Review: Correspondence of Lewi Pethrus

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Lewis brev: urval ur Lewi Pethrus korrespondens, by Joel Halldorf. Foreword by Per Olof Enquist. Örebro, Sweden: Libris, 2007.

Sometimes it is not obvious how an investigation should be conducted and what methods are most appropriate for working through subject matter. Sometimes we think that the strict scientific approach is superior. Other times we learn that there are perspectives that can help us reach insights that go beyond what is determinable by scientific method. We might discuss the relative merits of keeping a distance from the subject, or at least attempt to not be too positive towards it. However, some serious scholars and philosophers claim that an inside perspective towards a subject is, in their scientific judgment, a precondition for doing justice to the material. Everything must be understood from the inside.

These thoughts ran through my mind while reading Joel Halldorf’s book, Lewis brev: urval ur Lewi Pethrus korrespondens (in English, Lewi’s Letters: Selections from Lewi Pethrus’ Correspondence), which is based on the correspondence of Swedish Pentecostal leader Lewi Pethrus (1884–1974). Halldorf shoulders a number of roles as author of this book. He unearthed letters to and from Lewi Pethrus that until now had not been public. He places this correspondence in its historical context. And he also conducted journalistic interviews with children and close friends of the correspondents. Halldorf acts as a critical and constructive presenter of the Pentecostal movement of which he himself is part.

This is a beautiful book. By the choice of title and preface-writer it is also connected to Per Olof Enquist’s great novel about Lewi Pethrus. It also works through, with new perspectives, some of those tensions and conflicts documented by Enquist. The book is well-designed, with different fonts for the regular text and the letters, and it also includes a number of pictures and photographs. The author provides commentary alongside the correspondence, and the book also lists the sources used. This demonstrates great care on the part of the author. An investigation of this kind is particularly welcome since the scholarly treatment of the life of Lewi Pethrus was previously limited to one dissertation. Neither are there any reasons to question the author’s insights concerning the material or his willingness to uncover sources. All the stones have been turned.

Also interesting are some of the author’s own comments about the journalistic method he at times employs, in particular because he belongs to the very movement he studied. There is no need for an apology. I think his broad investigation yielded more insights than if he had limited his methods. The journalistic interviews that are included not only shine brightly, but they provide depth to the related comments, due to the author’s ability to link them to both the present day and the his own insights concerning our own times. Halldorf’s connection to the Pentecostal movement often adds color to his comments and makes it possible to see different connections, although at times it runs the risk of becoming “a book inside the book” when the author does not clearly identify his own opinion concerning the early debate on whether to provide education for ministers.

What, then, is the picture of this Pentecostal leader offered through these letters? And how does it complement earlier presentations? I am not sure of the answer to these questions. Here, too, we meet the modernity of Lewi Pethrus to which Carl-Gustav Carlsson introduced us in his dissertation (Människan, Samhället och Gud, Lunds Universitet, 1990). Lewi Pethrus was the man of the great projects. The man who was able to see around the corner, and to make it there, in his building of an empire. He was a leader whose building of the kingdom of God demanded sacrifices, not only of his own personal comfort, but also of friends and colleagues. Nothing important must stand in the way of the most important.

The new things, that we earlier might have guessed but can now see more clearly in this material, are the tenderness in friendship and the awareness of the price of leadership that Pethrus was willing to pay. He does really write to his colleagues in love. His friendship extended also to ordinary people who asked simple questions. He was a center of communication, not only on stage – the stages of the whole world – but he also gave time and room to give advice, counsel and direction, and often in a tender way. It is a beautiful portrait.

Halldorf’s method also demonstrates how this leader lived with and, over time, reflected over his own leadership. He could write a letter on how every leader must be ready to be tried and face challenges in his everyday work, and then in another context view these challenges in darker colors as something that has to be fought and weeded out. The leader Lewi Pethrus had a sense of timing. And when he claimed to be ready to step aside after facing opposition from the wife of one of his colleagues, one really wonders how this was possible. His cause was greater than his own position, at least that was his own view on things. And this might be the salt of every great leader: that the personal comfort, but also the personal position, might have to give room to a greater cause.

Reviewed by Dr. Runar Eldebo, Stockholm School of Theology
This review was originally published in Swedish in Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift , 2007.
Posted with the permission of the author and publisher.

Hardcover, 359 pages, illustrated. SEK218 plus shipping. Available from Libris.se

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