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The Pentecostal Revolution in Protestantism

The charismatic movement is the most rapidly growing element of Christianity today. Pentecostalism in its various forms is now the largest single Christian group apart from Catholicism and outnumbers the sum total of all other forms of Protestantism. Although numerical estimates of its strength are unreliable, the movement grew from ground zero in 1900 to at least half a billion in 2000. Its historical origins and fundamental beliefs locate it firmly within the bounds of Protestantism. Yet its astonishing growth, spiritual vitality, and capacity to adapt to local situations are forcing Protestantism to review both its center and its limits. The numerical growth of Pentecostalism, primarily among the urban poor and the socially marginalized of Asia, Africa, and South America, is transforming Protestantism.

A few examples may help readers who are unfamiliar with the scale and significance of this movement to gain a sense of the cumulative seismic impact it is having on world Christianity.1 The Yoido Full Gospel Church is a Pentecostal church based in the Yoido district of Seoul in the Republic of Korea. When the church began in ex-army tents in the slums of Seoul in 1958, it emphasized the transformative impact of the gospel through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the face of the adverse social and economic conditions of depressed postwar Korea. Today the church has a membership of 700,000. Its main place of worship can hold 25,000 people, but it must still hold multiple services on Sundays.

The city of Lagos in the former British west African colony of Nigeria is widely regarded as the Pentecostal capital of the world—despite the fact that Pentecostalism in that nation traces its origins back only to small-scale projects in the 1970s. Today the Faith Tabernacle can accommodate 50,000 worshipers in its stadium-like auditorium. The Redeemed Christian Church of God now has 4,000 parishes throughout Nigeria. The movement has achieved such prominence that traditional Protestant denominations in the region now incorporate charismatic elements into their worship. The somewhat staid forms of Anglican worship that predominated during the colonial era have simply been displaced by worship forms that emphasize African cultural roots and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

So what is this new form of Protestantism? Where did it come from? Why has it proved so attractive? What challenges does it raise for more traditional forms of Protestant life and thought? And most important of all, what are its implications for the future of Protestantism? In this chapter, we reflect on these issues.

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