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Vinson Synan: An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit

eyewitnessVinson Synan, An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 224 pages, ISBN 9780800794859.

Vinson Synan, historian, professor, and dean emeritus of the School of Divinity at Regent University, skillfully blends his memoirs with Pentecostal Church history, reflecting on his previous books while integrating his first-hand experience of the events. The book is arranged somewhat chronologically, first retelling the Azusa Street story, then following significant events like the 1948 New Order of Latter Rain revival, healing revivals, Catholic charismatics, racial reconciliation, and it offers brief commentary on recent revivals. Synan offers his personal observations in order to color in the growth of the renewal movement. Herein he has personalized his narration of the events by offering a complementary view of his previous historical accounts. Synan, true to the title of this book, gives the reader an eyewitness account of movement of the Holy Spirit in the past three-quarters of the twentieth century.

Undoubtedly, Synan’s book will stand the test of time in a similar manner as Frank Bartleman’s classic eyewitness account of the Azusa Street revival, for from both descriptions we have direct and irreplaceable personal narration of the North American renewal movement in the twentieth century. This book is destined to become a point of reference for future historians and students of church history. Both books place people and events together, by assisting us to grasp the narrative flow of the stories, and by filling in gaps left by other less-personal descriptions. Likewise, both books give us systematic details of the events important to the author and less detail when the narrator is simply connecting events. Synan clearly focuses on the ecumenical attribute of the renewal movement as the necessary ingredient for the long-lasting spiritual vitality.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Synan makes here is found in his reminiscing on his involvement with the Roman Catholic charismatic movement, the 1977 Kansas City conference, and the Memphis miracle. In each of these accounts, he has recorded his personal involvement as a minister, but more importantly his ideological struggle as he observed the Spirit of God working in ways that he did not expect. Likewise, we can appreciate his candid admission of naiveté as he admits his presupposition towards race relationships as a boy raised in Virginia during the first half of the twentieth century. We can appreciate his candor as he reconciles his Protestant-Catholic bias. Moreover, we are grateful that he has shared the process and the enormous effort required to pull together multiple national denominational leaders for the conferences on spiritual renewal.

Synan’s memoir emphasizes the ecumenical and relational attributes of the renewal movement, combining multiple stories of how he and others built consensus on the essentials of Christian faith, while minimizing the non-essentials. If there is a lesson for the historian to teach current church leaders, then it will certainly be found in the humility of Synan’s narration, for it is a story of how the Holy Spirit will use those who have courage to continue taking steps of faith.

Reviewed by John R. Miller


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Category: Church History, Fall 2011

About the Author: John R. Miller is an ordained minister with Elim Fellowship of Lima, NY and serves as Pastor of Education with Living Word Temple of Restoration, Rochester, NY. He has a degree from Elim Bible Institute, a B.Div. (Trinity Theological Seminary), C.P.E. (University of Rochester), M.Div. (Northeastern Seminary), and Ph.D. (Regent University). He teaches at Regent University and Elim Bible Institute & College.

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