The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South
Randall J. Stephens
Harvard University Press, 2008
416 pp., $27.95
John G. Turner
In his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley affirmed that as Christians we are "to be 'perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.' " Many Protestants have read such verses from Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount as intended to convince sinners of their need for grace, not as indicative of anything attainable this side of the Jordan. Wesley, by contrast, saw "entire sanctification" as required of the Christian, "not only at or after death, but 'in this world.' " Wesleyans cited verses such as 1 John 3:6—"Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not"—as clear biblical proof for their doctrine. Over time, though, many Methodists neglected or discarded perfectionism, which Wesley had termed the "grand depositum" of his movement.
Randall Stephens offers a rich portrait of Christians in the American South who embraced perfectionist teachings. Mining untapped pamphlets, periodicals, diaries, and church records, he presents a lucid chronological and regional study of the holiness and Pentecostal movements that eventually dominated the national perception of southern religion. Himself the grandson of a "barnstorming holiness preacher," Stephens chronicles the many ironies that led to this unexpected triumph.
At first, southerners resisted northern holiness missionaries through a combination of anti-abolitionist regionalism, a "musky chauvinism," and deep-rooted Calvinist pessimism. Eventually, however, "carpetbag" evangelists and a flood of literature—Stephens pays careful attention to the role of holiness publishers—converted a stream of "holiness scalawags" to the "double cure." Unlike their mainstream evangelical counterparts, these "religious mavericks" largely rejected the Lost Cause and at least sometimes challenged Dixie's regnant racism and patriarchy. Methodists who adopted holiness teachings saw themselves as restoring the fervor of earlier Wesleyanism, and many longed for the restoration of the New Testament church's spiritual ...