Saturday, August 15, 2009

Worth It All

I finished reading Bill Jackson's book "The Quest for the Radical Middle," and soon it will be going back to that library down in Alabama where it was borrowed from. Jackson's book was very interesting. It's one of those books that really should come out in a second edition, since it would be improved with expansion and revision. But I'm not going to write out a review of the book other than picking out what to me represents its signal quotation from the final chapter:
In regard to pneumatology, there are only two choices for an evangelical when reading the Gospels: affirm the "teaching Jesus" but relegate the "power Jesus" to an anomaly of history, or affirm all of Jesus and take literally his commission for his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. The former seems to bifurcate Jesus and violate the plain meaning of the text while the latter violates our Western presuppositions. For John Wimber it was a simple choice of who he wanted to offend, God or men. He decided early on that God had called him to become a fool for Christ, and his acceptance of being a spectacle has unveiled a Trinitarian God for many.
I was astonished at what John and Carol went through, especially since I was also reading Carol's memoir at the same time. But I suspect that John would tell me now that it was worth it all.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mother's Day in Yorba Linda

Besides Bill Jackson's book "The Quest for the Radical Middle," I am also reading Carol Wimber's memoir about her husband John Wimber. It's entitled "The Way It was." Like the Jackson book, I had to obtain it through an interlibrary loan, only this time Carol's book had to come all the way from the Wheaton College library in Illinois. Carol's writing style is simple and direct and conversational. I found it to be very emotionally touching and insightful.

Now everybody has heard of the famous "Mother's Day" service of May 11th in 1980,¹ when Lonnie Frisbee was allowed to speak at John Wimber's church in Yorba Linda, which at the time was still affiliated with Calvary Chapel. But Carol's memoir also adds some other details about the matter, such as recollection that Frisbee had off and on been present at their services for about 2 years prior, ever since they met him at a CC pastors' retreat. Carol also adds this interesting remark:
You know, for the sake of simplicity, it would be easier to say that the power came with Lonnie, but the truth is that the power of the Holy Spirit was breaking out in all the groups, even before Lonnie came to the church. Certainly not on such a widespread scale, though. I think that it was just that he knew what to do when the Spirit was there and most of us didn't. After I met him a few years before at the pastors' retreat, I had gone down to the beach area near Calvary Chapel, just to go to a Bible study he was teaching, but there was no particular presence of God. He ministered in a vague sort of way to a few people, but nothing much was happening then. In reality, he walked into a move of God here in Yorba Linda and had the faith or moxie or know-how to move with it. He could "see" the Spirit on people, but he didn't bring the Holy Spirit with him. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?
I am quoting from Chapter 5 of her memoir. This would be on page 149 of the Hodder & Stoughton paperback, published in the U.K. in 1999 (ISBN 0340735392).


¹ As an indication of how confused the Internet can get, there are odd disagreements about the year this event occurred. Wikipedia has the year as 1988, which is clearly wrong. Other places on the Internet, such as YouTube, have the year as 1980. I don't have Bill Jackson's book in front me, but upon checking the notes I took, Jackson puts the year as 1980 as well. However, at Wheaton College, The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals has an article about John Wimber which puts the year of the Mother's Day service as 1978. In any case, some people who were there tell me that the correct year was 1980.

[Update, 2017 Jan 05] The second book of Lonnie Frisbee's autobiography definitely sets the date as the evening of May 11th, 1980. Please see this book review for more information.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Radical Middle

Using an interlibrary loan, I obtained a copy of the book "The Quest for the Radical Middle" by Bill Jackson, which concerns the history of the Vineyard movement and John Wimber. My local library had to send all the way to Alabama to find this book.

Recently I became aware of Jackson's book, published back in 1999, and I very much wanted to read it, especially to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge regarding the movements that started in the 1970s. So far I have found Jackson's "Quest" to be very engrossing, one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time.

This particular copy of the book has a sticker pasted inside the front cover saying "in loving memory of Stefanie R. Sharpe (3-13-77 - 11-8-98) by her brother Bryant Sharpe." It's sad to me that Bryant's sister Stefanie died at the young age of 21. There must be a story behind this sticker. Maybe some day I'll find out what it is. Futhermore, for various reasons which I won't elaborate upon, it so happens by a peculiar coincidence that the well-known author Frank Viola had also read this very same copy of Jackson's book.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Omphalos of Info-trash

John Derbyshire wrote up a interesting article, entitled "Wiki Wars" regarding everybody's favorite Omphalos of Knowledge & Wisdom, also known as Wikipedia.

I could not pass up pointing out what Derbyshire wrote because he pretty much echoes my own observations about Wikipedia:
That’s Wikipedia for you. They can say what they like about you, employing any level of sub-literacy for the purpose, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it. I had heard this, but just hadn’t believed they are really so brazen.
When it comes to researching the biographies of living persons, or even dead ones, the Wikipedia is notorious for its bias and distortions and gaps and outright lies; it therefore should never be relied upon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Booth and Booth

This morning we went to the first worship service the Salvation Army held at the newly opened Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene. If I were to describe the service, I would say it was more on the formal side, but not much different from how I remember things growing up in a Southern Baptist church, although the Salvation Army belongs more to the Wesleyan-holiness wing of evangelicaldom, which is an outlook that most Southern Baptists are not comfortable with. Of course, in the Salvation Army, they do wear the uniforms, which is part of the quasi-military organizational legacy handed down from General Booth. Since it was a special dedicatory service, they had the S.A. brass band come out from the Seattle Temple. Believe me: the band was exceptionally good and definitely loud. Bands are very good for outdoor evangelism—or what we aged Jesus Freaks would call "street evangelism"—because without fail, brass bands attract attention. Beside the band that was here on a visit, they did have their home worship team which employed the more common keyboard and guitar instrumentation. They were equally as good.

Since it was a special dedicatory service, one of the leading officers came up from Los Angeles to preach a sermon based on the start of the St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, during which he happened to mention, by way of illustration, the paperwork rigamarole he had to go through with collecting his Social Security. After the service, I managed to bump into this preacher afterwards, telling him that I hoped in the future I would have my papers in order as well when the bureaucrats ask for them. He was an affable fellow, and I asked him if he knew about Vachel Lindsay's famous poem, which is the one entitled General Booth Enters Into Heaven. This was the poem that describes Booth marching into heaven, playing a big bass drum and leading behind him the souls that he during his ministry had led to Christ. Now the preacher, whose name unfortunately I don't remember, said that, yes indeed, he knew it and that he had studied it in school.

In other news, I am reading through Thomas Merton's autobiography "The Seven Story Mountain," which I had picked up at a book sale at the local library. Though I am only 25% through the book, I have found Merton to be a very good writer. At the time he wrote his book, he was already a Trappist monk, and his evaluation of his youth is quite honest although sometimes a little over-critical of himself. But his writing is very engaging and serious, but when he does show his humor, it's usually of a subtle and ironic kind, rather than being overtly exuberant. In section V, of chapter 3, he had this to say about his youthful cockiness back in the early 1930s:
For it had become evident to me that I was a great rebel. I fancied that I had suddenly risen above all the errors and stupidities and mistakes of modern society—there are enough of them to rise above, I admit—and that I had taken my place in the ranks of those who held up their heads and squared their shoulders and marched into the future. In the modern world, people are always holding up their heads and marching into the future, although they haven't the slightest idea what they think the "future" is or could possibly mean. The only future we seem to walk into, in actual fact, is full of bigger and more terrible wars, wars well calculated to knock those upraised heads off those squared shoulders.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that adolescents start out thinking that they know everything and have everything figured out. The irony behind Merton's words is tied to the reader's realization that he is describing his youth prior to the onslaught of World War II, which would come not too many years later, and in which many men marched and died.

Nowadays, many people think the future is going to be like what they see in Star Trek: ever-progressive, sexually über-liberated, completely godless (except for some kind of Moral Therapeutic Deism, possibly administered pharmaceutically), and boldly going into whatever, forever and ever, ad secula seculorum. I think Jacques Attali believes the same thing, basically, but with added sturm und drang on the way there, as we stumble into our final global hyperdemocracy.

Nevertheless, I recollect reading a critical biography about Merton some time ago. Although I must say that I admire Merton's writing style, at least in this book, I can't say that I entirely admire him as a xtian mystic. Because after reading that biography, there was much about him that struck me as being overly "professional" or too self-consciously "studied" about his mysticism. As I recall, one psychologist remarked, in so many words, that Merton was the kind of person who would set himself up in the middle of Times Square in a booth with the word "MONK" emblazoned on top of it, in big flashing neon letters. To say that might have been a little unfair. But then again, maybe the biography I had read was too critical.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hypernomads

Book Review
Title: A Brief History of the Future
Author: Jacques Attali

The blurb states that Attali is
…an economist, historian, cultural critic, and one of the world's most respected political thinkers. He cofounded and served as the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He is the president of Pla.Net Finance, an international non-profit organization assisting microfinance institutions all over the world. He lives in Paris.
I am sure that Attali is a genial fellow and probably very smart at running non-profit corporations, but it was a risky venture for him to write what is basically another futurist book, because I fear it will end up being an unintended source for future snickering and thus damaging to his savoir faire. For futurist prognostications have had dismal track records, and things seldom come out the way futurists envision. Look around you. Do you see any domed cities on the Moon, or people zipping around town in levitating cars? Rather, black swans can pop up in the sky, and God often has very clever ways of throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of what people mistakenly discern as historical inevitability.

The only one who really knows the future is the LORD. He is capable of being surprising. And He's not telling us everything, but only those pieces that are important for us to know. You can be certain of one thing: the rulers and governments of this world are doomed to pass away. The only kingdom that will last is Christ's.

Nevertheless, Attali's book was still an interesting read, and if anything it could be a good source book for getting inspiration in writing dark and dystopian science fiction. Some of the things that he envisioned coming down the pipe sounded downright hellish to me. For example, speaking of the hypernomads:
The couple will no longer be their principal base for life and sexuality. They will prefer to choose, in full transparency, polygamous or polyandrous loves. Men and women, all collectors, more interested in the hunt than the prey, accumulating and exhibiting their trophies, constantly on the move in search of distraction, many of them will be the offspring of mobile families without a geographic or cultural base. They will be loyal only to themselves, and will interest themselves more in their conquests, their wine cellars, their self-monitors, their art collections, and the planning of their erotic lives than in the future of their progeny — to whom they will no longer bequeath either money or power.
Indeed, some of what's in the Attali's book sounds like a roundabout manner of reciting what St. Paul already said in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Then again, Attali might be describing some people he knows. Of course, I am not insinuating that Attali thinks that the stuff he writes about is what by right ought to happen. But in places he does sound like "if you think it's weird now, just get a load of what's coming."

The books is also full of various buzzwords and neologisms. I don't know what Attali wrote in French, but the English translation by Jeremy Leggatt gets an ample sprinkling of the prefix "hyper-", a little more than I like seeing. Although there are some interesting concepts here and there in Attali's book, which in another context would have been worth exploring, however several sections of the book were actually tiresome and dull, and I ended up skimming over those portions that seemed needlessly repetitive. Perhaps in French it read much better, and this might have been a defect of the translation. Nevertheless, there is one place where Attali gets it wrong and ridiculously so:
Protestant churches will be in the vanguard of these struggles, especially the evangelicals. Originating in several southern U.S. states — the Bible Belt — they muster seventy million American citizens, who include several hundred thousand propagandizing ministers. Evangelism already rules over certain departments of many American universities, where it censors teaching of the sciences and other religions.
Hey. Wait a minute. People like Michael Spencer and Jon Meacham just got through explaining that evangelical xtians are doomed to wither away here in America — more or less to an inconsequential and frightened minority huddling in a dank catacomb somewhere, never to show their faces in the public square again. But yet, somehow or another, they're in control of the departments of "many American universities." That would be astonishing news if it wasn't so hilarious. So watch out, you progressive secularists! The Christianists are mustering 70 million people to march on Washington to impose the theocracy that you so earnestly dread. Our infiltrators in key departments in the universities are even now subverting the young impressionable minds of your children, bending them to our atavistic fundie ways. Of course, I'm being tongue-in-cheek when I say this. But my guess is that Attali hasn't been in this country for any extended length of time, and his exaggerated notions about powerful evangelicals probably come from reading too many old articles from Time or Newsweek magazines, probably dating back to the Bush Era or even earlier.

Well, Henry Kissenger called the book "Brilliant and provocative." I guess that's reason enough to recommend it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Old Tent Revivals

Book Review

Title: All Things Are Possible
Author: David Edwin Harrell Jr.

David Edwin Harrell Jr. wrote a fascinating book entitled "All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revival in Modern America". It primarily covers two periods: the modern tent revivalists who had their greatest heyday in the years from 1947 to 1958, and the fainter echo which Harrell termed the "charismatic revival" from 1958 to 1974.

Harrell did an enormous amount of in-depth research, and his book ends with a lengthy bibliographical essay concerning his sources. He provides many of the historical details that Vinson Synan's broader history would not have been able to supply. Harrell mentioned some personalities whose names I recognize, the most notable being Oral Roberts. But he also covered other major tent revivalists of the early 1950s, whom I never heard of before, such as Jack Coe, A.A. Allen, and William Branham.

Now I confess that I've never seen an old time "tent revivalist" in action. Back in the 1950s, my mother, being a stout Southern Baptist at the time, with a strong adversion to anything Pentecostal, would never have set foot in a revival tent, and least of all would she have allowed any of her kids near one. Anyhow, traveling tent revivalists were not common in southern California, where I grew up. Even to this day, just mentioning the name of Oral Roberts, for example, will elicit an askanced look from my mother, even though Roberts has undergone quite a transformation since his early tent revival days. The nearest I've gotten to a tent revival was listening to Neil Diamond's song "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show", which I suppose harkens back to those tent revivalists of the 1950s and earlier.

Back then the main Pentecostal denominations had an on-and-off relationship with the independent, healing tent-revivalists. But I must point out that Harrell presents a fairly a complicated story, and one should read his book to get the complete picture. On one hand, for example, one early tent revivalist, Aimee Semple McPherson—who by the way also had a remarkable healing ministry of her own for a time in the early 1920s—would later go on to start a major Pentecostal denomination, the Foursquare Church. But on the other hand, the Pentecostal denominations often kept their distance from some of the revival tentsters of the 1950s. But it was understandable as to why. Besides having strongly individualistic, ambitious, even combative, personalities, some of the healing revivalists were flaky in their doctrine, and their methods and claims were sometimes very questionable. As to the miraculous and healing aspects of the revivals, Harrell really didn't make any effort to explore these in any depth. This was odd considering that other authors I have read who covered Aimee Semple McPherson, for example, did go into detail about various testimonies of healing, even if they tried at times to explain them away as being merely psychologically induced phenomena. I suspect that Harrell simply took it for granted that "divine healing" just does not happen, that a healing revival is simply another cultural phenomenon, more under the category of "mass hysteria", and therefore nothing needed said on this aspect of the subject. I do think the biggest deficiency in his book is that Harrell really never conveys just what it was like to attend a tent revival. Nor does he convey adequately what the revivalists actually preached. Something which Harrell never made clear is the revivalists' own viewpoint on why healing and miracles occur. Harrell seemed content to suggest that they thought of themselves as possessing the power to heal people. But I am fairly sure such is probably not the case: they would disagree vehemently with such a suggestion, and they would loudly insist that it was God who was the true source of all miracles and healing, although they would add that they were merely the instruments of His deliverance.

Harrell's book does provide, however, what I would call a "vertical" history of the revivals, since it is organized mostly around covering the individual personalities, instead of providing an over-all, horizontal picture based on chronology. Although he supplied historical information that would difficult now to find elsewhere, organizing his book in this way tended to make it a pastiche of mini-biographies, thus making it more difficult to grasp the larger historical picture of what was happening and why. For example, Harrell almost completely leaves out what was going on with the main Pentecostal denominations at the time. Thus the reader never really has a complete explanation of why those denominations held the attitudes they did about the revivalists, who mostly were independent from denominational control. In fact, a few of the tent revivalists were strongly anti-institutional, even to the point of deep hostility; one even described membership in a denomination as the "mark of the beast".

The second part of Harrell's book covers the period of 1958 to 1974. In this time frame, the picture began to change considerably. But because of Harrell's vertical focus, I don't think he coherently pulled together the reasons for the change, other than mentioning some economic factors. He does cover some of the bigger names of the period, such as Oral Roberts, T.L. Olson, W.V. Grant, and several others, again mostly in a biographical fashion. He also briefly mentioned Kathyrn Kuhlman and David Wilkerson, giving them a few paragraphs.

Now, geographically speaking, Harrell's book tends to focus mostly on what was happening in the eastern half of the United States, and it is little surprise that the southern states are the primary backdrop for the old-time tent revivalists. However, Harrell entirely missed the "Jesus People Movement", which also had its halcyon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and happened mostly on the west coast of the United States.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Raining on Frank Viola's Parade

A Book Review
Title: Reimagining Church
Author: Frank Viola

In his book, Frank Viola does present a serious thesis that should be given attention. In fact, it's so serious that all the pastors in America need to put their heads together and come up with some kind of irrefragable rebuttal, because in effect Viola is saying that the entire raison d'ĂȘtre for their salaried positions is built on nothing but air.

But his book did have my attention, and very much so because at one time in my life I watched first hand the effects of what happens when a pastorship degenerates into a personality cult. Let me just say that it was very destructive. Therefore, it gave me pause to consider whether Viola might have a point.

However, my one criticism is that Viola tends to diminish the impact of what he is saying by trying to cover too many topics in one book, and sometimes he covers them in a manner that is not as convincing as he imagines. For example, I thought Viola's chapter on "apostolic tradition" ended up being a silly straw-man exercise. He set up a straw man which he calls "biblical blueprintism," knocked it down, and then proceeded to set up in its place what really amounts to assent to the authority of Scriptures. But what is the point? No conservative evangelical would dispute that. And the chapter ended up being a pointless detour over terminology and words. When some people say "blueprint," they are merely using a building contractor metaphor for the authority of Scriptures. And the Scriptures are the only way we have functional access to the Apostolic tradition by which we are to be guided, a "blueprint" as it were—unless you want to add to the picture Papalism. Of course Viola is not advocating Papalism, but this chapter should have been cut out of the book as fluff, as a mistaken attempt to say nothing particularly illuminating, even if it may have been a confused effort to try to prove his viewpoint as being more "apostolic" than everybody elses. But this is a good example of an ongoing problem with Viola's writing: after he makes a good point, he doesn't know when to shut up and consequently over-extends himself.

I also thought his previous book, Pagan Christianity, also had much the same problem in that Viola tended to fall down various rabbit-holes into subjects that were quite frivolous, and that some of his treatment of church history veered into the over-simplistic.¹ My other criticism of Reimagining Church is that he overuses the "organic" label. Just slapping the word "organic" on everything does not constitute an adequate explanation and it tended to get tiresome, sounding more like verbal foofaraw about not using artificial fertilizers, insecticides, or food preservatives.

In my opinion, Viola needed to keep the book's focus on his two main points and hammer them with everything he's got: (1) why the whole clergy-laity dichotomy must be discarded now, and (2) how a "house church" can be made to function in practice in the real world — not to mention the messy transition period wherein a lot of ex-pastors will be out looking for paying jobs as plumbers and bakers and candlestick makers, and also all those mortgages for the church buildings that will need to be paid off, and … I think we get the picture.

And very importantly, he needed to explain how it can function without necessarily tying things in some manner to organizations that are connected to or recommended by himself. The big question, that he never really explains in any detail, is just exactly where do these organic "church planters" or "apostolic workers" come from? Who are they? Who picks them? Who trains them? Do they draw a salaries or make tents? Who decides? Or do they just sprout from the ground like mushrooms?

This issue is left dangling mid-air with no real explanations. Pardon me, but I detect a chicken-or-egg problem here. Viola never goes beyond just pointing readers to his recommended web sites. This is especially irksome to me because when I go there, one of them is compiling a database of names and addresses. Why do I have to provide this kind of information just to get an answer on what "house churches" exist in my vicinity? For me it makes it look as if, lurking behind the scenes somewhere, this is just another organization out pushing its own agenda. And what is so "organic" about that? Somebody is paying for these web sites. Why should I give any of Viola's recommended outfits primacy? Maybe if one of these "apostolic workers" showed up in my town and was doing works of a true apostle with "upmost patience and signs and wonders and mighty works,"² I might have reason to stand up and pay attention.

I think that Viola makes the schoolish mistake that supposes the way to solve a problem in the Church is to write yet another book with footnotes and a bibliography and toss it out there. I hate to rain on Frank Viola's parade, but I don't think this is what is needed. If the Church really is a spiritual organism, then another book publishing venture is not going to change things, no more than another book on astronomy will alter the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. If the Church was created by the Power of God, then it's going to take the operation of that same Power to alter and mold and correct it.

By the way, if there are any genuine, bona-fide, "organic" house churches here in Land-In-Between, they have done an excellent job of keeping their existence and whereabouts more secret than even the CIA's Black Ops Budget. So if I am going to associate with the xtian community, I am stuck with what I can actually find around here, even if it's still that bad old un-organic evangelical pastor-congregation paradigm that Viola says the New Testament doesn't really sanction.

You have to fight the war with the army you got, not the one you wish you had.


¹ See my brief review of his book Pagan Christianity.

² See 2 Corinthians 12:12 (ESV)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dear Al Gore

Dear Mr. Al Gore

I wish to thank you for your response to my previous letter. I realize that it is stressful to wake yourself from your annual winter hibernation, which is why you are scarcely to be found on the lecture circut during the winter months. Nonetheless, you took the effort to send some warmer air our way, and because of that we here in North Idaho have many reasons to rejoice since now our temperatures have returned to something resembling seasonal normality. I am especially thankful for not having to put out the extra expense of having my roof shoveled off twice within a single winter. So far once has been sufficient, although I hear that they had to call out the National Guard to help shovel off the schools because of the danger of roofs collapsing. As far as I know, we broke all previous records for snowfall, and if this doesn't cause them to pack up and leave, the Californians who have come here with their bad driving habits, then nothing will ever make them go. But please keep up the good work, Mr. Gore. As you can see in the above picture, our streets are now much more passable, although there there is still an enormous amount of snow on the ground. I also hear that our unfortunate, frost-bitten fellow Americans back east are experiencing some horrific sub-zero weather. Perhaps you can send them a blast of hot air to help them out?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Court of Astor

Book Review

Title: Season of Splender—The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York
Author: Greg King

Thorstein Veblen once talked about the conspicuous consumption of the leisure class. He wasn't kidding.

I found this out reading Greg King's well researched book on the heyday of the ultra-rich and their social lives in New York city, back in the late 19th Century. I've heard the names of Astor and Vanderbilt before, but King's book added color and substance to those names, along with information about other families of the ultra-rich of the Gilded Age. And in fact, my eyes bugged out in astonishment at the opulence these people bestowed upon themselves and how much money they threw around. If you're interested in architecture, King lavishes plenty of detail when describing the mansions they built, and in several chapters he splurges on seldom-used architectural vocabulary, so it's a good idea to have a dictionary handy while you're reading his book. For example, I now know what a mansard roof is. But one thing is for sure: the ultra-rich didn't just build large mansions on 5th Avenue, they built insanely magnificent palaces for themselves, much with the aim of impressing other people. Furthermore, their social lives were so far removed from anything in my experience and so foreign that it was like reading about some strange tribe hidden in a muddy jungle somewhere in faraway New Guinea. The luxury was just unbelievable.

King's book ends very appropriately with the sinking of the Titanic. I recommend the book.