BY DALE M. COULTER
republished below in full unedited for informational, educational & research purposes:
When Paula White called angels from Africa and South America to wage spiritual warfare in the aftermath of the presidential election, she was tapping into the notion of territorial spirits associated with the emergence of what Peter Wagner has called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Wagner coined the phrase to describe a novel kind of independent charismatic Christianity led by apostles and organized into relational networks. Many of the prophecies associated with Trump’s rise and re-election came from persons associated with these networks. Some like Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church apologized while others such as Lance Wallnau doubled down. Regardless, much of the public support for Trump came from Christians connected to this new form of charismatic Christianity, even though it has largely remained unexplored by most journalists and historians.
The movement exists as a series of overlapping ministerial networks either centered in megachurches or ministries. Harvest International Ministries led by Ché Ahn is one of the most prominent examples of the former, while Generals International under Cindy Jacobs exemplifies the latter. It may be better to identify the NAR as Neocharismatic Christianity because it represents a modification of the global Pentecostal-Charismatic (P-C) movement. The NAR is a subset of independent Charismatics, the third wing in Todd Johnson’s typology of the global movement.
Three overlapping theological emphases represent the NAR’s doctrinal center: the church, spiritual warfare, and the cultural mandate. Guided by modern-day apostles, the church engages in the mission of cultural transformation through strategic spiritual warfare. What holds these emphases together is a vision to restore a more primitive form of Christianity centered on charismatic gifting under apostolic and prophetic leadership. Before dealing with these emphases, I want to sketch the movement’s origins.
This movement crystallized in the wake of the 1994 Toronto Revival after John Wimber asked John and Carol Arnott to remove their church from the Vineyard Association. While the Toronto Revival was an important catalyst, NAR’s roots go back to the Latter Rain Movement (LRM) in the late 1940s, which first began to talk about charismatic gifting through the laying on of hands and the restoration of apostles and prophets in Ephesians 4. One of the significant voices for the NAR view of the church is Bill Hamon, who came out of a congregation deeply impacted by LRM. Peter Wagner credits Hamon’s restorationism with helping him see that the offices of apostle and prophet have been restored.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was a push toward understanding prophecy and divine healing in terms of internal revelation through a word of knowledge. One can see this in Word of Faith circles, the circles around Peter Wagner and John Wimber, and the Kansas City Prophets connected to Mike Bickle’s church. Central to Wimber’s concept of power evangelism was receiving immediate illumination by the Spirit for every encounter. Wagner described the Fuller classes in the 1980s as Wimber getting a “word of knowledge” and being led by the Spirit in this way. It’s no mistake that Randy Clark and Bill Johnson both privilege receiving internal revelation as part of praying for the infirm in their Essential Guide to Healing. It is through the emphasis on internal revelation that the Kansas City Prophets intersect with Wimber’s own teaching and his interest in the prophetic in the late 1980s. Centered on the crucial role of internal revelation, these three streams ushered in a particular view of healing and the prophetic.
The final stream is more of an outlier, but no less influential. It’s Reformed Reconstructionism and Kuyperian sphere sovereignty, in which there are spheres of life (family, church, government) that have their own identity and patterns of authority. The embrace of the cultural mandate by engaging the seven mountains of culture ultimately came from the influence of this Reformed perspective.
The usual story told is that Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade/Cru) and Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth With a Mission) both had a similar dream about seven mountains and then implemented the dream in the mid-1970s. What is left out is the role of Francis Schaeffer in transmitting both Rousas John Rushdoony’s theonomy and Kuyper’s vision of cultural transformation. As Julie Ingersoll has documented, Reconstructionism combines presuppositionalism with a postmillennial vision to bring everything under the authority of God’s law. This position was cast by Rushdoony and others as an effort to restore a Christian America. Through a 1987 conference in Dallas led by Reformed Reconstructionists such as Gary North (Rushdoony’s son-in-law), many charismatic Christians were exposed to these ideas in the form of a mandate to transform culture as part of the gospel proclamation.
By the early 1990s, these five streams came together in the form of three theological emphases that now define those connected to NAR. One can find variations of these theological emphases in most persons associated with the movement, whether it's apostolic and prophetic gifting as part of the church, spiritual warfare through spiritual mapping, or a top-down approach to cultural transformation as primary to the proclamation of the gospel.
Charismatic Gifting and the Church
John Wimber described his approach as “power evangelism” in part because it concerned the way in which signs and wonders represented the in-breaking of the kingdom through the power of the Spirit. The courses that Wimber and Peter Wagner offered at Fuller in the early 1980s became experimental places where power evangelism was tested and practiced. Wimber would teach and then the class would be opened to times of prayer where Wimber and others would receive words of knowledge.
As Wimber, Wagner, and others began to defend and explain signs and wonders, they engaged in a two-pronged strategy. The first was to argue against an Enlightenment worldview hostile to the miraculous and which they thought many evangelicals had embraced. Grounded in presuppositionalism, worldview thinking had emerged in the 1970s as the way evangelicals should engage others. Every person operated with a set of basic assumptions about life that constituted their view of the world. Wimber and Wagner turned this idea against evangelicalism itself. Aligned to this strategy was a more historical argument regarding the presence of the miraculous in the history of Christianity and its suppression by Christian thinkers after the Enlightenment. The basic claim was that Enlightenment thought had infiltrated the Christian worldview causing the suppression of the miraculous.
For much of the 1980s and early 1990s, the idea that signs and wonders, and therefore charismatic gifting, had been suppressed existed alongside the restorationist narrative that came out of the LRM. Whether it was an Enlightenment worldview or a church that had fallen into institutionalized Christianity, the remedy and goal were the same: to restore Christianity through the full function of charismatic gifting expressed in signs and wonders. By the end of the 1980s, Wagner had put together worldview, power evangelism, and charismatic gifting as key dimensions of so-called Third Wave Christianity.
The alliances that Wimber and Wagner forged during this time proved to be unsustainable for a variety of reasons. At its core, however, was the question of how hard a person was going to push toward the “not yet” dimension of the kingdom. This was both a theological and a practical question. How far would one allow the prophetic to go? Did signs and wonders include all kinds of spiritual manifestations like jumping, screaming, barking, etc.? The Toronto Revival proved to be the breaking point, which invariably placed the Vineyard on a different trajectory in its “quest for the radical middle” between evangelicalism and a more intense form of charismatic Christianity that decided it was best to push toward a more fully realized eschatology.
With this fracture having occurred, restorationism became dominant among many who left the Vineyard and began to form independent networks around Peter Wagner, Ché Ahn, John Arnott, Randy Clark, and Mike Bickle. As Wagner later noted, it was Bill Hamon who gave him the theological framework to see that the offices of apostle and prophet must be restored to the church. This theological turn meant that Ephesians became the canon within the canon. The Pauline vision of the church was interpreted as being a series of networks governed by apostles with the support of prophets. Through the laying on of hands, apostolic ministry and succession unfolded, the gifts were released, and the church could finally begin to wage warfare to establish the kingdom.
Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare
Wimber’s approach to power evangelism not only implied that signs and wonders must be a regular part of the church’s life but also meant that mission became a confrontation between principalities and powers. Alongside the defense of power evangelism during the 1980s, there was a concerted attempt to begin to reflect upon spiritual warfare in the life of the Christian and as part of the mission of the church.
The symposium on power evangelism at Fuller in 1988 both summarized this trend and set the agenda for its future. Published as Wrestling With Dark Angels (Regal, 1990), the conference presentations and responses dealt with questions about the demonic, exorcism, and sickness and suffering. In his presentation, Peter Wagner introduced the idea of territorial spirits, which he had taken from Timothy Warner, then a professor of missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Wagner suggested that there was a hierarchy of governance among evil spirits with some being over nations while others were over neighborhoods. He explained resistance to the gospel in terms of the presence of demonic strongholds over geographical areas. As evidence, Wagner noted the outbreak of revival in Argentina when ministers like Pastor Omar Cabrera and Carlos Annacondia began to identify spirits that controlled certain areas and to engage in deliverance ministry.
By 1990 George Otis, Jr. had coined “spiritual mapping” to refer to the activity of identifying demonic spirits and strongholds in a particular region, city, or country. Spiritual warfare took on a strategic dimension. A congregation that wished to evangelize an area could map out the strongholds and then begin to pray specifically against them, or even go on a prayer walk around those areas. This strategy was put into practice by Ted Haggard in the early 1990s in Colorado City as part of his effort to grow New Life Church. After connecting with Wagner, Cindy Jacobs began teaching spiritual mapping, eventually moving her headquarters to Colorado Springs in 1993 where it remained until 2004. Jacobs calls her network Generals International because it exists in part to facilitate social reformation through training generals of intercession.
Over the next two decades, the focus on spiritual warfare developed into a full-blown angelology. Books began to be written about seeing angels and even activating angels who were also over geographical regions as the counter to demonic forces. Moreover, prayer and worship became weapons to actualize the presence of the kingdom. One cannot understand Sean Feucht’s fusion of worship and political activism apart from this new way of conceiving spiritual warfare.
Wimber’s focus on power encounters through signs and wonders became a confrontation between principalities and powers that led to a new kind of spiritual warfare theology. This approach to warfare required that individuals begin to learn how to perceive and act upon the supernatural and thus listen to the Spirit in words of knowledge. Part of establishing the kingdom was flowing in the supernatural through signs, wonders, and seeing the world as a landscape of spiritual war. It was yet another dimension of the push into the full realization of the kingdom as the “not yet” became less and less. With a renewed church led by apostles and a focus on strategic level spiritual warfare, Christians could fulfill the cultural mandate.
The Seven Mountain Cultural Mandate
Shortly after Peter Wagner began to talk about a “church quake” through the restoration of a church led by modern-day apostles, Lance Wallnau had a conversation with Loren Cunningham over what Wallnau referred to as the seven mountains (religion, education, family, business, government, the arts, and media). Following Kuyper more closely, Cunningham called it the seven spheres of influence. After that conversation, Wallnau introduced the idea to a larger audience through a prophetic roundtable hosted by Mark Chironna on TBN. Closely associated with the use of seven mountains was the idea that the church had focused too exclusively on the salvation of souls to the exclusion of the transformation of culture. Wallnau differentiated between the gospel of forgiveness and the gospel of the kingdom in which the latter concerned cultural change.
In 2008, three books came out that showed just how much the seven-mountain mandate had become part of NAR theology. Peter Wagner issued Dominion (republished as On Earth As It is in Heaven), in which he explicitly noted the connection to Reformed Reconstructionism. Wagner also indicated that he had embraced a postmillennial eschatology. Organized around apostolic leadership, the church was to use democratic structures to transform nations and thus secure prosperity for all. The message of prosperity from the Word of Faith movement had been wedded to Rushdoony’s notion of the triumph of the kingdom and the prosperity this triumph would introduce. Dominion concerned the church’s using democracy to take control through invading the spheres symbolized by the seven mountains.
While Wagner talked about dominion, Cindy Jacobs published The Reformation Manifesto, in which she called for a complete reformation of soul and society. Jacobs did not go so far as to embrace postmillennialism, but she pushed hard against the negative outlook of premillennial dispensationalism. Society was not going to get worse as a prelude to a rapture. Instead, society would be reformed through a progressive unfolding of the kingdom. The church’s mission was to bring the kingdom to all seven spheres through intercession and intervention, which would unleash economic prosperity.
Dominion through reformation was not radical enough for Johnny Enlow. In The Seven Mountain Prophecy, he placed the seven mountains into a prophetic framework that called for a revolution. Enlow was a deacon in Earl Paulk, Jr.’s church in the late 1980s. He had been exposed to Paulk’s “Kingdom Now” theology and its roots in Reconstructionism. That theology found its new home in the seven mountains. Billing himself as a social reformer, he pushed for an Elijah revolution where a generation would prioritize prayer and the prophetic to take the nations and transform the culture.
Over the next several years, the seven mountain mandate would be folded into a pledge to reform existing social orders by invading and transforming culture. Ché Ahn’s 2010 Reformer’s Pledge was a “who’s who” of NAR players with Bill Johnson, Lou Engle, Lance Wallnau, John Arnott, Peter Wagner, and James Goll, among others, writing chapters and taking the pledge. It was followed in 2013 by Lance Wallnau and Bill Johnson’s Invading Babylon. Establishing the kingdom meant operating in the supernatural and bringing the manifest presence of God to each mountain. Where Rushdoony had talked about secularism, Wallnau and Johnson used the biblical metaphor of Babylon.
These books set the tone for the 2016 election when Wallnau declared that Donald Trump was God’s chaos candidate, a new Cyrus sent to disrupt the existing order so that the kingdom might be established. Wallnau claimed to have received a word of knowledge that Trump would be a wrecking ball, an idea he expanded into his book God’s Chaos Candidate. In an important sense, for Wallnau, a collision had come between the church and secularism over the seven mountains. Trump was going to be the one who broke the control of a secular cabal.
What are we to make of this Neocharismatic Christianity? Constraints of space only permit three final observations. First, the NAR represents the largest number of independent charismatics in the United States. Because it exists through a series of autonomous ministry networks, it functions as a kind of family of churches that resource one another. Apostles are patriarchs and matriarchs who lead the family. There is a kind of egalitarianism where women can lead and pastor alongside a view of male headship. Second, with the help of Reformed Reconstructionism, it has placed the social gospel into a charismatic framework to drive a conservative political agenda. Wagner wrote a memo to Cindy Jacobs in which he said that the father of the social gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch, had tried to introduce the cultural mandate alongside the evangelistic one, but he was rejected because of liberal theology. Finally, its restorationism, emphasis on the prophetic, and desire to actualize the kingdom in full means that it is constantly engaged in future casting. Christian tradition means very little in this context except as a set-up for where the church is and what the church has done wrong. Even though NAR adherents claim to restore apostolic Christianity, the movement, in many respects, is Christianity fully conformed to democratic individualism. Apostles guide megachurches and ministries as mediating institutions unleashing an army of individuals who utilize pop culture and democratic mechanisms to facilitate Christian expansion. There is much more to be said about the NAR, both in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. We will surely benefit from a greater and deeper conversation about this complex network of charismatic churches and leaders.
Dr. Dale M. Coulter is Professor of Historical Theology at Pentecostal Theological Seminary. He also serves on the Editorial Board for Firebrand.