Between the advertising industry and a handful of scholars, this issue has nearly come to ruin.

Let's begin with advertisers, who have destroyed the very words that should litter this issue. What can you do with sensational after it's been used to describe the results of facial cream, or phenomenal, when it's been describing the ride of a new car. When I use such words to describe early Pentecostalism, they sound trite.

But they remain two of the best words to describe it. It was sensational: it created a sensation and (with tongues, laying on of hands, and slayings in the Spirit) touched the senses of its adherents. It was also phenomenal: it shocked America and was filled with spiritual phenomena. So we've decided to use these and other Madison Avenue adjectives—though sparingly. But when we do use them, please note we mean them. Really.

On the other hand, as we prepared the issue, we were warned by some scholars not to highlight the sensational but to remember that Pentecostalism is a maturing movement that now includes well-behaved, middle-class people, like, uh, scholars. The behavior of some Pentecostals seems to be an embarrassment to others.

I can understand this. Pentecostals have done a few strange things in their day: seeing 90-foot Jesuses, falling into trances, and, lately, barking like dogs. But they've also done pretty remarkable things, like reaching out to the poor, reintroducing many spiritual gifts to the church, and reinvigorating the faith of entire continents (Africa and South America). Not bad for a century.

As a liturgically minded, theologically educated, decidedly non-charismatic Episcopalian (I used to lift my hands in prayer, but then only waist high), I'm impressed with Pentecostals. Mainline Christians ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.