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The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Review Article, by Paul Elbert

Historically, Pentecostals rejected the ethos of the above thumbnail sketch, which admittedly overlooks the many positive contributions in past centuries made by the Reformed/Evangelical traditions within the confines of a venerated paradigm.  Nevertheless, the intellectual world of Christian scholarship, with the exception of a few historians, by and large dismissed the Pentecostals.  This is gradually changing due to demographics and academic production, but there remains stout resistance to breaking out of old traditions and envisioning a New Global Reformation, a New Pentecost (Suenens’ Une nouvelle Pentecôte?).  And Pentecostals, flattered by a little unaccustomed acceptance, may accommodatingly give up their vision.[31]

Until just recently[32] scholarship took little interest in experience as a factor in interpretation, but Pentecostal scholarship always tried to incorporate the experience portrayed in New Testament texts, both christological and pneumatological, both salvific and empowering, into the framing of narrative and didactic theology.[33]  The experience of Pentecostal piety with Word and Spirit does not coordinate with more rationalistic views that sever rationality and experience.  Knowledge is no longer viewed by Pentecostals as either rationalistic or experiential, leading to the removal of mystery in the divine so that the human mind is able to entirely see God via written, propositional revelation.[34]  McKay, noting that the miraculous and the supernatural in Scripture readily become part of charismatics’ shared experience, recognizes the “prophetic” dimension of interaction between biblical text and reader to the effect that the Spirit makes us witnesses not analysts.[35]  This understanding of Scripture allows for a dynamic dimension of the text as well as the powerful intervention or interaction of the Spirit while one is interpreting the text.[36]  In this vein, perhaps a reappraisal of Calvin’s testimonium spiritus sancti internum is apropos.[37]

Accordingly, it is not surprising to find in this overview by Dempster et al occasional illustrations of scholarship perhaps reflecting a more biblical approach than the narrow platform of Sola Scriptura from which the Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal differs in so many respects.[38]  For example, it is declared that the “Pentecostal emphasis on experience is of great value and must never be compromised” (Satyavrata, 215).  This conclusion is similar to that of Julie Ma, “Pentecostal Challenges in East and South-East Asia” (183-202), who encourages the churches to develop leadership skills crucial to the needs of this region while preventing “post-Pentecostalism” from entering into a dictionary (201).  Ma notes that “power evangelism is what the Pentecostals are known for as signs and wonders are revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Pentecostals take these phenomena as a biblical pattern (e.g., Acts 3:1f; 16:14f; Rom 1:16; I Cor 2:4, 5).  Pentecostals should not be tempted to conform to their established Evangelical neighbors.  They must remain faithful to their distinctiveness to be effective to their mission and calling” (199).  However, one must equally observe that the powerful pattern established in Luke-Acts (Lk 11:2-13; 24:49; Acts 1:4, 5, 8, 14: 2:4; 9:17, wherein the last citation the Jerusalem/Petrine tradition of the gift of the Holy Spirit was already present in Damascus) is a pattern that precedes and underpins the pattern of power evangelism in the lives of Peter and Paul cited by Ma.[39]  And there is no need for authentic Pentecostalism to be compromised or become a fading memory in the next millenium, either in a world that accepts rationalism as a dominant virtue, reflected by the worldview of non-Christian scholars in the humanities both past and present, or in a broader intellectual world that admits the existence of God to be an attractive speculation now that evidence for the origin and fine tuning of the cosmos is so spectacular.

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About the Author: Paul Elbert, physicist-theologian and New Testament scholar, teaches theology and science at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. He is co-chair of the Formation of Luke-Acts section in the Society of Biblical Literature and is a research advisor to the Dominican Biblical Institute, Limerick, Ireland. His writings have appeared, for example, in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft and in Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He served as editor of two anniversary volumes for Old Testament scholars, Essays on Apostolic Themes (1985) and Faces of Renewal (1988).

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