Though I grew up attending Vineyard churches during my formative years, I think it would be safe to say that I took a lot of that for granted. When you are a kid growing up in a church, you don’t always understand the details about church life. You just know that your mom and dad like the church or the pastor and that you have some friends there (hopefully!). I guess my appreciation for the Vineyard didn’t really start to develop until I was around 20 years old. By that time I had attended a few non-Vineyard churches and had spent some time in some other denominations but found myself back in a Vineyard church while living in Southern California in 1999-2000. I was actually attending Don Williams’ church as a matter of fact! The first Sunday that I attended I knew I was home… again… and I loved it.
By this time I had also started to develop some theological curiosity. This led to some interest in church history and ministry and I had a lot of ideas formulating in my head… it was like my brain couldn’t stop thinking about Scripture, and theology, and how it all fit together. Truth be told, not much has changed. But at that time, I still didn’t understand what was unique about the Vineyard theologically or even have a good understanding of the practical differences. That was soon to change.
In 2003 I read a book that changed my life: Bill Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard.
Now to be honest, I’ve read a number of books that I’d consider to be extremely formative for me, but this book is one that I still recommend on a daily basis and one that I’ve given to dozens of people over the years. I’ve never read a book and sat there holding it in my hands and said, “This guy gets me” quite like when I read Bill’s Quest. It was like every page was telling me my story and explain to me why I thought the way that I did and why I did the things I did. Bill Jackson’s Quest told me my story… it told me my background… it told me the challenges I faced… it told me the tensions that were constantly pulling me in different directions. Truth be told, I couldn’t put the back down, so I read it in two days. And I’ve reread it probably a dozen times over the years.
One of the highlights of my life was in 2012 when I attended my first Society of Vineyard Scholars‘ (SVS) annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN. I was given the opportunity to present a paper and was able to meet Bill in person. We only talked for about twenty to thirty minutes but it was very meaningful that he took the time to listen to me talk about how much I loved his book and to ask him a few questions about the paper he had presented. I recall that his paper was on the book of Acts and the homiletic rhetoric of Peter, which just so happened to have been a subject I had done a fair amount of study on during my MDiv. That class had simply raised a lot of questions in my mind about rhetorical studies and apostolic homiletics and Bill answered all of my questions and was ever so humble and gracious. Plus, he encouraged me as a young wanna-be-theologian a ton.
In 2014 I got to spend a bit more time with him at the SVS meeting in Columbus and the capstone to an excellent event was sharing a taxi with Bill and getting to talk to him about his latest book The Biblical Metanarrative. I remember sitting next to Bill and thinking to myself, “I am sitting next to Bill Jackson. The Bill Jackson. The dude who wrote The Quest for the Radical Middle. I wonder if it’d be weird to ask him to take a picture with me. Yeah, that’d be weird. Scholars aren’t supposed to do that, are they? Wait. I’M SITTING NEXT TO BILL JACKSON!!! How did this happen?!?!”
Seriously. Those thoughts went through my mind.
Bill Jackson passed away yesterday (06-07-15) at 12:30pm. He had been having health issues for awhile and I know many of us have been praying for him for awhile. I believe his health issues prevented him from attending this year’s SVS gathering, which I was sad to hear. As I’ve been thinking about Bill and the legacy he leaves to us in the Vineyard (and beyond!), I thought of a couple obvious ways in which Bill has contributed and blessed the Vineyard, as well as myself.
First, Bill told us to keep the tension. In a movement that’s centered around the now and not yet kingdom, tension is the name of the game. In Quest, we are constantly confronted with the different tensions at play. Will we either be inward focused, or outward? Will we be about Scripture or the Holy Spirit? Will we care about evangelism and discipleship or prophecy and healing? All of these tensions compete for our attention and Bill Jackson’s book, more than anything else I have read, calls me to pursue the radical middle. I could be a person of the Word and a person of the Spirit. I could care deeply about building up the church and have a deep passion to share my faith with non-believers. It’s “both and” not “either or.”
I mean, let’s be honest. The title of his book on the history of the Vineyard is a gold mine. Anyone who has grown up in an Evangelical or Pentecostal church and who has had some… reservations? concerns? questions? I don’t know… but if you’ve grown up in one of those traditions, you’ll likely realize that there are many ideas, for lack of a better word, competing for priority. Bill’s history of the Vineyard teaches us to fight against giving in and to keep the tension.
Let’s be honest. It’s super hard, but let’s keep trying.
Second, Bill taught us that history matters. Now I’m sure there are historians that would quibble with a point here and a point there or perhaps some methodological concerns, but Bill Jackson’s Quest will always get two thumbs up from me because it demonstrates that knowing our history will help us in the future. I’m sure there are many other Vineyard leaders who have asked, at least once, “Haven’t we learned from our past?” Well for many of us, the past that we know of comes via Bill’s book!
And as a kid that grew up attending a Vineyard church in the 90’s, I can totally remember when we entered into the “prophetic” and “intercession” season. Though I was a kid, I had questions and many of those questions sat dormant over the years until I read Quest, which gave me context to understand why people were moving to Kansas City to be a part of the “great end time revival” or why people were extremely turned off about prophetic ministry or prayer or things like that.
History matters for followers of Jesus. Jesus lived and ministered and died and was raised from the dead in history. We learn from our losses and we can learn from our wins. History of full of lessons and in order to have some sense of understanding in order to have some wisdom, history matters. Thanks, Bill, for teaching us that.
Third, Bill taught us to laugh. I think Bill was funny. I didn’t know him personally enough to know if he was really funny but based on his writings, I’m convinced he was funny. On page 288 of The Quest for the Radical Middle, where Bill is recounting the “Toronto Blessing,” he writes the following:
“Renewal meetings were long! But I think they were long because God doesn’t tire out very easily.”
I still laugh every time I think of those two sentences. Throughout Bill’s writings, and in the times I’ve heard him talk, he wrote and said things that are just hilarious. And yet he was serious! This may be a small thing to appreciate, but I value it nonetheless. His sense of humor was disarming.
Fourth, Bill taught us that John Wimber was human and the early Vineyard and middle Vineyard and more recent Vineyard is full of other humans. Don’t get me wrong, I love John Wimber and I love reading about our history and reading about how God used so many people in amazing ways. That being said, it’s important we realize that John Wimber and Bob Fulton and Lonnie Frisbee and all of the other people in our movement’s past aren’t Jesus! They were and/or are human beings who need Jesus just like the next person. And if we listen to them and learn from them, through Bill’s writings, we’ll realize that they didn’t want the focus to be on them anyway; rather, they wanted the focus to be on Jesus. What I love about Bill’s book on our history is that he wrote in a very gracious and kind way, extremely respectful, yet still made astute observations that reveal that there were times that decisions were made that were probably rash or done in a way that didn’t follow the pattern of Jesus. I’m thankful for that. It helps remind us that people are people and Jesus is Jesus.
Anyway, Bill lived a life that left a huge mark on my life… mostly through his writings. I’m sad that I won’t have the opportunity to ask him more questions or hear him speak or read another one of his books, but I’m really thankful that I had an opportunity to meet him in person. Like I said before, his book had a tremendous affect on me. And more importantly, I’m overjoyed to know that Bill is now with Jesus, whom he loved and served faithfully for many years.
Well done, Bill. Well done.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.