SWNID fondly remembers reading provocative, thoughtful articles on church growth by Fuller Theological Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner.
That was then.
Through circumstances that to us are opaque and probably uninteresting, the once erudite Wagner turned a corner awhile back. He became demon-obsessed.
And Terry Gross can prove it.
Wagner appeared on Gross's celebrated Fresh Air yesterday (full interview and text highlights here). We gather that Gross got interested because Wagner is a leader among those who allegedly advocate the Christian "dominion" that creeps out the secular left.
Really, the dominion thing is probably not much for anyone to be concerned about. Wagner and company want Christians in positions to influence cultural influencers--media, government and the like. This is a well-known, widely pursued strategy that lies at the heart of many recent Christian organizations' foci. We figure that if the secular left is confident enough in the strength of its ideas, it won't mind people trying to compete with inferior ideas.
But what most Christian folk will find embarrassing and disturbing about Wagner and the interview is his fabulously, extravagantly extra-biblical theology of demons. Wagner really does believe that demons infest places, that they're connected to world events as people have demonized nations, and that he and other "apostles and prophets" know the spiritual technology to overcome them. N.B. that Wagner's wife has actually written a "how to" book on casting out demons.
We expect that gentle readers will resist the urge to label SWNID a closet antisupernaturalist who discounts the influence of the demonic. Far from it. We believe that our world is plenty, plenty influenced by Satan and his infernal minions. Evil is not an abstraction alone: it is the issue of a spiritual person.
But we think it nonsense to construe that as does Wagner: nonsense from the perspective of the Bible, historical Christian theology, and actual human experience. While we allow for the possibility of demon possession as such, we nevertheless insist that the demonic thrives in (im)moral decision-making and behavior.
That's why the New Testament is so straightforward in its anti-demon "technique," really no technique at all. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Is there a book in that? If so, we doubt that it's Mrs. Wagner's book.
Accompanying Wagner's demon obsession is a heartily unhealthy obsession with personal authority. His group labels its leaders "apostles and prophets." That's gravely serious stuff, and their qualifications are thin, to put it mildly. But how else can one speak with authority about matters that have no grounding in the church's authoritative witness in Scripture? For more on the authority jag, we recommend Timothy Darlymple's meditation Christian celebrity.
Of course, we're embarrassed because we don't want folk thinking that all Christians are nutjobs like Wagner has become. And we imagine that Wagner and such are the main reason that normal Christians like you and us have such limited success in persuading other folk to join us on the Jesus journey. Well, it's no help for sure, but we'll venture a guess that it's also of only minor importance in the hindrance category. For every self-importantly nutjobbish Christian in America, there have to be a least ten somnolently nominal Christians. We'll trace most of the static to them.