TV pp.11-13: Meet the Pentecostals

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

After spending last week following Arnold the Catholic around his church, we find ourselves meeting Pentecostal characters this week.  These are the characters that Peretti are most familiar with, as he he belongs to that same community.  Three church ladies,[1] Dee, Adrian,  Blanche, are leaving Antioch Pentecostal Mission after a Sunday morning service.  They begin to discuss the possibly supernatural experiences that Sally and Arnold have experienced as any good church lady would do to keep her part of the grapevine well-managed.

One of the interesting things about their conversation is the hesitant credulity with which they approach Sally’s and Arnold’s respective experiences.  Navigating the supernatural experiences that others claim to have is an ever-present aspect of Pentecostal culture.  On the one hand, to immediately dismiss the experiences of others invites others to be equally skeptical of one’s own claims.  On the other, being too willing to blindly accept the claims of others leaves one open to being led astray by the dark and demonic powers.  This is demonstrated in the book when Blanche questions the weeping crucifix, suggesting that it sounds “awfully Catholic,” as Pentecostals are particularly suspicious of Catholicism.[2]  Indeed, there has been much advice and even a good number of formulas on how Pentecostals might seek to determine if an experience truly a miraculous encounter with God.

Of course, as the women talk, Dee gasps and begins to pray in tongues, for she sees Jesus in the clouds.  She points out the figure to the other women who begin to see it.  Soon, a crowd grows around the women as more people begin to see Jesus in the clouds, and more details are added, such as Adrian who sees him holding a hand.

It’s interesting to note that not everyone in the crowd can see Jesus, and some who do see him also see other animals.  Peretti writes this passage pretty masterfully in that we are left wondering whether particular experience is a true spiritual experience or the imagination of one woman that spreads among others, eager to share in that same experience.  One is left to wonder what really happened.

I find this interesting, considering this easily explained-away experience is happening to the very group who would — at least on an intellectual level — be likely to accept and even expect a more direct miracle such as Arnold’s crying crucifix or Sally’s disappearing messenger.  I imagine that Peretti is intentionally trying to keep a situation in which even the Pentecostal’s can remain skeptical of of whether or not anything legitimately supernatural is occurring.

The question is, if something supernatural really is going on, why would the source of these events want to keep anyone skeptical?

[1]  Is this the concept of church ladies something that needs to be explained to some readers?  Or is this a fairly universal concept among most Christian groups?

[2]  I should note that not all Pentecostals actually think that Catholics aren’t “real Christians,” at least not in the sense of being saved.  They believe that some Catholics might be true believers in the sense of being saved, but find much of Catholic doctrine (as they understand it) to be in error.

One thought on “TV pp.11-13: Meet the Pentecostals”

  1. Is this the concept of church ladies something that needs to be explained to some readers? Or is this a fairly universal concept among most Christian groups?

    If it means something more than “three ladies who attend (regularly?) the church in question” then yes, it needs to be explained for this non Christian reader, whose religion doesn’t have churches. I’ve picked up some things via osmosis, and I’ve read more of the Bible than most Christians seem to have, but Christianity is a foreign language to me.

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