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Spirit-Empowered Christianity

What does Spirit-empowered Christianity look like around the world? Pneuma Review speaks with Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, directors of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity and editors of the third edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia.

 

PneumaReview.com: What is Spirit-Empowered Christianity and how is it defined?

The Spirit-empowered Movement has spread across the globe, through different cultural contexts, with remarkable speed and dynamism.

Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo: Spirit-Empowered Christianity is a movement within Global Christianity that includes different kinds of Pentecostals and Charismatics. The commonality between these Christians is their shared belief and practice of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We divide the movement into three types. First, there are Denominational Pentecostals that includes Classical Pentecostals (such as the Assemblies of God and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel) and Oneness Pentecostals (such as the United Pentecostal Church). These groups tend to emphasize speaking in tongues as initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, even when the practice is not universal. Second, there are Charismatics who are found in the mainline churches. These individuals have been baptized by the Spirit but remain Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and others. They might speak in tongues but tend to focus more on other gifts of the Spirit. The language of “renewal movement” is common among these groups. Third, there are Independent Charismatics. These are both brand new groups as well as denominations and networks that have broken off from the first two types. This represents a broad category that includes African Independent Churches, Chinese house churches, and white-led denominations such as the Association of Vineyard Churches. They also might speak in tongues but emphasize power, healing, and miracles in the daily lives of their members.

Todd M. Johnson is the Paul E. and Eva B. Toms Distinguished Professor of Mission and Global Christianity and co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. His most recent book is the World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). He also serves as a Series Editor for the Edinburgh Companions to Global Christianity (Edinburgh University Press).

PneumaReview.com: How many Spirit-Empowered Christians are there in the world and where are they?

Johnson and Zurlo: Today there are 664 million Spirit-Empowered Christians in the world, or about 26% of all Christians. Of these, 124 million worldwide are Pentecostals; 268 million are Charismatics in mainline churches; and 252 million are Independent Charismatics. The growth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement over the last 120 years has been in tandem with dramatic changes in Christianity’s overall cultural and linguistic composition. In 1900, over 80% of all Christians were European or North American. Today, that percentage has fallen to less than 33%. This demographic shift has formed the basis for most major analyses of world Christianity in the past 40 years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the shift has been more pronounced among Spirit-empowered Christians. Today, fully 86% of all Spirit-empowered Christians live in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America).

Gina A. Zurlo is co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her most recent book is the World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). She is co-editor of the World Christian Database and Associate Editor of the World Religion Database.

PneumaReview.com: In which part of the Global South has the greatest growth taken place?

Johnson and Zurlo: In the past 120 years the greatest growth has been in Asia and Latin America. But today Spirit-empowered Christians are most numerous in Africa (230 million), with Latin America following (195 million). Spirit-empowered Christians grew fastest in Asia and Oceania over the period 1900–2020, but Africa will likely grow the fastest from 2020–2050. We project that there will be 450 million Spirit-empowered Christians in Africa by 2050.

 

PneumaReview.com: What factors have contributed to the growth of the movement in the Global South?

Most Christians in the global South have found Spirit-Empowered Christianity to be a better cultural fit than Western Christianity.

Johnson and Zurlo: The movement has grown in two different ways in the Global South. First, those places that were already Christian have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. This has taken three different paths. First, Christians remain in their own denomination but have been baptized by the Spirit and now practice a more Spirit-empowered faith. Second, Christians from non-Pentecostal churches have joined Pentecostal denominations. Third, completely new churches have been formed by individuals who have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

PneumaReview.com: Spirit-Empowered Christianity is growing in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Global South).  Is it growing as rapidly in the Global North?

Johnson and Zurlo: Spirit-Empowered Christianity is growing in the Global North (Europe and North America) but not rapidly. SEC represented 2.2% of all Christians in the Global North in 1970, today they represent 8% of all Christians and by 2050 we project that this will be 10%. This growth has been the combination of success by the Assemblies of God as well as the growth of the Charismatic individuals in mainline Christian denominations. In addition, Spirit-empowered Christians from the Global South have moved to the Global North, planting large churches in Europe.

 

PneumaReview.com: Has Spirit-Empowered Christianity in the Global North contributed in any way to the growth of the movement in the Global South?

Johnson and Zurlo: The major way that the North has contributed has been through the sending of missionaries. Most of the American and European Pentecostal denominations have been active for more than 100 years in missions to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Consequently, today, denominations like the Assemblies of God are found all over the world. A second way that the North has been involved is in theological and missionary training; many Christians from the global South come to the North for formal training. A third way is by hosting global conferences that bring people together from around the world. But, despite all of this, it has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of the work of evangelism and renewal in the Global South has been done by indigenous workers, many of whom we do not know their names, such as Bible women (indigenous evangelists) in Africa and Asia.

 

PneumaReview.com: Are there differences between Spirit-Empowered Christians in the North and the South? If so, what are they?

Johnson and Zurlo: There major difference between Spirit-empowered Christians in the North and South relates to their context. In the North, Spirit-empowered Christians live in the shadow of Christendom, a time when virtually everyone was a Christian but now many have abandoned faith for a secular worldview. In the South, the reality of the spiritual world, perceived through traditional religions, has given Spirit-empowered Christians a place to experience the power of the Spirit in everyday life. Most Christians in the global South have found Spirit-Empowered Christianity to be a better cultural fit than Western Christianity.

 

PneumaReview.com: Is Spirit-Empowered theological education readily available in the Global South?

Johnson and Zurlo: There are a wide-range of theological institutions that serve Spirit-empowered Christians in the Global South. First, there are strong denominational schools. For example, the Assemblies of God in Brazil was initially resistant to formal theological education. However, the church eventually established its own formal institution of theological education – the Instituto Bíblico das Assembleias de Deus (IBAD) in 1958. Second, many interdenominational seminaries train Spirit-empowered Christians from around the world. Yet, surveys of theological institutions show that theological education is not readily available in much of the Global South. The majority of the schools and the resources are still found in the Global North.

 

PneumaReview.com: What are the greatest needs of Spirit-Empowered Christians in the Global South?

Johnson and Zurlo: The Spirit-empowered Movement has spread across the globe, through different cultural contexts, with remarkable speed and dynamism. While its emphases on the charismatic gifts of the Spirit and experiential validation may often preclude its theological import in certain circles, the Spirit-empowered Movement in the Global South is marked by pivotal issues that deserve mention, notably in the role of women in leadership, the prosperity gospel, and media for mission. These particular issues represent important identity markers for many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and movements around the world. Historically, Pentecostal/Charismatic churches have championed women in leadership in mission, with, for example, women serving as some of the early Pentecostal missionaries from the Azusa Street Revival. However, many women founders of revival movements lost their positions of leadership when their movements became institutionalized into churches. Pentecostal churches are sometimes prosperity gospel churches because they teach victorious, prosperous and healthy living in the spiritual as well as in the physical realm. They often start from the premise Jehovah Jireh our provider, is a God of abundance. God owns everything and wants his children to prosper. Prosperity churches also teach that Christians should excel in material wealth, which is one reason why so many of their pastors wear expensive clothes and own luxury cars. These new Pentecostals are sophisticated in their use of marketing techniques by selling books and other resources such as seminars covering subjects from deliverance to marriage. They also create elaborate signboards and posters for their churches and events.

 

PneumaReview.com: What was the most interesting thing that you learned in the research for Spirit-Empowered Christianity?

Johnson and Zurlo: Female Spirit-empowered influence has expressed itself in a variety of ways throughout history and within the movement today, such as missionaries (especially single missionaries), as pastor’s wives (who often have more influence within congregations than their husbands), as evangelists (historically, often unnamed), and as everyday keepers of faith and tradition to pass down to generations. Our research highlights some Pentecostal and Charismatic women from around the world who have been founders of movements and denominations and sparked revivals.

 

PneumaReview.com: What can the church in the Global North learn from the growing Spirit-Empowered Movement in the Global South?

The majority of members in Pentecostal churches in the Global South belong to the poor and the marginalized of society. Thus, they often immerse themselves in the lives of members, taking care of their physical needs and spiritual needs, engaging in holistic mission.

Johnson and Zurlo: The churches in the North can learn a very important lesson from churches in the South. The power of the Spirit is available both for preaching the gospel and for social justice. The majority of members in Pentecostal churches in the Global South belong to the poor and the marginalized of society. Thus, they often immerse themselves in the lives of members, taking care of their physical needs and spiritual needs, engaging in holistic (or integral) mission. Despite the stereotype that Pentecostals are so “heavenly minded” that they are of no earthly good, research has shown robust engagement of Spirit-empowered churches with many different kinds of social issues: emergency services (response to earthquakes and floods), medical assistance (including medical response to disasters, preventive care, drug rehabilitation programs, psychological services, and establishing health and dental clinics), educational programs (especially schools and day care), economic development (including job training, housing development, and microenterprise loans), mercy ministries (such as homeless shelters, food banks, clothing services, and services to the elderly), counseling services (assisting cases of addiction, pregnancy, divorce, depression, or prison ministries), policy change (with focus on monitoring elections, opposing corruption, or advocating a living wage), and services in the arts (with training in music, drama, and dance). The North, with its tendency to separate evangelism from social action, can learn from these churches how to engage in their societies more holistically and in line with biblical principles of justice, mercy, and evangelism.

 

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More from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity:

John Lathrop writes: “Here is the link to the opening of the new location of the Center for Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The program begins at about the 12 minute mark. When it begins there is no sound but they fix it quickly. They give a virtual tour of the center after the ribbon cutting. It is very nice.” https://www.facebook.com/GordonConwell/videos/3257646254361607/

Visit the CSGC page for the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia: https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/publications/world-christian-encyclopedia/

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2021

About the Author: Gina A. Zurlo is co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her most recent book is the World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). She is co-editor of the World Christian Database and Associate Editor of the World Religion Database.

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