Great Risk for the Kingdom: Pentecostal-Charismatic Growth Churches, Pastorpreneurs, and Neoliberalism

Great Risk for the Kingdom: Pentecostal-Charismatic Growth Churches, Pastorpreneurs, and Neoliberalism

Mark Alan Charles Jennings (Murdoch University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1955-3.ch011
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Abstract

Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity (“PCC”) has successfully navigated the challenges modernity poses to religion, growing rapidly in the twentieth century. Toward the end of the twentieth century, however, neoliberalism began its ascent to its current hegemonic status. Neoliberalism reconfigures social institutions as marketized practices with a measurable ‘payoff'. PCC adapted to this challenge in the form of a “growth churches,” adopting many of the characteristics of neoliberalism. In adopting a homogenous model and method of ‘best practice' in order to facilitate growth; offering a ‘prosperity' theology that fits well with the development of human capital; and endorsing the universalization of risk through modelling “pastorpreneur” leadership, it is argued in this chapter that growth churches are a paradigmatic example of a late modern religious phenomenon accommodating neoliberalism in a largely uncritical manner. The chapter concludes with some observations that critique this association between neoliberalism and growth churches.
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Introduction

Early twentieth century social thinkers such as Émile Durkheim and Max Weber proposed what has come to be known as the “Secularization Thesis,” predicting that rationalism and science would bring about what Weber called a “disenchanted” world – one with no place for religion (Weber, 1946). Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity (hereafter “PCC”) is a religious form that has ‘bucked the trend’ predicted by the Secularization theory, numbering an estimated half a billion followers worldwide at the close of the twentieth century (Hollenweger, 1997). PCC is perhaps Christianity’s chief riposte to the secularization theorists – far from disappearing, here is a religion being born and growing to an enormous size, all in the modern, ‘post-religious’ age (Jennings, 2015).

While much of PCC’s growth has occurred in the still-developing contexts of the poorer nations of the world – referred to by Elijah Kim (2012) as the “Majority World,” PCC has also demonstrated an ability to adapt and grow in late modern societies, such as the United States, Australia, Canada and Western Europe. Toward the end of the twentieth century, and in the early twenty-first, religion and other social institutions have been confronted with the new challenge of neoliberalism – “a peculiar form of reason that configures all aspects of existence in economic terms” (Brown, 2015, p. 17). In this chapter, I briefly survey PCC’s beginnings and early adaptability to the forces of modernity. Next, I will outline some of the key components of neoliberalism, namely “human capital” and “entrepreneurship,” which work to reconfigure all aspects of the social world in measurable, monetizable form. I conclude by examining a paradigmatic example of PCC’s adaptation to neoliberalism – the “growth church” – and discuss why I think this accommodation is highly problematic.

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