King's Evangelical Divinity School

29 January 2010

Except 1, "Pentecostalism and Politics in Latin America"

Back in 2007 I produced a manual for an M.A. module exploring Pentecostalism and politics in Latin America for the University of Wales. Because of my ongoing research into this field, which is why some people visit this blog, over the next couple of weeks I thought I'd intersperse my other posts with the occasional excerpt from this study guide for those interested in learning more about Pentecostal political involvement in Central and South America. So anyway, here's the first excerpt.


A. Background: Introduction to Pentecostalism

Before embarking on a study of Pentecostalism and politics within the Latin America milieu, it is important to define the movement and highlight several of its important characteristics. First, it should be noted that Pentecostalism is an Evangelical movement. Evangelicalism is a notoriously difficult term to define. The Evangelical scholar Derek Tidball states:
Attempts at precise definitions are rather like attempts to pick up a slippery bar of soap with wet hands. Some are too narrow and exclude those that should be included. Such definitions often consist of a long doctrinal check-list. Some are so broad that they include those who patently should not be included, if the definition is to have any meaning. (1)
R.V. Pierard explains how the word `Evangelical’ comes from the Greek euangelion, meaning `glad tidings’, or `joyful news’. In Middle English, euangelion was translated godspell, from which we derive `gospel’. Thus, Evangelicalism emphasises the gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ, that is, a transcendent, personal God; total depravity and sinfulness of humanity; divine grace and the forgiveness of sin through a saviour, Jesus Christ; eternal life received through faith; and the visible, personal return of Christ. At the core of Evangelicalism lies an emphasis on sharing this gospel with others, encouraging them personally to accept the message of the cross (known as conversion, or `being saved’), as well as the central role of the Bible (often interpreted literally) in issues of belief and practice. (2) Therefore, Evangelicalism emphasises actions as well as beliefs, such as sharing one’s faith with others, reading the Bible, praying, and the pursuit of holy living. Its adherents are also missionary-minded, seeking conversions. Thus, the movement is associated with such revivalist preachers as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and D.L. Moody.

In summary, then, Evangelicalism emphasises personal conversion, piety, and a dynamic, one-on-one relationship with Christ which helps to make it a highly individualised faith. David Bebbington has defined Evangelicalism by highlighting four core themes: crucicentrism (i.e. the centrality of the cross and gospel of Christ), conversionism, Biblicism, and activism. (3) It should also be noted that Evangelicalism is a pan-denominational movement. That is to say, it can be found across Protestantism within various denominations (so, for example, there are Evangelical Anglicans, Evangelical Baptists, and so on). Hence, Evangelicalism is a theological and philosophical movement within Protestantism, rather than a separate denomination (much like Protestant liberalism).

Pentecostalism represents a branch of Evangelicalism (all Pentecostals are Evangelical, but not all Evangelicals are Pentecostal). Pentecostalism demonstrates the same defining features of Evangelicalism we have just outlined, but adds others to them. These include a strong emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, usually expressed through a belief in acts of power (known as signs and wonders), which include supernatural spiritual gifts (as discussed by Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 12-14), especially glossolalia (speaking in tongues), miracles and divine healing. It is this emphasis on pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) which represents the defining core of Pentecostalism.

B. Classical Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement

Pentecostalism’s roots draw on various revivalist strands, for example, John Wesley and his belief in a second act of grace subsequent to salvation, Charles Finney’s focus on a baptism of the Holy Spirit (leading to instant sanctification), and also the Holiness movement. But whereas each of these associated a second act of grace (i.e. the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to, and separate from, salvation) with holiness and sanctification, the early Pentecostals associated the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with manifestations of power, signs and wonders, most notably glossolalia. Historians of Pentecostalism often cite two outbreaks of speaking in tongues as pivotal for the rise of the movement. These were at a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, run by Charles Fox Parham, in 1901, and the Asuza Street Revival, Los Angeles, between 1906-1908 and led by William Seymour (who was a student of Parham’s for a brief period). Within a few years, the new Pentecostals had broken away from the old Holiness movement to form their own denominations, the most significant being the Assemblies of God.

Historians and theologians refer to this movement as classical Pentecostalism to differentiate it from a later Pentecostal-type movement known as the Charismatic (or Charismatic renewal) movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Like classical Pentecostalism, the focus of the Charismatic movement was very much upon signs and wonders manifested through a baptism of the Holy Spirit. But whereas classical Pentecostalism focused strongly on glossolalia, Charismatics also emphasised the other supernatural gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The Charismatics also differed from classical Pentecostals in that they chose to remain within their denominations, rather than leave them to form new ones. Thus, like Evangelicalism, the Charismatic movement is pan-denominational, so we can speak today of Charismatic Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, and even Orthodox Charismatics.

The 1980s witnessed another Charismatic expression which became known as the Vineyard movement, led by the former Quaker and musician John Wimber. An associate of Wimber’s, C. Peter Wagner, labelled this movement the Third Wave (i.e. the third wave of Holy Spirit activity, the first two being classical Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement of the 1950s-60s). The Third Wave was essentially Charismatic in nature but downplayed several central theological tenets of Pentecostalism, and in doing so attracted new adherents. In the 1990s, Charismatics spoke of a Fourth Wave, the so-called Toronto Blessing of the 1990s, where congregations were seized by fits of spontaneous laughter, and today some even speak of Fifth and Sixth Waves. Clearly, the more fragmented the Charismatic movement becomes, the more likely the characterising features of these different expressions are blurred. The important thing to remember for the purposes of this module is the difference between classical Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement.

One final point should be mentioned. The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have a strong proselytising tendency. There are several reasons for this, not least their historical links with revivalism. The strong emotional focus also helps Pentecostals and Charismatics to want to share their faith with others. In addition, by virtue of its pneumatology, which in turn affects its highly apocalyptic eschatology (theology of the end times), as discussed in the next unit, classical Pentecostalism draws on a theological sense of urgency that has made it strongly evangelistic. Thus, Pentecostalism has seen rapid growth across the world, which reached explosive levels from the 1980s onwards. This is especially the case in Latin America, but more recently in Africa and parts of Asia.


(1) Derek Tidball, Who Are the Evangelicals? Tracing the Roots of Today’s Movement (London: Marshall Pickering, 1994), 12.

(2) R.V. Pierard, `Evangelicalism’, in Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 379-382.

(3) David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History From the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2-19.

This slightly modified excerpt originally appeared in Pentecostalism and Politics in Latin America (Lampeter: University of Wales, 2007).

1 comment:

Stuart said...

Thoroughly enjoyed that.