Friday, December 29, 2006

Take the Best and Go!

I finished reading The Charismatic Century, by Jack Hayford (with S. David Moore, author of the very thorough The Shepherding Movement), and as requested by KSG, here's a few thoughts on the book.

I think a quote from the late John Wimber actually might serve as the thesis statement of this book: "Take the best and go!"
Hayford and Moore do an admirable job of tracing the history of North American Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave movements in a very engaging and readable style. While acknowledging the charismatic-like movements that occurred independently in other countries -- at times pre-dating the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 -- the focus is largely on the roots and fruit of the Azusa event.
The good news for me is that, after reading their timelines and records of theological development, I didn't slap my forehead and rush to my Post-Charismatic manuscript to make changes! :)
Keeping the quote from Wimber in mind -- "Take the best and go" -- the book is helpful in tracing the history of early Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Renewal, and the Third Wave. While some controversies are acknowledged (the Oneness debate, the Shepherding Movement, the Latter Rain), it may appear as though Hayford and Moore are letting them "off the hook", so to speak, by not going into greater detail on some of the problematic teachings.

For example, William Branham is acknowledged as having developed some "erratic" teachings towards the end of his ministry, but that's about it. Branham is mostly viewed as a significant personality in the era of the healing evangelists; the only other healing evangelist who gets more than a passing mention is Oral Roberts.

As someone who has researched Branham in more depth, I was a little disappointed that he seemed to get a "get out of jail free" card, as a significant number of teachings from Branham are -- to be charitable -- highly questionable at best. 

Likewise, the Latter Rain movement from North Battleford, Canada gets a brief mention, but the teachings that led to its denunciation by other Pentecostals aren't even mentioned.

However, if we keep "take the best and go" as the lens for viewing this book, and recognize that the authors never intended nor claimed to be writing a theological critique or defense of various streams of thought, this book is both encouraging and helpful.

The authors end each major chapter with a short section on what "take the best and go" could look like. They highlight things like:
  • the strong emphasis on missions and missional living that characterized the early Pentecostals
  • the graciousness towards other denominations -- particularly as a result of the Charismatic Renewal of the 60's & 70's impacting the older mainline denominations
  • reminding us that -- whatever our reaction to things like healing evangelists and spurious "deliverance" ministries -- praying for the sick and demonized is a normal part of Christian life
  • rather than letting negative examples and experiences occlude our spiritual sight, to seek the Holy Spirit to give us a fresh look and understanding of how we pursue a  Spirit-empowered missional life
If it's a critique of charismatic theology and/or excesses that you're looking for, this isn't your book. However, if you'd like a good historical primer which highlights, well, the "highlights" and invites you to consider how you might "take the best and go", then I would recommend The Charismatic Century.

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