Power-Surrender Dynamic


The issue of Liturgy dealing with “Pentecostal Worship,” guest-edited by Tanya Riches and L. Edward Phillips, looks at many aspects of the topic, including the use of music to create what Pentecostals value as “worship music.” Sociologist Gerardo Martí studied several Pentecostal churches in Southern California to explore what he labels the “power-surrender dynamic.” He specifically sought to articulate how music supports the worshippers’ experience of God’s presence. What follows is an excerpt from his essay. –– Melinda Quivik


The power–surrender dynamic is significant in how it reveals worship among Pentecostal Christians to be a deliberate and unending goal. Worship among Pentecostals assumes individuals can deliberately place themselves in an ideal spiritual location (i.e., both situationally in a physical space and emotionally in an inner stance) to stimulate a distinctive spiritual experience. Because of the role of the individual’s own willfulness and proactive attitude, Pentecostal worship participates in a particularly modern expression of personal agency that provokes (not merely invites but invokes, rouses, and stimulates) the promise of God’s unique empowerment for human activity. Faithful believers engaging in Pentecostal worship intentionally and ironically situate their physical and emotional selves in the expectation of a surprise touch of the holy. Moreover, particularly within the Western urban context, issues of employment, career, and labor are central to the experience of the capitalist economy, alongside the tensions of parenting, marriage, and intimate relationships that are always implicated in such efforts, such that sacred empowerment almost always fixates on a person’s hopefulness in finding pathways through work and family concerns.

Frederick Dale Bruner’s book, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, was one of the first to offer a fairly systematic and critical treatise on the experience of Pentecostal worship. He acknowledges that Pentecostals create intentional settings to produce a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. Bruner speaks of the “tarrying meeting,” a place where Pentecostals are characterized by a “constant readiness for divine invasion,” geared toward summoning the divine presence. As the most potent of religious gatherings, these meetings feature the intensity of collectively calling forth a deep engagement, believers gathering with an eagerness to hear others manifest the speaking in tongues, recognized as the unmistakable evidence of God’s intimate indwelling of each person. This forward-leaning fervor combines with fostering an attitude of receptive yielding by potential receivers of the Spirit, enacting an active docility where physical bodies become pliable. Here is where body— especially the tongue—is surrendered to the control of the divine. Bruner acknowledges the critique that such arrangements are manipulative and artificial, but he is sympathetic to such ironically intentional meetings, saying, “A defense of the ‘forced expectation’ in the tarrying meeting is usually offered by Pentecostals on the basis of Jesus’ own command to ‘tarry ye ... until [ye be clothed with power from on high].’” In other words, it’s okay because Jesus himself commands it. Yes, carnally motivated methods can produce pseudo-results, since members and church leaders can be complicit in their zealous desire to witness the workings of the Spirit. Nevertheless, Bruner believes that authentic Spirit baptism—the powerful, individual experience of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues and reminiscent of the New Testament account of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2—more likely results from such meetings than others, and that makes them the most valuable opportunities for Spirit baptism to occur.

Gerardo Martí’s full essay in Liturgy 33, no. 3 is available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Gerardo Martí is L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College, Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly journal Sociology of Religion, and the author of Worship across the Racial Divide (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Gerardo Martí, “Maranatha (O LORD, Come): The Power-Surrender Dynamic of Pentecostal Worship,” Liturgy 33, no. 3 (2018): 20-28.

David Turnbloom