Meeting John Wimber

An edited collection of tributes to John Wimber by various church leaders

Meeting John Wimber
John Gunstone (Editor)
Monarch. 188 pages. ?7.99.
ISBN 1 85424 350 0

In Meeting John Wimber, John Gunstone strings together a necklace of 14 glowing tributes to a 'large, loveable, warm and gentle person'. Most contributors come from the Church of England, although Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Churches of Christ, Vineyard Churches and New Churches are represented.
All herald Wimber's 'superb gifts of communication (and motivation), his total lack of pomposity', 'his genuine love for the whole church', his wisdom 'as a church consultant', 'his lack of aggression towards those who criticised him', his teaching gifts, his ability to equip lay persons for ministry and much more. Gunstone introduces the collection by sketching a portrait of John Wimber's life and ministry from his success as the spark plug of the chart-topping musical group 'The Righteous Brothers', to his leadership of the worldwide Vineyard movement. 'Wimber's natural abilities as a salesman', to quote Peter Wagner, eminently prepared him for this role.
A number of contributors concentrate on affirming Wimber's theological views. John Leach writes about Vineyard music and worship. Several lament the breach between John Wimber and John Arnott over the 'Toronto Blessing'.
Martin Robinson points out that, while the Vineyard is in the classic Pentecostal tradition, it has created a third wave by appealing to 'tired charismatics', and tapping into a 'charismatic movement that was suffering from a lack of direction'. (p. 177). The contributors chosen, almost without exception, held charismatic presuppositions before they encountered John Wimber. Nonetheless, his influence on them, and on those they represent, has been profound - in some cases revolutionary. Peter Lawrence writes: 'My unproven prejudices and my socks were blown away' (p. 117).
The resounding applause is tempered here and there by mild criticisms, most notably that of Nigel Wright. While he maintains his affection for John Wimber, he expresses doubts about healing claims, the 'fun side' of the phenomena and Wimber's central thesis that 'acts of power add impetus to the evangelistic task' (p. 53). He is worried that Lonnie Frisbee, whose 'ministry' led to the original manifestations in Wimber's early congregation, admitted that 'even before he became a Christian he could make such things happen' (p. 55).
Mark Stibbes admits that: 'The appearance of 'power' in Vineyard meetings is caused by factors that can be explained psychologically and sociologically as well as spiritually' (p. 91). Peter Lawrence laments that: 'At home ... an interesting movement which entertained us for a while may now be passing. The church in many places is still in decline ... it was only fun for a season ... but I want it because charismatic Christianity is biblical Christianity.'
Clearly John Wimber has had a powerful impact on evangelicalism. But while the book leaves me with admiration for John Wimber as a person, it increases my alarm for the direction this movement is taking the church. I am left pondering how much of modern evangelicalism is captive to charismatic personalities of great charm and how much is captive to the Spirit speaking through the unchanging Word. If Santa Claus led a movement, would we all fall in line? Criticising Santa is like questioning motherhood!

Eric Wright
Bay Park Baptist Church ,Kingston, Ontario