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Archive for the ‘C. Peter Wagner’ Category

I hope you catch the irony with the title of today’s post.Perspective on the Worldwide Christian Movement

For a few months now I have been blogging about my concern with some of the disturbing trends with recent Christian missionary methodology.  One such concern I have is the fact that some seem to be against good reasoning.

An example of this can be seen in the case of C. Peter Wagner.  He is a former professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions (it has since been renamed the School of Intercultural Studies).  In a previous post I looked at some of the problem found in Wagner’s essay “On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy.

One of the things that Wagner said that I didn’t get to unpack in my previous post is Wagner’s view that Jesus prefer a demonstration of miraculous power rather than a”carefully reasoned argument” which he sees as a sign of Western “secularizing influence.”  I quote Wagner in his own words:

One of the more disturbing things we are beginning to discover is that, in more cases than we would care to think, our missionary messsage in the Third World has been having a secularizing influence.  I first realized this when I read an article by my colleague, Paul G. Hiebert, called ‘The Flaw of the Excluded Middle’ in 1982.  He begins the article by citing the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus: ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20).  Hiebert emphasized that Jesus’ reply was not a carefully reasoned argument, but rather a demonstration of power in healing the sick and casting out of evil spirits” (Wagner, 581).

As one can see, Wagner came to his position through the writing of another professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission: Paul Hiebert.  The relevant quote that Wagner read is quoted below:

The disciples of Jesus asked Jesus, ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20 RSV).  Jesus answered, not with logical proofs, but by a demonstration of power in curing the sick and casting out evil spirits.   This much is clear.  Yet when I once read the passage from my perspective as a missionary in India and sought to apply it to missions in my day, I felt a sense of uneasiness.  As a Westerner, I was used to presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments, but by evidences of his power in the lives of people who were sick, possessed and destitute” (Hiebert, 407).

Note how both Wagner and Hibert appealed to Luke 7:20.  Here is Luke 7:20-23 in context:

20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the[o]Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 21 At that [p]very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, thepoor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he [q]who does not take offense at Me.”

There are problems with what these two Professors of Fuller Seminary has to say against “reason:”

  1. Wagner’s and Hiebert’s position is self-refuting in that they are both against carefully reasoned argument, and yet they end up trying to present what they think is a carefully reasoned argument for their position when they invoke Luke 7:20.  On the one hand they don’t think carefully reasoned arguments are legitimate but they inevitably presuppose the endeavor is legitimate when they try to set forth their reason against carefully reasoned argument.
  2. Wagner believes “carefully reasoned argument” is an example of Western missionary’s secularizing influence upon the Third World.  But this does not logically follow.  Wagner commit the logical fallacy of slippery slope when he thinks that carefully reasoned argument is going to lead one to become secularized.  This is not the case and portray a misunderstanding of what reasoning is on the part of Wagner; if one’s premises is not secularized but Biblically informed and “sanctified” then one will not become secularized in their conclusion.  Again, Wagner’s concern does not logically follow.
  3. It is important to exegete Luke 7:20-23 accurately.  Nowhere in the passage does Jesus condemn “presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments” (to use Hiebert’s own words).
  4. In light of point 3, it must be pointed out that both Hiebert and Wagner commit the logical fallacy of a false dilemma when they present the option as either we accept Christ’s miracle as having evidential value or we accept rational arguments as having evidential value.  Why must a Christian accept either/or instead of both/and?
  5. We can agree with Hiebert and Wagner that Jesus’ purpose of performing miracles was to confirm the truth about the claims of Jesus Christ for as Hebrews 2:3-4 attests on the nature of signs, wonders and miracles: “how will we escape if we neglect so great asalvation?[d]After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various [e]miracles and by [f]gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4)  But notice Jesus expected the right extrapolation of what the miracles mean and this proper interpretation of what does the evidence mean is act of engaging in reasoning.
  6. Point 5 enjoy further support from the immediate context in Luke 7 if one examine verse 22.  What Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist is very significant since this is an echo of Isaiah 61:1 as presented in Luke 4:18.  Jesus description of what He is doing also should make His hearers think of Isaiah 26:19, 35:5-6.  This heavy use of Isaiah’s terms and phrases indicate that Jesus wants John to think Biblically in interpreting the evidence of Jesus’ miracles.  He is making an argument!  He is not merely arguing from miracles alone but bringing in Scripture to show that His miracles fulfill Messianic Prophecies.
  7. The most ironic thing about Wagner’s complaint that missionaries who use carefully reasoned arguments are “secularizing Third World Nations” is that it is those who are like him who are secularizing Third World Nations and not the ones who believed in the Sanctified Use of reason and argumentation, etc.  Note how Wagner thinks the performance of miracles are sanctified for the Christian but reasoning is not.  This is the same paradigm that secularists adopt when they separate the domain of God and the miraculous from the domain of “reason.”  Contrary to his claim, it is the Christian who do employ sanctified reasoning that is consistent in rejecting the dualism of secular/sacred.

Bibliography

Hiebert, Paul. 2009. “THe Flaw of the Excluded Middle.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 407-414.

Wagner, Charles Peter. 2009. “On the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 574-582.

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C Peter Wagner on the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy

Charles Peter Wagner is probably best known as one of the leaders of the Church Growth movement that was a former professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary up until 2001.  He has also founded Global Harvest Ministries and Wagner Leadership Institute.  Wagner himself was a missionary in Bolivia from 1956 to 1971.

Wagner has an essay that appeared in an anthology on the Worldwide Christian Movement that I want to look at more closely:

Wagner, Charles Peter. 2009. “On the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy.” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 574-582.

What Wagner pushes forth in his essay is for Evangelicals to have a “fresh look” with incorporating “supernatural power” with missions.  Wagner states this in the conclusion of his essay:

I feel that one of the callings that God has given me is to be an encouragement to traditional Evangeical non-Pentecostal and non-Charismatic institutions so that they will begin to take a new look at mission power–ministering supernaturally as we encounter the enemy” (Wagner, 582).

And also in the middle of his essay:

I believe that we Evangelicals need a fresh look a supernatural power, a fresh awareness of worldview and a fresh examination of the theology of the Kingdom” (Wagner, 579).

By “supernatural power” Wagner has in mind the ministry of supernaturally healing the sick and casting out demons.  Wagner does admit in the essay that

We are still at the beginning stages of this, and we are not yet satisfied with the way we are doing the job, but we are trusting God to continue to teach us so that we can in turn teach others” (Wagner, 582).

The anthology does not say when Wagner wrote the essay but if the last few years is any indication with his institute providing leadership and training for the New Apostolic Reformation Movement, it isn’t heading in the right direction.  The following are my concern for Wagner’s “cutting edge” of missions strategy:

1.) First off, concerning the New Apostolic Reformation Movement, I don’t have the time or space to rehearse the theological problems and heresies spewing out from this group but my friend Lyndon Unger has done a good job describing it in his Primer on the NAR.  If NAR is the fruit of Wagner’s more mature stage of the “supernatural” that he talks about in his essay, we shouldn’t seek to merge it with missions since it is bad even for those within the church.  Why export it overseas?

2.) Second, it seems that Wagner’s cutting edge approach towards missions suffer from the problem of theological integrity.  Wagner is essentially a Charistmatic but doesn’t seem to own up to it.  Note what he says:

The third wave involves those of us–and I include myself–who, for one reason or another, do not personally wish to identify with either the Pentecostals or the Charismatics.  We love, respect and admire our friends in those movements, and we pray God’s blessing on them in all their work.  We recognize that currently they represent the most rapidly growing segment of the Body of Christ worldwide.  We have learned a great deal from them and desire to learn more  But our style is slightly different.  We minister in very similar ways, but explain what we do in alternate theological terminology” (Wagner, 579).

From the above, does Wagner distance himself from the Pentecostals and Charismatics over actual theological content?  Wagner says the difference is not of essence but of “style,” which incidentally “is slightly different.”  He even said “We minister in very similar ways.”  The other difference between him and Pentecostals and Charismatics is an “alternate theological terminology.”  I think his alternative terminology is much ado about nothing: We can have an alternative terminology for “horse” in Chinese (“ma”) but that doesn’t make it not a horse in essence.  He is a Charismatic and ought to own up to it.  Will God bless a strategy that does not uphold integrity?

3.) Third, the cutting edge of missions as described in Wagner’s essay has the spirit that sees doctrine as irrelevant in general and Reformed theology in particular.  Wagner agreeably quotes Richard De Ridder of Calvin Theological Seminary taking a swipe of Calvinism as being irrelevant for modern missionaries, saying

One thing deeply impressed me: how irrelevant so much of traditional Reformed Theology was to these people and their situation, and how seldom this theology spoke to their real needs.  The question that concern Satan, demons, angels, charms, etc., are not of great concern, nor do they receive much attention in the West

When the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ were preached to these people, they often respond with the question, ‘What’s the issue?’  Missionaries and pastors were scratching where they didn’t itch” (Wagner, 580).

Now one does not have to be Reformed to see the problem with this attitude.  First off, the professor dismisses “traditional Reformed Theology” as not address the concerns that arise from “Satan, demons, angels, charms;” but historically it was Reformed Theology that liberated Medieval Europe from the shackles of “Satan, demons, angels, charms.”  It also rescued people from the shackles of superstitions.  This liberation of Reformation Europe was possible because once you have a Sovereign God who controls all things, with authority over all things including “Satan, demons, angels, charms” there is no need to be overly occupied with fear of them.  Also Reformed Theology is heavily Christ-Centered and a Christ-Centered Theology include the truth that Christ is the Creator and controller over everything including the forces of darkness:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 ESV)

Rather then being irrelevant, Reformed Theology’s Christology and doctrine of God is an antidote to the problems and questions of “Satan, demons, angels, charms.”  Secondly, who made “Satan, demons, angels, charms” the litmus test of a missionary strategy that is relevant?  I think the professor here confuses felt needs with real needs.  God knows what man’s real need is and has revealed it in His Word.  If Calvinism’s and Reformed Theology’s proposition is true that man is under wrath from God because of man’s sin, then the discussion about man, sin, God, Jesus and the Gospel is more crucial and relevant than the discussion of “Satan, demons, angels, charms” per se.  It is more “relevant” even though the unbeliever “feels” “Satan, demons, angels, charms” are more important.  Thirdly, I have reservation with the claim that people’s response to the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ is one of a question of ‘What’s the issue?’  The first point of Calvinism, Total Depravity, defines the issue: Sin.  A nonbeliever might not like the issue or disagree with the issue but surely if someone presents the five point of Calvinism correctly a nonbeliever will not say ‘What’s the issue?’  One has to wonder about how truly Reformed this professor from Calvin Theological Seminary is with his incompetence with Reformed Theology.

Conclusion

There will always be people coming forward saying this or that is the new cutting edge strategy for doing ministry, whether it’s missions, evangelism or growing members.  We must never forget to test them whether the method agrees with the Word of God and also whether it is logically sound and factually true.  I think a good example of a cutting edge strategy that suffer from all three defect is Wagner’s missions strategy.

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