Pentecostal Pioneers Remembered British And Irish Pioneers Of Pentecost

Pentecostal Pioneers Remembered  British And Irish Pioneers Of Pentecost

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Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 109-169

Keith Malcomson, Pentecostal Pioneers Remembered: British and Irish Pioneers of Pentecost (Longwood, Fla.: Xulon Press, 2008). x + 476 pp.

Te central aim and primary focus of this volume is succinctly conveyed in its title. Keith Malcomson is a practitioner and activist in the field who acknowledges a scepticism regard- ing an academic approach to the subject of Pentecostal history, while advancing his core aspiration that “these testimonies will deeply inspire another generation” (15). In this approach, as well as in the style and manner of writing, he is in continuity with what observers will readily agree has been a longstanding feature of the Pentecostal tradition. A preliminary perusal of Malcomson’s work calls to mind a slim and unassuming but classic predecessor in the domain of British Pentecostal history, namely Donald Gee’s Tese Men I Knew: Personal Memoirs of Pentecostal Pioneers (Assemblies of God Publishing, 1980). Indeed it could be claimed with some justification that this publication continues where Gee’s reminiscences left off and represents something of an updated and expanded exten- sion, an observation to which I doubt the writer would raise any significant objection. Te present volume provides more background than Gee typically achieved and, for the most part, offers not just a fuller but a more rounded assessment of the figures highlighted. A notable instance of this is the sympathetic appreciation of the role and contribution of missionary enthusiast par excellence Cecil Polhill. Such was distinctly lacking in Gee’s account and this feature underscores the advantage of distance, detachedness, and objectiv- ity in the writing of religious history.

Beginning with an effective discussion of precursors and influences including the Breth- ren Movement, William Booth, the Keswick Convention, and the Welsh Revival, Malcom- son embarks upon a lengthy section which identifies and expounds upon more than twenty five individual ‘pioneers.’ Tis central portion consists of short vignettes (typically 7-12 pages) on individuals, some household names, others lesser known, who have shaped or played significant roles in the founding and formation of British Pentecostalism. Te mate- rial is largely anecdotal, contains biographical essentials, and offers some commentary/ analysis of the contributions made by these figures. Existing secondary sources and mem- oirs are utilized, as are relevant primary source materials which feature in an unobtrusive and understated fashion. One of the highlights of the book is chapter 16, simply titled ‘Others,’ which looks at some nine individuals who played a role for a time but who have since been obscured if not lost to the mists of history. Figures such as James Tetchner, E.W. Moser, T.H. Mundell, A. Moncur Niblock, and T.M. Jeffreys have proven elusive to the historical researcher and having devoted considerable energy in this direction I can person- ally attest that what is presented here represents a worthwhile and welcome advance on anything that has hitherto been available in print.

Having offered approaching four hundred pages of valuable material, the concluding chapters do not altogether enhance what has gone before. Te third and final section is certainly curiously conceived. Te intention behind the attempt to address ‘heresies’ and ‘departures’ from the movement is to be commended and achieves its aims. Controversial teachings and practices associated with the figures of William Oliver Hutchinson and Albert E. Saxby are handled with sensitivity and honesty and help to counterbalance sim- plistic, idealised, and/or triumphalist perspectives. Less effective, however, is the inclusion

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X555036


Book Reviews / Pneuma 33 (2011) 109-169


of a preceding chapter on the Apostle Paul as a Pentecostal prototype. Tis leap back through the centuries is oddly situated and it is difficult to avoid the impression that what may have been effective in the pulpit or church seminar sits at odds with the book’s com- position to that point.

Further slippage occurs in the form of a penultimate chapter which sees the life and ministry of David Du Plessis as characterised by “tragic mixture” (423). If the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 had earlier been dismissed as “a vain, fruitless effort by the best of the Protestant world” (134), Du Plessis’ engagement with “the most notorious group of liberals and ecumenists,” the World Council of Churches (425), receives an even less sympathetic appraisal. A process termed “the Romanification of the Pentecostal movement” (428) is expounded upon in some detail and the reader is left with little doubt as to Mal- comson’s ‘take’ on events. What may pass as a rarely contested evangelical outlook in the context of his native Northern Ireland will, it cannot be denied, sit uneasily with readers who do not inhabit such a polarized sphere. Te inclusion of a final chapter extolling the virtues of the founder of his movement, the School of Christ International, as a ‘Restorer of Pentecost’ — however sincerely and genuinely felt and delivered — further conveys the sense of a partisan outlook. Additional object lessons on the writing of religious history can be drawn at this point. Tis volume is unambiguously at its best when addressing its central theme, the remembrance of British and Irish Pentecostal pioneers.

Notwithstanding these reservations, this book will be a boon to any with an interest in or curiosity about the early years of the Pentecostal phenomenon. While the ‘inspirational’ impulse is consistently in evidence, Malcomson presents much data that will inform the reader and, in so doing, goes some way toward filling a lingering void in an as yet under- developed British Pentecostal historiography. Commenting as one who teaches in this field, I will undoubtedly avail of this resource and feel certain that students would benefit from greater familiarity with its contents. Preachers and pastors too will derive both inspiration and useful material to relate to their auditors and congregations. As the Pentecostal move- ment seeks to function amid the manifold and often grievous challenges of twenty-first century living, these stories of its founding generation cannot but enlighten those embarked upon such uncharted and unpredictable waters.

Reviewed by Dr. Timothy Bernard Walsh

Lecturer in Pentecostal History at Regents Teological College Western Malvern, United Kingdom


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