Becoming "children of God": the child in holiness and pentecostal mission discourse and the making of global evangelical movements, 1897–1929
Chevalier, Laura A.
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This dissertation is a historical and missiological study of the concept of the child in North American holiness and pentecostal mission discourse between 1897 and 1929. Despite official prioritization of evangelistic preaching, new holiness and pentecostal mission movements devoted much of their energies to starting schools and opening homes for children in need. Growing widespread interest in studying and protecting children encouraged child-focused activity. At the same time, an evangelical spirituality that emphasized childlike trust in God helped to sustain mission work with children. The study analyzes narratives found in denominational and mission periodicals as well as other missionary writings to uncover the voices and actions of mission practitioners. In early holiness and pentecostal mission movements, publications enabled the exchange of stories, ideas, and funds. This exchange spread the idea of living by childlike faith, provided resources for raising children in Christian faith, and supported and built children’s homes. Child-centered discourse thus propelled the spread of holiness and pentecostal meta-cultures that formed the next generation of the movements. Chapters 1 and 2 show the links between holiness and pentecostal mission and earlier evangelical movements. Chapter 1 argues that the child has been central to historical evangelical identity, spirituality, and mission. Chapter 2 identifies changing understandings of the child and approaches to mission that accompanied changes in evangelical identity. These developments contributed to the proliferation of mission discourse on the child during the period of this study. Chapter 3 shows how holiness and pentecostal missionaries, such as Albert Norton, looked to God as a good father who met their needs. Missionaries’ response to a benevolent father was called “living by faith,” and it shaped their approach to mission with children. Chapter 4 examines how members of North American Wesleyan holiness groups, the Free Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists, and Nazarenes, pursued a mission of rescuing and raising children in Christian faith around the world. Chapter 5 explores how pentecostals, such as Leslie and Ava Anglin and Lillian Trasher, set up homes for needy children in various global locations and contributed to the formation of pentecostal childhoods. This dissertation argues that holiness and pentecostal efforts to care for and train children helped to form global evangelical movements. It contributes to the history of mission, sheds light on how and why these movements spread, and provides a historical link to popular practices of twentieth-century child sponsorship. The study concludes by highlighting the role that narratives and the concept of the child played in shaping evangelicalism.