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Introducing Spirit-Empowered Christianity

Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, Introducing Spirit-Empowered Christianity: The Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements in the 21st Century (Tulsa, OK: ORU Press, 2020), 222 pages, ISBN 9781950971046.  

The review is based on a special edition of the book that was released to Oral Roberts University students. A printed version is being prepared for publication.

Todd M. Johnson holds a Ph.D. in International Development with a concentration in empirical analysis of Christianity and world religions from William Carey International University, Pasadena, CA (1993).[1] He is the Eva B. and Paul E. 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.[2] Gina A. Zurlo holds a Ph.D. in History and Hermeneutics from Boston University School of Theology (2017) and is the Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA).[3] Both Johnson and Zurlo are the co-editors of the World Christian Database (Brill), co-authors of World Christian Encyclopedia, Third Edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), and co-editor and associate editor respectively of the World Religion Database (Brill)

Johnson and Zurlo have published this manuscript designed especially for those who study, or are interested in, global Spirit-Empowered Christian movements. Spirit-empowered Christian movements can be allocated by the taxonomies of Denominational Pentecostals (Type 1), Charismatics (Type 2), and Independents Charismatics (Type 3). The authors estimate there are “644 million Spirit-empowered Christians in 2020. This is about 26% of all Christians, expected to grow to one billion by 2050 (30% of all Christians)” (6).

This book outlines both the history and the research findings related to defining, categorizing, describing, and counting Pentecostals.

In the Introduction, the authors provide their objectives for writing this manuscript. They state, “This book outlines both the history and the research findings related to defining, categorizing, describing, and counting Pentecostals. Subjects covered include early attempts to count Pentecostals, the development of taxonomies of Pentecostal denominations, the extent to which Pentecostalism has impacted mainline denominations, and statistical estimates of Pentecostals and Charismatics by type, country, and region…As this book takes a demographic and social science perspective on the phenomena, all forms of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement are counted as part of the overall global renewal phenomenon” (2–3).

Further elucidation is required on the descriptions of Spirit-empowered movements as the data was assimilated and counted based on these taxonomies. “First, there are Denominational Pentecostals (Type 1) that include 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 Charismatic (Type 2) who are found in mainline churches. These individuals have been baptized by the Spirit but remain Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodist, and others. They might speak in tongues but tend to focus on other gifts of the Spirit. The language of renewal movement is common among these groups. Third, there are Independent Charismatics (Type 3). These are both brand new groups as well as denominations and networks that have broken off from Type 1 and Type 2 denominations. 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” (5).

How many Spirit-empowered Christians in 2020? 644 million.

Chapter One, History and Characteristics (pp. 1–31) discusses the debated origins of Pentecostalism which traces its historical genesis to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, CA in 1906. However, the authors provide other loci of outpourings of the Spirit, both before and after Azusa Street which do not receive the notoriety that Azusa does. The case by the authors for the interconnectedness of the three types of Spirit-empowered movements is made using the metaphor of family resemblance. “The resemblance appears concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the experiential nature of the Pentecostal tradition” (14). Johnson and Zurlo explicate this family resemblance by providing a succinct theological exegesis (in layperson’s terminology) of the “Baptism of the Spirit, Glossolalia and eight of the gifts of the Spirit” (15–30).

In Chapter Two, Pentecostals in Global Christianity (pp. 32–145) provides context of Pentecostalism (Types 1–3) to the total Christian population and global population numerically and by percentage for the years 1900, 2020 and projections for 2050. Statistics also explore Spirit-empowered Christians by continent for these same years, revealing the explosive growth and shift of Pentecostalism from the Global North to the Global South in the twentieth century. There are numerous maps, statistical tables, and pie-charts analyzing a plethora of data on Spirit-empowered Christianity for the period 1900–2020. Finally, a historical and theological narrative supported by statistical tables and denominational flowcharts is presented for each of the major organizations within each of the three types of Spirit-empowered movements.

Chapter Three, Pivotal Trends of The Spirit-Empowered Movement (pp. 146–171) explores the issues and trends of woman in leadership, social justice, prosperity, and mission within Spirit-empowered global contexts. “The trajectory of such trends and their effects upon church and society may reflect either innovation upon or replication of cultural influences; nevertheless, they carry significant theological implications for the Church at large” (146).

In Chapter Four, Methodology (pp. 172–182) details the systematic journey of research that this book is built upon and how it has evolved. The authors credit Anglican researcher David B. Barrett who began this research in the mid 1960’s, which blossomed into the World Christian Encyclopedia, First Edition in 1982. Johnson worked with David Barrett to co-author the World Christian Encyclopedia, Second Edition, published in 2001. “In 2010, in partnership with the Pew Research Center (who used Barrett’s statistics in a 2006 report on Pentecostalism), the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) embarked on a new assessment of Pentecostalism in every country of the world” (177). This research was included in the World Christian Encyclopedia, Third Edition (2019) and in the World Christian Data Base (launched online originally in April 2007 but overhauled in 2018). Each iteration was critiqued for taxonomies and methods then updated. Source documentation of the counting methodology is “firmly based on membership statistics of denominations in each country of the world, of which the CSGC has now identified approximately 45,000, and each of these denominations belongs to one of four Christian traditions (Independents, Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics)” (178).

The Bibliography (pp. 183–205) is followed by the Appendix: Pentecostals/Charismatics by Country, Region, Continent and Globe (pp. 206–222). This reports the statistical data from approximately 234 countries and territories of the world for 1970 and 2020, with sub-stratification for Pentecostals/Charismatics by Types 1,2 and 3.

This book’s significance to the global Spirit-empowered movement is enormous. “There are least five distinctives to this book. They are: 1) It presents a complete taxonomy of global Pentecostalism. Carefully showing who considers themselves a part of this movement and who does not; 2) It offers a method for counting Pentecostals. While this method has appeared in article and chapter form in numerous books and journals, here it serves as the basis of the book, providing a different perspective on the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement than other surveys; 3) It includes a full-cover overview of the movement in maps, graphs, charts, tables, and photos; 4) The global movement is placed in the context of a careful assessment of all of global Christianity; and 5) It introduces a new concept to consider the movement as a whole. Following the lead of the Empowered21 movement, it introduces the idea of Spirit-empowered Christianity, which ties together the myriad forms of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, ranging from Classical Pentecostals to Catholic Charismatics to independent churches like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil” (3–4). “This book also is unique in that it provides is a series of profiles of individual Spirit-empowered denominations around the world, profiles that include brief histories, theologies, and contemporary controversies. It highlights some key social factors of the movement such as the role of women and the prosperity gospel. Perhaps its most unique feature is the inclusion of extensive statistics on the number of Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Independent Charismatics by country, region, continent, and globe” (4).

A treasure trove of theology, history, cartography, and statistical global analysis of Spirit-empowered movements all rolled into one book.

The strengths of the book are many. This is a very professionally written and crafted publication. It is a treasure trove of theology, history, cartography, and statistical global analysis of Spirit-empowered movements all rolled into one book. Furthermore, the manuscript flows smoothly and it is captivating, where you do not desire to put the book down until you finish it. Since much of this data is extracted from the World Christian Encyclopedia, Third Edition (Edinburgh University Press). Subscribers to the World Christian Database (Brill) can access updated future statistics and projections. Annual journal updates are available from the International Bulletin of Mission Research (Overseas Ministries Study Center). Its genre is written not to overly engage theological jargon but provides enough to whet your appetite. The only weakness of this book is that after you read it, you wish it had been written sooner.

In conclusion, I highly recommend that this book be read as a textbook, or supplemental readings in both seminaries and universities from the undergraduate to PhD levels. It is suitable for classes on theology, history, and sociology, especially those who desire to study about Spirit-empowered Christianity, which is the fastest growing sector in Christianity. Likewise, this book would be advantageous for clergy and independent scholars who might have interest.

Reviewed by Michael A. Donaldson


Publisher’s page:




Further Reading:

Read the interview with authors Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo, “Spirit-Empowered Christianity” as they define what it is and talk about the third edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia.



[1] Accessed February 26, 2021.

[2] Accessed February 26, 2021.

[3] Accessed February 26, 2021.


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Category: In Depth, Summer 2021

About the Author: Michael A. Donaldson is a pastor, accountant, and author. He is a PhD in Contextual Theology student at Oral Roberts University, School of Theology and Ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. Facebook

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