Margaret POLOMA and John GREEN. The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism. New York: New York University Press, 2010. ix + 257 pages. ISBN 978-0-8147-6784-9.
Reviewed by Richard. RYMARZ, St Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

This book is based on a study of twenty two Assemblies of God (AG) congregations and uses a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The sample is broad ranging, covering large urban mega churches to upstart congregations in small communities. A useful categorization of the AG communities is provided and this classifies participant congregations in the study as; traditional; evangelical; renewalist and alternative. Poloma and Green have offered here a good example of the new wave of empirical research on the Pentecostal movement in the United States. Earlier studies focussed on examining origins and trajectory of Pentecostalism from its inception. The empirical focus here is to investigate a now established movement as it seeks to develop continuity and longevity.

The authors central thesis is that for Pentecostalism to be revitalized it needs to take greater account of the global perspective. In this view, the upswing in interest in spirituality is indicative of a need to revive the links between divine and human love. In particular, it proposes a greater emphasis of what the authors call godly love. A feature of Pentecostalism has been its strong teachings on the immediacy of the divine, that the believer can readily access the transcendent both through worship and private prayer. The godly love thesis seeks to ground this metaphysical emphasis in a complementary focus on a love that builds strong and sustaining networks. These, in turn, allow adherents to develop a strong sense of benevolence to others. We see here an argument for a more inclusive Pentecostalism, one that still maintains its special relationship with the divine but recognizes also different human trajectories.

Much of the data provided supports the authors’ argument about the interrelationship between what can be called a traditional vertical God- human interaction with a more horizontal inter-human focus. What needs to be kept in tension here is the classical Pentecostal emphasis on religious charisma and the need to be able to develop an institutional face that is adaptive to changing social conditions in the United States. Two of the most significant of these forces is the increasing importance of Latinos in AG communities along with an increasing secularism in the American public square. The authors propose that the success of Pentecostal movements in Latin America is due to their capacity to integrate and manifest the divine and human aspects of the God- human relationship. This emphasis should be repeated, to an even greater degree, in the United States. In a similar fashion increasing secularization, especially in urban areas, places on the AG the challenge of being able to offer a strong human community based on a benevolent view of Godly love.

This book is recommended for those interested in an empirically based study of new and emerging trends in American Pentecostalism.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books