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Transatlantic Charismatic Renewal, c.1950-2000 edited by Andrew Atherstone, Mark P. Hutchinson, and John Maiden

29 July 2022

Christopher Landau looks at the history of Charismatic renewal

IF YOU are in search of intriguing titbits of historical information about certain high-profile members of the Church of England, this collection of academic essays may turn out to be an unlikely source of material. The chapters vary in focus: some consider the history of post-war renewal in an entire country, while others offer a much more tightly defined vista.

Ian Randall’s history of two decades in Cambridge provides abundant detail, including an account of the move of a group of undergraduates — among them, one Justin Welby — from the (conservative Evangelical) Round Church to St Matthew’s, which was experiencing dramatic Charismatic renewal. This was the same church as Nicky Gumbel, Nicky Lee, and Ken Costa (all subsequently serving for many decades in clerical and lay positions at Holy Trinity, Brompton) attended, in search of what Jonathan Aitken later called “more adventurous Spirit-led churchgoing”.

A chapter considering the ministry of John Wimber will be of particular interest to Anglicans keen to consider his influence on the Church of England, begun through visits to St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, and St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, in 1981. As Andrew Atherstone writes, Wimber’s “transatlantic engagements were memorable and sometimes dramatic — at Chorleywood, for example, there was ‘holy chaos’ as many fell down in the pews”. Significant consideration is given to the ecumenical dimension of Wimber’s ministry — including his stated desire to see a range of denominations present at conferences that he led.

The authors use an introductory chapter to set the specific examples explored in broader context. Noting the significance of David Bebbington’s quadrilateral describing Evangelical Protestantism (conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism), they propose five “family traits” of Charismatic experience: primitivism (recovering the Charismatic heritage of the Early Church), emergence (the cultivation of Charismatic life within an existing tradition), experimentalism (the taking of risks to discern and experience God’s action), expressionism (an emphasis on material embodiment in worship, as well as related musical and written materials to purchase), and presentism (a focus on, and pursuit of, the immediate presence of God).

Pat ThomasArchbishop Burnett of Cape Town (centre) and other bishops dance for joy during a eucharist for renewal in Canterbury Cathedral, just before Lambeth 1978

Apart from these observations, there is no overarching thesis beyond the need to take local complexity seriously in the overall story of renewal. In an epilogue, Bebbington himself explores the extent to which Charismatic renewal existed in continuity with earlier Pentecostal innovations. Although baptism with the Holy Spirit “was regarded in both movements as the opening of a new and deeper phase of Christian life”, there were marked differences — not least concerning the perceived necessity of speaking in tongues. Bebbington concludes: “Pentecostals were firm Protestants; charismatics were not.”

The contemporary Church of England has undeniably been shaped by the impact of the renewal movements explored in this volume. It offers many instructive insights into a set of spiritual developments which took many mainline denominations, on both sides of the Atlantic, by some considerable surprise.

The Revd Dr Christopher Landau is the director of ReSource, the successor organisation to Anglican Renewal Ministries.


Transatlantic Charismatic Renewal, c.1950-2000
Andrew Atherstone, Mark P. Hutchinson, and John Maiden, editors
Brill £85.68

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