Locating the Vineyard’s history is much easier than predicting our future, depending on who you speak to. The influence of the Quakers, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism is well known amongst students of Vineyard history but how other traditions will shape our future is less known, though quite important.

Bill Jackson famously noted that the Vineyard was the radical middle between Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, an example of the alleged “Third Wave.”[1] As I consider our past and the present theological landscape of the Vineyard, I believe that part of being “Vineyard” is working hard to avoid what becomes for us theological ditches.

Their “Road” is Our “Ditch”

I can already feel the blood boiling of all ecumenists, so let me explain. I’m 100% onboard with learning from other traditions and have argued for that in my dissertation, as well as several papers (here and here). And I’m convinced that there are theological centers for other movements that are good and right and helpful. But I’m also convinced that James K. A. Smith was correct when he suggested that the Vineyard needs to “drink from our own wells” and that we have something unique to contribute to the wider Body of Christ. As we become our pneumatically empowered authentic self, we can help others. In the same way that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy has something to offer us in the Vineyard, the Vineyard has something to offer back!

So I think part of “being Vineyard” and developing our theological language includes a sense of “avoiding ditches,” ideas that derail us from who God has called us to be and undermine the way that we read and apply Scripture. The roads that other Christian pilgrims take have the ability to end up being ditches for us, places we get “stuck” or missional progresses is significantly slowed down.

Well-known “Ditches”

Evangelical Cessationism and Pentecostal hyper-supernaturalism would be two examples of extremes that the “third wave” has sought to avoid. We’ve found that rejecting the continuation of certain spiritual gifts as well as manipulative pressure culture are two ditches we want to avoid.

These two examples, of course, are low hanging fruit for anyone in the Vineyard. What are some other “ditches” that we want to avoid? While I think there are a lot of theological ideas that could become “ditches,” I participated in a conversation today that raised two that I encounter quite often amongst people…

Roman Catholic Dispensational Landmines™

Recently my friend, Rose Swetman, asked a great question on a social media forum:

“Do you think the Church and the Kingdom are synonymous? Why or why not?”

The Vineyard has historically followed the teachings of John Wimber (who followed George Eldon Ladd’s kingdom theology) and distinguished between the Kingdom of God and the Church. They are, according to historic Vineyard theology, not synonymous.[2] To suggest that they are synonymous, I believe, raises some significant theological problems, especially in relation to understanding the Missio Dei. Christopher Wright articulates this well when he states:

“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission –God’s mission.” – Chris Wright, The Mission of God’s People

Or, to build off of Howard Snyder, the dynamic rule and reign of God, his kingdom, has a community and that community is called the Church.

Several others commented in a way that seemed to suggest that they are tempted not to distinguish between the kingdom and the Church due to a desire to have a high view of the Church. This idea finds some support in Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Given that there is a weak and low ecclesiology in much of Protestantism, I’m sympathetic to this line of thinking and, therefore, understand the temptation to conflate the kingdom with the Church. But I think McKnight’s arguments and chief concerns in that book end up becoming problematic for us in the Vineyard (plus, I hear McKnight has backed away from this a bit). Moreover, I think it is a mistake to buy into the notion that having a high view of the Church requires us to conflate the kingdom with the Church. We can and should have a high ecclesiology while having an equally rich and robust understanding of the kingdom.

If we take too high an ecclesiology, we end up in Roman Catholicism. If we take too low a view on the kingdom, we end up Dispensationalists. And while I know we have much to learn from Catholicism, there are some theological requirements within Roman Catholicism that I’m inclined to reject; and it’s well known that I find little within Dispensationalism that I find helpful (apologies to my Dispensational friends!). One of the greatest challenges we have is to co-opt theological positions that end up neutering our Kingdom theology and praxis, so pay close attention!

So avoid the landmines and ditches! It’s part of being a Vineyard theologian!

Any ditches you identify? What would you add?


[1] The term “third wave” is used to describe churches that embrace the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit while rejecting the Pentecostal doctrines of subsequent Spirit-baptism and initial evidence of tongues. The idea is that the “first wave” was the Pentecostal movement and the “second wave” the Charismatic movement. While there are distinctions between these “waves,” Allan Anderson has noted that this is a very American way of reading history because there have been many other “waves” throughout church history.

[2] See five reasons why in George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 109–117.

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