Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements

Written by Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (eds.) Reviewed By Timothy P. Weber

With the publication of the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, scholars and students have for the first time a reliable and easy-to-use basic resource guide. No other single work contains so much information on such a variety of subjects relating to these important religious movements. Anyone with interest, academic or otherwise, in these movements will find this Dictionary highly informative and probably indispensable.

As in other works of this genre, the Dictionary is the product of a large number of scholars. Most of the sixty-six contributors are American (eight come from outside the United States), most are male (only four women were included), most are Protestant (four Roman Catholics, as far as I could determine), and most would classify themselves as participants in these movements, at least to some extent.

Dictionaries of this type are difficult to review. By nature they are devoid of plot or story-line. The large number of contributors precludes any single point of view. Nevertheless, the careful reader can detect a thesis of sorts running throughout the book: the Pentecostal and charismatic movements are authentic products of the Holy Spirit within the churches and deserve to be given their rightful place in the wider worlds of religious scholarship and Christian fellowship. Thus while we cannot say the book contains one perspective, we can say that it was written for a single purpose.

That purpose is carefully presented in the introduction, where the editors seek to place these movements within their various religious and historical contexts. There are no real surprises here and no new ground is broken. The editors begin by defining the similarities and differences between Pentecostal and charismatic in theological and ecclesiastical terms, then move on to uncover their historical roots in five rather recent theological developments: the Wesleyan emphasis on two works of grace in the Christian life (justification and sanctification); the stress of ‘higher life’ teachers on a post-conversion enduement of power for witness and service; the rise of dispensational premillennialism; an emphasis on faith-healing in the ministries of prominent evangelical teachers; and most importantly, the strong ‘Restorationist’ longing for the vitality and miracles of NT Christianity. These factors converged in the ministry of Charles F. Parham in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901, caught fire in the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, and then spread to the rest of the world. In the twentieth century the desire for spiritual power and renewal in mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches precipitated the charismatic movement, which shared many of classical Pentecostalism’s beliefs and behaviours but developed its own distinctiveness. In short, the introduction provides a good historical and theological overview so that readers can better understand all that follows.

Articles cover an impressive breadth of topics. Biographical entries include virtually all the Pentecostal and charismatic ‘greats’, usually with an admirable balance of appreciation and candour. Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, for example, are portrayed ‘warts and all’. Even the ‘not so greats’ get biographical treatment. In fact, one suspects that all one had to do to rate an article in the Dictionary is to be ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit’ and establish a moderately successful radio, television, missionary or local church ministry.

Other articles cover historical, theological and exegetical themes. Many books of the Bible, for example, are summarized and evaluated from the Pentecostal perspective. Pentecostal denominations and charismatic fellowships are deftly described; and theological disputes between ‘insiders’ are carefully unpacked and examined.

Of special interest are the articles on the movements’ distinctive beliefs and religious behaviour. There are extensive treatments of ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’, ‘gifts of the Spirit’, ‘glossolalia’, and other charismatic gifts. In general these articles are well done, carefully nuanced, and a clear statement of the conclusions of current scholarship, both inside and outside these movements. Often authors interact with social science research and admit, without capitulating to its perspectives, that spiritual phenomena may be analysed in a variety of ways. Occasionally, however, authors must ‘chew more than they can bite off from biblical and theological data. For example, in the articles on ‘word of knowledge’ and ‘word of wisdom’ authors strenuously seek an elusive biblical basis for contemporary practice. After all their exegesis, it is still hard to see NT parallels of the televangelist who announces through a ‘word of knowledge’ that a goitre is dissolving in Cleveland.

As inclusive as the Dictionary seeks to be, there are some omissions. As the editors themselves admit, most emphasis is given to North America and Europe, while Africa, Asia and South America, where Pentecostalism is experiencing its greatest growth, receive little attention. On the other hand, most scholars would be willing to pay the book’s price for Grant Wacker’s fine article on ‘Bibliography and Historiography of Pentecostalism (U.S.)’.

All in all, this is an excellent volume. It demonstrates that Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement have ‘come of age’. Their ranks include first-rate scholars who are willing and able to engage in self-analysis and self-criticism. The book also reveals that these movements are beginning to suffer from the same things that afflict the broader evangelical movement: the stresses caused by success and wider acceptance in the world they used to condemn; and the growing theological diversity within their own ranks. If the level of scholarship demonstrated in the Dictionary is any indication of the movements’ direction, one might be tempted to say, ‘Welcome to modernity’.

Timothy P. Weber

Denver Seminary