Saturday, March 14, 2020

Catch the Fire: -- A Book Review by Sutton

Catch the Fire: 
Soaking Prayer 
Charismatic Renewal   


Michael Wilkinson 

&  Peter Althouse

Reviewed by 

  Geoffrey W. Sutton, 

Soaking prayer is claimed by charismatics to facilitate and expand the reception of divine love in order to give it away in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and benevolence. Soaking is a metaphor that supports charismatic spirituality and practices like resting in the Spirit, prayer for spiritual gifts, healing, prophecy, and impartation, which we describe and explain in this book (p. 4).

The authors offer readers an integrated sociological and theological perspective on soaking prayer as practiced by charismatic Christians associated with Catch the Fire (CTF), a church in Toronto, Canada and a worldwide movement.

Wilkinson and Althouse contextualize soaking prayer in two primary ways. 
1. Dramatic presentations of praying were documented among the adherents of the modern Pentecostal movement often associated with Azusa Street in the early 1900s. From being slain in the Spirit, to resting in the Spirit during the Catholic charismatic movement, we see bodily responses to God’s presence, which precede a believer’s empowerment for service. 

2. The second contextual framework is the model of godly love described by Pitirim Sorokin, a Harvard sociologist who studied religion and altruism. His work led to the more recent formulations by Margaret Poloma, Stephen Post, and Matthew Lee. In this model, believers first receive love infused energy during prayer, which enables them to love others in various measurable ways.

The book follows a standard research format but is presented as a highly readable narrative. In Chapter 1, an overview of the Pentecostal movement provides the historical context for CTF ministries. The authors highlight the physical aspects of worship, which reveals the long history of embodiment in Pentecostal and Charismatic spirituality. Overt manifestations of the Spirit are seen in bodily healing, glossolalia, and dance.

Chapter 2 is a foundational chapter for a sociological perspective on prayer. The authors take us beyond mere frequency counts to begin an appreciation of different types of prayer (e.g., meditative, contemplative) and how prayer may be linked to measurable outcomes such as forgiveness, health, and general well-being.

In Chapter 3, readers learn the role of ritual in charismatic spirituality. At a basic level, rituals are simply regularized ways that a group of people act. The authors draw on the interaction ritual theory of Randall Collins to capture key components of charismatic prayer. For charismatics, prayer is an interactive social event that binds worshipers together. The recurrent form of the social prayer formats offers structure and promotes group identity.

Chapter 4 offers an in-depth look at soaking prayer through the eyes of the observer-participant authors. Their survey method is enhanced by interviews and field observations. The account reveals the important role of the body in worship and the link to godly love.

In Chapter 5, the authors address a particularly contemporary issue—the role of gender in CTF leadership. Authority emerges in different ways. In Pentecostal and charismatic movements there is a nuance that goes beyond biblical authority. Leaders emerge based on evidence of anointing and miraculous works. Evidence of godly authority can be seen when prayer results in healing and demonic forces are overcome. Blessings and spiritual gifts provide evidence of authority granted by God’s Spirit. Following an overview, the authors describe the role of Apostles in the charismatic movement and CTF. Their analysis examines the key roles of Carol Arnott and June Bain in soaking prayer along with the leadership of Heidi Baker; however, they did not find evidence that women were recognized as Apostles.

In the final chapter (6), the authors take us on a tour of three sites to examine how soaking prayer leads to community outreach. 

1.  Compassion for the poor is evident in a ministry of River City Church in Jacksonville, Florida. 
2.  A compelling story of Black-White reconciliation reveals the expression of love at CTF Montreal, Canada. 
3.  Finally, a social justice ministry to those in prison exemplifies the love energy of Tierra Nueva in Burlington, Washington.

As a researcher, I appreciated the data summary in the Appendix. The sample consisted of 258 participants who were mostly from the U.S. (71.9%) in the middle to early senior age groups (46 -64; 60%). Most were married (73.9%) women (70.2%) of European (86.5%) ethnicity with a High School (40.9%) or College/University (40.9%) education. Most were not pastors or ordained ministers (73.9%) but almost all reported being Spirit-filled (97.6%). 

Of particular value to the psychosocial study of religion are some of the detailed questions regarding the frequency and type of prayer activities. For example, the authors include a category of frequency for prayer Throughout the Entire Day (59%). And they include Bible reading and reflection as a type of prayer activity (71%) in addition to the expected activities of interceding for personal (77.1%) needs and the needs of others (90.6%). The survey includes a wide range of charismatic experiences and expressions of love (e.g., compassion, hope, forgiveness).

As a psychologist who studies religion and psychotherapy, I recommend this book for psychotherapist who treat Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians. I was particularly interested in reports of relaxation, experiences of love, and increased hope, compassion, and forgiveness. Although the ritual of soaking prayer may not be appropriate in the office of licensed clinicians. It may be of benefit to clients affiliated with Pentecostal or Charismatic traditions or groups.

Anyone interested in the expansion of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement in North American and beyond will find this book interesting. The richness offered by the thick descriptions make the work of interest to a wide range of students and scholars. And behavioral scientists will appreciate the statistical evidence in addition to the specific questions, which serve to expand an understanding of how charismatic Christians pray and reveal godly love in their lives. 

I cited several findings from Catch the Fire in Counseling and Psychotherapy with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians. The Catch the Fire study includes relevant information on charismatic cultures, types of prayer, healing, demons and deliverance, and mental wellness.


Sutton, G. W. (2015). [Review of the book Catch the fire: Soaking prayer and charismatic renewal by Michael Wilkinson & Peter F. Althouse]. Encounter, 12. ResearchGate Link    Academia Link  

My books related to Pentecostal and Evangelical Christianity at WIPFandSTOCK

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