. . . what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  Mic 6:8 (NKJV)

In a 1977 essay in Spirit: A Journal of Issues Incidental to Black Pentecostalism, James Forbes, former pastor of historic Riverside Church, and son of the United Holy Church of America, asked a provocative question, “Shall We Call this Dream Progressive Pentecostalism?” His essay outlined key requirements for helping Pentecostalism progress beyond narrow concern for personal deliverance to embrace a holistic vision of the Spirit’s work in the world:

  • Moving beyond denominational narrowness and isolation to engage tasks bigger than can be  handled singlehandedly?

  • Abandoning the belief that the Spirit only manifests supernaturally or is at work in the organized church to embrace an understanding that the same Spirit is engaged in every aspect of human activity which brings us closer to the realization of the Kingdom of God.

  • Discerning that the Spirit is not only narrowly concerned about the souls of individuals, or “spiritual things” but about anything that affects our attainment of abundant life and liberation.

  • Affirming our past spiritual experiences, [but] not limiting the Spirit to traditional patterns of the past.

Communities within the renewal tradition are challenged by the same realities plaguing the broader society. Brokenness, violence, economic disparity, poverty, health care, and family concerns continue to test an authentic Christian witness and are too critical for any segment of the church to ignore. Yet, insufficient solutions based on inadequate understandings of complex issues often degenerate into inappropriate approaches. These fail to engage the contemporary context and negate the Spirit’s ongoing work in forming the church for ministry. Or, they reduce the authority of Scripture to a minimal role in guiding Christian actions and attitudes allowing us to embrace agendas and lifestyles that are clearly unbiblical.

Forbes work, as well as sociologist Donald Miller’s assessment, suggests that Progressive Pentecostalism is not a denominational identification. Instead, it is a spirituality shared by those empowered by the Spirit, and their witness to the ministry of Christ, to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social wholeness of their communities, society and world. The definition intimates that it is unnecessary to embrace either extreme fundamentalist Evangelicalism, captivated by conservative social and economic agendas, or, ultra-liberalism that denies the authority of the inscripturated Word of God as foundational for engagement of socio-political realities.

Both approaches leave us ill-prepared to effectively respond to issues our constituents face. Instead, I suggest that it is possible to mediate a way forward through a witness clearly aligned with a Renewal heritage that affirms the Lordship and atoning work of Christ and His compassionate concern for the world. Is an appropriate paradigm to be found by looking to the witness of William Joseph Seymour, and applying the lessons of his Pentecostal legacy of social holiness to vital engagement of contemporary realities?

This was originally posted on William Seymour College’s blog.


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Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Estrelda Alexander

Author: Estrelda Alexander

Dr. Alexander is the President of William Seymour College in Maryland; she previously taught at Regent University and Wesley Theological Seminary. She is the author of such books as "Black Fire" and "The Women of Azusa Street."