Book Review

Cristina Rocha, Mark Hutchinson and Kathleen Openshaw (eds), Australian Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Leiden/Boston: Brill Publications, 2020, pp. 304. €55.00/$64.00. ISBN 9789004425781 (pbk).

The book’s essays broadly address how ideas of Australian Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (PCMs) have histories in the ‘indigenous and marginalised context’ for Australia. The book fills a critical gap in/between two important scholarly literatures, which, first, improved understanding of PCM from traditional empirical elements and, secondly, adapted wider critiques from recent books of transnational histories. There are thirteen contributors, but Mark Hutchinson stands out as the guiding influence from his previous work in the history of global evangelicalism (with Wolffe 2012). The volume of essays represents the shift from previous Australian evangelical historiography (Chant 2011). However, this issue is one among many and will be addressed below. The volume cannot be dismissed for what might be seen as problems of technical issues in a sub-field, but that means the textual content of the volume requires an expanded engagement. The review ends with a salient point that general scholarship must pay better attention to technical issues.

It is difficult for any reviewer to consider the multidisciplinary nature of such volumes. Cristina Rocha and Kathleen Openshaw are anthropologists. Daniel Thornton is a musicologist. Tanya Riches is a practical theologian. All contributors have made valuable insights at a multidisciplinary level; disciplinary critiques are in the hands of the readers. A few of the contributors still retain a perspective on the traditional empirical elements, composing chapters on the institutions which housed and maintain the PCM: Peter Elliott on the Catholic Apostolic Church, and Tanya Riches on the Hillsong Church. Others have picked up the sociological analysis far more fully: John Maiden on the Brisbane local movement of Charismatic Renewal, Daniel Thornton on the experience of PCM popular music, Cristina Rocha on the Brazilian PCM in Australia, and Mahnaz Alimardanian on the PCM for the indigenous community of the Bundjalung country.

The two themes which tie the diverse contributions in the volume are marginality and indigenousness. Pentecostal traditions have had a strong self-reading of marginality in the histories. Critics have stated or inferred that Pentecostal grouping has taken marginality into a martyr complex or ‘Us and Them’ politics (Maddox 2005: 163–65, 222–23). Such criticisms are not necessary for the volume. In all chapters the marginality has been treated with due nuance. There has been a change from the grey literature of the 1990s and, in many respects, in the more scholarly voice of the early twenty-first century. The volume speaks to the diversity of theological thinking in the PCM and translates, historically, the global Pentecostal theology argued by Amos Yong (2005). Yong references historical events in his theological work but there is a complete absence of historiography, understandably so. Mark Hutchinson is the historiographer, and he refers to the concept of PCM diversity as the ‘many Jerusalems’ model (p. 3), the attempt to describe the ethos of diverse localities. The model, however, fails to translate to ‘Australian roots and the national narrative’. The influence of global folk traditions is more complex than Hutchinson and John Maiden reveal in the volume, although there are passing references to the critics (Buch 1995).

There is an outlook that the British folk tradition and its influence on ‘proto-Protestantism’ in Australia stand isolated from any of the institutional ‘sins’ of the past, and the disconnect is seen between the work of local Australian historians and sociologists, who are considering the wider society for the local ethos, and the way the volume’s authors have interpreted their location. This is important for the scholarship since Hutchinson (p. 25) accuses Marion Maddox of moral panic, and the Uniting Church in Australia by implication, given the harsh criticism of the Logos Foundation in 1987–1989. Influences of the 1990s grey literature still prevail (Buch 1995; Maddox 2001).

Hutchinson (pp. 3–6) has the worthy intention of challenging ‘starting points’ of American Pentecostal Whig histories but, at several places, the same historiographical problem has been reinvented. Origins do not completely shape the histories and the Australian PCMs are not nearly indigenous as put forth. American and global structural shaping of PCM organisations have been too lightly touched upon to provide sufficient balance. There is insufficient critical historiographical intent for the work and, although it might be argued as unnecessary, its absence skews the volume’s contributions. While several authors are correct in saying that PCM organisations do not seek to conform to Australian church-state compacts—and the diversity of belief here muddies the waters—this claim ignores the fact that PCM politicians do play the game of conflated arguments. The choice of argument depends upon the PCM institutional advantage at each historical moment. In this regard, Denise A. Austin’s treatment of Andrew Evans is a stimulating read.

Theologically, the authors of the volume do show that the doctrine(s) of sanctification are the theological heart of PCMs (p. 14), and this has had social benefits, but its historiographical significance does not resonate in a work that is arguing for indigeneity. Mahnaz Alimardanian makes the best case from the Bundjalung country; however, Garry Deverell (2018: 28–31 on first people’s worship, 52–53 on the holy spirit, and 63, 65, 71–73 on indigenous self-perception in theology) from Trawloolway country has a very different voice on the PCM which has not been considered. Deverell might not be a Pentecost indigenous man, but Pentecostal scholarship need not deflect theological criticism so easily. A main point of the volume is to aim at diversity in Pentecostal thinking. Would there not be ‘Indigenous Australian’ Pentecostal believers closer to Deverell than Alimardanian?

Sociologically, there is a mis-directed ‘history from below’ approach, which divorces the ‘Protestant’ thought from contemporary PCM churches, as well as the evangelical para-church organisations. It is a blind spot when it comes to a privileged understanding in Christian thought. And although the different contributors have expertly presented their various case studies or a microanalytic practice in the historiography, they cannot help but skew the understanding albeit with honest intentions. It may be the honest bias of the reviewer, but history and historiography are foundherentism (Haack 1993: 1–9, 123, 137, 158, 162, 194). The technical term is a reference to Susan Haack’s combination of epistemic grounding (as in foundational theories) and creating coherence (as in coherence theories of truth). Unfortunately, too many studies-in-religion scholars have been influenced by anti-foundational theories without the understanding of live debates in epistemology. Pentecostal scholarship needs to heed a wider range of sub-fields and at greater depth.


Buch, Neville

1995 American Influence on Protestantism in Queensland since 1945. PhD diss., The University of Queensland.

Chant, Barry

2011 The Spirit of Pentecost: The Origins and Development of the Pentecostal Movement in Australia, 1870–1939. Emeth Press, Lexington, KY.

Deverell, Garry Worete

2018 Theology: A Trawloolway Man Reflects on Christian Faith. Morning Star Publishing, Reservoir, Vic.

Haack, Susan

1993 Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology. Wiley-Blackwell, London.

Hutchinson, Mark, and John Wolffe

2012 A Short History of Global Evangelicalism. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Maddox, Marion

2001 For God and Country: Religious Dynamics in Australian Federal Politics. Parliament of Australia, Canberra.

2005 God under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics. Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Yong, Amos

2005 The Spirit of Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

Neville Buch

Professional Historians Association (Qld)