The Pentecostal World Conference in Sweden is very Pentecostal and very worldly—meaning they've attracted some 1,600 delegates from 74 countries. This is a small PWC as it goes, I've been told (some have filled stadiums, apparently), but you wouldn't know it by the enthusiasm of the delegates. And the theme may be prosaic ("Equip Yourself, Others, and the Church"), but the people are anything but that.
Stockholm is a calm and orderly city, which is a bit of a contrast to Pentecostalism. But the combination works. A little raising of hands and speaking in tongues, followed by the raising of a fork and lunch at a cute restaurant around the corner. The conference is held in the historic Philadelphia Church, which turns 100 on Monday.
For me this was another full day of networking with Pentecostal pastors and theologians. As an introvert, I call this is net working. I'm exhausted by noon! But I'm not getting paid to read theology here, so onward I trudge to the next appointment. The most interesting conversation was with a Hungarian evangelist to Gypsies. He described Hungary as post-modern, post-Christian, post-reading (they don't like it, apparently), and post-listening (they heard so much propaganda from the communists that they have a hard time listening long to anyone's claims). All in all, it struck me that Americans may not be that much different from Gypsies.
Perhaps the most impressive conversation was with someone I could have hooked up with in the States, Fuller systematic professor Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. He knows his global theology, in all its variety. He's writing a global systematic theology, which will be ready in five years, he says. He makes no claims to it being an exhaustive work, but he feels this is the way theology will need to be done in the future. And the present.
In the morning, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches addressed the conference for 10 minutes, at the invitation of the Pentecostal World Conference. There are lots of conversations between the WCC and the Pentecostals these days, I gather, which is pretty interesting since the WCC has been for Pentecostals what it's been for evangelicals—the locus of much evil. But the Pentecostals, I gather, actually think they can shore up the faltering WCC.I wouldn't put it past them.
Reinhold Bonnke spoke tonight—with about 2,000 in attendance (small potatoes for him)—and I can see his charm. He's a very effective speaker. He knows his audience and delivers a sermon even non-Pentecostals can applaud. Lots of good one-liners: one of my favorites (because of its Barthian ring!) was "God does not perform acts of salvation; his very nature is salvation!"His theology is utterly hopeful and encouraging, so one can see part of the reason for his "success"—though one has to allow that the Holy Spirit might really use him!
He gave an altar call of sorts at the end: It was for any "servant of Jesus" who longed to "enter into the joy of the Lord"—meaning join him in joyful service to bring salvation to the world. Well, really—what Christian doesn't want that? One skeptical journalist from Chicago even raised his hand. But since there were so many hands, not everyone would have fit up front. So Bonnke asked only those 25 and younger to come forward so he could lay his hands on them. Thank goodness—at least two were slain in the Spirit. Can't have a journalist falling on the floor in a heap when he's supposed to be reporting on an event.
Kidding aside, I can see why Pentecostals are turning the world upside down. They have palpable "fire in the belly" for Jesus and for sharing the gospel—not something I've seen to the same degree at any evangelical conference I've ever been to. And they have this uncanny confidence that God will use anyone—even those without education, training, expertise—to get his work done. And they really believe that all things work together for good for those who believe. That combination leads to some excesses (which they freely acknowledge) but also seems lethal to unbelief. I sometimes think they are a little naive, but to turn a phrase, I'm wondering if they are naive like a fox.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is author of Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God (Baker).
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Other articles related to Pentecostalism include:
Yes, We Have a Witness | Historian Vinson Synan reflects personally on the Pentecostal movement. (April 21, 2010)
'A Voice for Sanity' | J. Lee Grady doesn't want your gold. The journalist wants a 'Holy Ghost housecleaning' of the charismatic movement. (November 23, 2009)
Teaching a Calvinist to Dance | In Pentecostal worship, my Reformed theology finds its groove. (May 16, 2008)
Mark Galli writes a regular column called SoulWork.