Tag Archives: holiness movement

Poor, black, and female: Amanda Berry Smith preached holiness in the teeth of racism


What follows is this week’s talk in the series I am doing at Messiah Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN, on people from my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns who model aspects of social justice:

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Christian revival kindled on the American frontier, drawing new strength through camp meetings and circuit riders. By the mid-1800s, however, the Victorian era was in full swing, and evangelical churches founded in the white heat of frontier enthusiasm were building lavish faux-gothic facades and enjoying the refined preaching of educated, citified ministers.

In reaction, many Victorian Americans yearned to experience again the fiery devotion of their parents and grandparents. Continue reading

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed


A wave of criticism quickly followed the first publication–in 2004, on Christianity Today’s history website–of the two-parter that begins with the article below. Along with that wave, however, came another, larger wave of responses from those within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements who affirmed my analysis.

Now, six years later, I still stand by the argument I present here, which first dawned on me as I was at Duke in the late 1990s, studying the “emotional culture” of the 19th-century holiness movement. The holiness movement was the precursor of modern Pentecostalism, and its emotional DNA contained the troubling “anti-domestic” gene that I describe in this pair of articles. The first of the two articles, below, sets up the argument. The second, to be posted here soon, offers further evidence.

To be clear, I owe my faith to this movement, and I affirm the tremendous blessings it has brought. For more on that, see this article.

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed
The sexual stumblings of prominent ministers point to a hidden flaw in Pentecostal spirituality.
By Chris Armstrong

The sordid 1980s scandals of Pentecostal ministers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart will incline some to presume that Paul Crouch, president of Pentecostal-linked television network TBN, did engage in the alleged homosexual liaison.

But whether the allegations in this case are eventually substantiated or not [update, Feb. 2010: Crouch has weathered the scandal and is still atop TBN], the question arises again: why does the Pentecostal ministry seem particularly susceptible to sexual scandal?

It may turn out, in fact, that statistically, Pentecostal ministers fall in this way no more often than do other ministers. I’m sure we make this connection at least partly because of the long cultural shadows of Bakker and Swaggart.

But I don’t think the connection is accidental. Continue reading

Portrait of holiness: a mosaic of facts and anecdotes on the American holiness movement


The holiness movement is still too little-known, especially given that it was the incubator of the most explosive, fast-growing Christian phenomenon of the last century: global Pentecostalism. Issue #82 of Christian History & Biography, on the American holiness movement, started off with this “mosaic” of facts and anecdotes:

Did You Know?
Interesting facts about the American Holiness revival
Chris Armstrong

Reclaiming John

Methodist holiness advocates said their movement had started with John Wesley. They were just reminding Methodism of its founder’s teachings on entire sanctification or “perfect love”-the complete orientation of the heart toward God and away from sinning.

Camping out (in style) for Christ

During its post-Civil War “camp meeting phase,” the holiness revival spread quickly beyond Methodism’s bounds. In 1887, Presbyterian minister A. B. Simpson founded the non-Wesleyan Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) on the teachings of Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer (a common holiness theme by the 1890s), and Coming King. For many years, the C&MA held annual camp meetings at a former temperance campground in Old Orchard, Maine.

Hoofing it

The Methodist holiness folk were known for their traveling evangelists-male and female. One day, on the “gospel trail” with her organist Treena Platt, evangelist Mary Cagle’s pony became ill. Having heard that John Wesley had once prayed successfully for the healing of his horse, Cagle decided to do the same. “I don’t know how to pray for a horse,” Platt protested. “Pray just like you would for a person,” said Cagle; “we need her in the service of the Lord.” Cagle wrote in her autobiography that they “prayed through to victory” in the house and then went to the barn to find the horse already mending. (Contributed by Jennifer Woodruff Tait.) Continue reading

Phoebe who? A forgotten woman leader at the root of the Pentecostal tree


Since I’ve posted a few pieces on the holiness movement lately, here’s one that goes right to the movement’s root–and thus also to the deep origins of the 20th and 21st centuries’ “Pentecostal explosion.” What follows is my “editor’s note” from Christian History and Biography‘s issue #82, dedicated to Phoebe Palmer and the American Holiness movement:

Phoebe Palmer: From the Editor
Phoebe Who?
Chris Armstrong

Thursday, April 1, 2004

When we floated some topic ideas for future issues of Christian History & Biography to our readers at www.christianhistory.net last year, our suggestion of “Phoebe Palmer and the American Holiness Revival” elicited a resounding “Huh?”

This was all the excuse we needed. This was one of those cases of someone almost unknown today, who actually left a Rushmore-sized impression on America’s religious landscape.

Phoebe Palmer was the most influential woman in the largest, fastest-growing religious group in mid-19th-century America—Methodism. By her initiative, missions were begun, camp-meetings instituted, and many thousands attested to the transforming power of divine grace. She mothered a nationwide movement that birthed such denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army, bridged 18th-century Methodist revivalism to 20th-century Pentecostalism, and pioneered in social reform and female ministry. Continue reading

Lived theology: How and why Christian history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula


The stories of other Christians are vitally important to our spiritual lives. That, in fact, is why the discipline of church history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula. But how and when did this happen? I got to share this story with Bethel Seminary’s trustees and the readers of Christianity Today online a few years back:

When Theology Comes Alive
Living theology: that’s what the 17th-century Pietists wanted to see. And so they invented church history.
Chris Armstrong

An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor, Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.

Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—”dogma” as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, “The dogma is the drama!”

I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.

And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel’s dynamite blows up in people’s lives is Christian history. I’ll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life. Continue reading

Testify! A glimpse inside the world of ‘holiness testimony,’ through the story of Amanda Berry Smith


Back in 2004 I had the privilege of editing an issue of Christian History & Biography on the topic of the holiness movement. That issue triggered an e-newsletter on the life and testimony of Amanda Berry Smith (subject of my upcoming Emergent Cohort talk–see the previous post for details):

Since the holiness movement was the focus of my graduate studies, and since the current issue of Christian History & Biography is on this topic—Issue 82: Phoebe Palmer and the Holiness Movement—I can’t resist introducing you to a woman who, I think you’ll agree, was one of that movement’s most fascinating figures.

This is the self-described “washerwoman evangelist,” the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) preacher, singer, missionary, and orphans’ home founder Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915).

We meet Amanda Smith briefly in this week’s featured online article from Issue 82: “I received my commission from Him, brother,” the story of women holiness leaders, written by my friend and fellow Duke graduate student Jennifer Woodruff Tait. But there’s more to Smith’s story:

Born a slave, Amanda Berry Smith was educated mainly at home and was employed for the early years of her life as a domestic worker. She endured two unhappy marriages but found “the joy of the Lord” in 1868 in a classic Wesleyan sanctification experience. Not content to sit still with her experience, she launched out the following year (her second husband and children had died by this time) as a traveling preacher to black churches in New York and New Jersey. Continue reading

Local (Twin Cities) event: “Holy America, Amanda!”: How the 19th-century holiness movement addressed racism and other social sins in middle-class America


This local event (yes, I know I shamelessly stole the title from one of my own recent blog posts) is the November meeting of the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov 12th at Solomon’s Porch, Minneapolis (corner of 46th and Blaisdell).

Through the life of Amanda Berry Smith, an ex-slave, memoirist, and highly respected evangelist in the holiness movement of her day, we will look at several themes:

1. The holiness movement as an attempt to figure out how to live faithfully to Christ in the 19th-century urban Northeast’s consumerizing, modernizing culture (and what that may or may not tell us about how to do likewise in our own consumerist, modern/postmodern culture).

2. The courage needed to bring an unpopular message of sin (in this case racism) and the need for change to a middle-class Christian audience (Amanda had this in spades, but it didn’t come easily for her).

3. The relationship between social justice and the sanctification of individuals.

The Emergent Cohort is an opportunity for thinking and questioning people to join with others asking similar questions in an accepting, relaxed venue. The Twin Cities Emergent Cohort has been meeting in its current location for almost two years and involves participants sitting on couches, drinking coffee, and talking about a theological or social topic in a respectful and engaging way. The cohort meets the 2nd Tuesday of every month at noon at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis (again, corner of 46th and Blaisdell). The party breaks up about 1:30. Bring coffee or lunch and join us for theological conversation.