Toward a Pentecostal Political Theology

Toward a Pentecostal Political Theology

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First Steps toward a Pentecostal Political Theology Augustine and the Latin American Context *
Eric Patterson

It seems as if it was just a few years ago that Pope John Paul II was
warning the Catholic leadership of Latin America of an “invasion of
sects” within their borders. The pontiff was reacting to the tens of
millions who have left the Catholic Church and the Catholic identity
of their ancestors and converted to evangelical Protestantism since the
1970s. The breadth of this change throughout the region is incredible. A generation ago professing Catholics made up 95–98 percent
of all citizens in Latin America. Today, pentecostalized Protestants, or
better “ evang é licos” as they often call themselves, make up 20–30 percent of the population in a number of Latin American countries. 1
Studies also indicate that the vast majority of new Protestants are pentecostal or charismatic in denomination and/or in practice, making
this a theologically distinct group from the Catholic majority. 2
What has largely been lacking for these evang é licos is a political theology from within the movement to provide a frame of reference for
understanding and engaging political life. This is not simply a lacuna
for Latin American neo-Protestantism; it is a century-old problem for
global pentecostalism, especially across the Americas. This chapter
takes a macro-approach that has global applications. This essay discusses the politicocultural backdrop against which contemporary pentecostals of the Americas need a vibrant theology for engaging political
life. The paper goes on to argue that pentecostals, including their
leaders and academics, need to avoid the sins of hyperexperientialism and novelty seeking and flesh out a political theology rooted in classical Christian notions of order, justice, and conciliation based on the
Pauline-Augustinian tradition.
Theoretical Approaches to Political
Attitudes and Behavior
The motivations for conversion and the multitude of religious and
social ramifications of choice are the subjects of various existing sociological, religious, and anthropological studies. Much of this material
focuses on whether there are shifts in political attitudes and behavior
when one converts; unfortunately, much of this literature neglects a
study of emergent political theologies.
This essay is focused on the vast majority of Latin American
Protestants who are influenced and/or experience charismatic or pentecostal practices. Although there are many “mainline” denominations present in Latin America (e.g., Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican),
the stunning growth and major impact has been from pentecostalized
groups ( evang é licos). Moreover, it is not always possible to disentangle such influences on the ground, such as widespread charismatic
practices in many Latin American Baptist congregations. In any case,
there is a rich social science literature that attempts to look at some of
the defining features of religion and religious change. The important
question is, what happens to the individual after joining one of these
congregations? Numerous studies suggest that Protestants hold values
consistent with democratic norms and are more likely to engage in
political behavior than their Catholic neighbors. These arguments are
based on two social science traditions. The first tradition focuses on
culture and is associated with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic hypothesis
as well as the civic culture tradition in political science, which argues
that democracy rests on a foundation of democratic values shared by
the populace. 3 Weber argued that Protestantism emphasizes individuality, thrift, and egalitarian social relations that are the foundation for
capitalist economies. Civic culture theorists like Almond and Verba
and Ronald Inglehart extend Weber’s argument by suggesting that
this value system is also responsible for the growth of a democratic
middle class in Northern and Western Europe as well as in the United
States. 4 Recent scholarship on Latin American religion has followed
this trend. For example, Amy Sherman argues that evang é licos develop
values of thrift, individualism, and industry just as Max Weber predicted. 5 Moreover, research today shows that pentecostals often intersect
with democratic values. 6



  1. 3.
    Max Weber, The Protestant Et hie and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. George Allen (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, The Civic Culture (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1963, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ronald Inglehart, Culture Shift (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Amy Sherman, The Soul of Development: Biblira I Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See Emilio Willems, Followers of the New Faith: Culture Change andthe Rise of Protestantism in Brazil and Chile (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1997)Google Scholar
  6. Calvin Smith, Revolution, Revival and Religious Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua Religion in the Americas (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishing, 2007)Google Scholar
  7. Timothy Steigenga, The Politics of the Spirit: The Political Implications of Pente cost alized Religion in Costa Rica and Guatemala (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001)Google Scholar
  8. Eric Patterson, Latin America’s Neo-Reformation (New York: Routledge, 1995)Google Scholar
  9. Paul Freston, Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala under General Efrain Rios Montt 1982–1983 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    David Martin, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)Google Scholar
  12. Paul C. Freston’s Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 12.
    Amos Yong, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2010).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    D’Epinay’s work is influential not only because of his conclusions, but also because of his research methodology. The debate has continued on these issues of quietism and authoritarianism. For the generation of scholarship reacting to his proposal see: Jean Pierre Bastien, Brief History of Protestantism in Latin America (Mexico DF: CUPSA, 1986)Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    James K. A. Smith. Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm, Eerdmans and Sons, 2010), 27.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Thomas Bruneau, The Political Transformation of the Brazilian Catholic Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Also see Ondina E. González and Justo L. González, Christianity in Latin America: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Jean Bethke Elshtain,/wíí War against Terrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2004).Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    For example, see Reinhold Neibuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952)Google Scholar
  20. John C. Bennett, “The Self-Defeating Attitudes of America’s Reactionaries,” Christianity and Crisis 10, no. 14 (May 15, 1950): 109–112Google Scholar

1 Comment

  • Reply February 21, 2020

    Varnel Watson

    Isara Mo examine CLOSELY the current theological context in American politics we’ve discussed with Nelson Banuchi and so many more It is indeed an end times sign …

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