Reading this history of the Vineyard movement made me remember how important history is. Evangelicals and Charismatics are mostly ignorant of their own history, and are poorer for it. Or I know I am. So many things we take for granted have historical reasons and interesting stories behind them. This book connected the dots of lots of snippets I’d heard about pentecostalism, charismatics and the vineyard since I was a kid – including the Toronto Blessing and John Wimber’s visits to Australia but also things like the impact the Jesus movement had on Christianity in the 1970s.
The radical middle of the title is what Jackson sees as the Vineyard’s capturing of the radical middle of both biblical doctrine and Spirit-led spontaniety. In the early chapters he puts the case for the
Vineyard as being a movement which has managed to harness the best of both the Word stream and the Spirit stream of Christianity. As someone from the Word stream, I saw less of the Word stream in the history which followed, but at the Vineyard’s best, I think he’s right.
As you would expect, John Wimber is central to this history of Vineyard. His story is fascinating, with so many strands and turning points (they’ve already gone out of my head). Spirit empowerment didn’t come instantly to him. He prayed and preached it for a long time until the healing started.
Wimber appears in the pages as a benevolent dictator. Jackson paints him as a flawed but talented man who God raised up to do something special with. He made some questionable calls and lost his passion at times, but comes across as a man who had a special mission and unusual power. The Holy Spirit broke out where he went.
There hasn’t been much room in my thinking for a movement that is centred on a particular individual, as good as he or she might be. Last year I read some things talking about APEPT ministry in the church, and the recovery of apostle-leadership. I guess Wimber had the role of an apostle within Vineyard, bearing at least some resemblance to the function of apostles within the early church (strategic leadership and vision?). I’m still suspicious of concentrating power or influence in one person’s hands, but I’ll grant that there was something special about Wimber and that God genuinely does use particular people.
It’s very disturbing to hear of how Sydney Anglican leaders allegedly treated Wimber in the early nineties; according to Jackson they didn’t even give him a hearing but just told him he was not wanted in Australia. I would like to know how they saw it, but I have encountered some Sydney Anglicans like this. (As well as some wonderful ones.)
I found the more pentecostal phases of Vineyard threatening to my comfort zone. I vacillate between thinking truth might reside here, and feeling that it’s crazy. In fact, even when I think it might have truth, I still think it’s crazy.
The story of the prophet Paul Cain is intriguing. I would like to write a novel inspired by his life. For a time he had the ear of Wimber and influenced the direction of the Vineyard, before a split with him and the Kansas City Prophets. (Alas, a google search reveals he has had a bad fall in the last couple of years and has been stood down from the Kansas church where he was ministering.) Here’s a long quote giving some of his story:
Paul Cain was born in 1929 to his mother Anna who was 45 years old. Anna was pregnant and had inoperable cancer that had eaten away one of her breasts; the doctors sent her home to die. In the throes of death she vowed to offer her child to God, as Hannah had done with Samuel, if the Lord would spare her life. a short time later the Lord spoke to her through an angel and promised her that she would live and bear a son. She was to name him Paul since he would preach the gospel as Paul of old. She was immediately healed, her breast grew back and she suckled her new baby as a medical miracle.
… By the time Paul was eighteen, he had a regular radio ministry and was conducting healing services in a small tent…
… Paul was on the verge of a stellar career in the early 1950s. He had, by this time, received a call to celibacy and became something of a recluse, desiring to be alone with God…
[Leaves the big tent revivals]
In the midst of this, Paul says God spoke to him and told him that if he kept himself from corruption and became content with living a humble life, given to Scripture reading and obedience, one day he would be allowed to stand before a new breed of men and women who were serious about holiness and the things of the Lord. This new breed would be a ‘faceless’ generation wanting nothing for itself and giving God all the glory. God added that this new generation would be used to usher in a great revival and he would see them before his mother died. At that time Anna was 73 years old.
Paul assumed that this would be fulfilled within a few short years but he spent the next 25 years living in a two-bedroom home in Phoenix, Arizona, where he took care of his mother with the help of family members. He spent most of those years reading Scripture and occasionally preaching. He refused to take offerings and trusted the Lord for his income. He briefly pastored two churches and was a help to many leaders during the Charismatic movement.
As the years of seclusion were coming to an end, Paul felt the Lord told him that he would soon see some of the new breed he had so often seen in the prophetic realm. His mother was 102 years old when he met Mike Bickle and others from Kansas City Fellowship in 1987. He said God spoke to him that these were some of the people….
Paul never even considered John Wimber as an option until he was in the room with John delivering a prophetic word to him on December 5, 1988. It was then that God whispered to him that John was the man he had been looking for.
You probably get a sense of the style of this book from this extended quote. No sources are named for the rather big claims that Anna’s breast grew back and the like. (I wanted to know how old she was when she finally did die, but that’s just my obsession with longevity.) It’s a believer’s history and as much as it admits mistakes in the movement, it’s certainly not scholarly.
I found it a very readable book, with a narrative drive. Yet it’s unpolished prose and structurally has problems. If you care about those things.