The Assemblies of God

Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism

by William W. Menzies

Margaret M. Poloma and John C. Green (New York University Press, 259 pp., hardback)

Margaret M. Poloma and John C. Green, professors at the University of Akron, specialize in the sociology and politics of American religion. Poloma has been a long-time student and a sympathetic observer of the Assemblies of God. She has written copiously about the denomination.

Poloma and Green categorize the various Assemblies of God congregations they studied into four groupings: “traditional,” “evangelical Pentecostal,” “renewalist,” and “alternative.” “Traditional” churches identify with classical Pentecostals and embody a strong emphasis on the supernatural. “Evangelical Pentecostals” have a strong identification with classical Pentecostals, but not scoring as high on the presence of the supernatural. “Renewalist” churches, although not as numerous, affirm the supernatural, but are less interested in their identity as Pentecostals. “Alternative” congregations tend to avoid labels. They contain within their ranks seeker-sensitive groups and so-called “emergent” congregations. Their goal seems to be to reach the unreached by such means as meeting in nonchurch locations.

The authors make a strong case for providing these categories. However, this writer wishes the authors had better named the label “evangelical Pentecostalism.” This label implies that, by identifying with traditional evangelical theology and hermeneutics in later years, the Assemblies of God churches in this classification have tended to substitute rationality for personal experience. This is an unfortunate conclusion.

The underlying thesis of this project was to demonstrate the various ways Pentecostal experience embodies “Godly love.” This was somewhat baffling. The central focus of the Pentecostal experience has been to see baptism in the Spirit as empowering for Christian witness — not primarily for cultivating interior holiness, or “Godly love.” It is expected that sanctification will follow this empowering, but, it is not the primary objective.

The book is well supplied with an abundance of documentation and statistical data. It is a positive affirmation about the Assemblies of God and is optimistic about its future. This is a penetrating and useful study which laymen and pastors alike will enjoy.

— Reviewed by William W. Menzies, Ph.D., longtime Assemblies of God educator and missions consultant, Springfield, Missouri.