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Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism, reviewed by Tony Richie

From Pneuma Review Fall 2012

Pentecostal PowerCalvin L. Smith, ed., Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 284 pages, ISBN 9789004192492.

I had the good fortune to be the Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader for the Society for Pentecostal Studies (2012) when Calvin Smith’s Pentecostal Power was part of a panel discussion. Jeff Gros, Carmelo Alvarez, and Smith himself as well as an interactive audience were involved in this process. Some of my review inevitably draws on that discussion. This set of essays is an important contribution to understanding Pentecostalism in Latin America. Its multi-pronged approach of addressing historical, theoretical and political, and theological aspects makes it especially helpful for a wide variety of readers with diverse interests. Pentecostal Power is fairly thorough but usually brief and to the point, accessible and readable but also scholarly. It skillfully utilizes the work of scholars with solid credentials and expertise in their respective disciplines. It is certainly “Pentecostal” in subject and in authorship but also ecumenical and interdisciplinary—a quite good combination, I think, for such a work.

The volume is presented in three sections, first on the history and expressions of the movement, second on the political impact, and third on theological analyses. In an introduction Smith outlines the development of scholarly interest in Pentecostalism and Pentecostals’ own academic advance. He describes specific interest in Latin American Pentecostalism because of its phenomenal growth over recent decades. Then the chapters in the first section study Pentecostal origins in Latin America, ecumenism in Chile, and the matter of US Hispanics. The second section looks at the ideological background of Latin American Pentecostalism, its diverse interpretations, issues of social inequality and conflict, and politics. The final section surveys the theology of Latin American Pentecostalism regarding the role of the family, the devil, and Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue. William Kay closes out the book with some general observations about its implications.

According to Smith, “the purpose of this book … is to offer a survey and explore various religious aspects of the movement from across various disciples.” That purpose certainly seems well achieved. The variety of disciplines and locales considered help assure it. However, doubtless many readers will read the book with special interests in those themes which most directly connect with their own contexts. As a North American, I am particularly interested in Carmelo Alvarez’s chapter in the first section on US Hispanics. He argues that “Latin American Pentecostalism can no longer be limited to the southern continent”. Indeed, it is fascinating to read that Hispanic Americans have been heavily involved in Pentecostalism ever since the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles. Alvarez reminds that “Azusa flourished as the cry of many races and cultures search for liberation and justice.” Furthermore, “a vigorous and rich cross-fertilization between Latin American and Hispanic Pentecostalism” continues to occur. I am left with questions. Consider the current controversy in the US over illegal immigration, primarily from Latin America, and also the increasing number of legal and documented Hispanic Americans, a controversy discussed almost entirely in contexts of economics, politics, and of course security. How does the realization that many Hispanics in the US, illegal and legal alike, are Pentecostal Christians affect our attitudes toward related policies and practices? Is there a religious component that Pentecostal Christians in the US need to be more aware of when thinking about immigration? If so, how ought that impact our policies and their implications? Although not its focus, Alvarez’s work can help us to wrestle with these kinds of questions and work toward answers in a more fully informed way than otherwise.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2012, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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