Monday, March 8, 2010

In Store Now - An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit

I've not featured many titles from Baker's Charismatic imprint Chosen.  More often than not this is simply because I've got so much else on my plate I don't have time to read many of their titles and I'm not as familiar with many of the authors.  I did spend a couple of years in the charismatic movement in the late 70's.  At the time my favorite author was Derek Prince who is still enjoying newly published works in spite of his death in 2003.  This is made possible because of his long-running radio broadcast.  Many of those broadcasts are being translated into a print medium.  But today I want to tell you about a new book we just got in last week. 

Vinson Synan is a professor of church history and dean emeritus of the School of Divinity, Regent University. His most recent book, An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit, is a combination of history and personal memoir of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement in America.  Synan starts, as expected, with the Azusa Street revivals.  No, he wasn't an eyewitness to it but it was only proper for him to start with the acknowledged beginning of the contemporary Pentecostal movement and Synan says he's every bit "a child of Azusa Street" (24).  Synan's father preached with Oral Roberts in 1948 and he still has vivid memories of those early days of camp meetings.  In those days he says the churches he attended would be more aptly described as "Wesleyan-Holiness" rather than Pentecostal.  It is fascinating to read of his first-hand account of Oral Roberts in the "Tent Cathedral" in 1949.  As I read through the book names jumped off the page like old friends: Demos Shakarian, Chuck Smith, Dave Wilkerson, David du Plessis, Dennis Bennett, Ralph Wilkerson, J. Rodman Williams, Larry Christenson, Harold Bredesen, Don Basham, Peter Wagner, Bob Mumford, John Wimber and, of course, Derek Prince.  Some of these names were more familiar than others but all of them brought back some kind of memory.

Synan covers a number of issues that have dotted the history of the movement such as the Jesus movement, the "Fort Lauderdale Five," the "Latter Rain," the "Third Wave," the Vinyard movement and the Toronto, Brownsville and Lakeland Revivals.  During the time I was in the charismatics the "Shepherding movement" was the controversy of the day. I remember it well.  Synan does not shy away from the controversies and debates that sometimes fragmented Pentecostals into undesired factions.  He devotes a chapter to the prosperity gospel (chapter 7).  He does acknowledge that some teachers have abused the doctrine (most notably Robert Tilton and Gene Ewing p. 124).  But he says that "as I matured and ministered as a pastor, college professor and national leader, I came to know many of the prosperity teachers and some became close personal friends.  I was torn by what I heard from other friends who strongly opposed the prosperity gospel and what I saw and heard from friends who promoted the prosperity message."  (114)  The chapter goes on to provide a defense/context for the prosperity gospel.  The chapter does not quite reach the level of an apologetic but he does try to show some of the benefits that this message has provided especially in third world countries.  Pentecostals will find much encouragement here.  Synan says the effect of this teaching has had a huge impact in raising families from low level incomes into a healthier middle class and this is a good thing.  He concludes the chapter with "[i]n my opinion, the offer of salvation, holiness, healing and Pentecostal power is still the best cure for both spiritual and material poverty."  (126)  I remain less than convinced. 

I was surprised in his recounting of the Brownsville revivals he didn't mention the interaction between Michael Brown and Hank Hanegraaf (see here for one example).  My guess is since he did not have a personal involvement in the discussion it would be better left untouched.  Speaking of personal involvement, Synan recounts one of his visits to Toronto to see first-hand what the revival was all about.  At one of the services he says he saw "a man laying on his back behind the pulpit.  He was twitching and laughing.  Later, he came and sat beside me.  I looked up and recognized him as Clark Pinnock, the famous evangelical scholar.  This was indeed surprising to me."  (162)  The book is full of anecdotes like these which give it a warm and personal feeling to what could have been a dry history.  I wish there had been some pictures. 

This is a fun book.  Charismatics and Pentecostals will enjoy reading such a first-hand account of much of their history.  Those outside those circles will learn much about their brothers and sisters and, I believe, help them understand them and their history a little better.  It is a hardcover with 224 pages and sells for $17.99.   

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