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1/ I just finished re-reading C. Peter Wagner’s 1988 book: “The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit. Encountering the Power of Signs and Wonders.” This is a foundational book to understand the process by which Wagner changed his perspective on signs and wonders.
2/ Wagner went through a sort of "paradigm shift," from non-belief in the supernatural to belief in signs and wonders, and how he embraced the idea of “power evangelism.” This is the beginning of Wagner’s journey toward the establishment of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).
3/ In his book, Wagner recounts many personal experiences and anecdotes which influenced his thinking. If you are unfamiliar with Wagner and the NAR, this is a good place to start. I write these Twitter threads for people interested in understanding NAR ideas.
4/ Note that this is a Twitter “book review” thread; my goal is to present in a concise way Wagner’s worldview. I do not personally adhere to this kind of belief or worldview myself. I write such threads to inform people about the movement’s worldview and dominionist aspirations.
5/ This book by Wagner is highly personal. The preface was written by John Wimber, the founder of Vineyard church movement and close friend of Wagner. The “Third Wave” is a term coined by Wagner to describe a new movement of the Holy Spirit (p.15).
6/ According to Wagner, the “First Wave” was the Pentecostal movement (Azusa street), and Christians were not prepared for this move; they didn’t have the “theological grid” to understand what the Holy Spirit was doing, and early Pentecostalism was often seen as a cult (p.16).
7/ Evangelicals in general had a difficult time relating to Pentecostals and often characterized their experiences as being demonic. For Wagner, the “Second Wave” was the Charismatic movement, and evangelicals also struggled with this “move” because of the cessationism,...
8/ ...the idea that spiritual gifts in operation until the completion of the New Testament writings (p.17).The “Third Wave” is this new move of the Holy Spirit which began around 1980, according to Wagner.
9/ In this new move, the same manifestations of the “gifts of the Spirit” are seen as in Pentecostalism. The variation “comes in the understanding of the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the role of tongues in authenticating this” (p.18).
10/ Wagner did not consider himself to be a Charismatic – he was an evangelical Congregationalist (p.18). A question he asks is why Bible-believing evangelicals do not experience the supernatural, and why he did not experience it earlier in his life?
11/ Wagner believes that this is due to the influence of “secular humanism” in churches, seminaries, etc. (p.21). He explains that people think there is no need for the supernatural in our modern world; this was effective and needed only in the first century (p.21).
12/ When he was a missionary in Bolivia, Wagner was a cessationist. He opposed the work of Pentecostals in the country (p.21-22). His “conversion” to the supernatural took about 15 years. He experienced what he believed to be personal healing in a meeting with E. Stanley Jones.
13/ He also learned from Donald McGarvan, missiologist and founding Dean of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary, to study the Pentecostal churches, since these were growing (p.22).
14/ Wagner admits that for many years, he wasn’t participating in the supernatural, but he was just an observer. Things started to change when he met Wimber (p.23). Both men teamed-up in 1982 to offer a course at Fuller (MC510) called “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth” (p.24).
15/ MC510 was controversial, and people were saying, “Fuller is going charismatic.” Wagner explains that Fuller is not charismatic; it’s multidenominational. After 4 years, the course was discontinued and replaced by another one (p.26).
16/ Wagner recounts his friendship with Wimber which began in the mid-70s, when Wimber became an adjunct prof. in the church growth program at Fuller (p.27). In 1981, Wimber presented a new lecture to a PhD class on the relationship between signs and wonders and church growth.
17/ This was quite successful, and Fuller’s School of World Missions – which is today called School of Intercultural Studies – invited Wimber to try an experimental course (MC510) on this topic in 1982. The course was taught 5 times in overflowing class rooms.
18/ Wagner then explains what happened in the course. The class was taught on 10 successive Monday nights. Wimber taught for 3 hours about: the relationship of “program evangelism” to “power evangelism,” the kingdom of God, the biblical records of miracles, worldviews,...
19/ ... case studies of the miraculous, spiritual gifts, and contemporary faith healers, etc., and Wimber’s personal experiences (p.27). The class lecture was followed with an hour of “hands-on” ministry time (p.28).
20/ Wagner then recounts several stories of people who were profoundly influenced by the course, even some, who at first, did not believe in the supernatural (p.28). In 1984, Canadian Christian psychiatrist Dr. John White took MC510 and explains that he had been trapped...
21/ ... within a “Western mind-set”, a cultural bias which impeded on his capacity to perceive the supernatural (p.29). Wagner then talks about how he and his colleagues in the missiological faculty – which was the largest in the world – were blind to the “middle zone” (p.30).
22/ One of Wagner’s colleagues, Paul G. Hiebert, alerted them of the serious flaws and defects of missiological strategy. In 1982, Hiebert wrote an article which Wagner references: “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” (p.30-31).
23/ On p.31, Wagner explains how Hiebert’s article accounts for the discrepancies of the “Western worldview” and how it limited one’s efficacy as a missionary in places like India, for example. Hiebert points out that the worldview of most “non-Westerners” is “three-tiered.”
24/ The “top-tier” is what is understood as high religion, based on cosmic personalities or forces. This tier is very distant. The “bottom-tier” is that of everyday mundane life (birth, marriage, work, children, etc.).
25/ The ‘middle-tier” is what influences the everyday mundane life, that is superhuman and supernatural forces (spirits, demons, ancestors, goblins, etc.). In the “West”, Wagner says that the “middle-tier” is absent – those who take it seriously are seen as superstitious (p.32).
26/ Wagner estimates (in 1988) that the 3 billion people who still need to be “saved” embrace a “three-tiered” worldview. Therefore, when missionaries go to such countries with only a “two-tiered” worldview, they promote Christianity as secularizing force (p.34).
27/ In chapter 3, Wagner will speak of the four facets of faith. The first two are what most Christians experience and also what he only knew for a long time: saving faith and sanctifying faith (p.37-38). The third facet is what he calls “possibility-thinking faith,”...
28/ ... an idea popularized by Robert Schuller. Wagner says, “this is faith for setting goals” (p.38). According to him, the textbook on “possibility-thinking faith” is Hebrews 11 and he believes that “pastors of growing churches are possibility thinkers” (p.39).
29/ The fourth facet is “fourth-dimension faith,” and idea inspired by David (Paul) Yonggi Cho. This is, according to Wagner, the faith of signs and wonders (p.40). Here is how Wagner explains this facet of faith: “Fourth-dimension faith is called the ‘shield of faith’...
30/ ... as part of the full armor of God in Ephesians 6. This is the faith which can withstand the attacks of the principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this age. It is the only effective weapon we have in the ongoing battle with Satan and his angels” (p.40-41).
31/ The “fourth-dimension faith” is the most characteristic element of the “Third Wave” (p.41). On p.41-46, Wagner recounts several anecdotal stories of a power encounter with a witchdoctor in Indonesia, a possessed woman in California, etc.
32/ For Wagner, people need to engage in “power evangelism” and quotes 1 Cor. 2:4 and 4:20 as proof texts. Quick comment: Paul’s reference to the “power of God” in these two texts has nothing to do with signs and wonders.
33/ The “power of God” is Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:18-25), and the preaching of this message. Wagner exhibits quite poor exegetical skill here. Chapter 4 (p.47-55) is all about his Sunday School class he helped start in 1982 called “The 120 Fellowship,” a name based on Acts 2.
34/ The chapter is filled with personal anecdotes and explains the dynamics of his group. Chapter 5 (p.57-73) is entirely dedicated to the issue of demons.
According to Wagner, the most difficult thing for people to accept about the “Third Wave” is the existence of demons (p.57).
35/ Wagner says, “two questions in particular have implications for our ministry in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission. The first concerns the power of evil spirits over particular areas or groups. The second concerns the ability of demons to harm Christians” (p.57).
36/ Wagner believes that principalities and powers exert control over regions and people, and this has implications for evangelism (p.58). He quotes certain verses as proof texts to prove his point: Ephesians 6:12; Daniel 10:12-13.20, just to name a few (p.59).
37/ Wagner then gives a bunch of anecdotal stories to show that demons control regions. The case of the rural town on the border of Uruguay and Brazil is a famous one (p.60-61). He then addresses the issue about whether or not Christians can be harmed by demons (p.63-64).
38/ From p.64-70, Wagner gives some personal examples about how he experienced harm at the hand of demonic spirits. Demons were responsible for a cramp is his wife’s foot (p.65) and for his own migraines (p.67-70).
39/ Friends were also called to cast out an evil spirit from the Wagner’s home. An idol and ceremonial masks that the Wagner's had brought back from Bolivia also had to be destroyed because of the spirits attached to them, etc. (p.65-67).
40/ According to Wagner’s “research,” “those who themselves are actively involved in a ministry of exorcism or deliverance affirm that Christians can be demonized. Those who deny it, by and large, have little or no direct contact with the demonic” (p.71).
41/ Wagner lists three ministers who changed their minds after some time regarding the idea that Christians can be harmed by demons: Chuck Swindoll, James Robison, and Ed Murphy (p.72-73). He says that people who change their minds, go from denying this to accepting it and...
42/ ... not the other way around (p.71-72). I got news for him: it was the other around for me! In chapter 6, Wagner tackles the idea of “worldview,” saying that the problem is our secular and scientific worldview, which differs from 2/3 of the rest of the world (p.76).
43/ Because missionaries from the “West” go on the mission field with a secular worldview, they cannot help evangelical converts in these countries, who will still sometimes rely on witchdoctors to solve their problems (p.77).
44/ For Wagner, “our Western seminaries and Bible colleges sent out missionaries who were not trained to deal with what is known as the ‘middle zone’ because of the worldview reflected in the doctrinal statements which I referred to earlier” (p.77-78).
45/ Wagner says that the worldview of the New Testament is basically the same of those in “third world countries” (p.79). He says, “early Christian missionaries and preachers would not have questioned the miraculous power of pagan gods in the slightest...
46/ ...Their point was that this is the power of the kingdom of darkness, directly caused by demons which the Romans gullibly had been calling ‘gods’” (p.80). Wagner will then discuss what is called “power evangelism,” which is understood as church growth through...
47/ ... the manifestation of signs and wonders. He still admits that some churches grow without signs and wonders, and that sometimes power evangelism does not bring about church growth, as seen in the case where miracle crusades do not yield church growth (p.88).
48/ Part of the chapter contains interesting stats provided by Wagner. Remember this book was written 1988, but it gives a good idea of the growth of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches in the 20th century.
49/ Wagner notes that in its first 50 years, the Pentecostal movement grew to 10 million worldwide. Then from 1950-1985, there was a growth explosion in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles up to 240 million. At the time of the writing of his book, Wagner said that China was...
50/ ... the country with the most Pentecostal/Charismatics with 42.5 million – even if they were not denominationally defined as such. Wagner notes that the Assemblies of God (AofG) is the largest classical Pentecostal denomination in the world (p.89).
51/ From 1975-1985, members of the AofG grew by 296% from 4,594,780 to 13,175,751. From 1968-1988, the AofG was the largest or second largest Protestant denomination in no fewer than 30 different countries of the world.
52/ In 1988, Wagner said there were 9 million Pentecostals/Charismatics in the U.S. (p.89). He gives a few more numbers, but ends by saying that 9 out of 10 megachurches in the world are Pentecostal or Charismatic (p.90).
53/ Wagner will then refer to the April 1986 issue of the “International Review of Mission.” An article by David Pytches caught his attention. Wagner lists five things mentioned by Pytches as to why many have lost sight for the need of signs and wonders.
54/ (1) the “Western” worldview is largely materialistic and not tuned to the spiritual world; (2) ministering with signs and wonders sounds presumptuous to many; (3) people are frightened to see physical manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit on individuals;...
55/ ...(4) people have a sense of powerlessness and do not want to look like fools; (5) people have no training, and, therefore, do not know how to minister with power (p.92-93). Wagner ends this chapter by giving anecdotal examples from Argentinian ministers Carlos Annacondia...
56/ ... and Omar Cabrera (p.94-100). On pages 103-112, Wagner provides more anecdotal stories about speaking in tongues as new unlearned language to help in evangelistic efforts, manifestations of prophecy and even people raised from the dead.
57/ In the last chapter, Wagner emphasizes the important of the great commission. He will also talk about justice for the poor saying, “None of the ‘isms’ (such as capitalism, communism or socialism) have seemed to bring justice to the poor. Welfare and food stamps...
58/ ... have only intensified the problems. There must be another way – and that way may well begin by taking the principalities and powers seriously. One of the lines being explored in the Third Wave is the role of supernatural power in dealing with social injustice’ (p.122).
59/ I’ll end this Twitter "book review" thread with a few comments. First, anecdotal stories can be problematic when it comes to verifying the veracity of a phenomenon. How can one really be sure that what is said actually happened?
60/ Second, I can assure you that I haven’t seen much signs and wonders when I used to believe this stuff. I truly believed and embraced the worldview Wagner talks about and didn’t experience much of what he’s been saying throughout this book.
61/ People in the Pentecostal churches I attended also really believed this stuff and rarely saw “signs and wonders.” Many of the “healings” people talked about were very minor like headache, cramps, etc. A lot could probably be explained as some kind of placebo effect.
62/ I’ve never witnessed anyone raise from the dead, grow a limb or recover their sight… and it’s not because I didn’t believe it was possible. Wimber himself had serious health problems and died in 1997; he didn't understand why he wasn't healed; he did believe God could do so.
63/ What’s more troubling is Wagner’s remarks about taking “principalities and powers” seriously in order to bring about social justice and transformation. This minimizes the structural problems that are the root causes of injustice, racism and other social ills in this world.
64/ These cannot be solved without people and governments taking responsibility for their actions (or inactions); it's not about casting out or binding “demons” that control groups of people or geographical areas. I'll end with the following remark.
65/ Through "spiritual warfare," a segment of American Christianity still seeks to exercise some kind of global religious hegemony, colonializing cultures, beliefs, and traditions, and sapping the very life (or “soul”) of people who never needed or even asked to be “saved.” End.
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