Theological Roots of Pentecostalism | Donald W. Dayton

The cover of Dayton's Theological Roots of PentecostalismIt’s tempting to think that the modern Pentecostal movement was created ex nihilo. We imagine God invading Topeca, Kansas and Los Angeles, California in order to restore the New Testament church in a completely new and unanticipated fashion. This comforting origin story, however, is simply untrue.

Just as the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the deep in Genesis one, he moved across the theological and doctrinal landscape of early twentieth-century America to accomplish his work. In Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Donald W. Dayton examines the doctrinal landscape to uncover the antecedents of early Pentecostal doctrine. He finds the roots of Pentecostal doctrine in the Methodist Holiness tradition.

Early Pentecostals spoke of the “full” or “foursquare” gospel. Dayton quotes Amiee Semple McPherson in describing this:

Jesus saves us according to John 3:16. He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4. He heals our bodies according to James 5:14-15. And Jesus is coming again to receive us unto Himself according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. (21)

Jesus is our Saviour, Baptizer, Healer, and soon coming King. The roots of all four of these doctrines can be found in the Methodist Holiness tradition with a few notable changes.

Where Methodists emphasized Sanctification as an act of grace subsequent to salvation, Pentecostals emphasized the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some Pentecostals held on to Sanctification as well as Spirit Baptism which created a five-fold doctrine.

The other curious change is the Pentecostal emphasis on Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism which drives so much mission work. “Methodist and Holiness traditions have historically had little interest in eschatology or have inclined toward a postmillennial eschatology” (146). Dayton roots the rise of Pentecostal Pre-Millennialism in John Fletcher’s doctrine of Dispensations.

Theological Roots of Pentecostalism is a detailed and fascinating look at how Pentecostal doctrine evolved and has served to drive a powerful worldwide movement.

—Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987).

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