Tag Archives: C. Peter Wagner

It’s a Digital December

9 Dec

The weather outside isn’t so frightful in Southern California as it has been lately elsewhere, but the chill in the air is encouraging me to spend a bit more time at my desk.

In previous posts I discussed the database development I was undertaking to map the network of spiritual warfare literature and spiritual warfare practices. I was never very satisfied with the progress I was making. Discussions with colleagues about Omeka‘s progress as an archival platform convinced me I had too easily dismissed its flexibility and depth.

So I dove in and committed to Omeka as my platform. Rather than host the site at Omeka–which I found unbelievably slow to load–I have installed it on my on web space. You can see the project in its earliest development at dmcconeghy.com/spiritualwarfare/. Dmcconeghy.com will be my future  homepage, but I haven’t yet finished fixing the WordPress installation to be the way I want it to be. When I finally get around to that, then I’ll discontinue this site or use it as a mirror.

I faced an early challenge today when, while installing plugins to expand Omeka’s capabilities, every page turned into a blank white screen. After a few minutes of panic, I found the answer I was looking for on Omeka’s site–one of my plugins was not 2.0 compatible. ItemRelations was the plugin in question. It appeared to be a way to interconnect the items more thoroughly. I’ll have to think about how I want to achieve this without the plugin. Tags are certainly an option, but they don’t seem very flexible. As I try to begin mapping the documents visually, I will find out whether they can be called upon easily.

There’s a lot of legwork in this stage of the project. I’m trying to establish some standards for item entry. I’m learning how Omeka has coded the backend so that I can design pages that do more of what I want them to. I have many documentation items to read about the various plugins I’ve installed and how they work. The data entry is comparatively straightforward. How to then use that data in the way I want to, well that’s not so clear.

As I learned in this year’s THATCampAAR, the vision of your project matters. I have an audience in mind for the early and mid stages of the project–fellow scholars. I’m about to begin recruiting some of them and I hope to convince them of the benefits of participation. In the later stages of the project, I see ways to include a broader audience that includes members who actively practice what I only study academically. The contributor plugin will allow annotations and data-entry about spiritual warfare documents, people, and practices. Eventually, for instance, I hope to be able to invite people to add their church to the list of congregations that have done prayerwalks. Or even more excitingly to add the routes of their prayerwalks on a map.

I have plenty of time to develop this over the next year. If you’re interested at all in the technical or academic side of things, let me know. I’m definitely open to partnerships and collaborators. I have felt odd so far declaring myself the “creator” of this entry or that item, but it is inevitable. There is really no biography of C. Peter Wagner, for instance, apart from the limited offering on Wikipedia. See C. Peter Wagner, which I will compose based on my own primary research and will be fully annotated and referenced. You can tell that the Dublin Core elements of the item entry are currently obscuring a better presentation of the basic details of Wagner’s biography. That’s among the many elements I’ll be fixing as I go along.

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No Deliverance in the “Hollow”

13 Aug

More than a few of the films in my summer supernatural binge use the trope of “based on a true story.” Right now I’m finishing the British horror movie Hollow (2011). I picked it in part because it’s a spatially confined horror.  As the précis says, “On holiday in the English countryside, two young couples uncover an ancient evil.” Before we meet the four protagonists, however, we already know their fate. The film opens with documentary style clips shot by the local police. [The film is told through hand-held character shot footage as in The Blair Witch Project.] As the story evolves, we learn that the spirit persuades couples to hang themselves from the tree. With the characters’ end looming, the film works methodically as it brings the mythos to life.

In spiritual warfare literature mental illness spiritual is routinely linked to evil spirits. This can be seen as one of the many moves made by the New Apostolic Reformation that embraced spiritual authority for secular problems. The link between oppressive spirits and mental distress didn’t start with these folks (in the early 1980s), but John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner‘s Power Evangelism certainly appealed to that assessment. In Churchquake! Wagner describes the differences between the old and new wineskins. Some are theological:

From Christ as Savior to Jesus as Lord

From Jesus the Lamb to Jesus the Lion

From justification to sanctification

Some evoke new meta-narratives and reconsiderations of Christian identity:

From living in the desert to crossing the Jordan

From saved from death to saved for life

From guilt for sins to victory over sins

Many suggest new worship styles:

From saying prayers to praying in the Spirit

From singing in the choir to singing in the Spirit

From pipe organ to keyboard

From hymns to praise and worship songs

From staff ministry to body ministry

From liturgy to spontaneity

But the most interesting (for me) are those make spiritual gifts more central:

From water baptism to Spirit baptism

From denying or fearing evil to doing spiritual warfare

From training to anointing

From predicting to prophesying

The decisive one, the one that I was reminded of as I was watching Hollow, was that from counseling to deliverance. There are oblique references to counseling and prior suicide attempts by one of the men. The hollow tree, as the legend goes, amplifies the darkness that resides in people. The bad blood can’t be defeated by counseling because the roots are demonic not psychological. When the couples fall apart you know that no coping mechanism will be enough. You can’t resolve your mental deficits–that is reserved for the power of the Spirit. Independence, especially of the type offered by secular social science, is illusory.

Interestingly, Hollow also argues that local religious authorities are complicit and powerless to deliver themselves. This may be an indictment of religion. Or it may be that the locals are unwilling to battle the evil. They may be powerless because they are weak or fearful. At any rate, the protagonists are utterly vulnerable and obviously incapable of battling the evil. (Or it wouldn’t be a proper horror film, right?) The mounting terror in the dark is told in flashes that are likely to make viewers both motion sick and as confused as the characters appear to be in their final moments.

In contrast to so many other horror films, you don’t know who the lone survivor will be or if there will even be one. The “scene of crime assessment” clips at the beginning of the film says “bodies” but doesn’t mention survivors. What is pretty clear, however, is that no character is worth saving. They use drugs, appear sexually promiscuous, and lack any of the horror tropes that so routinely save the hero. (For the best of this see The Cabin in the Woodsa highly self-aware deconstruction of a horror flick.) What could deliver them? The film has no answer stave the one they are first unwilling and then unable to take–leaving.

Horror films so often depend on a dynamic of presence and absence, attraction and repulsion that render protagonists trapped initially by their skepticism and then later by the surety of their belief. I’d say seeing is believing, but in these films that’s not generally how belief is fostered. Conviction is a product of the experience of terror. That’s the conceit of the genre.

If it were as sympathetic to salvation or redemption’s possibility as this summer’s hit horror film The Conjuring is, what would the characters have to do? They were never offered a come-to-Jesus moment. There is no opportunity to be anointed. It’s nothing but dead-ends (literally). That may be bleak and un-hollywood, but it isn’t unexpected. Like so many horror films, there’s little reason to root for the victims. Both God and Satan are equally cruel here. Without access to the tools to fight evil, death by the film’s end is inevitable. Perhaps for the filmmakers that was their own kind of kernel of truth.

It’s SLSW or Bust

30 Jan

As I’ve been furiously writing and editing my dissertation to make an end of quarter deadline, one of the major elements of my project that has kept me focused is the distinction made between the three levels of spiritual warfare advocated and practiced by third wave evangelicals (or neo-charismatics). It clarifies my work because unlike others who have recently written about demons–say Michael W. Cueno’s American Exorcism–I can always remind myself that my focus is only a a fraction of the picture.

Here’s the basic spiritual warfare breakdown. This version is taken from Peter Wagner’s 1997 Praying With Power, but there are many other near-identical versions of it in the spiritual warfare literature:

Ground-level spiritual warfare confronts demonic spirits that molest individuals. This is personal deliverance: casting out demons.

Occult-level spiritual warfare exposes organized forces of darkness such as witchcraft, shamanism, satanism, Freemasonry, Eastern religions, New Age and the like.

Strategic-level spiritual warfare involves wrestling with principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness as Paul defines in Ephesians 6:12

There are many, many works on ground-level spiritual warfare. It’s also a great source of inspiration for Hollywood horror films. The fascination with personal deliverance has left its pentecostal and Catholic quarters for the wider waters of popular culture. I don’t know that it was a great move–it’s surely resulted in an explosion of pseudo-science and pseudo-religion–but it has been profitable and popular.

Occult-level spiritual warfare is less well studied and less frequently practiced. Evangelicals (and Catholics) have long waged a war against non-Christian religious traditions. The most threatening of these are traditions that can be practiced alongside Christianity. A recent example would be the treatment of yoga in schools, but many others fit this billing. Some of these traditions are openly anti-Christian, but most are dangerous simply because they are not Christianity. It doesn’t have to be much more complex than that, but for occult-level warfare these traditions are seen, unrepentantly, as the domain of Satan. Good intentions mean nothing here, this is a hard and fast line being drawn.

Strategic-level spiritual warfare (or SLSW) is, pardon the theory-talk, a structuring structure. In a significant way, it is framework for the other forms of spiritual warfare. SLSW says that the forces of darkness are organized and hierarchical. This corporate evil is the means by which smaller units of organized darkness (occult-level) multiply. Sure, you can fight the New Age bookstore. The problem is that you’ve only dislocated and disrupted the middlemen. In a drug-metaphor, ground-level warfare attacks junkies, occult-level attacks local dealers, and strategic-level confronts the cartels. Why bother harassing every junkie if the drugs will continue to flow downstream to other users?

The work I do with SLSW is trying to explain, practice-wise, why this form of spiritual warfare is so concerned with the world in spatial ways. A colleague, Sean McCloud, is writing a whole book about the first level of spiritual warfare. His work will deal considerably with the therapeutic and materialistic qualities of this level of warfare. Those elements are present in SLSW but significantly diminished because of the way this ‘umbrella’ level of warfare sees its first priority as participating in a cosmic battle between Satan and God.

Remembering the three levels of warfare keeps me focused because I know I don’t need to say everything about spiritual warfare. There is no book, yet, that successfully explains why all three of these levels of warfare are necessary and how they work and why they are all coming together in the 1980s. Pieces of the story are clear: deliverance ministry has a long history in American pentecostalism. After a brief hiatus around WWII, exorcisms came back into fashion in the 1960s and then exploded in popularity in the 1970s after popular culture picked up on the practice and sensationalized it.

But the pieces of the story that explain occult warfare? Very murky. The pieces of the story that explain spatial and territorial demonology that is at the heart of SLSW? Almost absent. I’m working on it, but I’m also thankful I don’t have to account for everything just yet.

Power Evangelicals: Growing Trend or Passing Fancy?

25 Jan

[I’ve been working on some sections of my dissertation that call upon me to connect my evangelicals (spiritual warriors doing strategic-level spiritual warfare against territorial demons) with the broader currents of evangelicalism during the same era. These are just some thoughts about it–definitely unfinished thoughts about it. Feel free to disagree, suggest problems, and so on! Just sharing in a continued effort to bring more of the scholarly process to light.]

Donald Miller argued, in his controversial Reinventing American Protestantism (1997), that mainline denominations were the losers in the religious economy of the late 20th century. The winners, on the other hand, were churches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church, but also Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and Hope Chapel. Together these churches represented a new “seeker-friendly” church model that shared many of a dozen characteristics Miller outlined: 1) started after mid-1960s; 2) most members born after 1945; 3) seminary training optional for clergy; 4) contemporary worship style; 5) elevation of lay leadership; 6) extensive small group ministries; 7) informal dress of laity and clergy; 8) pluralism of personal styles valued; 9) humble, self-revealing pastors; 10) bodily worship favored over cognitive worship; 11) affirmation of spiritual gifts; 12) avoids topical sermonizing in favor of verse-centered teaching.

For church historians, students of religious studies, or historians of American religion, Miller’s “new paradigm” churches and their features pose a number of problems. Without rehearsing the many complaints of his work (especially his ethnography’s aging Jesus Freak, California-bias), one of the major features of my own work has been a growing fascinating with the broadness of conservative evangelicalism after 1980. Miller’s work helpfully frames the transition of liberal (or progressive) themes, such as anti-establishment sentiments and religion as therapy and religion in service for individual aspiration, into the conservative evangelical movement. In other words, Miller’s churches marry typically conservative elements with progressive stye. How that happened is one of the great stories of the long 1960s or the Vietnam era or the Pre-Reagan evangelical world. 

For me–as I study movements that arose in the late 1970s and share many features with Miller’s churches, including the major figure of John Wimber–the most essential problem is one of emphasis. Which one of Miller’s 12 characteristics is most essential for these churches. That question fractures Miller’s arbitrary paradigm, forcing it to acknowledge that many of the features of these churches are secondary to the ways they theologically marry the Jesus Movement with northern California’s personality. That these churches have been less successful maintaing the full breadth of Miller’s characteristics outside of the West is no surprise.

When I look back on my spiritual warrior evangelicals in the broad context of the last 30 years, the primary and most essential characteristic is nearly missed by Miller’s list because it falls halfway between “bodily worship” and “affirmation of spiritual gifts.” Deliverance ministers, prayerwalkers, spiritual mappers, and other prayer warriors don’t simply affirm spiritual gifts or emphasize bodily worship–they radically and substantially expand our understanding of the body in religious practice and force us to acknowledge the new ways spiritual gifts are being used. That the participants may not be dressing up on Sundays (or several other days of the week) is entirely secondary. Why? These Christians care about renewing the power of Christianity.

For Miller, the cause of new paradigm churches is a larger cultural shift. Using social theory from Max Weber (on routinization and bureaucratization), the contention here is that somehow the seekers looked to the “spiritual” as restorative and the “religious” as primitive. This is, to a a great degree, similar to the arguments of Wade Clark Roof in Spiritual Marketplace or Robert Wuthnow’s After Heaven. It’s something about those darned baby boomers. Sorry, dad, your generation is to blame.

What’s problematic about this, though, is that it doesn’t help explain the conservatism that emerges from folks out of Fuller Theological Seminary like John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner and their emphasis on power evangelism. At the end of the day, these folks argue, the only thing that matters is true commitment to the Great Commission. It is their extensive involvement with global missionary work that provokes a return to Christianity as imbued with power. Part of that power must emerge to participate in a cosmic spiritual war between God and Satan. The contours of this perspective shares much more–and don’t get too bent out of shape–with the religious terrorists described by Mark Jurgensmeyer in Terror in the Mind of God. Power is a conduit for better evangelism because it removes Satan’s roadblocks. It’s a grand strategy for Christianity for the whole world.

In that sense, to see these Christians as caring about the religious economy or spiritual marketplace scholars describe (using the secular sphere as a container for these exchanges and interactions) is to entirely miss the reclamation of power exercised by these Christians. Why don’t they train their leaders at seminaries? Because the power of the Holy Spirit anoints them. Why do they elevate lay leaders? Because they have a religious duty to wield the power Jesus granted them. Why do they dress casually? Because being sanctimonious about dress doesn’t show the power of the Kingdom of God. Why do they worship bodily? Because rationalizing the supernatural world is not a means to exercise the power of Jesus over it. And so on.

In short, Miller and other sociologists have been too willing to look at the socio-cultural context of these movements without really grappling with some of the essential theological issues that emergent. What we don’t know because of this emphasis is whether the renewal of a power-based Christian mode of practice and theology is growing or declining. As I’ve suggested before, when using Google’s N-gram viewer to look at spiritual warfare, this is an area of contemporary Christian that may be in decline. We simply don’t know. But finding a more appropriate home for these evangelicals will be essential if we want to find answers to the question of their growth/decline. Miller made them visible (for many folks for whom they had not been), but he didn’t successfully explain where they came from or why they were becoming popular or even what made they unique. That’s a project scholars are still working.

George Otis, Jr., Giant?

4 Dec
George Otis, The Last of the Giants

George Otis, Jr., The Last of the Giants (1991)

As I continue to work on my dissertation, one of the texts I find myself coming back to again and again is George Otis, Jr.’s The Last of the Giants: Lifting the Veil on Islam and the End Times (Chosen Books, 1991). In many ways it is straight-forwardly a Cold War artifact, like the far more famous (and two decades earlier) Late Great Planet Earth (1970) by Hal Lindsey. Otis’ works less out of a commitment to end times prophecy, reading current events as Biblical proof texts, than to a deliberately spiritual reading of current events. The difference is not semantic. Lindsey offered a reading of the book of Revelation that transposed events and figures from the 1970s into the text. Lindsey’s work was decidedly pre-millennial–the day and hour were unknown, but maybe the alignment of world power meant it was imminent (and woe unto you if you were left behind).  Otis sees current events as an opportunity to re-orient the kinds of spiritual actions necessary to advance the Gospel. So The Last Giants is actually, although not very openly, post-millennial: Get to work, evangelists, because you are needed to usher in the kingdom before Christ’s return. What a difference twenty years makes, right?

The work is important to my dissertation because the sorts of spiritual action he commends are spiritual warfare, especially the practice of spiritually mapping territorial demons. (If that sounds fascinating, great! Look for my dissertation in about 6 months.) Here’s a generic example that highlights why, with my concern about spatial prayer techniques, this work is repeatedly open on my desk:

With effects as boundless as the God whom it stimulates, prayer is easily the single-most important weapon in the believer’s arsenal today…. John Robb points out that intercessory prayer, mentioned more than thirty times in the book of Acts alone, preceded virtually all “major breakthroughs in the outward expansion of the early Christian movement.” Evidencing its timeless value, prayer also played a pivotal  role in the exemplary revivals of Johnathan Goforth (China and Korea) and Charles Finney (U.S.A. and Britain), and is widely considered responsible for the dramatic opening of Eastern Europe. It is also possible to link it directly with recent Gospel penetrations into the Muslim world.

Otis isn’t an ostentatious writer (boundless effects notwithstanding) but he has a strong sense of the connection of history to spiritual agency.  This means when he speaks of mapping negative spiritual forces (as the majority of the work does), he is looking for the ways that non-Christianity has created permanent spheres of evil that must be overcome by Christianity. These include a wide range non-Christian entities such as Islam and Buddhism, but it also emerges in a concern over American materialism and secularity. The visual representation of this global concern–organized for greatest missionary efficiency–is Luis Bush’s 10/40 Window. While Bush’s initial presentation of the 10/40 window emphasized how this map captures the geography of the world’s unreached peoples (China, India, Islamic centers across northern Africa and the middle East), Otis uses it instead to make a very strong case for the geography of powers that lay behind the existence of these non-Christian cores. It isn’t simply a matter of topography that is influencing this window, but rather unseen spiritual geography that has polluted these areas’ chances for conversion.

10/40 Window from Southern Nazarene University website about missions

10/40 Window from Southern Nazarene University website about missions

The challenge for me is writing about the kind of imagination that precedes and facilitates the reality of unseen spiritual geographies. We know they have effects–increased missionary activity to the 10/40 Window–but what about other kinds of consequences? One is that spiritual warfare in America becomes a missionary field for the same kinds of actions that are appropriate in enemy strongholds (like China). Of course, the animism that is so easily blamed in the non-Western world isn’t present in the United States. How to explain the persistence of evil geographies? What are their historical roots if they are not in the people’s understanding of divinity tied to a pervasive natural religiosity? How do they continue despite the presence and success of Christianity in America? It takes Otis a whole book (and several others) to really get the gist of this down. Moreover, his techniques are superficial and much of the work is left to others to detail and experiment with. (Hence a whole project.)

But outside of my project’s narrow concerns, the work’s publication in 1991 says a lot to me about the enormous changes in evangelicalism from the period when Lindsey was writing to the 1990s. The rise of the Religious Right, Moral Majority and other central components of America’s evangelical-political movement must have meant that Otis was brutally aware that (conservative, evangelical) Christianity had successfully emerged in the U.S. in a way that was not accurate for the early 1970s. It’s a reflection on two decades of growth and progress–recognizing that the work of Christians had shifted geographically and called for new techniques to combat what it found. Does that explain the shift from pre- to post-millennialism? A growing optimism about the prospects for Christianity at home and abroad? Certainly the shift to active concern about the history of the non-Christian world–by confounding its secular tendencies and re-missionizing the home field–represents a stark contrast with the actions of earlier generations. Otis’ followers were in no way content to leave secular spheres to their own devices. And yet the saw those secular spheres in America aligned with those abroad. The root of the cause–negative spiritual geography–meant that the actions to fix it were the same. It led a huge number of Americans to use spiritual warfare techniques developed to fight animism right in their own back yards.

Check back on future Tuesdays for more about these techniques from the works of George Otis, Jr., Richard Dawson, C. Peter Wagner, and a host of others.