Review of “Theological Roots of Pentecostalism”

Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Donald W. Dayton, Baker Academic, 1987, pp. 198.

Pentecostalism is a strange world to the Reformed Christian. Yet because of its considerable influence in the world (the good, the bad, and the televangelist ugly), it is important to study and understand the movement. Perhaps there is no better place to start such a study than with Donald W. Dayton’s Theological Roots of Pentecostalism.

The copious endnotes following each chapter of Theological Roots of Pentecostalism indicate the impressive extent to which Dayton researched the topic before writing his rather condensed treatise. Dayton rightfully and humbly admits the difficulty of the questions at hand. His nuanced conclusions further evidence that he knows the literature well and has no need for any dogmatic appeal to a simplistic understanding of pentecostalism’s roots. It might also help objectivity that Dayton himself is a Baptist, not a Pentecostal.

Dayton notes that while there are historic parallels to Pentecostalism within Anglo-Catholicism, Puritanism, and German Pietism, it is primarily from Methodism and the Holiness movements associated with Methodism that Pentecostalism arose. Though Pentecostalism, with its characteristic glossolalia (speaking in tongues), may have only come into its own at the turn of the 20th century with Charles F. Parham in Topeka Kansas the Asuza Street revival in Los Angeles, most of its other characteristic features had already emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Pentecostalism itself, Dayton contends, is by no means uniform. There are those who believe in “three works of grace,” others who hold to “two works of grace,” and then there is the “Oneness” movement. Additionally there are those who hold to a “four-fold pattern” and those who hold to a “five-fold pattern” of the Gospel. And there are even those who believe in a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and those who add also a separate “baptism of fire.”

Yet there are similarities across Pentecostalism. Dayton notes that the hermeneutic of Pentecostalism tends to be more “Lukan” (looking toward Luke’s Gospel and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles) than Pauline or Johannine, as some might argue the focus of historic Protestantism has been. It is, he contends, a “subjectivizing hermeneutic” which takes descriptive Biblical accounts and makes them normative in the life of the Christian. For example, Dayton writes, “The exodus from Egypt, the wilderness wanderings, and the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land all become stages in the normative pattern of spiritual pilgrimage from conversion into the ‘second blessing.'” (p. 23-24) (Likewise, this subjectivizing lends Pentecostalists to believe they must experience a baptism of the holy spirit just as the apostle’s did at Pentecost.)

Having tried but failed to trace a history of their views through the centuries of the Christian church, many Pentecostals, Dayton relays, attempted to save the logic of their view by arguing that they were of the “Latter Rain.” That is, they looked to the book of Joel and other places that mentioned an “early” and “latter” rain to explain that the early church and their latter movement were the only fully authentic Christian periods. Thus Pentecostalism has similarities to other forms of restorationism.

It is not so much Methodism’s founder John Wesley himself that Dayton credits with incipient Pentecostalism, but rather Wesley’s colleague John Fletcher. While Wesley resisted, it was Fletcher who connected the “perfection” a Christian is to experience with the idea of a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This, mind you, is in the 18th century, over a hundred years before Pentecostalism became a fully distinct movement.

From Methodism, Holiness movements emerged in the 19th century. These include the “revival of 1857-1858” led by Phoebe Palmer, and “Oberlin Perfectionism” which came out of leaders at Oberlin College including Asa Mahan. Dayton notes that a “further radicalization” with “demonstrations of the spirit” was present with B. H. Irwin and R. C. Horner, “the two most prominent advocates of the ‘third blessing'” in the 19th century (before Parham and Asuza). From the evangelism of Oberlin’s Finney emerged Dwight L. Moody who “had a sure instinct for avoiding controversy” and R. A. Torrey who was “just the opposite” and “who reveals a startling narrowing focus on the ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit.'”  In addition to all these precursors to Pentecostalism, Dayton includes the Keswick Holiness Movement in England (which started in the 1870s), and the teaching of A. B. Simpson and A. J. Gordon still in the 19th century. Thus Dayton contends that yet in the 19th century there was a “pervasiveness of Pentecostal themes.”  He writes, “It is thus no accident that Pentecostalism emerged when it did. All that was needed was the spark that would ignite the volatile tinder.” (p. 108)

Dayton writes also on the the “Divine healing movement” and its relation to Pentecostalism. He notes that the “roots of this teaching are complex and difficult to trace.” And that “we find the evidence ambiguous.” Still he notes the influence of Pietism as “one of the most important forces in the rise of the doctrine of divine healing” and goes on to mention a number of 19th century Christian leaders involved in various kinds of healing.  Dayton notes, “by the turn of the century (the 20th century) most of the currents that had adopted the doctrine of Pentecostal baptism in the spirit had also begun to teach a variation on the theme of divine healing.”

Dayton’s final chapter, “The Rise of Premillennialism,” rounds out his analysis of the roots of four basic Pentecostal themes (aligning with the “Foursquare gospel”) he had previously identified: 1. Salvation by Christ, 2. Baptism of the Holy Spirit, 3. Divine healing, and 4. the return of Christ. In this chapter Dayton notes that this fourth theme “presents a challenge” to his own “general thesis” that “the lineage of Pentecostalism is to be traced primarily through the nineteenth-century Holiness traditions and more indirectly back to the themes of Methodism and perhaps even to Pietism and Puritanism.” (p. 143) The challenge is that premillennial dispensationalism emerged not with any of these traditions, but with John Nelson Darby and the British Plymouth Brethren. Dayton argues that the Methodist/Holiness tradition did not emphasize eschatology. This might account in part for the readiness to accept Darby’s views which were heavily promoted in the era in which Pentecostalism came into form.

My summary here of the book is quite insufficient. This is a book that really must be read.

But I might make one observation beyond the book and into some present-day discussions I’ve been involved in: Pentecostalism’s roots in Arminian Methodism make it a very strange bedfellow for those few Calvinistic Christians who embrace some of its distinctive continuationist features like glossolalia and the expectation of miraculous healings.

 

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About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat (www.discoversola.com). In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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One Response to Review of “Theological Roots of Pentecostalism”

  1. Well written Doug and great summary. I may just be getting used to your writing hence it sounds clear to me or I’m finally learning to read! 🙂 The book sounds very interesting. I don’t know if it is the minority life (I think most can handle a comment such as this) I’ve experienced but I seem to be more sympathetic to the Charismatic than my beloved and dear non-minority Calvinists. I’ve been to some Pentecostal churches and they are pretty odd. It could be that I like power and they fall into the evangelical population and makes us greater in number. I don’t know I just hope that there are many Christians in the Charismatic movements who are hopefully many on their way to a more confessional / Reformed / mature faith. I listened to JD Hall recently and he was really upset at James White and Mike Brown about some association with Something called Reformed apostolic. JD Hall may be one of the worst people to bring up as a scholarly opponent of the Charismatic movements since he gets so riled up. I don’t like the idea of continuationism. I don’t see that as being true. I may need to study the matter more to have more supporting evidence than I have in my mind on the issue. In any case, your post was a very good review and summary. Many names and issues that one can look over and get a better grasp on the situation.

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