By Theory Possessed   /   Spring 2023   /    Book Reviews

Pentecostal Compensations

Famous but little understood.

Peter Hartwig

Pentecostals at prayer; Frances Roberts/Alamy Stock Photo.

Wesleyan minister Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929) is usually credited with sparking the global Christian movement known as Pentecostalism—now more than 600 million followers strong. Parham was a typical late-nineteenth-century Methodist in many ways: He preached a gospel of healing prayer and the life-transforming experience of God. Parham founded a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, and there a woman named Agnes Ozman, “on the eerily complete date of 1 January 1901,”  Hardy writes, reportedly began to speak in Chinese during a prayer meeting. “It was as if rivers of living water were proceeding from my innermost being,” Ozman later said.

Ozman’s experience was the first incident in what had been a long-dormant phenomenon: Christians speaking languages they had never learned. Noticeably similar events are reported in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, in which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jewish followers of Jesus during the holiday of Pentecost, miraculously inspiring them to “speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Elsewhere in the New Testament, this is called glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues.” According to contemporary Pentecostalism, the reappearance of glossolalia on the first day of 1901 marked the birth of a new movement—one characterized by this phenomenon and named for the day of its first-century advent.

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