Daniel CASTELO. Pentecostalism as A Christian Mystical Tradition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2017. pp. 194.  $30.00 pb. ISBN: 978080289562. Reviewed by Walter SISTO, D’Youville College.


Daniel Castelo begins his book with a provocative question: “Is Pentecostalism a Protestant movement?” (xii) Castelo argues that it is not a Protestant tradition and moreover, Pentecostalism is a distinctive Christian tradition that is best understood as a mystical tradition. Castelo’s thesis will undoubtedly cause consternation among scholars of Pentecostalism as well as many Pentecostals who tend to identify their tradition with Evangelicalism. However, Castelo perceptively notes that although Pentecostalism may seem prima facie an iteration of modern Evangelicalism, it not only lacks the rationalism of the Evangelical tradition but its stress on Spirit-Baptism, and the relationship with the Holy Spirit after this experience that offers a new way of reading Scripture and experiencing Christianity set it apart from Evangelicalism.

Albeit provocative, Castelo offers a well-reasoned and researched argument that ignoring the mystical and apophatic elements of Pentecostalism leads to a diminished understanding of the Pentecostal ethos. While avoiding apologetics, Castelo criticizes what many scholars perceive as the anti-rational elements of Pentecostalism, the inability or unwillingness of Pentecostals to develop a distinctive theological system. He spends the third chapter developing a response to these criticisms, namely that the problem is not strictly Pentecostalism itself, but rather the bifurcation that has occurred in modern theology between spirituality/mysticism and systematic theology that tends to devalue Christian traditions that stress spirituality as opposed to rationality.  

Framing Pentecostals within Christian mysticism allows for a rethinking of Pentecostalism but also to differentiate it from American Protestantism. In Castelo’s estimation this helps it to retain its integrity but also frees it from the constraints of more rationally oriented traditions. Moreover, the Christian mystical tradition offers a treasure trove of spirituality that not only help to articulate inchoate aspects of Pentecostalism to non-Pentecostals, such as Spirit-Baptism or the glossolalia phenomena, but act as a catalyst to develop neglected aspects of Pentecostalism such as “a need for a dark-night purging” or a development of a full-blooded Pentecostal spirituality. (176) The Pentecostalism’s stress on Spirit-Baptism neglects spiritual development and the need to mature in your relationship with God beyond sensory phenomena.   

Nevertheless, Castelo concedes that his book is a working proposal that seeks to provide a new framework for examining Pentecostalism. He does not develop a full-blooded Pentecostal mysticism, but rather persuasively argues that Pentecostalism is a modern mystical tradition. His appropriation of Christian mysticism to Pentecostalism results in fascinating explanations of Pentecostal doctrine. Castelo, for instance, offers a successful analogy to help understand Spirit-baptism which is not only a central teaching in Pentecostalism but also one that is not clearly articulated. Castelo employs St. Gregory of Nyssa’s teaching on epektasis or the “attainment-pursuit paradox” of the spiritual life as an analogy for Spirit-Baptism. (166) St. Gregory does not resolve the paradox of the spiritual life, as the encounter of God who descended to us in Christ results in a continual pursuit of God. In the same manner, Spirit-Baptism is like epektasis in nature, “it is a burning desire that tastes and sees the goodness of God” that results in a continual pursuit of God. (166)  

Castelo’s book is an important, well-researched contribution to the study of Pentecostalism. For scholars unfamiliar with this tradition, Castelo’s monograph offers a solid introduction to this tradition and the current research on Pentecostalism. However, outside Pentecostalism, this study will appeal to ecumenists, particularly Orthodox and Catholic ecumenists, as well as those interested in Christian mysticism outside the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Castelo draws from a variety of Church Fathers, and the Carmelite mystical masters, such as John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. He makes a myriad of connections between these traditions that may provide fertile soil for the ecumenical movement. By drawing from the Christian mystical tradition, he unintentionally highlights Catholic and Orthodox aspects of Pentecostalism as well as Pentecostal aspects of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.