The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel & Global Renewal

By: Amos Yong
Friday, July 5th, 2013

foursquareDuring the last weekend of June, through the invitation of A. J. Swoboda, author of the forthcoming Tongues & Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecology Theology in the JPT Supplement Series (announced for April 2013, but it is late!), I had the privilege of hanging out with the vanguard of the Foursquare gospellers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) area. Preaching at Faith Center in Eugene Oregon (for sermon, click here) and at Theophilus Church in the Hawthorne district of southeast Portland, and then engaging with three dozen of the denomination’s ministers from the North Pacific (Oregon and Alaska) and Northwest (Washington & Northern Idaho) districts was a real treat. Although not one of the larger classical pentecostal denominations in North America, it is strongest in the PNW region, with hundreds of churches across Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Northern Idaho. How can this be?

How can I know that the Foursquare in the PNW is at the vanguard of their church when I have not visited them around the rest of the country, much less the world? Two reasons: First, I could tell from the books they are reading, the questions they are asking, and the things they were passionate about, that they are at the forefront of classical pentecostal churches as a whole, about which I do know a little bit, in terms of engaging with present trends and anticipating future expressions of the coming reign of God. Second, a witness from an unexpected source: over dinner one evening with faculty from George Fox Seminary (where I graduated with the master’s degree in Christian history and though back in 1993), I asked Native theologian Randy Woodley which church was doing exemplary work among Native populations in North America, and he responded without hesitation: the Foursquare, in terms of its empowering indigenous leaders. His response was completely unexpected but confirmed my sense that something important was happening among this relatively small group of Foursquare gospellers here and around the country.

In conversation with their various leaders, I came to discern that in some respects, the more or less adolescent phase of Foursquare development may actually be part of the key to its current vitality. What I mean is that, as they put it, it’s only been in the last twenty-five years that the church leadership has transitioned from the McPherson family (since 1988), and that has opened up to myriad conversations about its identity, mission, and vision. What is remarkable is that these discussions are not being prematurely foreclosed; but rather than being debilitating, they have instead invigorated a range of responses, at least in terms of exploratory practices, and it is these latter that have revitalized the church, especially in the PNW, even while keeping their discursive negotiations relevant and interesting.

While a sociologically reductionist “explication” of Foursquare PNW is certainly possible, I do not want to discount a theological – better: pneumatological – factor. Perhaps the renewing work of the Spirit is facilitated at least in part through a persisting adolescence that resists all of the suffocating aspects of ecclesial “maturation” (growing up). To be sure, such a “youthful” denominational or even institutional phase can be challenging in some respects, but if not hierarchically predetermined, may leave open conceptual and practical space for pentecostal mission to innovate for the renewal of the church. Those interested in global renewal may need to take a closer look at what is happening in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, especially in this “pagan” region of the PNW.

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Amos Yong
This entry was posted by on Friday, July 5th, 2013 at 7:04 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Renewal Studies, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel & Global Renewal”

  1. Bob Cornwall says:

    Amos,

    Thank you for sharing this report from the Pacific Northwest. My own Pentecostal experiences came from within these churches — in Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon — and Faith Center in Eugene (during college).

    I am no longer part of that community of churches, but I’m glad to hear of its maturity theologically.

  2. Daniel Irving says:

    That term “persisting adolescence” seems a painful touch of truth. Sanctification IS that maturation of the body of Christ; a principle McPherson dropped as an office of Christ when she formulated her “Foursquare Gospel” as the the result of her 1922 inspiration during powerful services she held in Oakland, California. The Finished Work denominations which shared McPherson’s roots in the Durham ministry have also had difficulty due to their neglect of the those doctrines of sanctification developed by the 18th & early 19th century Wesleyans and middle to late 19th century Holiness & Keswick movements. Consider the following article on this subject:

    http://lamp-stand.com/2013/04/21/ii-e-3-f-the-sure-work-of-christ/