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Tue, 27 Aug 2013 - 1:29 PM CST

Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship

Charlie Self (Christian’s Library Press, 140 pp., paperback)

New Christian movements usually begin by explicating the distinctive doctrines and practices of the movement. Only afterward can they pay attention to how these distinctives make a difference in the rest of their theological paradigm. Charlie Self’s new book is of the latter variety and one of few Pentecostal attempts to develop a comprehensive theology of Christian vocation.

Self has written this primer for church leaders. He recognizes the need among pastors and small-group leaders to articulate a theology that animates the witness of the congregation’s work. The author believes we must extend God’s calling to equip the saints to equipping their work in all 7 days.

Many pastors and church leaders can articulate God’s call on their lives, but Self wants to help them empower their people for their everyday callings. Thus he provides a theology that baptizes the work of mail persons, accountants, and entrepreneurs to be part of the Kingdom witness of all Christians. He does so not by diminishing God’s call to church ministry, but by elevating the call to work and economic transformation. 

For Self, work and economic activity outside the church are central acts of Christian discipleship. His justification for this is one of the theological moves that makes this book most distinctly Pentecostal. The Pentecostal doctrine of healing emphasizes an embodied spirituality whereby God’s kingdom breaks into this present age and witnesses to God’s healing for all. Similarly, the author claims that every act of economic transformation, reconciled relationships, and reformed communities witnesses to God’s imminent coming Kingdom. This enhances God’s call to evangelism rather than overshadowing it.

Business leaders create wealth among their communities and around the world in ways that promote justice and peace and thereby show the world what the coming age is like in the present age. But this is no optimistic social gospel. In good Pentecostal fashion, Self consistently argues that God’s kingdom is dependent on Jesus alone. Work in this age will always be marred by the effects of sin, but each act of Spirit-led transformation witnesses to the coming age.

Books on Christian vocation often validate the work of doctors providing healing and entrepreneurs creating sustainable and just businesses that elevate the poor. This book does that but goes a step further. The dirty and repetitive tasks from manufacturing to cooking to garbage collection enable the commerce that feeds our world and are therefore of inherent value. Chapter 7 is one of the highlights of the book as Self elaborates the contributions of arts, sciences, communications, and education.

One might suspect a Pentecostal book about flourishing would promote a prosperity gospel. But Self claims that a biblical position entails prosperity for all, those inside and outside the church. Economic disparity is inevitable in a fallen world. But wealth creation empowers stewardship and generosity. Christian discipleship calls those who benefit from that wealth to work sacrificially for the poor who can never repay the gift.

The author designed this book to empower Pentecostal leaders to equip the saints for a holistic life of discipleship. He does that well. Self has laid the groundwork from which future Pentecostals can draw on the theological resources of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, healing, and the imminent return of Christ to write a distinctively Pentecostal theology of vocation.

To order this book, visit https://www.clpress.com/publications/flourishing-churches-and-communities.

Reviewed by Jeremiah Gibbs, ABD-Ph.D., director of the Lantz Center for Christian Vocation, University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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