This post continues an exploration of discipleship goals in the Holy Trinity Brompton circle of churches. It suggests that while the impact of Californian popstar turned pastor John Wimber had enormous benefits for HTB and related (New Wine) churches, there was an unintended consequence to discipleship goals of adopting his methodology when played out over the two to three generations that followed.

(key terms: normative theology: the theology you think you believe; espoused theology: the theology you talk about (what you say in public); operant theology: the theology that is in evidence by your actions; HTB: Holy Trinity Brompton; ASB: Alternative Service Book)


The adoption of Wimber’s methodology of worship-teaching-ministry style accelerated the process of removing a new generation of Christians (and eventually clergy) further from the anchoring normative theologies of Anglicanism that had been passed on through the Book of Common Prayer including liturgy, collects, historic creeds and lectionary readings. Even the unpopular straitjacket of the newer Alternative Service Book was cast off as ‘intimacy’ in worship became the stated goal. This brought a shift in the operant theology evident in a worship service with a well catalogued reorientation towards a hymnody emphasizing an individual’s immediate encounter with God.[1]  

‘Suddenly we’re confronted with a new kind of charismatic renewal. We were already evangelical charismatics but Wimber came over and said “now we’re going to do it” and suddenly there was new intimacy in worship, prayer for healing on a regular basis and seeing things happen – a much greater expectation of God to actually work, and with him one of the other things was the idea of church planting… for which he was undoubtedly the catalyst.’[2]

John Irvine

Having been constrained by the 1662 service and frustrated by the ASB Wimber’s simple ‘Worship, Teaching, Ministry’ model became the paradigm for HTB and its daughter plants.[3] Initially these freeform services were an addition to a more varied Sunday diet, that often included a BCP communion service early in the morning. HTB network leaders who grafted into existing churches often maintained a traditional liturgical service, as Millar did at HTB. Yet as time has passed many of the new ordinands have been drawn from non-liturgical services and churches have been planted with only freeform services.

Today most churches in the HTB network have main or sole services with minimal reference to Common Worship [CW] (the eclectic and versatile liturgy that replaced ASB),[4] and the use of Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year is far more common than the collects and prayers of the daily offices for personal spiritual devotion.[5] It has been well argued elsewhere informal charismatic services are still liturgical,[6]  but the typical outworking of a CW ‘Service of the Word’ is essentially a playlist of Contemporary Christian Worship songs, an abridged ‘liturgy of the Word’ (one reading and a motivational talk), a ministry response time and an (often informal) blessing to close, perhaps with intercessions including the Lord’s Prayer at some point in the service.

The adage Lex orandi, lex credenda, lex vivendi: (As we worship, so we believe, so we live) means that for 40 years charismatic Anglicans have been formed by a liturgical diet that emphasises immediacy, personal encounter and invoking the Holy Spirit, but has a tendency to become what worship-leader-turned-theologian Glenn Packhiam calls ‘a theological Happy Meal.[7]

Thus while HTB network churches within the Church of England still nominally continue to have the same Anglican normative theological inheritance of the 39 Arcticles, Creeds and Liturgy that Stott, Collins or even Millar grew up with, the practical outworking of liturgical and daily devotional changes will have had a significant impact on the operant and espoused voices with the HTB network. These liturgical changes are effectively also a change in espoused theology and leverage a gap between normative and operant theologies. So instead of praying the Collect for Purity in each service, (a prayer that deeply impacted John Wesley in his quest for holiness) which asks for our hearts to be cleansed that ‘we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name’, these ‘liturgies’ can easily create an espoused theology whereby God’s role is meeting our felt needs. As shown in Chapter Four this impacts the doctrine of God, anthropology, theological framework and the discipleship goals in the network. 

Steven notes that a number of parishes became teaching centers for what he terms the ‘new Wimber gospel’.[8] Churches like St Thomas Crookes Sheffield, St Andrews Chorleywood and Holy Trinity Brompton rapidly developed the charismatic party within the Church of England. But as they aligned closer to what he saw as ‘revivalist’ methodology they diverged from some of the older practitioners of Anglican renewal, with a particular break coming after 1990 and again in 1994.[9] Steven’s study focuses on the liturgical shift made by this new charismatic ‘churchmanship label’  and concludes that the adoption of a Wimberite worship pattern enabled an unpremeditated assimilation of contemporary culture that happened, he believes, without conscious reflection.[10] At his most generous Steven sees it as an apt ‘inculturation’ enabling an ‘authentic “live” presence of God’ to be experienced. In a slightly more loaded conclusion he states that the:

‘benefits for participants were understood in ways that resonate with the therapeutic sensibilities of late modern culture.’[11]

James Steven

Critiques of Wimber

Wimber’s paradigm came as a radical discontinuity to many of the churches that embraced his Power Evangelism and Power Healing. That he was a phenomenon can be seen in the scale and scope of critiques he attracted from contemporaries and later from academics. Frankly, I don’t agree with all/many of these, but sometimes you have to listen carefully to what people are saying about you if you want to get a handle on your flaws…

A key criticism was around his advocacy of Kingdom theology. Hunt sees as having a profound theological dualism inherent in it, and together with an emphasis on signs and wonders was less obviously compatible with Anglicanism.[12]

Hocken questions the depth of the new charismatic stream and whether it can be a lasting phenomenon.[13]He considers Martyn Percy’s  study of Wimber to be a penetrating critique, noting Wimber is advancing a modern form of Pentecostalism that goes beyond Pentecostalism in equipping all the saints to be like Jesus as ongoing channels of the power of God.[14] Percy has pulled back from some of the most strident critiques in his doctoral dissertation which (unjustly) sees Wimber as a fundamentalist caught in a propitiatory (‘angry God’) motif of atonement, but maintains that Wimber’s Christology is

‘reductionist and subordinationist, reducing Christ to a power-broker for the Spirit seen as the power of God.’[15]

Martyn Percy

Percy sees Wimber’s theology as centred on power with Jesus as the ‘ultimate power agent’.[16] In Percy’s analysis this search for efficient forms of belief that demonstrate power most effectively impacts his views on worship, eschatology and holiness.[17] Evangelical theologian Alistair McGrath agrees with the issue of power. Writing in the early days of the Vineyard influence on the UK he notes that the darker side of evangelicalism has been fourfold: Guilt, burn-out, dogmatism and personality cult:

‘Power corrupts and power evangelicalism too easily becomes a corrupt evangelicalism’.[18] 

Alistair McGrath

McGrath draws on Max Weber’s essay The Sociology of Charismatic Authority which argues people look for someone that they can believe in in time of decline or confusion. McGrath states that power evangelicalism owes much of its force to the force of conviction: ‘perhaps not so much the views that are held, or the doctrines that are preached, but the conviction and authority with which they are preached.’[19] So McBain concludes that while Wimber has brought a positive contribution ‘there remain serious doctrinal weakness in his position.’[20]

For some conservative evangelicals Wimber quite simply represented ‘another gospel’. In a book provocatively entitled ‘John Wimber: Friend of Foe’ Sydney evangelical Philip Jenson imagines Wimber playing the role of a ‘compassionate, loving, genuine, sincere’ loaded dog of Henry Lawson’s short story who ends up unwittingly carrying an explosive cartridge around in his mouth.[21] Jensen articulated the concerns of many conservatives in the UK. Renewal might be benignly tolerated in the interest of unity, but this Californian ‘doing the stuff’ approach was a loaded dog. As well as being concerned about Wimber’s ‘unverifiable’ emphasis on healing they were concerned that he was changing the core of the gospel from atonement, sin and repentance to a heuristic individualist self-help therapy. 

But what happened to Vineyard Churches?

When God talks back, Luhrmann

Analysing Vineyard discipleship goals is made complex as it is possible to plot a dramatic contrast between the espoused and operant theology of Vineyard churches in 1980 with those of 2005. In the introduction we noted TM Luhrmann’s findings in When God Talks Back which maps how some Vineyard churches in the USA developed away from John Wimber’s original theology and describes the therapeutic perspective on Jesus on offer in experientially orientated evangelical churches. Percy plots a similar development over three phases. After an initial first flourishing phase, Percy describes a secondary phase of ‘fear, obedience and purity’ teaching in the mid 1980s, that helped prevent Vineyard disintegrating as it grew. He claims that there was an inevitable ‘movement towards purity-as-holiness’ to prevent dissolution.[22]  But the tertiary transition in Vineyard from the late 1980s to 2000s is more striking still. Markham and Daniels reading back over Percy’s work note:  

The contrast is dramatic. In earlier years, powerful, supernatural experiences of the Spirit were a requirement of group membership and highly valued by the community. By 2002, however, [five years after Wimber’s death, and eight years after ‘The Toronto Blessing’]:

the fervour had subsided, the costs have lowered, and the requirements of group membership had mellowed… at the same time, growth had stalled, group identity was hazier, and the denomination had splintered… it is remarkable to see the correlation between the cessation of costly behaviours and the decline in group flourishing. The price of admission, so to speak, in the early years, would have been allowing oneself to be physically and emotionally bowled over, to lose oneself in that communal/personal upheaval. The price of admission in 2002 was rest.[23]

Joel Daniels, following Martyn Percy

What happened at HTB?

It was a similar tendency over a similar timespan at HTB which led critics like Brooks in 2007 to bring a charge of subjectivism and emotionalism triumphing over truth and reason,[24] and Hunt in 2001 to dismiss Alpha as a ‘give me now’ theology whereby an attender would feel a right to be rewarded (by God) for their attendance and new found belief bereft of any particular accompanying moral changes.[25]HTB, in JI Packer’s analysis discussed in Chapter One, was already built on an upper-middle class ‘relatively optimistic view of human nature’and ‘pietistic community based on experience’ common to the Eclectics. Wimber’s ‘Third Wave’ had helped to liberate them from the constraints of an ethical system enforced at Iwerne, decribed as ‘taking off a heavy rucksack and finding there was life giving food in it’ in the analogy previously used. As in the Vineyard this gradually led to less ethical teaching about specific types of prohibited behaviour: 

And so, there’s been a subtle shift over time where HTB will still say ‘this is the way to live’ but there won’t be that ‘stop doing this, stop doing that’. Just much more ‘follow the Spirit and let Him convict you’.” [CLD]


This was almost certainly NOT Wimber’s intention (and nor was it Sandy Millar’s!). Wimber emphasised intimacy with God but:

It ‘wasn’t soppy; it was responsible and responsive and obedient. It is the same with children, if intimacy with children means a child can do what he likes, then we have misunderstood the word intimacy.’[26] 

Sandy Millar

(For an English audience Millar sometimes translated ‘intimacy’ as ‘the closest possible relationship with God’ but reverted to using ‘intimacy’ again after finding Scriptural precedent for it in the Song of Songs, and finding ‘closest possible relationship with God’ too much of a mouthful.)[27]  

In many ways the English Anglican churches that embraced Wimber were more resilient to the slide into therapeutic christianity that Luhrmann describes in the USA Vineyard. In the first generation (or two) they still had the legacy of deeply ingrained Evangelical Anglican practices and theology to hold them steady.

Yet as we have seen, however much the paradigm shift Wimber introduced may have detangled many within HTB circles from conservative evangelical Anglican practice, Wimber remained thoroughly rooted in Scripture, influenced by Stott, Packer, Watson and Green and would be shocked by some of the ultimate developments hinted at above, which will be returned to later in the thesis as we explore how discipleship goals have changed in the network even since his day.[28]

[1] Refs Hughes, PAckiam, Percy, Drake…

[2] (Irvine 2015, pers.comm 28 March).

[3] Millar, 1998.

[4] CW is so versatile that the Service of the Word ‘consists almost entirely of notes and directions and allows for considerable local variation and choice within a common structure.’ The authors of CW wrestle with the freedom this allows in their instructions for use: ‘A Service of the Word is unusual for an authorized Church of England service… At the heart of the service is the Liturgy of the Word. This must not be so lightly treated as to appear insignificant compared with other parts of the service.’  ’

[5] Although one church was using ASB liturgy for a baptism at a 2019 visit. 

[6] Charismatic churches are liturgical ref

[7] Packiam, Glenn. Discover the Mystery of Faith: How Worship Shapes Believing. United States: David C Cook, 2013. 20 The book explores whether contemporary worship is ‘compassing people towards a transfiguring experience of God or pandering to our culture’s addiction to peak experience, entertainment and celebrity,’ and whether being ‘relevant’ means ‘keeping the customer satisfied.’ 10. 

[8] Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 2002, 29

[9] Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 2002, 32, due to first the Kansas City Prophets and then the Toronto Blessing. 

[10] Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 2002, 211

[11] Steven, Worship in the Spirit, 2002, 211. cf Mark J. Cartledge. ‘Liturgical Order and Charismatic Freedom: A Reflection on the Development of Anglican Practices’, Liturgy 33.3 (2018), pp. 12-19.

[12] Hunt, The Anglican Wimberites, 111. See further Smith, The Church Militant 42

[13] Hocken, Peter. The Challenges of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Messianic Jewish Movements: The Tensions of the Spirit. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013, 51,

[14] Ibid. see Percy, 100. 

[15] Percy 85

[16] Percy, 84, 102, ‘Jesus is constantly presented as a powerful personality who can take hold of and transform the inner life of others.’ See Hocken, Challenges, 2013, 51, 84-85

[17] Percy, 110

[18] McGrath 1988, 164

[19] McGrath 1988, 160. McGrath sees evangelical culture as too easily anti- intellectual

[20] Douglas McBain, Fire Over the Waters, London, 1997, 105

[21] Philip Jensen, John Wimber: Friend or Foe, 1990, 11

[22] Quoted In Reasonable Radical? Reading the writings of Martyn Percy [eds. Markham, I and Daniel, J]

[23] Joel Daniels, in Reasonable Radical? Reading the writings of Martyn Percy [eds. Markham, I and Daniel, J] ,… exact. ref needed (last paragraph of chp 3: section III.)

[24] Cf Brooks, 2007, 121

[25] Hunt 2001, 49.

[26] Millar,op cit

[27] As in Sarah Jackson’s testimony in Chapter One this language often evolved into ‘relationship with Jesus’.

[28] Martyn Percy on Wimber as a fundamentalist; also Sandy Millar Interview ‘You cannot say John was not biblical, everything he did he sought to show from the Bible.’ See also Don Williams in Roozen and Nieman (eds) Church Identity and Change Eerdmans 2005, 167-179