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date: 05 March 2021

Pentecostalism in Americafree

  • Roger G. RobinsRoger G. RobinsThe University of Tokyo, Center for Global Communication Strategies


American Pentecostalism is a Christian movement that takes its name from the ecstatic empowerment of early Christians on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, described in Acts 2:1–4 of the New Testament. Known for its enthusiastic worship, the movement holds that the supernatural gifts and manifestations described in the Bible are still available to Christians who have been “filled with the Spirit” through an experience known as “baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).” These gifts and manifestations include divine healing, prophecy, and—most notably—glossolalia, also known as “speaking in tongues,” a form of ecstatic vocalization that Pentecostals equate with the spiritual phenomenon of that description found in the New Testament.

The origins of Pentecostalism trace to the Wesleyan-inspired Holiness movement of the 19th century, which pursued Christian perfection through “entire sanctification,” an experience subsequent to salvation said to enable Christians to live a sinless life. Most adherents equated sanctification with baptism in the Holy Ghost. By the late 19th century, Holiness had broadened into an ecumenical, multiracial movement whose most zealous advocates sought to recover the power and practices of 1st-century “Apostolic” Christianity, expected the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and embraced uninhibited worship.

In 1901, Holiness evangelist and Bible school teacher Charles Fox Parham identified glossolalia as the telltale sign of Holy Ghost baptism in the New Testament, and a revival featuring that manifestation erupted at his school in Topeka, Kansas. Parham promoted the new teaching throughout the lower Midwest, founding a string of “Apostolic Faith” missions. In 1906, an African American Holiness preacher who had briefly affiliated with Parham, William Joseph Seymour, carried the Apostolic Faith message to Los Angeles, where he founded a mission on Azusa Street and led an epochal revival that drew many into the new “Pentecostal” movement.

Early Pentecostalism had no hierarchy or authoritative structures and quickly succumbed to doctrinal controversies. First, a dispute over entire sanctification separated “Holiness Pentecostals,” who adhered to the original Wesleyan teaching, from “Reformed” adherents who viewed sanctification as a process realized progressively over a lifetime. Shortly thereafter, a “Oneness” or “Jesus Name” branch emerged among Pentecostals who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Formal denominations developed within each of these three branches, although many Pentecostals remained independent of formal affiliation.

The middle decades of the 20th century witnessed rapid growth and institutional proliferation within Pentecostalism amid two parallel trends: professionalization and bureaucratization on the one side, and revitalization currents like the divine healing or “Deliverance” movement on the other. Meanwhile, Pentecostal beliefs and practices spread through mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches, giving rise to the Charismatic Movement. These various strains overlapped and converged in a variety of “neo-Pentecostal” forms over succeeding decades, inspiring creative and controversial expressions such as the Prosperity Gospel, entrepreneurial networks of apostles, and new denominations like Vineyard USA. Pentecostalism in the 21st century reflects the entirety of this historical legacy and thus forms a manifold tapestry of extraordinary range and complexity.


In scarcely more than a century, American Pentecostalism has risen from the margins of radical Evangelicalism to become one of the most influential forces in modern Christianity, pushing global religious practice in a more expressive, experience-oriented, and participatory direction. Yet, for all its importance, the movement can be hard to define. Pentecostalism has been diverse, acephalous, and rapidly changing from its inception, and as the movement has expanded and ramified, it has given rise to corollary movements, rendering its boundaries even harder to delineate.1 To address this complexity while targeting a happy medium between the overly narrow and overly broad, “Pentecostalism” is taken to refer to bodies that: (a) emphasize baptism in the Holy Spirit, affirm “spiritual gifts” (including divine healing), and at least occasionally practice glossolalia; and that (b) have direct or indirect ties to the historical Pentecostal movement. This will include most “neo-Pentecostal” networks, congregations, and ministries but exclude Charismatic groups situated in or directly originating from historic Protestant denominations, Orthodoxy, or the Roman Catholic Church.

Christian Perfection

American Pentecostalism emerged at the turn of the 20th century within the radical wing of the American Holiness movement, where virtually the whole of what would come to be associated with Pentecostalism, including glossolalia, had already surfaced. Pentecostalism, then, might be conceived as a Holiness offshoot that outgrew its parent, with whom its story properly begins.

The Holiness movement rose from an antebellum revitalization of Wesleyan perfectionism among middle-class Methodists who understood John Wesley’s teaching on “entire sanctification” to indicate a distinct experience following conversion, a “second blessing” that eradicated one’s Adamic nature and opened the portal to life free of willful sin. These currents soon inspired a far broader pursuit of Christian perfection that helped underwrite the great reform movements of the day. The iteration of Holiness that formed the immediate matrix of Pentecostalism, however, came later, after the Civil War, when a second wave of Holiness revivalism rejuvenated the camp meeting as an Evangelical vehicle, evoking the deep memory of primitive Methodism and the Second Great Awakening.2

At first, this postbellum movement remained largely within denominational channels, retained a middle-class air, and flowed along two broad, overlapping streams dubbed “Wesleyan” and “Reformed” (or “Higher Life”) Holiness. The Wesleyan branch centered around the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Christian Holiness (founded in 1868) and related state and local associations. The non-Wesleyan side engendered its own set of institutions that included Bible training institutes and a circuit of conferences, preeminently Dwight L. Moody’s Northfield Conference and an annual conference at Keswick, England. Though distinguishable, these streams intermingled to form a single movement devoted to “the higher Christian life,” a state achieved or greatly aided by baptism with the Holy Ghost, which Wesleyans equated with entire sanctification and Reformed saints with a breakthrough in spiritual empowerment.

By the final decades of the 19th century, Holiness had exfoliated into a full religious subculture whose interests extended well beyond mere “holiness.” For one thing, it fostered a zeal for evangelism that inspired constant campaigns throughout North America and seeded holiness missions in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as well. In addition, the Reformed wing served as a conduit for dispensational premillennialism, a prophetic schema that divided history into separate eras (“dispensations”), each governed by a distinctive covenant between God and humanity; Christians were living in the “Church Age,” which would end with the saints being “raptured,” or spontaneously raised from the earth to meet a returning Jesus, just before a seven-year period of catastrophic tribulation. That period of tribulation would culminate in a great battle at Armageddon, where the forces of God would conquer the forces of Satan and introduce the millennium—a thousand-year period of peace and righteousness on earth.3 Most Wesleyan advocates had formerly held postmillennial leanings, according to which the Rapture and Jesus’ return would occur only after the millennium had been progressively realized through the cooperative efforts of the saints and the Holy Spirit. The new teaching so thoroughly prevailed that, by 1898, a prominent Wesleyan could declare, “You do not find one sanctified man in a thousand who is not looking for the speedy coming of the lord.”4 Divine healing also crowded to center stage, galvanized by wonder-workers such as Maria Woodworth-Etter, Carrie Judd Montgomery, and John Alexander Dowie and routinized through a network of healing homes, including Bethshan in London and Berachah Faith Home in New York.5 These core emphases were neatly encapsulated in the motto Albert Benjamin Simpson adopted for his Christian and Missionary Alliance: Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.6

By the 1890s, this subculture had begun to fracture along lines that had little to do with doctrine and much to do with social class and corresponding assumptions about the nature of authentic religion. A new cohort of militant leaders arose who championed Holiness in a “plainfolk” key.7 They wore their class antagonism on their sleeves and belittled the bourgeois fare of Moody and denominational Methodists as the “polar snow fields of tame holiness.”8 By contrast, these leaders were “radical,” a term of self-ascription denoting the intensity of their quest for purity and Apostolic power.9 Independent-minded and chaffing at denominational restraints, they led a movement of “comeoutism,” urging peers to forsake their lukewarm ecclesiastical homes for the untrammeled terrain of independent Holiness.

This new current of Holiness was distinguished by several traits, each an intensification of qualities found in the mainstream movement. Uncompromising restorationism provided the overarching frame: an urgent desire to recapitulate and inhabit the spiritual world of the Apostolic Church.10 The primitivist project is always selective, and, in this case, the focal point rested on the Acts of the Apostles—the Day of Pentecost in particular. Radical Holiness overflowed with Pentecostal rhetoric. The saints joined the Pentecostal Bands of the World and the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and read The Ideal Pentecostal Church and Lightning Bolts from Pentecostal Skies. At least two journals were entitled the Pentecostal Herald> and another, Tongues of Fire.11 Transfixed by the Holy Ghost baptism described on that day and the signs and wonders that were said to follow, it is not surprising that the signature event of Pentecost—glossolalia—appeared among the marvels occasionally reported in radical circles.12

The sheer intensity of religious experience within radical Holiness marks a second trait. The saints reported staggering Holy Ghost baptisms and embraced religious ecstasy as a signifier of authenticity, keepers of a flame that stretched back beyond the liminal “melting times” of early Methodism to the Day of Pentecost itself. This embrace drew a line in the cultural sand with deep class connotations. For African Americans, it had the added effect of marking radical saints as “conservative” preservers of elements of slave religion like “root work” and emotionalism over against the “progressive” Black middle class, which sought to stamp these remnants out. In the Holiness mind, however, the line traced a more fundamental divide: “Falling, screaming, shouting, running, jumping, laughing” were signs of spiritual life. “A corpse never moves.” However they may have felt about the term, the saints validated their reputation as “holy rollers,” even “Holy Jumpers.”13

Finally, radical Holiness housed an antistructural impulse that grew from its pneumatology—its understanding of the nature and work of the Holy Spirit—and shaped its ecclesiology, protocols of worship, and approach to mainstream social boundaries. Reminiscent of 17th-century Quakers (and Quakers were well represented in radical Holiness), the saints gave free reign to the Holy Spirit, whose operation they associated with spontaneity and the unexpected.14 Many rejected anything that smacked of human authority in churchly matters, and above all such denominational relics as creeds, “rituals,” and religious hierarchy, which they derided as “ecclesiasticism.” Southern Holiness, where Landmark and Primitive Baptist roots had left a strong concern for proper ecclesial order, presented something of an exception, but elsewhere vestiges of “denominationalism” were anathema. The antistructural impulse also shaped assessments of spiritual authority and social order. The sanction to act and speak was best determined by the indices of Charismatic anointing, a fact that led to transgressive behaviors, particularly along lines of race and gender. Even in the South, radical Holiness was a biracial movement, and race mixing brought stigma and persecution to White and Black Holiness adherents alike. Furthermore, in a patriarchal America fretful over threats to “manliness,” women were among its most prominent evangelists and leaders.

By 1900, radical Holiness had expanded into a sprawling network of evangelists, associations, churches, and missions, primarily in North America but across Europe, Australia, India, and the mission fields of world as well. At least one group, Benjamin Hardin Irwin’s Fire-Baptized Holiness Association, had already anticipated Pentecostalism by positing yet a third blessing to follow sanctification, called “fire baptism,” which Irwin had discovered by parsing John the Baptist’s statement that the one following him would baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” to reveal two separate baptisms, one “with the Holy Ghost” and another “with fire.”15 Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, a little-known evangelist and an even lesser-known minister who had briefly served as his understudy struck upon a doctrinal formulation and ignited a revival that converted much of this network into the scaffolding of a new, global movement.


In 1895, a young Methodist supply pastor who had trained at Southwest Kansas College, Charles Fox Parham, forsook his old denomination for the fields of independent Holiness. Like Irwin, whose fire-baptism ministry deeply impressed him, Parham was a seeker who aspired to yet higher reaches of Pentecostal power, and in 1898 he and his Quaker Holiness wife, Sarah Thistlethwaite, founded Bethel Healing Home in Topeka, Kansas. Two years later, Parham lent support to a revival held in Topeka by Frank Sandford—an Apostolic visionary whose Holiness commune at Shiloh, Maine, had reported instances of glossolalia as early as 1897—then left on a Holy Ghost tour that took him through the most sensational ministries in Holiness, including Dowie’s Holiness utopia at Zion, Illinois.16

Parham returned late that year, 1900, and promptly established his own communal training center, Bethel Bible School, where he directed his students to analyze the nature of Holy Ghost baptism as described in the New Testament. Observing that glossolalia always seemed to attend it, they seized on this as the signature of that baptism and began to seek the experience in earnest. On New Year’s Day, 1901, Agnes Ozman spoke in tongues. Within days, Parham and a score of others had followed suit.17

What came next turned these rather obscure events into the gist of a new movement. First, Parham concluded that only the baptism his group had just experienced—attested by tongues—constituted the full Pentecostal baptism that all in Holiness sought and most claimed. The saints had heretofore mistaken mere sanctification for the climactic event. Parham thus laid out a new, threefold ordo salutis: salvation, sanctification, and Spirit baptism. Second, Parham insisted on the epochal nature of this discovery: he had recovered the sine qua non of the true Apostolic Faith.18

Over the next several years, Parham and his associates proclaimed the “Apostolic Faith” across much of the lower Midwest, and a small network of “Apostolic Faith missions” soon dotted the region. In the summer of 1905, Parham launched an extended campaign in the vicinity of Houston, Texas, where he cultivated ties with the African American community and recruited a key ally in Lucy Farrow, a Holiness preacher and niece of Frederick Douglass. She, in turn, when traveling with Parham, entrusted her small congregation to a minister in his mid-30s by the name of William Seymour.

Seymour, like Parham, was a restless seeker whose peripatetic career had brought him into contact with radical Holiness luminaries White and Black, including Charles Price Jones, co-founder of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), Dowie associate John G. Lake, and the Cincinnati duo of Martin Wells Knapp and Seth Cook Rees, whose God’s Bible School he reportedly attended. In Houston, Seymour won the trust of Farrow, who introduced him to Parham. When Parham opened a short-term Bible school in January of 1906, Seymour enrolled, attending lectures and conducting street-ministry practicums alongside Parham.

Seymour’s apprenticeship had hardly begun, though, when it was interrupted by a call from Los Angeles. A storefront mission at 9th and Santa Fe, affiliated with the Holiness Church Association, needed a pastor, and a member who had met Seymour had recommended his name. Parham objected: Seymour accepted Parham’s teaching, but had yet to receive the experience. Nevertheless, Seymour set out for Los Angeles, undeterred.

The appointment did not go as planned. The Holiness Church Association had no patience for Seymour’s Pentecostal innovations, and, within days of his late February arrival, he was on the Los Angeles streets. Yet Seymour persevered, holding meetings in a cottage on North Bonnie Brae Street and waiting for reinforcements to arrive from Houston in the form of Lucy Farrow. On April 9, 1906, under the newly arrived Farrow’s ministrations, a saint found Holy Ghost baptism and spoke in tongues. Scores of baptisms followed, including Seymour’s, and swelling crowds forced the group to seek new accommodations. These they found at 312 Azusa Street, where an abandoned African Methodist Episcopal church was rebranded as the “Apostolic Faith Mission” (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Leaders of Azusa Street Mission (Los Angeles). Photographer unknown.

Note. Early Pentecostalism was notable for its interracial character, as seen in this 1907 photograph of the Azusa Street leadership. Seated in front (l–r): Sister Evans, Hiram W. Smith, William Seymour, Clara Lum. Second row, standing (l–r): unidentified woman, Brother Evans, Jennie Moore, Glenn A. Cook, Florence Crawford, unidentified man, and Sister Prince. Florence Crawford’s daughter, Mildred, is seated in the front on Hiram Smith’s lap.

Courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

The revival at Azusa Street exploded into a phenomenon of global proportions, with hundreds packing the mission for meetings that, at their peak, ran almost nonstop, seven days a week. A “Who’s Who” of Holiness luminaries made pilgrimages to Azusa Street, including a young George Baker, later known as Father Divine. Many, like Gaston Barnabas Cashwell, an evangelist with the Holiness Church of North Carolina who “Came 3,000 Miles for His Pentecost,” returned home to start Pentecostal fires of their own. In Cashwell’s case, the prodigious revival he ignited would eventually bring virtually the whole of Southern Holiness into the movement.19 For Hispanics, the Azusa Street revival naturally spilled over into nearby “Sonoratown” and then throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, which for them, in many respects, constituted “a single cultural province.”20 By the time the revival subsided two years later, it had secured its place as the catalytic event of early Pentecostalism.

It bears noting that three extraordinary revivals caught the Holiness imagination, lit up the Holiness press, and drew globe-trotting visitors for a firsthand look between 1904 and 1906. The first was a 1904 revival in Wales led by Evan Roberts; the second, an outpouring at Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti Mission in South India, which began in 1905 and overlapped with Azusa. All were marked by free, unfettered worship and startling manifestations of the Spirit. But only Azusa seized the mantle of Pentecost, unadulterated, and spawned a new movement. Only there did a new doctrinal formula coalesce with a gripping narrative: “Pentecost has come to Los Angeles, the American Jerusalem.”21

Los Angeles now became the epicenter of the new movement, but Parham’s work in the Midwest continued to expand, particularly when, in the fall of 1906, he turned his attention to Zion, Illinois, where illness and scandal had deposed Dowie and discomfited his flock. Parham’s campaign there proved contentious but effective, winning hundreds of converts, including former Zion leaders who would later assume prominent roles in Pentecostalism.22 By April 1907, under the combined effect of the two wings of the movement, scores of Apostolic Faith missions dotted the landscape. By 1909, with the new gospel surging through the highways and byways of Holiness, Pentecostalism had achieved “geographical ubiquity”: every region of the country had a Pentecostal presence.23

Growing Together by Coming Apart

At first, Pentecostals expected Holy Ghost baptism to bind the saints in perfect unity.24 Instead, centrifugal forces almost immediately won out. By 1908, the original Apostolic Faith had splintered. Parham fell out with Seymour in 1906 and then, further damaged by an arrest in San Antonio on a charge of sodomy, relocated the remnant of his following to Baxter Springs, Kansas. Meanwhile, Florence Crawford, one of Seymour’s state directors, decamped to Portland, Oregon, with the mission’s periodical to establish a separate work there. These early divisions must be placed in context: most converts to Pentecostalism affiliated with a teaching and an experience, not an organization. Yet those early fissures, along lines of personality and practice, prefigured doctrinal controversies that would soon open far deeper cleavages. These latter, ironically, would give shape to an inchoate movement and raise denominational structures similar to those once renounced in favor of independent Holiness.

Two main issues opened the deepest rifts. The first was entire sanctification. Radical Holiness had always joined a “mixed multitude” of Wesleyan and Reformed members, and many of the latter balked at the Wesleyan view of sanctification. By 1910, that discomfort had coalesced into a countermovement around William Durham, pastor of Chicago’s North Avenue Mission. Durham saw sanctification as an integral facet of the “Finished Work of Calvary,” fully imputed at conversion yet progressively realized thereafter, and he broadcast his views widely and vociferously. The dispute turned bitter, driving a wedge between Wesleyan-Holiness originalists and proponents of the “Finished Work.”

In 1913 and 1914, a yet greater controversy appeared. Called the “New Issue,” it sprang, innocently enough, from a conundrum over the correct recitation for water baptism: should the saints baptize “in the name of Jesus Christ,” following Acts 2:38, or “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” as in Matthew 28:19? That query erupted into a full-scale rupture when some, such as former Durham lieutenant Frank Ewart and Azusa elder Glenn Cook, harmonized the texts into an epiphany: “Jesus” was the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The three were one God, in one person, with one name. The result was a new Jesus-Unitarianism that swept through Pentecostalism, its Reformed and Latino quarters especially. In the polemical years that followed, many rushed to demarcate territory and erect doctrinal defenses by formalizing denominational structures that still define the topography of classical Pentecostalism, separating it into Holiness, Reformed, and Oneness (or “Jesus Name”) tributaries.25

The Holiness stream carried virtually all of the earliest organized Pentecostal bodies. The majority of these had emerged from prior institutions in the American South where, as noted, resistance to organization was less pronounced. The most prominent were C. H. Mason’s predominantly African American COGIC, the Church of God (COG; Cleveland, TN), overseen by A. J. Tomlinson, and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, which emerged from a union of three smaller bodies: Irwin’s old Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, the Holiness Church of North Carolina, and the Tabernacle Pentecostal Church. The Holiness orbit also held a number of smaller groups, including the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church and two African American organizations: the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church of God and the United Holy Church of America.

Being newer as a self-identified group and more inclined to independence, Finished Work Pentecostals were slower to organize. The turning point came in 1914 when a loose fellowship of Reformed leaders convened a “General Council” at Hot Springs, Arkansas. The result was the Assemblies of God (AG), which would grow to become the nation’s largest Pentecostal body.

At first, many White Oneness Pentecostals affiliated with the AG, but when non-Trinitarians were purged in 1917, exiles organized the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies, which then promptly merged into the interracial Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), led by famed pastor and composer Garfield Thomas Haywood (see Figure 2). Most Oneness saints adopted “Finished Work” teaching, but their ranks did include Holiness voices, as in the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, founded by William T. Phillips in 1917.

Figure 2. PAW Convention, 1919. Photographer unknown.

Note. Annual convention of the PAW, Indianapolis, Indiana, October 19.

Courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Pentecostal denominations such as these would become the driving engine of the movement, but they were never the whole story. Far from it. Thousands resisted their gravitational pull, guarding the original spirit of free association and preserving a field of operation dominated by independent entrepreneurs, which may be viewed as a fourth tributary in classical Pentecostalism. Evangelists like F. F. Bosworth, Maria Woodworth-Etter, and John G. Lake often moved in and out of denominational circles or, like Carrie Judd Montgomery, took affiliations then held them lightly. But wherever they drew the line, they refused to be constrained and thus enabled an expression of Pentecostalism that was less fastidious about doctrinal fine points, less circumspect in the observance of denominational boundaries, and more keenly focused on spiritual gifts and the supernatural. In the decades ahead, this current would prove especially adept at opening conduits to the wider society and seeding Pentecostal practices and perspectives beyond the movement’s borders.26

Moving toward the Mainstream

As Pentecostalism entered its second decade, it faced the secular with a missionary, millenarian aspect, filtering global events through the lens of biblical prophecy and preserving a holy separation from worldly things. That social outlook met its first serious challenge with the onset of the Great War. The majority of American Pentecostals at the time were pacifists who, like Mennonites and Evangelical Quakers, grounded their convictions on the twin pillars of biblicism and sectarian social theology. The words of Jesus, taken at face value, seemed unequivocal: love your enemies; turn the other cheek; the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Pentecostals, furthermore, were citizens of heaven, not earth, and as war fever stirred, leaders like Parham drove that message home, denouncing “the Moloch-God, Patriotism.”27 Though alienated from Parham by doctrine, the AG agreed: “The Pentecostal people, as a whole, are uncompromisingly opposed to war, having much the same spirit as the early Quakers, who would rather be shot themselves” than kill another person.28

Most denominations managed to secure the legal right to conscientious objection for their members, but doing so ushered them into the unfamiliar realm of political negotiation with federal authorities, and practicing the rights thus secured could provoke outrage and persecution. Some conscientious objectors (COs) suffered physical abuse, even torture, at the hands of law enforcement, and rougher treatment still from vigilantes. Not even leaders were exempt: C. H. Mason faced arrest and had to be rescued from a lynch mob.29 Yet, in the end, Pentecostalism as a whole managed to walk the fine line between conscientious objection and disloyalty, and, despite considerable friction with a jingoistic public, the conflict did not hinder the movement’s growth.30 Rather, the movement continued to expand and diversify, with membership gains and denominational additions accruing to each of its major branches.

The most notable addition to the Reformed camp during the interwar years arrived thanks to a Canadian-born evangelist with a riveting stage presence and flamboyant style perfectly keyed to the Roaring Twenties. Aimee Semple McPherson—“Sister Aimee”—eventually settled in Los Angeles, where she drew thousands to her Echo Park megachurch, Angelus Temple, while proving herself to be as much an institution builder as a pulpit performer. In 1923, she founded LIFE Bible College and the following year launched one of the country’s first religious radio stations, KFSG radio, to broadcast her trademark “Foursquare Gospel” (a Pentecostal spin on Simpson’s old formula). Finally, in 1927, she founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, one of America’s foremost Pentecostal denominations.31 Other important newcomers included the Pentecostal Church of God of America (Chicago, 1919), the Elim Fellowship (Endicott, New York, 1933), and the Open Bible Standard Church (Des Moines, 1935).

The Holiness camp easily kept pace, with notable accretions including the Church of God of Prophecy—born from a split within the COG that prompted its general overseer, A. J. Tomlinson, to form this cross-town rival—and successive departures from the United Holy Church of America that led first to the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America (founded by Ida Robinson in 1924 and offering full ordination rights to women) and then to the Mt. Calvary Holy Church of America, organized by Brumfield Johnson in 1929.

Among Oneness Pentecostals, who often adopted the name “Apostolic,” new denominations arose when early efforts to preserve the interracial ideal of Azusa Street lost out to a resurgent “color line.” The PAW, which had briefly composed a tri-racial fellowship of Black, White, and Hispanic saints, fractured along racial lines. After a complicated period of division and reunion, most of its African American constituency congregated in a revived PAW, while the majority of its White members eventually merged, in 1945, as the United Pentecostal Church, International. Oneness Latinos were also affected. Their leading body, the Apostolic Assembly of Faith in Jesus Christ, founded by Luis Lopez and Juan Navarro in the 1920s, had at first affiliated with the PAW. In 1930, amid the rancor and confusion, it opted for independence in partnership with a sister organization in Mexico, the Iglesia Apostólica.32

As the many schisms within the movement make clear, Pentecostals often multiplied by dividing, but multiply they did. The AG, for example, tripled its membership in a single decade.33 And midcentury changes went well beyond attendance rolls and the catalogue of denominations. Infrastructure expanded, educational institutions were founded, bureaucracies proliferated, and new professional norms took hold. Increasingly, the sheer materiality of the more successful denominations worked an alteration in their views and social relationships, particularly in the communities where they headquartered. Here, Pentecostals oversaw million-dollar enterprises, owned large tracts of property, and attracted thousands of visitors annually. The privileges of prosperity and exigencies of organizational life slowly insinuated them into local power structures, as denominational officials forged ties of mutual interest and dependency with civic and business elites and interacted on practical, commonsense terms with governmental agencies at the municipal, state, and federal levels. A process of routinization was underway, and as the manager class of these denominations grew more deeply enmeshed in the pragmatic politics of interest and constituent service, the preconditions were laid for a later political turn of a more openly partisan and ideological nature.

In 1940, for example, C. H. Mason commissioned a flagship temple in Memphis worthy of the stature his burgeoning denomination had acquired, but by the time COGIC ordered the steel it needed to complete the structure, war had intervened and the War Production Board denied its request. Church leaders, though, refused to take no for an answer, commissioning James Delk, a White COGIC minister with political connections, to lobby on their behalf. Delk embarked on a frenetic lobbying campaign that stretched from the mayor’s office to the State Department in Washington, DC, and from the local War Production Board to the office of U.S. Senator Tom Stewart. In the end, Mason got his steel, and the Tennessee Democratic Party got a lasting ally (see Figure 3).34

Figure 3. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks at Mason Temple, Memphis, Tennessee, March 18, 1968.

Photo by the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Volunteer Voices, digitized primary sources documenting the history and culture of Tennessee, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

At roughly the same time, AG general secretary J. Roswell Flower was burnishing his civic credentials in Springfield, Missouri, serving on a half-dozen community organizations and winning a seat on the city council. Shortly after the war that had held up Mason’s steel, the government listed Springfield’s federally owned O’Reilly General Hospital as excess property. With Flower, Thomas Zimmerman, and other forward-looking leaders keen to found a liberal arts college, they leveraged the full weight of their civic capital behind a bid for the property. AG officials gathered letters of support from leading citizens and local powerbrokers, beat worn pathways through the relevant bureaucracies, and lobbied Congress members of both parties. The process proved long and convoluted, but they, too, prevailed. As with COGIC, the reciprocal ties they formed with politicians endured, coloring the views of faculty and students alike at the institution they erected on the gifted grounds, Evangel College (see Figure 4).35

Figure 4. Evangel College (Springfield, MO).

Note. AG leaders reviewing the denomination’s application for O’Reilly Hospital with Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare officials in Kansas City, Missouri, 1954. L–R: Joe S. Rockwood, Thomas F. Zimmerman, Ralph Riggs, James Doarn, Theodore Eslick.

Photo by John E. Craig, Jr., Craig Photo Company, Springfield, MO. Courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

These events were part and parcel of a migration toward cultural rapprochement, first with the larger Evangelical family and then with society at large. When the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was organized in 1942, Pentecostals ranked among its charter members, and when war clouds gathered again, they produced little of the sturm und drang that had accompanied the Great War. Handbooks still carried the old pacifist statements, but the de facto policy was studied neutrality, with the conscience of the individual as final guide. Out West, Sister Aimee went further still, adopting a zealous boosterism that won praise from the Office of War Information and carried her to the brink of Christian Americanism.36 Throughout the middle decades, then, Pentecostal leaders lowered social boundaries, eased Holiness-era rules and prohibitions, and cozied up to their Evangelical kin. The 1960 election of Thomas Zimmerman as president of the NAE signaled just how close Pentecostals had moved toward “the evangelical consensus.”37

These assimilative trends were not as pronounced in some quarters, particularly among Oneness and smaller Holiness bodies, and even where they did apply, they were not welcome to all. In fact, they were met by revitalization movements that sought to shake off the stultifying effect of denominationalism and recover the unquenched flame of Azusa Street. One such movement was the New Order of the Latter Rain, which sprang up in the 1940s around individuals and institutions affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and the Foursquare Church, then renounced denominationalism in favor of congregational autonomy. Latter Rain proponents reasserted the stark supernaturalism of early Pentecostalism, endorsing spiritual warfare, exorcism, and faith healing, and they added a novel twist as well. Shifting the focus of Pentecostal restorationism from the Book of Acts to the Pauline corpus, they sought to replicate the authority structure of the “fivefold ministry” of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Though fiercely opposed by most denominational executives, Latter Rain teaching spread rapidly, taking root in smaller bodies like the Elim Fellowship and spawning sympathetic independent ministries.

A closely allied source of revitalization came from the mid-century healing ministries that made up the “Deliverance” movement, which featured Charismatic wonder-workers like William Branham, Asa Alonso Allen, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and Franklin Hall, whose pamphlet Atomic Power with God with Fasting and Prayer phrased the magnitude of the movement’s aspirations well.38 Deliverance had ties to the prior generation of healing evangelists through figures like Bosworth and Gordon Lindsay, whose Voice of Healing served as a clearinghouse for the movement, and it was aided by an influential lay organization, the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, International (FGBMFI), founded in 1953 by Demos Shakarian, a wealthy associate of Oral Roberts.

The influence of the Latter Rain and Deliverance movements was felt throughout Pentecostalism, but it primarily served to rejuvenate independent currents, prompting loose associations like the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International and helping to lay the groundwork for two seminal developments soon to come: the Charismatic Renewal and the Jesus People movement.39

Cultural and Countercultural Pentecostalism

If the 1940s and 1950s witnessed the Evangelicalization of American Pentecostalism, the following decades brought a Pentecostalization of American Evangelicalism, indeed, of American Christianity in general.40 The most salient example of this appeared in the Charismatic Renewal. Through a variety of corridors, denominational and independent alike, elements of Pentecostal spirituality had been filtering into mainline Protestant churches for years, so that, by the 1950s, most historic denominations had at least a small Pentecostal presence. Notable examples included Harald Bredesen (Lutheran), Tommy Tyson (United Methodist), and two Southern Baptists—John Osteen and Pat Robertson. These developments first met the public eye, however, when in 1960 they turned up in an especially unlikely quarter: the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Over the previous months, a growing circle of Episcopal laypersons and priests there had undergone Pentecostal-style baptism and spoken in tongues; when these private practices were publicly confessed by rector Dennis Bennett at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, a firestorm erupted. Sharply rebuked by parish leaders and the local bishop, the irenic Bennett, rather than stay and fight, resigned, passing leadership of the local revival into the capable hands of Jean Stone (later Jean Stone Willans). Stone arranged national news coverage for the events at Van Nuys and organized the Blessed Trinity Society (with help from Bredesen and Pentecostal emissary to the ecumenical world, David J. du Plessis) to promote the Renewal.

Within less than a decade, these small beginnings had swept through mainstream Protestantism, birthing a network of renewal societies that touched every denominational family. Meanwhile, similar phenomena had surfaced within the Roman Catholic Church as well, beginning with a series of Pentecostal-style revivals at four Midwestern universities: Duquesne, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan. As with its Protestant counterpart, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal sparked a media sensation and spread at a dizzying pace. By the early 1970s, a far-flung network of leaders, conferences, retreat centers, and renewal societies had sprung up, in addition to intentional communities such as Word of God in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana.41

The Charismatic Renewal overlapped with the Jesus People movement, which grew out of evangelistic work among youth in the Counterculture. With its rejection of materialism, pursuit of transformative experience, and valorization of love and self-realization, the Counterculture constituted a religious movement in its own right. Moreover, many “hippies” held a deep appreciation for Jesus as a countercultural archetype. At the same time, hippie enclaves around the country were plagued by high rates of homelessness and drug addiction. Pentecostals—like other Evangelicals—saw in these conditions the opportunity to reach a generation for Christ.

Denominational Pentecostalism made important contributions: Teen Challenge, founded by AG pastor David Wilkerson, marshaled a dedicated core of youth workers and a string of training and rehabilitation centers for the cause and generated spinoff ministries like Sonny Arguinzoni’s Victory Outreach International in Los Angeles and Linda Meissner’s Jesus People Army. The LA-based Church of the Foursquare Gospel also played a role, especially through congregations like Hope Chapel in Manhattan Beach, California. But the most influential initiatives sprang from the interstices between denominational Pentecostalism, independent Pentecostalism, and the emerging Charismatic movement. The chief example is Calvary Chapel, begun in 1965 by an ex-Foursquare pastor, Charles “Chuck” Smith, who took a small congregation in Costa Mesa and directed it toward ministry to the Counterculture. When Smith added to his team Lonnie Frisbee, a magnetic young “Jesus Freak” who had converted in Haight-Ashbury, attendance at Calvary Chapel surged from the hundreds into the thousands. Satellites spun out from the mother church to form a family of Calvary Chapel affiliates that by the early 21st century counted 1,700 churches worldwide. Although Smith permitted Pentecostal manifestations such as glossolalia, they were deemphasized and often relegated to small after-services. Many chafed at these restraints, and, beginning in the mid-1970s with a group of churches planted by Kenn Gulliksen, the desire for more openly Charismatic expression triggered a breakaway movement—the Association of Vineyard Churches—that would become larger than Calvary Chapel itself.

As with the Counterculture, the message of the Jesus People movement was carried on the waves of its music, and one of its major contributions to global Christian culture took form as artists like Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, and Chuck Girard fed Christian motifs through folk and hard rock melodies to create contemporary Christian music.42

Cauldron of Convergence

These fresh Charismatic winds were regarded with suspicion by many traditional Pentecostals, but they were embraced by others, and elements of denominational Pentecostalism, independent Pentecostalism, and the Charismatic movement soon converged (and diverged) in a cauldron of creative fusion. Centers of convergence included Ralph Wilkerson’s Melodyland Christian Center of Anaheim, California; the campus of Pentecostalism’s first accredited university, Oral Roberts University, founded in Tulsa in 1965; the Association of Vineyard Churches; and the various ministries of the “Ft. Lauderdale Five”—Ern Baxter, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, Don Basham, and Bob Mumford—whose “shepherding movement” refit the Latter Rain for a neo-Pentecostal age and signaled a revived interest in prophetic office and Apostolic authority.

A key facilitator of this convergence was the FGBMFI, which by the mid-1960s had mushroomed into an organization with 300 chapters and 100,000 members. Its speakers’ circuit featured celebrities with classical Pentecostal roots, such as Derek Prince, David du Plessis, and Oral Roberts, alongside mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic Charismatics, such as Osteen, Bredesen, and Father Francis MacNutt. Although the preeminent televangelist of the 1970s and 1980s, Jimmy Swaggart, proudly wore the “old-time religion” label and hewed to the denominational line, others, such as Morris Cerullo, welcomed the blending currents, as did the titans of Spirit-filled network television, Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting Network), Jim Bakker (PTL Network), and Paul Crouch (Trinity Broadcasting Network).

Within this milieu, a “Positive Confession” or “Word of Faith” movement took hold whose roots traced through the tent-meeting virtuosos of the 1950s to first-generation healers like Bosworth. Assurance of healing had long been paired with the promise of material provision in Pentecostal circles, and many early ministries operated on “faith lines,” which required saints to confess the provision God promised, not the lack the eyes perceived or the belly felt, as the true reality.43 Furthermore, as healing evangelists like Roberts and Allen moved from the sawdust trail to the television studio, they tilted the balance of physical healing and material provision toward provision, and more than just provision—prosperity. Roberts changed the title of his magazine from Healing Waters to Abundant Life and cited laws of faith and divine reciprocity (“ask and ye shall receive”; “give and it will be given unto you”) to encourage the pursuit of prosperity and link it to contributions. Allen did the same, and added the power to speak things into existence: “Thou shall decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee,” declared Job 22:28.

However, it was left to Kenneth Hagin, Sr., a Lindsay associate and former AG minister, to configure these elements into a full-scale Prosperity Gospel. His core premise was simple and persuasive: God wills salvation, health, and material as well as spiritual prosperity for God’s children, who are made in the divine image; that will is expressed in laws and promises that accord with God’s nature; when believers of pure heart align their thoughts and active speech with God’s will and nature in “positive confession,” results follow. In 1974, Hagin founded Rhema Bible Training Center near Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Word of Faith movement he directed from his base there informs some of the largest congregations in America, indeed, the world. Hagin acolytes such as Fred Price and, above all, Kenneth Copeland, carried the banner forward, fueling the growth of fellowships like the Rhema Ministerial Association International, the Association of Faith Churches and Ministries, and the International Convention of Faith Ministries.44

By the 1980s, Pentecostalism and its correlates had left a deep imprint on the American religious landscape, figuring prominently in “the restructuring of American religion” away from denominational identities toward broad, cross-denominational alignments of religious culture, which Robert Wuthnow described in his seminal 1988 book by that name.45 The effect touched not merely belief and practice but underlying modes of religious organization as well, with flexible, associational networks challenging the denominational blueprint.

In the decades after, further innovations borne aloft from this same convergence—such as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), also dubbed “independent network charismatic” Christianity—continued to reshape the terrain. The NAR, which bears marks of Latter Rain and shepherding influence, cohered in the late 1980s and early 1990s around a group of apostle figures with ties to Church Growth specialist John Wimber, who led the Vineyard after 1982, and to two controversial eruptions within the Vineyard: the “Toronto Blessing” and the “Kansas City Prophets.”46

Three traits distinguish the NAR. First is its Apostolic structure, from which the movement gets its name. In contrast to denominational structures or voluntary associations, the NAR is composed of hierarchical networks of apostles arrayed, in pyramid fashion, under the “covering” of a head apostle. Yet, although network apostles acknowledge the authority of those above and provide covering to those below, they function as independent operators with regard to their own congregations and maintain horizontal relationships with a set of pastors, prophets, and evangelists.

Second, most NAR ministries place special emphasis on intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare—subjects of increasing interest within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles since the 1980s. Wimber, Cindy Jacobs, and others formed a “Spiritual Warfare Network” to provide specialized training in “strategic-level spiritual warfare,” equipping NAR apostles to map the dark unseen, launching precision attacks on specific demons or waging campaigns to liberate entire regions from oppression.

Finally, many in the NAR have taken a postmillennial turn, adopting “dominionist” views that, echoing the Christian Reconstructionism of Rousas Rushdoony and Gary North, call for apostles to gain charge of the “Seven Mountains of Culture” (government, religion, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business) and thus establish the Kingdom of God on earth.47 The NAR, then, has championed political action, though within a prophetic frame that is more akin to the millenarian outlook of early Pentecostalism than to the pragmatic calculus of the Religious Right.

A Pentecost of Politics

While the NAR has given impetus to political engagement among Pentecostals, it arrived after most had already rounded the political bend. Early Pentecostals were largely apolitical, as their pacifism might suggest. Exceptions certainly existed: during the 1910s and 1920s, Pentecostals held scattered local offices and occasionally surfaced in political organizations like the North Dakota Non-Partisan League or socialist labor cells in Missouri’s Bootheel region, and the 1930s found Sister Aimee promoting causes and candidates in California. Yet most Pentecostals shunned political entanglements owing to the same social theology that kept them out of war. As Frank Bartleman put it, Christians are citizens of heaven, and thus have “no more to do with the politics of this world than an American has with the politics of Europe.”48

Real change along this front came with postwar rapprochement, upward mobility, and institutional growth, abetted by celebrity evangelists and the organizations affiliated with them, such as the FGBMFI, which hosted Vice-President Nixon at its Washington, DC, international convention in 1954. Oral Roberts, though not a White House fixture like Billy Graham, consulted with presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter, and where Roberts maintained a light, politically neutral touch, Kenneth Copeland went all in for Nixon, fervently defending him throughout the Watergate proceedings (see Figure 5).49

Figure 5. Jim Bakker, AG minister and host of the PTL Club, speaks with Ronald Reagan, c.1979. Photographer unknown.

Note. The Reagan campaign and presidency galvanized political participation among White Pentecostals.

Courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Within the denominations proper, the pragmatic, interest-based politics of the 1940s and 1950s evolved into issue-based, partisan politics along tracks that led White and Black Pentecostals largely in opposite directions. In Memphis, for example, the ties forged under Mason merged with the Civil Rights movement and led to open political engagement under J. O. Patterson, Sr., who succeeded Mason in 1961. COGIC worked hand in hand with Martin Luther King, Jr., on the “People’s War against Poverty,” with King delivering his final public address at Mason Temple. After 1990, the bond with the Democratic Party was furthered strengthened under Presiding Bishop Louis Henry Ford of Chicago, a longtime member of the national executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) with close ties to the Daley political machine.50 These developments reflected the trajectory of African American Pentecostalism generally, which has offered electoral support and a pool of talent for administrative appointments to several Democratic administrations.

Meanwhile, in Springfield, the bipartisan lobbying that won O’Reilly Hospital took a partisan turn in the years to follow. Republican Dewey Short delivered the 1955 inaugural address at Evangel, and the college quickly emerged as a regular stop on the Southwest Missouri political circuit. In 1963, Republican Durward Hall offered an internship to John Ashcroft, son of the college president. Ashcroft would go on to become a two-term governor, US senator, and US attorney general under President George W. Bush.51 These growing ties to the Republican Party paralleled developments among predominantly White Pentecostals elsewhere, who would become one of the Republican Party’s most reliable voting constituencies and figure prominently as Republican candidates, officeholders, and political appointees.52

The Left Hand of Pentecost

Survey data confirms that most Pentecostals of all ethnic backgrounds hold conservative views on social and religious issues, but a gossamer thread of social progressivism that traces to the movement’s early pacifism and working-class sympathies persists.53 This more progressive thread has been represented by figures like social ethicist Murray Dempster, historians Mel Robeck and Harold Hunter, and former Obama aide Joshua DuBois, and by organizations like Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice. Even more strikingly, it appears in an expanding network of LGBTQ-inclusive congregations, such as the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, led by Presiding Bishop Yvette Flunder, and the Fellowship of Reconciling Pentecostals International. In addition, a number of congregations affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church—founded by former COG minister Troy Perry—are Pentecostal in style.54

Diversity has also arrived from outside America’s borders. As luxuriantly as Pentecostalism has flourished in the United States, it has grown more rapidly elsewhere by orders of magnitude, so that American Pentecostals had, by the 21st century, become junior partners in the global movement they helped to create. One effect of this reversal is that the crowded cast of American Pentecostalism has had to make room for imports from overseas, such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Brazil), the Redeemed Christian Church of God and Living Faith Church Worldwide (Winners’ Chapel), both of Nigeria, and the Indian Pentecostal Church of God.


American Pentecostalism is a mosaic altered and expanded by every succeeding generation, comprised of an almost bewildering array of shapes and colors. When searching for a center to hold this all together, it is tempting to look first to the classical denominations. After all, with their thousands of congregations large and small across the breadth and length of the land, they seem to be the cornerstone of Pentecostalism in America. Indeed, of the scores of Pentecostal denominations in the United States, the top seven alone account for more than half of all American Pentecostals by the most reliable estimates.55 Yet no part of the gestalt is capable of representing the whole. Rather, coherence is found in a common thread that runs through all of its diverse manifestations, binding them to one another and to the fin de siècle saints that gave their movement birth. That thread is the unwavering conviction that the past of Apostolic wonders is not dead, not even past. It is as near as the country meetinghouse foyer, the megachurch portico, the open storefront-chapel door.

Discussion of the Literature

Students of Pentecostalism benefit from a body of scholarship of extraordinary range and depth. Particularly since the 1980s, the field has attracted intense cross-disciplinary attention, and while the majority of this outpouring has been directed to global Pentecostalism, important contributions continue to be made to US and North American expressions of the movement.

Among general histories and denominational surveys, works such as Arlene Sánchez Walsh’s Pentecostals in America (2018) and R. G. Robins’ Pentecostalism in America (2010) build on a foundation of earlier classics that are still worth reading, including Vinson Synan’s The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the U.S. (1975), revised and reissued in 1997 as The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (1997), and Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979). Especially among historians, scholarship has often been inflected by differences regarding the relative weight of Wesleyan Holiness versus Reformed influence on the movement (see Synan and Edith Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture [1993]), the relative priority of White Holiness culture versus Black culture for Pentecostal origins (see James Goff, Jr., Fields White unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism [1988], work by Walter Hollenweger and scholars of his school, especially Iain MacRobert, The Black Roots and White Racism of Early Pentecostalism in the USA [1988], and the more neutral Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement [2006]), and the place of the United States in the narrative of global Pentecostalism (see An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity [2004] and To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity [2013], both by Allan Anderson). Another concern has been to recover missing voices or assert underestimated influences, particularly those of Latinos, women, African Americans, Oneness Pentecostals, and Native Americans. A representative sampling here would include Gastón Espinosa, Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and Politics in Action (2014), Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (2007), Estrelda Alexander, Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism (2011), Cheryl Sanders, Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (1996), Talmadge French, Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism: G. T. Haywood and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (1901–1931) (2014), and Angela Tarango, Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle (2014).

Particularly in the 21st century, scholars have sought to document and interpret Pentecostal culture, taking their cue from historians like Grant Wacker, whose Heaven Below: Early Pentecostal and American Culture (2001) set the benchmark in this regard. For example, Wacker’s influence is apparent in Robins’ A. J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (2004), a biography that doubles as a cultural history of Holiness and early Pentecostal culture. Indeed, biography has been an important genre in the field, as A. J. Tomlinson suggests, with dozens of figures receiving individual attention, including Parham, Seymour, F. F. Bosworth, Aimee Semple McPherson, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, and others, in addition to Tomlinson. Region and migration have also received excellent treatment, as in Daniel Ramírez, Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century (2015) and Randall J. Stephens, The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South (2008).

Some of the most dynamic contributions to the field have come from anthropology and sociology, many inspired by the work of Joel Robbins on the anthropology of Christianity. These include cross-disciplinary ethnographies like Melvin Butler, Island Gospel: Pentecostal Music and Identity in Jamaica and the United States (2019) and Anderson Blanton, Hittin’ the Prayer Bones: Materiality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South (2015). Serpent-handling still receives attention, as with Ralph Hood, Jr., and W. Paul Williamson, Them that Believe: The Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent-Handling Tradition (2008), but the interpretation of Pentecostal practice has broadened considerably among sociologists and ethnographers, as can be seen in Jon Bialecki, A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement (2017) and research coming from the Templeton-funded “Godly Love” project, such as Margaret Poloma and Ralph Hood, Jr., Blood and Fire: Godly Love in a Pentecostal Emerging Church (2008).

Primary Sources

Primary sources for the study of American Pentecostalism are available in several first-rate archives and special collections. The largest holdings are found at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, Missouri, which houses the archives for the AG and much more, including material on a wide range of Pentecostal and Charismatic groups within the United States and worldwide. The Dixon Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, Tennessee, is a major repository as well, with holdings that center on the COG, but, as with the Flower Center, extend widely into Pentecostal and Charismatic history. The Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, contains important early materials on Charles Parham and the Apostolic Faith movement, in addition to its dedicated holdings on the Oral Roberts ministry and extensive holdings on neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic figures. The David du Plessis Archives at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, has special strengths in the Charismatic Renewal and in the Jesus People movement. Each of these archives has comprehensive finding aids to help researchers navigate its holdings, and each has digitized a significant share of its materials, making them available online.

Links to Digital Materials

All of the archives noted offer online access to some of their materials, but two clearinghouse sites are of special value. These are the online Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Archive (PCRA) at the University of Southern California and the digital collection made available through the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives (CPA), which compiles materials from eight different collections.

Further Reading

  • Alexander, Estrelda Y.Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.
  • Anderson, Robert Mapes. Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. New York: Oxford, 1979.
  • Burgess, Stanley M., ed. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Revised and Expanded Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.
  • Espinosa, Gastón. Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and Politics in Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
  • Robeck, Cecil M., Jr.The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
  • Robins, Roger G. A. J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Robins, Roger G.Pentecostalism in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010.
  • Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.


  • 1. As a result, estimates of its adherence have always ranged widely. In the early decades of the 21st century, for example, religious demographers using different definitions and methodologies posited estimates ranging from perhaps 10 percent of American Protestants up to a quarter of all Christians in the United States. See Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, America’s Changing Religious Identity (Washington, DC: PRRI, 2017); “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015; and a 2020 study by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which estimates US adherence at 68 million, with a total of 644 million (over one-quarter all Christians) worldwide: Dan Silliman, “Have Pentecostals Outgrown their Name?” Christianity Today, May 29, 2020. The latter study subsumes classical Pentecostals, Charismatics, and related independent churches under the rubric of “Spirit-empowered Christianity.”

  • 2. For the American Holiness movement, see Charles Edwin Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867–1936 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1974), and Melvin E. Dieter, The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1996).

  • 3. For a brief overview of dispensational premillennialism, see Roger Robins, “Caught Up to Meet Jesus in the Clouds,” Christian History Magazine 128 (November 2018): 34–36.

  • 4. William Baxter Godbey, quoted in William Kostlevy, Holy Jumpers: Evangelicals and Radicals in Progressive Era America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 26.

  • 5. Heather D. Curtis, “Houses of Healing: Sacred Space, Spiritual Practice, and the Transformation of Female Suffering in the Faith Cure Movement, 1870–90,” Church History 75, no. 3 (September 2006): 600.

  • 6. Albert B. Simpson, The Four-Fold Gospel (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1890). For the Holiness–Pentecostal matrix of Pentecostalism, see Roger Robins, A. J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987).

  • 7. The term “plainfolk” draws on scholars of Southern religion including Dickson Bruce and David Harrell. See Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974); and David Edwin Harrell, “The Evolution of Plain Folk Religion in the South, 1835–1920,” in Varieties of Southern Religious Experience, ed. Sam Hill (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 24–51.

  • 8. Benjamin H. Irwin, “The Abiding Fire,” Way of Faith, December 16, 1896, 1.

  • 9. For “radical” as a term of self-ascription, see Pentecostal Herald [Indianapolis], August 1–15, 1897, 5, and November 1, 1899, 6; Pentecostal Herald [Louisville], December 7, 1898, 6; and Way of Faith, July 8, 1896, 1, 5.

  • 10. For Holiness and Pentecostal restorationism, see Grant Wacker, “Playing for Keeps: The Primitivist Impulse in Early Pentecostalism,” in The American Quest for the Primitive Church, ed. Richard Hughes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 196–219; and Wacker, “The Functions of Faith in Primitive Pentecostalism,” Harvard Theological Review 77, nos. 3–4 (1984): 353–375.

  • 11. Pentecostal Bands of the World was founded in Indianapolis by Thomas Nelson. The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, organized in Brooklyn in 1897, later merged with other groups to form the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. See Seth Cook Rees, The Ideal Pentecostal Church (Cincinnati: Revivalist Office, 1897); Martin Wells Knapp, Lightning Bolts from Pentecostal Skies (Cincinnati: Revivalist Office, 1898); Pentecostal Herald (Indianapolis) and Pentecostal Herald (Louisville); and Tongues of Fire (Shiloh, ME).

  • 12. “Speaking in tongues” was reported at Frank Sandford’s Shiloh compound as well as in Holiness circles in North Carolina.

  • 13. On African American Holiness, see Calvin White, Jr., The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2012), 4; for “Falling” see Ambrose Blackmon Crumpler, “Manifestations of the Holy Ghost,” Holiness Advocate, September 15, 1903, 3. For a fine treatment of these currents within radical Holiness, see Kostlevy, Holy Jumpers.

  • 14. On Quaker Holiness, see Thomas Hamm, The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800–1907 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

  • 15. For the most complete treatment of Irwin, see Vinson Synan and Daniel Woods, Fire Baptized: The Many Lives and Works of Benjamin Hardin Irwin (Lexington: Emeth Press, 2017).

  • 16. On Sandford and Shiloh, see Shirley Nelson, Fair, Clear, and Terrible: The Story of Shiloh, Maine (Latham, NY: British American, 1989).

  • 17. Parham and others first understood glossolalia to be xenolalia—the supernatural ability to speak an unlearned language and thus a tool for foreign missions—but later Pentecostals, while accepting the possibility of xenolalia, came to regard the usual practice as a heavenly language of the spirit, unknown except through the corollary gift of “interpretation of tongues” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10.

  • 18. See James Goff, Jr., Fields White unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988).

  • 19. Gaston B. Cashwell, “Came 3,000 Miles for His Pentecost,” The Apostolic Faith, December 1906, 3. A few months later, W. L. Fisher reported that “Nearly the whole of North Carolina is being stirred among the Holiness people, white and colored”: The Apostolic Faith, April 1907, 1. My account of Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival relies on Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 4–7, 39–60.

  • 20. Daniel Ramírez, Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 34, 118.

  • 21. Participants in these revivals interacted and communicated, as can be seen in Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles (Los Angeles: Author, 1925), reprinted as Azusa Street (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1980), 10–35, 86–88, quote at: 63.

  • 22. On Zion and its decline see Grant Wacker, “Marching to Zion: Religion in a Modern Utopian Community,” Church History 54, no. 4 (December 1985): 496–511.

  • 23. Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 212.

  • 24. J. H. Pate, Holiness Advocate, May 15, 1907, 3: “This baptism will be a cure for schisms and isms.”

  • 25. For a more complete survey of these events, see Roger Robins, Pentecostalism in America (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010), 38–47.

  • 26. On the independent tradition within Pentecostalism, see Christopher J. Richmann, Living in Bible Times: F. F. Bosworth and the Pentecostal Pursuit of the Supernatural (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020).

  • 27. For Pentecostal views on pacifism, see Brian K. Pipkin and Jay Beaman, eds., Early Pentecostals on Nonviolence and Social Justice: A Reader (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016); Quote is from Charles Fox Parham, “War! War! War!,” quoted in Pipkin and Beamon, Early Pentecostals, 19.

  • 28. “Pentecostal Saints Opposed to War,” Weekly Evangel, June 19, 1915, 1.

  • 29. White, Rise to Respectability, 59–66.

  • 30. For an overview of the AG response, see Roger Robins, “A Chronology of Peace: Attitudes toward War and Peace in the Assemblies of God,” Pneuma 6, no. 1 (1984): 3–25.

  • 31. See Edith L. Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993).

  • 32. See Ramírez, Migrating Faith, 49–57, 80.

  • 33. From 47,950 to 148,043 between 1926 and 1936: Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973), 920.

  • 34. White, Rise to Respectability, 109–110. Delk received a letter expressing appreciation for “COGIC’s and your agreed willingness to work on behalf of the Democratic Party.”

  • 35. See Lawrence J. Nelson, “O’Reilly General Hospital of Springfield, Missouri: The Demise of O’Reilly Hospital and the Beginning of Evangel College, 1946–1955,” Missouri Historical Review 81 (July 1987): 417–446.

  • 36. See Matthew Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 254–266.

  • 37. Edith Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 232, 243.

  • 38. Franklin Hall, Atomic Power with God with Fasting and Prayer, New Edition (Phoenix, AZ: Author, 1973).

  • 39. On ties between the Latter Rain, the Deliverance movement, and independent Pentecostalism, see Richmann, Living in Bible Times. For the Deliverance movement itself, see Edwin Harrell, Jr., All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975).

  • 40 Russell Spittler, “Are Pentecostals and Charismatics Fundamentalists?” in Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture, ed. Karla Poewe (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994), 112.

  • 41. On the Charismatic movement see Peter D. Hocken, “Charismatic Movement,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. Stanley M. Burgess (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 477–519; and Richard Quebedeaux, The New Charismatics II (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).

  • 42. See Bob Gersztyn, Jesus Rocks the World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music, vol. 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012).

  • 43. See Edith Blumhofer, “Life on Faith Lines: Faith Homes and Early Pentecostal Values,” Assemblies of God Heritage 10, no. 2 (1990): 10–12, 22.

  • 44. See Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). On ties between the Word of Faith movement and Bosworth, see Richmann, Living in Bible Times, 213–214.

  • 45. Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

  • 46. For the Toronto Blessing and Kansas City Prophets, see Margaret Poloma, Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003).

  • 47. Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). For Wimber, Vineyard, and the NAR, see 18–26; for “covering,” see 32; on spiritual warfare, see 29, 94–100; on dominionist theology, see 12, 134–138.

  • 48. Quoted in Pipkin and Beamon, Early Pentecostals, 106. On Pentecostals in the Non-Partisan League and Prohibition Party, see Darrin Rodgers, Northern Harvest: Pentecostalism in North Dakota (Bismarck: North Dakota District Council of the Assemblies of God, 2003); on Pentecostal activists in the Bootheel region, see Jarod Roll, Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010), esp. 39–42, 48–50; on Sister Aimee, see Sutton, Aimee Semple McPherson, 212–236.

  • 49. For Oral Roberts and the FGBMFI, see David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Oral Roberts: An American Life (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Copeland prophesied first that Nixon would not be removed, then that he would be fully exonerated, and still later that he would be baptized with the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues before Christ returned: see Believer’s Voice of Victory 1, no. 1 (September 1973): 2; 2, no. 8 (August 1974): 2; and 4, no. 2 (February 1976): 2.

  • 50. White, Rise to Respectability, 113–129, 133–135. Patterson’s son, James O. Patterson, Jr., served several terms in the Tennessee state legislature and on the Memphis city council. He became the city’s first Black mayor when appointed to a brief interim term in 1982.

  • 51. Dan Betzer, Destiny: The Story of Governor John Ashcroft (Springfield, MO: Revivaltime Media Ministries, 1988); and Evangel College Records, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, Missouri. Ashcroft’s older brother served two terms as mayor of Gladstone, Missouri.

  • 52. These qualities were on vivid display in the Donald J. Trump campaign and presidency, which energized both the old guard and new of the movement’s media elite, uniting fading stars like Robertson, Swaggart, and Bakker with rising NAR celebrities such as Lance Wallnau, Cindy Jacobs, and Paula White. Trump reciprocated this support by granting access to his administration and selecting Pentecostal megachurches, including Apostle Guillermo Maldonado’s King Jesus/El Rey Jesús in Miami and the AG-affiliated Dream City Church in Phoenix, to host rallies. For more on the political turn in American Pentecostalism, see Robins, Pentecostalism, 108–119.

  • 53. For survey data on Pentecostal social and religious views, see “Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals,” Pew Forum on Religion in the Public Life, October 2006; and “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices: Diverse and Politically Relevant,” Pew Forum on Religion in the Public Life, June 2008.

  • 54. See Ellen Lewin, Filled with the Spirit: Sexuality, Gender, and Radical Inclusivity in a Black Pentecostal Church Coalition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018).

  • 55. The top seven are the AG, the COGIC, the COG, the United Pentecostal Church, the PAW, the Foursquare Church, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, with a collective adherence of approximately 10 million in 2020. Statistics are based on cross-referencing denominational websites; Jones and Cox, America’s Changing Religious Identity; “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”; and Robins, Pentecostalism, table 1, 146–147.