Religious Revolt: New Christian Sect Battles Demons, Raises the Dead, Campaigns for Sarah Palin
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What is happening to Christianity?
In 1996 a team from Ted Haggard's New Life Church flew to Mali and began furtively anointing entire towns with cooking oil.
The strangeness of it gripped Dutch missionary René Holvast, who later wrote: "It was confusing and produced a growing uneasiness. It did not seem to fit our current evangelical theological and anthropological textbooks."
The team from Haggard's church was a forerunner in a missionary wave that has washed over the world since the early 1990s, bringing what Holvast calls a ‘new paradigm.'
René Holvast has theological training, but his perplexed reaction was similar to that of Alix Spiegel, a radio journalist who went to Ted Haggard's New Life Church in 1997 to do a story for This American Life. Spiegel encountered something so alluring, even overwhelming, that the secular, urban Jew was almost pulled in. (After several days at Ted Haggard's church, Spiegel called This American Life's Ira Glass who -- as if he were a deprogrammer weaning her from a cult -- had to convince Alix Spiegel that she really belonged back in her secular realm of origin, Chicago.)
From its early days, New Life Church's members worked to map out all the territorial demon spirits inhabiting Colorado Springs. At some point in the process, they fed the mapping information into a computer database. Methodically -- street by street, block by block -- they used prayer-warfare to expel the demons from their city. And they maintained a 24/7 prayer shield over Colorado Springs to prevent demon re-infestations. As with inner-city cockroaches, the price of demon-free living was constant vigilance.
Alix Spiegel called some of the practices she saw at Haggard's church "medieval," while René Holvast described this new way as incommensurable with modern Christianity:
Conversations and discussions with some missionary colleagues did not seem to lead to mutual understanding. The usual evangelical ways of reasoning fell mute. It seemed to be not just a different way of understanding, but a different way of reasoning altogether.
In fact, at the very time Holvast and Spiegel encountered it, the ‘new paradigm' had just been invented. In the period of the late 1980s through the early 1990s, a group of quintessentially American tinkerers grafted new practices of ‘spiritual mapping' and ‘spiritual warfare' onto a peculiar and radical theological substrate emerging from the Latter Rain and healing revivals that burst out in Canada and North America during the late 1940s.
They molded their hybridized new Christianity into a standardized package of ideas and practices such that, by the late 1990s, they began exporting the product from Colorado Springs to both the domestic American market and internationally at an astonishing rate.
It was as newfangled as Henry Ford's Model T had been and, like Ford's car, it quickly became established, even ubiquitous, on every continent but Antarctica.
In 2009, one can now watch YouTube video footage of Christians from all over the earth practicing the same, very new form of the faith that features the blowing of shofars and the "Davidic dance" -- using very distinctive, recently minted, theological terms. There was a common origin. For practical purposes, Colorado Springs was the Dearborn, Michigan of the next Christianity.
A New Reformation?
This development has not gone wholly unnoticed. Here's how an Atlantic Monthly editor portentously introduced historian Philip Jenkins' October 2002 article, " The Next Christianity":
We stand at a historical turning point, the author argues -- one that is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation. Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see. Tumultuous conflicts within Christianity will leave a mark deeper than Islam's on the century ahead.
Jenkins accurately depicted the radical nature of the ‘religious revolution' underway which, he wrote, "one might equate with the Counter-Reformation." He also pegged its goal: restoring a global Christian church "filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and poverty."