Signs and Wonders Today
“In programmatic evangelism, the Christian says, “In obedience I go. Holy Spirit bless me.” In power evangelism, the Christian says, “As the Holy Spirit tells me to go, I go.”…In programmatic evangelism there is an attitude that we do something and then God works. In power evangelism, God speaks and then we act. My contention is not that programmatic evangelism has been wrong. After all, power evangelism employs the heart of programmatic evangelism, a simple presentation of the gospel...My point is that programmatic evangelism is often incomplete, lacking demonstration of the kingdom of God in signs and wonders – and this in no way invalidates the gospel presentation.”
I first read Power Evangelism in the midst of a (godly, I think) restlessness for more of God. What I ended up reading made my heart burn; it constituted nothing less than a paradigm shift in my thinking and living for Christ. Perhaps the most profound lesson learned was that Scripture must be our benchmark for expectation. My having not seen a stranger spontaneously drop to their knees and give their life to Jesus when presented with the gospel did not mean that it could not happen. Platitudinous, surely? Therein lies the wisdom of Power Evangelism; when it comes to the Bible, it is easy to know, hard to live.
Returning to the book a few years later, cynically, and arrogantly, I expected to unmask glaring theological holes that my younger self had not spotted. But Power Evangelism is scripturally soaked. Of course, some of Wimber’s exegesis is questionable, but this does not give us strong enough grounds to reject his conclusions wholesale. In fact, these parts seem far more akin to a prodigious maths pupil offering the right proof but having simply not shown her working. Wimber’s use of stirring but plain language complements his common-sense reading of the Bible; there are no theological acrobatics here to twist unpalatable passages into something more agreeable.
I wonder whether worries about Wimber’s Bible handling veil an entirely unconnected concern (it is interesting to note that in Showing the Spirit, Carson, considered by many to be the touchstone of Biblical soundness, gives him a firm nod of approval). He points out how we who pride ourselves on the soundness of our doctrine are largely oblivious to the seeping in of a Western, naturalistic worldview into what we swear that we protect. We will not compromise to the world’s ethics, only to the world’s metaphysics. Because of this, I think that the uneasiness we experience when confronted with a signs and wonders ministry, as advocated in Power Evangelism, is better explained by the fact that an openness to God’s power is a firm farewell to a comfortable evangelistic life and an embrace of the dually exhilarating and (in our worst moments) repulsive thought that we are handing over complete control of our lives to our Lord. This may not be us, but it deserves serious meditation in case it is.
One final and potentially tangential thought brought on by Power Evangelism. Could it be that God has different missions for different ways of doing church? Power encounters for the charismatic, street-preaching for the conservative-evangelical? Like video games, an evangelistic “select your class”? Could it be that our acceptance, even approval, of brothers and sisters doing mission differently contra squabbling is what pleases God and what will bring about revival? Either way, my life was changed by Wimber’s childlike openness to the power of God. The problem is at our end, not God’s.