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David Martin: Pentecostalism

How is Pentecostalism shaping the world?

Martin’s brief discussion of Asia focuses exclusively on China, Korea and the Philippines. The place and future of Pentecostalism in China is an open question, due to sheer vastness of the nation’s social landscape—representing one sixth of the world’s population, rapidly becoming capitalistic yet dominated by Marxist political elites. Generally, Chinese Pentecostalism appeals to the urban poor, whereas Neo-Pentecostalism appeals to the middle class. Conversion to Pentecostalism parallels increased mobility, rejection of sacred authority, democratization, individualism and choice. (A question Martin does not pursue is the effects the pro-democracy clamp down in Tiananmen had on Pentecostalism.) In Korea, where middle class Christians are drawn to the liberation theology of Minjung, Pentecostalism is a vehicle for survival and advancement for the poor. In the Philippines, Pentecostalism thrives in an animistic context, both resonating with indigenous shamanism but breaking from it in a theology of “signs and wonders” and healings. According to Martin, Pentecostalism here offers warmth, personal experience, guidance, participation, spiritual power and the prospects of prosperity to people uprooted by the alienating effects of modernity.

The value of Martin’s work is that it liberates our understanding of global Pentecostalism from the straight jacket of North American fundamentalism. The true heart of Pentecostalism lies in empowerment through spiritual gifting, volunteerism, competitive pluralism and the advancement of modernism. The book is scholarly and rigorous, but the average reader needs to have a dictionary handy. Martin tends, however, to lump Pentecostalism, Neo-Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism together. A clear distinction between these subgroups is needed. Moreover, in offering a global overview of the movement, he tends to make generalizations that need a more detailed critical analysis, albeit he is working at a macro-sociological level rather than a micro one. Nevertheless, this book challenges us to see that even though Pentecostalism denunciates the process of secularization it is part of that very process.

Reviewed by Peter Althouse

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2005

About the Author: Peter F. Althouse, PhD (University of Toronto), is Assistant Professor of Religion at Southeastern University. He is the author of Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann (T & T Clark, 2003), and has written many articles on eschatology, pneumatology and Pentecostal studies. Faculty page. Facebook.

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