Erik Keck has posed a question:
I am studying power evangelism within the context of Vineyard Christian Fellowship literature
Is power evangelism as stated in the literature of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship a viable model for the emerging church?
Research Problem Statement
Power evangelism as seen within the literature of the Vineyard movement has a model of promise as an experiencial evangelistic tool for the emerging movement
This just sparked a whole bunch of thoughts on my part. Diving right in…
The research question has been taken on my part to be almost axiomatic, but I’m more than happy to see Erik taking this on as a more formal research project so that the assumption (on my part) can be properly proved or disproved. There is one caveat which must be made that informs my assumption and directly affects the yes/no conclusion of the question. Sadly, I don’t have a reference to cite for the statement that follows, as it just comes from my memory of being in and around the Vineyard movement of the 90’s. (For the record, I was never a formal part of a Vineyard church as there wasn’t one in my region during those years, but I was very heavily influenced by the Vineyard and followed it closely over that timeframe.) I understand that a number of years after writing Power Evangelism, John Wimber stated that if there was a flaw in the book, it was an unstated underlying assumption he had made that “regular” evangelism was already taking place, and this was the context in which power evangelism could work. Though I haven’t read it, this is perhaps the distinction that led to a re-titling and release of the subsequent book, Kingdom Evangelism.
Now, if you’re keeping up and thinking only a little bit ahead here, you’ll have already seen that power evangelism is practically made for missional living. Not that this is the only form of “evanglism” to take place in a missional context, but it should work exceptionally well in this context because missional presumes relationship, because in missional living, relationship precedes everything else. In other words, I would answer Erik’s research question in the affirmative because missional church espressions provide power evangelism with its missing context. That said, an accross-the-board statement may be warranted to the effect that power evangelism is never intended to be the only model of evangelism in any context. With these two statements, I believe the author of the term and the model would heartily agree, were he still able to voice it. Within the preceding, of course, lies the caveat mentioned earlier.
This brings me around to another assumption or two which bear further testing. Let’s grant for for this discussion (and this won’t be a stretch) that missional church expressions are a part of (though a subset perhaps) the emerging church. Hold onto that assumption as it won’t directly come into play just yet. Mention should be made of the post-charismatic discussion that has been taking place here as well as places like Emerging Grace and Robbymac. Rob McAlpine has actually composed the requisite opus on the subject; originally published online, but it has recently been removed from its online home pending publication in print. The forums attending the article series remain online, and the tag will produce Technorati search results. In short, “post-charismatic” refers to a group of people who want to move past the excesses and baggage of the charismatic movement, but want to retain certain charismatic practices such as belief in and practice of what one of my college professors called “the hooky-pooky gifts.” A suggested alternative phrase is “charismissional,” which refers to the practice of the charismata within a missional context… basically the precise idea which Erik’s research project addresses.
Problem coming. The emerging church is becoming somewhat known for its inclusivity, it’s willingness to entertain, dialogue, and engage with religious viewpoints which aren’t exactly conservative christian values. In other words, the pendulum swings to the left, and there’s an open and inclusive attitude and a heretofore unseen openness and willingness to dialogue with liberal theology and even non-christian religions. This in itself is a good thing, the openness to hear disparate viewpoints and dialogue with them, entertaining open-minded debate and discussion. In my observation of the emerging church though, including just a few comments I have heard from others, is that in general, the emerging church conversation tends to portray a somewhat less than open attitude toward (in varying degrees) conservative evangelicalism, calvinism, and charismatics. Of course this is not an accross-the-board truism, and exceptions can be produced to disprove the idea annecdotally… but the fact remains that the emerging church isn’t majoring on discussion with these corners nor dialogue along these themes. Concerning charismatic themes, if anything, I would have to say that the emerging church is largely avoiding the topic, and sometimes deliberately so. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who are a part of the emerging church and who exhibit these viewpoints, just that they aren’t as accepted on these themes within the mainstream emerging church conversation. On the other hand, within missional church thinking there seems to be more of an openness to all of these themes, but I may be eisegeting too much in this whole area.
The upshot here is that the subject of Erik’s study (should he publish it publicly), like Robbymac’s before it, may not find wide receptivity in emerging church circles, though it is sure to strike a chord in that fringe overlap area between missional circles and the evangelical or charismatic circles from which people are migrating into more missional expressions of church. It does therefore have a specific audience which needs to hear it, and it’s a very timely question in that context.
Lastly, allow me one critique of the Vineyard… but a mild one, as I’m only posing a question. Do not their original mandate and conception and the plainest thoughts and teachings of their founder not lead them naturally and logically toward missional church expressions which attempt to contextualize the gospel in a postmodern world? I’d like to have this assumption challenged and disproved, else the following question becomes more pointed than I would like it to be… but if the statement is true, where is/are their voice(s) in the emerging church discussion, and missional conversations in particular? Try to read the question as a simple and honest one and not as any kind of indictment… off the top of my head, I can think of at least three examples of Vineyards in the emerging church format, but this is perhaps no different than Anglicans or Baptists or the Salvation Army. What I’m thinking of here though is something more akin to the position or general thrust of the organization/denomination as a whole rather than individual expressions. If it’s there and I’ve missed it, I’d like to review, but if it’s not, then the adoption of the power evangelism model into a missional context looks a little funny if it ultimately finds more effective expression there (as I suspect it will) than it has within the Vineyard movement which spawned it.
Now, here I’ve spouted a bunch of assumptions and assertions which have been rumbling in my brain for a while, but Erik’s research question provided a stimulus to put them forward in a partially unconcluded state. I do hope that some online dialogue and further thinking on all of these themes will follow in the days, weeks, and months to come as many of us seek to understand what it looks like to imagine and formulate a post-charismatic missional church expression. And of course, if I’ve unfairly characterized the emerging church (dare I mention the “E” flavour?) as being closed to a particular area of discussion, I would welcome any thoughts, explanations, or simply examples to the contrary. (I should save someone the trouble of mentioning Rob Bell though.)