Tag Archives | global

The Pentecostals | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's The PentecostalsIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I laughed and cringed—often during the same page. With the passion of a genealogical researcher, Hollenweger uncovers the history of our pentecostal ancestors in all of its glory and absurdity, its passion and pragmatism.

Hollenweger has been viewed as the granddaddy of Pentecostal research for good reason. His doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was a ten volume study of global pentecostalism, the first of its kind. Yes, you read that correctly. Ten volumes! That is what makes The Pentecostals so great.

Perhaps aware that not many people would read his ten volume German dissertation, he condensed his findings into a 500 page Enthusiastisches Christentum: die Pfingstbewegung in Geschichte und Gegenwart which appears in English translation as The Pentecostals. Hollenweger is generous while remaining appropriately critical. Through judicious quoting of source material (the early Pentecostals were know for their prolific production of journals), Hollenweger allows the reader to feel the ethos of the early Pentecostals. He approached his work in two ways.

First, Hollenweger traces the history of pentecostalism. He begins in the United States with the story of Parham and Seymour which most pentecostals are aware of, but he does not stop there. The first half of the book explains how pentecostalism broke out worldwide, from the United states to Brazil, South Africa, and various countries in Europe.

Second, Hollenweger looks at the theology of the diverse pentecostal movement in appropriate categories such as the understanding of scripture, the Trinity, and demonology. This is where Hollenweger applies a more critical lens to the movement. Consider his insight on the gifts of the Spirit (and remember, he wrote this in 1969):

We must look beyond the gifts of the Spirit which are manifested in the Pentecostal movement to find modern gifts of the Spirit: the gifts of service to society and science. That is, we need gifts that will help us to understand better our sick world of politics, economics and science and to contribute to the task of healing it. (373)

I was raised in a small-town Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada church. In reading Hollenweger’s account I finally understood many of the odd theological quirks I grew up with. This not only helps my self-understanding—it enables me to see the doctrinal roots of my own congregants.

The Pentecostals was as compelling as it was informative. My next task is to read his work on pentecostalism that he wrote at the other end of his career: Pentecostalism. A man who bookended his career with in-depth studies of pentecostalism should be read and valued by thoughtful pentecostals today.


Hollenweger, Walter J. The Pentecostals. Translated by R. A. Wilson. London: SCM Press, 1972.

Fire from Heaven | Harvey Cox

The cover of Cox's Fire from HeavenFire from Heaven is one massive mea culpa! In 1965 Harvey Cox released The Secular City where he presupposed the arrival of a post-religious age. In the preface to Fire from Heaven, Cox acknowledged that now it is “secularity, not spirituality, that may be headed for extinction” (xv). The growth of worldwide pentecostalism is a major factor in this flip-flop of opinion.

For Cox, pentecostalism represents an outbreak of primal spirituality that had been repressed by the formalism of religion. Through the recovery of primal speech (glossolalia), primal piety (signs and wonders), and primal hope (endtime eschatology), pentecostalism has proven to be the form in which humanity’s latent spiritual desires took shape.

As a container for primal spirituality, pentecostalism is exceedingly adaptable. Cox shows how pentecostalism welcomes liberation theology in Latin America, shamanism in Korea, and even tribal healing practices in Zimbabwe. Far from being an achilles heel, Cox understands this tendency toward religious syncretism as pentecostalism’s great strength.

Fire from Heaven is part spiritual autobiography and part history. Cox’s willingness to pen his own thoughts adds a sense of genuineness to the story. This same autobiographical sense also colors his interpretation. In the chapter “Music Brought Me to Jesus,” Cox developed an extended analogy between jazz music and pentecostalism (Cox is a jazz saxophonist). While some of the points are fitting, there are a couple major flaws with this argument. First, the actual music of pentecostalism has always tended toward simple folk, roots, and rock styles. More importantly, jazz is highly a sophisticated form of music—an ethos in direct contradiction with pentecostalism’s underprivileged roots.

Another obvious flaw in Cox’s book is the way he only criticized North American pentecostalism. His examples deserved the criticism he delivered, but surely a more unbiased view might find reason to critique other expressions of pentecostalism outside the author’s continent.

Cox has delivered a highly readable interesting analysis of global pentecostalism. His central thesis, that pentecostalism is the vehicle for an outburst of primal spirituality, is thought provoking and could very well be true. Time will tell whether his conclusions in Fire from Heaven weather better than Secular City.


Cox, Harvey. Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995.

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