At this stage in the blog posts and thesis I just want to restate again for anyone picking up on these posts late into the series why I am writing and how I view the leaders I have interviewed.

I am writing because (if it’s not too something or other to say so) I believe have been called to. There were several factors in that. One was attending an HTB network leaders retreat and being singled out by a visiting prophetic vineyard pastor in a meeting to use my mind for the network; another was a clear call during my sabbatical which led to my meeting John Collins; another one was the impact HTB and Alpha had on my early development as a Christian through personal ministry from Sandy Millar and more general ministry of the Alpha Holy Spirit weekend teaching from Nicky Gumbel on VHS cassette (the thing before DVDs); other factors included the opportunity to write through Durham University’s DThM course and many friends and colleagues in the network sharing their stories with me (see here for more detail).

I am writing to and about a group do leaders and churches who I want to be clear I admire and have huge respect for. In fact as I have interviewed and been both immersed in and detached from some network activities I have consistently appreciated the quality of people I have met and what they want to do for the Lord. Two of the standout characters appear in this episode.

And I am writing because I hope God has something to say to to the network through this work of ‘formal theology’. It’s not always easy to see where you are going unless you reflect on where you come from and the decisions that from time to time adjust your heading… My hope is that this writing will be a friendly stimulus to such reflection throughout the network. So I warmly welcome any reflections or corrections that may add to the account.

This episode then begins the work of tracking how waves of renewal may/may not have altered discipleship goals within the HTB network… the three major waves being: 1) the 60s/70s renewal which both John Collins and Sandy Millar were formed in, 2) the 1980s Wimber years, and then 3) the 1990s ‘Toronto Blessing’ which helped propel the Alpha Course into national and international prominence. This episode focuses on the first of those waves – the years before Wimber… come back next week for more on how Wimber rocked the world for HTB.

Gillingham and Beyond

John Collins as we have seen had been formed in the Iwerne/Stott schools of theology and mission. But he was his own man. For instance he had aggravated Nash in the early 1960s by not ‘sending’ his star curates Watson and MacInnes back into the public-school system as chaplains post-curacy. Nash thought this could undermine his strategy for reaching the British upper-classes and led to the Iwerne camp founder threatening to dry up the supply chain of prominent Iwerne curates for the rapidly growing working-class parish of St Mark’s Gillingham.

Perhaps this backbone helped equip Collins for a much more fundamental break with Iwerne contemporaries which occurred soon after. Collins, and his curates David Watson and David MacInnes, had been impacted by the visit of Corrie Ten Booth to their parish and her ‘almost saint like charismatic qualities’. Inspired by her they were longing for victory in their own internal battles for holiness. When both of these curates moved on to parish ministry elsewhere Collins was left trying to continue the burgeoning work in Gillingham with less resource than previously was available. A series of events culminated in a night of prayer in 1963 where there was visitation of the Holy Spirit that lasted for three weeks in the parish and left those who had been there utterly transformed.[2] You can watch the story here:

Both Watson and MacInnes have similar encounters elsewhere at a similar time. 

But Collins’ experience over spilled shortly afterwards at Tyndale House in Cambridge. He was booked to speak at a breakfast meeting for evangelical ordinands and expected to tell a few encouraging stories, expound the word and leave the ordinands encouraged to carry on in the same direction. However, the night before speaking, Collins found that he had another deep spiritual experience whereby could not do anything but pray and ‘prophesy’ throughout most of the night. Eventually after miminal sleep he took Romans 6 as the theme, explained what had happened to him that night and that he felt that he was ‘done with sin’. As some prominent conservative clergy were present this led to a substantial rift between Collins and the evangelical hierarchy.[3] In fact Collins was considered an extremist both by Anglican hierarchy (for charismatic practices) and the evangelical hierarchy (for charismatic practices and what they feared might be ‘perfectionism’) and effectively blocked from preferment (‘better’ jobs) in either setting. Whatever the pains of lost patronage and preferment for Collins there was a further loss of a mentor figure. He has recently commented,

‘I learnt all my theology from John Stott, so this was very difficult for me.’[4]

John Collins

Despite these many setbacks I’ll come back to John Collins later in the thesis, as a ‘Good to Great’ “Level Five” leader… considering his life he seems to have had a peculiar ability to let people around him flourish even if they were sometimes more talented/capable/charismatic. It’s what his namesake J.Collins calls ‘Level Five Leadership’. Some of the people who flourished under and alongside him became headline news in the Christian world.

After Gillingham, Collins began a new ministry in semi-rural Canford, Dorset (partly at the invitation of Ken Costa’s future father-in-law). Beyond the parish he led Stewards Trust houseparties and parish missions including the ‘Leap Step Forward’ campaign at HTB. That mission has been credited with birthing HTB as the charismatic evangelical church it is today. He also modelled the sort of evangelistic ‘supper parties’ that became enshrined in Alpha methodology, before agreeing to come as Vicar of HTB in 1980.[18]

Conservatives vs Charismatics

Discomfort with new charismatic practices was evident by the Evangelical Congress at Keele 1967 which noted that ‘we have no united opinion on whether current ‘charismatic’ manifestations are of the same sort as the corresponding New Testament ‘gifts of the spirit’ or not.’[5] However despite the initial costly fractures a decade later after Nottingham 1977 while Stott still expressed concern about prophesy he insisted ‘we are over the hump’ and Michael Harper announced ‘the charismatic divide has been given the last rites.’[6] A new tone of mutual acceptance had been arrived at.[7] As Reid’s tentative fourth category of ‘charismatic’ in 1976 suggests, the ‘renewed’ Anglicans, while suspect for ‘emotional enthusiasm’, could largely be accommodated into the Eclectics.[8]

To some degree this can be explained by assimilation. In 1980 the Fountain Trust took the ‘humanely astonishing decision to close’ in 1980 claiming that Renewal was well enough established in parishes for its role to end.[9] Some of the more radical Anglican charismatics had left, but others had maintained a theological position akin to the Eclectics and simply added on a carefully exposited biblical understanding of charismatic gifts, which might often be used very sparingly. 

However assimilation works two ways! So when HTB were looking for a new vicar in 1980-1981 with potential to lead the church in a charismatic direction the then curate Sandy Millar believed that there were only three men in the country who could do so.[10]

Despite some harmonisation within the Eclectics between conservatives and charismatics, and Stott’s advocacy of ‘double listening’ to bridge between Scripture and culture, the culture of conservative evangelicalism seemed prohibitively legalistic for many of those who had grown up under Nash and his successors but been impacted by Renewal. They had discovered a new freedom in the Holy Spirit that did not match well with the legacy of teaching on holiness from Iwerne. As well as being a pacifist, Nash had rejected theatre going, alcohol and any Sabbath breaking,[11] and this did not fit the new paradigm David Watson and others were pioneering. 

So there is a significant debate as to the state of Charismatic Renewal in the UK in the late 1970s and there are indications it may have reached its zenith in the mid-1970s.[12] Steven’s account ably shows the developments within Anglican Renewal in the 1960s and 70s, including the impact on Anglo-Catholics and a wider ecumenism that quickly grew.[13] This meant Renewal encompassed a spectrum of underlying theologies every bit as disparate as the most divergent aspects of Wesley and Whitefield’s Arminianism and Calvinism. Whereas some of the early expression of renewal sat relatively comfortably within mainline denominations others from the outset left mainline churches and started house churches which often eventually morphed into independent Restorationist church networks.[14] While charismatics often brought their doctrinal inheritance with them from existing denominations Mark Noll notes that the charismatic movement ‘unleashed’ ‘new music, affective worship and expressive spirituality’, with the effect of ‘eroding old barriers and building new bridges’ including eventually blurring even Protestant and Catholic demarcations in some cases.[15]

Stirrings at HTB pre-Wimber

As a charismatic revolution took place at HTB the new experiences of the Holy Spirit led those at HTB increasingly to believe that it was the Spirit who changed behaviour. There was a sense, particularly for those drilled in ethics at Iwerne and University Christian Fellowships, that this this was a new improved way to achieve the same discipleship goals. As one interviewee put it:

‘It became clear that we saw the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives to change people from the inside – rather than because we say “you’ve got to live like this”’.


The old ethical code was described as a heavy burden that could now be taken off in a metaphor commonly used: 

‘Imagine carrying a backpack called Law for many years, then taking it off, eating the heavy food inside it and finding that what had been a burden on your back sustains you when eaten inside you.”[25]


Some other key people…

Of particular relevance to understanding how discipleship goals at HTB would have been understood in the early 1980s are the growing ministries throughout the 1960s and 1970s of MacInnes, Watson and Collins. Each of these men who had once shared the vicarage in Gillingham were growing churches, alongside conducting itinerant ministry.  

David MacInnes, who became Rector of St Aldates, led a Cambridge University mission that saw the conversion of the ‘5 Nicky’s and Ken’ (including Nicky Gumbel, Nicky Lee and Ken Costa). These young converts who became the backbone of HTB in subsequent decades joined Millar’s small group when they graduated in 1976 at a time when there were few people under 50 at the church.[16] 

David Watson, based at St Michael le Belfry, became one of the leading evangelists and apologists for charismatic practice and had a tape ministry that was instrumental in discipling Sandy Millar and many others in renewal, and was later key in introducing John Wimber to the UK.[17] 

Michael Harper’s ministry is also worth mentioning: It remained very significant, particularly for educated Evangelical Anglicans, and he had a key part to play in Sandy Millar coming into an experience of the Holy Spirit very shortly after his conversion. 

Sandy Millar:

Although he would never claim it, it may be hard to overestimate the significance of Sandy Millar on the HTB network: Despite an Etonian background and gifting that would have made him a prime candidate for Iwerne, because he was converted later in life (aged 28) he never came under that more conservative evangelical influence of Iwerne. [20] 

Millar became charismatic not long after conversion after praying with Michael Harper and David DuPlessis. Millar recalls that:

thanks to my wife I was prayed for to be filled with the Spirit within  a month or so of being converted and was never impressed to be told that the New Testament church wasn’t a full on, gifts of the Spirit ‘pentecostal’ church with a small ‘p’’[19] 

Sandy Millar

When Millar replaced Fletcher as Gumbel’s mentor after university Gumbel perhaps understates the difference between Fletcher/Millar in this testimonial: 

Sandy Millar did the same as Jonathan had done, in a different way. He showed me a model of how to live the Christian life, to which I still aspire.[21]  

Nicky Gumbel

Collins has said of Millar that he could have been the CEO of any FTSE 100 company.[22] Following his own radical conversion into renewal at a time when it was perhaps in danger of being domesticated elsewhere Millar longed to appeal to the ‘head, heart and will.’[23] His influence upon HTB’s growth is undoubtedly pivotal. His leadership abilities, interpersonal skills and keen charismatic identity proved crucial in the developments at HTB for the next 50 years.  

Millar has arguably been the man behind the throne or the man on the throne for nearly half a century of HTB’s history. As an ordinand at Cranmer Hall in Durham he was already using taped recordings of David Watson to help other students discover life in the Spirit.[24] As curate from 1976 he established the home group that incubated the young Cambridge ‘firebrands’ who would go on to define so much of it HTB’s ministry through Alpha and related courses. With his consummate charm he helped to ease the society church into a charismatic direction with the admiration and blessing of his incumbent. He played a key part in bringing Collins to be the next incumbent of HTB, and then worked so harmoniously with him that in an extraordinary piece of ecclesiastical history they were able to swap both roles and accommodation and continue to minister together when it seemed like Millar might otherwise have to leave. As Vicar this he was able to exercise the leadership he so clearly displayed even more fully. When it came to time to hand on his ministry in 2005 he effectively coronated his own successor, Nicky Gumbel, who he had been mentoring and developing for 25 years. As a church planter in the tough urban area of Tollington he remained an honorary curate of HTB as well as a church planter, and assistant Bishop within London Diocese and remains to date the father-figure of the HTB network. Where Stott had been the great scholar-pastor-teacher behind All Souls’ growth, Millar was the unique leader behind HTB’s and came in the mould of a consummate and charming after dinner speaker. 

Millar was unencumbered by Iwerne sensibilities, and Watson had been dismayed by Nash’s rejection of renewal. But it took some trips to California for both Watson and Millar to find a new normative theology and paradigm for living.

This is what will be explored in the next blog: The paradigm which was pioneered by John Wimber (1934-1997), a self-styled ‘fat American trying to find his way to heaven’ who was a convert to the Christian faith with a background in pop music. This was the beginnings of an era defined by those Robert Webber would label ‘pragmatic’ evangelicals,[26]and many of the young converts and clergy at HTB wanted to know ‘does it work?’ at least as much as ‘is it true?’

Whereas ‘classic’ evangelicals like Stott, Collins and many of the Iwerne sub-culture needed a biblical mandate or at least a ‘proof text’ for decision making, the more pragmatic generation that followed were less concerned to exegete their way to an answer as long as there was not a clear prohibition against it. As ‘pragmatic evangelicals’, the big question is ‘can we get the job done?’ As Wimber put it they wanted to ‘do the stuff’.[27]  

[1] See discussion in Chapter One   ; interviews _____ , Watson _____

[2] Graham Smith _____ ; interview ____ 

[3] See Pollock, John Charles., Randall, Ian. The Keswick Story: The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention—Updated!. United States: CLC Publications, 2006. 1964-65 for account of Stott’s teaching in 1965 and the rebuff that came from Alan Redpath in 1967 who (along traditional Keswick lines) urged people to experience deliverance from sin’s tyranny. Stott eventually prevailed and ‘the traditional Keswick teaching about how to receive the indwelling Christ for victory over sin….became less distinct.’

[4] Interview ___

[5] From Clause14, Keele-1967

[6] Capon, John Evangelicals Tomorrow: The National Evangelical Anglican Congress 1977. Glasgow: Collins, 1977 58-63

[7] See Warner, Rob, Fissured Resurgence: Developments in English pan-evangelicalism 1966-2001, [accessed 12.5.21] 213 

[8] Colin Buchanon observed that Michael Harper kept a very low profile in the Eclectics Colin Buchanon, Encountering, 6 n.1; NEAC 1967 produced a 10,000 word statement without any reference to renewal

[9] so Gunstone, Pentecostal Anglicans, 26;.

[10] Interview Millar

[11] See Chapman, Alister (2012). Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement. OUP; Dudley-Smith, Timothy (1999). John Stott: the Making of a Leader. IVP. p. 512; Eddison (ed), John (1992). A Study in Spiritual Power, An Appreciation of E J H Nash (Bash).

[12] So whereas Gunstone, Pentecostal Anglicans, 26, see the closing of Fountain Trust as ‘humanely astonishing’, Steven indicates that this is debatable. Andrew Walker suggests Charismatic Renewal had been in decline since the mid-1970s, the dissolution was a symptom of this and the leadership had been marked by increasing tensions, see Stevens, Worship in the Spirit, 23-4; also Andrew Walker, ‘Pentecostal Power: The “Charismatic Renewal Movement” and the politics of Pentecostal Experience’ in E. Barker (ed.) Of Gods and Me; New Religious Movements in the West, 89-108.

[13] Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 2002, 14-25

[14] Steven Worship in the Spirit 2002, 22

[15] Mark Noll Is the Reformation Over?, 2008, 65

[16] see Facing the Canon with Nicky Gumbel from [accessed 12.2.21].

[17] See Saunders and Samson, David Watson, Chp 21, ‘Fuller and Wimber’. Michael Mitton sees the love and respect for Watson in the UK as the reason ‘people instinctively warmed’ to Wimber when Watson introduced him. Michael Mitton Anglicans for Renewal, 45 (Summer 1991), Editorial. 

[18] ­­­ref 150 people responded to the altar call to come forward… 

[19] Interview 6.3.20. 

[20] He recalls ‘I had tea with Nash once when I started on the staff at Holy Trinity’. Interview Millar  ___ Millar, a barrister was on the PCC (church council) at HTB before this conversion.

[21] [accessed 6.3.20].

[22] Interview… 

[23] in Kurht, G, (ed.) 1995, pp.146-147

[24] Peter Smith, pers. comm, 12.10.19

[25] Interviewee, pers. comm, 1.4.15; There are parallels here with the 1738 conversion of Wesley, but his conversion took him in a renewed focus on holiness, believing that it was now possible, rather than the more stand off approach that seems to have been taken according to Thorpe at HTB.  

[26] Webber…. 

[27] Wimber….