Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
One of the reasons Western scholars have not been particularly aware of the rapid, if unobtrusive, growth of Pentecostalism is that, despite its mostly American origins, it is largely a non-western phenomenon. The majority of Pentecostals around the world are found among the poor and the working classes, the same socio-economic groups that gave rise to Pentecostalism in North America early in the 20th century. Although the various streams of Pentecostal expression have moved beyond their source to cross class, racial, and ethnic divides, the movement has experienced only a small steady growth in Western nations when compared to the phenomenal growth in two-thirds countries of the world.
Note of mysophobia: Pentecostalism is truly global and not American. Its origin in Los Angles is meaningless to even the most enthusiastic convert in Indonesia. Yet, the class background described above does not apply to believers in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, not even Brazil. Today, many of the followers are middle or even upper-middle class members.
The forces of modernism, materialism and instrumental rationality that are foundational for Western thought are a constant challenge to the Pentecostal world-view. Although at times it may seem embattled, renewals and revivals over the past century have brought a steady stream of newcomers into the Pentecostal fold and revitalized the beliefs of many cradle adherents.. The paradigm that has become normative for believers has been described by Pentecostal scholar Grant Wacker (1986:537) as “supernaturalism wed to pragmatism,” of which he says:
It reveals a very other-worldly supernaturalism and a very this-worldly pragmatism still locked in a curiously compatible marriage that has lasted longer than anyone can quite remember. Admittedly over the years both partners have changed. The supernaturalism has become less stark, and the pragmatism has grown more resourceful, now embracing state-of-the-art technology along with the prayer of faith. But the essential structure of the relationship, the essential paradox, remains intact.
(A renewed cult within Christianity)
Anthropologist Karla Poewe (1994) was one of the first social scientists to develop a description of charismatic Christianity (Pentecostalism) as a global culture. Her summary is worth quoting here before concluding this paper with a quick overview of the growth and diversity that is found within this global religion:
In sum, charismatic Christianity is a global culture because it is experiential, idealistic, biblical, and oppositional. Being experiential, it is not tied to any specific doctrine nor denomination. Being idealistic, it embraces the whole person and the whole world. Being biblical, it replaces the “Word” above politician, government, or any other worldly authority. Being oppositional, it is always potentially in tension with the establishment, which includes church, government, university, ethnic, class, and racial structures. . . .it has ‘no one system of theology, no one integrating doctrine, no particular type of polity, no one liturgy, no geographical homogeneity (Poewe, 1994: xii).
At the same time its success may lure sectors of this movement into becoming what theologian Harvey Cox (1999:394) has referred to a “global market culture” (which he believes is idolatry). Cox calls for a return to an “ethnic of simplicity,” which Cox defines as “that suspension of ‘the things of this world’, for which the early Pentecostals were so famous.” It is with his observation that we conclude this assessment:
The gospel clearly requires a ‘preferential for the poor’, not an economic system which rewards the few and excludes the many. Christianity is not against markets, but it is unalterably opposed to allowing the Market and its false ethic to dictate the meaning of life; and the gospel stands in dramatic opposition to the dominant values of the currently reigning global market culture. But will Christians in this global economy manage to resist it as the early Christians did theirs?
In the next century Christians will have to develop ways of living marked by communal sharing, not by individualistic accumulation. . . .Christians will have to speak out for the integrity of the creation against its despoilers. And we will have to expose the false claims of the ‘gods that are no gods’, in the debased ethic of the global market. If we can be faithful to this calling, God may permit us to create something new, just and beautiful in place of the debilitating religious culture of the present world age when it finally collapses, as it one day surely will (Cox 1999:394-95).
1995 Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. Reading, MA.
1999 “‘Pentecostalism and Global Market Culture’: A Response to Issues Facing Pentecostalsm in a Postmodern World.” Pp. 386-395 in M.W. Dempster, B.D. Klaus, and D. Petersen (eds). The Globalization of Pentecostalism. Regnum Books (in association with Paternoster Publishing). Carlisle, CA.