October 5, 2011
Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church – A Memoir is the autobiography of C. Peter Wagner, the head apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).
– An analysis, by Jackie Alnor
What strikes the reader is that Wagner’s memoirs show an evolution of
theology that adapts itself to whatever trends invade the church. What
Wagner boasts as being “paradigm shifts” in his spirituality actually
demonstrate his lack of any biblical moorings. He tries to convince the
reader of his academic prowess, while exposing his spiritual shallowness.
book gives the reader insights into what makes this so-called apostle
tick. Wagner seems quite honest in his self-assessment and does not seem
to mind exposing his humanistic attitude towards all things religious.
What is very much lacking in this book is any Christian testimony of the
greatness of God and the Lord Jesus Christ and knowing Him as his personal
Savior. It is more an overview of what he calls his “career” in church
growth, academics and influence upon others.
there is no dedication page, Wagner does acknowledge the person who
confirmed that he should publish his memoirs, Rick Joyner of Morning Star
Ministries. While it is widely known that Joyner is a false prophet and
worker with evil spirits, Wagner calls him “one of the most brilliant of
our contemporary Christian leaders...Rick helped me to feel that I have
good biblical justification for this book,” he wrote, citing
book opens up to several pages of Wagner’s admirers, each writing a
paragraph as to why they think Wagner is such an honorable figure in
modern church history. They include Mike Bickle, President of IHOP; James
Goll, Encounters Network; Bill Hamon, Christian Int’l Apostolic Network;
Jack Hayford, Church on the Way; Cindy Jacobs, Generals Int’l; Bill
Johnson, Bethel Church; Gwen Shaw, End-Time Handmaidens; Steve Strang, Charisma
magazine and an assortment of endorsers from the charismaniac side of the
Wagner even gives himself an endorsement saying, “I can say up front that since the day I was born again, I have feared God and kept His commands. Perfectly? By no means…But through it all, I did fear God, I kept the faith, I ran the race, and my foremost desire was to do His will 24/7. I can truthfully say with Paul, ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’”
begins by looking back to his childhood during the Great Depression,
working on a farm and milking cows before heading off to college to study
agriculture. He loved professional team sports and attributed his
knowledge of sports for making it easy for him “to understand what the
Bible was teaching about spiritual gifts and also how apostolic ministry
was to function.” [p. 19]
Wagner does say about his testimony of converting to Christianity is tied
in with his story of meeting his future wife Doris. Doris refused to marry
him until he would agree to receive Christ since she was a good Lutheran
girl. She gave him devotionals called “The Upper Room,” which is a
publication of the United Methodist Church. He says that after a “few
more kisses” he was ready. “So I accepted Christ and dedicated my life
to be a missionary the same night there in that farmhouse.” [p.
29] Such is his testimony of being born-again.
sounds easy – no need for repentance or conviction of sin by the Holy
Ghost or responding to the delivery of the Gospel. This is what some in
the church would call “easy believism” a staple foundation for
Wagner’s understanding of church growth principles.
decided that he was more in what was known as the ‘neo-evangelical’
camp and considered other Evangelicals and Fundies as legalists due to
their insistence on separatism. After moving to California, the Wagners
became members of Bell Friends Church, a Quaker denomination. He mentions
that they would not participate in believers baptism or the Lord’s
Supper, but that didn’t seem to bother them.
1956 the Wagners left the country to be missionaries in Bolivia. Wagner
lamented the fact that he did not have adequate training in missiology at
Fuller except for one course in missions taught by Harold Lindsell (a
former editor of Christianity Today
and former teacher of this reviewer). He took issue with the fact that
Lindsell, a theological conservative, had no actual foreign missions
experience, but learned all he knew from those who did.
the time they left for South America, Wagner said “Christian leaders”
such as “Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts had just begun to surface.” [p.
43] All he had
heard about them was negative in his circles, but in retrospect he wished
he had paid more attention to them, particularly their emphasis on
prosperity since he had allowed himself “to be dominated by an evil
spirit of poverty.” He didn’t elaborate on how he could identify
poverty as an evil spirit; the implication is if anyone is poor he is also
demonized. But then again, Wagner liked playing outside the box of Holy
his memoirs, Wagner refers to his Christian service as his “professional
career” and his assessment of himself and others seems to be based on
Jungian personality types that he over and over again applies to his
strengths and weaknesses in terms of the four humours: sanguine,
melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric.
discovered that he had an apostle calling when he successfully coordinated
a world missionary conference. He did not have a call to be a pastor, he
discovered, but loved to teach other leaders. In the late 60s and into the
70s after studying world missions he was invited back to Fuller to teach
church growth that he says was catching on in America. One of his students
was John Wimber, a fellow Quaker, who he met in 1975 and hired Wimber as a
Wagner talks about changing career direction, he refers to it as a
“paradigm shift.” He wrote, “using tools like statistics and graphs
and charts was still considered by many as carnal rather than
spiritual…but in those days, changing this paradigm was not easy.” [p.
cites John MacArthur, founder of Masters College and pastor of Grace
Community Church, as one of his most notable critics. He writes that
MacArthur wrote his book, Ashamed of
the Gospel, to scold him for worldly pragmatism. “MacArthur’s
paradigm obviously was not ready to shift!” [p. 104]
his chapter on John Wimber, Wagner reflects on the era that took his
career from the mundane and into the limelight. The new paradigm under the
influence of Wimber changed his belief in cessationism of the gifts of the
Spirit to not only belief in the continuance of the gifts, but the belief
that the gifting could be learned and taught in a college classroom. Thus
was birthed the “Signs and Wonders” class at Fuller Seminary. Learning
to operate the gifts, whether the student is gifted or not, was classified
as “MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth” and earned the student
three credits in what Wimber called his “clinic.”
striving for church growth principles by reason of logic and what can be
worked seemed to play a big role in becoming a Wimber disciple and letting
him teach his class. “I knew very well that his [Wimber]
pastoral intuitions, his experience and his astute analysis of church
growth principles could not be matched. I knew that John was a winner…he
was regularly receiving higher evaluations than mine! I was elated!” [p.
Wagner had the academic credentials as a tenure-track professor and Wimber
had no teaching credentials, Wagner’s name appeared in the catalogue to
appease the accreditation authorities, but Wimber actually directed the
activities. Wagner described a typical session in the three-hour long
said, ‘Peter, come up here,’ and he had me sit on a stool facing the
class…When John started praying, I felt a warm blanket of power come
over me and I felt like my mind was partially disconnected. I could hear
most of what was going on, but I didn’t care…I now know that I was
slain in the Spirit, but I didn’t fall, because I was on the stool. John
was describing my physical reactions to the class like a sports announcer
giving a play-by-play account of what was happening to me. ‘See the
eyelids fluttering? There’s some flushing on the side of his face! Watch
the lips – they’re quivering! Thank you, Lord! More power!’” [p.
claims he was thereby healed of high blood pressure. This academic healing
was not much different than how Wagner got the “gift of tongues.”
While studying 1 Cor. 14, he read that the Apostle Paul said, “I thank
my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” So Wagner speculated
that “If Paul could do it, why couldn’t I?” [p. 116]
followed that up with an experiment of praying in tongues and said it was
real easy. Since he was now a tongues-talker, he had to part company with
his cessationist colleagues whom he now saw as those having a “spirit of
religion.” [p. 117]
I suppose he assumed that anyone who didn’t speak in tongues was as
bigoted as he had been.
he was just like his mentor, John Wimber, who could “do the stuff” at
will. They now figured that “doin’ the stuff” would be a wonderful
appeal to entice people to come to such churches and another feather in
the cap of church growth principles. And the numbers proved that theory.
Statistics had shown, according to Wagner, that 70 percent of churches in
Latin America were Pentecostal, and after seeing that he was determined to
tap into it.
mentions Wimber’s falling out with Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith in
passing, without noting that Calvary Chapels were growing by leaps and
bounds simply by teaching the Bible verse-by-verse, emphasizing the
nearness of the Lord’s return, and allowing the true gifts of the Spirit
to operate. Feeding the sheep God’s Word is one “church growth
principle” Wagner and Wimber did not seem to cater to.
home church meeting that Wimber was pastoring,” he noted, “became a
Calvary Chapel affiliate under Chuck Smith in 1977, but the relationship
between the two leaders was strained from the beginning. By 1982, the two
agreed that they should go in different directions…As soon as John did,
30 other Calvary Chapels switched affiliation to Vineyard!” [pp.
coined the term, “The Third Wave,” to describe the now hijacked
charismatic movement that began as a true move of the Holy Spirit upon a
generation of messed up hippies, now formulized to imitate the gifts and
teach others to do likewise. The counterfeit movement, though Wagner does
not recognize it as such, spread to the denominations and the Roman
Catholic Church and became known as the “charismatic renewal.”
occultic teachings of the Inner Healing movement, which became popular in
the Vineyard churches through false teachers like Agnes Sanford and John
and Paula Sandford, also introduced deceiving spirits into “The Third
Wave.” Blind to the heresy of the Inner Healing movement, Wagner’s
embracing of this error was due to the studies of his
colleague, Chuck Kraft of Fuller Seminary, which set the stage for another
paradigm shift into deliverance ministry.
and Wimber had a falling out in 1991 over a disagreement in their views of
spiritual warfare. Wagner began to adopt the principles of Cindy Jacobs,
in thinking it was up to the church to take dominion over principalities
and powers in heavenly places, while Wimber’s views were not so
the Millennial Rule of Christ on Earth
points to his rejection of the expectancy of the soon return of Jesus
Christ as his greatest shift. He puts it this way:
from escapist eschatology to victorious eschatology: This most recent
paradigm shift was a long time coming....when I started understanding the
Dominion Mandate, it became clear that I needed a better view of the end
times. The light came on when I read Harold Eberle and Martin Trench’s Victorious
Eschatology, and their partial preterist view is what I now
believe.” [p. 273]
Preterism took him to another paradigm in which his “Dominion Mandate” no longer presumes to be a preparation for the return of Jesus, like some of his premil, Kingdom-Now associates assert. Wagner’s ‘ever-changing with the tide’ vision is to establish a theocratic rule of the world represented by Seven Mountains upon which he and his fellow modern-day apostles and prophets sit. He took that idea from his friend Lance Wallnau who identified the mountains as “(1) Religion, (2) Family, (3) Education, (4) Media, (5) Government, (6) Arts and Entertainment, and (7) Business.” [p. 263]
only place in Scripture where we see anyone sitting on seven mountains is
in the 17th chapter of Revelation – the Mother of Harlots: a
prophetic peek into the future of what Wagner’s group, the New Apostolic
Reformation (NAR), is evolving into when it unites with its fellow false
devotes an entire chapter to his friend and co-conspirator, Cindy Jacobs.
Her contribution to his evolution of theology was her understanding of
spiritual warfare. In 1990, Jacobs and Wagner gathered with a group of
associates to form the SWN, the Spiritual Warfare Network. At that first
meeting were such luminaries as Jack Hayford of Church on the Stray (I
mean ‘Way’); Frank Hammond, author of Pigs
in the Parlor, a book that falsely teaches that Christians can be
demon-possessed and that all ills in one’s life is caused by demons; and
Gwen Shaw of the End-Time Handmaidens fame who has always run in the
circles of false prophets.
took the collective understanding of spiritual warfare from that gathering
and it later evolved to what became known as “spiritual mapping,” the
teaching that prophets and apostles can determine what principality or
power reigns over a geographical region and then take authority over them,
decreeing them into the pit – or some other place before the people in
the region could be open to the gospel. Of course, this sort of idea does
not come from Scripture, but grew from the exalted view Wagner has of
himself and his cohorts. He specifically mentioned one man as teaching him
this idea, Luis Bush, a leader in the AD2000 movement, associated with the
Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Wagner said that Billy Graham
even paid the way for him and his associates to travel to Lausanne for the
Jacobs took things a step further and prophesied to Wagner that he needed
“to repent for the sins of dropping the atomic bombs in World War II”
in an act of “identificational repentance” before the Japanese people
could be receptive to Christianity. So he went to Tokyo and did so from a
stage he was sharing with ‘David’ Yonggi Cho.
prophecy said in part, “Lord, I thank You that You are sending Peter
Wagner to Japan...to undo the atrocity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Father,
Peter will be used like a nuclear bomb in the Spriit to break apart the
darkness that Satan has worked against the nation of Japan.” [p.
pointed out that every time Cindy prophesies, she goes into some trance
state and has a strange look on her face. I myself observed her once in
her altered state and sure enough, some sort of evil countenance comes
over her and she then talks in a low-pitched growling voice – pretty
scary! Nothing holy about that spirit.
were so many people who influenced Peter Wagner throughout his career from
one paradigm to the next. He mentions so many, including:
determined that he was a super apostle witnessing the “historic
beginnings of the Second Apostolic Age” – the first apostolic age
being the true apostles in the first century. He fixed the date for the
start of the new apostolic age as the year 2001, after achieving what he
calls “a critical mass,” an unstated number of professing Christians
who agree with him that apostles and prophets are the foundation of the
church. [p. 218]
may seem obvious to any bible-believing Christian, that the foundation of
the church was laid 2,000 years ago, and no new foundation needs to be
built at the final completion of the building of God as we near the end of
the Church Age.
from the Roman Catholic Church, Wagner teaches that “apostolic
succession” must take place. Since he is in his late 80s, he has chosen
who will fill his apostle slippers after he’s gone. At least the
Catholic Church’s apostolic succession is one pope at a time – but
with Wagner, he needs a crowd to carry his mantle when he’s gone –
he’s that important. He has an
entire chapter called “Transitions” to lay out who inherits what
authority upon his demise.
admits that the root of his apostolic movement dates back to the Latter
Rain Movement of the mid-twentieth century. He calls them “pioneers”
but dares not name them by name, knowing they’ve all been discredited as
heretics. If he dared to name William Branham by name, that could come
back to bite him. It just takes one simple Google search to know how
twisted the Joel’s Army, Manifest Sons doctrines are.
headed up too many organizations to cover in this analysis. He founded
more self-glorifying named groups than any other “Christian leader” in
all of church history. He followed every crazy spiritual fad that he could
find; and found a way to legitimize the fad with an impressive name. His
idea of a good time is taking a group of friends to a snake-handling
church to watch the fun as loonies dance with rattlesnakes.
wild claims include decreeing an end to Mad Cow disease; capturing
spiritual gold dust that represents the soon transfer of wealth into the
hands of the new apostles, and lengthening short legs.
the end of his memoirs he sums up his accomplishments in a most
appropriate but undignified manner: “I feel like a roll of toilet paper
– the nearer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. [p. 284]
the end of the book, Wagner gives a summary of all the books he has
written in his “career” – 73 of them with titles such as Defeat the Bird God, Signs and Wonders Today, Wrestling with Dark
Angels, Engaging the Enemy, Warfare Prayer, The New Apostolic Churches,
The Everychurch Guide to Growth, and Churchquake!
How the New Apostolic Reformation Is Shaking up the Church as We Know It.
one of them next time you run out of toilet paper.
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