In my review of Phyllis Tickle’s new book, The Great Emergence, I questioned the accuracy of Tickle’s information about John Wimber and her conclusions that credit Wimber as a “proto-emergent” who influenced the current emerging church conversation. After I posted that review, I searched “John Wimber” on Wikipedia. I was astounded at the almost word-for-word similarity between the Wikipedia article on Wimber and Tickle’s book. Here are some excerpts:
Wikipedia: In 1974 he became the Founding Director of the Department of Church Growth at the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth, which was founded by the Fuller Theological Seminary and the Fuller Evangelistic Association. He directed the department until 1978.
The Great Emergence, p 157: By 1974, he had become founding director of the Department of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, a position he would hold for almost five years.
My comment: Very similar sentences, but the book truncates this section and wrongly identifies Wimber as affiliated with Fuller Seminary. In fact Fuller’s School of World Mission (now Intercultural Studies) was headed up by Dr. Donald McGavran who is credited as the father of the church growth movement. Peter Wagner was a faculty member at Fuller. Wimber was an adjunct for the “Signs and Wonders” course at Fuller Seminary, which was a highly controversial course offering.
Wikipedia: In this time a House Church began to form in his home. This group began to embrace some of the beliefs of the Charismatic movement. This resulted in a split with the Quaker church that this group belonged to.
TGE, p157: During the Fuller years, a house church began in Wimber’s home. Affiliated originally with his Quaker meeting, the group in time became first charismatic, and then so charismatic as to cause rupture with the Quakersim from which it had sprung.
My comment: Again, very similar and all the same elements appear in Tickle’s sentences that are contained in the Wikipedia entry.
Wikipedia: Wimber pastored this new church, which would later become known as the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, from 1977 to 1994. Eventually, it outgrew his home and began to meet elsewhere. After initially joining Calvary Chapel, the church had some differences with the Calvary Chapel leadership, relating mainly to the practice of spiritual gifts. As a result, they left Calvary Chapel to join a small group of churches started by Kenn Gulliksen, known as Vineyard Christian Fellowships.
TGE, p157: The Wimber congregation, predictably enough and shortly thereafter, outgrew the Wimber house and briefly joined itself to a Calvary Chapel. The differences between the two groups, especially over the gifts of the Spirit, became too great, however: and the Wimberites left to join what was, at that time, a very small group of churches known as the Vineyard Christian Fellowships.
My comments: Again, same thoughts as the Wiki article in the same paragraph.
There are other examples, but you get my point, which is:
If this is “one of the most important books of the year,” according to Brian McLaren, is Wikipedia the best research source Tickle could find?
Tickle could have fact-checked with Fuller Seminary, interviewed people who knew Wimber, or read “Power Evangelism” by John Wimber. Tickle also incorrectly credits Wimber with the “bounded-set, centered-set” concept for understanding church structure. In fact, Paul Hiebert, missiologist and anthropologist, originated this discussion in his book, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. And, Hiebert’s concept was far more complex than Tickle represents. Plus, Tickle identifies “centered set” as “center set,” a small but sloppy error. (According to Hiebert, “centered-set” churches have Christ as the center around which persons gather. Hiebert, p. 125).
Am I being incredibly picky? Perhaps, but this lack of precision when dealing with contemporary concepts is inexcusable in a book that purports to give us a “sweeping overview of church history.” More importantly, it leads Tickle to the incorrect positioning of Wimber as a more significant figure in the emerging church than he is. Wimber was a thorough-going church growth advocate, but he used “power evangelism” — modern-day signs and wonders — as the attractional element in the original Vineyard movement. I heard Wimber himself say that the Vineyard movement might not last 50-years, so he did not conceive of Vineyard as a game-changer, but a contextual form of church reflecting his own personal spiritual journey to “do the stuff” — perform charismatic gifts of the Spirit such as healing the sick and raising the dead.
I recognize that Tickle is giving the reader broad brush strokes of church history in her sweeping overview. And, the book is certainly not an academic account of church history, or the great transformations in the life of the church. But, even though it is brief and general in nature, Tickle could have been more precise, more accurate, and in Wimber’s case, more original.