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Family Resemblance in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity

DR. GINA A. ZURLO

CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY


Here’s a short excerpt from our new forthcoming book, Introducing Spirit-Empowered Christianity: The Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement in the 21st Century (Oral Roberts University Press, 2020). For more on the subject, see the article by Daniel Sillman in Christianity Today, “Have Pentecostals Outgrown Their Name?”.

The case for the Pentecostal and Charismatic renewal as a single interconnected phenomenon can best be made by considering a “family resemblance” among the various kinds of movements that claim either Pentecostal or Charismatic identity. The resemblance appears in regard to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the experiential nature of the Pentecostal tradition. Pentecostals around the world share many of the same family traits with respect to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Spirit, and personal experience. Whether from Azusa Street, Wales, or South India, the centrifugal force of Pentecostalism has led both to explosive growth with the evidence of charismatic gifts of the Spirit and emotive worship that cuts through class distinctions worldwide. Though the movement has encountered persecution and criticism even from other Christians, Pentecostalism continues to grow and take shape through the indigenous cultures in which it takes root.

Over the period 1900–2020, Spirit-Empowered Christianity grew at nearly four times the growth rate of both Christianity and the world’s population. From 2020–50, it is expected to grow twice as fast as both. In 2020, Spirit-Empowered Christians make up over one quarter of all Christians and by 2050 this is expected to grow beyond 30%. While Charismatics (Type 2) were the fastest growing of the types from 1900–2020, Pentecostals (Type 1) are expected to grow faster than the other two types from 2020–50, likely because of potential growth of the Assemblies of God around the world. In 2020, the largest of the three types are Charismatics (Type 2) at 268 million – due to the very large Catholic Charismatic movement – but Independent Charismatics (Type 3), many of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, are not far behind at 252 million. Spirit-Empowered Christians are most numerous in Africa in 2020, with Latin America following. Spirit-Empowered Christians grew fastest in Asia and Oceania over the period 1900–2020, but Africa will likely grow the fastest from 2020–50.

In 1900, the three largest Spirit-Empowered populations were in South Africa, Nigeria, and the United States. South Africa contained a much higher concentration of Pentecostal Christians than any other country (16.4%) due to the growing presence of indigenous African movements with Pentecostal characteristics in the early twentieth century. In 2020, the countries with the most Spirit-Empowered Christians are Brazil, the United States, and Nigeria. Wherever Christianity reached during the twentieth century, to a large extent the Renewal did as well.

Countries where large populations held to animistic and spiritist traditions generally embraced Pentecostalism due to its emphasis on signs, wonders, and miracles – phenomena relatively compatible with those in their former traditional religions. One example of this is sub-Saharan Africa, which moved largely from ethnic religions (African Traditional Religions) to Christianity in the twentieth century. Today, countries with the highest percentages of Spirit-Empowered Christians are found in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America), with a preponderance of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South America.