Book Review: Frank Bartleman's Azusa Street

Anyone who has been around Pentecostal academic circles (and yes, they do exist) has heard a great deal about the Azusa Street revival of 1906, an event which marks (but does not solely define) the beginnings of modern Pentecost.  And they’ve heard many things about.  But how do they know these things?  How, for example, do we know that William Seymour, the black man who lead the initial revival, prayed speaking into a shoe box?  Who said that the colour line was washed away in the Blood?  How do we know that they sang “The Comforter Has Come” as sort of an anthem?

While not the only source, a key witness–and participant–to all of this who went on to write his account down was Frank Bartleman.  His Azusa Street: How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, first published in 1925, is probably the single most important account we have of an event which has, over the past century, swept the world and transformed Christianity as nothing else has since the Reformation.  However, in spite of what has come to be associated with “Pentecostal” and “Charismatic”, Bartleman–at once journalist, tractarian and preacher–was in many ways a far cry of what many associate now with a Pentecostal minister.

Bartleman was born in 1871 in Pennsylvania, and was converted in a Baptist church in Philadelphia.  Like many of his era, he was uneasy with the church choices of his day, and he wandered from one to another, getting married in the meanwhile.  He eventually ended up “cured of ever worshipping a religious zeal or creed” at the Pillar of Fire Church in Denver.  From there he moved to Los Angeles, where he ministered to the downtrodden, preached and wrote and distributed tracts.

There had been signs in Los Angeles that something greater was coming in Methodist and Baptist churches.  There was also the Welsh Revival in progress across the Atlantic, and Bartleman corresponded with Evan Roberts.  When Seymour was locked out of a Nazarene church for preaching the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, he began his work at the Azusa Street Mission.  On 19 April 1906–the day after the San Francisco earthquake up the coast–Bartleman first visited the Mission.  The evidence Seymour had preached for had been out in the open for ten days, and the racially mixed services abounded with a new move of the Spirit.

That move did not come without controversy.  As would be the case today, the secular press of the day (especially the Los Angeles Times) trashed the movement.  But there were problems enough “inside the camp”.  Bartleman, for his part, attributes most of these to the ministers, both those who opposed the movement and those who supported and attempted to “lead” the movement.  Bartleman was a tireless advocate of a truly Spirit-led Christianity where the only authority came from God and the only movement came directed by the Holy Spirit, and the machinations of ministers grieved him greatly.  He even decried the “jazzy” music that came into vogue in Pentecostal churches after World War I.  For those of us who were nurtured on folk music during the Charismatic Renewal, then went to Pentecostal and Charismatic churches only to be told that first the “bar room” style, then rock-style praise and worship are the only things that came from the Throne Room, such an assessment is heartening.  (His comments on the deleterious effect of war on Pentecost and revival bear repeating; it wasn’t the first time it happened, and certainly not the last).

His attitude toward ministers–one that has some parallel in Charles Finney, although in many ways Bartleman is more “purely spiritual” than Finney was–is only part of what sets him apart from today’s standard.  He lived his life in poverty, depending upon God for his sustenance and wandering from one rented room (or not much more than that) to another.  His daughter Esther died shortly before the revival began, leading to the most heart-rending part of the book.  But he accepted what came his way as part of the price he paid for doing God’s work and forwarding the revival, one which he was confident would go around the world, as it did.

Bartleman writes in a maudlin style that has gone out of fashion, with many pithy and poignant phrases, but he still writes with more precision and without the positive-confession triumphalism that is common now.  This edition’s introduction by Vinson Synan provides very helpful historical background to Bartleman’s life and writing, although Bartleman’s own book does not need as much commentary as many others.

Bartleman ends his book with a plea for Christian unity.  Division and difficulties were present even at Azusa Street; our track record in that regard is no better, we should take his exhortation to heart.  Azusa Street: How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles is a sincere and documented account about a movement that has shaken the world to the same extent as the earthquake shook San Francisco, one that anyone who considers him or herself an heir to should read–and one that those who don’t should also.

Yes, It Really Pays to Learn How to Code

I was pleasantly surprised at Douglas Rushkoff’s article that advocates teaching kids in the U.S. how to code (program, for some of the rest of us) a computer.  I’d like to add some personal experience to this, as coding has been a large part of my computer experience.

Almost forty years ago, my father and I journeyed to Texas A&M University for me to look the school over.  During the tour we met the Assistant Dean of Engineering, a courtly gentleman named C.H. Ransdell (you old-time Southerners will recognise the use of initials).  A product of 1930’s engineering school, he was helpful in getting me to come to Texas A&M, a decision that proved controversial back home.

I came back that summer for freshman orientation, and same courtly Dean Ransdell helped lay out my first semester’s coursework.  Among the courses I took was computer programming, and in those days that meant FORTRAN.  Even he could see where this world was going (so did Jack K. Williams, the university’s president).

That skill has stuck with me; FORTRAN 77 (as it became) is still my “native” computer programming language, although I’ve coded in BASIC and PHP since that time.  (A sample of this is here). My teacher has had a long career in computer science; his speciality is cryptography, relevant then and now.  The underlying things that make computers really work haven’t changed as much as you might think.

When I started my PhD at the SimCentre, same SimCentre was very concerned about my ability to code.  I dispatched these concerns up front, although there have been other challenges.  Coding is still an essential skill for those who actually make computers work for whatever purpose, in spite of the advances that have taken place in object-oriented programming, etc.

Their concern re a student as old as me was unfounded, but my teaching tells me that most of my “traditional” students–and I’m teaching civil engineering–really could use the skill.  The convenience of computers has basically dulled their desire to actually “get under the hood” and even program a spreadsheet (and you can do quite a lot with a spreadsheet).

Coding forces an individual to do two things that most people hate to do.

It first forces you to use logic in a rigorous fashion.  A weak logical structure will kill you in successful programming as quickly as just about anything.  You have to construct the algorithm (or at least understand what it’s doing in the code you’re adopting).

Second if forces you to consider all the sources of error that might come up in an algorithm.  Those sources include poor implementation of the logic, improper coding of the mathematics, and the errors that result from digital computation.

By the time you’re done with this, you look at computers differently.  Instead of being the passive recipient of the results, you have an idea of what’s behind it, and are more sceptical of those results.

During my first job at Texas Instruments, I did some fairly elaborate coding in the design of this.   My boss looked at it and expressed his concern that, with results as “effortless” as these, he wasn’t sure how the “old fogies” (who just got the results out) would deal with it.  My response is that this was a bigger problem for the next generation coming up that didn’t have to do the coding.  That’s where we’ve been since and where we are now.  We live in a society where too many people are accepting too many results uncritically that come out of a computer.

For those of us who code, this reality is scary. It should be for you too.  We need to teach those who plan to use a computer how to code, for their sakes as well as ours.

Charlie Crist: When Diversity Doesn't Quite Work Out

He officially becomes a Democrat:

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist‘s decision to formally join the Democratic Party – making the announcement via Twitter after a fist bump from President Obama – suggests to his critics a savvy political chameleon prepping for a 2014 gubernatorial run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Few tears shed over this one…but let’s look at the following:

At the 2008 Republican Governors Association meeting, which Crist hosted in Miami, he said, “This party can no longer hope to reach Hispanics, African Americans and other minority groups – we need to just do it. Embracing cultures and lifestyles will make us a better party and better leaders. This desire for inclusiveness is near and dear to my heart….”

In his case it worked too well: two years later he lost his Republican Senate primary to the very Hispanic Marco Rubio.

As we say in Evangelical circles, be careful about what you pray for: you might just get it.


Please Don't Stop Barack Obama From Skipping Town

Some people are trying though:

A new petition gaining ground on the White House website calls on President Obama to cancel his estimated $4 million vacation and devote the money instead to helping victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The petition, which was created just two days ago, had 872 signatures as of 8:45 am ET this morning and is potentially be on its way to garnering the 25,000 signatures in 30 days required to elicit a response from the White House.

Although the victims of Sandy certainly need the help, this isn’t the way to do it.  (This is.)

If Barack Obama and Congress (the opposite of progress) stay in town, they will drag out the farce otherwise known as the “negotiations” to avert the “fiscal cliff”.  Our media has terrorised the American people over the dire consequences of a group of legal events happening: the end of the “Bush tax cuts” (which Obama himself agreed to extend once) and the initiation of “sequestration” where the government actually stops spending money on something.

Personally I think the fiscal cliff thing is rubbish.  First, we lived with Clinton tax rates for years without disaster.  Second, chances are that anything this dysfunctional political system comes up with will be worse than the “cliff” that would happen if nothing else were done.

The problem here is simple: we are Americans.  First, we are obsessed with “getting something done” in every situation.  But that’s the problem with our government: our fixation with “there ought to be a law” and “something ought to be done” has resulted in a Byzantine (with apologies to the Eastern Roman Empire) legal system and high incarceration rate.  (And, of course, there’s the perennial problem with Americans negotiating).  The second is that we aren’t used to sudden lurches in our legal environment, as happens elsewhere in the world.  But face it: until we return to real Constitutional government, stuff like this is going to happen.  And fixing the “fiscal cliff” won’t advance that one bit.

The truth is that Barack Obama should have skipped town sooner.  Everyone bawls about this thing inducing a recession, but for Barack Obama (and Congress really) the sooner the better, with yet another election cycle (sigh) looming on the horizon.  By then everyone can claim to have rescued us from yet another economic downturn without having to do anything!

As far as the Sandy victims are concerned, the US$4 million isn’t within the significant figures of the Federal budget(?).  Such would be swallowed up in administration before the victims saw its benefit.  We need to stop silly petitions and start figuring out a practical means for our own survival, with or without our Federal government.

When Oystermen Offend the Earth

When they’re leasing public land, and that must be stopped:

Kevin Lunny’s struggle to keep his family’s oyster farm running in Point Reyes National Seashore appears to be over, closing out an era of oysterman plying the park’s pristine waters and ushering in the nation’s newest ocean wilderness.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement Thursday that he was allowing the oyster farm’s lease to expire took many by surprise — especially Drakes Bay Oyster Co. owner Lunny — whose family also operates a cattle ranch in the park.

“We expected a different decision. We really thought that there was a right and a wrong here, and we expected the secretary to make the right decision,” Lunny said.

I’m not sure why he’s surprised.  The real surprise is that the Interior Department will allow the 15 cattle ranches to continue at the park.

One of the tenets of environmentalism is that humans are intruders on the earth, to be restricted in scope and numbers when possible.  In some ways, that’s an easier case to make with New-Earth Creationism than with an evolutionary model, especially if hatred for the Creator is thrown in for good measure.  Given the current obsession with people “believing in evolution”, one wonders what traverses the minds of our environmental establishment.  But if environmentalists are closet New-Earth Creationists, perhaps it’s time for yet another group to come out of the closet.

It’s some comfort to note that at least one member of California’s senatorial delegation has some sense about this:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the National Academy of Sciences claimed park officials were trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment.

On Thursday, Feinstein said she was extremely disappointed by the decision by Salazar that will put 30 people out of work.

“The National Park Service’s review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science,” she said in a statement…California’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, voiced support for Salazar’s choice, saying he made his decision based on science and law.

It’s highly doubtful that Sen. Boxer, in common with most Americans, is in a place to evaluate much of anything on a “scientific” basis.

Pat Robertson not a Creationist? That Depends Upon How You Define the Word

Up in Richmond, they’re aghast at this latest oracle from the Tidewater:

Televangelist Pat Robertson challenged the idea that Earth is 6,000 years old this week, saying the man who many credit with conceiving the idea, former Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher, “wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years.”

The statement was in response to a question Robertson fielded Tuesday from a viewer on his Christian Broadcasting Network show “The 700 Club.” In a submitted question, the viewer wrote that one of her biggest fears was that her children and husband would not go to heaven “because they question why the Bible could not explain the existence of dinosaurs.”

This is only news to those who have not been paying attention.

I can’t remember the date, but one day the 700 Club ran a story on Patrick Henry University.  One of the things they brought up about this institution was that it required its faculty to sign a statement affirming their belief that the Creation took place in six (Earth) days.  When the piece was done, Pat turned to his co-hostess Terry Meeuwsen and asked her whether she could sign such a statement.  She relied she could not, to which he answered he couldn’t either.  That’s not the only time he has gone on record saying in effect that he is an “old earth creationist” but Richmond, like other capitals, doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on in the “provinces” unless it’s pretty sensational.

Whether Pat is “challenging creationism”, as the article’s title states, depends upon your definition of the word “creationist”.  My definition of the word is simple: a creationist is someone who believes that the universe was brought into existence by an external creator (God) ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing.  (That’s because, strictly speaking, the definition of creation is bringing things into existence without pre-existent matter).  This is opposed to those who believe that the universe is eternal.  This debate has gone on since Aristotle (as readers of Moses Maimonides know) and is current in modern physics.  By this definition I am a creationist, and so (I’m pretty sure) is Pat.

However, these days a “creationist” is someone who believes in the six literal days and all that goes with it.  By that definition neither one of us is a creationist, and Pat’s disclaimer is certainly true:

Before answering the question, Robertson acknowledged the statement was controversial by saying, “I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this.”

Another inaccuracy the article perpetuates is that young-earth creationism’s greatest challenge was Darwin’s work on evolution.  This is not the case because the strongest challenge to a young earth is not biological but geological.  As is the case with the Biblical account, dirt (and rocks) came first, and carbon based life later.

The biologists need to come off their high horse on this matter, and the sooner the better.