Fire from Heaven
Marie Leslie Griffin-Robert
CHL465 Christian Leadership
Professor Paxton Reed
January 22, 2011
Fire from Heaven
My conversion to Protestantism was due to the Church of God in Christ originated from C.H. Mason whom was influenced by the Azusa street movement. The overwhelming experience that Harvey Cox mentioned that he felt at a Pentecostal service was similar to mine. The presence of the Holy Spirit was what directed the service from beginning to end. One’s life would never be the same after witnessing such experience. Reading, the text Fire from Heaven was like journeying along with Harvey Cox through his experience. The purpose of this report is to explore the author’s spiritual journey through the spirit of Pentecostalism.
The introduction of the book began with a brief description of the origin of Pentecostalism; which he documented biblically from the book of Acts of the Apostles “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place…” (Act 2:1). The day of the Pentecost is traditionally a Jewish holiday in Jerusalem where everyone gathered to commemorate fifty days after Passover. During this celebration occurred the event that would influence the world from that point. Everyone that was there was touched by the Holy Spirit of Christ that ultimately changed each one’s live in a special way. The people were speaking in their own tongues and they comprehended each other. Christian tradition upheld that day as the delivery of the promise of the Messiah. The denomination adopted the theme Pentecostal in remembrance of the event of the Pentecost day.
The first chapter took one on the journeys at the Great Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1983, and the Azusa Street revival beginning in 1906. Cox demonstrated how in these two scenes the religious foundation for the future reflects the unity of the religions and the manifestation of God’s nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. He used these two events through the book to make comparison and contrast to simplify the understanding of Pentecostalism for his readers through the illustration of basic human spiritual needs in both American settings and worldwide. Cox revived the day of the Pentecost in Jerusalem in these two aforementioned events to remind his readers that God is very much alive in one’s life the same way as then. “These two events dominate the book: They are compared and contrasted, and are referred to again and again to help readers understand how Pentecostalism meets and illustrates basic human spiritual needs, both in its original American setting and worldwide “(Smith, 1995)
Cox described the scene at Azusa Street revival in California where the Christians believers under the leadership of a preacher named William Joseph Seymour witnessed the outpoured of the Holy Spirit that day. The scene in this run down building at Azusa Street where the people experienced the manifestation of the Holy Spirit reminded one of the day of the Pentecost in Jerusalem. “God had touched them with the fire of the Spirit and had sent them forth on a mission to the world” (Cox, 2001, p. 65) Cox described the event as a spiritual hurricane that touched nearly half billion people, and whose impact would serve as a vision for the future.
Indeed the fire spreads as Cox so eloquently described it in Chapter 3. God’s glory had been magnified around the globe following the Azusa Street event. People from across the world came to witness and carried the fire home with them to duplicate. It was so contagious that the world was infected by this marvel of God Spirit. People from every lifestyle and creed were affected by the Pentecostalism outbreak. The approach touched churches in such a way that the spirit of hope prevails in everyone as a motivation and encouraged church attendance. The ambiance of the church became so lively and inviting that people from over the world carried the movement to the next level as a way of life. “The most amazing thing about the runaway divisiveness in the young Pentecostal movement is that while the spats and squabbles continued, so did its spread…Wherever Pentecostalism goes it evokes both joy and anger gratitude and rejection, polemic and schism…” (Cox, 2001, p. 77). Despites the many flaws that existed in the doctrine, the fact remains that the movement inspired hope for the waiting of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The author came to term with his mixed feeling in respect to the Pentecostal movement in chapter 13. He personally experienced the outpouring of the Spirit of God during his constant visits to congregations in America and around the world. He felt the movement of the Spirit everywhere he went. He became convinced about the great day of the Pentecost in Jerusalem written in the Bible that he quoted “Run to the young man there and tell him that Jerusalem will be without walls, so numerous will be the people … (Zechariah 2:4-5). In this chapter, Cox captured the flaws of the Pentecostalism movement at the attendance of a service in an American church. He explained his disappointment of the tenure of the service as unexpected. He said, “I was relieved when the service finally ended…” (Cox, 2001, p. 279) The experience did not change his position on the movement. It rather bought awareness of the exploitations and penetration of evil forces to bring forth many negative aspects of it.
Chapter 14 reflects the view of the author in respect to negative forces that infiltrated the vulnerability of the Pentecostalism movement in America. Cox referred to the happenings as invasion of the human body and soul by the force of evils using the Pentecostal movement as an avenue to add a touch of spirituality to their evil works. The author justified his thought not only through the reading of fiction and documented books; also, he observed activities occurring in the “third wave” group that is using the charismatic ways of Pentecostalism; however the group denied being of the Pentecostal movement. According to Cox, such demonic forces affected politics and religions in America and in other countries of the world. Quickly Cox recalling Azusa Street experience to overcome the melancholy arose from his knowledge of these facts. He reflected, “Today Pentecostalism stands in grave danger of losing the invaluable message it could bring to the other churches and to the rest of the world. What had happened to the spirit of Azusa Street?” (Cox, 2001, p. 297)
The author recapped his Pentecostal experience by visiting the Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester under the leadership of Reverend Eugene Rivers. Cox expressed contentment from the worship service. As he explained, his visit there reminded him and brought back memory of the effect of the original spirit of Azusa Street in Los Angeles. He concluded, “I had seen the evidence of its effects in many, many places. But never had I felt closer to the original spirit of Azusa…” (Cox, 2001, p. 321)
The book Fire from Heaven offered a great deal of insight in the world of Pentecostalism. The author encouraged his readers to journey along through the experience of Azusa Street outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The book, because of its simplicity would motivate non Christians into conversion as well as Christians from different denominations to either joined in or borrow from some of the principles to enhance the service at their perspective churches. Briefly, the book had merit and deserved the attention of scholars and Christian leaders in seeking additional knowledge. In my opinion, the book clarified many issues that most people have about Pentecostalism in term of its flaws. The author rendered justice to the movement by defining clearly and fairly the pros and cons of the movement. “Cox offers penetrating insights into how Pentecostals live out their faith in various cultures. Although not pen-tecostal himself, he bases his conclusions on scholarly literature, personal observations, and hundreds of interviews with insiders and experts in many countries. (Freston, 1996)
It is reassuring to note beyond any doubt that God was well presented in this book. The Pentecostalism movement more effectively demonstrates contextualization because any culture would be more opt to adopt the discipline because it is inviting and offered help in understanding one’s own culture. The one thing that was a lesson well learned for me was the perseverance and humility of the author and his ability to admit his weakness and strong attribute. “Nevertheless, Cox has written an engaging and thoughtful book that deserves to be widely read. Given the many valuable insights in Fire from Heaven, I can only hope that he will soon be on the road again.” (McGee, 1995)
Cox, H. (2001). Fire from Heaven. Cambridge: Da Capo.
Freston, M. R. (1996). Oxford Centre for Mission Studies , 346.
McGee, G. B. (1995). MA: Addison-Wesley. In H. Cox, Fire From Heaven.
Smith, R. (1995). Fire from Heaven book review. Anglican Theological Review , 321-324.
Version, K. J. (2005). Holy Bible. Nashville, Ten: Holman Bible Publishers.