Tag Archives | Walter J. Hollenweger

Unifying Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

Walter HollenwegerI believe that there is something unifying in the Pentecostal movement, but it is probably not on the level of doctrine. It is a way of doing theology: experience-related, open to oral forms, ecumenical (by virtue of its many worldwide forms), and expressing itself in categories of pneumatology.

—Hollenweger, Pentecostalism, 329.

Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's PentecostalismWalter J. Hollenweger (1927-1916), an ordained minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, book-ended his academic career with large works on pentecostalism. His ten volume (!) doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was condensed then translated into The Pentecostals—a highly readable and insightful book on the origins of the global Pentecostal movement.

Pentecostalism is more than an update to The Pentecostals. In his earlier work he privileged history over theology. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is “a thoroughly theological book” (92) in which he traces the diverse roots of global pentecostalism. Hollwenweger identifies five theological roots which have fed the movement we see today:

  1. The Black Oral Root. While in the West today, “Pentecostalism is fast developing into an evangelical middle class religion” (19), things were different in the beginning. Hollenweger shows how pentecostalism is thriving in Africa, even if sects like the Kimbanguists of Zaïre make Western theologians nervous!
  2. The Catholic Root. Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Wesley brothers, who were in turn influenced by Roman Catholicism. Hollenweger traces the uneasy but definable influence of Roman Catholic theology on the pentecostal movement.
  3. The Evangelical Root. In this slim section, Hollenweger follows “the traces of Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification through the American Holiness movement” (181). His discussion of the relationship between pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (ch. 15) is particularly insightful.
  4. The Critical Root. In this disproportionately large section of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger reviews the numerous critical issues which pentecostals are beginning to face. Fortunately, pentecostals can no longer be described as “anti-intellectual, evangelical-fundamentalist and anti-ecumenical” (van der Laan in Hollenweger 201)! Pentecostal scholarship has started to rigorously address broader theological issues such as liberation theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and post-colonial missions. From my perspective studying at McMaster Divinity College, the two decades of pentecostal/charismatic scholarship that followed the publication of Pentecostalism have added immensely to all the areas which Hollenweger surveys.
  5. The Ecumenical Root. This is Hollenweger’s wheelhouse. In both of his books on pentecostalism he repeatedly laments pentecostal disengagement with the ecumenical movement. In Pentecostalism he is cautiously optimistic that pentecostals are now engaging with the universal body of Christ as expressed by the World Council of Churches.

In Pentecostalism, the “elder statesman of Penteecostal studies” (Cox), shows the astounding breadth of global pentecostalism. Though technically an outsider, Hollenweger handles the diverse issues of this massive movement with critical sensitivity. I only wish he had a chance to update his work one last time before his passing.


Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

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.

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