Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Vineyard: It’s ... Complicated

“What can you tell me about your involvement with the Vineyard?”

The question hung in the air, the chasm between us suddenly gaping like a bottomless pit.

Ah, and there it is, I thought to myself. The “Vineyard” question.

When I was upgrading myself to what’s known as “M.Div. equivalency” (prerequisite to pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree) at my alma mater, I approached one of my professors with the idea of developing a course there. He was intrigued by the idea, and suggested I submit a written proposal and my ministry resumé, which led to an interview with one of the vice-presidents of something-or-other.

Then it got weird.

The interview was clearly going nowhere from the get-go, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Several reasons for the VP’s reluctance were voiced:
  1. Only people with doctoral degrees could design or teach courses.
    I mentioned the name of a part-time teacher who didn’t hold a doctorate.
  2. Students currently enrolled in master’s level courses didn’t have the time to develop or teach a course.
    I mentioned the name of a first year master’s level student who was currently teaching.

    And that, on top of my studies, I was in the midst of the first draft for Post-Charismatic.

The VP shuffled through some papers on her desk, looking irritated. She came to a decision of sorts, locked a fixed stare on me, and asked “the V-question.” And that was that. The interview had been over before it even began. The “Vineyard resumé stain”—as one of my friends in a different denomination calls it—was in full effect.
And I realized that I was dead meat no matter what I said. Did the VP honestly expect I would denounce the Vineyard in hopes of increasing my chances? After a moment of stunned silence, I simply re-iterated what was clearly stated on my resumé: I had previously been a pastor in two Vineyard churches, one in British Columbia and the other in California.
End of story.

The irony is that even within the Vineyard, it was and is difficult to define at times what is “Vineyard” and what isn’t. During its early years in particular, the Vineyard was pulled in a variety of directions, and struggled to maintain the core of its vision and mission.

The Quest for the Radical Middle is an excellent history of the Vineyard movement. Written in 1999, author Bill Jackson mentioned that by the early 1990s—barely ten years into the movement’s story—people were already wrestling with the question of what constitutes the real Vineyard.

Echoing other voices within the Vineyard, Jackson observed that the answer to that question often depended on what era the Vineyard was going through when you first got involved.

And as the image at the top of this post indicates, there have been some significant influences that have (depending on your point of view) either added to, or detracted from, the Vineyard's self-identity as a “radical middle” movement—evangelical in theology and charismatic in practice.

The “Vineyard resumé stain” which the seminary VP was reacting to—I wonder which “Vineyard” was the problem? The Kansas City Prophets? The Toronto Blessing? The whole kit ’n’ kaboodle? Some weird caricature based on the “research” of heresy-hunters?

I mean, depending on what you think constitutes the real Vineyard, I may or may not fit your definition (I may not even be welcome in some Vineyard churches). After all, I wrote Post-Charismatic, which got me into hot water in certain circles for questioning and critiquing some charismania excesses and sketchy teachings. And I also wrote The Genesis Café, which tempts those in the postmodern “you can’t know anything with certainty” circles to eye me with wary suspicion.

Bill Jackson, the author of Quest, passed away a couple of weeks ago, which prompted me (and probably many others) to re-read his book on the Vineyard movement. And when I read again the core of Vineyard beliefs (a sample copy can be viewed here), I think to myself, “yeah, I’m Vineyard.”
I believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today; I believe in the inaugurated eschatology of the “already-and-not-yet Kingdom of God”; I reject hype and hyperbole in ministry; I believe we are called to care for the poor and challenge injustice ... the list could go on.
The Vineyard is far from perfect. The extreme charismania camp continues to be well-represented in some circles, and the postmodern semi-liberalism has its adherents as well. But the classic radical middle theology of John Wimber as expressed in his (very 1980s-sounding) Power Evangelism also continues, and that is where I still find my connect to the movement.

I only wish, in the perfect clarity that hindsight provides, that I had thought to answer the mind-already-made-up VP’s question by saying:
“Vineyard? It’s—complicated ...”