Pasquier on The Fire Spreads



14 comments
Art Remillard
Let it be known that contributing editor Mike Pasquier knows nothing about college football. For example, he truly believes that LSU, 1) deserved to be in this year's BCS Championship game; and 2) finished the season as the best team in the nation despite playing a floundering Ohio State squad.

This being said, I will give Mike credit on one thing, he knows a good book when he reads it, as evidenced by his recent review of fellow contributing editor Randall Stephens's The Fire Spreads on H-Pentecostalism. Here are Mike's final thoughts...

This study is an important addition to the growing field of pentecostal studies. Stephens's emphasis on regional identity complements the previous works of historians like Grant Wacker and Edith Blumhofer. His ability to make sense of the complex theological features of pentecostalism makes The Fire Spreads accessible to a wide audience composed of lay adult readers, college students, pentecostal practitioners, and professional historians. Furthermore, there is something to be said for a book that is both deeply intelligent and highly readable. Though Stephens certainly discusses the role of African Americans in the development of pentecostalism, The Fire Spreads is largely about white southerners and their involvement in the movement of a fringe religious group into the mainstream of evangelical Protestantism. Anyone interested in the history of religion in the United States—and specifically as it relates to region, race, and politics—must read Stephens's The Fire Spreads.

14 comments:

Michael Pasquier at: May 1, 2008 at 8:47 AM said...

Let it be known that 1. LSU is the undisputed BCS National Champion (Geaux Tigers!), and 2. Randall Stephens's _The Fire Spreads_ is the finest book I've read all year. Let is also be known that 1. the BCS is a crock of you-know-what, and 2. Harvard University Press is obviously putting out some great books.

deg at: May 1, 2008 at 9:06 AM said...

I second Michael's affirmation. I've shared Randall's conclusions with several colleagues and some (former) Pentecostal students of mine and they all pass along their gratitude for his insights on this important religious movement.

I likewise agree with Michael's LSU laudations. But then again, they didn't play the best team in the SEC last year and we all know the Dawgs will beat LSU like a rented mule come Oct. 25. ;-)

Christopher at: May 1, 2008 at 9:13 AM said...

I just finished The Fire Spreads, and couldn't agree more with Pasquier's assessment that it is both intelligent and readable. An important contribution to the field, indeed.

Michael Pasquier at: May 1, 2008 at 9:22 AM said...

On a more substantive note, I'd like to explore Randall's conclusion in _The Fire Spreads_ that pentecostalism made its way into the evangelical mainstream some time in the latter-half of the twentieth century (recall our earlier discussion of evangelicalism as it related to the Compassion Forum). Randall makes a compelling case for this convergence in his discussion of the ways in which pentecostals have become more engaged in the American political process. I wonder, though, if the picture looks different if we focus on theology, ritual practice, and (the big one) race.

Case in point (from my own area of study): the many Roman Catholics who align themselves politically with many conservative evangelicals, but who wouldn't be caught dead in a Protestant church. And let's also note that in places with a large number of African American Catholics, it is usually the case that Catholic churches are often segregated by race. This is especially the case in rural southern Louisiana, a place with one of the largest black Catholic populations in the United States, and, interestingly, home to William Seymour (of Azusa Street fame) and the location for Robert Duval's escape from Texas lawmen in "The Apostle."

Randall at: May 1, 2008 at 9:52 AM said...

Thanks for the high praise.

The further along I moved into the 20th century, it seemed to me, the more difficult it was to draw larger conclusions about pentecostals, evangelicals, and fundies of one stripe or another. I think Mike is right. If we look at other factors—theology, practice, etc—we’ll see a different picture.

Could one argue, though, that with regard to worship and theologies of the spirit that many other traditions have been pentecostalized? Would a discussion of that look like work on the southernization of American culture? Just think of how so many free churches worship on Sundays: praise bands, hands raised, choruses projected on a screen, emotive sermons, altar calls...

Does having one of those sleek glass pulpits qualify as a sign of pentecostalization?

deg at: May 1, 2008 at 10:07 AM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
deg at: May 1, 2008 at 10:08 AM said...

Is it pentecostalization? I'm not sure I see that since many upstart churches (or "worship centers") do not explicitly emphasize distinct signs of Second Baptism (be it speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc).

They emphasize emotional or experiential worship, to be sure. Heck, it's often in the marketing literature and on the website. But that seems more like an updated form of (non-pentecostal) revivalism to me.

Randall at: May 1, 2008 at 10:58 AM said...

Good point. But the ecstatic worship does bare resemblance.

rjc at: May 1, 2008 at 12:50 PM said...

Randall, I haven't read your book yet, though I look forward to reading it in the near future. I just read Michael's review, though, and I wonder if you would say more about what you meant by two of your characterizations.

First, Michael quotes you as describing the first Southern holiness adherents as "anonymous zealots on the cultural fringes of society."

Second, you are quoted as characterizing holiness theology as "negative."

It's unclear to me whether these terms are moral judgments on your part, self-descriptions, or otherwise "technical" terms in the context of your study (for instance, are you linking holiness somehow to ideas of "negative theology"). My question might well be cleared up when I read the book, but I'm hoping you'll say a few words here.

I'm excited to read it!

Michael Pasquier at: May 1, 2008 at 1:16 PM said...

Before Randall responds to Chip's question, I'd like to first point out that this discussion might be reiterating some of the concerns that Ed raised in his latest blog about reviewing reviewers. As long as reviewers don't misconstrue what the authors intended to say (which I certainly hope I didn't do), this discussion is the perfect example of what reviews are good for--getting people to purchase and read the whole book for themselves and getting people to think hard about ideas contained in the book.

And, if you haven't already done so, check out Ashcroft's rendition of "Let the Eagle Soar." $10 to the first person to listen to the whole 5 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woLQI8X2R6Y

Randall at: May 1, 2008 at 3:41 PM said...

Chip, thanks for the questions. By using the term "negative" I was trying to describe the broader implications of premillennial theology among holiness people. Their eschatology gave them a reason to withdraw from society, many aspects of which they deemed to be sinful or otherwise useless. They were apolitical in a number of ways and viewed quite a few other denominations and social groups as enemies. Premillennial southern holiness folk rejected much in society and ditched secular culture with contempt that looked "negative" to me.

"Zealots" might seem like a loaded term, bringing to mind jihadists with bombs strapped to their vests. I didn't mean it like that. Holiness and pentecostal believers were intensely committed to their cause and were often "anonymous." They weren't southern power brokers or well-placed figures. In a later chapter I contrasted their "anonymous" roots with later visibility.

To answer the other question, I had meant to use these words as technical descriptions, but they may have moral connotations. Grant Wacker and I disagree on the matter of pentecostals' eschatology. I don't think he would use the term "negative." But I might have to check with them about that.

I suppose my upbringing as a hardcore premill Nazarene has something to do with all of this, but that's a pandora's box better left closed.

Thanks for making me think about some of these issues. My brow has been furrowed.

Art at: May 2, 2008 at 7:11 AM said...

A random thought came to mind as I was reading through these posts, particularly Mike's on Catholics and conservative evangelicals... Yes, there are profound differences in religious practice between these groups, but there are also pockets of exchange that seemingly transcend political and racial boundaries. Consider the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960s. Still going strong today, this seems like a pentacostalization of American Catholicism, even though I'm not certain advocates would make this claim. The one's I've met frequently describe themselves as religiously "orthodox" and politically "conservative." Contrast this with the Imani Temple, a black (formerly) Catholic Church led by the now excommunicated priest George Stallings. I can’t imagine they would describe themselves as “orthodox” or “conservative,” but from what I remember, the Afrocentric religious practices arguably carry traces of pentacostalization...

Nothing here rebuts Mike’s essential point, which I think is accurate. But they are interesting outliers that seem to contribute to what Randall is saying (I haven’t read it either, so I could be COMPLETELY off base). Finally, Mike is still SOOOO wrong about LSU.

rjc at: May 2, 2008 at 10:23 AM said...

Thanks, Randall. Your response confirms what I figured you probably meant, but I thought I'd ask. A word like "negative" in particular has so many possible valences that it's hard to get a read on outside of the context of the wider discussion.

I've got two more weeks in the semester, then I hope to begin catching up on my backlogged reading this summer. Your book is in the pile.

Gene at: May 12, 2008 at 9:02 PM said...

All the arm twisting in the world by Pasquier hasn't been able to get me to read the book yet because of my schedule, but also with me, it is on my short list. Therefore, this remark may be a bit premature.

In what might possibly be the perfect example of waffling, I can see both sides of the eschatological issue. With Wacker (and also Robins in his excellent biography of A. J. Tomlinson), I clearly see that even the earliest Pentecostals were driven into the world under the "power of the Spirit" to evangelize/proselytize using every modern means possible: railways, radio, newspapers, and eventually television, were all used extensively by Pentecostals. They were most certainly motivated by what they perceived to be the "inbreaking" of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was breaking into the world and so must the Pentecostals. This, it seems to me, is the more distinctly Pentecostal contribution to the eschatology. On the other hand, most of the early Pentecostals were also direct products of the earlier Holiness movement which emphasized the "come out from among them" mentality. It was this space from which the Pentecostals were to break into the world. So in essence, what has generally been attributed to a negative eschatology among Pentecostals (and perhaps other conservative premillennialists) has less to do with eschatology and more to do with soteriology and ethics (and again, I am not at all sure this is what Stephens has done - read the book, Gene). The belief that Jesus was coming soon had more to do with incursions into the world system (though not in traditional political ways). The opposite impetus was driven by a desire to be pure from the "evil" of that world.

In terms of the pentecostalization of broader Christianity, there seems to be at least a couple of ways that this is accurate. 1) If one's understanding of Pentecostal distinctives is limited to tongues, healing, etc., then starting in the 1950s, and especially since the 1970s, this has been widespread throughout the mainline denominations. Leaving off certain cumbersome, conservative points as well as holiness rigidity, millions of Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and others have in recent decades embraced the charismata without leaving their own traditions. 2) Certain church groups have specifically embraced "more Pentecostal" worship practices and liturgical freedom as a competitive reaction, among other things. I personally know one very large, conservative, Southern Baptist church who has hired a Pentecostal pianist/worship leader/arranger in order to liven up their worship so that the younger people would stop leaving the church for more exciting (read, Pentecostal) ones.

And now the most important point: the BCS is a joke and inherently flawed. One of the best teams in the country won the national championship, of that there is no doubt. But we will never know if they could have (or more accurately, would have) beaten GA or USC. Sorry, Mike.

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