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Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain: An anthology, edited by Joe Aldred

07 June 2019

This Pentecost egg is worth a curate’s praise, says Duncan Dormor

THE most elementary of go-to metaphors for the reviewer of an edited collection — the curate’s egg, famously “good in parts” — is fabulously incongruous for a book about Pentecostalism.

What could possibly be further from that genteel Anglican evasion of truth in the name of deference and courtesy than the high-energy, business-like, success-orientated, Spirit-led movement that is Pentecostalism: that exciting, rapidly growing, and most diverse of religious identities? — except, of course, that the first outpouring of Pentecostalism in Britain came courtesy of an Anglican clergyman.

He was the Revd Alexander Boddy in Sunderland; and what has been described as “gentrified Pentecostalism” has had a significant impact on polite and reasonable Anglicanism, not least through our own home-grown megachurch, HTB; and, of course, many worship songs sung in the Church of England originate with John Wimber and his Vineyard Church.

This anthology, with its 13 chapters, loosely grouped into four sections, attempts to provide an “academic yet accessible” account of contemporary Pentecostalism which challenges what Aldred acknowledges in his introduction to be one of its characteristics — a certain anti-intellectualism.

There are some useful contributions, especially in the second half of the book, not least the two chapters by David Muir on theological education and the political engagement of Pentecostal churches; and by David Hilborn, who draws out some of the surprising parallels between Anglicans and Pentecostals.

There is also a strong contribution from Allan Anderson on the relationship between Global Pentecostalism and the European Protestant Reformation. For those unacquainted with the history (and present) of African and Caribbean Pentecostalism in Britain, Batatunde Aderemi Adedibu provides a really helpful overview.

So, to the rest of that egg: in a word — frustrating. Pentecostalism is intriguing in all sorts of ways: is it an “agent of modernity” as some have claimed? What part does it play in the transnational flows of people and resources? If the Spirit moves where it will, breaking down barriers of class, culture, and ethnicity, how is it that so many congregations seem to create solidarity between people of similar backgrounds?

In the midst of its very diverse expressions, the simple question what Pentecostalism is also deserves much more serious analysis.

Sadly, this collection, written largely by insiders, raises many of the questions only to slip away from tackling them. Marked by timidity, this book suffers from an excess of descriptive material and the repetition of both typologies of Pentecostalism and the key moments and events in the development of Pentecostalism in Britain.

This is a missed opportunity; for others, looking in, have written engagingly about Pentecostalism at the global and national level, positing various theories for its appeal and rapid growth. Many of those writers are ignored in this volume (or perhaps not known to the contributors). In a similar vein, there are chapters that seem remarkably unaware of a wider frame of cultural or theological reference. Pentecostalism in Britain deserves a richer, fuller, and more engaging interpretation.

The Revd Duncan Dormor is the General Secretary of the Anglican mission agency United Society Partners in the Gospel.

Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain: An anthology
Joe Aldred, editor
SCM Press £30
Church Times Bookshop special price £24

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