Monday, 1 December 2014

New Wine and Salvation as Wholeness

Theological debates on charismatic renewal tend to focus on its most striking features, such as practices of prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing and deliverance. My PhD-research on New Wine theology takes a different perspective, namely that of soteriology: How is salvation defined, and how does it function?

[Part 4 in a series on New Wine and systematic theology, drawn from my research master thesis Life to the Full. From Creation to Re-Creation, VU University 2014]

Theological debates on charismatic renewal tend to focus on its most striking features, such as practices of prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing and deliverance. One of the main issues often is, then, whether and to what extent the Spirit of God “still works in these ways” - and the stand taken often results from one’s own faith experiences.
Most publications within the charismatic renewal also focus on these aspects, mostly from a practical-theological approach. This quite understandable, because this is “where the rubber hits the road”. In both cases, however, the wider systematic theology  - including for instance  the doctrine of God, the doctrine of creation, or the doctrine of reconciliation - are not substantially taken into account.

It might be helpful to explore the charismatic renewal of New Wine from a different perspective, namely that of soteriology. This is the perspective I take in my PhD-research. Most certainly I intend to address practices such as prophecy and healing, but instead of treating these practices as isolated subjects, I will view them from a soteriological perspective.
Understanding the charismatic renewal from the perspective of soteriology might help to fetch its insights from the fringes of theology (or are the features of charismatic renewal merely an “optional extra”to the Christian faith, suitable for a certain type of persons?), and discover how they relate to the very heart of theology and the Christian faith, the salvation of God.

An implicit view on salvation

There is no such thing as “the New Wine soteriology”, at least not in any written form. And as a wide variety of local churches, belonging to a variety of Protestant denominations, has adopted New Wine practices, there is probably no clear, single soteriology being shared. However, the views and practices within New Wine - its lived theology - somehow are expressing an implicit view on salvation.

Briefly, salvation appears to be perceived ultimately as “wholeness”. Inner healing, release from bondages to powers that disintegrate life, growing in intimacy with God and experiencing his love and his communication through words and promptings of the Spirit - these main features reflect an expectation of growing into a greater level of wholeness of spirit, soul and body, or being welcomed to life as God intends life to be, a life to the full (John 10:10).
In terms of soteriology, then, three presuppositions can be discerned in the lived theology of New Wine:

        Salvation means wholeness. Salvation isn’t merely the imputation of a status before God, being “justified” and “sanctified” in Christ, it actually encompasses and effects wholeness of being, in all aspects of life.

        This salvation is future, but it is present too. This wholeness will not be “realized” before the consummation of the Kingdom of God, but somehow this Kingdom has been “inaugurated” in the life and ministry of Jesus, and future wholeness somehow is present already (“presence of the future”). In other words, while acknowledging that complete wholeness will only be attained on the New Earth, as all tears are wiped from our faces and all sin and evil is once and for all annihilated, we should not relegate any aspect of God’s salvation to the future. Though imperfect and provisional, believers can foretaste this salvation in the present life.

        Bringing salvation is God’s act, but the church is actively involved. The bringing about of this Kingdom and its wholeness is God’s sovereign act, but the church is to participate in this Missio dei, in the name of the Son and in the power of the Spirit, proclaiming the KIngdom by “embodying” and “enacting” it.

The Need for a Systematic Framework

From the viewpoint of wider Protestant theology three main questions pop up immediately, as we consider this New Wine perception of salvation:

        Can the salvation of God actually be understood as “wholeness of being”, or shouldn’t the vocabulary of salvation be reserved for God’s act of imputing Christ’s righteousness to sinners (in other words, to an individual's right standing before God)?

        How is God’s future salvation supposed to be present in our time? Isn’t our experience that wholeness is poignantly absent in the harsh realities of our world, suggesting rather God’s eclipse than God’s presence in the world?

        How is the church supposed to “participate” in God’s mission to bring salvation to the world? Can we really say that believers are to “enact” the Kingdom of God? In other words, how does human activity relate to God’s activity?

How then to understand these theological notions within the lived theology of New Wine - and the practices and experiences in which they surface - from a Protestant frame of reference?
Could these notions be vindicated within a Protestant soteriology? What theological resources does the theology of the Reformation offer to systematically affirm and ground these notions? Where does it rub? What boundaries would Protestant theology convey?
At which points - and how - would mainstream Protestant soteriology have to be enhanced in order to be able to adopt the discourse and experiences within the charismatic renewal of New Wine? Could this be done while remaining true to Reformation theology?
In other words, what could a Protestant soteriological framework look like, if it were to harbour these theological notions  - and the practices and experiences in which they surface - within New Wine?

This cluster of sub questions is far too extensive and comprehensive to be adequately answered in a single PhD-research, as it would almost require an entire dogmatics. Nonetheless, it is exactly such a theological framework - and a solid grounding in Protestant systematic theology - that is sorely missing still.[1] In a private email correspondence, theologian Chris Pemberton - part of the UK and international leadership of New Wine, serving as the New Wine Training Director from 2009 to 2013, and currently teaching at WTC (that he co-initiated) - confided that indeed there still is “a great need for considered reflection on these issues”, “a need for a clear systematic.”[2]

The Task of Systematic Theology

In their Christelijke dogmatiek (“Christian Dogmatics”) Dutch Reformed theologians Gijsbert van den Brink and Kees van der Kooi formulate a threefold task for systematic theology:[3] 
1). First of all, systematic theology is called to clarify the nature and content of the Christian faith through a rationally-organized exposition, thus trying to contribute to the clarification of human existence (and existential questions) in the light of Christian faith.
2). In addition to this general task, systematic theology also has a regulative function: throughout its history, the Christian faith community made “finds and discoveries” (insights into the meaning and content of the Christian faith) that it “does not want to lose just like that.”[4]
3). Thirdly, systematic theology has an innovative function. The innovative function relates to the creative function to connect this tradition to the experiences and challenges of the present, both clarifying these experiences and challenging and refining tradition.

All three functions would apply in our case of reflection on the charismatic renewal of New Wine. 

  • Clarifying: First of all, there is no such thing as a systemized “New Wine theology”, or even a systematic-theological framework that is formally agreed upon within the movement. One downside of this, is that it often is not so clear what the theology of New Wine actually is, or how coherent and consistent it is. New Wine’s appeal for charismatic renewal can easily be rejected or simply ignored by mainstream Protestantism for its lack of theological substance.
  • Regulation may be fruitful, too. Due to its lack of a systematic-theological grounding, the charismatic renewal of New Wine may be prone to theological imbalances and derailments in its praxis, as the theological tension between the emphasis on both the future and present character of salvation is hard to maintain (resorting to either future eschatology or a triumphalist realized eschatology). Besides this, proper theological reflection on its charismatic experiences and practices, connecting the charismatic renewal to its context of mainstream Protestant theology, should be inherent to charismatic renewal within the traditional churches, as concepts in its lived theology may be ill-defined, or at odds with other convictions.
  • Innovation applies, too. The experiences and practices in local faith communities are supposed to inform systematic theology, as Van den Brink and Van der Kooi argue, and the same is true of the experiences and practices within the charismatic renewal. The “lessons learned” at the grassroots of this charismatic renewal could offer valuable contributions to the innovation, enhancing, and correction, of mainstream Protestant theology.


This leads me to the following research question for my PhD-research:

How - and to what extent - could the theological notions of
1) salvation as wholeness
2) the present dimension of this future wholeness, and
3) the mediating of it through the church,
as these are perceived within the charismatic renewal of New Wine,
be vindicated and assessed within a Protestant soteriology?

The present MA-thesis - as part of this wider PhD-research - will focus on the first aspect, the theological notion of salvation as wholeness. The abridged version of the research question for this MA-thesis, then, becomes:

How - and to what extent - could the theological notion of salvation as wholeness, as this is perceived within the charismatic renewal of New Wine, be vindicated and assessed within a Protestant soteriology?

This theological notion of “wholeness” is multi-faceted within New Wine, but should be understood to comprise at least four dimensions:[10]

  • charismatic experiences of the intimate presence of God
  • experiences of healing and deliverance
  • experiences of social justice and reconciliation
  • experiences of ecological reconciliation.

My research, then, will largely consist of an exploration of resources within mainstream Protestant theology that could prove helpful to “vindicate and assess” these three theological notions.
Can these notions be affirmed within a Protestant soteriology?
Where do they need correction, or need boundaries be formulated?
Could the discourse and experiences within the charismatic renewal of New Wine perhaps offer fresh perspectives on these resources, maybe even enhancing them?
How does this understanding of salvation relate to the concept of the Kingdom of God, and should the concept of the Kingdom be as central for theology as New Wine implies?
What would the outlines be of a Protestant soteriology that indeed is able to foster this charismatic renewal, while remaining true to Reformation concerns?

Of course, this exploration of the outlines of a Protestant soteriological framework, vindicating and assessing the three presuppositions that we discerned in New Wine’s view on salvation, can only be seminal - pointing direction for further systematic research.

Series on New Wine and systematic theology:

Part 1: The First Time I Found Myself Praying in Tongues...
Part 2: A New Reality: Challenges from the Global Charismatic Movement
Part 3: The Third Wave of Charismatic Renewal: Characteristics and Theological Roots


[1] The systematic theology mostly referred to within the Vineyard-movement (but not so much within New Wine), is Wayne A. Grudem’s Systematic Theology. An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), as Grudem - an American Evangelical - has been involved with Vineyard for some years. However, his dogmatics may reflect a noncessationist view on the giftings of the Spirit, it fails to be a charismatic systematic theology of its own, as it essentially is an Evangelical dogmatics. Evangelical theologian Stanley Grenz severely criticizes Grudem’s Systematic Theology for being basically not much more than a repetition of - outdated - foundationalist Evangelical dogmatics. See Grenz, Renewing the Center. Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000, 2006).
[2] Private email correspondence; quote from an email message sent on September 10, 2013.
[3] Gijsbert van den Brink and Kees van der Kooi, Christelijke dogmatiek (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2012), 24, 37-40.
[4] Translation is mine. Note that their understanding of this regulative function is considerably more modest than that of traditional “propositional” dogmatics, but more normative than mere “experiential” theology. See George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine. Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984); also Kees van der Kooi, Goed gereedschap maakt het verschil. Over de plaats en functie van de christelijke dogmatiek (Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit, 2008), inaugural speech, in which Van der Kooi distinguishes between “clarification”, the “normative and correctional task”, “exploration and innovation”, and “orientation and interpretation in daily life.”

[10] See both the previous paragraphs, and the next chapter.

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