Friday, May 22, 2009

The Rise of Pentecostalism in the World

An interview that goes in conjunction with the Pew Forum Report. I seriously believe that charismatic or pentecostalist "christianity" will become the biggest challenge facing Orthodoxy in the 21st century. The idea of "being saved" already totally determines Christian religious discourse all over the world; it is the one issue a missionary has to be prepared to answer.

This interview is found at, which it is mistitled "In Depth: Democratic Hopeful". I post it here in its entirety. You might also like to see this related article, which I posted on my Africa blog.


Fareed Zakaria: With globalization many had predicted there would be a decline in religion, but the opposite has been true. The most interesting fresh twist to this phenomenon is the rise of evangelicalism and to discuss it as well as a new study on the rise of Christian Pentecostalism around the world is Luis Lugo, the Director of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life.

Luis, let me ask you: Why is it that evangelicalism and... Pentecostalism as a kind of rough rubric for Pentecostals and charismatics— people who speak in tongues, who have you know a feeling of personal revelations and things— why is that specifically on the rise? The--the figures... are quite extraordinary; 23-percent of Americans could be so characterized; 49-percent of Brazilians; 60-percent in Guatemala; 56-percent in Kenya; 34-percent in South Africa. Particularly in Latin America and--and Africa this is way up from 25 years ago.

Luis Lugo: Well I think there were several reasons that Pentecostalism has taken root and grown so fast.... First of all, Pentecostalism seems to generate a very intense personal experience with a divine which is often described as extremely joyous. So that’s— that’s one element and you see this throughout the survey; no one indicates a higher degree of intimacy as it were with the world of the spirit and then Pentecostals and that’s true across the board. It’s also the case that Pentecostal has proven itself extremely adaptable. In societies which do not make a sharp distinction between the body and the spirit, Pentecostalism fits right into that context because it doesn’t make that sharp distinction. It sees that the world of the spirit is impacting every day life in a very profound sense, and this is both the divine, the gods in direct intervention, but also the world of angels and demons. There’s a strong emphasis in Pentecostalism on exorcism for instance; you see that clearly indicated in the report. Many of these folks who get attracted to Pentecostalism are internal migrants within their own societies and they find in Pentecostalism an instant community, a strong outreach, and then plugging them into churches, but also the proliferation of small groups— Bible studies, Bible reading. It’s clear from our survey findings that no one participates more in small communities than Pentecostals.

Fareed Zakaria: So--so it sounds to me like this is a--an interesting reaction, a reaction that started in the Western world to the rise of industrial capitalism and then globalization because it seems as though what it is providing people with is a sense of community, a sense of intimacy, a sense of companionship but also providing them with some highly individual and--and personal relationship which is very different from the very hierarchical nature of the old Catholic Church or the old Anglican Church.

Luis Lugo: I do think that there is very much a part that globalization is playing here. We’ve already mentioned immigration which is part and parcel of globalization, one of the most remarkable aspects.

Fareed Zakaria: Because it’s--it’s disorienting people and they want--

Luis Lugo: That’s precisely right.

Fareed Zakaria: --some certainty?

Luis Lugo: That’s right and not just people who cross borders, but people who cross internal borders, you know let’s say from rural areas to--to urban areas. They are also disoriented, so I do think that it--that it’s fair to say that this represents if not a backlash at least a response to the disorienting forces of modernity, of globalization. It’s--we picked this up for instance in the moral absolutism of Pentecostals; no one is more committed to a set of moral absolutes than--than Pentecostalism--than--than within Christianity, so it does seek to provide people with--with an anchor, a moral anchor that--that is both as you say highly personal, but also communitarian. And that combination seems to be--seems to be working in the spread of this movement.

Fareed Zakaria: It’s also very anti--I don’t know if I’d use the word anti-scientific but certainly at odds with science in the sense that you know there’s a very strong emphasis on things that you would normally find difficult to explain through normal scientific or rationalist methods. You have you know--in the United States 54-percent of Pentecostals say they have received direct revelations from God; 34-percent say they have experienced or witnesses exorcisms. That seems to me more of the old smells and bells stuff of the--of the old Church, you know people who saw the Virgin Mary or things like--. Oh, what explains this--there’s an almost a return to some of the mystery of the old Church?

Luis Lugo: Yes; I think that is definitely the case--the return to mystery and the sense of the supernatural. I would caution you against drawing easy conclusions though based upon some Pentecostal beliefs including the conclusion that they’re necessarily anti-scientific. It’s entirely possible for Pentecostals to have a very strong sense of--of the divine--of divine healing, etcetera and that going along side-by-side with a commitment to modern medicine and so forth. So I would not necessarily draw that--that sharp distinction here.

Fareed Zakaria: Are they--are they Republicans or Democrats?

Luis Lugo: In this country they tend to be quite Republican, along with other evangelicals. We typically--when we do our surveys put Pentecostals and evangelicals together because they do have a very similar moral orientation and--and political orientation, so they are heavily Republican. It--it--but that’s another mistake that people make; sometimes they--they view the moral conservatism of Pentecostals which in this country leads them to the Republican Party around these cultural world issues and then are surprised to find that elsewhere such as in the recent elections in Brazil for instance they actually threw their support behind Lula Da Silva, the left-center candidate and so there again people--it’s people are surprised by that. Well if you know that in the Latin American context political conservatism is closely associated with the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in society you would see then why a religious minority like Pentecostals would support candidates that go away from that orientation--that open up the political and religious system.

Fareed Zakaria: Now the one place where the inroads are not that impressive is Asia. One of the things that I noticed in the surveys--even in South Korea where there seems to be remarkable headway, you still have 50-percent of South Koreans describing themselves essentially as--as non-religious.

Luis Lugo: The single biggest churches are in Korea; we’re talking hundreds of thousands of--of people, so in Korea it has had an impact. In the Philippines which is the one majority Christian country in Asia it’s also had a significant impact mostly through the Catholic charismatic renewal. And then in--in parts of India, where incidentally there were Pentecostal like outbreaks 50--60 years before Azusa Street Revivals in Los Angeles in 1906 in the--the Southern--Tamil Nadu and Kerala areas of India, so there is a longstanding history there but you’re quite right. We have not seen the numbers in Asia that we have seen in Africa and Latin America.

Fareed Zakaria: Let me ask you finally about one similarity that struck me, which is the similarity in the Pentecostal and charismatic conception of the end of days and the end of life on earth with what in Shia(ism) people talk about the return of the Mahdi. There’s--you know people are now worried about Ahmadinejad and his--the fear that he might be trying to hasten the end of the world. This is actually a core belief in--among these charismatics you were talking about.

Luis Lugo: No one believes more strongly in the second coming of Christ, which all Christians believe than--than do Pentecostals. Moreover, they have a very strong sense of--of what they call the rapture of the church which does have a whole prophetic set of teachings around it and--and so the expectation, the imminent return of--of the Lord is very much part of the Pentecostal mindset. It’s part of what propels Pentecostals to be so evangelistic; no one that we’ve been able to determine is as intent on spreading the faith and converting people than our Pentecostals and part of the reason from the very beginning has been that if--if the Lord is going to come soon then we better get as many people saved as--as we possibly can. There are some interesting issues here with respect to--to Islam. I’m glad you brought it up because when you look at those four or five countries that we surveyed where there is a challenge from Islam of one kind or another, Pentecostals even more than others tend to take a very negative view of--of Islam and tend to therefore support the US-led War on Terror. This is one immediate foreign policy implication of--of this movement. In places like the Philippines for instance and Nigeria, high levels of support for the US-led War on Terror and--and some serious concerns about--about Islam--that’s reinforced by the fact that there’s a strong Zionism that’s built into Pentecostalism--very strong pro-Israel positions. Even in countries that have you know really no stake in--in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Pentecostals much more so than others take a very strong pro-Israeli position and I think this is also due to their--their understanding of the end-times and the role of Israeli in the coming of the Messiah. So there are some interesting overlaps and parallels here between Pentecostalism and--and certain aversions of Islam with respect to the coming of the Mahdi, yeah.

Fareed Zakaria: Well this is a fascinating report and fascinating conversation. Thank you very much, Luis Lugo.

Luis Lugo: Thank you; my pleasure.



Jean said...

I was so glad to happen upon this interview. Thank you! My husband's and my attraction to the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy began with Hany Mikhail's teaching, Divine Justice, as well as some of the teachings of Brad Jersak. We have been a part of Charismatic churches most of our adult lives and the gifts of the Spirit have been instrumental to our growth.

The following quote pertains to the church life we find similar to New Testament church as we understand it from the scriptures, and find also with our Anabaptist neighbors: "Many of these folks who get attracted to Pentecostalism are internal migrants within their own societies and they find in Pentecostalism an instant community, a strong outreach, and then plugging them into churches, but also the proliferation of small groups— Bible studies, Bible reading. It’s clear from our survey findings that no one participates more in small communities than Pentecostals."

I was not sure if the interviewer or interviewee consider these things to be positive, so I will just say how glad I am to read that they are growing in frequency, we hear so many negative reports about the church today. Thank you for posting this interview. Jean

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