Great Material

by John G. Turner

There are several items of interest to scholars and students of American religion in the most recent Books & Culture, including a smart review of Matt Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson by our Arlene Sánchez Walsh.

Also included is my review of Randall Stephens's The Fire Spreads. My "judgment," in summary form:

Crisply written, analytically clear, and full of colorful personalities, The Fire Spreads is the most significant study of Pentecostal origins since Grant Wacker's Heaven Below, and Stephens' four chapters on holiness Christianity provide an unparalleled introduction to that movement's emergence and growth in the South.

Randall richly explores the infighting between first Methodist denominations and their Holiness offshoots, and then between the latter and Pentecostal offspring. And he does so by finding pungent pieces in Holiness and Pentecostal periodicals:

Similar to the way southern Democrats met the Populist challenge, southern denominations responded with derision and expulsions, which holiness preachers endured as badges of persecution and signs of the Second Coming. "The Quarterly Conference will just be reading the verdict on some holiness evangelist," wrote the preacher and publisher H.C. Morrison, " … And, behold! The man has disappeared [in the rapture]."

As Sutton's book certainly indicates as well, we historians of American religion should be perennially thankful for the great material we have been given.


Anonymous said…
There is also a nice review of Turner's Bill Bright & Campus Crusade for Christ in the new B&C, which will hopefully go online soon.
Anonymous said…
Nice review, John. I will certainly read the book. I'm curious to know how Stephens explains Pentecostalism's movement from racial integration back to the societal norm of segregation. Could it be an example of the unfortunate side of cultural adaptability? And how did its pacifism die so quickly? I understand that it was not uncommon in WWII for young men in the Assemblies of God to be conscientious objectors. Did the AG's alignment with post-war evangelicalism kill this pacifist tendency?

Another question I have is how the roots of Pentecostalism did or did not influence its amazing adaptability to cultures all over the world. How has something so unique to American revivalism and the holiness movement become one of the predominant religious forces in the world? For example, how did my grandparents get swept up in the Swedish Pentecostal revival of the 1920s? Does the fact that my grandparents were poor farmers mean more than whether they were located in Sweden or the American South?

I know this may be outside the aim of the book, but perhaps it has some clues for us to follow. Of course, the title itself may indicate an important truth. There is no telling, after all, how far fire will spread, and the particular place it started may completely irrelevant.
Anonymous said…
And if any of you are like me and are in need of some divine healing after grading, check out the review of Amanda Porterfield's wonderful book on healing in Christian traditions.
John G. Turner said…
Manlius, you might consider Edith Blumhofer's book on the Assemblies of God (Restoring the Faith) for your first set of questions.

The second set of questions is fascinating. Perhaps Randall or someone else could suggest some good resources.

I thought after proclaiming my sinfulness some of my friends would offer specific examples. Whew!
Randall said…
Manlius, those are great questions. I didn't look into them in particular, but it would be interesting to see other historians explore such themes.

It seems like there is an extensive literature on the adaptability of Christianity. And Philip Jenkins has good material on pentecostalism and renewalist movements in the global south.

It's curious that a religion so uniquely American in certain ways--if you take Grant Wacker's analysis--has become such a worldwide phenomenon.
Anonymous said…
Regarding pentecostal pacifism, WWII changed everything. McPherson's Foursquare denomination through the 1930s "supported" conscientious objectors, and “encouraged” all ministers to file for c.o. status. But shortly after Pearl Harbor, she changed the denomination’s bylaws to eliminate any support for conscientious objectors.

If I remember correctly, the Assemblies of God was even more clearly pacifist in the 1930s. However, once the US entered the war, they went silent on the conscientious objector issue. At the same time, they began running regular stories in the Pentecostal Evangel highlighting and praising the work of AG servicemen. Their shift was more subtle than Foursquare’s, but the results were the same: World War II created the pentecostal marriage of God, County, and Guns.
Randall said…
Warriors for Jesus!

I talked a little bit about this in the last chapter of my book. And I saw the same thing that Matt describes above. Their was such an amnesia by the late 1960s--when the AG finally officially changed it's stand on the matter--that many pents wouldn't have given pacifism a second thought, maybe not even a first though. But for a great pent counter to that, see issues of Agora magazine in the 1970s. Darrin Rodgers at the AG archives pointed these out to me. An incredible source.

Stanley Hauerwas has some unbelievably funny "God, Country, and Guns" pictures on his door at Duke Divinity.
Anonymous said…
John: Thanks for the recommendation. I remember reading some of Blumhofer's work back in college. If I recall, she has a delightful writing style. I will have to check out what she has to say.

Randall: You offer a good sense of the American roots of Pentecostalism, while Jenkins gives the international angle. Now who will make the connection, assuming that there is one, between them? You're right that someone should look into this.

I certainly don't think it's that easy a task (such as just chalking it up to the influence of Americanism abroad). I mean, it can't be that easy to explain how we get from Azusa Street to Pope John Paul II offically blessing the Catholic charimatic movement within the span of the 20th century.

Matt: Thanks for your input. So it was WWII itself rather than any post-war realignments that changed the pacifist stance. Interesting. This means, I guess, that Pentecostalism was adapting to the broader culture rather than the fundamentalist/evangelical culture.

I grew up AG (in the 70s and 80s) and never heard even a hint of pacificism. In fact, I remember my father explaining to me how his conversion from Quakerism (New England Unitarian style) to the AG in 1964 was a major factor in his decision to enlist in the National Guard.
John G. Turner said…
I would have to presume that American Pentecostal and charismatic missionaries must have played a major role. The mainline missionaries disappeared after WWII, replaced by evangelicals but also by Pentecostals and charismatics. That's not to exclude indigenous sources of growth, but I would think missions would have to be a major part of the equation.
Anonymous said…
That's a good point, John. As you know, missions has been an integral part of the Pentecostal movement from the very beginning. They understood that such a gift of tongues carried with it a high obligation to missions. They also clearly believed that the restoration of the charismatic gifts meant the beginning of the end-time harvest.

Of course, another important point is how they approached missions. Their emphasis on the Holy Spirit may have allowed the Pentecostal missionaries to transcend certain cultural limitations. Perhaps being "outsiders" themselves, they were not as likely to be suspected of imperialistic motives. (Indeed, they may have been a few steps ahead of the changes that would come to missiology.)

Their Holy Spirit emphasis may have also encouraged them not to be hindered by too many pragmatic concerns.

Whatever the case, the paradox seems to be that a movement so rooted in unique American cultural aspects carried with it the seeds to transcend that culture and influence the entire world. Actually, it sounds a bit like the missiologist's dream come true. :)

Or to be biblical about it, what seemed like drunken babbling to many in the church actually came through as a clear and crisp message in the vernacular to many peoples throughout the world.

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