Tag Archives: Pentecostalism

Reclaiming the physical in Christian worship


holy-wounds-devotionHere’s the last bit of the “affective devotion” chapter draft for Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

Reclaiming the physical

Finally, among the varied aspects of our human nature, our emotions seem especially closely tied with our physical bodies. We use the same words, “feeling” or “being touched,” for the physical senses and for emotional experiences. But reading Margery Kempe’s Book makes me ask: Where has the sense of the spiritual importance of touch or physicality gone in today’s culture? Are these human senses now allowed to communicate anything true or spiritual to us? We have plenty of the visual in our TV- and movie-soaked culture, and even in our churches. But how often do we experience anything spiritually significant through touch? The most intense, ecstatic touch-experiences, those of our sexuality, have been devalued and dehumanized through obsessive attention and being made into the commodities of the impersonal marketplace. I think that like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Margery’s life of devotion and the whole English mystical tradition can help to draw today’s Christians back to the sort of visible, physical devotion epitomized in the medieval pilgrimage.

In the mid-90s I was giving a lecture on Pentecostalism at an evangelical seminary in New England. I was describing the huge influxes of eager believers, every day, by the busload, to the Azusa Street Revival that launched Pentecostalism in 1906, and again to the modern Toronto Airport Vineyard revival and the Brownsville/Pensacola revivals One student put up his hand and asked, with skepticism in his voice: “Why do Pentecostals and charismatics feel that it’s so important to actually go to the place where a revival is supposedly happening, to ‘bring back’ that revival to their home churches?” Continue reading

The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part IV, conclusion


Continued from “The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part III

Early 1800s - evangelical preacher at camp meeting

Preaching prowess

Certainly prowess in preaching—or at least the appearance of spiritual power attending preaching—was highly valued by Methodists writing about their dear departed. Of Rev. Cicero L. Dobbs it was said:

Brother Dobbs was no ordinary preacher.  He preached a pure, simple gospel that was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Continue reading

The spreading flame: Pentecostal scholarship goes global


Well, the history blog over at http://www.christianitytoday.com is singing its swan song. This week’s article, a reflection from me on Pentecostal scholars and the global reach of recent Pentecostal research, is the penultimate post.

R.I.P. to Christianity Today International’s commitment to journalism on Christian history. Sad, but I could see it coming when they axed Christian History & Biography as a print magazine last year. And the magazine’s sister website will soon follow, though CTI will still make back issues of the magazine available through www.ctlibrary.com.

Anyhow, here’s my post:

The Spreading Flame: Pentecostal Scholarship Goes Global

by Chris Armstrong | March 16, 2010 4:22 PM

El_Greco_pentecost.jpg

In the mid-nineties, when I was almost finished with my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my adviser, Dr. Garth Rosell, took me aside for a “career chat.” He hazarded a prediction: “In the coming years, young Pentecostal and charismatic students will do well in graduate studies and make an impact in the academy.” I was one of those young charismatics (though a late bloomer—already a decade older than many of my classmates). And I wondered whether Dr. Rosell was right. I hoped so. Though I still had all sorts of questions about the value of graduate study for the church, I had plunged into this academic world (and its ubiquitous dark reality of student debt) with both feet. It was becoming my world, and I hoped I could make my way in it.

I was that oddball creature: a “charismatic bookworm.” For ten years after my conversion in 1985, I was formed as a Christian in the fires of Pentecostal experience. But despite the hand-raising, tongues-singing exuberance of that experience, I was no natural-born extrovert (I probably could have used this book). It took me quite some time to struggle out of my bookish shell and experience the “joy of the Lord” so evident at the interdenominational Rock Church in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.

Even in the midst of the intensive religious experience and activism so characteristic of that movement, I struggled with a welter of questions: What was the salvific meaning, if any, of these experiences I was having? Their biblical background? Who had discovered them first in the church, and how did they become what they were in the charismatic culture of the 1980s? What about the many other quirks and habits of this charismatic culture? How could I negotiate the myriad claims made by visiting and TV evangelists? How did such claims and experiences relate to Scripture? To the historical foundations of the church worldwide?

Those sorts of questions brought me to a decision.

Continue reading The Spreading Flame

Evangelicals and psychiatric services


The following is part of a talk I was invited to give to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) here in the Twin Cities a few years ago. The talk was on “the evangelical tradition,” and was intended to give these medical practitioners a sense of the beliefs of evangelicals, possible impediments to serving this constituency, and ideas of how to serve them better.

I have already posted other portions of this talk here under the titles “Basic, basic Christianity” and “Evangelicalism–a basic summary,” part I, part II, and part III. What follows is the final portion of the talk, which outlines issues that may face a professional providing evangelicals with psychiatric services, and ideas on how to serve (some) evangelicals better:

Now I’d like to turn the corner and address more directly some of the challenges that may come up in serving evangelical Christians from within the field of mental health care.

The insights that follow mostly come from my Bethel colleague Steven J. Sandage, Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Studies, Bethel St. Paul. Steve has served as clinician, psychologist, and chaplain in a variety of settings (community mental health, correctional, university) and currently engages in part-time clinical practice. He taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical College of Virginia as an adjunct faculty prior to coming to Bethel.

As Steve has related it to me, some evangelicals have a tendency to over-spiritualize—they frame problems as spiritual, not being able to think in an integrative way about the interactions of their minds, emotions, spirits, and the material world. They may refuse medication, for example, because they think this would show a lack of faith in spiritual truth or spiritual reality. Continue reading

Roots of Pentecostal scandal: Romanticism gone to seed –part II


Here is the second part of the two-part article on the dysfunctional aspects of the holiness and Pentecostal movements’ emotional and social culture, first published in 2004 on Christianity Today’s history website:

Romanticism Gone to Seed—Part II
Have the holiness and Pentecostal movements really been hyper-vertical and anti-domestic?
By Chris Armstrong

A number of you wrote in to critique my recent newsletter “The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal: Romanticism Gone to Seed” on various grounds—including my supposed lack of salvation, my supposed hatred of Pentecostals, and my lack of solid evidence to back up the claim that the intensively “vertical” piety of Pentecostals and their holiness forebears has sometimes been indulged at the expense of “horizontal,” human relationships.

Since there is no sure way that I know of to prove one’s salvation, I’ll move on briefly to the question of my views on Pentecostalism, before offering some more of that historical evidence many of you were looking for. Continue reading

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed


A wave of criticism quickly followed the first publication–in 2004, on Christianity Today’s history website–of the two-parter that begins with the article below. Along with that wave, however, came another, larger wave of responses from those within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements who affirmed my analysis.

Now, six years later, I still stand by the argument I present here, which first dawned on me as I was at Duke in the late 1990s, studying the “emotional culture” of the 19th-century holiness movement. The holiness movement was the precursor of modern Pentecostalism, and its emotional DNA contained the troubling “anti-domestic” gene that I describe in this pair of articles. The first of the two articles, below, sets up the argument. The second, to be posted here soon, offers further evidence.

To be clear, I owe my faith to this movement, and I affirm the tremendous blessings it has brought. For more on that, see this article.

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed
The sexual stumblings of prominent ministers point to a hidden flaw in Pentecostal spirituality.
By Chris Armstrong

The sordid 1980s scandals of Pentecostal ministers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart will incline some to presume that Paul Crouch, president of Pentecostal-linked television network TBN, did engage in the alleged homosexual liaison.

But whether the allegations in this case are eventually substantiated or not [update, Feb. 2010: Crouch has weathered the scandal and is still atop TBN], the question arises again: why does the Pentecostal ministry seem particularly susceptible to sexual scandal?

It may turn out, in fact, that statistically, Pentecostal ministers fall in this way no more often than do other ministers. I’m sure we make this connection at least partly because of the long cultural shadows of Bakker and Swaggart.

But I don’t think the connection is accidental. Continue reading

Potpourri: Katrina’s fallout in a New Orleans parish, a post-Christian museum, Pentecostalism’s real birthplace, Corrie Ten Boom’s house, a Holy Land exhibit and three British kings


After Hurricane Katrina, I was working on putting together Christian History & Biography’s front-of-issue “candy bowl” of church-history-in-the-news pieces, and I ran across the story of the Roman Catholic Church’s decision to close St. Augustine parish. The tale of that decision’s aftermath made it into our “Living History” for Issue 90: Adoniram & Ann Judson: American Mission Pioneers. Since the story didn’t end there, I’ve inserted after the original article, below, an update that appears in Wikipedia about the fate of that parish.

Living History
Compiled By Chris Armstrong

In New Orleans, the saints go marching on.

Since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a small but vibrant Roman Catholic parish has entered the public eye. As the city’s Catholic hierarchy struggled to deal with widespread damage to church property, the St. Augustine parish was slated to close in March and merge with the much larger St. Peter Claver parish several blocks east. But parishioners and supporters protested. “There are people who have roots in this church who are all over the country,” New Orleans resident Joan Rhodes told The Louisiana Weekly. “You shut that down and you really are putting a knife in the heart of the culture.”

St. Augustine was founded in 1841 by slaves and free blacks and through the years has also welcomed Creole, Haitian, French, and Spanish worshippers. Today, one result of this unique cultural ministry has been a Sunday morning service belying “America’s most segregated hour,” as people of many backgrounds, races, and ages gather amidst the stained-glass saints and oil paintings of Christ to sway and clap under the leadership of one of the city’s best-known clergymen, 76-year-old Fr. Jerome LeDoux. In his 15 years at St. Augustine, Fr. LeDoux has established the parish as a focal point for New Orleans culture, integrating jazz music and African drumming and dancing into the worship, blessing local jazz groups, and holding festivals and special services to commemorate musicians such as Louis Armstrong. Continue reading

How John Wesley changed America–though his one trip here was a failure


The 300th anniversary of John Wesley’s took place a few years ago, in 2003. For the occasion, I reflected on this famous British religious leader’s enduring legacy “across the pond,” here in the U.S. Interestingly, Wesley’s one ministerial experience this side of the Atlantic went hardly better than Edwards’s. However, and despite the fact that he spent very little time here, Wesley is arguably one of the two or three most influential leaders in American history. (Much of that influence came through the conduit of his indefatigable American bishop, Francis Asbury–my next post will talk about Asbury.) As usual, I can’t vouch that all the links are still active, but a quick Google search will turn up most anything you’d like to know about the extraordinary Mr. Wesley:

How John Wesley Changed America
Why should Wesley’s 300th birthday be a red-letter day on this side of the ocean?
Chris Armstrong

The world is now marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley with celebrations, conferences, publications, and many other commemorations. (For trivia buffs and sticklers: The actual day of Wesley’s birth was June 17 or June 28, 1703, depending on whether you follow the “old style” calendar in use before 1752 or the “new style” calendar used after that year.) But Americans may wonder, What difference did Wesley make to our country? After all, while he served as a parish minister in Savannah, he didn’t last two years in the post before incurring the colonists’ wrath and before returning to England. Continue reading

Do Non-Charismatics ‘Do’ Holy Spirit Baptism? Ask D. L. Moody, Charles G. Finney, Jonathan Edwards, or Cotton Mather


As a Christian “of Pentecostal extraction” working at Christianity Today International, I was often asked by friends from that movement to see whether I couldn’t get some more coverage of the Wesleyan-holiness-Pentecostal-charismatic stream in CTI publications. I agree that Christianity Today itself had not always done a great job of covering that significant (to put it mildly) stream within American and world evangelicalism–though I think that’s starting to change. So early on, I posted a couple of short items pointing to the affinities between Pentecostals and other evangelicals. Here is one of those:

Do Non-Charismatics ‘Do’ Holy Spirit Baptism?
Ask D. L. Moody, Charles G. Finney, Jonathan Edwards, or Cotton Mather
Chris Armstrong

Recently we’ve heard a lot about the rapid worldwide growth of Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Researcher David Barrett and his team have been reminding us for years that these groups have passed all others in their global spread. Polls here at home have showed similarly high domestic growth rates in such groups.

Some secular commentators have found this growth menacing—the burgeoning of yet another potentially violent, reactionary religious group. Some evangelicals, too, are discomfited, finding the charismatics’ emphasis on Spirit-bestowed gifts such as tongues and prophecy exotic, if not downright alien. Continue reading

Do Nigerian miracle ministries discredit the faith?


With charismatic gifts and miracles come abuse. It’s just like every other aspect of church life: Christians are still sinful, fleshly people, prone to use the things of God to forward their own agendas. In 2004, Nigerian authorities saw abuses within prominent television ministries in their country and moved to shut them down. What should we think about the high incidence of the miraculous in African countries? Should we dismiss it all as charlatanry? Or is God really doing physical miracles there?

Christian History Corner: Do Nigerian Miracle Ministries Discredit the Faith?
The spiritual dynamism of West African Christianity is now well known even in the West. Do credulity-stretching, highly publicized miracles discredit what God is doing in that region?
By Chris Armstrong

Recently Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) issued a ban on the television broadcasting of miracles—specifically, those not “provable and believable” (though the NBC failed to provide guidelines for establishing proof). The ban is aimed at the many Pentecostal ministries in that country who air video of healing miracles to draw people to their meetings and to Christ.

My response to this sort of “news of the miraculous” in Africa is mixed. First, I get a small thrill—a little, inner voice saying “Yay!”—when I am reminded of how powerfully God has touched that continent, so that miracles of healing would become standard television fare. Second, I share in the skepticism that suspects some charismatic ministers broadcast such events—without adequately checking the genuineness of the “miracles”—to aggrandize their ministries and gain followers. Third, I am angry (with, I hope, a holy sort of anger) that the Devil continues, as he always has, to discredit by any means possible the work of the Holy Spirit—in this case, through exploiting the base motives of some leaders. Continue reading