Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture

Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture

Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture

Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture


In this lively history of the rise of pentecostalism in the United States, Grant Wacker gives an in-depth account of the religious practices of pentecostal churches as well as an engaging picture of the way these beliefs played out in daily life.

The core tenets of pentecostal belief-personal salvation, Holy Ghost baptism, divine healing, and anticipation of the Lord's imminent return-took root in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Wacker examines the various aspects of pentecostal culture, including rituals, speaking in tongues, the authority of the Bible, the central role of Jesus in everyday life, the gifts of prophecy and healing, ideas about personal appearance, women's roles, race relations, attitudes toward politics and the government. Tracking the daily lives of pentecostals, and paying close attention to the voices of individual men and women, Wacker is able to identify the reason for the movement's spectacular success: a demonstrated ability to balance idealistic and pragmatic impulses, to adapt distinct religious convictions in order to meet the expectations of modern life.

More than twenty million American adults today consider themselves pentecostal. Given the movement's major place in American religious life, the history of its early years-so artfully told here-is of central importance.


This book describes the contours of pentecostal culture in the United States from 1900 to 1925, the place and time of the movement's birth and early development. We all know, however, that books do not tumble from the sky like sacred meteors. They have a history of their own. So it may be helpful to say a few words about the story behind the story, how this study came to be written and the assumptions that inform it.

The following pages might be described as an essay that got out of hand. Some twenty years ago the late Professor Timothy L. Smith of The Johns Hopkins University asked me to write an article on pentecostals for an anthology he was putting together on the evangelical mosaic in America. I balked, knowing that several fine monographs already existed. What more could be said about the subject? But Tim persisted, characteristically pressing me to go back to the primary sources and read them for myself. I soon discovered that the surface barely had been scratched. Early pentecostals were furious writers, churning out thousands of pages of text—mostly in periodicals—in the first few years of the revival's life. Some of that material had not been read at all, and much of it not read with cultural questions in mind. I also soon discovered that if otherworldly aspirations marked the surface of those texts, thisworldly shrewdness marked the underside. No one, it seemed, had paid much attention to the significance of that doubleness. So it was that I heard the call, if not from on high, at least from my friends, to try to tell my own version of the story.

It is time now to explain my own relation to the pentecostal tradition. In one sense this bit of self-disclosure should not matter at all, for my intent is to offer an account that can be discussed in the general marketplace of ideas without regard to confessional commitments. But since antiseptic impartiality is impossible, and probably not desirable anyway, it seems only fair to acknowledge the perspective from which I write. In brief, I was reared in a pentecostal home and attended a pentecostal church once or twice a week until I left for college. My father, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins in all direc-

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