August 23, 2004
Thomas A Fudge, Christianity without the Cross. A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism. (Parkland, FL: Universal Publishers, 2003). vi + 394 pp. $29.95 paper.
Although Thomas A. Fudge’s Christianity without the Cross claims to be “a history of salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism,” the title is somewhat misleading. Rather, Fudge writes a very specific history of a single oneness organization, the United Pentecostal Church (UPC). The UPC, formed in 1945, generally equates John 3:5 with Acts 2:38, ascribing special soteriological significance to Peter’s initiatory sermon on Pentecost. Specifically, the UPC teaches that the New Testament pattern of conversion/initiation is repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name for the remission of sin, and being filled with the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues. Fudge offers the reader what amounts to a minority report of those who came to the formation of the UPC believing otherwise, and who, from Fudge’s perspective, lost their voice in the years following the formation of the UPC.
Christianity without the Cross offers an unusual insider look at the workings of UPC church organization. This generally well-written book presents a wealth of information gleaned through numerous interviews in which Fudge demonstrates a global understanding of issues within the UPC. There is, unfortunately, some methodological unevenness to his presentation. He begins the book by tracing the historical development of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century; because Fudge privileges Robert Mapes Anderson’s construal of the formation of Pentecostalism while largely ignoring the corrective work of Grant Wacker, the reader is left with a reductionist deprivation theory as the explanation for Pentecostalism origins.
Further bias manifests itself when the history of the United Pentecostal Church itself is offered. It appears that for Fudge, the worst sin of the UPC is that they are in fact the UPC. While Catholics or Lutherans might defend their place for baptism or other sacraments, Fudge allows no such quarter for the UPC—they become Christians without a cross. In the end, this kind of cutting critique gets in the way of the narrative. On p. 36, William Durham, with whom Fudge is sympathetic, emerges as the “only authentic or original theologian of those early years…” while the people who equate Acts 2:38 with the new birth are throughout the text “radicals,” even though, by Fudge’s own research, they always constituted the majority position of the UPC. The thing that Fudge works to prove, the kind of underlying premise of the work, is that by historically consolidating the majority position, the UPC is somehow in violation of the spirit of its own articles of faith.
Christianity without the Cross offers a helpful critique but self destructs in the last third of the text. People who were apparently forced to leave the UPC emerge as heroic martyrs, while those who are in Fudge’s mind responsible for their leaving come across as both dishonest and reprehensible. This shoot-to-kill vindictiveness causes one to second-guess Fudge’s credibility throughout the entire book, which is unfortunate.
One doesn’t have to agree with the perspective of Thomas A. Fudge to be thankful to him for cataloguing this piece of history of the UPC. To what level doctrinal development occurred may be argued, but to quibble about it misses the point. It is certain that those within the UPC place a different meaning on historical development than does Fudge. Both Classical Pentecostals in general and the United Pentecostals in particular view themselves as restorationist movements, and as such, doctrinal development and solidification of that doctrinal position is normal and works to bring modern day Christianity closer to the teachings of the earliest church. Although Fudge is within his rights to disallow this perspective, it is unfortunate that his lack of charity takes away from what is an otherwise interesting and informative contribution to the place of the UPC in modern Pentecostalism.
(This article originally appeared in Pneuma, Spring 2004.)
© 2004, David S. Norris
David S. Norris is Professor of Biblical Theology at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.