Miracles, Missions, and American Pentecostalism

by Gary B. McGee

Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0302, 2010, 326 pages, $30.00 paperback.

Reviewed by Grant McClung, president, MissionsResourceGroup.org; and missiological advisor, World Missions Commission of the Pentecostal World Fellowship.

Few books can claim the designation of “a missiological goldmine” for mission researchers, doctoral students, missionaries, and mission professors. This one does. After a productive teaching and writing ministry as a Pentecostal mission historian, this is the final book written by Gary B. McGee who, at the time of his death in 2008, was the Distinguished Professor of Church History and Pentecostal Studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.

Although using his own skills as a tireless researcher and historian to prepare the bulk of the work toward publication, McGee died before the book was put into final production as No. 45 in the American Society of Missiology Series from Orbis. The last stages of preparation toward copyediting were provided by McGee’s colleagues, Drs. Warren and Annette Newberry.

The core content of the book is best described in a thorough and insightful Introduction, where Annette Newberry asserts that:

While the historiography of Pentecostal expansion is emerging from its infancy and several significant studies have been published, Miracles, Missions and American Pentecostalism differs from some of the most recent works in that it more closely examines the historical, theological, and missiological context of the American Pentecostal movement and how the expectancy of miracles fit into the early-twentieth-century mission landscape. Gary McGee, who feels that required texts in Bible colleges, universities, and seminaries often overlook or evade reports about supernatural phenomena and extraordinary experiences, generously sprinkles his book with terminology such as miracles, signs and wonders, healings, visions, revivals, spiritual gifts, power encounters, and exorcisms.

Even though the precedent for miracles in missions dates from the time of the apostles, acceptance of the possibility of miracles beyond the initial establishment of Christianity has long generated debate. McGee tackles what he considers to be an awkward position needing a more comprehensive explanation—the attempt to explain the apostolic nature of mission without the possibility of miraculous signs and wonders included in the explanation.

McGee’s work for the volume yielded extensive endnotes with more than 1,700 citations. According to Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke University Divinity School, “…McGee’s immersion in hard-to-find and rarely read primary sources, including the vast but elusive periodical literature of the Radical Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions, is evident on every page.”

One should avoid, however, a stereotypical classification of this kind of research into miracles and missions as a “Pentecostal/Charismatic” category of missiology. The book’s emphases should be seen as resonating with and emanating from the broader “Great Commission” family across the entire global Christian community. Indeed, “miracles and missions” are not exclusively Pentecostal/Charismatic “missiological property.” For that reason, a title or a subtitle broader than “American Pentecostalism” could have been found.

The whole Church is taking the whole gospel to the whole world, confronting staggering global challenges and advancing into the face of spiritual resistance. Because of this, the book will have value in all courses (undergraduate and graduate) that train personnel in the theology, history, and strategy of missions. This is where I will use it. But it should also be prayerfully and carefully considered by every mission leader—in the pulpit, the pew, the marketplace, the executive boardroom, and on “the field”—who is serious about facing a challenging task with unusual power from the triune God.

Check these titles:
Hunter, Harold D. and Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. Eds. 2009. The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Johnson, Alan R. 2009. Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Ma, Julie C. and Wonsuk Ma. 2010. Mission in the Spirit: Towards a Pentecostal/Charismatic Missiology. Oxford: Regnum Books.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 125-127. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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