As current events would have it, the last year has found me posting a great deal about my profound differences with the movement that originated with Charles Fox Parham and continues in various daughter movements to this day. I've written plenty about the weaknesses of Pentecostalism, but my appraisal of the movement is not entirely negative. Thus, I give you my list of good things about Pentecostalism:
- Twila Paris. She alone makes the whole movement worthwhile.
- Discussions of Pneumatology. The rise of Pentecostalism has provoked significant formal discussion about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.
- The Use of Media. Frankly, the Pentecostal ministries do a much better job in the successful use of broadcast media than anyone else in American religion (except, perhaps, for the Mormons). Watching the average Sunday worship service on TV is like standing outside the church and looking in through the window. You see and hear what is going on, but you aren't a part of it. All of their obvious blemishes notwithstanding, the Robert Tiltons of this world have correctly understood that good Christian TV programming must be designed for TV, must engage the viewer directly, and must have more content than just the pastor's talking head. Among Baptists, I think that Jack Graham's PowerPoint does a nice job of mixing other elements with the sermonic exposition of the Bible. Sure, there are some Pentecostal types who just broadcast their unadorned worship service, but in general the Pentecostals outdo us on this point.
- The Furthering of Several Baptist Distinctives. As far as I know, not many Pentecostal types sprinkle infants. Many Pentecostalish congregations enjoy a good measure of congregational autonomy from supercongregational structures.
- The Humbling of Intellecutal Elites. Like Baptists, Pentecostal types usually have erected no artificial barriers to professional ministerial service. Pentecostalism has not been cowed by constant derogation with regard to the educational and social attainments of its adherents, but instead has marched on to statistical success. They often remind me of what we used to be.
- Culture Warfare. Even if some of their highest-profile leaders have demonstrated grave personal moral problems, Pentecostals have generally concurred with Southern Baptists regarding the tremendous moral decay that confronts the USA at this hour. Indeed, even if they have taken ridicule for it, some varieties of Pentecostalism retain an emphasis upon modesty in dress and comportment that is conspicuously absent from much of Southern Baptist life (as well as from some other varieties of Pentecostalism).
- Occasions for Levity. In their excesses, followers of the Pentecostal movement have been fun to poke fun at. The only funny thing about Presbyterians is how far from funny they are—Nobody ever made a flatulence video of D. James Kennedy. But I have had the occasional chuckle at seeing Rod Parsley on TV.
- Missionary Zeal. Certainly the various Pentecostal type para-church missionary organizations are too numerous for me to count. I don't think that they have called all the right plays, but the adherents of the various Pentecostal movements (including daughter movements) have not sat on the sidelines regarding the Great Commission.
- Fraternal Collegiality. Even those Pentecostals who probably suspect that I am going to Hell have generally been cordial to me. Of course, I can also say the same thing about those Baptists who might hold the same opinion of me.