Books Review & notes: Global Pentecostalism

Miller, Donald E. and Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. x+ 262 pages.

By Mu-tien Chiou

I.                   Thesis Statement

Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori spent four years in 20 different countries interviewing 400 mission experts and local church leaders. Their initial intent is to do research on fast growing, indigenous, and self-supporting churches with substantial involvement in social ministries in the developing world. When they discover that about 85 percent of the churches nominated were Pentecostal or Charismatic, they decided to give this type of ministry the coinage of ‘progressive Pentecostalism’ , which, they consider, reflects a significant trend in global Christianity. The end result becomes this book.

Its thesis is that Pentecostal churches worldwide are increasingly engaged in community-based social ministries that embodies a holistic understanding of the Christian faith (211).

II.                Chapter Summary

In the earliest chapters, the authors spend much time delineating key concepts to be used throughout the book, including how they measure and theorize social engagement, and a working definition of ‘progressive Pentecostalism’ that distinguishes itself from 1) traditional Pentecostalism, 2) social gospel, and  3) liberation theology.

Throughout chapter 3 to 4, Miller and Yamamori take readers into the churches, homes, and communities of the world’s needy populations in places such as Uganda, Cairo, Calcutta, Caracas, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. The types of ministries they investigated are listed earlier in chapter 2: (1) mercy ministries (providing food, clothing, and shelter); (2) emergency services (responding to floods, famine, and earthquakes); (3) education (providing day care, schools, and tuition assistance); (4) counseling services (helping with addiction, divorce, and depression); (5) medical assistance (establishing health clinics, dental clinics, and psychological services); (6) economic development (providing microenterprise loans, job training, and affordable housing); (7) the arts (training in music, dance, and drama); and (8) policy change (opposing corruption, monitoring elections, and advocating a living wage).

It is noteworthy that the majority of these leaders initiated their ministries without any articulated blueprint or orchestrated plan except for a vision from their God. Many of these workers, on a similar vein, feel motivated by this divine calling or vision to penetrate into the extremely poverty-stricken areas for the sort drudgery that no one else would care to spend time on. Much to the authors’ credit, some of the interviews are actually testimonies from people who had their lives dramatically transformed by this type of embodied Christian faith.

In Chapter 5, which according to the authors’ argument ‘could be the lead chapter of the book’ (132), more scholarly efforts seem to be poured in to investigate the supernatural phenomena surrounding Pentecostal prayer and worship. The aim is to offer a balanced account in light of naturalistic understanding. Since what characterizes Pentecostals and singles their ministries out from voluntary social group are primarily their distinctive spiritual activities, to offer at least one secular explanation of these activities seems pertinent for the non-participating readership.

The relationship among Pentecostal theology, democracy and upward social mobility is the topic of chapter 6. It draws upon 20th century sociologists Max Weber and Karl Marx for the argument that Pentecostalism, in spite that a great number of its adherents are enjoying upward social mobility, has NOT come to the full appreciation of the biblical emphasis on social justice. Liberation theology therefore is expected to provide duly input to Pentecostals by focusing on structural evil and devising long-term strategy to fight against it (183). Chapter 7 covers many of organizational dynamics that occur in the developing process of Progressive Pentecostalism, including 1) their power structure and the transition of it, 2) the role of modern media, foreign missionaries, and female members, as well as 3) the influence of political/religious oppression, inter-denominational competition, and globalization. The closing chapter (ch.8) is a summary. It gives little things new but specifically reintroduces the issue concerning the future possibilities of Progressive Pentecostalism, should this movement keep developing and pass its axis unto the next generation. The prospect looks especially promising when the Christian social conscience awakened by liberation theology is aptly tuned by Pentecostalism and takes the form of peaceful reformation and education.

III.             Personal Response

First of all, this book is very accessibly written. Writing as social scientists, Miller and Yamamori nonetheless takes a religious approach which assumes that human beings are to a large extent defined by those moral convictions or narratives of how their life ought to act and be. As president of Food for the Hungry, an international NGO which presence can be seen in dozens of countries around the world, Yamamori contributed valuable insights with his analysis on the working model that local churches and faith-based NGOs build together. Taking World Vision in Tanzania as example, he furnishes us with a convincing illustration on how and why NGO is often the catalyst for inter-denominational (and even inter-faith) cooperation on a given community development project (142).

For those of us interested in exploring what kind of roles religion can play in attend to the needs of individuals and help to ameliorate the global society, Global Pentecostalism is an exceptional introductory-level source.

IV.             Reflection Based upon Other Reading Materials

The phenomenal rise of Pentecostalism around the world, particularly within the Southern Hemisphere has bewildered theologians and sociologists of religion together with a question mark about its possible ramification on the social aspects. This is the question posed by The Next Christendom with demographic statistics, and the answer is now attempted by Global Pentecostalism with journalistic-style interviews and reports. These two books should be regarded as mutual complementary.

The big issues with the latter, however, is that when the authors set out their research object as being ‘Pentecostal churches that were fast-growing, located in the developing world, had active social ministries in their communities, and were indigenous to their communities’, the 15 percent non-Charismatic churches among the investigated are eliminated from the researchers’ scope. In addition, neither are the unknown percentages of the more traditional Pentecostal churches that do not share the ‘progressive’ attributes being included in the discussion nor have the authors made their footprints plastered over the entire world map to make the outcome of survey persuasively global.

The consequence is that this book weakens its case as being a comprehensive account on either ‘global Pentecostalism’ or ‘holistic mission’. As for the first issue, the indigenous CEB of Catholic church detailed in Christianity in Latin America yet completely left out by this book serves as a lucid objection. As for the second issue, one would certainly expect to see the position of China’s house church renewal (c.f. Jesus in Beijing) in this progressive Pentecostal movement, rather than having Singapore with its Willow-Creek-like City Harvest church sneaking in the list of ‘developing countries’ for mere convenience’s sake.

Book Notes

Global Pentecostalism: the new face of Christian social engagement

Author: Donald E. Miller/ Tetsunao Yamamori

False Accusations
Image via Wikipedia

[Intro]  Methodology and working definitions

    Focus on Pentecostalism as a complex social movement with active ministries, as opposed to a religious denomination or phenomenon.

    Two strands of definition: are the classical Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel Church, and there is a plethora of indigenous and independent Pentecostal churches. Some of these churches emphasize the Prosperity Gospel of health and wealth, while others focus on evangelism, healing, and ecstatic worship.

    Progressive Pentecostalism: struggled with what to call this movement within Pentecostalism, such as integral gospel, holistic Christianity, this term is tentatively coined for denoting churches that seek a balance between evangelism and social ministry.

1)      This movement continues to affirm the apocalyptic return of Christ but also believes that Christians are called to be good neighbors, addressing social need of people in their community.

2)      In Africa they confront the AIDS epidemic

3)      They educate impoverished kids around the world.

4)      Those charismatic who have aligned themselves with the right wing repressive governments are excluded by this term.

5)      Churches that engage exclusively in faith healing or « health and wealth » without connecting their Christian faith to socially beneficial programs for their community are excluded.

6)      Finally, we exclude Pentecostal churches that emphasize only conversion.

    Progressive Pentecostalism gained momentum in the last decade in part because of the upward mobility of some elements with the movement. churches increasingly have the means and connections to establish broad-based social programs – including partnerships with nongovernmental organizations. Given the moribund status of the Social Gospel movement and the declining influence of Liberation Theology, there is a breach to be filled— by progressive Pentecostalism. The thesis of this book is that some of the most innovative social programs in the world are being initiated by these fast-growing Pentecostal churches.

    However the progressive Pentecostal approach is relatively nonpolitical. Marxist commentators (e.g. Zizek) will see this as hopelessly naive because Progressive Pentecostals in most cases actually embrace capitalism and attempt to work within the system. They teach the fundamental value about human dignity (image of God), therefore preparing good citizens to exercise their vote in ways that reflect egalitarian value, the very root element of democracy. Now they are typically trying to build the kingdom of God one person at a time (as opposed to structural revolution).

    Phenomenological approach: subjective experience and collective behavior are distinguished…since all the interviewees assert themselves as nothing more than instruments of God.

1)      They don’t think the ecstatic worship is a product of their collective effervescence.

2)      speaking in tongues are not self-induced projections;

3)      people are not healed as a result of the placebo effect.

    Missionary-founded church and liberation theology were both seen as declining in developing countries. While liberation theology opted for the poor, they opted for Pentecostalism.

*  They would rather stay within the system and seek for social mobility than taking pains get power and subvert the paradigm.

    Human as meaning seeking creatures; religion is the attempt to find purpose and personal significance of an ultimate sort. It is not a purely cognitive effort. It is at least about community as it is about the affirmation of theological propositions. Rudolf Otto: religion involves encounters with the mysterium tremendum

    Research assumptions: rooms are open for possibilities of supernatural inventions. William James seeks to understand the pragmatic consequence of the practices and beliefs of people who embrace Pentecostal expression of Christianity.

*  他研究了世界各地這麼多不同五旬節教會的敬拜、社工、小組牧養…說明這一整個漸進五旬節是全人的…但可有證明這些教會的每一間都是面面俱到的嗎?還是只有各取其中的強項報導,拼湊出這樣一塊理想教會藍圖?(城市豐收教會或許做得到,但這樣的教會有很多嗎?)

Hillsong Church, a Pentecostal mega church in ...
Image via Wikipedia

[Ch.1] Global Pentecostalism

    Renascer em Cristo: Christian gathering in San Paulo is everything similar to their traditional carnival festivals, except people were keeping their libidinal forces in check. Interspersed between them were dozens of large semi-trucks towing trails that sported live bands with enough amperage in their speakers to curl you hair. Mingling among the crowd were vendors selling hot dogs… It’s beyond denominational difference though some would carry flags announcing their church community. After the parade people spilled our into a large park where Christian pop singers performed until twilight. The event culminated in a grand display of fireworks.

    Sunday worship: featured youth choirs, dancing cheerleaders, a rock star that performed during the offering, and a forty-five-minute sermon, followed by another offering , and then a revved-up band that had people dancing in the aisles as they left (as ORTV’s).

    The origin of Pentecostalism: 1901, Charles F. Parham of Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. William J. Seymour a black holiness preacher in Houston. Then 1906 “Azusa Street revivals” in LA.

    Three mythical stereotypes about Pentecostalism:

1)      Mysterious things happen on a daily basis: actually they occur only in special programs.

2)      They are grassroots people who have poor educational background: actually Pentecostalism attracts more and more upper class elites than it did. They are also homegrown wealthy men as the Pentecostalism contributes to an upbeat social mobility.

3)      They are heavenly minded so as to ignore the significance of present lifetime: they were so historically but now faith has become more than an opiate for them as they became aware of the social circumstances and pondered the ministerial model of their Lord Jesus. In part we see this change as driven by upward social mobility among Pentecostals who see a reason to preserve and improve everything in their present life. Members with increased educational levels are applying more sophisticated understandings to social issues, some of which involves structural and systematic interpretations drawn from the field of public health.

    Marx viewed religion as an opiate that took the edge of the pain of life; Freud thought religion was a fantasy-escape mechanism by weak people; Emile Durkheim believed that religious ritual, especially for primitive people, was a way of maintaining collective order. These are all functionalistic view that based on deprivation theories of one sort of another and are less than adequate.

    Explanation of growth:

1)      Placebo effect in their life works

2)      Social ministries attract believers

3)      It resonates with the traditional belief in a spirit driven world: functional parallels establish the religious link.

4)      Harvey Cox: Pentecostalism as an “ecstasy deficit” in the postmodern world. The “feeling dimension” as a response to a rationalized material worldview that prevailed since the Enlightenment. The boundary line between science and religion is challenged.

    Types of Pentecostal churches:

1)      The traditional denomination: the Assembly of God that was founded in 1901 during a charismatic prayer meeting in Bethel Bible College.

2)      Indigenous Pentecostal churches worldwide: Winner’ Chapel began in Nigeria in 1983 and by 2000 it had spread to 38 African countries. Their church in Lagos held the Guinness record for the largest auditorium seating 50,400.

3)      Neo-Pentecostal resists denominational formulation. Pastor are individual church planters who had personal experienced dramatic life-changing experience. They are not company men with formal theological training, but are rather market-savvy. They embrace the reality of HS while packaging the religion in a way that makes sense to culturally attuned youths.

4)      Charismatic renewal movement which is originated from Van Nuys, CA in 1960s and subsequently spread to college campuses such as Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale. Its influence goes into the Catholic Church. Running counter to the “death of God theology at the time, there was a focus on miraculous healing. Vineyard Christian Fellowship provides a laid-back quality of soft Christian rock and experiences that are quite alien within mass urban culture.

5)      Proto-charismatic Christians: they affirm to core beliefs and experiences. They are rather modest in terms of ecstatic phenomenon. Post-denominationalism.

    Four orientations:

1)      Traditionally there are legalistic prohibitions regarding worldly possessions that make Pentecostalism highly sectarian.

2)      Independent and indigenous churches tend to preach prosperity gospel that turns them into health-and-wealth churches. Tele-evangelists contribute to this as well (Kenneth Hagin and Benny Hinn in the US). To outside observers the preachers tend to trade in magical thinking and psychological manipulation.

3)      Integral gospel: it emerged as Progressive Pentecostals have become upwardly mobile. These can be found in the classical denominations, Neo-Pentecostal churches, and para-churches.

4)      Routinization: Sectarian while secularized in their worship elements. They keep the religious spirit in the primitive churches but change and evolve with time (Rom 12:2).

*  以演化論的角度思考…一可以造成二,四可以進化成三。猴子進化成人,但今天猴子仍然存在。四個模型並存的同時,不表示它們彼此間沒有枝幹系譜關係。

    According to Marxism the peasants seldom revolt because they are offered no hope. Had they believed in the possibility of a better life, they might have pursuit it politically when religion failed them. But it is also possible that disenchanted members of prosperity gospel turn to Pentecostalism or a more stabilized organizational form.

*  It is noteworthy that prosperity gospel also has the inner power of upward social mobility. Some elements of developing social ministries can also be seen for their members while holding healing crusades they also promote an abundant God in a practical way. They see no necessary contradiction between making claim about God’s ability to heal and finance people and setting up health clinics, developing schools, and investing.

    The qualifications of the Pentecostal capacity to transform the world:

1)      Karl Marx: the huge placebo effect. He interprets the Sermon on the Mount accordingly, suggesting that people revolt against their oppressors only if they actually feel the pain of their poverty. The belief in their heavenly reward (inversely correlated with their earthly sufferings) will pacify people rather than embolden them to address the source of their oppression. In India the once sensational charismatic movement still cannot change their caste system in history.

2)      Substantial social uplift that comes with their belief: see more on chap. 6

3)      Focus on human rights: the doctrine of “image of God” undergirds the universalzation of human dignity.

    New sociological paradigm created in order to explain the bounce back of religion after the modern era: religious competition creates niche markets. Religious monopolies are challenged by pluralism and web 2.0 supplier of spiritual support. Homogenized religious products (one size) do not fit all.

    Secularization theory that predicts private religious experience is countered by fast growing churches that are filled with people having collective worship experience.

    How can a church that embraces an otherworldly religious system engage itself in social ministry? The author believes that the demographer’s sociological toolbox, loaded with variables of race, class, ethnicity, and social location, is still inadequate. They have to count in supernatural factors.

*  I believe the ostensible paradox is easily solved by pointing out the paradigm shift of theological epistemology.



p.41 Epiphany: God gives a person a calling which specifies which people group to minister in.

From individual based ministry to community based.

p.41, 52 Secular NGOs usually come and go [with their project and agenda], but church excels in the ministry effect because it strikes deep roots in the community with a better sensitivity of local customs.

p.51 NGO trust institutional churches more than their own development department. There is a good relationship of cooperation. Church staffs are often required to interface with government offices. 在這些打交道的經歷中磨練出政治參與對於公共政策方向的影響力。

p.62 impossible to preach to people when they are cold, ill, and hungry?  Is it really impossible?

*  首先…這不是反對社會服務和物資援助但如果金和銀我都沒有,能給的唯有耶穌。五餅二魚的奇蹟仍然會出現,別說不可能。



p.92ff  Kids in City Harvest, Singapore are taken care of their schoolwork by volunteer tutors, which also part of their holistic youth ministries (beyond those from the broken family)


p.124 World Vision Tanzania: 兩年在地評估、提出預算及計畫案,與當地教會、宗教群體組織合作、出部分資。NGO is often the catalyst for churches [across denominational and even religious boundaries] working together on a community development project

p.125 Political engagement: 政治參與和政策面的轉變寄望在培育第二代的基督徒為政治家。有老一輩政要長者傳授政治倫理(間接也包括教會內的聲望和人脈)。

p.127 舊約先知有言,先求公義、再搞敬拜。否則你們的敬拜與祭物便不會被喜悅。

p.143 RCC: cold religion; printed instruction and liturgy for songs and body movement; serve to pacify human soul

Pentecostalism: warm religion; congregants are active participant in creating the service atmosphere and are allowed more free kinetic and vocal expression; serve to elevate human soul.





p.169 Pentecostal ethics and upward social mobility

1) the reestablishment of self-worth

2) a new collective identity manifested in the worship, which those who are seeking to survive alone in mass urban culture usually miss.

3) extended network of support. This Max Weber’s analysis does not cover for he focuses too much on individual transformation.

4) direct economic support in association with NGO

5) HS-motivated disciplined lifestyle that gives away the old indulgent ego

6) skills honed in running church development project (including discipleship and worship) may also have practical use in the business world.









*  但別忘了民主社會是建立在大量知識份子和中產階級之上的。民治、民生等需要公民自主意識和中上經濟條件才能產生的道德價值,與五旬宗目前具有神治的士師風格是不符的。(也就是說,大規模個體的理智自我覺醒,並不會在靈恩運動中發生。)


The post-Marxist critique (cf. Zizek): Pentecostalism does not have sufficient motif to trigger a fundamental structural change. The democracy from religious people would be tepid at best. How could drugged (spiritual opium) people feel the pain of their oppressed condition in sufficient measure to demand their rights?


Post-Marxist sarcasm:資本家應該贊助牧師階級,因為他們負責販售鴉片,幫忙控制這些頑梗的愚民(unruly masses)。如果哪時他們覺得良心不對頭,就捐些錢,讓他們的womenfolk搞個慈善基金會之類的,既可以洗錢避稅,又可以博得慈善企業家美名。


to date, Pentecostals seldom challenge the equity of the financial arrangements within global capitalism. Instead, they have been willing to work at pecking their way up the ladder of the capitalist economic system.

Liberation theology therefore gives duly challenge to Pentecostals by focusing on structural evil and devising long-term strategy to fight against it.


p.184靈恩教會發展結構中的核心異變(the transition of power)是一個值得觀察探討的議題:強有力的士師靈恩領袖與少數的附隨者成立的第一代的教會或事工,而隨著組織的人數成長與茁壯漸漸地事工的擔子必須交託出去到平信徒手中。

How do these lay leaders be empowered [nominally, spiritually, and substantially]?


*  P.185作者自己就和先前矛盾了。五旬宗真正的權力本質是社會主義、神權專制的,而非個人利益導向的民主或資本主義。


*  在北美,以城北教會為例。小組的理想恐怕並非7-10人、也無法每個星期都聚會。加上交通,茶點,每個人的事工量算起來還是太大。

*  反過來說,這裡的大家是不是沒有熱心、不夠投入?小組沒有明確的學習策略和拓展方針,會員數欠缺增長,也沒有在積極培訓事工領袖。

p.196 theological studies


「神學無用論」:They are writing histories, not studying it.

God uses the words in the Bible, but also signs and wonders [in particular to illiterate people].


p.200 while it’s helpful to partner with NGO in building schools and education programs alike, the church should be able to fund their pastors  as well as build their house of worship lest their visionary leadership cannot be exercised.

·         短宣觀光隊的危害:旅費和機票根本和他們短宣所付出的勞務(教英文、刷牆壁)效益不合。真正受惠的是這些外來者,他們得到了一次文化認知體驗。但在地人呢?不但工作日程被打亂(為了適應與照顧這些客人),也沒有得到什麼穩定的幫助是他們自己人所做不來的。

·         解決之道,是這些事工要連貫,需求的信息溝通管道要暢達。

·         還有兩個宣教的負面影響是:

1)      外籍宣教士成為在地人民留學歐美或移民的便門。不論是出名或出資出管道,最後他們都想方設法不回來了

2)      宣教機構大興土木,蓋了樓房或是成立機構,後來經營不順人去樓空、債留當地人。

Church marketing

·         教會的增長在於讓人買帳。宗教和其他世俗產品不同的是,人們只對他們認為是「真」的宗教買帳。要娛樂、要服務、要心理諮商,社會上有太多可以取代的機構。

·         通常人數停滯的主流教會,都是有律法主義、儀式導向,取代了宗教中那種真正「神聖者與心靈交會」的感動。

·         A sedentary(坐定的、久坐的)audience does not fit the culture of growing Pentecostal Church

*   雖然這裡的分析不能說有錯,但似乎聖靈工作時間表、人類罪性等不確定因素又被忽略了。有的教會如舊約先知宣講真理,但因人們心裡冥頑背逆,先知被逐、無人買帳。而有時聖靈利用約拿這樣平淡無奇的訊息,就讓尼尼微全城(四十萬人)人上下悔罪。

*   但在產生化貼近性這點上,敬拜音樂的選用與產製可以看出端倪。有些年輕教會先對會友做過調查。並讓年輕人推舉他們自己的敬拜音樂總監。


*      中國三自和家庭教會的對比,可以在Armenian Apostolic Church (communist manifesto) vs. Word of Life in Yerevan (radical commitment to J and charismatic in nature) 上見到複製。

p.205 The correlation between religious oppression and faith commitment: the more ones gives up for one religion., the stronger [is] one’s commitment to it.

The role of competition among religions/denominations

·         通常有政府壓迫、其他宗教逼迫發生、或多元宗教並存(通常跨宗教之間比較沒少發生轉換系統的情形,跨宗派、或是同宗派不同教區或分堂這樣競爭「搶羊」情形更常發生)的地區,牧師都要更努力。那麼教會就反而興旺。

·         在競爭高度緊張的地區,教會間必須各自協商如何分食大餅,並且在事工上殫精竭慮,否則(會十一奉獻的固定)會友一跑,財務就會出現困難。

·         有時,新五旬宗教會的領袖是從原有主流教會中出來的,他們對主流教會的迂腐與建制不滿,領受到異象與啟示要開拓新教會。



Global Leadership Network, Singapore by Naomi Dowdy


p.213-215 Pentecostalism and Liberation theology have mutually complementary strengths.

·         The major criticism against Protestant Pentecostalism is still their promotion of social stability that does not release enough impetus to revolutionize the existing unjust power distribution.

·         五旬宗的革命策略最多就是把希望寄託在下一代。那麼即使在社會狀況最壞的時候都不會訴諸武裝革命。(其實我說革命,也沒說武裝…)

·         解放神學和靈恩運動其實爭的是同一塊草根市場。這些年來我們已經看見解放神學的沒落和五旬宗的茁壯。

*   然而不如說,階級鬥爭是一時的,穩定才是值得長久追求的。事實上,解放神學在完成其階段性任務(革命)後,便將這種革命精神注入給了五旬宗,因此也才有其漸進形式的出現。作者只想到兩種神學陣營之間的對抗關係和消長(量),卻未詳究其間光譜的變遷與會合(質)解放神學為極右派的靈恩勢力注入了左派精神。


Miller, Donald E. and Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. x+ 262 pages.


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