Canadian Pentecostal Reader: Catalyst for Pentecostal Scholarship?

September 12, 2023

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The opportunity to review Caleb Courtney and Martin Mittelstadt’s Canadian Pentecostal Reader: The First Generation of Pentecostal Voices in Canada for the Toronto Journal of Theology interested me greatly, as their volume overlapped significantly both with my vocation as a pastor and my doctoral studies at the Toronto School of Theology. Given that my dissertation brings the Protestant reformer John Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper into conversation with the modern Pentecostal movement, Courtney and Mittelstadt’s compilation of the writings of the movement’s first-generation was particularly intriguing (and helpful!) to me.

Perhaps the most invaluable contribution their work has made to my own project – and, I believe, will make to Pentecostal scholarship at large – is their demonstration that the movement is not a monolith. Canadian Pentecostalism, the authors contend, is not a mere extension of the American movement, but possesses its own distinct origins, character, and leading figures. Such is achieved through their compilation of over 500 pages of primary source material written by the first-generation of Pentecostals in Canada, a period that they identify as 1907-1925. When one studies these writings, and the doctrines and practices described therein, it becomes apparent that considerable diversity not only existed between early Canadian, American, and British Pentecostals but those differences existed even between adherents in various parts of this country.

One of the most important discoveries for my own doctoral research was that, despite theological differences on matters such as water baptism, the importance (or lack thereof) of formal education, and even the doctrine of the Trinity, Canadian Pentecostals maintained a fairly high level of importance on celebrating the Lord’s Supper, something that one might normally associate with older Christian traditions such as Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism. It seems that the differences between Pentecostals and other branches of the Christian tradition while striking on the surface, may not always be quite as irreconcilable as one might think. Although I had published on Pentecostalism and the sacraments prior to reviewing the work, reading through more of these early Canadian sources gave me a greater appreciation of how early adherents of the movement understood and practiced the rites of the church, such as communion and baptism.

Moreover, as I reviewed the volume, it became clear to me that Courtney and Mittelstadt’s work of compiling so many primary sources into one place will make further research on Canadian Pentecostalism much more straightforward to scholars of the movement. Most early Pentecostal theology is contained not in easily accessible books, but in newsletters and tracts, most of which were unaffiliated with one another and penned primarily for a popular audience. Therefore, on many subjects, Pentecostal scholarship is only now exploring subjects that other Christian traditions have long engaged with. Having an easily accessible volume such as this one, which offers some insight into how first-generation Pentecostals understood themselves, the Scriptures, and the mission of the church, may help contemporary scholars understand their movement’s past – perhaps enabling them to better understand their movement’s possible future as well.

Geoff Butler and his wife, Charity, minister at Calvary Pentecostal Church in St. Lunaire-Griquet, Newfoundland and Labrador. Butler is a two-time graduate of Tyndale University (MTS, ThM) and PhD candidate in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College/Toronto School of Theology.

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