The Gospel Driven Church

As the polemical title suggests, The Gospel-Driven Church is an analysis of the contemporary charismatic movement which, in the opinion of the author, while starting out with massive promise has now lost its way and is now in danger of ecclesial marginalisation.

The book is hard hitting and uncomfortable and made all the more powerful and even palatable given the fact that the author has spent all his ministry in charismatic circles (he is currently Pastoral Leader of Guildford Baptist Church). If what I read was penned by a known cessationist I may well have thrown it across the room long before getting to the end!

Stackhouse's contention is that this faddism is itself a symptom of a mis-placed revivalism in which people have turned to any number of methodologies in an attempt to realise revival. As the author states, the general culture in the charismatic-evangelical world in the west is still waiting for a spectacular and unprecedented evangelistic breakthrough and to this end many revivalists are seemingly prepared to try anything and everything to make it happen.

As I read I found myself in agreement with much of Stackhouse's analysis: the spurious biblical basis for strategic level prayer warfare, the fatal error of pursuing cultural relevance over faithfulness, the cult of the numbers game, the ascendancy of theological pragmatism and the 'me-centred' spirituality of some of our modern hymnody - all these themes resonated loud and clear as they have been things that have vexed me over recent years.

I did wonder, however, if the author at times bordered on throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater in his thorough and far reaching critique. For example, his assessment of the Alpha course (quoting Stephen Hunt) as ‘forcing the expected revival and fulfilling prophecy…a way of dealing with the discord resulting from the unfulfilled expectations of the Toronto Blessing’ seems wide of the mark.

It seems to me that the architects of the Alpha course would share with Stackhouse the same concern that revivalism can lead to the collective amnesia he highlights - in this case suspending the great commission in favour of quietistic paralysis - and that the Alpha initiative runs counter to this.

It is not that Stackhouse's book is strong on diagnosis and devoid of cure; it contains some compelling sections on recovering the old paths and how a charismatic spirituality can come of age by being rooted in the gospel and the sacraments of the church.

Stackhouse ends his book by stating: ‘What the experience of charismatic renewal is now confirming is that without serious theological critique of some of its most cherished aspirations, it could very quickly move to the periphery of serious and relevant Christian activity’. It is this serious theological critique that the author himself delivers in an articulate and impassioned way, and to that end he has done all of us a great service.