From charismatic to postcharismatic

Postcharismatic theology is not a rejection of but a moving beyond classical charismatic beliefs and practices. How are "Third Wave" and "Fourth Wave" theologians articulating postcharismatic faith and praxis?

Positive contributions of the charismatic movement

With the exception of those who believe that the charismatic gifts ceased with the first century apostles, who view charismatics as misled, and do not see the movement as beneficial; most Christians regard the charismatic movement as having a positive contribution to contemporary Christianity:

* It occurred within the mainline denominations.

* It has brought to them a renewed emphasis on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.

* It has brought a higher regard for supernatural activity at work in the everyday world.

* It has restored a measure of life in many denominations. The Spirit has acquired a new and greater place in practical theology. New hymns and choruses in praise of the Spirit have been introduced into worship services.

David L. Smith, vice president for academic affairs and professor of Christian theology at Providence Theological seminary, identifies three lasting and widely accepted aspects of the charismatic legacy to the wider Church:

Total worship: charismatics promote the total involvement of every worshiper and an openness to God at the deepest level of one’s being. More time is given to worship, which promotes spiritual warmth and genuine fellowship.

Total ministry: charismatics affirm the Pauline doctrine that every believer has a gift or gifts to be used in God’s service for the building up of the church. Every believer must be raised up, resourced, and released for service.

Full commitment: the quality of Christian relationships for charismatics is based upon the concept of having Christ in common and sharing what one has from him. Smith observes, “Their practical desire to love puts most Christians to shame!” Smith concludes that the charismatic movement, “despite some flaws and in spite of friction that it has led to, has been great blessing to the cause of Jesus Christ in our world.”

However, in the late 1990s and 2000s a growing number of postcharismatic theologians and ministry leaders have raised some legitimate concerns regarding the legacy of the classical charismatic movement.

The postcharismatic critique

Postcharismatic is not to be confused with being noncharismatic and certainly not as being anticharismatic. It represents the process of separating what is truly of the Holy Spirit and what is unnecessary or even harmful baggage. Postcharismatic leaders seek a fresh understanding of how a supernatural God works supernaturally among and through the mystical gathering called the Body of Christ.

Rob McAlpine, Robbymac

Former Vineyard pastor, now a missionary with YWAM, and postcharismatic articulator, Rob McAlpine, is careful to stress that postcharismatic is not post-Spirit.

McAlpine identifies four major areas that come up repeatedly as reasons for postcharismatic believers pulling away from their Pentecostal or charismatic roots:

(1) Abuses and elitism in prophetic ministry, coupled with a “carrot and stick” approach to holiness that many find legalistic, manipulative, and repressive.

(2) The excesses of Word of Faith teachings (health and wealth, prosperity doctrine) which clash with the emerging generations’ concern fora biblical approach to justice and ministry with the poor.

(3) Authoritarianism and hierarchical leadership structures that exist more to control people than to equip the saints for works of service.

(4) An approach to spiritual formation (discipleship) that depends on crisis events—whether at “the altar” in a church service, or in a large conference setting—but either neglects or deliberately belittles other means of spiritual growth.


McAlpine calls for a biblical view of authority and the so-called "five-fold ministry" (Eph. 4:11) that is not hierarchical and controlling.

He recommends a reexamination of the role of faith, and what it means to be living by faith; to be people characterized by faith. He proposes a view of spiritual formation (classical discipleship) that goes beyond the typical weekly crisis-event of “ministry time” but without rejecting genuine Spirit-initiated crisis-events.

He suggests a new postcharismatic vision for being “communities of the Spirit,” including a community-based model of the place and use of spiritual gifts.

McAlpine's postcharismatic agenda reflects many aspects of the faith and praxis of the "third wave" that emerged around 1980.

What is the postcharismatic "third wave"?

Peter Wagner

C. Peter Wagner, Ph.D., former professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA coined the term “Third Wave” to designate a postcharismatic movement that is similar to the Pentecostal movement (first wave) and charismatic movement (second wave), but which perceives itself to have some important differences. It is composed largely Reformed and evangelical Christians who, while recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit in the first two waves, have chosen not to be identified with either.

Wagner writes: "The desire of those in the third wave is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in healing the sick, casting out demons, receiving prophecies, and participating in other charismatic-type manifestations without disturbing the current philosophy of ministry governing their congregation."

The third wave movement originated out of the intersecting of Wagner's ministry with that of John Wimber, pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California. Wagner studied the importance of church growth as a student of Donald McGavran. As a missionary in Latin America, Wagner observed that the fastest growing churches were Pentecostal. In 1971, he was appointed professor of church growth as Fuller. He gave increasing consideration to the New Testament teaching about spiritual gifts and the miraculous.

More recently, Wagner has served as founder and president of the Wagner Leadership Institute. Since 2000 I have worked with Dr. Wagner as a council member of the Association of Christian Educators and Administrators founded by Wagner, which is a professional association for charismatic and postcharismatic educators and administrators in public and private higher education.

John Wimber

John Wimber (1934-1997) had a successful career in the music industry. A dramatic conversion experience in 1963 drew him into a commitment to full-time Christian service. He became an ardent and successful personal evangelist. In 1975, Wimber joined Peter Wagner in church growth work with the Fuller Evangelistic Association.

In 1977, a crisis point in Wimber's personal theology occurred when his wife Carol dreamed that she was filled with the Holy Spirit and awoke speaking in tongues. His wife’s experience, combined with challenges from Wagner and the writings of Donald Gee and George Eldon Ladd, led him to accept the premise that all the spiritual gifts of New Testament times are valid today.

Wimber became convinced that evangelism will be most effective when the Gospel is combined with a demonstration of these gifts in what he termed “power evangelism.” Wimber resigned from the Fuller Evangelistic Association and accepted the pastoral oversight over a group of fifty people in what became the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Anaheim.

In 1981, VCF launched a ministry of power evangelism with spectacular results and church growth. Wimber gave a lecture to Wagner’s doctoral class on the relationship between church growth and signs and wonders. In 1982, he began a course at Fuller entitled “Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth (MC510).” Throughout the ten-week class there were healings, Spirit anointings, and the manifestation of other spiritual phenomena. Wimber taught this course for four years, but under increasing attack from other members of the faculty.

Through the rapidly growing Vineyard Movement, Wimber made his course into a seminar and conducted it in centers throughout North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. He Wimber published many books, including the bestsellers, Power Evangelism (1985) and Power Healing (1986). In 1986, he founded the Association of Vineyard Churches, which became a major vehicle for spreading the postcharismatic "third wave."

I first encountered Wimber at his Signs and Wonders Seminar at Wembley Arena in London in 1986. In 1988 I met him again during a visit to his Anaheim, California headquarters.

A more complete discussion of postcharismatic and Third Wave beliefs and practices within the broader context of current theological movements is available in my eBook, Survey of Contemporary Theology, Vol.2.

The contribution of third wave theology

Five positive contributions to the postcharismatic landscape may be attributed, at least in part, to the Third Wave:

(1) The work of the Holy Spirit: There is a joy and confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit which is set over against the formalism of many mainline and evangelical groups. This emphasis has led many people to seek Spirit-filled and Spirit-led lives.

(2) The healing ministry: The majority of Christians pay lip service to healing through prayer. Third Wave believers expects and prays for healing in our churches, spiritually, relationally, redemptively, and physically.

(3) Evangelism: The passion to carry out the Great Commission is a an example for all Christians to emulate.

(4) The equipping ministry: Third Wave theology emphasizes the equipping of the laity for daily ministry in and to the world. This includes the ministry of evangelism. Wimber rightly insists, “Every Christian has been called to the harvest.” Lay people must be reeducated to make them more effective in ministering to those who have problems whether demonization, sickness, or serious sin. All church members are urged to develop their own gifts of ministry.

(5) The church as a caring community: Wimber argues that one of the signs of the kingdom of God among us “is the people of the kingdom. They represent an alternative society.” This society is both the faith community and the family of God, which They exist to provide loving care for one another.

However, some postcharismatic leaders are calling for a further evolution of the movement of the Spirit... enter the "Fourth Wave."

The postcharismatic "fourth wave"

Third Wave theologians concluded that Spirit-baptism was the main charismatic stumbling-block for evangelicals. This was quietly dropped and the focus was on the exercise of spiritual gifts. This reduced postcharismatic agenda achieved some success and many evangelicals ceased to be “cessationsist” and became open to supernatural manifestations in church life today.

David Pawson British Bible teacher, J. David Pawson M.A. (Cantab.), calls for an end to the division between charismatic and Evangelical Christians over the issue of Spirit Baptism and spiritual gifts. He affirms that the charismatic gifts are for the church today but insists that their practice should be built on a strong scriptural basis. He urges that the two groups should learn from each other to mutual benefit in a "fourth wave" of the Spirit.

During the 1980s the ministry I was a part of organized various conferences and camp-meetings at which Pawson was our keynote speaker. Even at that time he was calling for this postcharismatic agenda. Pawson identifies four waves in how evangelicals have related to charismatics:

(1) First Wave: Suspicion (1900-1950)

(2) Second Wave: Toleration (1950-1980)

(3) Third Wave: Coalition (1980-2000)

(4) Fourth Wave: Integration (2000-present).

Pawson vigorously contends that the New Testament is both evangelical and charismatic. These were united at every level, especially in terms of theological conviction. Pawson predicts that the “fourth wave will recover this unity, for the first time since the days of the apostles.”

Theological affirmations of the postcharismatic fourth wave

Pawson identifies six areas in which the fourth wave establishes the needed postcharismatic synthesis:

Theology: Experience is not theology; doctrine is dynamic.

Prophecy: Prophecy in not Scripture; apostolic is not abnormal. Pawson proposes that "Evangelicals are...invited to reconsider the place of ‘apostles and prophets’ alongside the other gifts of ‘evangelists, pastors, and teachers....At the same time, charismatics need to make sure that the ‘restoration’ of apostolic and prophetic ministries is strictly in accord with the biblical definition of their function and directions for their exercise."

Initiation: Receiving is not repeated; believing is not receiving.

Glossolalia: Tongues are not everything; tongues are not nothing. On the one hand, Pawson warns that charismatic insistence on corporate tongues in public meetings discourages many evangelicals from sharing in them. Their reservations may not be entirely dismissed as matters of taste, tradition or temperament. They may be genuinely concerned about their validity in the light of Scripture. On the other hand, Pawson affirms that speaking in tongues is an evidence of having received the Spirit. It is an edifying gift. It is a real help in praising God and praying for others, but it is a (not the) gateway to other gifts.

Worship: Spontaneous is not spiritual; mind is not spirit.

Holiness: Gifts are not fruit; filled is not full.

Pawson concludes: “Something like a Hegelian dialectic is involved, in which the solution to the gap between the evangelical thesis and the charismatic antithesis will not be found at some mid-point of ‘balance’ between them, but a new synthesis above them both.” This statement expresses the core of postcharismatic faith and practice.

Return from the Charismatic to Postcharismatic back to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit home page.

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Here I have listed books and study materials written by or about the various so-called "Postcharismatc", "Third Wave" and "Fourth Wave" leaders and teachers.

Some Postcharismatic writers may object to being included with Third Wave teachers and vice versa. However, I have grouped them together because each views itself as in some way as being "beyond" or "after" the Charismatic Renewal Movement of the 1960s to the 1980s.

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