Recently we've heard a lot about the rapid worldwide growth of Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Researcher David Barrett and his team have been reminding us for years that these groups have passed all others in their global spread. Polls here at home have showed similarly high domestic growth rates in such groups.
Some secular commentators have found this growth menacing—the burgeoning of yet another potentially violent, reactionary religious group. Some evangelicals, too, are discomfited, finding the charismatics' emphasis on Spirit-bestowed gifts such as tongues and prophecy exotic, if not downright alien.
Yet one needn't search far in the history of evangelicalism to discover a close affinity between charismatic and non-charismatic evangelicals. And evangelicals who envy the charismatics' global growth may even find in this affinity a source of inspiration.
The truth is, some of the most prominent, influential leaders and groups in the evangelical lineage have yearned for, attained, and taught a transformative, post-conversion experience identified with the Holy Spirit.
Sure, these experiences have not usually come attached to the gift of tongues. But in other ways they have resembled closely the modern charismatic experience dubbed "baptism in (or with, or of) the Holy Spirit."
Take, for instance, the prayers of the early American Puritan Cotton Mather (1663-1728), recorded in his diary. Mather asked God to "fulfill the ancient Prophecy, of pouring out the Spirit on all Flesh," and in so doing "revive the extraordinary and supernatural Operations with which He planted His Religion in the primitive Times of Christianity, and order a Descent of His holy Angels to enter and possess His Ministers, and cause them to … fly thro' ...