A critical analysis of Pentecostalism: Is that the Spirit?

A critique of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement from an Evangelical perspective

This blog is in many ways a response to conversations I have had with many Christians over the last decade and more who are a part of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement [1], as I once was myself. Despite some differences with other Evangelicals it's evident that many Pentecostals nonetheless feel that actually we are all not too far apart in our basic theology, if at all. The idea is not uncommon: ‘when you boil it all down, we all really believe the same thing,’ right? But is it the case?

It’s a good question: What are the differences between charismatic and Pentecostal emphases and those of 'mainline' Evangelicals; and do they matter? And despite whatever distinctive emphases exist, do we actually disagree on any foundational truths?

For if our differing emphases do not prove to matter, and are founded on the same basic core beliefs, perhaps the way forward it to major on our common unity and begin to (or continue to?) work together towards the same ends.

But if our differing emphases really do prove to matter, and are founded on differing core beliefs, then other very important questions must be asked: Where does our disunity come from? What it the Biblical perspective on such disunity within the Church? Can unity be re-established and if so what would need to happen to establish a biblical unity? Can we work together at all towards the same end, and if so how?

In order to answer these questions, this blog attempts to offer a critical analysis of the distinctive emphases of the Pentecostal movement that are seen in charismatic emphases also, from an Evangelical perspective. [2] Pentecostals and charismatics alike have the view that the role of the Holy Spirit has been overlooked and under-emphasised within the Church at large for centuries, and that God has used their movements to bring his presence and work within the Church back into the light, in a way that has been ‘refreshing’, ‘awakening’, ‘renewing’, even 'reforming'.

This new and united focus on the role of the Spirit – his gifts and power - in relatively recent times has proved to be positive in many ways, however it has also generated many new understandings (or doctrines) on the role of the Spirit that are distinct from mainline Evangelicalism. What has been the effect of these new doctrines? The purpose of this blog is to firstly identify and explain these distinct emphases within charismatic circles and the Pentecostal movement, and where they came from. Secondly I attempt to explain where, how and why I think the Scriptures clearly differ with these emphases. Thirdly, I try to outline some of the effects these theological differences have had on the Christianity of Pentecostals and charismatics. Lastly what I want to do is answer some of these 'big picture' questions I've posed above.

My analysis involves obvious emphases that appear on the surface, but also more underlying beliefs evident only on a deeper level. Only after this is established can my basic questions be addressed: are the distinctive emphases of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements significant? When you boil it all down, do we all really believe the same thing?

My prayer for you as the reader is mine for myself also: that God would grant you an understanding of the Scriptures so that you will know Him better, that you would take great care to heed it's warnings and commands not to stray from sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3), and that in so doing you would save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).


[1] The Pentecostal movement is so named because it’s most predominant distinctive concerns ‘baptism in the Spirit’, which relates to the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost (Acts 2). The ‘charismatic’ movement was so named because initially its most predominant distinctive was an emphasis on the active operation of the ‘gifts of the Spirit’ within everyday church life (‘charismatic’ literally means ‘gifts’). Though Pentecostalism has a series of churches specifically aligned with it (such as the Assemblies of God in Australia, for example), the charismatic movement is distinguished from Pentecostalism primarily because its influence operates within any Christian denomination.

[2] The majority of distinctives pointed out within the articles of this blog would certainly apply to both Pentecostals and charismatics, though it may well be that in each case Pentecostal beliefs will be better defined, accentuated more and more readily articulated than those of charismatics. Thinking in the charismatic movement is clearly diverse (and more so than within Pentecostalism), and so it is impossible to say what is the view held by everybody. I only attempt to make generalisations of characteristics that appear to be adhered to by the majority, and point out the differences or exceptions where I am aware of them.


Henry Trocino Jr. said...

Dear Joe,

I discovered your site on "Talking Pentecostalism" just now. It's quite refreshing to see a site full of historical and theological data on Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal evangelical views. I only came across Barnet and Jensen's excellent book, "The Quest for Power" only now also. I applaud your sincere, thoughtful, and courageous efforts!

I will soon self-publish my book, "A Theology of Tongues" later in 2014, Lord-willing. It includes a study on the baptism and the Spirit and tongues. My starting point for a theology of tongues is tongues speaking as the sign of the baptism of the Spirit in Acts. There is a difference between tongues as a sign in Acts however, and tongues as an individual gift in 1 Corinthians. The former serves the purpose of signifying the baptism of the Spirit; while the latter, the purpose of edifying the church at the time. Yet there is a connecting link between the two. The tongues were considered by Peter as a revelatory medium in Acts. The tongues in 1 Corinthians also functioned similarly. Quite interesting.

You might like to see some of my sermons and theological works at my blog, at "the glory of his grace,"

the Lord bless and keep you!


Joe Towns said...

Thanks Henry - much appreciated. God bless, Joe