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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Pentecostalism and Prosperity: The Socio-Economics of the Global Charismatic Movement

Edited by Katherine Attansai
and Amos Yong
(New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012)
xv + 261 pages

Reviewed by Charles Self, Associate Professor of Church History
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO

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Pentecostalism and Prosperity presents an ambitious overview of the ways that the “prosperity gospel” is conceived and lived out in diverse Pentecostal and Charismatic movements around the world. A dozen leading thinkers offer their overviews, case studies in select geographies, and social and theological reflections. What emerges is not   a uniform set of observations and principles, but informed glimpses into the heads, hearts and hands of millions of faithful followers of Christ who believe the Holy Spirit empowers both traditional ministry activity (preaching, teaching, witnessing, charity) and economic advance (both individual and national).

The scholars in this work are critical of the crude “name it and claim it” promises of Western televangelists; however, they are intrigued by their followers—women and men not in denial of pain and suffering, but adamant in their faith while they pray and work toward a better world for themselves and others.

This is not the book for readers aiming to bash a particular school of thought or find comfort in simplistic economic ideologies of the political Left (socialism) or Right (capitalism). As economic and ethnographic researchers, the authors understand the complexities of historical and current economic trends and globalization.

Attanasi’s Introduction on the plurality of global Pentecostalism provides the context and texture for the entire work. Yong’s overarching taxonomy (p. 17, Table 1) once again reveals his mastery of synthetic analysis and provides helpful insights.  All the perspectives summarized by Yong, pro- and anti-prosperity positions to more nuanced missional and contextual views, are presented in their best light and offer fresh thinking to the reader.

Nimi Wariboko’s overview (p. 54-55, Table 2.1) of Pentecostal paradigms and models for economic prosperity in Africa is a brilliant summation of the complexities and resources for Pentecostal-fueled economic and social change in Africa. This is not light reading. Careful review will lead thoughtful Christians to develop a richer understanding of all that is involved in community and individual transformation.

The aforementioned summative chapters of Part I are complemented by several case studies in Part II. These include hopeful work in South Africa that may reveal concrete evidence of economic and social progress for Pentecostal church members. The authors carefully examine Christian capitalism in the new urban centers of China and current struggles with community traditions and individualism in the emerging economies of Eastern Europe. The complexities of Catholic charismatic Christianity in the Philippines are juxtaposed with a look at American prosperity gospel adherents and leaders. The ongoing challenge of Latin American development and participation in global capitalism provides compelling reading.    

The case studies dispel any universal uniformity or “one-size-fits-all” notion of Christian prosperity. In all cases, denial of poverty, both personal and structural, is non-existent. On the other hand, the creative and hard-working spirit of believers in every context shines through even the bleakest social analysis.

Part III presents the reflections of three scholars:  a Roman Catholic religious studies professor, a Christian economic ethicist, and a leading Pentecostal theologian. Each of these thinkers presents incisive evaluations of both the dangers and possibilities of prosperity teachings. All three scholars see a common ethos of personal empowerment, community commitment, and the commendable spirit of sacrifice for others and the next generation. They each affirm the importance of mature theological thinking as foundational to economic growth that includes justice and opportunity for all. Interestingly, this final section consists of American scholars who benefit from capitalism while decrying its excesses and problems.

This important book would prove helpful for any thoughtful Christian, regardless of vocational focus. Its global perspective will help develop cultural sensitivity and sharpen biblical study on economics and social change.

On a pastoral note, this work will help leaders counsel people walking through hard times by helping them discern their personal responsibility as they encounter economic challenges and dislocations. Someone in Kansas loses a job—and a believer in China is hired by the local factory. Who is prospering? How is God working in both situations? As global Pentecostal Christianity keeps growing, its followers will have increased economic, political, and social responsibility. Believers must have a biblical theology capable of meeting the opportunities and challenges of the twenty-first century.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 10:07 AM