Course notes for Edexcel students on Paper 4B (Christianity) topic 4.3 (New Movements in Theology) – the impact of the beliefs and practices of Evangelicalism, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity on the lives of believers today.

From the 4B Christianity syllabus:

4.3 New Movements in Theology (cont’d)

(b) The global development of Evangelicalism, and of the nature and influence of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in the US and beyond, migration as a factor in the spread of a variety of forms of Christian worship, notably in the African Christian diaspora.

The development of these ideas and their impact on the lives of believers and communities in Christianity today.

NOTE: This blog entry only deals with the section in bold above.

First of all, let’s convert that bit of the syllabus into a possible examination question.

Evaluate the impact of the beliefs and practices of Evangelicalism, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity on the lives of believers today.

These are some points that could be mentioned in response to it:

1.All three movements seem to be defying any trend towards secularization wherever they are present. For example, to date, the Charismatic Alpha Course has been taken by 29 million people in 169 countries, while in London, Holy Trinity Brompton attracts a Sunday congregation of 4,000 across ten services held at four sites. In some parts of the world, including the UK, this has been achieved through reverse migration. Originally, Pentecostalism was spread to Africa through missionary work, and African Pentecostalists subsequently bring this tradition with them when they move abroad. The rise of mega-churches in countries like the USA and South Korea have also changed the nature of worship, which now takes place on a grand scale in stadium-like arenas.

2. Pentecostalism encourages greater literacy because it encourages Bible reading.

3. Pentecostalism is arguably more egalitarian and democratic because the gift of the Holy Spirit is available to all. It therefore empowers the ministry of women in a manner that would not be available to them in other Christian denominations. It also means that racism has been largely absent from Pentecostal history. NOTE: the point about women is also relevant to any discussion about gender equality.

4. The emphasis on Prosperity Theology in some Pentecostal and Evangelical churches arguably encourages entrepreneurship and economic success. However, Prosperity Theology has attracted criticism from mainstream evangelicalism on the grounds that it promotes the idolatry of money and does not explain the communal life of poverty lived by the early disciples of Jesus. Prominent US Televangelists who subscribe to Prosperity Theology like Robert Tilton (see YouTube for numerous clips of him in action) have also been criticised for exploiting the poor by soliciting large donations from this constituency among their viewers. In England, the Kingsway International Christian Centre (The King’s Ministries Trust) is – according to the Wikipedia – an example of an organisation which preaches a “health and wealth” gospel and collects regular tithes from its followers. It has been the subject of investigations by the Charity Commission on two occasions.

5. According to William Kay (see above), Pentecostalists are more likely than members of the general population to participate in social welfare services for the elderly, handicapped and deprived people. NOTE: this point supports Jonathan Haidt’s research about religious believers doing more for others than atheists. Meanwhile, on the international front, it is noteworthy that many of the medical staff who went to West Africa in 2014 in response to the Ebola outbreak were inspired to do so by their evangelical faith.

6. Politically, Kay also notes that there have been Pentecostal expressions of Liberation Theology in parts of South America.

7. Again, politically, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be supportive of the state of Israel than the general population, due to their eschatological belief that a gathering of the Jews will take place in that country as a prelude to the second coming of Jesus.

8. Spirit-driven movements have been criticised for their conservative, many would say homophobic attitude to homosexuality, their frequently anti-evolutionary/creationist perspectives, their sometimes militantly pro-life beliefs about ethical issues such as abortion (which is undoubtedly fuelling the campaign to overturn Roe v Wade and strike down abortion rights in the USA) and euthanasia, and their scepticism/lack of concern about climate change*. It is also likely that there are many subscribers to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory (see this previous blog entry for more on that) among those who identify with these movements.

8. Additionally, an uncritical approach to the Bible is encouraged. It is held to be the Word of God and free from all error, a position that is in no way consistent with academic research on the Old and New Testaments by Christian academics which shows that many texts have been edited to reflect the theological perspectives of their authors. Some books of the Bible have also obviously been assembled from pre-existing, often no longer extant sources.

 9. The emphasis on spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness has encouraged the dubious practice of exorcism and opposition to New Religious Movements. Interreligious violence between Pentecostalist Christians and Muslims in parts of Africa (e.g. Nigeria) may have also resulted from this, as Pentecostalists are virulently opposed to the imposition of Sharia Law.

10. Overall, it seems safe to conclude that the impact of these movements on the lives of their adherents has not always been positive.

* As Malise Ruthven has commented, ‘On a planetary level, they [fundamentalists] are selfish, greedy and stupid, damaging the environment by the excessive use of energy and lobbying against environmental controls. What is the point of saving the planet, they argue, if Jesus is arriving tomorrow?