Reviews > Books

The new compassionate conservatives

Books | Pentecostals, not Liberation Theology advocates, make a difference for the world's poor

Issue: "Home again," July 12, 2008

By now it's old news that Africa and South America are replacing Europe and North America as Christian centers, and that the fastest-growing kind of Christianity in the South is Pentecostalism. But Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press, 2007) by Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori shows us how Pentecostalism is also beginning to pack a social and political punch.

Global Pentecostalism offers scholarly precision and journalistic engagement, not a fast and easy series of happy stories-but it's worth the effort. The authors show many facets of the faith and point out that "not all Pentecostals are engaging their communities in acts of compassion and service," since some churches are "mired in legalism" or have fallen for the prosperity gospel. The emphasis, though, is on dynamic promoters of Christ's gospel of grace all through the week.

Specific detail makes the book come alive. Pastors, without neglecting preaching, are building basketball courts for kids, vaccinating children, distributing food, providing marriage counseling, showing movies, helping people get home improvement loans, and much besides. Pentecostals by preaching and showing true liberation are routing Liberation Theology; as one theologian put it, "Liberation Theology opted for the poor at the same time that the poor were opting for Pentecostalism."

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Pastors who see society as a body, with different individuals called to fulfill different roles, are implicitly fighting the idea of society as class struggle: "Violence and revolutionary rhetoric are inappropriate within most Pentecostal circles, whereas they are at the heart of some expressions of Liberation Theology. . . . For Pentecostals, the kingdom of God is realized as people purify their conscience in obedience to God and follow His guidance and purpose for their lives."

Worldwide, at least in juxtaposition to Marxists, Pentecostals are the new compassionate conservatives.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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