The ‘Pentecostal Drift’ and Modern Paganism

Religion blogger Peter Berger, melding articles from  The Tablet (Roman Catholic) and The Christian Century (mainline Protestant) notes “the major demographic shift in world Christianity—the fact that more Christians now live in the Global South: Asia, Africa, Latin America—than in the old Christian homelands of Europe and North America.”

With this shift goes huge growth in Pentecostal Christianity—Protestant churches emphasizing ecstatic worship and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” such as speaking in tongues and faith-healing. (The modern Pentecostal movement began in Los Angeles in 1906—the same month as the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Some of them see a connection.)

In 1970 Pentecostals were 5% of world Christians; today the figure is 25%! 80% of Christian converts in Asia are Pentecostal! I’m not quite clear how this arithmetic is worked out, but the Christian Century story asserts that one of twelve people alive today is Pentecostal! Not surprisingly, the [recent Pentecostal World Conference] in Kuala Lumpur was “young, vibrant and confident”. No stepping around quietly so as not to offend Muslim sensitivities!

There is, for example, major competition between (often Pentecostal) Christians and Muslims for conversions in sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes it is bloody—see the recent news from Nigeria and the Central African Republic, for example. Some conflicts that are not religious on the surface become divided on religious lines.

So what is the Pagan angle? For one, Pentecostal Christians (and many Muslims) see the world as a scene of spiritual warfare. (See, for instance, “Saudi Arabia’s War on Witchcraft.”) Both groups battle demons and “demonic” practitioners.  Consequently, followers of traditional animist/polythestic religions as well as new Pagans are going to continue to be targeted.

If you are reading this, chances are that you live in a culture where the notions of religious freedom and individual religious choice have at least some weight. But from a global perspective, isn’t that a minority view — no matter how many interfaith congresses and parliaments there are?

I am all for religious freedom, but much of the world has a very limited idea as to what that means.

3 Comments

  1. The definition of who is a “Pentecostalist” can be quite tricky. The original “holy rollers” were actually Methodists, for example, and Pentecostal theology is closely related to various currents of Wesleyanism, especially doctrines such as “Christian holiness” and “Christian perfection”. Also, when it comes to big-time televangelists and missionaries who have spearheaded the spread of evangelical Christianity in Africa, Latin American and Asia, like Billy Graham and Pat Robertson, they often turn out to be “charismatic” Baptists, who are not formally associated with any explicitly Pentecostalist denomination.

    • Chas Clifton says:

      True, at least in the beginnings. Aimee Semple McPherson, one of the first big-time Pentecostal preachers, wanted very much to be ordained a Methodist minister, but they were not taking women.

      I will go with Berger’s language: “Christians in the Global South are more supernaturalistic (the world of the Spirit is very close), more conservative in their understanding of the faith (including a literal approach to the Bible), and most important of all, have an openness to all the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.”

  2. Erik says:

    Well simple fact is the ecstatic spiritual warfare flavor of xtianity is a lot easier to sell in countries that have indigenous religions with similar beliefs in evil spirits. Its also worth noting that Pentecostalism also popped up around the same time as as spiritualism and I know that around here (Daytona Beach FL) that what some Pentecostal flavored ministers cal’ “speaking in the spirit) a “New Ager” would call “channeling”. The mechanics of religion are the same across the board but the terms change from group to group. However what some call “speaking in tongues” science calls glossolalia which is called by some “devil’s tongues” when performed by a non-xtian.