Inside the Pentecostal Christian’s Mind #1

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by Neil Godfrey

. . .  Israel has become the [Pentecostal] movement’s totemic moral centre, epitomised by the IDF fantasy camp where foreign Pentecostals can come and act out their dreams of shooting Muslim ‘terrorists’ and living in a militarised, walled-up ethno-state. In other words, somehow, ‘Israel’ has become shorthand for a fiercely Christian worldview. And here, given the direction of travel in Israel’s own politics so far this century, we have to come back to the new wave of nationalist populist movements around the world. — Hardy, 252f


The Jewish State as a Beacon for Christian Freedom in a Troubled Neighbourhood

Package tours to Israel are big business for Prophets and Apostles, particularly in the West and Korea, where they offer all-inclusive trips to reconnect with the historic roots of Christianity. Some 300,000 American evangelicals undertook the pilgrimage to Israel in 2016 alone.15 Not long before the pandemic, I joined one such tour group at an IDF ‘fantasy camp’ in Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, not far from Bethlehem. Something of an amusement park for the faithful, Caliber 3, run by active members of the IDF, markets itself as “the leading Counter Terror & Security training academy in Israel”. It came to prominence in 2018 when Jerry Seinfeld took his family there on holiday, controversially posing for a publicity shot with the former commandos who run the camp.

Here are some of the visitor comments that proudly flash in the centre of the camp’s website:


I joined a tour group on their expedition led by Ross Nichols, a Louisianan who doesn’t identify as either Christian or Jewish, but believes that “Christianity was not the religion of Jesus, rather a religion about him.” . . . Nichols has assembled his own belief system from the religious currents of what he considers his two homelands. A self-described “ardent Zionist” who is active in the anti-Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, his mission is to “present the Jewish State in a positive light.”


I turned back to Edward Said’s Orientalism . . . . I recall he spoke of the bifurcation of anti-semitism since the Second World War: the despised Arab had taken the place of the “ghetto-bred Jew” while the “Jewish people” had become “dehumanized” in reverse — they were now effectively angels who could do no wrong and any faults were merely the side-effects of over-zealous good intentions.

Trying to understand today’s antisemitism

See also   The Bifurcation of the Semitic Myth and Post-WW2 Antisemitism

Hearing Nichols in full flow, it wasn’t hard to understand why some Jewish people are uncomfortable with the ‘Israelite-mania’ emerging from some parts of the religious right. Instead of being dehumanised with the anti-semitic tropes of old, there is an element of superhumanising, imbuing Jewish Israelis with an almost magical quality that doesn’t have much to do with them or their interests as individuals. “Every Jew is a miracle,” Nichols told his flock as we milled about the gift shop, “so we are seeing not just one miracle, but miracles all over the nation of Israel.”

Out on the range, we undertook a gentle warmup with commanders in full IDF kit, who issued us with fake guns and real slogans to memorise. “What is the foundation of the Israeli Defense Force!” shouted Moshe, the chiselled special forces leader. “Love!” we yelled back, “The IDF is built on morals and values!” The word ‘Palestinian’ wasn’t used, but the identity of “the terrorists” we were’ pretending to hunt down went without saying. Likewise, the assertion that these “enemies” have “forfeited their right to life” went without challenge. But who has time for politics, when you’ve got a wooden gun and a pretend marketplace to defend?

Not exactly carrying ourselves like an elite fighting force, we milled around in the small training ground, one woman fretting about where we could eat during Shabbat, another man in a Krav Maga shirt quizzing the commandos on combat. A sudden BANG, and we were jolted from our formation by a man running at us with a knife. We scattered like bowling pins as trained soldiers crashed through our sagging lines. They took the bad guy down, and everybody cheered.

After a series of drills with air rifles, dogs and fake explosives, Moshe asked why the mostly American tour group would come here to shoot things, when they can go shooting in America any time they like.

Everybody laughed, because that was the joke. The ‘fantasy’ in ‘this camp wasn’t about firing a weapon or taking down a ‘terrorist’; it was the modern state of Israel itself, with its walls and checkpoints, its constant state of militarism. It was the overwhelming sense of a march towards victory that would, at some point, finish here.

From Hardy, Elle. Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World. Hurst, 2022. (246-248)


Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

William Seymour, founder of modern pentecostalism, and the Azusa Street Revival, are discussed as relevant models by both Hanges and Davies.

I have just completed reading one scholar’s work that does argue that Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek world by means of such a movement and have begun another that argues the same with respect to Jesus.

1. James C. Hanges

James C. Hanges, author of Christ, the Image of the Church and Paul, Founder of Churches, stresses the importance of cultural theory and the evidence for cultural movements in the Greek and Roman world as vital background to understanding Paul’s letters and career.

Wandering “spirit possessed” preachers of the ancient world

One popular stereotype in the era that saw the emergence of Christianity was the “spirit possessed” traveller who would disrupt communities with his bizarre “signs” of the spirit within him, including the babbling of “tongues”, attracting women predominantly to become his followers, and thought to be introducing new gods or unconventional religious observances.

Anyone familiar with that famous fifth century Greek play Bacchae by Euripides will recognize the above character. I had always thought this play was about the conflict that resulted from the introduction of the Bacchic mysteries (or worship of Dionysus) to Thebes. Hanges, however, references scholarship that suggests this surface narrative was originally understood to be representative of the controversies that accompanied the arrival of any (and many) new religious movements to challenge the status quo.  Continue reading “Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?”


pentecostalism on the rise even in singapore — can web 2.0 be an antidote?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Two unexpected sights have hit me since being here for a conference this week: a Gideon’s bible in the hotel room and a huge yellow banner on a gate advertizing a pentecostal church. The Gideons was sitting with another volume on the teachings of Buddha and the pentecostal church looks oddly out of place where I had quite liked the way one historic christian church compound has been converted into a centre for shops, restaurants, bars and clubs.

A few enquiries have led me to understand that it many of the youth from the Chinese population here that are the ones who are converting to this form of christianity. I wonder if that has to do with a price of cosmopolitanism. The Chinese are, I understand, more likely to be Buddhist or Taoist if anything, and it can be argued that these are more philosophical systems than religions. And living in a city that prides itself on its cosmopolitan ambience may not be particularly conducive to a strong sense of close community. Especially in a city-state that is only about 40 years old, with much of the now dominant Chinese population migrating there from as recently as the 60’s.

I have already addressed here the way I see certain forms of  christian religion filling in a family-need gap in people’s lives.

I don’t know of course, but it seems reasonable to think that international flavours are best coupled with strong cultural traditions that are capable of serving one’s need to feel a meaningful part of a community. Much of Europe seems to have both.

On the other hand, many parents in computer-literate countries like ours (and Singapore) probably worry overmuch about the time their youngsters spend now on their computers talking with friends they have never met face to face. But these communications are enabling children (and not just children) to establish meaningful and confidence-building relationships. Sure it is not the environment that any other generation has ever known before. And it is easy to fear or assume the worst too quickly about the unknown, but researchers who have studied this new phenomenon of the “virtual world of friendships”– NOT “the world of virtual friends” – have noticed the confidence and meaningfulness it can bring to many people’s lives. (Links and refs will have to wait till I get back home.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that this Web 2.0 world of MySpace and FaceBook etc can fill a need of belonging that arises out of real relationships (mediated in the virtual world — as opposed to being virtual relationships) — can eventually offer something more real in people’s lives than ancient and medieval belief systems.

But back to the hotel room — I am no Buddhist, but I did read the first chapter of the  Buddhist book left beside the  bible in my room. It was so refreshingly light and positive in its inducements for readers to follow the way of eliminating suffering. It began with Buddha (or the one to become Buddha) feeling the pain of seeing a worm being taken by a bird. The appeals from then on are to the better nature in us all. So unlike the Sermon on the Mount that commands people to love one another and never get angy for fear they will be thrown in hell if they don’t.

Such a pity that Pentecostalism is drawing people away from such a gentle philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Web 2.0 can offer more than just a technological change in the future.