All Together In One Place


The Twentieth Century has seen the birth and phenomenal growth first of what is now often called the Classical Pentecostal Movement, and subsequently of the charismatic movement and associated waves. Reaction to the Pentecostal movement in its first half-century was almost unanimously negative, principally restricted to the behavioral scientists and those Evangelical and Holiness leaders whose flocks were being reached by Pentecostal preaching. The vast majority of church leaders and theologians from the historic Churches didn't even consider the phenomenon worth the attention of criticism. Accordingly, Pentecostals were judged by many to be emotionally disturbed, mentally limited, sociologically deprived, more the object of pathology than of theology. Pentecostal claims to the illumination, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit were therefore dismissed a priori as inauthentic.

By the 1990's, Pentecostalism is taken much more seriously. There are few circles left that dismiss it as unworthy of any serious consideration. A theological dialogue has existed for nearly 20 years between the Roman Catholic Church and some Pentecostals; the Evangelical Lausanne II Congress at Manilla in 1990 included a large Pentecostal and charismatic contingent; chairs of Pentecostal studies are being proposed in some Universities. Much of this change has no doubt occurred as a result of the spread of what the great Pentecostal leader Donald Gee called "Pentecost outside Pentecost," that is, the charismatic movement bringing Pentecostal-type blessing and experience to Christians beyond the Pentecostal Churches. While the 1960's saw the beginnings of charismatic renewal among Anglicans and mainline Protestants, the late 1960's and 1970's saw a major penetration of the Roman Catholic Church, and the 1980's have seen a much greater welcome of this phenomenon in the Evangelical world.

The dramatic spread of the Pentecostal movement throughout the world has been another major factor in making other Christians take it more seriously. It startled many when the enormous "World Christian Encyclopedia" edited by David Barrett determined that classical Pentecostalism was by 1980 the largest unit in the Protestant family. His statistics for 1985 identified 168 million believers as Pentecostal or charismatic. These figures lend considerable weight to the far-sighted designation of Pentecostal-type Churches being a third force in contemporary Christianity.

However, despite the much greater attention now being paid to Pentecostalism, it is still widely perceived as not being of much theological significance. Significant theological contributions are not expected from Pentecostal or indeed charismatic sources or even on Pentecostal-charismatic topics. It may be viewed as an interesting area for studies in church growth or in matters of missionary methodology, but hardly in theology, christology, or even pneumatology.

It is against this background that the importance of the theological section of "Brighton 91", an international congress on world evangelization held in Brighton, England July 8-14, 1991, must be judged. The leadership congress with the theme "That the World Might Believe" was planned by the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelization (ICCOWE). The editors had sole responsibility for organizing the theological stream. Of the 150 scholars attending, several were theologians, exegetes, or historians of world renown recognizing the importance of the Pentecostal-charismatic phenomenon. Many were scholar-participants in these movements. Most striking was the range of nationalities and of Church traditions represented: these ranged from Latin American Pentecostals to a Coptic Orthodox bishop, from Scandinavian Lutheran to New Zealand Open Brother, from Afro-American Pentecostal to Syrian rite Catholic. Particularly well-represented was South Africa with scholars from most groupings in that troubled land.

The papers published in this volume represent a selection of those presented during the Brighton conference. Limitations of space as well as the more informal character of some contributions necessitated the choice of a selection rather than a presentation of all the papers and responses. Unfortunately, the selection reduces the Brighton encounter's international breadth and its ecumenical range, which can however be sensed from the programme printed on page .

This unprecedented symposium attracted participants from many ecumenical and academic bodies, some in a representative capacity. Thus there were representatives from the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ (USA) and the Graymoor Institute (USA); people were also present from the Latin American Council of Churches, the Latin American Theological Fraternity, the international Roman Catholic - Pentecostal dialogue, and the NCCCUSA-Pentecostal dialogue, as well as other more regional groups. With the exception of Oceania, all continents were represented by academic bodies concerned with Pentecostal-charismatic studies: the Society for Pentecostal Studies (North America); the Latin American Pentecostal Encounter; Pentecostal and Charismatic Research in Europe (East and West); Asian Charismatic Theological Association; the Society for Pentecostal Theology (South Africa) and the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar.

It must be confessed that the media reaction to the conference and perhaps especially to the theological section was disappointing. The only serious reports to date have been in the North American monthly "Ecumenical Trends" (3-92, 4-92) and the French bi-monthly "Tychique" (1-92), though shorter mention was made in "The Christian Century," "Christianity Today" (both USA) and "La Croix" (Paris). It seemed hard for many commentators to grapple with the fact that significant theological work was being done and contacts made within the framework of a general conference easily perceived by the less-informed as yet another charismatic jamboree.

In fact, the setting of the theological stream within the general conference of Pentecostal-charismatic leaders was itself of real significance and benefit. Previous fears that there might not be much inter-action proved to be totally unfounded. The six theological workshops open to the general conference were among the most-attended, and many scholars took part in the plenary evening sessions of the conference. The welcome given to the scholars demonstrated that the leaders recognized the need for serious theology, and the importance of interaction between pastors, preachers, and theologians.

Brighton '91 should lay to rest a vast array of myths which still cloud academic and ecclesiastical circles. Chief among them is the complaint that serious scholarly work is absent from the movement. This conference illustrates why Pentecostalism is not correctly classified as a subcategory of Evangelicalism, and that not all charismatics are rightly described as Protestants. Another prejudice that dies hard is the universal indifference of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians to social injustice. The contributions from South Africa with the presentation of "The Relevant Pentecostal Witness," as well as the papers on liberation theology, tell a different story. A sharing of information session elicited several items of wider theological interest: the proposal to endow chairs for the study of Pentecostalism at the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Utrecht. Also announced was a new scholarly journal on Pentecostal theology and a monograph series from Sheffield Academic Press. An EPLA conference slated to convene in Brazil in late 1992 mentioned joint sponsorship by the WCC and CLAI.

The theological stream was particularly privileged to hear Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Professor Jurgen Moltmann of the University of Tubingen. Their presence together was a symbol of Church leadership and academic theology taking seriously the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit among the people of God. There was virtual unanimity among the participants that this scholarly collaboration across continents and Churches must continue. The high level of interest in an ongoing network of scholars with a particular interest in Pentecostal-charismatic studies was shown in the replies to the professional data forms sent to all invited scholars. Copies of the completed forms were made available to all participants at Brighton, and produced immediate fruit in the gathering of special interest groups during the conference, such as the historians present and the specialists in Latin America.

The objectives for the theological stream, formulated in advance by the organizers can continue to serve as the objectives for this ongoing theological collaboration and consultation. These objectives were formulated as follows:

1. Awaken and deepen among leaders a sense of the importance, necessity and contribution of theological scholarship.

2. Help theologians and scholars to have a heightened awareness of the concerns of pentecostal and charismatic leaders.

3. Increase understanding of each other's theological traditions and their relationship to the history and life of the churches.

4. Contribute as only a world-wide conference can to a greater awareness of relationship between the christian faith and the plurality of culture, and to participants becoming more attentive to the cultural components in their own theologies.

5. Stimulate ongoing international contacts between scholars in pentecostal-charismatic studies, and opportunities for the growth of personal friendship between them.

6. Stimulate more scholarly research in the area of pentecostal-charismatic studies, in particular among young scholars.

7. Facilitate greater awareness of relevant work being done in other places, continents and cultures.

8. Contribute to the world of theology by paying more attention to the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit in pentecostal and charismatic movements.

Barriers of geography, language and denomination have made financial limitations to ongoing collaboration seem the least of worries. Every effort is being made to build on the contacts made at Brighton and to establish an ongoing network of scholars. It is too early to announce detailed proposals, though it clearly makes sense to encourage existing continental or regional societies and networks. Some of these however are not fully representative of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, often lacking Roman Catholic and other "mainline" Church scholars as well as those specialists who would not identify themselves as participants in these movements.

Ongoing scholarly collaboration across this wide range of ethnic, ecclesiastical and other barriers must surely be of major consequence for the future of these movements and their spiritual health. Not the least factor at stake is liberation from ethnic and racial narrowness and the ideological limitations that frequently accompany it. Readers of these papers who wish to have their names added to the list of interested scholars should write to one of the editors.

Dr. Peter D. Hocken

Dr. Harold D. Hunter