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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

European Pentecostalism

William K. Kay and Anne E. Dyer (eds.)
(Boston, MA: Brill, 2011) 416 pages

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Center for Renewal Studies, Regent University,
Virginia Beach, VA

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European Pentecostalism. For many readers, this title begs to be followed by either a question mark or an exclamation mark. Even within the different European countries, Pentecostalism is not widely known, and outsiders question the existence of Pentecostal groups even among countries that possess a sizable representation. Outside of Europe, the informed reader may be well aware of the North American literature and the increasing attention paid to Pentecostalism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. However, judging from the literature, there are few indications of a vibrant Pentecostalism in Europe. Kay and Dyer promise to fill this gap with an exceptional collection of presentations on the history, origins, theology, and sociological perspectives of Pentecostalism across the European continent.

As Volume 7 of the young series, Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, this collection of 15 essays presents an important picture of the state of Pentecostalism and Pentecostal scholarship in Europe. The book discusses the development of Pentecostalism in Scandinavian countries, Great Britain, Germanic countries, Francophone Europe, Iberia (Spain and Portugal), South Eastern European nations (Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia), Central Europe (Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia), Russia, and the Ukraine. Significantly, the essays are written by Pentecostal representatives from each region, many of them with significant ministerial, administrative, and academic experience. The result is a rich volume that adds important and accessible information to any collection with interest in the diverse forms of global Pentecostalism.

Summarizing the different essays may bring the reader back to the initial question of whether the phrase “European Pentecostalism” is best understood as a question or an exclamation. Leading toward a satisfactory answer, the historical essays are supplemented by three discussions of the theology of European Pentecostals, placing them in contrast to Protestant, Catholic, and Communist Europe. The volume concludes with an essay on the future of Pentecostalism and a sociological perspective on Pentecostalism in Europe. This collection of viewpoints suggests that Pentecostalism in Europe is both a question and an exclamation.

As a question, Pentecostalism in Europe continues to be less visible than in other parts of the world. The divisions of languages, economics, cultures, histories, and traditions are more distinctive for Europe than on many other continents. War, communism, economic depression, and vast socio-political changes have made the advance of Pentecostalism more difficult. The dominance of Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe has held Pentecostals virtually at a standstill until the rise of the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s. Forms of church government and the political sanctioning of certain church traditions, at the cost of excluding charismatic and independent groups, have made the influence of Pentecostals less visible.

As an exclamation, European Pentecostalism has shown itself to be remarkably resilient. Pentecostalism in Europe exists not only because of, but despite the numerous challenges it encountered. While this assessment may seem applicable to other traditions, Pentecostalism in Europe has a less privileged position than the increasingly acceptable form of Pentecostalism in North America. On the other hand, Pentecostalism in Europe is taken less seriously than Pentecostal voices in Latin America or Africa not only by the European population, but also by Pentecostal scholarship. This volume dismantles the stereotype that Pentecostalism in Europe is a negligible phenomenon.

Pentecostalism in North America is spoiled by a relatively cohesive history that has been traced successfully in various accounts. The influence of classical Pentecostalism from North America on the expansion and growth of Pentecostalism worldwide has sometimes given the impression that Pentecostals elsewhere were simply an outgrowth of North American roots. Only recently have scholars begun to correct these stereotypes of Pentecostal historiography and theology. The overdependence on North American scholarship, models, and theories of describing Pentecostalism has, at times, truncated the presentation of Pentecostal groups worldwide in their own contexts, languages, and particular stories. In contrast, European Pentecostalism provides an example of an emancipated effort in Pentecostal scholarship, even though not all contributors handled the conversation as informed as necessary. Difficulties remain in both European and North American accounts of Pentecostalism. While some essays in the collection give no indication of awareness of dominant North American interpretations and their applicability to the European situation, others rely on standard North American accounts without questioning such applicability. The impact of this inconsistency is less visible in the reading of the main texts than in the conclusions and notes that supplement each chapter. Nonetheless, the future of North American and European Pentecostalism demands a more deliberate effort where Pentecostals can engage in the characterizations of global Pentecostalism. At this point, it may be advisable to speak of Pentecostalism in Europe rather than European Pentecostalism in order to safeguard the common project to identify and define a global Pentecostal movement.

European Pentecostalism is destined to become a standard resource for anyone interested in the global state of affairs of Pentecostalism in Europe. Despite its prohibitive price, libraries and collections are well advised to add this volume to their collection. North American Pentecostal scholarship, in particular, cannot afford to neglect the similarities and differences that characterize Pentecostals in the diverse European countries. While we are far from a volume entitled, World Pentecostalism, the void is well filled with the impressive collection of works dedicated to Pentecostalism in this particular context. Kay’s and Dyer’s work not only adds to this endeavor; it marks a significant milestone.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 10:18 AM