An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920

By Jay Riley Case | Go to book overview

Introduction

The missionaries were excited about the revival, but they did not know what to make of the fire. For several months in 1905, a number of students at Mukti, a school for young women in India, had followed the lead of the headmistress, Pandita Ramabai, by praying for a revival and preaching in the surrounding villages. Then, one night in June, a girl awoke to the sight of a fire burning on the person of her roommate, who was at prayer. After her initial alarm, the girl decided it was actually a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and she spread the news of what she had seen. That started a series of religious activities at the Mukti school that continued for more than a year, activities that eventually led to more than one thousand conversions, as well as reports of miraculous healings, casting out of demons, speaking in tongues, and additional incidents involving the fire sensation.1

Aware that lower-caste Hindu religious practice sometimes included spirit possession accompanied by a burning sensation, the evangelical missionaries hadn’t expected this fire phenomenon to appear amidst a Christian revival. Fiery spirit possessions were not, of course, the sort of thing one usually found within the churches of the small towns in the U.S. midwest where many of these missionaries had been raised. So how would one make sense of the events at Mukti? If they were like most Americans in 1905, they would have agreed with the missionary from a different organization, who dismissed the events as “sensuous and superstitious… pure heathenism in Christian dress.”2

But these missionaries came from the radical-holiness wing of evangelicalism. As such, they took a different path. True, some of them initially viewed the fire as a sort of exorcism for those who had been “idolators.” But their suspicions began to wane when some of the young Indian women whom the missionaries regarded as “fully saved and sanctified” received the fire. Wandering into unknown territory, the missionaries decided that the fire was a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, granting “power for service” to anyone who sought it. Following the logic of this theological path, they did more than simply approve of these surprising religious developments. Several of the missionaries became religious inquirers, seeking out the young lower-caste Asian women so that they could experience the fire sensation for themselves.3

-3-

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An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Part One 17
  • 1- American Baptists and the "Wild" Karen People of Burma 19
  • 2- The Challenge of Karen Christianity 48
  • 3- The Native Ministry in the United States 74
  • Part Two 101
  • 4- An Appalachian Revivalist in Queen Victoria’s Colonies 103
  • 5- The Circuit-Riding Missionary and Gilded Age Methodism 128
  • Part Three 157
  • 6- The African-American Great Awakening 159
  • 7- The Ame Church and South Africa 183
  • Part Four 207
  • 8- Holiness Conversions 209
  • 9- And Ever the Twain Shall Meet 231
  • Epilogue 256
  • Notes 261
  • Index 301
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