A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans

The Institute is pleased to announce the publication of a new book by one of the staff: A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans by adjunct professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

The book’s prehistory began when Wilson participated in one of the meetings of the “proto-dialogue” between Lutherans and Pentecostals in Zürich in 2008. The Institute conducted this dialogue for six years. She attended the next and final meeting as well, where she participated in the drafting of the proto-dialogue’s final statement, Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue. Over the next several years, as the LWF worked toward establishing a formal dialogue with Classical Pentecostals, Wilson saw an increasing need for a reliable source of information and interpretation about Pentecostalism and its many varieties for Lutherans. That ultimately let to the writing of this new guide, which happily appears at the same time as the first formal dialogue meeting, which will meet in the Philippines in September.

One of the greatest challenges of engaging with Pentecostals ecumenically is both their enormous numbers—by some counts, over 600 million and still growing—and their enormous variety. Scholars of Pentecostalism generally divide them into Classical Pentecostals (denominations arising in the early 20th century out of the Azusa Street Revival), Charismatics (who engage in typical Pentecostal practices but remain in historic churches and reinterpret Pentecostal phenomena in keeping with their church’s theology), and Neocharismatics (everyone else—which can mean everything from American television preachers, to Brazilian prosperity megachurches, to Chinese house churches, to African-Initiated Churches). Thus, referring to “Pentecostalism” can mislead more than it enlightens, much like the word “Protestantism.” More tools are needed to understand and analyze the variety of Pentecostalism one is encountering.

In this Guide, Wilson opens with a chapter on “Azusa,” describing the revival that turned Pentecostalism into a worldwide phenomenon, and the various offshoots that come out of it. The next chapter on “Pentecostals” goes into more detail on all the different kinds of Pentecostals one is likely to find today. The chapter on “Lutherans” offers readers an overview of their own history and theology as a basis for a meaningful encounter with Pentecostals.

The next three chapters address the most obvious points of difference in theology and practice between the two churches: “Baptism I” looks at the accounts of baptism and the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts; “Baptism II” applies these topics to issues like baptism in the Holy Spirit, infant baptism, and rebaptism; and “Charismata” looks at Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, especially in I Corinthians 12–14.

The final four chapters take up less obvious but nevertheless important and relevant themes that come up in discussion between Lutherans and Pentecostals. “History” looks at the ways that interpretations of the ebb and flow of church history are used to bolster one church’s status or undermine the status of another church, and the recurring if problematic need many Christians have to locate themselves in a detailed schema of church history and its eventual end in the second coming of Christ. “Power” examines both the gift and the abuse of power in the church, whether of the spiritual or ecclesiastical kind, and how these relate to the question of church unity. “Prosperity” tackles a difficult topic that many Lutherans associate with Pentecostalism, although its origins lie elsewhere, and offers tools for both recognizing and dismantling prosperity theology. Finally, “Experience” takes up the contested issue of whether and to what extent personal and communal experience can play a role in theology and church practice.

As the Institute is committed to dialogue with fellow Christians, this book was written in conversation with Pentecostals, rather than in the position of a detached observer. The preface is by the Co-Chair of the LWF-Classical Pentecostal dialogue, Jean-Daniel Plüss, and an endorsement on the back of the book is offered by Cecil M. Robeck Jr., a committed Pentecostal ecumenist. Kaisamari Hintikka, Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations at the LWF, also offers an endorsement, and before publication the manuscript was reviewed by readers from all seven LWF regions in order to give the broadest possible scope to the book.

It is hoped that Lutheran readers from all over the world will not only understand Pentecostalism better and gain an appreciation for it, but will also be deepened in their understanding of Lutheran theology and practice. Improved self-knowledge always leads to stronger friendship with the neighbor. This is, at heart, what ecumenism is all about.

The book may be ordered from Wipf & Stock; readers in Europe and Australia can contact the international sales department for reduced shipping rates. Interested readers with limited access to printed books can download the Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans as well.