by Robert Brow  (web site -

Three years ago Mark Stibbe wrote Times of Refreshing: A Practical Theology of Revival,  London : Marshall Pickering, 1995. The usual Evangelical approach is to study the Bible, and deduce from that what Christians should approve or reject, do or not do. Stibbe argued that Charismatic hermeneutics often begins with an experience of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our day, and that illuminates some unexpected Bible teaching. We say THIS is THAT.

Here is a review of an article that questions some of Stibbe's methods: John Lyons, "The Fourth Wave and the Approaching Millennium: Some Problems with Charismatic Hermeneutics," Anvil 15.3, 1998,

Lyons begins by explaining that "The 'first wave" refers to the birth of Pentecostalism in the Azusa Street revival of 1906." The second wave is "the rise of the charismatic renewal in the mainline denominations." It began with the episcopalian Dennis Bennett. The third wave "is a movement within the Protestant evangelical churches, linked with the signs and wonders of John
Wimber." John Lyons points out that "Third wavers do not believe in Pentecostalism's second blessing, seeing the gift of the Spirit as taking place at conversion, albeit with subsequent fillings."  (171)

John Lyons' quarrel is with Mark Stibbe's fourth wave interpretation of Ezekiel 47:1-12. He rightly noted that Stibbe thought that "the Toronto Blessing which began in January 1994 is the crest of the fourth wave which will see global revival taking place before the end of this century." (172) Stibbe admits he could be wrong on that.

Lyons also suggests, I think without proving this, that Stibbe has adopted "the eschatology of Restorationism ." (172-173) In his rejoinder Stibbe flatly denies this (189).

But the real thrust of John Lyons' paper is hermeneutics. "Despite his insistence that the renewal should be built upon scriptural foundations, Stibbe is now implying that the largely conservative exegesis that he uses to form those foundations is inadequate for Christian praxis in the fourth wave." (173).

Lyon points out that a recognised charismatic leader can claim an authority for his pronouncements independent of Scripture. "Stibbe's prophetic exegesis is no different from a prophecy uttered using non-biblical language . . . It is the very ability of the community to reject his exegesis that is in question." (179). He concludes that "The final arbiters of the exegesis are likely to be those in positions of power and not the community of the Spirit." (180).

Lyons is obviously right in pointing out the dangers of "spiritual nepotism." (179) My problem is that this exists in a much stronger form among conservative evangelicals. Who would dare to disagree with John Stott's pronouncements on law court substitution, or Jim Packer on the ordination of women, or the pre-millenial statements of faith of many missionary societies and
Bible Schools? Others suggest that no one has a right to interpret the Bible unless they have accepted the indubitable conclusions of Dallas, or Westminster, or Tubingen, or Yale. Friends will recognize that this jaundiced opinion is based on my own experience !

The plain fact is that there is no source of absolute authority that will indubitably give us a correct exegesis. God has not given us the right to give imprimaturs. What he does seem to bless is people talking to each other, seeing what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through the Bible, and never prejudging what God might do next.

My impression is that the four waves of the Spirit in this century have produced innumerable false and ignorant prophecies, and many charismatic leaders have led their people like sheep into legalism, discipling pyramids, and very dubious ethics. In that sense John Lyon is absolutely correct.

But the four waves have also given us huge church growth in South America, and for the first time thousands of young people have found themselves at home in our churches. Without the charismatic movement the Anglican Church of England would be in its usual dismal state.

I would like to elaborate on the much bigger menace of denominational hermeneutics. We easily complain about some aspects of Roman Catholic and current papal exegesis. But most of our evangelical denominations and missionary societies in North America have set in stone pre-millenial statements of faith that prevent creative study of the Scriptures. "That is already
settled, and if you rock our boat, you are dismissed."

Happily C.S.Lewis was "charismatically inspired" to show us a way around this massive exegetical fortress. All you have to do is write The Chronicles of Narnia. Millions of children and a few adults will escape by the back portcullis. The impregnable Wheaton has already built a tomb for the prophet. Even better, Philip Yancey manages to write editorials in CT and books
that totally undermine the older Conservative hermeneutics. Lewis and Yancey could of course be wrong, but they manage to charm us because they don't attack conservative statements of faith from the front.

It is also important to note that Lewis, Yancey, and Stibbe are firmly within the universal Church's Nicene Creed. That Creed seems to me sufficient to give us "certain parameters which are regarded as part of the boundaries of Christian Orthodoxy" (John Lyons, Anvil, 15.3, p.178).


Mark Stibbe responded to John Lyon with "This is That: Some Thoughts Concerning Charismatic Hermeneutics," Anvil 5:3, 1988, pp.181-193.

Two years ago I commended Mark Stibbe, Times of Refreshing: A Practical theology of Revival, London: Marshall Pickering, 1999. In this article Stibbe defends himself against criticisms of his method by John Lyons and others, which he now clarifies as follows :

1. AN EXPERIENTIAL READING "The hermeneutical process often begins with the Holy Spirit working upon a person's heart and impressing him or her with a burning sense of the relevance of certain Scriptures for his situation." (183)

2. ANALOGICAL (pesher interpretation). "A charismatic hermeneutic begins with the story of what God is doing now, and then proposes analogies with the over-arching meta-narratives of Scripture." (185)

3. A COMMUNAL READING "Biblical interpretation is undertaken in a community and for a community". (186)

4. A CHRISTOLOGICAL READING (as in Acts 2:22-36) "A fresh sense of the glory and lordship of Jesus Christ." (187)

5. AN ESCHATALOGICAL READING "Emphasis on both the 'now' and the 'not yet' of the kingdom of God. (188)

6. AN EMOTIONAL READING "The emotions must be involved in our reading of Scripture, and indeed in our response to Scripture." (190)

7. A PRACTICAL READING "We must always ask, 'What is the consequence or fruit of such interpretations?" (192)

I liked a couple of Stibbe's quotes from Dr. John Mackay : "The bulk of current biblical interpretation, whether conservative or liberal, is the work of the natural mind searching for meaning in God's word using the common techniques of scholarship shared with other secular disciplines, such as history, literary criticism, or philosophy." (p.25)

And from Clark Pinnock : "It is important that individual Christians exist in a network and community of committed others, because so often truth emerges not from the struggles of the individual, but from the life of the whole community which participates in the Spirit ("The Work of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics," Journal of Pentecostal Theology, 2, 1993, p.23.

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