Photo by rayttc, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
"Pentecostal Drift"
An Archbishop’s Nightmare

More Christians today live in the Global South—Asia, Africa, Latin America—than in the old Christian homelands of Europe and North America. This inevitably means further “Pentecostal drift”.

Published on: February 19, 2014
show comments
  • Interesting article, but the opening line is idiotic on multiple levels: “More Christians today live in the Global South — Asia, Africa, Latin America — than in the old Christian homelands of Europe and North America.” In actuality, Christianity was established in Latin America well before it was established in North America (taking North America to be what is now the US and Canada). Manila and much of the rest of the Philippines was Christianized long before the first European settlers came to New England and Virginia. Some of the the world’s oldest Christian communities are found in Southwest Asia (the “Middle East”) and in Africa (Ethiopia). The very concept of the “Global South,” moreover, is meaningless, as it groups together countries that have virtually nothing in common. Do we really want to place Chile, the UAE, and Singapore in the “undeveloped world” and Albania, Moldova, and Tajikistan in the “developed world,” as the concept of the “Global South” has it?

    • Barbara Piper

      And the Christian “homeland” is surely the middle east, no?

      • Jim__L

        Absolutely true, but frequently overlooked with the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

        On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that European missionaries had only a small role in the worldwide spread of the Gospel.

  • Gary Novak

    Berger clearly admires the “joy of the Gospel” in Pentacostalism– as opposed to sedate Catholics who seem fresh from funerals or bureaucratic WCC members dragging routinized charisma on their ankle chains. But if this joy, which is at the heart of the Christian faith, is the magnet which explains the Protestant drift, it is unfortunate that more Pentacostals haven’t found a way to uncouple the Spirit from Biblical literalism. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul lists a bunch of things which he is persuaded are unable to separate us from the love of God. To that list, Berger adds sociological analysis (Russian politics, WCC funding, etc.) and Biblical criticism.

    Atheists often condemn the “blind faith” of Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and religious people, generally. But there is nothing to which one must be blind to appreciate the priceless pearl of the joy of the Gospel, Christian presencing, and the love of God. I just reread Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry” in preparation for Tulsa Opera’s presentation of the Robert Aldridge opera of that name. The novel is theologically boring because of Lewis’ unquestioned assumption that “authentic scholarship” will blow religion out of the water. Fortunately, it appears that the opera will ditch Lewis’ socialist realism and present something more akin to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”! (That would account for the fact that the premier was fairly well-received in Bible Belt Tennessee.) The real blindness (ironically shared by atheists and Biblical literalists) is to the foundational power of the most ephemeral signals of transcendence.

    I notice with pleasure that the customary lucidity and humor in Berger’s post suggest that he is not being distracted by too much hip pain.

    • Phil Mitchell

      I don’t know how you ever arrive at the “joy of the Gospel” without believing the Gospel. And that requires, at least to some extent, a literal understanding of the Bible.

      • Jim__L

        I don’t know how you ever arrive at the “joy of the Gospel” without understanding the severity of the Law. He who is forgiven most, loves most, and all.

        Moderns don’t think they need to be forgiven anything — short-term prosperity can whitewash the dire consequences of many sins. Everything is always excusable, justifiable.

        Contrast this to Christianity — which never excuses, but always forgives. It’s a very different outlook.

  • Gary Novak

    Oops, Pentecostal.

  • free_agent

    There does seem to be a major transition within Christianity away from the institutionalized, “theological” churches to the visceral “folk” churches. (I look at “theological” vs. “folk” as an axis of differentiation of religious practices. Perhaps an extreme example is Confucianism compared to “Chinese folk religion”.)

    I’m reminded of Theodore Dalrymple’s critique in “Exposing shallowness”, who is well on the “theological” side:

    “[Margo DeMello] believes that tattoos have philosophical meaning for those who bear them. The philosophy in question is a witches’ brew of new age “spiritualism,” ecological paganism, elevation of the primitive, and vegetarianism. It is the kind of philosophy that emerges when religious feeling is no longer disciplined by religious ritual that is established by tradition and upheld by social pressure.”

  • Jim__L

    I see no reason why a Lutheran should shy away from approaching these gatherings as an opportunity to persuade other Christians that the work Luther did to dig into Scripture was sensible, fruitful, and worth integrating into their own understanding of God’s Truth.

  • Randy Thompson

    Interesting–but what about the crowd of “Recovering” fundamentalists, charismatics and pentecostals who are “drifting” into Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Churches? It’s a tricky business, spiritually, to balance the head and the heart.

  • Gary Novak

    I think Phil Mitchell and Jim L are worried that my reference to the “foundational power of the most ephemeral signals of transcendence” makes the joy of the Gospel available too cheaply. They don’t deny the value of joy but insist that it is not really availble through what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” A close, literal reading of the Gospel throws cold water on the happy face “spiritual” swooning at the pretty sunset. The Law is severe: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit leads to eternal damnation.

    But, as Berger frequently points out, it is not true that moderns who reject Biblical literalism believe that “everything is excusable, justifiable.” Secularists are quite capable of recognizing, for example, the immorality of racial oppression. That is why C. S. Lewis refers to morality as “a clue to the meaning of the universe.” Even without a literal reading of the Bible as a foundation, modern people have moral intuitions that can be best understood in a religious framework– if the “clue” is followed up. Indeed, some of the most immoral people are those who accept the literalists’ ground rules and then insist that, because there is no compelling reason to grant the Bible privileged epistemological status, they are free from moral obligation. But to pretend that one has dismissed God by dismissing the Fundamentalists’ visible church is an act of bad faith. Ironically, the most ephemeral signals of transcendence can feel more severe, more inconvenient, than the most demanding– but experientially unfounded– Foundation.

  • Gary Novak

    Let me add a follow-up to my mention of Tulsa Opera’s presentation of “Elmer Gantry,” which I have now seen. While the opera contains a suitable assortment of hypocrites and fanatics, it does not, like the novel, portray religious belief as necessarily blind faith. The difference between the novel and the opera is most apparent in the character of Frank Shallard, who, in the novel, is a preacher whose doubts have placed him on an irreversible trajectory toward enlightened atheism. In the opera, Frank is more like the father who says, “I believe; help thou my unbelief.” He partially envies the Gospel singers who, with unwavering faith, sway to and fro in unison– with eyes closed. Well, Frank wants an eyes-open faith, but, since Berger’s “The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation” was not on the bookshelves in those days, all he can do is play “We Have a Friend in Jesus” at his piano and weep and reflect that it is “laughable– but true.” Sinclair Lewis, of course, is turning over in his grave at this operatic recognition that the struggle with faith can have more than one outcome.

    Incidentally, composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein have also collaborated on a “reconciliation oratorio” (“Parables”), which Garfein says was partially inspired by a reading of Berger. (Let’s hope Berger would be more pleased with the result than Lewis would be with their “Elmer Gantry”!)

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2018 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.