Small Church Essentials | Book Review

“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.”

Vaters’ statement goes against the grain of what many ministers have been taught, explicitly and implicitly, about church growth. “A healthy church will grow numerically,” they’ve been taught in so many words. “If yours isn’t growing, you’re doing something wrong. Here’s how to break the ____ barrier” (fill in the blank with a large number).

The intent of this teaching is good, of course. Church growth aims at increasing a church’s size by increasing the number of people it wins to Christ. And church-growth ideas have been successfully implemented at a number of churches, which have grown exponentially.

But not all churches. Not even most churches. Indeed, despite the intent, the effect of church-growth teaching can be demoralizing to small-church pastors who implement it with little or no resulting growth. That’s certainly how Vaters felt after implementing church-growth programs at his church for many years with no appreciable change in size.

Things came to a head when he heard a denominational leader state that 80 percent of that denomination’s churches were under 200 in weekly attendance, and 90 percent were under 100. “I knew the expected response to the statistic should be, ‘Our church is small too. Oh no!’ But something inside me broke that day.”

His immediate response was defensive and a bit cynical: “Our church is small, so what?” But as weeks passed, he realized that “so what?” was not an agenda. While planning an upcoming church event, the thought hit him: “Our church is small, now what?” That was a game-changer, an epiphany.

It led Vaters to a new understanding of a growing church, epitomized in this sentence: “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry.” Any church can do this, at any size.

Of course, capacity for effective ministry is going to look different at small churches than at big churches. Why? Because of the Law of Large Numbers: “The bigger the group, the more predictably they behave. The smaller the group, the less predictably they behave.”

So, for example, leading a big church requires a pastor to focus on systems and processes. Those systems and processes move people from the large-group experience on Sunday to a small-group experience at midweek. A small church is already a small group, however. Instead of focusing on systems and processes, a small-church pastor leads by personal relationship.

Here’s another example: In a big church, discipleship typically takes place using a curriculum model. (Think of Rick Warren’s baseball diamond analogy here.) When a church needs to train large numbers of people, this systems-oriented approach works well. But a mentoring model works better in a small church precisely because it leverages the value of personal relationship.

I could cite other examples of how the Law of Large Numbers shapes leadership in big and small churches, but I think you get Vaters’ basic point. Leading a small church requires different ways of thinking about and practicing ministry than leading a big church. Not better or worse, mind you, just different.

Small Church Essentials isn’t anti-big church by any stretch of the imagination. By the same token, though, it’s not uncritically pro-small church. “Small churches are not a problem, a virtue, or an excuse,” Vaters writes. “Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose,” he concludes, “and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose.”

Regardless of size.

If you’re a small-church pastor who wants to increase your own capacity and your church’s capacity for effective ministry, I highly recommend this hopeful, helpful book.


Book Reviewed
Karl Vaters, Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for It appears here by permission.

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The Character Gap | Book Review

The cover of Christian B. Miller’s book, The Character Gap, has a picture of Gandhi at the top and Hitler at the bottom with a graded spectrum between them. The picture is fitting, for one of Miller’s central theses is that most people are neither as bad as we could be nor as good as we should be. We are, instead, a muddle. The question that arises, then, is how we can become better than we are.

Miller is A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University and Director of the Character Project. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the project examines character from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy and theology. It maintains a website for scholars ( and for a general audience (

What Character Is
The Character Gap is divided into three parts. Part I examines what moral character is and why it’s important. In general, as Miller defines it, character is the “unique collection of characteristics or traits that are centrally important to who you are and how you act.” Your unique collection includes moral elements (virtue and vice) and nonmoral elements (personality, aptitude, style).

But what are virtue and vice? Miller argues that virtue has four features: It leads to good behaviors that are “appropriate to a particular situation,” “performed in a variety of situations relevant to the particular virtue,” and “done for the appropriate reasons or motives.” Thus performed, these actions result in “a pattern of motivation and action that is stable and reliable over time.” A virtuous person, we might say, does the right thing at the right time for the right reason and does it repeatedly and reliably.

Surprisingly, vice shares “the very same features virtues that virtues do. The main difference is that they are oriented in the opposite way.” One further twist on vice is that it occasionally mimics virtue. “Like virtuous people,” Miller writes, “the vicious often do good things for others.” Why? Because they believe that other people are watching them.

The recognition that vicious people mimic right action for the wrong reason (to be seen by others) helps refine our understanding of character. “The real difference in behavior between the virtuous and the vicious emerges when they think they are not being observed.” As H. Jackson Brown put it, “character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

Miller closes Part I by offering four reasons for being virtuous. First, “virtuous lives are admirable and inspiring.” Second, “good character typically makes the world a better place.” Third, and this is surprising, comes as it does from a philosopher: “God wants us to become good people.” More on this God-factor later. And fourth, “a good character can be rewarding.”

In Between Virtue and Vice
Now that we understand virtue and vice better, can we make any generalizations about the character of most people? We tend to rate our friends as virtuous and our enemies as vicious, but Miller thinks this is a mistake. Part II explains why.

Over the course of successive chapters, Miller summarizes empirical evidence derived from empirical studies pertaining to four topics: helping, harming, lying and cheating. As he reports the findings of those studies, a pattern quickly emerges: “most people have characters which are neither virtuous nor vicious. They instead fall in a middle space between virtue and vice.” Their character, in other words, is imperfect and unresolved. They have the capacity to act a lot better, but also a lot worse.

Instead of repeating all the evidence Miller cites for this conclusion, I’ll simply ask you to examine yourself. My guess is that you’re a decent person, a good neighbor. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll also admit that you don’t always do the right thing. Even when you perform the right behavior, you might do so at the wrong time or for the wrong reason. You are not as good as you should be.

By the same token, you’re not as bad as you could be, however. You might fail to help a motorist in need, or harm your spouse with a cutting remark, for example. You might lie to get yourself out of a jam, or cheat your way through your driver’s test at the DMV. These things are bad, of course, but the people who do them rarely do them to the nth degree.

In other words, we’re neither Gandhi nor Hitler. We’re somewhere in between. But we can become better, morally speaking. How to do so is the focus of Part III. Miller considers a variety of strategies for becoming more virtuous people.

Strategies for Improvement
He begins with what he calls “some less promising strategies.” These including doing nothing, virtue labeling, and nudging toward virtue. Doing nothing is a counterintuitive strategy, until you realize that some virtues come with age and experience. (If you don’t believe me, trying teaching a newborn baby patience when feeding time comes around.) Virtue labeling means naming and honoring those behaviors and traits that you want to see more in others. Nudging means structuring choices in such a way that good choices are the default option, while bad choices must be consciously chosen. The basic problem with these strategies is that they promote a desired behavior, but not necessarily the right motivation for it or an enduring character that alone can sustain it.

Miller thus turns to “some strategies with more promise”: moral role models, selecting our situations, and getting the word out. Moral role models are self-explanatory. Selecting our situations means that “we should actively seek out those situations which are going to inspire us to act well, while actively avoiding those situations that are fraught with temptation and other pitfalls.” Getting the word out means understanding the “tendencies” or “desires” that shape our behavior. If we understand what motivates us to do either the right thing or the wrong thing, we can identify our worse motives and choose better ones, thereby changing our behavior.

The Character Gap ends by considering strategies for “improving our characters with divine assistance.” To this point, Miller’s advice has been secular in orientation. Most religions offer advice to people for changing their character, however, advice that philosophy and psychology typically ignore. But Miller suggests that Christian faith offers unique resources for what theologians call “sanctification,” the transformation of our character to conform it to Christ’s. He specifically mentions Christian rituals and practices (such as prayer and fasting), participation in a community of faith, and the direct work of the Holy Spirit as three such resources.

About the Holy Spirit, Miller writes: “This idea turns character improvement upside down. Rather than people being left to their own devices in improving themselves, the thought is that God himself can intervene in an important way and actively contribute to the process.” As a Pentecostal Christian and a minister, I appreciate and agree with Miller on this point, offering a hearty “Amen!”

And yet, I cannot also help but think that while the Holy Spirit does not leave us only to our own devices, He does in fact expect us to use those devices in cooperation with Him. As Paul wrote, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13). In this passage, God works, but so do we.

Recognizing this truth helps me appreciate Miller’s philosophical and psychological insights. Though psychology and philosophy on the one hand often are pitted against religious faith on the other hand, Miller shows that they need not be in this instance. Becoming the people we ought to be is our moral responsibility, to be sure, but it is also a gift of grace. In the end, sanctification is not an either God or us, but both/and. The Character Gap is helpful precisely because it shows us what we can do to improve our character, even as it recognizes that divine assistance is needed.

Book Reviewed
Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap: How Good Are We? (New York: Oxford, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for It appears here by permission.

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The Future of the Global Church | Book Review

Patrick Johnstone is best known as editor of the first six editions of Operation World, a prayer guide for Christians interested in fulling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). Now in its seventh edition, and edited by Jason Mandryk, Operation World presents data on the geography, peoples, economy, politics, and religion of the regions and countries of the world, which is drawn from sophisticated databases maintained by WEC International, an interdenominational missions agency. This data helps readers pray intelligently about the needs of those regions and countries throughout the year.

In The Future of the Global Church, Johnstone has drawn on those databases to create succinct narratives about and visualizations of the growth of global Christianity. The book can best be described as an historical atlas of the past, present, and possible future of world Christianity. It is a helpful resource for readers who want a concise presentation of the relevant information.

Johnston divides his material into nine chapters. Chapter 1 describes nine global challenges currently experienced around the world: population growth, migration, urbanization, pandemics (such as HIV/AIDS), climate change, income inequality, sustainable energy, political and social freedom, and water resources. Throughout the book, he highlights how environmental challenges such as these affect the movements of people—physically, intellectually, and spiritually—both in the past and at present. Doing so reminds readers that the course of history is not shaped merely by human thought and action. Larger forces are at work (such as natural disasters, pandemics, and birthrates), shaping the context in which people receive and propagate religion and nonreligious ideas and practices.

Chapter 2 summarizes the global growth of Christianity from its first-century origin to the present. Each of Christian history’s twenty centuries is summarized on two pages (except the twentieth century, which receives more extended treatment). These pages present maps depicting the faith’s global growth, tables summarizing relevant demographic information, and bulleted lists summarizing major events in the world at large and the church in particular. For readers interested in a quick summary of Christian history, this chapter is invaluable.

Chapter 3 identifies six major streams of Christianity. Listed in descending order by size, they are Christian (32.5 percent of global population as of 2010), Muslim (22.6 percent), non-religious (14.8 percent), Hindu (13.7 percent), Buddhist (6.5 percent), and ethnic/other (10 percent), the last category including religions such as animism, Sikhism, and Judaism (65). Johnstone provides several pages of data and visualization for each religious stream on succeeding pages.

Chapter 4 then turns its focus to the Christian stream. Johnstone divides Christendom into six megablocs: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, Independents, and Marginals, by which he means “[a]ny group that claims to be Christian but displays one or more of the following characteristics,” characteristics that focus on heterodox doctrine, non-biblical sources of revelation, and extreme sectarianism (114). Johnstone predicts that in the future, Christian growth will slow “due to the slowing of population growth” generally, but also that “Christian areas [such as Europe and North America specifically] will see their majorities eroded by secularism and diluted by non-Christian immigration.” This will be offset, however by “continued growth in Africa and Asia—especially China, India and [Southeast] Asia.” And Johnnstone predicts that there “are likely to be increasing numbers of conversions to Christianity in some countries with large Muslim populations,” Islam being the chief religious competitor to Christianity globally (118).

Chapter 5 examines “renewal movements” in Christianity, which Johnstone divides into three broad categories: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. Evangelicals are “characterized by a theology based on the inerrancy of the Bible, a personal experience of salvation by faith through grace and a desire or obligation to witness to that salvation” (121). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are evangelical, and most Charismatics are. Elsewhere, Johnstone defines Charismatics as “those who testify to having had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and who exercise the gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and miracles” (xii). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are charismatic. What distinguishes Pentecostals and Charismatics is largely denominational affiliation. The rapid growth of these movements is noteworthy and will likely continue well into the future. “If present projections prove accurate, by 2050 charismatic Christians will comprise one-third of all Christians and one-tenth of the world’s population” (125). This is remarkable growth, given that however one dates the history of modern Pentecostalism, by 2050 it will only be approximately 150 years old.

Chapter 6 outlines the history, growth, and geographic distribution of Evangelicals Evangelicalism in its many forms (including Pentecostals and Charismatics) provides “the main thrust for world evangelization” today, Johnstone contends (139). One of the most notable trends among the world’s Evangelicals is the demographic shift from North to South. As a share of regional population, Evangelicals are declining in Europe, North America, and the Pacific, but growing exponentially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Despite the fact that Christianity is the largest religious stream globally, and that the most evangelistic components of that stream are its fastest growing segments, major regions of the world still exist without effective evangelization efforts by Christians. The unevangelized are the focus of chapter 7. “In the 1990s,” Johnstone writes, “5% became accepted as the dividing point between ‘unevangelized’ and ‘evangelized,” by which he means 5 percent of the population that “professes Christianity” in some form. He concedes that this is an inadequate definition, but it is nevertheless illustrative of the challenge of evangelization. Using that definition, in 2008 numbers, 2.5 billion of the world’s inhabitants are unevangelized because their people group consists of 5 percent or fewer Christians. Another 2 billion inhabitants live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical minority. And approximately 2.3 billion live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical majority (172).

Chapter 8 then turns to a consideration of what kind of missionary resources are necessary for the world’s people groups to be effectively evangelized. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between the number of missionaries serving each of the six religious streams. Most missionaries serve in countries or regions where Christians constitute the majority of the population. Thus, 43 percent of Christians serve in Christian-majority countries. In descending order, 17 percent of missionaries serve among the ethnic religions, 15 percent among Hindus, 9.7 percent among Buddhists, 8.1 percent among Muslims, and 7.2 percent among the non-religious (231). The disparity is especially noteworthy with regard to Muslim-majority countries or regions. Though Muslims constitute the second-largest bloc of religious persons worldwide (after Christians), missionaries to Muslim-majority countries constitute the second-smallest bloc of total missionary personnel. Clearly, that needs to change if effective evangelization is to take place.

Johnstone concludes The Future of the Global Church by quoting the Commitment of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which took place in South African in 2010:

Let us keep evangelism at the centre [sic] of the fully-integrated [sic] scope of all our mission, inasmuch as the gospel itself is the source, content and authority of all biblically-valid [sic] mission. All we do should be both an embodiment and a declaration of the love and grace of God and his saving work through Jesus Christ (239, emphasis in original).

Given the data Johnstone has presented to this point, the Lausanne exhortation provides the exact right exhortation with which to end the book.

Book Reviewed
Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Extraordinary Women of Christian History | Book Review

“One Half of the World does not know how the Other Half lives,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. That is certainly true of church history, the standard volumes of which are dominated by accounts of the thoughts and deeds of men. Ruth A. Tucker’s Extraordinary Women of Christian History tells readers about the “Other Half” of Christendom by means of biographical snippets of famous Christian women.

Tucker has served as a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is best-known for her biographical approach to both the history of Christian missions in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya and of church history more generally in Parade of Faith. In 1986, she and Walter L. Liefeld coauthored Daughters of the Church, which is a systematic account of “Women and ministry from New Testament times to the present,” in the words of the book’s subtitle.

Like Daughters of the Church, Extraordinary Women arranges its material chronologically. Chapter 1 begins with the apocryphal, but nonetheless influential, Thecla, erstwhile missionary compassion of the apostle Paul. Chapter 14 ends with Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor to the Congo in a time of civil war. Along the way, readers peak into the lives of women, both Catholic and Protestant, some married but others not, who professed the Christian faith with their thoughts, lives, and deeds.

From the outset, Tucker confesses that her accounts of these women’s lives will be anything but hagiographical. Analogizing her choice of subjects to “the tastiest candy from this sampler box of chocolates,” she notes that “in many cases [i.e., other writes’ accounts of these women’s lives] the candy is too sweet for the palate—sugarcoated heroines.” Tucker’s accounts are anything but sugarcoated. Indeed, if anything, they tend toward bitter chocolate. She writes, “I was struck by how many failed marriages and failed ministries had become added ingredients of this volume” (x). At times, this non-sugarcoated approach becomes too much, as if the failures outweighed the successes, at least to my mind.

Regardless, I appreciate Tucker’s reminder: “These women are anything but the super-saints of pious heroine tales. They are real people, and they are like us” (x). There is hope in that statement. God can make a beautiful thing out of the crooked timber of humanity.

One final takeaway as a male reader—or rather, a question. The women Tucker portrays advanced the kingdom of God despite opposition, especially the opposition that arose because so many of them labored against the grain of traditional gender roles and expectations. Ironically, the Protestant Reformation made the leadership of women even more difficult. “Protestants disdained monasticism,” Tucker writes, “which incidentally had been the primary path to ministry for women” (53). One can feel the sting of that opposition to women’s contributions in the complaint of nineteenth-century preacher and social reformer Phoebe Palmer:

We believe that hundreds of conscientious, sensitive Christian women have actually suffered more under the slowly crucifying process to which they have been subjected by men who bear the Christian name than many a martyr has endured in passing through the flames (148).

Interestingly, Palmer countered this “crucifying process” with a long, rigorous defense of women’s preaching ministry in a book whose title alludes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2—Promise of the Father.

The question(s), then, that rises from reading Extraordinary Women of Christian History is this: If the Spirit has been poured out upon “all people,” both “sons and daughters” (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28), why do so many churches continue to erect barriers to the full involvement of women in all of their ministries? Would not the work of the kingdom advance more steadily if its daughters were not unduly hindered? The women whose lives Tucker sketches did much. One cannot help but wonder whether they could have done much more, had they worked without hindrance from within the church.

Book Reviewed
Ruth A. Tucker, Extraordinary Women of Christian History: What We Can Learn from Their Struggles and Triumphs (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Missional Public Opinion Researchj

Twenty-some years ago, I served as a counselor at a weeklong Christian summer camp for abused and neglected children. For chapel, one evening, a puppet evangelist told the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) as an example of the Father’s willingness to sacrifice His Son for us.

A graduate student in theology at the time, I remember thinking there was something wrong with the ventriloquist’s analogy. Wouldn’t Jesus be like the ram God provided, not Isaac? I thought. Then I noticed how quiet, still, and wide-eyed the kids were. Slowly, I realized that many of these kids had witnessed horrific acts of violence perpetrated by their parents or guardians against them and their siblings. In fact, over the course of five years as a counselor, two of my campers — brothers — had witnessed their dad murder their mother and kill himself.

In my opinion, this well-meaning puppet evangelist failed to communicate because he didn’t understand the audience he was preaching to. Ministerial education focuses on teaching pastors the proper exegesis of the biblical text, but in my experience, we need more help in the proper exegesis of our culture.

That’s why I’m an avid reader of public opinion research. When Pew, Gallup, Barna, or similar organizations release a new study, I pay attention. Credible data on what people believe and value helps me better understand the people and culture God has called me to serve as a witness to the gospel.

Obviously, public opinion doesn’t determine what you and I say. The Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word. Our message about Jesus Christ comes from its pages, not from the pages of a newspaper or website.

On the other hand, public opinion can help us shape how we share our message. Think of how the apostle Paul preached the gospel to different audiences in the Book of Acts. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul preached a sermon to fellow Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath that was a master class in the exposition of Scripture (Acts 13:13–52). In Athens, on the other hand, Paul cited Greek poets more than Scripture in his dialogue with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–34).

What accounts for the difference? Paul knew that the Jews shared his commitment to Scripture. So, he reasoned from the Bible with them. On the other hand, he knew that Greeks didn’t share his commitment to Scripture, so he reasoned to the Bible with them. In both cases, what Paul said was substantially the same, but how he said it was radically different.

Late last year, Barna Group released Barna Trends 2018, which is chock-full of good information about how contemporary Americans both inside and outside the church view culture, life and faith. I was particular impressed by the feature article, “The Truth about a Post-Truth Society.” It identified five reasons why Americans have such a hard time agreeing about anything: (1) distrust of authority, (2) an erosion of the sacred, (3) a battle between feelings and facts, (4) unbelievable (“fake”) news, and (5) the rise of tribalism.

The challenge for pastors and church leaders is how to cultivate faith in a culture characterized by systemic distrust. We can only begin to do this when we understand the reasons for that distrust, which comes by paying careful attention to our audience’s beliefs, values and practices. The better we understand them, the better able we will be to share the gospel with them.

Unlike that well-meaning puppet evangelist, who was never invited back to camp.

Book Reviewed:
Barna Group, Barna Trends 2018: The Truth about a Post-Truth Society (Grand Rapids, MI Baker Books, 2017).

P.S. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 edition of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Global Renewal Christianity, Volume 1: Asia and Oceania | Book Reviewk

Global Renewal Christianity is a four-volume series of books commissioned by Empowered21 and edited by Vinson Synan and Amos Yong. It consists mostly of papers presented at scholarly meetings convened by Empowered21 in Oxford, England (2012), Sydney, Australia (2013), Quito, Ecuador (2014), and Jerusalem, Israel (2015). The overarching purpose of those scholarly meetings, according to the Series Preface, was “to study the past, present, and future of the Empowered movements on every continent and from as many nations as possible” (xv). The final, edited version of the papers have been gathered into four volumes: Asia and Oceania (Volume 1), Latin America (Volume 2), Africa (Volume 3) and Europe and North America (Volume 4).

In the Introduction to Asia and Oceania, Amos Yong states the volume’s purpose: “to provide a reliable historical guide to Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity for students and others seeking initial coordination to the various expressions and manifestations of the global phenomenon in the Asian and Oceanian context” (xxxix). Following the Introduction are twenty-one chapters divided into five parts: (1) South Asia, with chapters on India and Sri Lanka; (2) East Asia, with chapters on China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan; (3) Southeast Asia, with chapters on Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines; (4) Oceania, with chapters on Australia and New Zealand; and (5) Roman Catholicism and Other Theological Themes.

Asia and Oceania contains many well-written, informative essays. Amos Yong’s Introduction, “The Many Tongues of Asian and Oceanian Pentecostalisms: An Introduction and Some Theological Prognostications” (xxv–xxxix) is a helpful overview of the irreducible diversity of “Asian and Oceanian Pentecostalisms,” considered under five headings: (1) ethnic and linguistic diversity, (2) cultural and religious plurality, (3) social and political variety, (4) economic-class disparities, and (5) ecclesial traditions and traditionings. This diversity makes it difficult to offer generalized statements about the movements the book explores, a difficulty manifested in the wide variety of terms Yong himself uses to describe the object of study: Pentecostalisms, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, etc. Writing about the Philippines, Giovanni Maltese and Sarah Essel note that Filipinos whom scholars would classify as “Pentecostal/Charismatic” reject both terms as self-descriptions (255–258), which only further complicates the issue of proper terminology. Regardless, the book evinces the settled scholarly conviction that despite their variety, these movements are species of a larger, Pentecostal—for lack of a better term—genus. This review will use Pentecostal as the catchall term, even as it acknowledges the descriptive limitations of doing so.

Most of the chapters in Asia and Oceania provide at least some historical background information regarding how Pentecostalism came to the country under examination. While the Azusa Street Revival and North American classical Pentecostal missions played a role in many cases, they did not play a role in all cases. In many other cases, indigenous or European revivals and missions agencies took the leading role. So, for example, Indian Christians were already manifesting “Pentecostal phenomenon” in the late nineteenth century, well before Azusa Street (2). The first Pentecostal missionaries to Thailand were Verner and Hanna Raassina of the Finnish Free Foreign Mission (198). And Azusa Street was “of minimal importance” in the initial development of Australian Pentecostalism (316).

It is common to hear classical Pentecostals in the United States point to the explosive growth of Pentecostalism worldwide as proof of classical Pentecostal doctrine and practice, but the chapters in this book render that simple judgment problematic. For one thing, Pentecostalism is now growing explosively everywhere. In Japan, for example, Christianity has a “long history,” but “its growth has been minimal,” despite the combined efforts of both Pentecostals and evangelical Christians. Moreover, Japanese converts have a “high defection rate,” with most converts leaving the faith “2.8 years after water baptism” (159). For another thing, as James Hosack and Alan R. Johnson point out in their chapter on Thailand, growth cannot be correlated directly with classical Pentecostal doctrine. “Contrary to Pentecostal rhetoric in the West, recent research shows that Pentecostal groups have not grown significantly faster than their non-Pentecostal counterparts. However, Charismatically inclined Christianity has produced the most robust growth” (196). This seems also to have been the case in Australia (301–305).

Moreover, the book’s chapters provide ample confirmation that Pentecostalism in Asia and Oceania suffer similar types of problems as North American and European Christianity. Division, for example, is a recurring theme in the book. This is most evident in the division between Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals, but it also pops up in the early conflicts between classical Pentecostals and the Charismatic Renewal Movement, especially the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement. And, of course, there are the continuing tensions about the Prosperity Gospel, megachurches, worship styles, and the like.

Additionally, there is the constant tension expressed in many essays between contextualization and syncretism. For example, Finny Philip’s essay, “Christological Nuances in Bhil Pentecostal Theology” (1–15) shows how the “Bhil tribal worldview” resonates with Pentecostal themes of Jesus as healer, exorcist, provider, protector, Savior, Lord, and Supreme God. However, this contextual advantage has an inherent danger if the tribal worldview becomes “a vehicle that traps people and communities if it is overemphasized theologically” (13). Similarly, Sang Yun Lee’s “The Kingdom of God in Korean Pentecostal Perspective” (143–157) examines how Korean Pentecostals began to refer to God as Joeushin Hananim (“Good God”) after the depredations of the Korean War as a way of capturing God’s holistic care for the human person, body and soul. “However,” he goes on, “Joeushin Hananim has to be understood differently from the shamanistic quest for material blessings” (156).

The gospel must be contextualized, but often, what indigenous Pentecostals take as “gospel” has been unduly shaped by missionary doctrines and practices. Thomson K. Mathew’s “Indian Pentecostalism in Kerala and the Diaspora” (41–63) identifies the wearing of “ornaments” as an issue in Keralite Pentecostalism. It is not entirely clear what “ornaments” are, but the practice seems to have stemmed from Brethren influence on Keralite Pentecostalism (61). Mathew writes: “The issue of ornaments remains a highly charged one in the Pentecostal churches in America and Canada. There have been church splits and leadership changes because of this issue” (53). Here, the issue seems to be a concept of holiness derived from North American missionaries that unnecessarily runs against the grain of an indigenous culture. Similarly, Ekaputra Tupamahu’s “American Missionaries and Pentecostal Theological Education” (233–254) argues that there is “a need for Indonesian Pentecostal scholarship to reflect on the history of the movement, react to the dominant American mentality, and rebuild a new narrative from their social location. The narrative Indonesian Pentecostalism has been largely dominated by the voices of missionaries” (emphasis added). What is needed is “an authentic indigenous form of Pentecostal spirituality” (254).

While the book is helpful in the several ways described above, it also has several notable flaws.  The Series Preface notes the first and most glaring flaw of the series as a whole when it says, “in a good number of cases our first choices were not able to participate because of other commitments or circumstances” (xvi). This is a shocking admission to make to readers, who then wonder whether they are reading the best scholarship on a given country or region. Second, perhaps flowing from the first flaw, is the inconsistent quality of the chapters. Third, Asia and Oceania contains chapters on countries in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, but none on countries in West Asia, Central Asia, or North Asia. This means that Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the Islamic Middle East (i.e., West and Central Asia) receive no treatment in this volume or any other volume in the series. (Israel is bizarrely included in the volume, Europe and North America). Fourth, Asia and Oceania’s of China is thin, despite the fact that Chinese Pentecostals constitute the largest group of Pentecostals in Asia and Oceania. Similarly, the treatment of Oceania focuses solely on Australia (three chapters) and New Zealand (one chapter). While there is mention of the indigenous people in these chapters, the primary focus is on white colonists or, in one chapter, Chinese immigrants. These four flaws limit the value of Asia and Oceania as a whole, even though individual chapters within it can be excellent.

Book Reviewed
Vinson Synan and Amos Yong, eds., Global Renewal Christianity: Spirit-Empowered Movements Past, Present, and Future, Volume 1, Asia and Oceania (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2016).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

How to Multiply Leaders in Your Church | Influence Podcast

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Dave Ferguson about how to multiply leaders in your church. The conversation draws on insights from Dave’s new book, Hero Maker, coauthored with Warren Bird and published by Zondervan. (See my review below.)

Dave is pastor of Community Christian Church, a multisite congregation with 11 locations in Chicago and its suburbs. He’s also the visionary for New Thing, an international church-planting movement, and president of the Exponential Conference. You can follow Dave on Twitter; his handle is @DaveFerguson. And check out his website,

Here’s my very brief review of the book:

“Am I trying to be the hero, or am I trying to make heroes out of others?” Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird believe church leaders should ask this question daily if they want to develop a culture of multiplication in their congregations. To help leaders do this, the authors outline five essential practices of hero making: multiplication thinking, permission giving, disciple multiplying, gift activating and kingdom building. Hero Maker is a helpful book for any church leader who wants to do the “greater things” Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:14.

Book Reviewed
Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird, Hero Maker: Five Essential Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).