September 24, 2017

Review: The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition

A review by Brian Collins

Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Centuryclip_image001. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

In chapter one of The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, Synan roots the origins of Pentacostalism in the teachings of John Wesley. He notes the influence of William Law as well as Jeremy Taylor, Thomas à Kempis, Madame Guyon, François de Sales, Félon, etc. Wesley’s teaching of Christian perfection is a key root. This develops into an idea of a second blessing. Also significant to the development of Pentecostalism are the frontier revival meetings with the ecstasies manifested by the participants. Finney’s teaching on perfectionism with his addition teaching that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about entire sanctification contributes.

Chapter 2 discusses the importance of post-Civil War holiness camp meetings, divisions in the Methodist church and a denominational rejection of the Holiness movement, and the development of new Holiness denominations. Also notes these new denominations rose up in areas where political populism was most prominent. Subsequent chapters document in greater detail the emergence of many different Pentecostal groups. Chapter 5 recounts the emergence of Tongues speaking in 1900 at the Bethel Bible School of Topeka Kansas and the events at Azusa Street which served as a catalyst for the spreading of Pentecostal teaching. Chapter 8 details controversies surrounding and within Pentecostalism: opposition from non-holiness Pentecostal groups, opposition from within to Spirit-baptism as a second blessing, oneness or Jesus-only Pentecostalism, and so forth. Chapter 10 includes sections that deal with Pentecostals relations to other groups: fundamentalists, evangelicals, and charismatics. Chapter 11 details the movement of Pentecostalism from the fringes of American church life to a place of greater respectability among evangelical and mainline churches and the development of an inter-denominational charismatic movement. Chapter 12 tells the similar story in connection with Roman Catholicism. Chapter 13 discusses the spread of the charismatic movement within various denominations from the 1970s through 1990s. It includes discussions of the Shepherding movement, Peter Wagner’s Third Wave, the Vineyard churches, and the Toronto Blessing.

As the dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University (founded by Pat Robertson), Synan writes as an insider to the holiness-Pentecostal tradition. His research is careful and he includes both positive and negative aspects of the tradition. Nonetheless, many of the aspects of the story that Synan sees as positives are troubling: its emergence from the doctrinally flawed holiness theology and revivalism of the Second Great Awakening, the eventual embrace by mainline denominations and ecumenical organizations, and the acceptance of charismatic practice in the Roman Catholic Church. Synan seems to think that the broad acceptance of the charismatic movements is a sign of its success, whereas, for those concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, it seems that this should raise uncomfortable questions about the movement as a genuine work of God.


Dr. Brian Collins is employed at the Bob Jones University Press.


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