It happens whenever I’m in the presence of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or of a prayer for immediate healing. I quickly scan the room and do a mental recall of who is present and how this will be perceived. If I remember that we’re all friends and family, I feel safe. If I remember that someone present may not understand, I feel uncomfortable. Will this be shocking, interesting, or unacceptable? The experience is not unlike forgetting that you are half undressed and standing in front of a window. If you live on the first floor of a house along a busy street you would consciously never do that. But if you live ten floors up it’s not a big deal. Yet even high above the street, you might scan for a high powered telescope.
In the last year I’ve written quite a number of articles related to Evangelicals and Pentecostals in the media. 2006 happened to be the year to do that. It was almost as if the media had removed the roof we’d all been hiding under and stuck a 300 watt bulb and a video camera on us. There was (and is) a scramble for acceptability. Many churches feel strongly that they are under attack and so they go on the defense. Others feel confident that with God on their side, their position is invincible. What’s fascinating is that regardless of how Pentecostals and Evangelicals are pressed, they have a ready defense.
If there’s pressure on the political Right wing to change, there’s a ready Left winger available to answer questions. Mainstream Evangelicals have so much experience with Pentecostals at this point, that they are a welcome part of Evangelical heritage. Of course, it’s notable that many Evangelicals love the fact that many Pentecostals don’t speak in tongues! A historical review of Pentecostalism reveals that the movement’s acceptability and growth owe a lot to two things: demographic shifts and the openness to new forms of communication. Now it just so happens that these same things contributed to the growth of Evangelicalism!
But here’s the hard question, the elephant in the room if you will: If child-birth and radio or television waves form the wave this movement-ship is sailing on, what happens when the baby grows up or when ratings change? The answer to that question should reveal that exciting new religious movements, at the end of the day, have to face the same thorny issues that every religion faces—even if they squirm and claim not to be religious! To boil it all down, these include the Nature of Discipleship and Public Relations in a changing age. Suddenly, things get a lot more complicated.