Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church "“ A Memoir is the autobiography of C. Peter Wagner, the head apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)
An analysis, by Jackie Alnor
What strikes the reader is that Wagner's memoirs show an evolution of theology that adapts itself to whatever trends invade the church. What Wagner boasts as being "paradigm shifts" in his spirituality actually demonstrate his lack of any biblical moorings. He tries to convince the reader of his academic prowess, while exposing his spiritual shallowness.
The book gives the reader insights into what makes this so-called apostle tick. Wagner seems quite honest in his self-assessment and does not seem to mind exposing his humanistic attitude towards all things religious. What is very much lacking in this book is any Christian testimony of the greatness of God and the Lord Jesus Christ and knowing Him as his personal Savior. It is more an overview of what he calls his "career" in church growth, academics and influence upon others.
Although there is no dedication page, Wagner does acknowledge the person who confirmed that he should publish his memoirs, Rick Joyner of Morning Star Ministries. While it is widely known that Joyner is a false prophet and worker with evil spirits, Wagner calls him "one of the most brilliant of our contemporary Christian leaders...Rick helped me to feel that I have good biblical justification for this book," he wrote, citing 1 Thes. 5:12, "Paul's admonition that believers should "˜recognize those who labor among you.'" [p. 11]
The book opens up to several pages of Wagner's admirers, each writing a paragraph as to why they think Wagner is such an honorable figure in modern church history. They include Mike Bickle, President of IHOP; James Goll, Encounters Network; Bill Hamon, Christian Int'l Apostolic Network; Jack Hayford, Church on the Way; Cindy Jacobs, Generals Int'l; Bill Johnson, Bethel Church; Gwen Shaw, End-Time Handmaidens; Steve Strang, Charisma magazine and an assortment of endorsers from the charismaniac side of the church.
Wagner even gives himself an endorsement saying, "I can say up front that since the day I was born again, I have feared God and kept His commands. Perfectly? By no means"¦But through it all, I did fear God, I kept the faith, I ran the race, and my foremost desire was to do His will 24/7. I can truthfully say with Paul, "˜I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.'"
An Unimpressive Testimony
He begins by looking back to his childhood during the Great Depression, working on a farm and milking cows before heading off to college to study agriculture. He loved professional team sports and attributed his knowledge of sports for making it easy for him "to understand what the Bible was teaching about spiritual gifts and also how apostolic ministry was to function." [p. 19]
What Wagner does say about his testimony of converting to Christianity is tied in with his story of meeting his future wife Doris. Doris refused to marry him until he would agree to receive Christ since she was a good Lutheran girl. She gave him devotionals called "The Upper Room," which is a publication of the United Methodist Church. He says that after a "few more kisses" he was ready. "So I accepted Christ and dedicated my life to be a missionary the same night there in that farmhouse." [p. 29] Such is his testimony of being born-again.
That sounds easy "“ no need for repentance or conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost or responding to the delivery of the Gospel. This is what some in the church would call "easy believism" a staple foundation for Wagner's understanding of church growth principles.
After graduating from Rutgers in 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner went west to study theology. He settled on Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, while Doris chose Biola. Wagner liked Fuller because, as he put it, they "were not afraid to think outside of the box. This greatly disturbed many fundamentalist leaders across the country, but it seemed very attractive to me"¦There was something inside me that made the possibility of new wineskins more appealing than the old wineskins."
He decided that he was more in what was known as the "˜neo-evangelical' camp and considered other Evangelicals and Fundies as legalists due to their insistence on separatism. After moving to California, the Wagners became members of Bell Friends Church, a Quaker denomination. He mentions that they would not participate in believers baptism or the Lord's Supper, but that didn't seem to bother them.
In 1956 the Wagners left the country to be missionaries in Bolivia. Wagner lamented the fact that he did not have adequate training in missiology at Fuller except for one course in missions taught by Harold Lindsell (a former editor of Christianity Today and former teacher of this reviewer). He took issue with the fact that Lindsell, a theological conservative, had no actual foreign missions experience, but learned all he knew from those who did.
At the time they left for South America, Wagner said "Christian leaders" such as "Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts had just begun to surface." [p. 43] All he had heard about them was negative in his circles, but in retrospect he wished he had paid more attention to them, particularly their emphasis on prosperity since he had allowed himself "to be dominated by an evil spirit of poverty." He didn't elaborate on how he could identify poverty as an evil spirit; the implication is if anyone is poor he is also demonized. But then again, Wagner liked playing outside the box of Holy Writ.
Throughout his memoirs, Wagner refers to his Christian service as his "professional career" and his assessment of himself and others seems to be based on Jungian personality types that he over and over again applies to his strengths and weaknesses in terms of the four humours: sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric.
He discovered that he had an apostle calling when he successfully coordinated a world missionary conference. He did not have a call to be a pastor, he discovered, but loved to teach other leaders. In the late 60s and into the 70s after studying world missions he was invited back to Fuller to teach church growth that he says was catching on in America. One of his students was John Wimber, a fellow Quaker, who he met in 1975 and hired Wimber as a consultant.
Whenever Wagner talks about changing career direction, he refers to it as a "paradigm shift." He wrote, "using tools like statistics and graphs and charts was still considered by many as carnal rather than spiritual"¦but in those days, changing this paradigm was not easy." [p. 103]
He cites John MacArthur, founder of Masters College and pastor of Grace Community Church, as one of his most notable critics. He writes that MacArthur wrote his book, Ashamed of the Gospel, to scold him for worldly pragmatism. "MacArthur's paradigm obviously was not ready to shift!" [p. 104]
"The Wimber Era"
In his chapter on John Wimber, Wagner reflects on the era that took his career from the mundane and into the limelight. The new paradigm under the influence of Wimber changed his belief in cessationism of the gifts of the Spirit to not only belief in the continuance of the gifts, but the belief that the gifting could be learned and taught in a college classroom. Thus was birthed the "Signs and Wonders" class at Fuller Seminary. Learning to operate the gifts, whether the student is gifted or not, was classified as "MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth" and earned the student three credits in what Wimber called his "clinic."
Wagner's striving for church growth principles by reason of logic and what can be worked seemed to play a big role in becoming a Wimber disciple and letting him teach his class. "I knew very well that his [Wimber] pastoral intuitions, his experience and his astute analysis of church growth principles could not be matched. I knew that John was a winner"¦he was regularly receiving higher evaluations than mine! I was elated!" [p. 125]
Since Wagner had the academic credentials as a tenure-track professor and Wimber had no teaching credentials, Wagner's name appeared in the catalogue to appease the accreditation authorities, but Wimber actually directed the activities. Wagner described a typical session in the three-hour long class.
"John said, "˜Peter, come up here,' and he had me sit on a stool facing the class"¦When John started praying, I felt a warm blanket of power come over me and I felt like my mind was partially disconnected. I could hear most of what was going on, but I didn't care"¦I now know that I was slain in the Spirit, but I didn't fall, because I was on the stool. John was describing my physical reactions to the class like a sports announcer giving a play-by-play account of what was happening to me. "˜See the eyelids fluttering? There's some flushing on the side of his face! Watch the lips "“ they're quivering! Thank you, Lord! More power!'" [p. 128]
Wagner claims he was thereby healed of high blood pressure. This academic healing was not much different than how Wagner got the "gift of tongues." While studying 1 Cor. 14, he read that the Apostle Paul said, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all." So Wagner speculated that "If Paul could do it, why couldn't I?" [p. 116]
He followed that up with an experiment of praying in tongues and said it was real easy. Since he was now a tongues-talker, he had to part company with his cessationist colleagues whom he now saw as those having a "spirit of religion." [p. 117] I suppose he assumed that anyone who didn't speak in tongues was as bigoted as he had been.
Now he was just like his mentor, John Wimber, who could "do the stuff" at will. They now figured that "doin' the stuff" would be a wonderful appeal to entice people to come to such churches and another feather in the cap of church growth principles. And the numbers proved that theory. Statistics had shown, according to Wagner, that 70 percent of churches in Latin America were Pentecostal, and after seeing that he was determined to tap into it.
Wagner mentions Wimber's falling out with Calvary Chapel's Chuck Smith in passing, without noting that Calvary Chapels were growing by leaps and bounds simply by teaching the Bible verse-by-verse, emphasizing the nearness of the Lord's return, and allowing the true gifts of the Spirit to operate. Feeding the sheep God's Word is one "church growth principle" Wagner and Wimber did not seem to cater to.
"The home church meeting that Wimber was pastoring," he noted, "became a Calvary Chapel affiliate under Chuck Smith in 1977, but the relationship between the two leaders was strained from the beginning. By 1982, the two agreed that they should go in different directions"¦As soon as John did, 30 other Calvary Chapels switched affiliation to Vineyard!" [pp. 124-125]
Wagner coined the term, "The Third Wave," to describe the now hijacked charismatic movement that began as a true move of the Holy Spirit upon a generation of messed up hippies, now formulized to imitate the gifts and teach others to do likewise. The counterfeit movement, though Wagner does not recognize it as such, spread to the denominations and the Roman Catholic Church and became known as the "charismatic renewal."
The occultic teachings of the Inner Healing movement, which became popular in the Vineyard churches through false teachers like Agnes Sanford and John and Paula Sandford, also introduced deceiving spirits into "The Third Wave." Blind to the heresy of the Inner Healing movement, Wagner's embracing of this error was due to the studies ofÃ‚Â his colleague, Chuck Kraft of Fuller Seminary, which set the stage for another paradigm shift into deliverance ministry.
Wagner and Wimber had a falling out in 1991 over a disagreement in their views of spiritual warfare. Wagner began to adopt the principles of Cindy Jacobs, in thinking it was up to the church to take dominion over principalities and powers in heavenly places, while Wimber's views were not so overly-inflated.
Rejection of the Millennial Rule of Christ on Earth
Wagner points to his rejection of the expectancy of the soon return of Jesus Christ as his greatest shift. He puts it this way:
"Shifting from escapist eschatology to victorious eschatology: This most recent paradigm shift was a long time coming....when I started understanding the Dominion Mandate, it became clear that I needed a better view of the end times. The light came on when I read Harold Eberle and Martin Trench's Victorious Eschatology, and their partial preterist view is what I now believe." [p. 273]
Preterism took him to another paradigm in which his "Dominion Mandate" no longer presumes to be a preparation for the return of Jesus, like some of his premil, Kingdom-Now associates assert. Wagner's "˜ever-changing with the tide' vision is to establish a theocratic rule of the world represented by Seven Mountains upon which he and his fellow modern-day apostles and prophets sit. He took that idea from his friend Lance Wallnau who identified the mountains as "(1) Religion, (2) Family, (3) Education, (4) Media, (5) Government, (6) Arts and Entertainment, and (7) Business." [p. 263]
The only place in Scripture where we see anyone sitting on seven mountains is in the 17th chapter of Revelation "“ the Mother of Harlots: a prophetic peek into the future of what Wagner's group, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), is evolving into when it unites with its fellow false religionists.
"The Jacobs Era"
Wagner devotes an entire chapter to his friend and co-conspirator, Cindy Jacobs. Her contribution to his evolution of theology was her understanding of spiritual warfare. In 1990, Jacobs and Wagner gathered with a group of associates to form the SWN, the Spiritual Warfare Network. At that first meeting were such luminaries as Jack Hayford of Church on the Stray (I mean "˜Way'); Frank Hammond, author of Pigs in the Parlor, a book that falsely teaches that Christians can be demon-possessed and that all ills in one's life is caused by demons; and Gwen Shaw of the End-Time Handmaidens fame who has always run in the circles of false prophets.
Wagner took the collective understanding of spiritual warfare from that gathering and it later evolved to what became known as "spiritual mapping," the teaching that prophets and apostles can determine what principality or power reigns over a geographical region and then take authority over them, decreeing them into the pit "“ or some other place before the people in the region could be open to the gospel. Of course, this sort of idea does not come from Scripture, but grew from the exalted view Wagner has of himself and his cohorts. He specifically mentioned one man as teaching him this idea, Luis Bush, a leader in the AD2000 movement, associated with the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Wagner said that Billy Graham even paid the way for him and his associates to travel to Lausanne for the Congress.
Cindy Jacobs took things a step further and prophesied to Wagner that he needed "to repent for the sins of dropping the atomic bombs in World War II" in an act of "identificational repentance" before the Japanese people could be receptive to Christianity. So he went to Tokyo and did so from a stage he was sharing with "˜David' Yonggi Cho.
Jacob's prophecy said in part, "Lord, I thank You that You are sending Peter Wagner to Japan...to undo the atrocity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Father, Peter will be used like a nuclear bomb in the Spriit to break apart the darkness that Satan has worked against the nation of Japan." [p. 235]
Wagner pointed out that every time Cindy prophesies, she goes into some trance state and has a strange look on her face. I myself observed her once in her altered state and sure enough, some sort of evil countenance comes over her and she then talks in a low-pitched growling voice "“ pretty scary! Nothing holy about that spirit.
There were so many people who influenced Peter Wagner throughout his career from one paradigm to the next. He mentions so many, including:
Paul Cain, one of the Kansas City prophets known for getting outed as a homosexual. Wagner calls him a prophet who promised a sign to Wimber on the day they were to meet. Sure enough, that day there was a 5.0 earthquake. [p. 192]
Chuck Pierce, who Wagner names an era after. The picture Wagner chose to use in his book of Pierce shows him in Eastern religious garb. Pierce is a so-called prophet who speaks first-person as God. On one occasion, Pierce prophesied, "God says, "˜I am beginning a time of reorganization of My people. I will realign within their minds...I must create My authority in the earth...I will begin the year with this realignment." [p. 227] Wagner fails to ask the question, when did God lose His authority in the earth? This is blasphemous!
Bill Hamon, author of the book, Prophets and Personal Prophecy, commissioned Wagner as an apostle. Wagner credits Hamon's book for his own understanding ofÃ‚Â prophets today. Wagner calls Hamon "a distant hero for me" and a "distinguished personality." What Wagner doesn't point out is that Hamon has a long history of false prophecies and pompous decrees including decreeing that there would be no more evil in the state of Florida as of May, 1997.
Ted Haggard, is mentioned as a one-time associate with Wagner in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who allowed him to operate his ministry from his New Life Church facilities. Wagner had a falling-out with the scandalized bisexual former president of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). Wagner did not have much to say about the scandal, he didn't like Haggard because he "did not fit at all with our apostolic/prophetic stream of Christianity." [p. 228]
The Second Apostolic Age
Wagner determined that he was a super apostle witnessing the "historic beginnings of the Second Apostolic Age" "“ the first apostolic age being the true apostles in the first century. He fixed the date for the start of the new apostolic age as the year 2001, after achieving what he calls "a critical mass," an unstated number of professing Christians who agree with him that apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. [p. 218]
It may seem obvious to any bible-believing Christian, that the foundation of the church was laid 2,000 years ago, and no new foundation needs to be built at the final completion of the building of God as we near the end of the Church Age.
Borrowing from the Roman Catholic Church, Wagner teaches that "apostolic succession" must take place. Since he is in his late 80s, he has chosen who will fill his apostle slippers after he's gone. At least the Catholic Church's apostolic succession is one pope at a time "“ but with Wagner, he needs a crowd to carry his mantle when he's gone "“ he's that important. He has an entire chapter called "Transitions" to lay out who inherits what authority upon his demise.
Wagner admits that the root of his apostolic movement dates back to the Latter Rain Movement of the mid-twentieth century. He calls them "pioneers" but dares not name them by name, knowing they've all been discredited as heretics. If he dared to name William Branham by name, that could come back to bite him. It just takes one simple Google search to know how twisted the Joel's Army, Manifest Sons doctrines are.
Wagner headed up too many organizations to cover in this analysis. He founded more self-glorifying named groups than any other "Christian leader" in all of church history. He followed every crazy spiritual fad that he could find; and found a way to legitimize the fad with an impressive name. His idea of a good time is taking a group of friends to a snake-handling church to watch the fun as loonies dance with rattlesnakes.
His wild claims include decreeing an end to Mad Cow disease; capturing spiritual gold dust that represents the soon transfer of wealth into the hands of the new apostles, and lengthening short legs.
At the end of his memoirs he sums up his accomplishments in a most appropriate but undignified manner: "I feel like a roll of toilet paper "“ the nearer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. [p. 284]
At the end of the book, Wagner gives a summary of all the books he has written in his "career" "“ 73 of them with titles such as Defeat the Bird God, Signs and Wonders Today, Wrestling with Dark Angels, Engaging the Enemy, Warfare Prayer, The New Apostolic Churches, The Everychurch Guide to Growth, and Churchquake! How the New Apostolic Reformation Is Shaking up the Church as We Know It.
Grab one of them next time you run out of toilet paper.
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