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Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture Paperback – February 25, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pentecostalsfundamentalist Christians who identify speaking in tongues and miraculous healing as divine giftshave long been ridiculed as poor, ignorant, violent and licentious. In this remarkable study, Wacker, raised a pentecostal and now a respected historian at Duke University, devastates the standard stereotypes. But he also departs from the Edenic model of denominational historiography, which imagines, for example, that the Azusa Street mission was a model of interracial harmony before the fatal break between its black and white founders. What emerges instead is a remarkably rich account of the inner lives of ordinary men and women who felt themselves filled with the power of the Holy Ghost. In 15 tightly organized chapters, Wacker offers a comprehensive ethnography of the first generation of pentecostalstheir faith, their social attitudes and their politics. He leads the reader through enchanted landscapes populated by angels and demons, pauses to assess reports of xenolalia (speaking in a human language allegedly unknown to the speaker) and surveys the gulfs that have divided charismatics from their detractors. It is difficult to imagine a more judicious treatment of the subject; meticulously researched, lyrically written and continuously illuminating, Wacker's book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the origins of this influential current in American culture.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pentecostals, or "radical," "primitive" evangelicals, have not only survived but have flourished while embracing beliefs that include personal salvation, Holy Ghost baptism, divine healing, and the anticipation of the imminent return of Christ. They are prospering today, as evidenced by the Brownsville Assembly of God Church in Pensacola, FL, where millions have flocked to a nonstop revival begun in the 1990s. Wacker (history of religion, Duke Univ.), who himself has Pentecostal roots, gives an in-depth, well-researched look at the history, beliefs, and everyday lives of early Pentecostals (1900-25). He discusses their culture, temperament, taboos, use of time, organizational skills, and leadership. While exploring the boundaries that separate the Pentecostals from mainstream U.S. society, he also shows how only a minority fit the stereotype of poor and alienated folk. The genius of the Pentecostal movement, Wacker states, lies in its ability to hold two seemingly incompatible impulses the primitive and the pragmatic in productive tension. Recommended for cultural and theological collections. George Westerlund, formerly with Providence P.L., Palmyra, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 59502nd edition (April 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011281
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Todd Hudnall on November 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Heaven Below," Grant Wacker takes the reader on an exhilarating and informative romp through the early years (1900-1925) of American Pentecostalism. Through extensive research and superior storytelling, he demonstrates how these religious pioneers brought together the clashing impulses of the "primitive" and the "pragmatic" to "capture lightening in a bottle" and launch an explosive movement. Potential readers need to be warned in advance that the author is a social historian and academician. If you are looking for stories of romanticized heroes of the faith or glowing partisan historiography, you'll be disappointed. What you will get is a consistently fair, sometimes surprising, and always interesting account of the early Pentecostals.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Grant Wacker has written a wonderful book. His scholarly treatment of early pentecostalism (1900-1925) is matched by his ability to write for a general audience with insight, sympathy for his subject, and a tremendous wit and appreciation. His views are balanced, his anecdotes are well-selected, and his writing is first-rate. He covers all aspects, races, and gender issues in early American pentecostalism. Anyone interested in American religion in general or penetcostalism in particular MUST read this book. A professor told me in grad school that the explosion of new books would only get worse. He advised me to buy only those books that would either change or advance my life: this is such a book.
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Format: Paperback
It would be unusual for a typical pentecostal to read this kind of book. I know because I teach at a Pentecostal university. But it is interesting that Pentecostals do not think that an outsider would see their life as heavenly, and this paricularly true of Pentecostals who maintain strong standards for holiness. It would enlighten these people to see how Grant Wacker sees it as such a joyful experience. Pentecostals who think that those Pentecostals who lived in the 10's and 20's were barely litterate and extremely poor might be suprised by this book's careful analysis of the economic condition of early tewentieth centruy Pentecostals and how they viewed edcuation.

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.
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Format: Paperback
With penetrating insight and colorful descriptions, Grant Wacker pierces the veil of history to give his readers a glimpse into the world of early Pentecostals in the United States. Heaven Below is a powerful and captivating sociological analysis of Pentecostals in the United States beginning around the turn of the century and following trends into the present day. Wacker is clear, fair, and- most importantly- interesting.

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).
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