This past week I have been spending time – courtesy of my friend and current second vice-president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Michael Wilkinson – on the campus of Trinity Western University (TWU) and with its Associated Consortium of Theological Schools (ACTS), including the Canadian Pentecostal Seminary (CPS), lecturing on global renewal theology. So be sure, when the apostles were told that the outpouring of the Spirit was to empower them to bear witness to the gospel to the ends of the earth, they were thinking certainly of Rome rather than of Vancouver, British Columbia, much less Langley, BC, and even Abbottsford, BC (where I preached last Sunday, at Christian Life Community Church – for the sermon see here). Yet equally to be sure, the winds of the Spirit have blown north, as one scholarly volume is aptly titled so that Pentecost and the renewing work of the Spirit has also – indeed, even! – occurred above the US border (Americans from the US may find hard to believe)!
Yet the renewal movement in Western Canada certainly has its own distinct flavor. British Columbian renewalists see commonalities stretching up and down the Pacific Northwest (PNW) rather than eastward across the vast Canadian expanse, meaning that there may be more in common to PNW renewalism than there is a more homogeneous Canadian pentecostalism stretching from the central to the Maritime region in the far Eastern shore. But what are some of the characteristics of pentecostal and charismatic renewal Christianity in this area that is quite secular but also very cosmopolitan and multicultural?
While there is much to talk about, one feature that stands out is how renewalism can flourish as a minority tradition. By this, I am referring to the demographically minute segment of the population that is pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical Christianity in a pluralistic (Western) Canada. Yet even with these constraints, some renewalists are forging new conversations and pathways. The CPS, for instance, realizes that graduate theological education in the (Western) Canadian context can only succeed when intentional and strategic collaboration across evangelical and even ecumenical and traditional lines are forged. ACTS thus includes pentecostal, evangelical, Baptistic, Mennonite, Reformed, and even Roman Catholic partnerships. The future of renewal within this matrix is less an us-versus-them phenomenon but a matrix of more-or-less charismatically oriented or at least informed traditions in which each member or tradition of the theological community (body) has specific gifts that edify the whole for the common good (1 Cor. 12:12ff.).
So renewal and revival may not be exploding across Western Canada like it is numerically in other parts of the world. However, sometimes being a part of a minority tradition teaches us some important lessons and opens up possibilities that we might not otherwise consider when our numbers are stronger and we are part of or have access to the dominant social order. So while renewal Christianity in (Western) Canada may lack some of the pizzazz of what is occurring in the global South (or even south of their border), I would not underestimate its potential to demonstrate leadership in certain venues going forward. That is surely a mark of the Spirit, of whom we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8).