Review of Vinson Synan’s “In the Latter Days”

In the Latter DaysVinson Synan’s In the Latter Days is a shorter version of the material contained in The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition. It is a scholarly reference of Pentecostal and Charismatic church history, of spirituality, and chock full of bibliographical material. I have taken my lead from Synan in reviewing the content of his chapters, and I have put my own spin on them. These are not thought-for-thought chapter summaries.

Chapter 1 briefly states that there has been activity of the Holy Spirit all throughout church history.

Chapter 2 focuses on the statistics of Pentecostals and Charismatics as of 1990. Mentions atheism, communism, the prosperity gospel, etc. Mentions the church growth success of a Jotabeche Church with Pastor Javier Vasquez, due to open air street preaching and enthusiastic Spirit-filled worship. But “broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13): the prosperity preachers have come to dominate contemporary Pentecostalism:–Kenneth Copeland, TBN, etc. 2 Peter 2:3: “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.”

Chapter 3 states that cessationism in the organized church led Augustine to influence theologians for centuries into a cessationist view (especially “Augustinian” theologians like Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc)–the fathers of Reformed theology: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Puritan. Strange though, Augustine lived shortly after the Desert Fathers! And even retracted his cessationism in The City of God, book 22, because of the countless healing miracles that later occurred in his church! Montanus (d. 175) and Edward Irving (d. 1834) unsuccessfully tried to restore Pentecostalism, but were left as examples for others to improve upon. The Irvingites and the holiness-Pentecostals eventually restored speaking in tongues and miraculous gifts. Prior to the 1700s with John Wesley and the Methodists (and the 1600s Camisards and Covenanters), it was among the Catholic mystic-saints and mystical theology that any type of charismatic theology or Christianity could exist (namely, saints Antony the Great, Patrick, Brigit, Benedict, Columba, Hildegard, Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Vincent Ferrer, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross).

Chapter 4 states that the predominantly Methodist “Holiness movement,” the Keswick Conventions, and the Fundamentalist movement all laid the theological framework for “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” But it would be some “camp meeting” Holiness people in the 1880s, who began to experience and teach the doctrine that speaking in tongues was evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit; yet most Holiness people said it was demonic. At the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909), William J. Seymour popularized speaking in tongues throughout the Holiness movement (citing Acts 2:4 as proof of assurance). Soon after, Pentecostal denominations were formed:–“they saw the revival as the culmination of the teachings of [Charles] Finney, [Phoebe] Palmer, [D. L.] Moody, [A. B.] Simpson, and others” (p. 52).

Chapter 5 states that early in the 1900s, various Methodist and Baptist missionaries in non-American countries became tongues-speakers who were baptized in the Holy Spirit. This happened quite rapidly! Population-wise, however, Brazil and Chile are the largest Pentecostal countries on the planet–and now about 40-50% of all Latin American countries are Pentecostal. [Note: I have a theory: Spanish mysticism cross-over through Catholic Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s, etc: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross indirectly could have influenced the supernatural, mystical Catholicism of Latin America. So then, their supernatural worldview was probably primed for Pentecostalism by Spanish Catholic mysticism.] However, with regard to Pentecostal spirituality, the Pentecostal Methodist Church in Chile has the most impressive history (headed by Jotabeche Church, mentioned in ch 2). Synan says, “Chile is the ‘most Pentecostal’ nation in the world” (p. 62). They are known for their dreams and visions of Jesus, ecstatic prophecy, tongues, healing, open air Gospel preaching (with classic Methodist soteriology), and traditional Methodist-style cell groups.

Chapter 6 shows that critics of Pentecostals have come from many camps:

(1) Fundamentalists say they are demonic, ungodly, heretical, and insane.

(2) Journalists say they are weirdos.

(3) Psychologists say they are mentally ill.

(4) Sociologists say they are prone to be poor, uncivilized, fornicators, and criminals.

(5) Non-Pentecostal theologians reject the initial evidence of speaking in tongues.

I think its safe to say: as a Pentecostal, the more godly and theological you are–the better off.

Chapter 7 makes note of several significant developments in Pentecostal history. In 1943, Pentecostals were allowed to join the National Association of Evangelicals:–the first time they were recognized as part of mainstream Protestantism. Prior to this, charismatic-type Christians were always in the “sect” status (Jansenists, Camisards, Irvingites, early Methodists, etc). World War II saw the appearance of Pentecostal millionaires, doctors, lawyers, and other high profile professional leaders. Mixed with this, were the post-World War II healing revivals of William Branham, Jack Coe, and Oral Roberts:–which preached a doctrine of prosperity for the first time. However, Branham was opposed to it. This especially took off in the 1950s with the influence of Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI). When Branham later declared himself to be the prophet Elijah, and afterwards died, it seems that most of the dissent from a prosperity-oriented Pentecostalism died with him. David du Plessis and Dennis Bennett were major leaders in the Charismatic Renewal of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and miraculous gifts in the historical mainline, non-Pentecostal churches (but these were not as radical and expressive for charismatic gifts as traditional holiness-Pentecostals were).

Chapter 8 shows that under the influence of the ecumenical movement and Vatican II, Catholics came to be more accepting of Protestants and likewise. This opened up the door to Catholic Charismatics who speak in tongues and experience spiritual gifts (or charisms). The first outbreak of “Catholic Pentecostalism” was at Duquesne University in 1966, when Ralph Kiefer and Bill Storey, two theology professors, read David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade and John Sherrill’s They Speak with Other Tongues. This led to prayer groups and weekend retreats for Catholics seeking the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit with tongues and spiritual gifts. In one of these meetings, a student entered the room and was “suddenly slain in the Spirit, falling prostrate on the floor”…and said, “I cried harder than I ever cried in my life, but I did not shed one tear. All of a sudden Jesus Christ was so real and so present that I could feel Him all around. I was overcome with such a feeling of love that I cannot begin to describe it” (p. 110). This later spread to Notre Dame. A good amount of literature on experience of the Holy Spirit came out of this movement. One of the most noteworthy was Kilian McDonnell and George Montague’s Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1994), taken from the writings of the church fathers. However, liberal theology is a bad influence here; as are Marianism and other Catholic heresies; so be careful with such literature. I think their strength, however, is their awareness of theological history largely unknown to Protestant Pentecostals:–such as Catholic saints and mystical theology. But we must be careful of too much ecumenism too. If we are too friendly with Catholicism, we will lose the Gospel of Jesus Christ: that salvation from Hell is through repentant faith alone, by grace alone, in the cross of Christ alone; and there is no other way to be saved from Hell except through this Gospel, as taught in Romans 3-8.

Chapter 9 shows that in the 1970s, there was a “Cloudburst” of the Charismatic Movement throughout the denominations. Especially as the Jesus Movement took off; many of the formerly drug-oriented hippies found release and healing through the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit. David Wilkerson became a hero at this point; as did Keith Green and his Last Days Ministries, and his mentor Leonard Ravenhill, the holiness revivalist/evangelist. There was the “1977 Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches,” in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, in which charismatic leaders in the ecumenical movement came together, Catholic and Protestant, preaching and worshiping together for Christian unity. While we should hang on to the Reformation view of salvation, we should seek unity with Catholics on all other terms possible, I believe. Then there was the “1980 Washington For Jesus” rally, organized by Pastor John Gimenez of the Rock Church. Favoring the likes of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party, “they loudly and unitedly spoke out against drug abuse, homosexuality, and abortion, and in favor of prayer in public schools” (p. 131). [Note: my first home church after I got saved was influenced by John Gimenez and the Rock Church.]

Chapter 10 explains that 1983 began the starting point for men like John Wimber, the Vineyard churches, and others of a “Third Wave” conservative evangelical/charismatic view. C. Peter Wagner said, “I see in the 80s an opening of the straightline evangelicals and other Christians to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that the Pentecostals and charismatics have experienced, but without becoming either charismatic or Pentecostal” (p. 138). And now today, we have people like Jack Deere, Wayne Grudem, Mike Bickle, and people who call themselves “Reformed Charismatics“; or, like Sam Storms, a “Charismatic Calvinist.” [Personally, I see myself as a Wesleyan third waver:–more of a William J. Seymour holiness-Pentecostal, but still adopting aspects of Puritan theology. Although I am independent, the denomination I theologically agree with the most is Assemblies of God.]

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