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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

C. Peter Wagner’s Fresh Air Interview—My Take

I have had the chance to listen intently and carefully to the whole interview Terry Gross did with C. Peter Wagner yesterday and these are the thoughts I wrote while listening:

Terry Gross again showed her gifts as an interviewer. She was prepared and polite, a great combination. She legitimately started the story with the shocking assertions Wagner has made and stands by about the “national demonization” of Japan. This was a good way to start the interview because his theology of dominion, spiritual warfare, apostolic authority are all tied up in this type of thinking. Wagner has clearly received heat for this statement because he makes a disclaimer that his view of Japan is not the view of all apostles in NAR, before going on to give a robust defense of his very thought through view that he thinks justifies his extraordinary assertions about the spiritual reality in which the entire country of Japan lives under. This kind of thinking/proclaiming is not a minor aspect of NAR, but is a regular and ongoing part of their ministry. Anyone affiliated with NAR and/or affiliated apostolic networks who pleads ignorance of this kind of practice is lying. It is part and parcel to their style of ministry. To be an apostle under Wagner is to be a part of this kind of thing explicitly. If a person does not agree with it, then they should not become an apostle with Wagner. It is that simple. 

Wagner also was very forthright about his and NAR’s strong support for The Response. It will be interesting to see if individuals and institutions who have gone to great lengths to smear critics of The Response as being ignorant of evangelicalism will now be equally strong in admitting that they were ignorant of how profoundly The Response was shaped by a movement deeply troubling to mainstream evangelicals I have been in touch with since this interview was aired. Wagner confirms quite clearly that The Response was a significant step forward in NAR’s work in America.

Wagner’s statement about Perry and Alice Patterson is not as forthright. The idea he asserts that Perry would have handed over such a significant role to Patterson in organizing and hosting the event and not have known things about Patterson and her ministry focus begs belief. He did give Perry a nice out though by what he said. I am sure Perry's camp will take it. But the notion that Perry would not have been aware of what Patterson is about will remain hard for people who understand Texas politics and religion to believe.

Great question from Gross; “How can you tell someone is afflicted by a demon?” The kind of thoughtful, careful question that we have come to expect from her.

The way that Wagner talks about Nepal and the mission work there is so destructive to the compassionate work of Christians there. His statement about hearing reports that every person in Nepal who he has ever become a Christian there was possessed by a demon is exactly the kind of literal demonization of others that missionaries today are taught to avoid (or at least those missionaries not a part of NAR are taught to avoid). When are more Christians concerned about the global mission of the Church for peace and justice going to start taking the fight to Wagner? (Here is an example, in this case from South Africa, of Christians who have indeed tried to refute Wagner's influence there.)

His description of American denominations and their democratic polity is so disingenuous, unless he just flat out does not view Catholics as Christians.

It is heartening to hear him own the radical claims about NAR’s view of apostolic government in the church.

He is way less truthful in his characterization of dominion. He makes his charismatic dominionism seem like what most Christians would affirm about the duty to bring and apply Christ’s teachings to all of life. But as I will demonstrate in a separate blog, this is not what he teaches. He makes it seem like critics accuse him of theocracy and all he needs to say is "we just want Christians bringing blessings of kingdom to the world." But this is not true. Yes it is true that he does not endorse theocracy----No, he does not have a view just like most Christians. These statements need to be challenged.

His idea of when and when not to believe a prophet’s prophecy is troubling and his admission of false prophecies happening raises questions about this ministry. Demonic power being partly in the Statue of Liberty—how does that even work? How can he even ponder that something would be partly demon powered? Isn’t that kind of like being partly pregnant? Doesn’t this just raise serious questions of what these people mean by territorial spirits? It is scary that Governor Brownback of Oklahoma has participated as governor in ceremonies that were participating in these kinds of views.

Important point about Wagner and Haggard----Haggard was deeply invested in Wagner’s and Cindy Jacobs’ vision of spirituality and ministry at the time he was becoming the kind of leader that would be chosen as president of National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). If that is true, then how do mainstream evangelicals go about continuing to deny the influence of Wagner and NAR on our community? How do you declare something marginal when the president of the NAE was so deeply invested in and connected to Wagner?

Terry Gross keeps coming back to Cindy Jacobs. It is important to note that Cindy Jacobs, who Wagner says is spiritually under his authority, is a part of the leadership team of Samuel Rodriguez’s NHCLC and was with Rodriguez on the small leadership team of the Oak Initiative.

The idea that Wagner is so close to Thomas Muthee, and that Muthee was a part of the influential Transformation Video movement, demonstrates why there should have been so much more investigation of NAR in the evangelical media for the last four years. Here we had, via Muthee’s public work with Sarah Palin in 2008 (interesting how Wagner bluntly says Muthee should not have been public about it), a major story that should have led religious media to dig into NAR. Instead, just as now, so many were quick to portray people troubled by Muthee’s praying with Palin as paranoid secularists who constantly are worried about theocracy. The clear journalistic response that it would have been nice to have seen a few more evangelical journalists embrace would have been to dig deeper into the story. Maybe if we had done that, this Perry Response event would never have happened with NAR leadership and we would not have needed Terry Gross and NPR to do the work of explaining this movement to America. I have a big problem with the failure of the Christian community to have covered this movement with any degree of curiosity and competency over the last four years. The Palin event with NAR should really have been the wake up call. Lets hope that this time around we do the hard work of understanding, explaining and where need be confronting this movement and its ideas.


  1. Greg - There's a great "This American Life" segment, #77, aired 9.26.97, by Alix Spiegel, which clearly identifies (in a very compelling way) the involvement of Haggard & his church in Wagner's evolving paradigm. It's very much worth a listen. Best, BruceW


  2. I would like to see the Assemblies of God document in which they condemn the New Apostolic Reformation. I couldn't find it on the internet.

  3. http://ministers.ag.org/pdf/EndtimeRevival.pdf

    Andy, see the document above. Does not specifically name NAR or any specific group but is widely seen in the context of Latter Rain and new apostolic networks. Check it out and see if you agree with me. Maybe I am overstating by saying condemned NAR, but it seems to me like a legitimate statement. Thanks for the question.

  4. Andy - As I'm sure you are aware, one of the foundational ideas of the NAR is that we have entered into an age in which the offices of apostles and prophets, as described in the Book of Acts, have been restored to the Church.

    That claim is directly contradicted by a statement approved August 6, 2001 by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God (you can find the document on the AoG web site) :

    "The pastoral letters do not make provision for the appointment of apostles or prophets, nor does the Book of Acts indicate that provision for such was given in the churches established on the missionary journeys. The apostles appointed not apostles or prophets but elders (Acts 14:23). At the conclusion of the missionary journeys, Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17–38). Clearly, elders are also given the functions of bishop (“overseer”) and shepherd (“pastor”) (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).
    Thus, within the Assemblies of God, persons are not recognized by the title of apostle or prophet. "

  5. I should add, here is a link to a PDF of that official 2001 AoG statement :