An Appraisal of the Signs and Wonders Movement -- By: Ken L. Sarles

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 145:577 (Jan 1988)
Article: An Appraisal of the Signs and Wonders Movement
Author: Ken L. Sarles

An Appraisal of the Signs and Wonders Movement

Ken L. Sarles

Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Field Education
Dallas Theological Seminary

One of the most remarkable developments in American evangelicalism over the last decade has been the appearance of a new phenomenon known as the “Signs and Wonders movement.” The movement is a blending of evangelical commitments and charismatic practices. Those associated with this recent trend affirm the continuation of all the miraculous gifts mentioned in the New Testament and yet refuse to be labeled Pentecostals or charismatics.1 In this regard the following statement is enlightening:

Our backgrounds, both Dispensational and Reformed, taught us to believe that the overt gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the apostles. To pass our theological exams we all adopted the party line. After varying lengths of time in pastoral ministry, however, each of us came to the same basic conclusions: (1) the cessation of particular gifts was not taught in Scripture; (2) the church was desperately weak and anemic because of the lack of these gifts; and (3) what we were seeing in our own experience suggested that these gifts were available for the church today.1

How could such divergent movements as Pentecostalism and dispensational or Reformed evangelicalism converge to produce a new theological hybrid? What are the distinctives of this newly formed matrix and how should those distinctives be evaluated? An attempt will be made to address these questions by considering both the emergence and emphases of the Signs and Wonders movement.

Emergence of the Signs and Wonders Movement

The rise of the movement can be traced through the intersecting ministries of two key individuals: C. Peter Wagner, professor of missions at Fuller Theological Seminary and John Wimber, pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California.2

The Ministry of C. Peter Wagner

On the foreign field. Wagner served as a missionary in Bolivia for 16 years, during which time he opposed what he considered to be Pentecostal excesses.3 He remarks, “I remember well when the Pentecostal faith healers set up their tent in the city where I lived as a missionary in Bolivia. I was incensed. I told the members of my church not to go. I wrote a nationally circulated article against it.”4 But he adds that he now affirms what he once denied. The change in his th...

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