Book Review: Post Charismatic? by Rob McAlpine

Post charismatic? is a book about the charismatic movement in modern christianity, about some of the harm that has come about as a result of it and where it how a healed future might look. This is summed up by the subtitle, which asks 3 questions:

Where are we?
Where have we come from?
Where are we going?

McAlpine acknowledges from the outset that he writes from a North American perspective. So while there are strong echoes with my experience here in the UK, there are some areas McAlpine writes about which are less familiar.

The book is split into two parts. The first is a brief history of the charismatic movement; the second is a sort of manifesto, an outline for how a post-charismatic church might look. One thing need to be made clear, though. Post-charismatic is not to be confused with non-charismatic. McAlpine at all times embraces a fully trinitarian view whereby the Holy Spirit is a real and active part of the Godhead; this is not an advocacy of cessationism or a sort of non-charismatic trinitarianism whereby the Holy Spirit is paid lip-service but largely sidelined, as one may find in the more conservative traditionalist churches.

The history section is done in a very odd way. McAlpine goes out of his way to avoid a comprehensive history. Instead, he picks a few small episodes, noting where some terminology or praxis has been used which is also echoed elsewhere. The aim behind this is that readers will recognise some features and then apply the wider narrative to their own situation.

I have a problem with this approach, as it encourages a kind of ‘guilt by association’ whereby, for example, a church has preached on “touch not the Lord’s anointed”. In the chapter on ‘covering and authority’ this is cited as an excuse for not questioning authority. Yet abuses of power take many different forms, which McAlpine overlooks, using a very limited number of examples as though these were synechdoches for the whole charismatic movement.

What is present is generally good material. There are some notable exceptions. He states on page 31, “There are many well-known people in the Pentecostal movement whom you won’t read about here. People like John G Lake, Smith Wigglesworth, Kathryn Kuhlman, David DuPlessis….[M]y intent is…to trace the historical roots as they pertain to the developing theology and praxis of the movement, not to write an exhaustive historical account.” This may seem to simply be a matter of constraint on writing time and page space, though such obvious omissions which are incredibly important to the modern development of the charismatic church look rather suspicious. It’s a little like someone writing a history of American politics and choosing to omit Jefferson, Lincoln and Nixon.

The reason for these omissions become clear once you realise what McAlpine’s agenda is, which is not explicit. One notes from the back cover that, “Rob McAlpine has ministered in various settings, ranging from house churches to pastoring and church-planting within the Vineyard movement in Canada and the United States.” So the author is part of the Vineyard church, the home of the Toronto outpouring, the one movement whose consequences and impact on pentecostalism has caused more harm than any other. Yet in the few instances where it mentioned (downplayed) McAlpine is swift to say that it wasn’t really the Vineyard church that started it.

It’s always interesting to note who is referenced, either in support or in opposition, by any author. Two names crop up with regularity that are spoken of with unmitigated praise. They are John Wimber and Wayne Grudem. Grudem should be a name familiar to most, as the author of one of the widely used books of systematic theology, as well as, more controversially, his book claiming that capitalism is not only compatible with, but is supported by, the bible. However, if you do a little digging around, you will find that Grudem has spoken strongly in favour of a particular network of churches. Can you guess which one? Yes, Vineyard.

What about John Wimber? It’s not a name I’ve ever come across before, it’s never mentioned in any churches, so one has to do a little more research. Though I had my suspicions given that he the way he was quoted was almost in the same way that christians sometimes quote Jesus, or how catholics quote the pope. One soon finds out that Wimber was a church leader in a particular network of churches. I think you can have a reasonable guess as to the way this is heading in.

What we end up with is a whitewashed version of history where examples have had to be contrived in order to make a relevant point without talking about the Toronto-shaped elephant in the room. That should not mean, though, that the cases discussed are wholly irrelevant. There is much that is good here regarding things like the “prosperity gospel“, claims about healing, spiritual authority and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s the manner in which McAlpine has gone about it which detract from me wholly recommending the book.

The second half, the practical proposals for how the church might be reimagined in the light of past abuses, does contain much which is creditable. However, given the undue emphasis that is given to a Vineyard viewpoint, this must be taken with a great pinch of salt. Some other churches get mentioned early on, though the likes of New Frontiers, Ichthus, Kingdom Faith, and Elim are pushed to the margins.

In conclusion, for what is included, it is a good book, with some realistic and practical suggestions. For what it leaves out, though, it presents a distorted view of recent church history in order to exonerate the author’s own church. It could do with a re-write that not only includes case studies (for there are none here, McAlpine writes in generalities) but also tackles “charismania” head-on dealing with the likes of Toronto and Todd Bentley, possibly also the cult of the New Mystics that has emerged recently. I would also remind potential readers of the book that it is US-centric. If writers in the UK, South Korea or Nigeria were to write a similar book, then it would take a different shape. However, I know of no other books of a similar nature that are not cessationist (one might think of Strange Fire); so perhaps this is just the first of a flurry of such books dealing with a great need that has arisen within the Church.

11 responses to “Book Review: Post Charismatic? by Rob McAlpine

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve not read the book but you give a fair account of it here. It seems that there is aneed for others to tackle the subject from other angles. It may be a bit early to have a comprehensive account and critique though.

    Wimber is quite well known in some charismatic circles and is rarely critiqued within the movement. Maybe it’s time someone tackled the subject.

    • I don’t really disagree with the quotes included by Wimber, but he did seem to have an undue emphasis. What I did find disconcerting was mention of people I’ve met and spoken to – including Ern Baxter who was a close friend of the pastor of the church I grew up, as well as Roger Forster, who I was talking to yesterday morning.

      • You were in Ichthus? My wife part of the church many years ago.

        • I was part of King’s Church Durham for 4 years. Since moving to London in the summer I’ve been going to their Forest Hill congregation, where it started. Though Roger & Faith are still around, the day to day pastor is their daughter, Debbie. It seems keeping it in the family has become common among some of the British-based charismatic churches.

          New Frontiers, founded by Terry Virgo, has its home church in Brighton. where it is now led by Joel Virgo. Similarly, Colin Urquhart’s Kingdom Faith Church is now headed by Clive Urquhart.

  2. Thanks for this Sipech, I do intend to get it. John Wimber had a HUGE input into New Frontiers & was a close friend of Terry & Wendy Virgo. In 1990 he came here with the once Kansas City Prophets to predict an imminent all-Britain Revival. which failed to arrive 😦 Ten years later I “met” on-line a person who ‘ghost wrote’ several of his best selling books !! He was a very cuddly, humerous, ex-rock band musician who founded the Vineyard and who did a great deal to discipline and constrain the more irrational expressions including ;’ex-communicating’ Toronto Vineyard after the ‘animal impressions’ ! He wrote many beautiful worship songs still sung widely. I think he was probably one of the least authoritarian and one of the gentlist of the various charismatic stream leaders on both sides of the pond.
    I was not sure whether you left out the word ‘no’ re mention of Ern B & R F or you meant they were spoken of critically ? Have you read any British histories of the charismatic movement ?

    • Re Ern & Roger – I did not omit a word. I just meant it was a peculiar sensation to read about people I have known in a book written by someone I don’t know.

      I’ve not read any histories of the charismatic movement in the UK, partly because I’ve lived through some bits of it and otherwise been close to those who have lived through others. For example, my parents were in Brighton at the time New Frontiers started, which was partly the result of a schism in the anglican church they were a part of at the time. Even when they went back to that church 40 years after their wedding, when no one was left who had been around at the time, the schism was still being spoken of with some bitterness. So for all the good that New Frontiers has done, one mustn’t forget it left a bad taste in many mouths, and for more than a generation.

      • I was a member of then Clarendon Church (now Church of Christ the King) ’87-91 or 2. Was very aware of some bad feeling in the town re their ‘interface’ with other churches – only really interested in working with those which might come ‘under’ Terry’s ‘covering’ ! I then went to Colin Urquart’s Bible College and new Kingdom Faith Church and found almost exactly the same thing -at least giving the impression that oly interested in churches which would fully affiliate, otherwise ignoring invitations to co-operative endeavours etc – just as NFT did. It as even more obviously authoritarian in polity though fully open to women in leadership and teaching about which Ch of C K was very conflicted and formally ‘anti’ !
        Next I went to an Ichthus-linked church in Glasgow. We were also very closely integrated into a Greater Glasgow-wide Network of charismatic churches embracing,Baptists, Vineyard and Indies, but also co-operating with CoS and Episcopalian.
        Then a small but exceedingly active charismatic breakaway from a Baptist (I think) church near Bradford which really tried to be a blessing to all other churches and the whole community. There ere problems though – too complex to elaborate here.

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  5. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough review of the first edition of Post-Charismatic? The newest version is Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick, although if you found the history section of the first edition to be inadequate, you might be disappointed still (although Bentley does get a brief mention — the first book was written well before Lakeland so Bentley wasn’t a “thing” yet).

    It’s odd that you seem to accuse me of having a hidden Vineyard agenda. I haven’t been a part of a Vineyard church for about 15 years. It’s in my “background”, yes, and as such forms part of my motivation for writing in the first place (Ie. there are problems in the Vineyard). I quote Wimber where I believe he offers good input; that hardly means that I’m white-washing the Vineyard nor secretly trying to promote it.

    • It’s not that the agenda is particularly hiddden. As you yourself say, “there is always an agenda”. It’s just extremely peculiar that the single biggest issue within the modern charismatic movement and which has put people off it, is not confronted head-on, but rather pushed to the margins.