The "Toronto Blessing": A Renewal from God?
Volume 1: Historical Perspectives
Gary W. McHale & Michael A.G. Haykin
Canadian Christian Publications, Ontario, Canada
Review for Evangelicals Now
Published September 1995
Back in the 1970's, at Trinity College, Bristol, Dr Jim Packer produced a list of recommended books for theological students. The most important works carried the symbol SS which meant, "Sell your shirt to buy it." This book warrants such a designation as the book on the Toronto Movement worth buying.
This is the most comprehensive and detailed evaluation of the claims, theology and ministry of John Wimber, the Vineyard Church, Kansas City Prophets and the Toronto Blessing so far available, running to five volumes. The first volume examines the historical context and alleged antecedents for the "Toronto Blessing" from the time of the Apostolic Fathers, during the 16th Century Reformation and 18th Century Revivals, through to John Wimber and the Vineyard Churches; Volume 2 examines the sermons preached in various Vineyard Churches; Volume 3 assesses the teaching of Jonathan Edwards and the way he has been used to justify the phenomena; Volume 4 provides a biblical analysis of Vineyard theology; while Volume 5 assesses the problems raised and offers solutions.
The stated purpose of these five works is to provide Christians with the information needed to make a rational decision regarding the Vineyard Movement, of which the "Toronto Blessing" is merely the latest manifestation. The authors assert,
"Sweeping the globe is a movement that many testify is reviving the church in these latter days. Claims of super-natural healings and prophecy, as common everyday events for the church, are the hallmarks of this movement. Physical outward manifestations are the proof that God is doing a mighty work, and claims of personal lives transformed by the healing touch of God's hand are the mark of their fruit" (Back cover)
To my knowledge, no other writers have provided such a comprehensive evaluation of the historical roots and theological context for the "Signs and Wonders" Movement. This new series by McHale and Haykin is a timely contribution to the debate. The first volume is exhaustive, rigorous and generally well annotated. Whether it, and the others in the series, will be widely available in Britain is debatable.
Virtually every major Evangelical publisher in Britain has produced a pro-Toronto book. One has to ask why? Why, for example is Hank Hanegraaff's "Christianity in Crisis" still not available in Britain? It has been a best-seller in the States so Nelson Word, who have bought the rights in the UK, cannot have held back because they doubt its profitability. Could it be that they happen to market Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn, considered by many to be heretical "Faith Teachers" through whom the "anointing" came to Toronto? The video entitled "Rumours of Revival," produced by Nelson Word, as an apologetic for the "Toronto Blessing" quite unashamedly promotes a wide range of books by Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard-Browne in the accompanying booklet.
An appraisal of the content
In the first section, Gary McHale traces the revisionist tendencies of the Vineyard Movement to re-write Church history with a "signs and wonders" gloss, to suite their need of an historical precedent. It reminds me of someone creating a fictitious and fraudulent family tree. McHale examines the place of the miraculous through the Early Churches battle with heretics to the rediscovery of the sufficiency of Scripture in the Reformation. He shows, for example, how Wimber distorts Augustine by using selective quotations to imply that he believed in the perpetuation of New Testament signs and wonders (p.54). Augustine most clearly did not. The stories of miracles which Augustine alludes to he attributes to the relics of dead martyrs and shrines not a ministry of signs and wonders, hardly something to strengthen the Vineyard case. (p.57) Likewise, McHale shows that the teachings of Montanus and Tertullian, whom Wimber argues advocated the continuation of "signs and wonders" were both condemned as heretics (p.23) He shows that the early church grew through the proclamation of the Gospel, the holy lives of the Christians and their willingness to endure martyrdom in the face of persecution.
"In a way the early church did believe that the Holy Spirit continued to give them the gifts of signs and wonders. The sign was the boldness of the public confessions. The wonder was planted into the heart of those who watched the torturing and asked, "What god do these people worship that they would be willing to stand and proclaim him through all this?" (p.37)
The second section, by Michael Haykin, provides some evangelical perspectives from the 18th Century and Revivals. He shows again, that by and large, Evangelicals of this era who witnessed revival, nevertheless believed the "extraordinary" gifts of the Spirit to have been for the Apostolic era (p.160). Jonathan Edwards was, for example, actually a Calvinist and cessationist. God's power was identified in the preaching of the Gospel and the renewed zeal for missionary work.
The third section I found particularly helpful, deals with the immediate context of the "Toronto Blessing" in the theology of the Vineyard Church, the alleged restoration of Apostles and Prophets, the Kansas City Prophets, John Wimber and Jack Deere. Here the astrological, occult and heretical roots of some Vineyard theology are traced back to the writings of Franklin Hall and William Branham perpetuated by men like Paul Cain and Bob Jones, drawing also from the Latter Rains Movement, the Manifest Sons of God and Restorationism.
The catalogue of false doctrines and failed prophecies propounded by the Vineyard leadership is a lamentable, but self-imposed indictment on a movement that has clearly departed from the Scriptures as their spiritual authority.
John Wimber himself, is revealed as a chameleon, modifying his theology and shifting his ground whenever challenged. The authors point to significant variations in his published testimonies (p.221ff); they question the authorship of books bearing his name (p.222); note his attack on the need for a rational mind (p.235); and his unfulfilled prophecies (p.239ff). These include claims made in 1989 that a new strain of AIDS would be released which only the church would be able to heal (p.239), and that,
"Angelic appearances would become common in meetings and even the Lord will appear in the coming weeks, months and years. Healings will become so common that even children will be able to perform them on a regular basis...It will go beyond that which was done during the Apostolic period of the First Century....even resurrections will be common...You [will] even see amputated arms and limbs growing out when the light from the evangelist's hands hits them..." (p.7)
The influence of heretical "Word of Faith" teacher Benny Hinn over the Vineyard Movement is shown to be deep, long standing and significant. John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Vineyard, admits to having been a friend of Benny Hinn for 20 years and that he has been a leading figure in shaping his view of divine healing and anointing (p.245). In January 1994, John Wimber also confessed the impact Benny Hinn has had upon him,
"...he was the most sweet, broken person I've ever talked to. I cry out now, thinking about it. He's so full of the Holy Ghost. I just loved him." (p.249)
The indisputable link between the "Word of Faith" preacher Rodney Howard-Browne and Randy Clark, the other Vineyard leader to have introduced the "Blessing" in Toronto, emphasised by other critics, is also reiterated here (p.249ff). The book does however contain some fascinating but less well known insights into the ministry of Jack Deere.
"To use Jack Deere's background as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary without informing people that Dallas removed him from his position because of his changing views, is misleading." (p.241)
Furthermore, Deere is apparently no longer working with the Vineyard Church. In a sermon preached in November 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, Deere stated,
"...I became a Vineyard pastor....and thought I was very much at the cutting edge of what God was doing.....But now I am a Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, in White Fish, Montana.....now I'm a Pastor in that denomination, which is the most liberal of all the Presbyterian Churches."
Haykin asks why Deere would want to leave the Vineyard which at one time he believed was at the "cutting edge of what God is doing", supposedly, the greatest movement of God since the New Testament Apostles, to pastor a church in the most liberal Presbyterian denomination? (p.242)
In this book McHale and Haykin show with great clarity, the futility of following a populist shooting star of new revelation rather than holding fast to the Word of God, our pole star. At best Toronto is a distraction, at worst it is a deception.
I believe the Lord is testing the Western Church at this time, for its infatuation with "health and wealth", and titillation by "signs and wonders". The extent to which this book is taken seriously, and the truth which it reveals is heeded, will be a good indication of how the wider Church will fare in these trying times. We would do well to heed the Scriptural warning.
"If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
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