A Former Fuller Professor Becomes a Lightning Rod in the Presidential Race

I didn’t know much about evangelicalism when I matriculated at Fuller Seminary in 1990.  I went there because a close family friend was a professor, and because I’d just spent four years on the East Coast — I thought some California sun would be nice.  I completely enjoyed my time there, and I was intellectually challenged by the likes of Nancey Murphy, Jim McClendon, and Miroslav Volf.

So it came as a surprise to me when, sitting in the office of Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke, I was told that my Fuller degree would cripple my application to the Duke Ph.D. program.  Indeed, in the Spring of 1994, I was rejected at Duke, Yale, Emory, and the University of Chicago.  Of course, I have no idea what role my Fuller pedigree played in those rejection.

C. Peter Wagner

But if Fuller was looked down on in the academy, it may have been thanks to C. Peter Wagner.

Wagner was a professor at Fuller when I was a student there.  I never took a class from him, as I am highly dubious of his brand of Christianity, but many of my peers did.  Wagner’s classes were rife with healings (usually leg-lengthenings) and maps showing the “territorial demons” that had carved up Los Angeles County for their dominions.  He played audio tapes in his class that he had recorded during exorcisms.

Fuller was smart to part ways with Wagner in 2001, when he retired after 30 year there.  And, in my experience, an M.Div. from Fuller nowadays is seen as academically on par with the top seminaries and divinity schools.

But Wagner is still up to his silliness.  As reported this week in the WaPo, his attendance at a Rick Perry prayer rally has some looking at the ties between the two:

More recently, C. Peter Wagner, an expert in church growth, has become a lightning rod for critics of dominionism, largely because of the extensive research of Talk2Action.org, a liberal investigative site, and one of its writers, Rachel Tabachnik.

Wagner is a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who had noted the rapid spread of independent Pentecostal churches. In 1974, he dubbed the trend the New Apostolic Reformation, and eventually became a leader among these churches. He is now considered an apostle along with his wife Doris, who specializes in healing.

Wagner sharpened the Pentecostal focus on spiritual warfare, through books with titles such as, “Breaking Strangleholds in Your City (Prayer Warriors).” He trains people to use intense direct prayer and other strategies to fight demonic control of specific cities or regions. In addition, he promotes the “seven mountains” philosophy of placing Christians in positions of influence, but insists it is no stealth plan for a Christian-only government. Wagner said that most of the church leaders he works with believe that both major parties are under demonic influence — not just the Democrats — although some individual politicians are “kingdom-minded.” Church members are deeply frustrated about politicians promising to outlaw abortion and address other social issues, but never fulfilling this pledge, Wagner said.

“There’s nobody that I know — there may be some fringe people — who would even advocate a theocracy,” Wagner said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where his ministries are based. “We honor those who have other kinds of faith.”

via Apostles, prophets … and Republicans? Obscure religious belief haunts presidential race – The Washington Post.

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  • C. Ehrlich

    I listened to his recent Fresh Air interview. Wagner struck me as a delightfully humble, honest and considerate soul (untouched by Terry Gross’s completely unsympathetic skepticism). His replies, however, seemed to lack the hallmarks of critical thinking I expect from a professor. It was the logical form of his replies that I most noticed–not so much their content (which I already expected to sound absurd). This might have been due to the constraints of the interview, senility, etc.

  • M. Horn

    Wagner is “still up to his silliness”? What does that mean? Politics aside, what I love about your blogs and books is your willingness to make room (tolerance) for other viewpoints and perspectives on spiritual issues. I think if you had a personal conversation with Peter Wagner you might find him to be a nice, gentle and warmhearted guy, who also has an intellectual side to his personality. We don’t have to agree with all of his theology, especially his politics, but we love the “multiple streams” and perspectives that characterize the Body of Christ. I do think you’re amazing Tony and I love your blogs. They are challenging many of my paradigms! Thanks!!

  • While I don’t think Peter Wagner’s reputation had anything to do with not gaining acceptance into the Duke Ph.D. program, I can say that Peter Wagner’s presence on campus during the 80s and 90s became problematic as he engaged in his work with John Wimber.

    It should be noted that Wagner was affiliated with the School of World Mission, not the School of Theology. He was Don McGavran’s successor as Church Growth professor. What made Wagner different from McGavran was that he tried to take McGavran’s ideas on people movements into the American scene, and developed the much derided homogeneous principle.

    His later movement into spiritual warfare and dominionism placed him far from the center at the Fuller I knew as an M.Div student, a Ph.D. student, and later as an adjunct/visiting professor at Fuller.

    He is part of Fuller’s history, but then so was Harold Lindsell, who spent much of his later years attacking Fuller as apostate.

  • bob c
  • Tony, glad to see you covering this. I have written a substantive analysis of the article you quote and link to, including a critique of what Wagner claims he believes about dominionism, in a blog post here http://debatingobama.blogspot.com/2011/10/normal.html
    The issues at play in this debate reach well beyond Wagner, but he has become a lightning rod for good reason. I have further posts about his troubling theology and practice here
    and here
    and here

  • Wagner has written about the healings that he claims took place in his MC 510: Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth class.

    Wagner may have sounded honest and humble in his Terry Gross interview, as noted in one comment. However, while he was forthcoming about his work with Ted Haggard and his ideas about apostolic government of the church, he was less than honest about his demonization of others. This includes literal demonization of the Roman Catholic Church and other religions, which he claims are controlled by “demonic principalities.”

    Wagner and his apostles and prophets claim that their “strategic level spiritual warfare” including spiritual mapping and prayer warfare have resulted in destruction of religious statues and buildings, and the maiming and death of others. Wagner has even claimed that one spiritual warfare excursion of top leadership in 1997 may have resulted in fires, earthquakes, and the death of Mother Teresa! The NAR’s “Transformations” series of movies also claim that their prayer warfare can result in the supernatural destruction of the property of people of other beliefs, and romanticize the scapegoating and demonization of other human beings.

    Wagner was also less than honest about what he means by “dominionism.” He has written extensively about the agenda of the New Apostolic Reformation including a 2008 book titled Dominionism!, and is quite clear when he speaks to friendly audiences that this is indeed about taking control over the “seven mountains” of society and government. There is extensive media available showing Wagner and other apostles’ statements about taking “control,” “ruling,” and “possessing the land.”

    See http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/10/4/22259/4160 and

  • While, as my colleague Rachel Tabachnick notes, C. Peter Wagner was less than honest at points in his interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, are Wagner’s personal traits the issue here? The point, for me at least, concerns not Peter Wagner as a personality but, rather, Wagner’s ideas. Peter Wagner’s claim, to Terry Gross, during his Fresh Air interview, that he and his movement respect pluralism is radically contradicted by Wagner’s own writing, and by writing from his close movement colleagues in the New Apostolic Reformation.

    For example, repeatedly in his writings Peter Wagner has cited, as a model for “social transformation”, the exploits of Girolamo Savonarola (see first link, below), instigator of the infamous Florentine “Bonfire of the Vanities”. By a number of accounts, under Savonarola’s influence the Renaissance master Botticelli consigned several of his paintings to the flames of Savonarola’s pyre.

    Less well known are Savonarola’s epic attempts to force through legislation mandating burning at the stake as a capital punishment for sodomy. Peter Wagner does not mention this aspect, though he does trace the “dominion” theology of his movement through the ideas of Christian Reconstructionism founder R.J. Rushdoony, who favored “Biblical” capital punishments of stoning and burning at the stake for a variety of alleged crimes including homosexuality, adultery, “female unchastity”, idolatry, blasphemy, and witchcraft.

    Wagner and other top leaders in his movement (such as Cindy Jacobs, Ed Silvoso, and Chuck Pierce) seem in their own fashion as extreme as Rushdoony, having advocated in their writings that believers should burn Books of Mormon and objects associated with Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i, and various splinter Protestant sects as well.

    I have documented this here: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/9/14/192516/418

    On another front, we can find Wagner enthusiastically advocating a “theology of war” in which “spiritual warfare” is part of a continuum with actual warfare, as carried out with bullets and bombs.

    Below is a quote from a talk Wagner gave at a 2006 conference. You can see the actual footage that corresponds with the transcription at the link below. Wagner’s zeal for Christian warfare does not seem to square well with the majority of scripture from the New Testament.


    [C. Peter Wagner, at the November 2-4, 2006 “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!” deliverance conference held at the Sonrise Chapel in Everett, WA (near Seattle)]

    “Let me give you at least one more point – we must reject anti-war movements. We must reject anti-war movements. And I have, I hate to report it, well I hate to report that one of the things that’s slowing us down in the war in Iraq is anti-war movements.

    I mean, I remember Vietnam – you know, don’t you? I mean, you know who helped, who helped – ’cause that’s the first war we ever lost. You know what helped us lose that war? – Jane Fonda. See? Now, she’s changed back, she’s been converted and everything since but I’m telling, but some of the influences she had, in the anti-war movement, she didn’t help America, she helped the enemy. See? And, um, and we can’t put up with this in spiritual warfare. We can’t put up with anti-war movements.

    And, there are some, I hate to report it, there are some people who are against war. And I think that should stop. I think the whole Body of Christ needs to get on the page that we are in war.”

    My late father, a Methodist minister, left his ministry due to, in large part, controversy within the church over his work against the Vietnam War–a conflict I have studied to some extent. I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam last summer, and went to the “War Remnants” museum in Hanoi, which features documentation of the pattern of birth defects among Vietnamese children held to result from the heavy use of Agent Orange during the war. The Vietnamese Red Cross claims that perhaps 3 million children have suffered congenital defects of various sorts from the Dioxin in the Agent Orange defoliant. The United States, not surprisingly, puts forth a much lower figure.

    Then there’s Iraq – last I checked (several years have gone by) the Iraqi government figure for Iraqi orphans stood at 4-5 million.

    Point being that America’s wars in Iraq and Vietnam, which Wagner specifically cites as wars that should have be (or have been) “won” (what “winning” would possibly have meant or entailed, in these cases, is an interesting question to ponder) caused horrific levels of civilian suffering and casualties.

    I am not arguing here against so-called “just” wars. But these two wars seemed to me far less than necessary. The human toll does not seem to weigh heavily on Peter Wagner’s conscience.

    I grew up in a Christian tradition which emphasized that the message of Jesus, and the way to follow him, was to work for peace. C. Peter Wagner’s sense of Christianity is very, very, different. He seems to view the church at war–both with entire geographic regions (and the people therein, it would seem) and with whole world religious traditions. There is nothing wrong with evangelizing. But there is a difference, I would submit, between evangelizing and the eradication of all competing belief systems.

  • I have done a post using Tony’s piece and some of the comments to it. http://debatingobama.blogspot.com/2011/10/tony-jones-on-c-peter-wagner.html