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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Handbook of Pentecostal Christianity

Adam Stewart (ed.)
(DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2012) 225 pages

Reviewed by Ewen Butler, Ph.D. cand., Regent University School of Divinity;
Lead Pastor, Church on the Hill, Cobourg, Ontario

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Another handbook on almost anything can at first glance elicit a déjà vu reaction, if not downright boredom. Yet, as we have known from childhood, a book ought not to be judged by its cover. While this volume may appear to merely add to the flood of recent Pentecostal literature, Adam Stewart has managed to discern a space in the field that needs attention, one that has remained largely unoccupied until now. After all, if serious engagement with the global Pentecostal movement is to go forward, students, even at an entry level, need exposure to the issues rather than only to historical chronology. Stewart aims his edited work precisely at that challenge.       

The book is a collection of fifty short essays covering an array of topics ranging from historical, theological/doctrinal, and biblical issues to key Pentecostal personalities and globalization. It can readily serve as a basic text on Pentecostalism or as a quick reference tool for the busy student, pastor, or teacher. A cursory examination immediately impresses the reader with how much the author has been able to include more than what he might have omitted. His wide consultation with scholars, both from within and outside the movement, has ensured a reasonably objective selection of topics. In this way, he orients his work to a wider audience than just the Pentecostal scholars’ guild. As a young student of Pentecostalism, Stewart is keenly aware of its global reach geographically as well as its transformation of world Christianity. He understands, along with an emerging generation of Pentecostal scholars, that the work of the Spirit within the last hundred years or so is not rooted exclusively in the Azusa Street revival.  

Stewart makes clear that his purpose is first, to provide a basic, though by no means all-inclusive, introduction to Pentecostalism for college students and seminarians and second, to inform general readers interested in the movement. He appropriately recognizes that in an environment of accelerating interest in Pentecostalism’s global impact, individuals from all disciplinary backgrounds would welcome and benefit from a concise text outlining pivotal events, ideas, and personalities. He is also mindful that while a book of this length cannot possibly be comprehensive, it can be representative. As such, it utilizes a conceptual approach, naturally making the choice of what is fundamental and what is peripheral open to endless debate.   

The essays covering issues considered as essential to foundational understanding are contributed by writers in Church history, theology, and biblical studies, but also in anthropological, sociological and black church studies. While the volume aims for a global flavor, Stewart fully recognizes the need for practicality, given that his work will likely appeal more to and be used by a North American audience. Topics related to origins and growth, for example, include essays on African American Pentecostalism; the Azusa Street revival; the Toronto Hebden Mission; the Holiness, Keswick, Latter Rain, Charismatic and Word of Faith Movements; and Oneness Pentecostalism.
Selected aspects of theological developments are dispensationalism, eschatology, the Finished Work Controversy, and full gospel, among others. Articles regarding early leaders of the Pentecostal movement include Charles Harrison Mason, William Joseph Seymour, Charles Fox Parham, William Howard Durham, Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson, and Aimee Semple MacPherson. Articles regarding biblical perspectives on major Pentecostal themes discuss salvation, baptism of the Holy Spirit, Acts of the Apostles, glossalalia, healing, initial evidence, and spiritual gifts. In his attempt to balance North American Pentecostalism with the movement’s global growth, Stewart’s work contains contributions on Latin American, European, African, Asian, and Australian Pentecostalism. It consists, too, of a handful of specialized topics such as televangelism, women, a Pentecostal perspective on suffering, and spirituality.  

The author sees his work as a hybrid of both critical and normative approaches to the issues. Consequently, the volume has an eclectic flavor, which some people may find distracting. One is compelled to agree with Stewart, however, that this method might help enhance understanding of Pentecostalism, both inside and outside the movement, as non-Pentecostals can have quick access to a few short documents that inform them about what Pentecostals see as normative. Likewise, Pentecostals can have occasion for some critical reflection. 

One must not mistake this book as either a reader on Pentecostalism or as a reference book. In a way, it is both, and that is perhaps its greatest strength. Yet, it may not appeal to an uninformed popular audience; it is written by contemporary scholars in the field accustomed to writing for the guild. Neither is it a body of primary source material; it is a collection of stand-alone secondary assessment sources. Although the topics appear in alphabetical order, it might have been better to present them categorically. Even so, the book is not cumbersome. Any topic can be immediately located.   

Stewart’s work deserves much commendation and should prevent many a university religious studies instructor or Bible college teacher from scratching his or her head in bewilderment over the plethora of textbooks, most of which are not oriented toward an introductory course in Pentecostalism.  

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:33 AM