Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Estrelda Alexander’s new book Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism sitting in my mailbox. Like myself, Alexander was raised in oneness Pentecostal circles though my own experience was likely very different in many ways. Nevertheless, there is bound to be many similarities between her story and my own.
I must confess that in some weird way my heart has always wanted the best for Pentecostalism in part because of the very type of story it seems that Alexander seeks to tell. It is an amazing narrative about Christianity for the outcast (well ain’t it odd that there must be such a thing). This is not Pentecostalism for Pentecostalism’s sake, but Pentecostalism for Christianity’s sake. By this I mean a healthy thorn in the flesh for the established institutionalized church where women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, lower middle class and impoverished, uneducated and under appreciated can become pastors, theologians, prophets, and psalmist for the Kingdom of God.
Yet as Alexander shows within the first fifty pages or so (yes, I began reading it already and I could hardly stop in spite of other obligations) even Pentecostalism has fallen into the traps they sought to critique. She points out how many Pentecostal historians and leaders have sought to exalt the memory of Charles Parham and all that happened in Topeka, KS, over against William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. How women have played such an important role in Pentecostalism’s global impact only to see splits and divisions over whether or not they should be leaders. How a movement based on unity in the Spirit has splintered into hundreds of large and small denominations causing complete disunity. It appears Alexander will hold nothing back and thank God she doesn’t!!!
I trust that I will say more about this book over time. We need to hear the story of how Black Pentecostalism has influenced the world. It is only right since it is true.