Grading the Movement
Pentecostalism stepped into its second century this month. To mark the occasion, CT associate editor Madison Trammel and associate online editor Rob Moll met with three noted Pentecostal leaders for a "state of the union" discussion.
Derrick Hutchins pastors two churches, New Life Church in Orlando and the Family Worship Center in Columbia, South Carolina, and also serves as elected chairman of the general council of pastors and elders of the Church of God in Christ. Predominately black, the Church of God in Christ is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, claiming a membership of more than 4 million.
Lee Grady is editor of Charisma, the flagship magazine of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement with a circulation of 250,000 readers.
Russell Spittler currently serves as interim provost of Vanguard University, an Assemblies of God college in Southern California, and he is also provost emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary.
At the beginning of the 20th century, no one could have predicted the explosive growth of Pentecostalism. How do you explain it?
Hutchins: Bishop Mason, the founder of the Church of God in Christ, actually did foresee this phenomenon. He said that the Pentecostal movement would grow until no building could contain those who would embrace this newfound spiritual expressionspeaking in tongues and the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
Spittler: By the end of the 19th century, the mood overall in American culture was notably optimistic. There was the growth of classic Christian liberalism and the formation of the social gospel. [But] that optimism was sharply modified by events like the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic. There were three reactions to liberalism: fundamentalism, neo-orthodoxy, and Pentecostalism.
Fundamentalism was a rational reaction. Neo-orthodoxy was also rational, but it had different presuppositions. Pentecostalism was experiential. So what Pentecostals value highly is personal experience of the Holy Spirit.
Hutchins: But when I look at Pentecostalism and its history, I see it through the lens of race. In the 1900s, my people were not in a situation where they were optimistic. They were trying to survive and believe that God someday would deliver us like he did the Israelites. A black man, William Seymour, was the instrument [leading the Azusa Street revival]. Why would God use this relatively uneducated black man?
Also, I think the reason Pentecostalism survived is because there were some people who really organized it. John Maxwell says everything falls or succeeds on leaders.
What about Pentecostalism's growth beyond the West? Why has it taken off in Latin America, Africa, and other places where the context is altogether different from the U.S.?
Grady: In Azusa, it was very clear that God came and the playing field was leveled. All of a sudden, people were transported back to Acts 2 and Joel 2. It wasn't about class, gender, or race. It was about God drawing his people together, and all of a sudden, those things didn't make any difference.
That is an attractive message anywhere. And it's a biblical message. Whether you're in Rwanda with Hutus and Tutsis, or in Latin America with social structures that are oppressive, or wherever you are, the message of inclusiveness and being leveled at the foot of the cross is very attractive to poor people, impoverished people, and oppressed people.
Hutchins: We offer you an experience: "Come on in." We go after you. We're taught to go after people.