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Quest for the Radical Middle

 

A History of the Vineyard

The Quest for the Radical Middle
by Bill Jackson

Foreword

I’ve been in the Vineyard since its inception. I know all the key players, and I don’t know anyone who could perfectly recount our history. Even my closest friends and I sit around and disagree in friendly discussions about what really happened…but, I also don’t know anyone who has worked harder than Bill Jackson to get it right. 

The reader can be sure that Jax (as his friends call him) has no hidden motive and no ax to grind. His “rank ‘n file” lens provides a valid starting point to piece together the complex pieces of the Vineyard story. Many of you went through this history with him and will share his perceptions and his questions. This book will no doubt open lively debate as to what we have learned. 

From my vantage-point as one who was in John Wimber’s inner circle, sometimes I see things from a different angle than Jax does, but I will say this, he has done his homework. I have read every draft of the book and can vouch for his integrity in tracing down the facts. 

I commend this writing of Vineyard history as a good first step. I’m quite certain that other professional historians will come along and provide a more analytical history of the Vineyard, but I’m also convinced that they will pay tribute to The Quest for the Radical Middle as a contemporaneous recounting by a Vineyard pastor who was there. 

I’m proud of the courage Jax demonstrates in diligently seeking an even-handed approach. It is not easy or fun to examine the mistakes of your own family. I encouraged him many times, however, to try to tell it like it was so that future generations will be able to learn from our trek to find the radical middle. 

I’ve known Jax was bright, had an eye for the truly important and as a teacher could organize material. I didn’t know, however, that he is also an engaging author. If you are interested in the Vineyard for any reason, you may not be able to put The Quest for the Radical Middle down once you’ve started. It is a fascinating, concise part of God’s story in our little part of the Church called Vineyard. 

Todd Hunter
Former National Director, Association of Vineyard Churches, USA

Introduction

I have a proud Christian heritage. My family first experienced Christ through the ministry of Young Life and later was powerfully affected by Campus Life under the mentoring of men like Dave Veerman. We were nurtured at South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois which, during my freshman year at Wheaton College, gave birth to what is now Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, one of the largest evangelical churches in America. It was during my Wheaton days, however, that I had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit that left me forever altered. I spoke in tongues when some classmates laid their hands on me, and I went through a tremendous renewal in my Christian life.  

It was confusing to me that after such a wonderful event so few of my evangelical friends shared my enthusiasm. My roommate and best friend, now a Presbyterian pastor, said to me, “You aren’t one of those booga boogas now are you?” He was joking, of course, but not really, and the incident describes perfectly the dilemma I now faced. Theologically I hadn’t changed. I didn’t think everybody had to speak in tongues, nor did I believe that one had to speak in tongues to have power or to be saved. Even though my experience was both biblical and life changing, it was not embraced within my evangelicalism. I consequently experienced something of an identify crisis. I no longer knew who I was. I went about my evangelical business and spoke in tongues in private. There was no one I knew in my world that could either relate or mentor me in the things of the Spirit into which I so longed to look. 

I worked for Campus Life after graduating from Wheaton but ran away with a friend to Southern California after my fiancé, Janet Moore, was killed in 1976. Divine circumstances led me to Calvary Chapel in San Diego where God opened my eyes to things in the Spirit that I had always wanted to see. I also met my wife, Betsy, and shortly after we were married, I led my Southern California bride to Boston to go to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. It wasn’t the winters that drew us to Boston but the desire to study the Bible at an evangelical institution that had a Pentecostal scholar named Gordon Fee. I was hoping that the “Doc” as we affectionately called him, would be able to help us put together an evangelical theology of the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t sure that there was such a thing, but if there was, I was hoping Dr. Fee would lead us to it.  

Those were rich years. I was given exegetical tools that enabled me to study the Bible for myself. With these tools and the help of Dr. Fee and others, I was able to put a provisional theology of the Spirit together. The problem was that I still had no one to mentor me in how it all really worked. 

As Bets and I neared graduation, the obvious question was, “What do we do now?” We had an evangelical theology but a Pentecostal experience. In which direction should we go? I decided to try first to be ordained in the Assemblies of God, but they didn’t want me because I didn’t believe that tongues was the necessary sign of the fullness of the Spirit. We next tried to get into the Evangelical Free Church, but they didn’t want me because I spoke in tongues! Because of my post-tribulational eschatology I knew that we couldn’t fit within the Calvary Chapel church network. What were we to do? Where did we fit? 

Someone from our Calvary Chapel days saw me in the dining hall at the seminary and invited me to hear some guy named John Womber or Wumber or something like that who was part of a church called the Vineyard. I eventually got it right — it was Wimber. He was in town to teach on the subject of healing. It was the late spring of 1983; our first child was due in two weeks; we had nowhere to go except back to who-knows-what in San Diego. What did I have to lose? 

That night I heard John Wimber deliver what was essentially a seminary lecture on the kingdom of God and watched as God healed a lady of deafness in one ear. John’s manner was laid back and natural, even funny, but not in an irreverent way. I had always dreamed as I read the gospels that Jesus’ ministry would have been completely natural and not hyped like some of the things I’d seen on TV. Oh, and did I mention that the music was great and nobody had to wear ties? 

I went home to my pregnant wife and told her that I thought I had just found what we’d been looking for. I went back to the seminar the next day and asked John how to sign up. All he said was, “Come and hang out.” These were not encouraging words for a young couple that had no money and was about to have a baby — but it was all we had. 

After a soul searching summer living at Betsy’s sister’s house in San Diego I was asked to direct the Year of the Bible Program at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena. This at least put us up near Wimber’s church in Anaheim. While in Pasadena we helped plant the Arcadia Vineyard, attended Peter Wagner’s 120 Fellowship at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, and drove down to Anaheim on Sunday nights to learn to pray for the sick. Before long we were sent out to plant the first Vineyard in Indianapolis. 

I have shared some of my history with you to point out that I was the product of two worlds, the evangelical and the Pentecostal. I loved aspects of both but could embrace neither with my whole heart. I loved both Word and Spirit and didn’t see why I had to divorce one from the other. I was somewhere in the middle. Years later Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson would write a book called Empowered Evangelicals which eloquently articulated this tension, for they and many others were experiencing it too. I like the term because it connotes a joining together of the best of both worlds. And that’s what the Vineyard endeavors to be. 

Many years later I found myself directing the Vineyard School of Pastoral Ministry (VSPM) at the Vineyard in Champaign, Illinois. One of the courses I taught was an empowered evangelical view of church history. It was a fabulous experience. Not only was I able to review and synthesize my evangelical roots, which I had already studied in seminary, but also to research for the first time the Pentecostal side of my heritage which had been filtered out of my evangelical education. I was mesmerized by reading the miracles of the Catholic mystics, the diary accounts of George Fox, the spiritual “affections” of Jonathan Edwards, the impact of the Cane Ridge revival, the nineteenth century faith-cure movement, the history of Azusa Street, and the healing ministries of men and women like Maria Woodworth-Etter, John G. Lake, Smith Wigglesworth and William Branham. 

As I worked my way through church history up to the Vineyard, I found no coherent version of our story. Oh, the folklore is everywhere: one story on a Wimber tape with no context, one in a Peter Wagner book with no context, another in a John White book, and so on. Only someone who was a professional reader or who had been there from the beginning had any framework for understanding the stories. I knew a lot of it because I had been “hanging around” since 1983 and was an avid reader. But for the students I was teaching, whose sum total of Vineyard exposure was our local church, I realized that somebody out there ought to write the story down. After some thought and prayer I decided to give it a try myself. 

What I am attempting to write is “my take” on the Vineyard as someone who has been sitting out with the rank and file at our pastors’ conferences all these years. I have never been in the inner circle. Since John Wimber never had any interest in history projects, I have had to reconstruct the story from not only my memory and notes but from a myriad of sources such as books, magazines, personal conversations, email messages, faxes and the like. 

I have interspersed some of my own experiences into the story, not because I played any significant role, but to give readers a feel for what it was like as we were living it. At certain points I do give my perspective but have tried to differentiate between history and my interpretation of it, if the two can be separated. I have tried to be objective but it will be obvious to the reader that I am a “company man” and I know this affects my perception of events. If there is too much me in here please chew the meat and spit out the bones. 

It must be said up front that John Wimber has had an incredible impact on my Christian life. I sat at my desk and cried when I got the fax that he had died of a massive brain hemorrhage on November 16, 1997. While I did not agree with every decision that John made – the record will clearly show that he made mistakes – I believe in what Peter Wagner has called “followership” and have tried to honor him throughout. 

I entrust this story to all those pastors in the conference chairs who have tended the Father’s vine with me over the years. You and your miraculous stories will not be told in these pages. The apostle John said of the Master that he “did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” The same could be said for those out laboring faithfully in the fields. The pay’s the same whether your story appears on these pages or not. 

For those in International Vineyards, I am so sorry for how “American” this is. It is the only story I really know. I hope that it will someday be written better and more comprehensively than this first attempt. 

May the reading of our history give you, the reader, insight into the present and wisdom for the future. For those of you slugging it out with me to plant new churches, let us go forth for the glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom and the finishing of history (Matthew 24.14). 

by Bill Jackson
Sr. Pastor, Black Mountain Vineyard, San Diego, CA

Selected Quotes

Here are some of the things that have been said about The Quest for
the Radical Middle
:

Todd Hunter (National Director, Association of Vineyard Churches): “If you are interested in the Vineyard for any reason, you may not be able to put The Quest for the Radical Middle down once you’ve started. It is a fascinating, concise part of God’s story in our little part of the Church called Vineyard.”  

Kenn Gulliksen (founder of the Vineyard, now with Calvary Chapel): “Overall I think Bill has written an incredibly clear, accurate, fair and purely motivated history that glorifies God.”  

Peter Wagner: “…this is a winner…Bill, in a positive and constructive way, answers just about any question anyone would ever have about John Wimber and the Vineyard.” 

Wayne Grudem (Chairman, Department of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School): “…an extremely interesting and thoroughly researched study what will encourage people’s faith and their desire to see God actively working in their lives. I found it really hard to put down!”  

John & Margie McClure (National Board Member, Association of Vineyard Churches and Senior Pastor of the Newport Beach Vineyard –- with Wimber from the beginning): “Bill’s history was extremely enjoyable to read. It caused so many emotions to well up in us…nostalgia, pride, gratefulness, loyalty…and not a little rue. It is also very well written.” 

Steve Nicholson (National Task Force Leader for the Association of Vineyard Churches and Senior Pastor of the Evanston, Illinois Vineyard): “This history is a great explanation of the emergence of the Vineyard and the significant events in its development. It will be very useful reading for anyone interested in the Vineyard movement.” 

Mike Bickle (Senior Pastor, Metro Christian Fellowship, Kansas City, MO): “Bill Jackson’s thorough and accurate history of the Vineyard combines scholarly research with a kindness that will promote healing in relationships. It will serve the larger body of Christ as we see how God intervened with grace to anoint weak people as vessels of his kingdom.” 

Randy Clark (Senior Pastor, VCF St. Louis, MO and spark of the Toronto Blessing): “Thanks Bill for your labor of love. You have written an exciting, honest, enlightening account of the Vineyard. I found it hard to put down.” 

You can purchase this book from the Vineyard Boise Book Cellar 
or with the Online order form