament and the profound ways in which the Spirit is manifest in the Church.

    We can only speak into global pentecostalism if we are willing to learn from it. Often, we take the stance of superiority. We need to stop that and start dialoguing when possible. They may be guilty of religious synchretism…but so are we. American Christianity is every bit as infused with consumerism as African Christianity may be infused with animism.

  9. Michelle on May 9th, 2005 2:47 pm

    Forgive me if this a completely ingnorant question. But in campus crusade people were asked not to speak in tounges during large group prayer times and to reserve that gift for private prayer. So how come its so controlable? I mean if people can refrain in one instance and be overcome in another. Well it just seems like if its Spirit lead it could just happen any time any where. Because if we strive for the Spirit to be incontrol more often than ourselves well how can crusade even ask somone as a courtisie to “keep it in the closet” for lack of a better way to put it?

  10. Tim on May 9th, 2005 10:00 pm

    One reason Pentecostalism is growing in other parts of the world is because these places are not enamored with science. The supernatural is taken for granted in many of these places. North America and Europe, for better or worse, have gone through the Englightenment. I think we will be dealing with the effects of the Enlightenment for a long time in our culture.

    In many of these countries, the supernatural is an assumed part of daily life.

    I think this is also why North Americans are silent about Pentecostalism. It’s not as though North American Christians don’t believe in the supernatural, but it is obviously different than the pentecostal worldview.

  11. waler on May 10th, 2005 6:03 pm

    Just a quick quetion…
    Where do you find biblical support for the practice of (privately) praying in tongues? I always thought that the gift was to edify the church and was of no use without an interpreter. If you could hook me up with some proof texts (chapter & verse if you don’t mind) I would truly appreciate it.

  12. Michelle on May 10th, 2005 11:14 pm

    I’m not sure if your asking me for biblical support for private praying in toungues. I don’t have any. I was just wondering why a person who seems to have been given this gift can supress it in some settings and participate in others if its spirit directed. I’m only basing this idea on my experiences with crusade and their polite request that people don’t pray in this manner openly.
    Is no one answering my question because its hard to answer in a post?

  13. Van S on May 11th, 2005 10:32 am

    Waler and Michelle,

    Let me address your questions briefly.

    First, the primary texts used to support the idea of prayer language are:

    1 Cor 14:2

    “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men, but to God.”

    1 Corinthians 14:4

    “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…”

    1 Corinthians 14:14

    “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”

    Romans 8:26-27

    “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

    Nevertheless, I find such scriptural support for a prayer language a bit weak. The teaching of scripture is that tongues exists primarily as divine utterance, and should be accompanied with interpretation. That doesn’t rule out that it could be used in prayer. And I hardly see how it could be harmful. I say that we give liberty when it comes to personal tongues. When it comes to public utterance, however, it is definitely clear that an interpretation is needed.

    On to the question of suppression of tongues. It has been my experience that both prophecy and tongues are under the control of the person speaking. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t ask the congregations to maintain order and limit the number of prophesies or tongues given in a gathering.

    1 Cor 14:27ff:

    27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

    Many people misunderstand tongues. It isn’t ecstatic speach. In other words, it doesn’t sort of flow out of you in an uncontrollable way. Some people only can speak in tongues when they are having some sort of mystical experience…but such people are able to stop speaking in tongues at will. When I speak in tongues (yes, though it is little known, I do speak in tongues and yet I am still sane) I am able to start and stop at will. This is common for many people. Because I am able to have such a high degree of control over it, people often conclude that it isn’t real…that I’m speaking jibberish. But millions have the same ability, and I’ve listened to myself and it is decidedly not jibberish. Though I can control when I stop and start, I am not controlling the sounds coming out of my mouth. They are astonishingly complex and intricate.

    I realize that I’ve fueled the fire to continue talking about tongues…but can we move back to the question of how we as the church in the West can connect with our global pentecostal brothers and sisters?

  14. jeff on May 11th, 2005 11:49 am

    This is a great question. And the answer is really quite simple and complex at the same time. The Church in the West can connect with Pentecostals by being humble, being open, shedding its baggage and building friendships. It’s really the simply complex answer to all Christian divisions.
    My experience:
    I grew up in an abusive charismatic church that has deeply scarred me and left me very skeptical of charismatics and pentecostals. But in recent years I have received healing through the friendship of a pastor of a charismatic church in my neighborhood who is one of the most sincere, compassionate, faith and spirit-filled people I know. I don’t even think he knows how much he has contributed to my healing just by being who he is. And through my humility, openness and friendship he has helped me to shed much of my baggage.

  15. Michelle on May 14th, 2005 11:54 am

    Is there any way we could sort of “police” abuse of the gift. Maybe if there were some kind of agreed upon safe gards peole would be less garded about it.
    How have these other nations been able to rise above falling into the misuse of tounges?
    I think it would be easier to persuade individuals to shed their baggage if safe gards were in place.
    This whole post has made me realize that I wouldn’t like to be blessed with speaking in tounges, nor would I be very jazzed about it if I already could. And I need to do some serious thinking about why I feel this way.

  16. Tim Bednar on May 16th, 2005 9:38 am

    Wow. I’m sort of surprised at the discussion. Okay, I think that Van S answer the question very nicely.

    I’d just add that speaking in tongues in private prayer for me has tenuous biblical support. However, I can not deny my experience of it and its trans-formative/transcendent reality for my life.

    Now, do I think my experience is prescriptive. No. It is MY experience.

    I’m always disappointed when some people just say it can’t be real or are at least not open to the possibility of its being possible. For I find no biblical evidence to deny that this experience is real and vital. And if its not real, then its just a psychological phenomenon or worse (demonic–are their only two sides to the spiritual world good and evil?).

    That said, this is why Pentecostalism is both interesting and “dangerous”. And I think serves as an interesting source for the emerging church (if they care to look).

    Pentecostals where doing what the emerging church is now doing almost 100 years ago–breaking with traditional doctrine in favor of a real experience. They did not offer rigid intellectual support for tongues or healing or prophecy. They just experienced it and went with it.

    For many of the first “holy-rollers” they were ousted from mainline denominations and ridiculed or worse. Many where thought to be demon possessed, yet they persisted, built their own institutions (which are now mostly mainstream) and eventually earned some respect (albeit qualified).

    Where Pentecostalism as I know it breaks down, is that it wants to make the experience prescriptive (something all need to experience in a homogeneous way).

  17. Tim Bednar on May 16th, 2005 9:43 am

    Okay, back to Van S original question. Connecting with the global, growing Pentecostal movement. I think the answer is simply to be a learner from them, to honestly learn as in they are the teacher we are the student. I think that Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, illustrates this is more and more the reality.

  18. in medias res on May 22nd, 2005 12:52 am

    Back to Corinthians

    Referring back to a post from about 4 months ago on the problem of speaking in tongues dealt with in Acts and Corinthians, there this.

    It’s long. I haven’t been able to read it all yet, but from scanning it, it looks good. The author seems to take a…

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