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Randall Stephens: The Fire Spreads

A disadvantage of providing a socio-cultural analysis by telling a historical narrative is the wealth of information that is sometimes hidden in the different story lines. While Stephens groups larger stories together, only the informed reader will be able to trace the underlying currents of, for example, the African American heritage or the ritual and liturgical formation of Pentecostalism in the South. Other themes, such as sectarianism, politics, and ecumenism among early Pentecostals, are rarely made explicit. The advantage of this approach is an unbiased narration and preservation of the Pentecostal “story,” which is still in the process of being told. At the same time, future research will have to make the theological themes of the particular narrative in the American South more explicit, especially in the context of the emergence of a number of global “stories” that are now emerging among Pentecostals worldwide.

In the rapidly evolving fields of holiness, Pentecostal, and southern cultural and religious history, The Fire Spreads offers more than a retelling of a story previously told. As such, it may not be entrance-material to those who have not yet ventured into these fields. The broader surveys by Synan and Wacker may serve as an informative introduction to the specific socio-cultural interests that drive Stephens’ work. In turn, the inquisitive reader will be rewarded with an imaginative account of Pentecostal history in North America. Copious notes and a helpful index make the book approachable from different angles and a good resource for scholarship, ministry, and personal enjoyment.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey


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Category: Church History, Winter 2009

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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