The Quest for the Radical Middle: A Historical Introduction
In 1925, fundamentalist prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan, was bitterly defeated by the atheist, Clarence Darrow, with the acquittal of John Scopes, a science teacher who had been accused of teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom. After that, Fundamentalism, once on the cutting edge of both evangelism and social action in America, submerged into an isolated subculture. It was not until the early 1940s that some of these fundamentalists shed the trappings of their self-induced, insular prison by refusing to embrace any longer the false dichotomy between head and heart. They initiated a new brand of Christianity that was passionate not just for evangelism but also for engaging liberals on their own ground by producing their own scholars. Calling themselves “evangelicals” this new brand of Christianity embraced the radical middle between head and heart. These new scholars began to write books at a clip, thus calling for new publishing houses like Zondervan, Eerdmans and Baker, and journals like Christianity Today.
Sadly, however, the new Evangelicalism never embraced the biblical tension between the Word and the Spirit and rejected healing, deliverance and signs and wonders, experiences associated with Pentecostalism. Despite the inclusion of Pentecostals within the newly formed “National Association of Evangelicals,” Evangelicals rejected this branch of Christianity doctrinally because of the Pentecostal conviction of the need for a second work of grace subsequent to salvation they called “the baptism in the Holy Ghost” (to use the language of their Bible, the King James Version. This “baptism” was an empowerment for service that was evidenced by speaking in tongues, as the one hundred twenty did on the day of Pentecost in Acts. This is where they got the name “Pentecostals.”
After being kept at bay from Pentecostal experience for the better part of a century, in the 1980s, John Wimber and others began to experience the release of the power of the Spirit without demanding a second work of grace. Based on Paul’s understanding that introduction into the Body of Christ was to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor 12.13; Eph 4.4) and exhorted believers to be continually “filled” with the Spirit (Eph 5.18), Wimber taught “one baptism, many fillings.” This explanation made sense of both the theology of Paul but also the repeated fillings recorded in Acts, thus removing the doctrinal blockage of “second blessings with tongues.” Having removed the barrier, Wimber and others began to travel the globe teaching evangelicals how to heal the sick and cast out demons by stepping out to take risks rather than tarrying to receive a second move of grace. Such second, third and fourth (ad infinitum) experiences of empowerment were available, of course, but along the way, not prior to, as if they were the doorway into supernatural activity. In doing so, conversion was made the consummate change from the era of the old age to the era of the new age. Now what remained was to get to know the Spirit the same way someone get to know the Father and the Son, through relationship and intimacy associated with taking steps of faith. Wimber used to say that if Christians would just step out, God would “back up their act” by bringing the gifts of the Spirit when they needed them.
It was Rich Nathan and Kevin Springer who coined the term “empowered evangelicals” in their book by the same name, to describe
this new group of evangelicals who stood firmly inside the camp but simply added healing and deliverance to their toolkit. Anxious to continue to embrace the head and heart qualities typical within historic evangelicalism, this new group of radical middle, Word and Spirit people began to write books to chronicle their work. This called again for new publishing houses such as Vineyard International Press in Cape Town, South Africa, Ampelōn in Boise, Idaho, and Harmon Press, in Seattle Washington. They also began to produce a number of fine magazines such as First Fruits, Voice of the Vineyard, Vineyard Reflections, and the excellent Cutting Edge. These publishing houses and magazines—and there will be others—are beginning to produce the very literature Don Williams prophesied about in 1989 (see “What is the Radical Middle”).
Welcome to radicalmiddleministries.org! Radical Middle Ministries (RMM) is an organization on mission to provide resources to equip the Church for the work of The Great Commission. The late Bill ‘Jax’ Jackson founded RMM and his life’s work is the heartbeat behind RMM. The resources on this site are either the direct works of Jax or works similar in nature to the works Jax poured his life into.
The ‘radical middle’ is the beautiful intersection of the Word and the Spirit. As empowered evangelicals we are grounded in the Word of God while listening to the Spirit of God as He leads us into mission. Radical middle people want to be about both the Word and the works of Jesus. Jesus both proclaimed the reality of the kingdom of God and demonstrated the power of the kingdom. Our call is to go and do likewise.
Called by a number of names such as empowered evangelicalism or the Third Wave movement, this group now spans the globe in multiple denominations such as the Vineyard, the Anglican Mission, Acts 29, Antioch Network, New Wine and Soul Survivor.
In a plenary session at the Vineyard pastors’ conference in 1989, Vineyard theologian, Don Williams, made a prophetic statement. While talking about this new empowered evangelical paradigm, Don said, “all the books need to be rewritten now.” What he meant was that the Vineyard was a part of an emerging third position in-between Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism that would call for new thinking, new literature and new books written by those who not only affirm that in Christ the end of the ages has dawned but are committed to calling for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven to “do the stuff” of the kingdom as John Wimber used to say. Kingdom thinkers must therefore, by definition, be also practitioners of the kingdom who step out to take risks to win the lost, heal the sick, deliver the demonized, and reach out to care for and disciple the poor. This is why this movement has been associated with signs and wonders. We enact and confirm the in-break of God’s reign over his realm as we await the full consummation at the end of the age at the return of Christ.
The resources on this site, therefore, will reflect those that endeavor to write and sing about doing the things Jesus did. They will strive and lead the way in walking in the radical middle between Word and Spirit. Peter told his listeners on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit of prophecy, as predicted in Joel 2.28-32, had been fulfilled. Peter then went on to show that God himself had pledged that his people would receive revelatory information in association with the Spirit that was going to be “in them.” This promise was not just for the apostles but was for “you and your children” (Is 59.21). As John Wimber used to say, “everyone gets to play” and those contributing to this site will be those who will show the way forward in the development and practice of kingdom theology. This does not preclude Christians from having radical encounters with the Spirit to empower us for various kinds of service—indeed they will—but the key is embracing Jesus axiom expressed by John Wimber so well, faith is spelled r-i-s-k. God will be true to his Word and back up those who step out in faith and take risks to advance the kingdom. They will know what the Father is doing (Jn 5.19) by the Spirit and to release God’s kingdom in authority.