Pentecostalism is declining in the West but expanding in the developing world. Evangelical pastor John Piper explained why this trend is both encouraging and challenging for the global Church in a recent interview.
Yesterday Desiring God posted a transcript from an interview that Piper had with an Italian television station back in June. He argued that Evangelicalism, and by extension Pentecostalism, “has hugely decreased” in the Western world but was conversely “huge” in the Global South:
In Europe, which was once the center of evangelicalism, today [it] is very small. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, probably 5% of Africa [was Evangelical], and today it would be close to 50%. You see the same thing in South America and the same thing again in Asia. But if you ask, “What is the nature of that evangelicalism?” it is mainly Pentecostal.
He added Pentecostals, who believed in the “power of the Holy Spirit” and His ongoing spiritual gifts, were the “kind of people are at the cutting edge of the growth of Christianity around the world.”
However, Piper cautioned that Pentecostalism could often be accompanied by promoting the prosperity gospel in the developing world. He said the prosperity gospel posed a danger to the Church. He concluded that “to the degree that Pentecostalism is associated with prosperity preaching, I have got concerns.”
Piper’s words echo with my experience. I traveled to India last year, and the work of the Holy Spirit was clearly evident in the ministry of the Christians I met. But overcoming the prosperity gospel remained a challenge for pastors and lay leaders there. In a surreal moment, the American friend I was travelling with came across a television broadcast of Creflo Dollar preaching.
As I noted previously, the vibrancy of the Church in places like India is something the Western Church should attempt to imitate. Many congregations (and denominations as a whole) need to focus on reaffirming core Evangelical tenants, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer, and becoming more open to follow the call of the Holy Spirit.
Steve Stewart, founder of international Christian ministry Impact Nations, made a similar argument in Charisma Magazine in February 2015. He said that the most common question he got from Western Christians was why there were fewer miracles at home than in the developing world. He answered that the problem stemmed from low expectations.
“It is not that I see more people not being healed when prayed for; it seems to me there are fewer people looking to be healed in the West,” Stewart wrote. “In many cases, we simply don’t have a real expectation that God will move, so we stay in the safe zone of keeping quiet when presented with the opportunity to pray for healing.”
As much as we can learn about faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, Western Christians can also assist their brothers and sisters in the developing world. Of course, we can begin by not exporting our bad theology to the rest of the world (e.g., Creflo Dollar). But we can also have a positive influence.
For example, we should revive and continue historical efforts to promote global literacy. After I returned home from India, I argued that low literacy in that country and elsewhere limited the spread of biblical and theological study. This demonstrates why Christian missionaries historically placed such an emphasis on investing in education along with evangelism. They realized preaching the Gospel was essential, but so was promoting literacy to enable the Gospel to take lasting root.
Taking a global perspective on the Church shows us that we each have much to gain and to give through fellowship with our fellow Christians around the world. Through this fellowship we can all better participate in the work of the Holy Spirit to expand the Kingdom of God.