Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism, by Thomas A. Fudge. Parkland, FL: Universal Publishers, 2003.
The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is well-known for asserting that “the Bible standard of full salvation” requires, in addition to faith, two further acts: 1) baptism in water by immersion using a particular formula — “in the name of Jesus Christ,” rather than using a Trinitarian formula; and 2) speaking with other tongues, as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some observers label the UPCI a “cult,” charging that it denies the Reformation doctrine of sola fide — the Biblical doctrine affirmed by Protestants that salvation comes by faith alone and not by works. In these critics’ minds, the UPCI’s doctrine of salvation — which requires faith plus two additional steps — makes Jesus Christ merely a stepping stone to salvation, instead of the cornerstone.
The UPCI’s rejection of the historic doctrine of the Trinity also has been a significant impediment to relations between it and other Pentecostal bodies. While the UPCI is the most prominent Oneness (non-Trinitarian) Pentecostal denomination, some Oneness churches disagree with the UPCI’s stance that “full salvation” requires a three-step process.
Given this significant theological chasm between the UPCI and other Pentecostal bodies, it is surprising that very little scholarship has been published about the historical development of the UPCI’s distinctive doctrines. Thomas Fudge, in Christianity without the Cross, has broken new ground by providing a fascinating account of the evolution of the UPCI’s beliefs.
One of Fudge’s most interesting arguments is that the UPCI’s insistence on the three-step process is a relatively new phenomenon. He claims to recover a “vanishing past” — aspects of the UPCI’s history that have not been included in Oneness history books. For instance, he tells the story of the Pentecostal Church, Inc. (PCI), one of two organizations that merged in 1945 to form the UPCI. According to Fudge, neither the PCI — nor the UPCI in its early years — made the three-step salvation doctrine a requirement for fellowship. While sola fide was a tolerated minority position in the young UPCI, in recent years the denomination has required its ministers affirm the three-step doctrine on their credential renewal forms.
Fudge, an insider and the son of a UPCI minister, has provided valuable insight into a corner of Pentecostalism that is poorly understood by outsiders. His careful research and preservation of sources (including oral history) that might otherwise have been lost are impressive. However, UPCI leaders likely will take issue with some of Fudge’s conclusions. Hopefully, this book is only the beginning of further scholarly inquiry into the origins and doctrine of this large segment of the Pentecostal movement. Christianity without the Cross will be of interest to those familiar with Oneness Pentecostalism, and should be in every seminary and university library.
Reviewed by Darrin Rodgers.
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