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Estrelda Alexander: Black Fire, reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey

Alexander’s overarching concern is perhaps best characterized as identifying the legacy of African American Pentecostalism and the individual movements that can be considered under the larger umbrella of black Pentecostalism. Racial inclusion, equality of gender, spiritual vitality, and socio-political consciousness belong clearly to this legacy, with a wide range of responses that are also typical for the Pentecostal movement as a whole. Easily lost in the shuffle are the variegated theology, the unique worship forms, and the prophetic social activism that also characterize African American Pentecostals in Alexander’s account. The result is an invaluable resource that belongs on the shelf next to the select group of works on Black Pentecostalism in Britain, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. This growing genre of Pentecostal studies is destined to catch up with the standards of predominantly white and western accounts of the movement. Together, a racially and ethnically diverse Pentecostal scholarship can shed new light on the true state of affairs of the Pentecostal movement worldwide.

Black Fire adds a loud voice to the cadre of writers who suggest that the story of global Pentecostalism cannot be told without the story of African American Pentecostals. More precisely: the story of white Pentecostalism cannot be told without the story of black Pentecostalism. Much work remains to be done until both accounts can fully merge. Some of this work must happen in the scholarly academy, in which Pentecostals are still a minority and which knows few African American Pentecostals. However, the black fire burns most brightly in the churches, homes, and schools, in the ordinary and pedestrian dimensions of the Pentecostal movement. Most of the labor to shape a joint account of Pentecostal beliefs and practices, past and contemporary, will have to happen in these realms. Perhaps then we can one day expect to read a book on the “pentecostal fire” that distinguishes neither black nor white but lets the flame shine in all its colors.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey


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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2012

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Professor of Christian Theology and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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