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Gulliksen: Vineyard a “Clanging Cymbal”

ASSIST carries an interview with Kenn Gulliksen, the founder of the Vineyard neo-Pentecostal churches who is now best known (and so described in the headline) as “Bob Dylan’s former pastor”. Gulliksen provides an interesting perspective not just on Dylan, but also on John Wimber and the whole religious scene of which he has been a part.

Gulliksen started out in the 60s under Chuck Smith, a former Foursquare Gospel Pentecostal pastor who decided to use a more casual style to attract the hippies of Costa Mesa into his Calvary Chapel. Here Christian pop music and Biblical conservatism (Smith writes sub-Hal Lindsey works with titles like The Last Days) was a successful formula, and in 1974 Gulliksen started his own branch in Los Angeles. As this developed more emphasis on “signs of the spirit” it changed its name to “Vineyard” and a number of other Calvary offshoots elected to join this new grouping.

However, rather than becoming the leader, Gulliksen handed control over to another pastor, John Wimber. Wimber’s “power evangelism”, along with his friend C. Peter Wagner’s teachings on demons (which I think quite likely inspired General Boykin), was particularly popular in the 1980s, especially among Charismatic Anglican churches in the UK. The popular Alpha course that began in the UK promoted several Wimber books and followed his advice that exposure to Charismatic phenomena would bring about conversions; the “Toronto Blessing” began in a Vineyard Church (although it was eventually asked to leave the group).

But as Gulliksen now reveals to ASSIST:

I personally regretted giving John [Wimber] the Vineyard – lock, stock and barrel…I think I abdicated my role which was to be more of a balancing to John. I didn’t seek co-leadership, but I should have remained more involved with an emphasis on the Word and love because the emphasis was then on ‘Power’ and, of course, power without love is a clanging cymbal and I think that the Vineyard became a clanging cymbal for a while.

That will please critics of Wimber; his sincerity and probity were never in doubt, but his extravagant claims for supernatural encounters evoked scepticism and some (in particular Martyn Percy, although disputed by Mark Stibbe) detected authoritarianism lurking behind the avuncular visage and self-deprecating style. Wimber’s stock has also fallen since his death from a fall and a brain haemorrhage in 1997 following battles with “cancer, a stroke, and heart disease”, after vigorously promoting the idea that disease is caused by demons that Christians could cast out; references to Wimber have largely disappeared from Alpha materials.

Gulliksen also discusses his own problems, including a separation from his wife, albeit somewhat cryptically. On the Dylan issue, Gulliksen previously told ASSIST that

Dylan has never renounced his faith in Jesus Christ and that “God is not through with him yet.”

Further, Dylan’s Christian concerts were prophetic, “which was why Satan trashed him.”

Meanwhile, Dylan’s religious history is currently under investigation by Jewsweek, which has so far published three parts (1, 2, 3) of a four part series on the subject.