What’s the role of Pentecostalism in the world today? It was a question put to John Piper in early June at one of his international stops in Montesilvano, Italy during Italian Ministries Congresso Missione. In a television interview he was asked the question, and here’s a field recording of what he said.
It is huge. When you think of the awakening of Pentecostalism and evangelicalism: lovers of the gospel and lovers of being born again, lovers of Scripture, lovers of the Bible, lovers of evangelism and world missions.
It is decreasing in the western world to an extent, at least over the last century it has hugely decreased, right? In Europe, which was once the center of evangelicalism, today is very small. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, probably 5% of Africa, and today it would be close to 50%. You see the same thing in South America and the same thing again in Asia. But if you ask, “What is the nature of that evangelicalism?” it is mainly Pentecostal.
Here is my definition of Pentecostalism: people who are believing in the power of the Holy Spirit, believing that the Holy Spirit does miracles today, believing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12 are still active today. That kind of people are at the cutting edge of the growth of Christianity around the world.
Now, my caution would be this: Mingled with Pentecostalism in many places is a prosperity gospel, a prosperity preaching, that identifies Christianity with, “Things will go better for you. You won’t suffer. When you are a farmer, your crops will prosper. Your wife will never miscarry. Your pigs will have eight little piglets and never lose the piglets. Everything will go better for you if you follow Jesus.” That is not true. And that kind of prosperity preaching is hurting the church. And so, to the degree that Pentecostalism is associated with prosperity preaching, I have got concerns.
The next question, was not related, but worth publishing. It was a question about how and why Pastor John corrects or debates people on issues of disagreement or concern, specifically regarding his conversation with Rick Warren.
I think it is absolutely crucial when someone has great influence — and you have a sense that some of that influence may be negative — that, instead of just talking about the person, you should talk to the person.
So, I want to write to people or talk to people who I think are negative, unless they have written books that are out there in the public and you can talk about the book. You don’t have to call everybody on the telephone who has written a book. I have written books. I don’t expect people who disagree with me to call me on the telephone first. They have a right to disagree with John Piper. Put it in writing. Put it on the Internet. Disagree with me, and I feel the same.
So, we were talking about Rick Warren. I love Rick Warren. Rick Warren is one of the most influential pastors in the world. He has written the book that has sold more than any other Christian book outside the Bible (and maybe one or two others). And I think it is a good book, by the way. But I called Rick up. In fact, I asked him to come speak at our conference. And that was very controversial. “Why are you having Rick Warren come to your conference, because you two guys aren’t the same?” And I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”
I called him and I said, “Can I come and interview you for ninety minutes?” And we sat at a table just like this for ninety minutes you can see it online. And I have him answer every hard question I could think about theologically, because I want to know: “Are you teaching something essentially different?” We are different, very different. He is much more pragmatic than I am. I am much more theologically oriented than he is.
And I said to him at the end of our conversation, which turned up the fact that we didn’t disagree on essential theological matters — the disagreement is method and emphasis. And I suggested to Rick, and he could listen to this and I wouldn’t be ashamed. I suggested: “You know, I think if you spent the last decade or two of your life being more doctrinal, more theological, your impact would be deeper and longer.” And I don’t think that he agreed with me, but my willingness to say that to him in person and in public is, I think, significant.
So, I think leaders ought to do that for each other. We should confront one another when we have disagreements.