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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST Read!,
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhiliarating Romp Through Early American Pentecostalism,
In the book's fifteen chapters we get a glimpse into the character, temperament, and daily lives of these adventurous and hearty souls. You'll discover the keys to their effectiveness and the areas where they stumbled. Included among many subjects covered are the movement's leaders, the theology and practicality behind the prominence of women, their changing views on war, the persecutions they faced, and even the "gift of tongues" that helped make their faith distinctive. The stereotype of the poor, illiterate, and disinherited Pentecostals is dismantled. Instead you will meet a representative slice of early 20th century America. They were a people genuinely sincere, deeply committed to their beliefs, and fully convinced that they were instruments in the hands of Almighty God, empowered by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
"Heaven Below" is made up of 269 pages of fascinating reading, followed by an appendix, and 82 pages of footnotes. It also includes a valuable index. I had some difference of opinion with Wacker's conclusions and occasional qualms with his assumptions, but as a social history, I highly recommend "Heaven Below." Grant Wacker is Associate Professor of the History of Religion in America, Duke University.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reason for Pentecostals to Read this,
The book is extremely careful and honest. Some Pentecostals will be taken back by the authors perspective which is very different from theirs, but that is exactly what makes the book reliable. The author has no stake in misreperestenting truth. Most people who would read this type of book are comfortable with established professors in major universities having a reputation for strong honesty, but I have to report that most Pentecostals are not, but broadening their perspective to include such ideas might be very valuable.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making fundamentalism fun,
Wacker begins by telling the reader, "My main argument can be stated in a single sentence: The genius of the Pentecostal movement lay in its ability to hold two seemingly incompatible impulses in productive tension. I call the two impulses the primitive and the pragmatic" (10). The rest of the book goes on to defend and refine this statement. By the end of this book his main argument is both clear and persuasive; in everything Pentecostals found a balance between `thisworldliness' and `nextworldliness.' The conclusion restates the thesis this way: "saints seized a timeless formula, as old as the New Testament story of Mary and Martha, and brilliantly put it to modern use" (266).
Each chapter traces and expands this theme. "If authority grew from supernatural signs and wonders, it also grew from a life well lived, from a life that manifested the fruits of Christian grace in day-to-day affairs" (86). "However much saints aspired to worship the unseen creator God... in actual practice they worshiped a God with skin... for saints such mingling came as easily as breathing" (87). "(W)orship was something one did, not something one theorized about... Planned spontaneity, we might call it" (99). "Early Pentecostals knew as well as any that the Lord demanded a separated life. But they also knew as well as any that He appreciated good common sense" (140). "Holy Ghost meetings mirrored this doubleness, this tension between marginality one hand and respectability on the other" (198-99). "Pentecostals, in other words, not only knew how to play ball, but also knew that it was a good idea to befriend the umpire" (237). Quotes such as these sandwich every chapter. Wacker is very careful to show how each chapter's topic manifests this tension in the Pentecostal fabric.
This book is persuasive in its argument. The reader understands how Pentecostalism and the Holy Ghost movement functioned, and how this balance/tension was played out. Wacker gives helpful insight into worship: spontaneity was important as long as it fit within the loose undefined and unspoken structure that everyone knew was there. Leaders were important and necessary, as long as they didn't claim to be leaders but instead took the title of `vessel.' Gender and racial distinctions were obliterated, as long as certain limits were kept. Each chapter walks the reader through similar tensions, and at the end of the book it is understood exactly how practical the Pentecostal's impracticality was.
If there is a weakness of the book, it is in the diachronic nature necessary for the study. Some chapters spanned 100 years, but the recent material was used only to support the views of the earlier movement. However, most chapters meandered over spans of 30 or so years and the reader got a good idea for the general trends. But this was a problem in some chapter. Obviously the war altered the views of the pacifist segment of the denomination, but it was difficult to follow this shift. In fact, at times it seemed that Wacker was contradicting himself by presenting the Pentecostals in one chapter as anti-American, and then in the very next chapter as patriotic. A sermon that lamented the depraved nature of the land was followed in the next chapter by a narrative of a Pentecostal singing the Star - Spangled Banner at a port in Asia. The difference between these two events was surely World War I, but the diachronic nature of the study obscured this. Racial harmony was another example; Wacker showed the tension between the practical and the ideal, but did not show if the time elapsed between the shifting moods was important.
Heaven Below is fun to read, and very useful for understanding the early Pentecostal movement.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pentecostalism's First Generation's Century Celebration,
Much of Wacker's engaging discussion documents long-held views appreciative and critical of Pentecostals. He speaks to the Pentecostal origins for Holy Spirit baptism, glossolalia, xenolalia, graphalalia, blood atonement, biblical literalism, fear of insulting the Spirit, primacy of Jesus, yieldedness, and much more. Founders' anathema for intellectualism, in particular their distrust of colleges and seminary learning, is also reviewed.
Of equal interest is Wacker's name list for themselves prior to the adoption of "Pentecostal": "saints", "believers", "Spirit-filled", "enthusiasts", "Trinity-filled", "Holy Ghost Movement", etc. Additional lists for various taboos are presented.
Earliest Pentecostals disapproved the usual sins (lying, swearing, smoking, dancing, drinking, etc.) and they constantly frowned on feminine short hair, eating too much, jesting with friends, chewing gum, using medicine, eating ice cream, and many more pleasurable activities taken for granted today. Wacker's is a fascinating discussion for the development of Pentecostal salvation process. His presentation is interesting and informative.
The author assumes reader Pentecostal fluency. This book is intended to analyze early Pentecostals for contemporary believers. Therefore, much of the book is anecdotal reviewing the personal development and lives of Pentecostal patriarchs and matriarchs. Portions of the text, however, require familiarity with early 20th century American religion and theology.
This book is recommended to those interested in early Pentecostalism, early 20th century American religion, Holy Ghost theology, and America's first "charismatics".
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars insider account,
From obscure beginnings at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas in 1901, and at 312 Azusa Street in an industrial section of downtown Los Angeles in 1905, what is broadly known as charismatic or pentecostal Christianity has grown today to include some 525 million believers from virtually every denomination and country the world over. Apart from Catholics (and many Catholics are charismatic), they constitute the single largest distinct group of Christians, and they are getting larger. Social scientists predict that in fifty years they will number one billion believers.
Grant Wacker, professor of history at Duke University, grew up in a Pentecostal family and so brings to this volume the critical detachment of a scholar but also the empathy of the consummate insider. Heaven Below focuses on the earliest years of the movement, from 1900 to 1925. Wacker's goal? "To rescue Pentecostals from the shadowy fate that EP Thompson once called (in another context), `the enormous condescension of posterity'" (p. 266).
Scholars have struggled to explain how such a wildly enthusiast, anti-intellectual, counter cultural and divisive movement could not only survive and flourish but explode. Wacker offers a very specific twofold thesis. Early Pentecostals did two things extremely well. They encouraged the primitive impulse of a deeply felt and experienced relationship with God, and then devised pragmatic ways to "bottle the lightening" without "stilling the fire or cracking the vessel." They held emotional prayer meetings and built hospitals. They begged God for healing and founded colleges. They could be both credulous and shrewd.
The pentecostal movement now enjoys a burgeoning scholarly literature. Charismatics have been good for the church, and this new literature should be good for the movement.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Roller History,
Mr. Wacker's history is not only fun to read and packed with information, it opened my eyes as to how much the present Pentecostal world is like the early one. Every stereotype is here: self-righteous, clean living, quarrelsome, bombastic, down to earth, Bible-reading, Jesus-loving, heresy hating. It turns out that other than allowing medicines and surgery now, the average Pentecostal has a lot of in common with her salt-of-the-earth Holiness Apostolic Church-attending great-grandma.
Mr. Wacker takes the reader through the effect the movement had on individuals,families, neighborhoods, and cities. Giving up the evils of alcohol and meat brought health and stability to many families. Lives were changed for the better. On the other hand, many were frightened of a wife or child suddenly rolling around in seizures and babbling nonsensical words. Husbands dragged their wives from church services and parents threatened pastors with arson and death if they did not stop prosyletizing to their kids. Pentecostal preachers would preach through the night and keep the people in the neighborhood awake with their noise. When communities tried to get them to stop preaching before 9 or to keep it to the daytime, the Pentecostals would have none of it and seemed, as the author says, "constitutionally unable to empathize with other persons' point of view."
If you are from a Pentecostal background, are a Pentecostal, or have lost a family member to Pentecostalism (and if you have, you know what I mean by "lost") then you will probably enjoy this book. It helped me more than I thought it would because it showed me that Holy Rollers have been the way they are since the beginning and there is nothing special about the obnoxiousness of their present population. It made me feel better to know that.
5.0 out of 5 stars RELIGION & AMERICAN CULTURE,
The author has very well covered the topic, and has the personal background to do this well.
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Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture by Grant Wacker