Reading Macchia’s ‘Global Pentecostalism and Baptism in the Spirit’, I found myself asking in what sense his argument is global. It seems that in the western Pentecostal crisis about the efficacy of ‘baptism in the Spirit’, Pentecostal theological method as practiced in the majority world has come to be seen, at least by Pentecostals themselves, as their main contribution to the wider Christian body. Macchia thinks this was a misguided reaction to the crisis because it is theologically light. Rather than shift focus to methodology over theology, Macchia argues that a fuller understanding of Spirit baptism should be the key Pentecostal contribution.
According to Macchia, no other thread in Christianity has given adequate attention to Spirit baptism even though it’s a key theme in the New Testament. Far from being the mere ‘second blessing’, Macchia argues that Spirit baptism is an eschatological term, that is, about the breaking in of the kingdom of God. As such, it’s a term which encompasses the very stuff of discipleship and the Christian life. He’s simultaneously calling his Pentecostal brethren to take up the banner of this fuller Spirit baptism, and showing how this contributes to wider Christian thought. I think he’s right that the Pentecostal emphasis on the Spirit expands and enriches the work being done today on the concept of the kingdom of God.
What Macchia doesn’t do is to examine the concept of Spirit baptism in majority world terms. He notes that though glossolalia (speaking in tongues) has been widely present in Pentecostalism across the globe, making it the particular evidence of baptism in the Spirit has been a mainly western (North American) theology. So how do others understand baptism in the Spirit then? Macchia doesn’t answer. This was where I found the book frustrating. There is an assumption that the distinctive of (for example) African Pentecostalism is methodology without giving attention to what their theology is. They might be doing their thing in song or in practice (and that might be different to the rest of us) but still, what are they saying? What are they teaching?
I get that this interest in doctrine betrays my own evangelical background, but still Pentecostal Christians I’ve met show a marked interest in theology. However much some of us would despise the Joyce Meyer or Bruce Wilkinson books they’re reading, the point is, they’re doing theology! We do majority world Christians a major disservice if we assume they are not thinkers as we are thinkers.
The methodological question may influence how we come to know their theology. It’s possible that a spirituality that is participatory rather than historical-critical simply doesn’t write books about its theology! But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have theology. For example, there are a plethora of songs in Tanzanian Christianity along the lines of ‘There is no God like you’ – both praise and worship songs feature this sentiment. Why is this theme so prominent? Why are these songs so popular? From what traditions have they come? What traction does it have in the church?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.