New Kinds of Christians? (pt. 1)

“What if the Christian faith is supposed to exist in a variety of forms rather than just one imperial one? What if it is both more stable and more agile—more responsive to the Holy Spirit—when it exists in these many forms? And what if, instead of arguing about which form is correct and legitimate, we were to honor, appreciate, and validate one another and see ourselves as servants of one grander mission, apostles of one greater message, seekers on one ultimate quest?” — Brian McLaren

The quote above comes from Brian McLaren’s 2002 book, A New Kind of Christian.  We met him a couple of weeks ago when we were looking at Christian responses to the postmodern “shift.”  McLaren has continued to press the Church to reconsider its place in postmodern culture with subsequent books like A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (2004; how’s that for a title?!) and Everything Must Change (2007).  He’s generally recognized among the leaders of what came to be known as the “emerging church” movement (we’ll come back to that after covering some background).

McLaren would be a good representative of Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture in Paradox” type.  Perhaps, as John Stackhouse wrote, Niebuhr “had the most trouble making clear” this perspective because when he was writing, the other four types were predominate in culture:  the fundamentalists and liberals had laid claim to their separate corners the Protestant landscape; Catholic sacramentalism held sway among its own faithful; and “transforming” evangelicalism was just gaining steam.  This ‘paradoxical” fifth type had not yet really emerged; Niebuhr could imagine it, but he’d not really experienced it.  By the time McLaren is writing, both fundamentalism and liberalism had faded; transformational evangelicalism had surged and then plateaued; and Catholic sacramentalism was inspiring new interest among more thoughtful and contemplative Protestants.  In the midst of all this, a “new kind of Christian” had begun to emerge.

An unlikely catalyst for the Church in “paradoxical tension” was, of all things, the cultural transformations wrought in and by “the sixties.”  Young people turned in droves away from institutionalized religion of all types and fled to “New Age” spirituality, both Eastern and Western mysticism, Native American shamanism, Transcendental Meditation, and a host of other alternative “spiritual experiences.”  Church-going Americans began drifting away as well as affluence, leisure, and popular culture provide more interesting things to do with one’s Sunday morning.  And then an amazing thing happened.  On the West Coast, a new wave of hippy-culture flower children who were looking for love and meaning found it in Jesus.  The American Church would never be the same.

Jesus People

What came to be known as the “Jesus People Movement” began in the late 1960s in California, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco and along the coastal towns of southern Californnia.  The Gospel was spread through dozens of small-press Christian newspapers distributed in the streets and on the beaches.  In Christian coffeehouses and a growing number of independent Christian fellowships, long-haired and shoeless youth gathered to be discipled and sent out to bring more.  A new kind of Christian music, at first more “folky” in style, but increasingly more like rock and roll, was the driving force of the movement.  There was also a hightened sensitivity to “the moving of the holy spirit” to bring healing to the broken, break bondages to drug addiction, and empower believers through “signs and wonders” and “prophetic words.”

Some “traditional” churches, like Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, responded to the need by accepting all who would come to services just as they were and recruiting staff from among the movement to reach out to their peers.  Other congregations were shaken by the challenge of exhuberent praise, rejection of formality, and new music styles the “Jesus People” brought to worship.  Another influential church fellowship to grow out of this time was the Vineyard, which began as a loose network of independent fellowships, sometimes with connections with Calvary Chapel, but ultimately gathering under John Wimber into a distinct movement (more on that to come).

Read more about the “Jesus People” movement here
Key people/groups to look for:  Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel, Lonnie Frisbee, John Wimber, Jesus People USA

“Our passion is to imitate the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. This requires we must follow Jesus out of baptismal waters, through our personal deserts, and into the harvest. We want to take the ammunition of the balanced evangelical theology with the fire power of Pentecostal practice, loading & readying the best of both worlds to hit the target of making & nurturing disciples…” — John Wimber

John Wimber’s influence profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in 1997. When he was “conscripted by God” he was, in the words of Christianity Today, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study” (CT editorial, Feb. 9 1998).  By 1970 he was leading 11 Bible studies that involved more than 500 people.

Wimber became so fruitful as an evangelical pastor he was asked to lead the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. He also later became an adjunct instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary re-entered pastoral ministry to plant Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda.  Throughout this time, John’s conservative evangelical paradigm for understanding the ministry of the church began to grow. George Eldon Ladd’s theological writings on the kingdom of God convinced John intellectually that all the biblical gifts of the Holy Spirit should be active in the church.

Encounters with Fuller missiologists Donald McGavaran and C. Peter Wagner and seasoned missionaries and international students gave him credible evidence for combining evangelism with healing and prophecy. As he became more convinced of God’s desire to be active in the world through all the biblical gifts of the Spirit, John began to teach and train his church to imitate Jesus’ full-orbed kingdom ministry. He set out to “do the stuff” of the Bible, about which he had formerly only read, and teaching others to do the same.

Another major way the Vineyard movement has shaped the contemporary Church is through a particular style of worship music that stresses intimacy with God and present reality of His Kingdom.  Vineyard music has transformed worship not only in the movement itself, but also through the spread of “contemporary worship” in churches across the evangelical (and even mainline) spectrum.  (much of the above adapted from the VinyeardUSA website,

Next:  Dumping Denominationalism . . . .

About Rick D. Williams

Teaching and writing have been my life's work for over two decades as a journalist and educator. My degrees in History were earned at Illinois State University, and I've done additional graduate work at Lincoln Christian Seminary and Urbana Theological Seminary. Over the years I’ve led conference workshops and authored articles and book chapters on topics ranging from religious education and international student ministry to state and local history.
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