Research: charismatic renewal movement in South Africa
After reading Charles Villa-Vicencio’s book Trapped in apartheid (see Notes from underground: Trapped in apartheid – South African churches) I became aware that very little has been written on the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and its effects on church and society. There are occasional references in passing, which very often assume that the reader knows all about it. I discussed this with a few other people, and began to look at the possibility of writing a book on the subject.
The “charismatic renewal movement” was a rediscovery of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among non-Pentecostal Christian bodies. Pentecostal groups had flourished since the late 19th century, and they emphasised the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which became one of their distinctive doctrines. In the second half of the 20th century pentecostal experiences appeared with increasing frequency in non-Pentecostal Christian denominations. Some of those affected adopted the classical Pentecostal pneumatology, while others began to re-examine, and sometimes reinterpret, the pneumatology of their own tradition.
The focus of such a study would be on the charismatic renewal in non-Pentecostal bodies in South Africa the period 1960-1995. It could not be contained strictly within those limits, however, because there were similar renewal movements in other countries, both in southern Africa and overseas. There was also considerable interaction with Pentecostal groups, but others have written about those. The dating is bounded by secular events; 1960 was the year in which many secular political groups, such as the ANC and PAC were banned, a republican referendum held, and the implementation of the apartheid policy and civil repression intensified. Apartheid ended in 1994, with the first democratic elections. This was also the period in which the charismatic renewal movement flourished.
The story is complicated by the fact that the charismatic renewal seemed to spring up in many different places independently. It began differently in different denominations and spread in the 1960s. In the 1970s it drew people together, across denominational, racial and class boundaries, somewhat to the consternation of the National Party government. In the 1980s, however, it began to disintegrate, and the new-found unity proved short lived, and several new denominations took root, sometimes emphasising distinctive doctrines. People began to speak of “charismatic burnout”.
It would be impossible for one person to write a detailed history of such a variegated movement, and it is probably too soon even to make a preliminary evaluation. But something needs to be done to at least provide a full picture. No one did much to record the history of the movement as it was happening; they were too busy making history to record it. There were lots of ephemeral publications, newsletters and magazines, but most of them were concerned with teaching and doctrine rather than events. Where they did record events, they were often like the gospel pericopes — testimonies of healing and the like where the details of time and place got worn away, recounted for spiritual edification.
Indeed, trying to write the story now is in some ways a challenge similar to that faced by the gospel writers, trying to collect and recall memories of events that had taken place 30-50 years previously. Perhaps they were concerned, as I am, to interview living witness of those events before they have all died. And how, after such an interval, does one find such witnesses, and persuade them to tell their stories?
One way, which was not available to the gospel writers, is to post an appeal in a blog, as I am doing now, and that someone who knows something about it may read it. Or even that someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows may read it.
So I’ve drawn up a preliminary survey, to try to get some of the people who might be able to provide information. If you were in South Africa at any time in the period 1960-1995, and had any encounter with the charismatic renewal movement, and are willing to share information about it, please
It won’t take long, though since it is a historical survey rather than a sociological one, it isn’t anonymous, it does ask for your name and contact information, so that I can ask you for more detailed information if necessary.
If you are willing to provide information, or can suggest people or publications who could provide more, please write them in a comment here, or get in touch with me by e-mail.