Heaven Below:
Early Pentecostalism and
American Culture
Grant Wacker
Harvard, 364 pages, $35

Pentecostalism could use a PR makeover. Its image has improved, but many people still think Pentecostals are peculiar, if not somehow suspect. Let us forgo the tally of offenses, offenders, and epithets—we know them well enough. Besides, the most egregious offenders may not care what others think.

One person, however, does care about perceptions: Duke University religious studies scholar Grant Wacker. Raised in a Pentecostal home, this Methodist now has only one foot in the tent. This is as much his story as it is theirs.

On American soil, the movement was born at Charles Parham's makeshift holiness Bible college in 1901. Only after the Azusa Street revival's eruption in 1906, however, did Parham's theological innovation reach a much wider audience. That innovation was the belief that speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is the biblical evidence of Spirit baptism.

Theologically, early Pentecostals looked a lot like other mainstream evangelicals. As a whole, they believed in most orthodox tenets of the faith, from the Virgin Birth to the inspiration of Scripture. Like more radical evangelicals, however, they did go further. For instance, they tended to treat God's promise to heal like an ironclad contract. An especially popular pastime was the detailed ordering of very specific end-times events. Radical or not, orthodox beliefs did not necessarily lead to orthodox practices. The two words that most appropriately described Pentecostal meetings, says Wacker, are chaotic and deafening. It is hard to believe anyone would want to revisit a Pentecostal meeting, much less enlist. But that is exactly what they did, from a diverse array of social, ...

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