Fighting Demons, Raising the Dead, Taking Over the World

What is happening to Christianity?

In 1996 a team from Ted Haggard’s New Life Church flew to Mali and began furtively anointing entire towns with cooking oil.

The strangeness of it gripped Dutch missionary René Holvast, who later wrote: “It was confusing and produced a growing uneasiness. It did not seem to fit our current evangelical theological and anthropological textbooks.”

The team from Haggard’s church was a forerunner in a missionary wave that has washed over the world since the early 1990s, bringing what Holvast calls a ‘new paradigm.’

René Holvast has theological training, but his perplexed reaction was similar to that of Alix Spiegel, a radio journalist who went to Ted Haggard’s New Life Church in 1997 to do a story for This American Life. Spiegel encountered something so alluring, even overwhelming, that the secular, urban Jew was almost pulled in. (After several days at Ted Haggard’s church, Spiegel called This American Life’s Ira Glass who—as if he were a deprogrammer weaning her from a cult—had to convince Alix Spiegel that she really belonged back in her secular realm of origin, Chicago.)

From its early days, New Life Church’s members worked to map out all the territorial demon spirits inhabiting Colorado Springs. At some point in the process, they fed the mapping information into a computer database. Methodically—street by street, block by block—they used prayer-warfare to expel the demons from their city. And they maintained a 24/7 prayer shield over Colorado Springs to prevent demon re-infestations. As with inner-city cockroaches, the price of demon-free living was constant vigilance.

Alix Spiegel called some of the practices she saw at Haggard’s church “medieval,” while René Holvast described this new way as incommensurable with modern Christianity:

Conversations and discussions with some missionary colleagues did not seem to lead to mutual understanding. The usual evangelical ways of reasoning fell mute. It seemed to be not just a different way of understanding, but a different way of reasoning altogether.

In fact, at the very time Holvast and Spiegel encountered it, the ‘new paradigm’ had just been invented. In the period of the late 1980s through the early 1990s, a group of quintessentially American tinkerers grafted new practices of ‘spiritual mapping’ and ‘spiritual warfare’ onto a peculiar and radical theological substrate emerging from the Latter Rain and healing revivals that burst out in Canada and North America during the late 1940s.

They molded their hybridized new Christianity into a standardized package of ideas and practices such that, by the late 1990s, they began exporting the product from Colorado Springs to both the domestic American market and internationally at an astonishing rate.

It was as newfangled as Henry Ford’s Model T had been and, like Ford’s car, it quickly became established, even ubiquitous, on every continent but Antarctica.

In 2009, one can now watch YouTube video footage of Christians from all over the earth practicing the same, very new form of the faith that features the blowing of shofars and the “Davidic dance”—using very distinctive, recently minted, theological terms. There was a common origin. For practical purposes, Colorado Springs was the Dearborn, Michigan of the next Christianity.

A New Reformation?

This development has not gone wholly unnoticed. Here’s how an Atlantic Monthly editor portentously introduced historian Philip Jenkins’ October 2002 article, “The Next Christianity”:

We stand at a historical turning point, the author argues—one that is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation. Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see. Tumultuous conflicts within Christianity will leave a mark deeper than Islam’s on the century ahead.

Jenkins accurately depicted the radical nature of the ‘religious revolution’ underway which, he wrote, “one might equate with the Counter-Reformation.” He also pegged its goal: restoring a global Christian church “filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and poverty.”

But Philip Jenkins’ “The Next Christianity” argued that the new “counter-reformation” is being driven largely by indigenized forms of Christianity, erupting from the Global South, that view the Christianity of the developed North as spiritually enervated and morally corrupt.

The reality of the North-South dynamic is far more complex—there is cross-pollination these days between Christian traditions in the Global South and in the developed world, with African evangelicals aggressively moving to develop their own missions in Texas, Ukraine, Moscow, and elsewhere.

The original Counter-Reformation did not originate in Europe’s developing colonial holdings but, rather, in the European Catholic Church. In similar fashion, most of the leaders and ideas driving the second (counter) reformation have come out of the developed North, from the pool of conservative Christians bitterly opposed to the liberal Christianity of the North. These Christians have resorted to radical methods to turn back the clock, to the pre-Enlightenment age if not before. It is a counter-reformation, then, but more than that too—while it embodies the sentiments of a traditionalist backlash, it is also creatively moving forward, a second Reformation.

According to Ted Haggard, “Peter Wagner regularly writes and speaks about the New Apostolic Reformation. He has accurately recognized the changes as so dramatic that they are creating an actual reformation within the body of Christ.” That’s from page 44 of Ted Haggard’s book The Life Giving Church (Gospel Light Publications, 1998). On page 35, Haggard describes a 1992 meeting in Upland, California, that was the genesis of his close partnership with Peter Wagner:

When I arrived, I met Luis Bush, Dick Eastman, Peter and Doris Wagner and several other recognized leaders. From that meeting, New Life Church formed its mission for the 1990s—to support Luis Bush generally and Peter and Doris Wagner specifically… a calling that led to the creation of the World Prayer Center and much more. We as a team coordinated the Prayer Through the Window series that had 22,500,000 participants in 1993; 36,700,000 participants in 1995; over 40,000,000 in 1997.

By Haggard’s account, he and C. Peter Wagner had constructed a global communications net that by 1997 could reach tens of millions of Christians in the prayer movement. In 2005, during the Global Day of Prayer, an estimated 200 million Christians in stadiums and arenas around the world joined in synchronous prayer.

Haggard’s New Life Church and the adjacent World Prayer Center that was dedicated in 1998 were, for roughly a decade, the epicenter of an ongoing, radical redefinition of Christianity. One of its early board members became known to the secular world during the 2008 presidential campaign as an enigmatic Kenyan evangelist who, in 2005, had blessed Sarah Palin against witchcraft.

Spiritual Mapping

In the introduction to his dissertation, “Spiritual Mapping: The Turbulent Career of a Contested American Missionary Paradigm,” written for the University of Utrecht and published in 2005, René Holvast described the arrival of the ‘new paradigm’ in Mali, where he and his wife had been engaged in missions work:

Something new happened in 1996. At CMA missionary conferences, US visitors were flown in to teach the missionaries about ‘a new cutting-edge paradigm’ for mission…

The new paradigm entailed that missionaries had to ‘identify’ and ‘bind territorial spirits’ and ‘unleash’ divine power. Evangelism was to be preceded by ‘prayer walks,’ and prayer was considered best if done geographically ‘on-site,’ within a ‘target area.’ Prayer became the identification of and confrontation with demons… All of this was categorized as ‘Spiritual Mapping’…

A team flown in from the New Life Church in Colorado Springs secretively anointed traditional fetish huts and whole villages.

A year later in 1997, Alix Spiegel described Ted Haggard’s New Life Church members methodically ‘prayer walking’ the streets, trying to drive away territorial demon spirits from Colorado Springs.

Two years later, in 1999, the new paradigm came to the Wasilla Assembly of God via a video that was described in the Christian Science Monitor article “Targeting cities with ‘spiritual mapping,’ prayer.”

In the opening sentences of her story, Jane Lampman asked, “Can the ‘spiritual DNA’ of a community be altered? That’s the question posed in a Christian video called ‘Transformations.’” Lampman continued:

Kenyan pastor Thomas Muthee is convinced that it can be. In 1988, he and his wife, Margaret, were ‘called by God to Kiambu,’ a notorious, violence-ridden suburb of Nairobi and a ‘ministry graveyard’ for churches for years. They began six months of fervent prayer and research.

Muthee’s story was held up as a case study in the 1999 pseudo-documentary Transformations the first in a series that its producers assert has brought to tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, the doctrine that Christians can create a utopia on Earth by driving out territorial demon spirits and alleged witches with the power of massed prayer. The exposure brought Thomas Muthee global fame.

Transformations I was released in 1999. The same year, it reached the members of a Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, church network (the Valley Pastors Prayer Network) whose pastors were so gripped by the video that they made contact with most of the religious figures shown in George Otis Jr.’s production. And they were so especially taken with Thomas Muthee’s story they brought him to Alaska in 1999 and raised $30,000 so Muthee could buy land in Kenya to build his church.

As detailed in a late October 2008 Associated Press story by Garance Burke and an AP investigative team, Sarah Palin’s Wasilla mayoral records show that she borrowed the Transformations I video from her former Wasilla Assembly of God pastor in 2000.

In August 2005, Bishop Thomas Muthee returned to Alaska and gave a weeklong sermon series at the Wasilla Assembly of God. The August 16, 2005 ceremony at the church was made notorious when footage of it surfaced during the 2008 presidential election. In it, congregants watch as Thomas Muthee blesses Sarah Palin against “every spirit of witchcraft.” Several days later after that 2005 ceremony, Palin launched her campaign for the Alaska governor’s seat.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In Radical Holiness For Radical Living (Wagner Publications, 2002) C. Peter Wagner states:

A process that began after World War II has now resulted in a newfound recognition of the gifts and offices of apostle and prophet in our churches today. The movement called the New Apostolic Reformation has been bringing about a most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant reformation. It is currently the most rapidly-growing segment of Christianity in every continent of the world.

Evidence suggests Wagner isn’t exaggerating. According to the evangelical missionary reference book, World Christian Trends AD 30—AD 2200, by the year 2000, a category of Christianity known as postdenominationalism encompassed 385 million Christians, nearly 20% of the faith.

World Christian Trends lists 280 dichotomies that distinguish denominational from postdenominational Christianity—which, according to the book, has “no connection with historic Christianity.” The Third Wave represents an even more radical break.

Erupting within postdenominationalism starting in the 1980s, Third Wave Christianity claimed, by 2000, some 295 million adherents. World Christian Trends calls the Third Wave a “new and disturbingly different kind of Christian renewal.” One very distinctive characteristic of Third Wave Christianity is its emphasis that average Christians can perform the same magnitude of healing miracles described in the New Testament to have been performed by Jesus Christ—including raising the dead.

Within two decades, Third Wave Christianity encompassed over four percent of humanity. It is a seismic change.

In his book Churchquake!: A Look at the Dramatic New Movement That Will Affect the Future of the Church, C. Peter Wagner states that the editor of World Christian Trends, David Barrett, told Wagner that by 1996 Barrett had over a thousand apostolic networks in his global research database, representing well over 100 million Christians. How many Christians are in apostolic networks over a decade later? We can only guess. C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation has pulled together those apostolic networks, into what might be, for all we know, the biggest Protestant “nondenominational” (or postdenominational) denomination on the planet.

The Wagner Leadership Institute is currently offering, for free, a one-hour lecture by Wagner, session number 4 of WLI course AP825 (the “AP” stands for “Apostles and Prophets”). For getting a basic understanding of the movement Wagner refers to, and has played a key role in catalyzing, one probably couldn’t do much better than to watch this lecture. C. Peter Wagner is a seasoned, professional educator… who aims to transform the biggest religion on Earth. (It probably doesn’t hurt that Wagner bears a considerable resemblance to former fried-chicken mogul ‘Colonel’ Harlan Sanders.)

Kicking off his lecture, Wagner tells the class:

OK, first of all, I want to repeat something. You don’t have to write it down, because you already have it in your notes. But I want to remind you that the New Apostolic Reformation is the most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. That’s what we’re dealing with.

X number of megablocks of Christianity, each with Y millions of Christians. Categories of Christianity zoom from the left onto Peter Wagner’s huge blue WLI classroom screen, bouncing slightly for effect as they hit the right edge of the screen before rebounding to center. There’s one little block of 20 million or so, explains Wagner, which includes Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He typically just ignores this block in his presentations, explains Wagner, because they’re “cultic.”

The biggest megablock outside of the Catholic Church, and the fastest growing of all? The postdenominational block, 385 million strong by 2000. Wagner calls this block “neo-Apostolic.” It’s bigger now than in 2000, he says, and Wagner notes that it’s the only megablock growing faster than the earth’s population and faster than Islam.

Wagner’s cell phone rings mid-lecture; a Hank Williams ringtone. The class laughs. In fact, it’s probably an act designed to loosen them up. A pro with five decades of public speaking under his belt, C. Peter Wagner is the “convening apostle” of the International Coalition of Apostles. He’s also the presiding Apostle over a prayer network originally formed, in 1990, as the “Spiritual Warfare Network,” now called the Global Apostolic Prayer Network. Sarah Palin joined Wagner’s new network the year it was formed, in 1990.

How many Christians worldwide are in Wagner’s various networks? Few know, and Peter Wagner doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with the information. He doesn’t like to boast. But one thing is clear: Christianity is changing.

Bruce Wilson is a co-founder of Talk2Action.