The Significance Of Pentecostalism For Protestantism

Many see the advent and advance of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century as no less important than the Reformation of the sixteenth century, And some even describe the emergence of Pentecostalism as a "second Reformation," or a "new Reformation." Both of these labels, though understandable, are inappropriate. The term "second Reformation" was widely used in scholarly studies of an earlier generation to refer to what is now more accurately and helpfully known as "confes-sionalization." This was not understood as a "second" or "new" Reformation, but as a second phase in the continuing process of recalibration and reformulation that lies at the heart of the Protestant enterprise.30

Pentecostalism is to be seen as part of the Protestant process of reflection, reconsideration, and regeneration. It is not the consequence of a "new Reformation," but a legitimate outcome of the ongoing program that has characterized and defined Protestantism from its outset. Like most other movements within Protestantism, it builds upon what has gone before. Its spiritual egalitarianism is clearly both a recovery and a restatement of the classic Protestant doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers." Its emphasis upon the importance of experience and the need for transformation can be traced back to earlier Pietism, particularly as developed within the holiness tradition. Yet it has welded and wedded these insights into its own distinctive vision of the Christian life and of how God is encountered and proclaimed. It offers Protestantism a new paradigm of self-expression that was once regarded as marginal and slightly eccentric by the Protestant mainstream; one hundred years later, Pentecostalism is increasingly coming to define and determine that mainstream itself.

So what might this movement have to say to other Protestants? At one level, the movement has brought about renewal within mainline Protestantism through its "worship songs." The history of Pentecostalism in France—one of Europe's most secular countries—illustrates this well. Evangelical and charismatic churches grew from 800 registered congregations in 1970 to 1,800 in 2000. This growth is widely attributed to the charismatic movement, which has not only become a significant

Protestant group in itself but also revitalized worship in many mainline denominations. While noncharismatic Protestant churches appear to be stagnant or in decline, charismatic sectors of the Protestant community are growing and taking advantage of a subtle yet growing interest in spiritual matters among French youth.

Yet there are deeper issues here, one of which is of particular interest. In that Pentecostalism is a late arrival on the Protestant scene, it has forged its ideas and approaches without being molded by past controversies, constraints, and traditions. One of the most distinctive features of Pentecostalism is its total disconnection with any notion of "Christendom." This paradigm shaped Western Christian thinking about its social identity from the onset of the Middle Ages (some would argue since the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine) until the end of the First World War.31 It is based on the notion of geographical regions that possess a religious and cultural identity determined by the Christian faith.

Although this notion has been in decline in western Europe since the eighteenth century, Protestantism emerged in an era when this notion was still dominant. Protestantism has never entirely shaken off its lingering memory, and over the years it has acquired habits of action and thought that reflect its social origins in western Europe. Whether the Protestant communities have been inclined to accept or reject the model of Christendom, it was the constant backdrop to their reflections.

Much the same is true of the Enlightenment and the rise of modernity, which have had a decisive effect on the shaping of Protestantism and made no small contribution to the tensions, confusion, and disagreements over how to respond to postmodernity. Wolfhart Pannenberg has persuasively argued that much Western Protestant theology has been shaped by the rise of the natural sciences and the secular critique of au-thority.32

Pentecostalism emerged in the first years of the twentieth century and blossomed from about 1950. It was never subject to the controlling assumptions about what was "reasonable" or "normal" that so shaped earlier Protestant communities. Sociologically, it was a religion of the poor, marginalized, and dispossessed, who had little interest in matters of theology or church politics. Without having its ideas and expecta tions molded by the notion of Christendom and traditional Protestant responses to this, Pentecostalism was free to develop its own postChristendom paradigms and often retrieved pre-Christendom strategies without even realizing it.

Similarly, Pentecostalism adapted to postmodernity without having first been molded by modernism. Its emergence at a cultural junction allowed it to adapt as it saw best to the prevailing local cultures without having to discard or modify an inherited set of assumptions and attitudes that traditionalists tended to regard as normative. Pentecostalism was thus able to respond rapidly and sympathetically to local cultures without being restrained by modernist Western assumptions about how this should be done. Pentecostalism, as has often been observed, is the global religion best adapted to the globalization process itself.33

We see here an emerging form of Christianity that has skipped the agenda of a past generation and is able to construct its outlook and strategic policies without reference to a period of history that was of such importance in the West. There is an obvious technological analogy to hand in the emergence of cell-phone technology. Many Africans now have cell phones without having had traditional landlines in the past. Technology has simply skipped an intermediate generation in this region. No one needs to have used a landline telephone to understand or use a cell phone. Seeing no need to engage with past memories of Christendom or modernity, Pentecostals proceed directly to the next generation of ideas and approaches.

Some have suggested that Pentecostalism was deliberately conceived as a postmodern form of Protestantism. The historical evidence for this is simply not compelling. It is far more accurate to suggest that the movement emerged with an outlook that proved—by accident rather than design (although Pentecostals would speak of "divine providence" in this regard)—to be exceptionally well adapted to the new cultural mood emerging in the West in the late twentieth century and to the premodern mood prevalent throughout the global South. This is a resonance of happenstance, not a carefully crafted strategy of adaptation. Yet for Pentecostals, this is a matter of God's providence and planning and must be discerned as such.

Pentecostalism's resonance with postmodernism is probably best seen in the field of biblical interpretation. Pentecostals, while affirming the traditional Protestant notion of the accessibility of the Bible and the right of every believer to interpret this text, stress the multiple dimensions of meaning that arise—not on account of the indeterminate nature of the text, but on account of the "leading of the Spirit" into the true meaning of the text, which that same Spirit originally inspired.

We must now consider the global growth and diversification of Protestantism in the twentieth century, a process in which Pentecostal-ism has played a significant role. Yet while Pentecostalism is by far the most numerous component of the worldwide Protestant movement at present, there are other significant players and factors that have made significant contributions to its dynamics in the opening years of the twenty-first century. In the following chapter, we consider some of these trends and their possible implications for the future.

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