The following is an interview that I conducted with Todd Hunter recently. Todd was an influential leader of the Vineyard movement (a la, John Wimber). His story is interesting as he has journeyed from a Vineyard leader to the President of the Alpha course to being an Anglican bishop. After the interview I offer a few comments and reactions.
How and when did you come to Christ? I came to Christ in the mid-seventies in the Jesus movement in Southern California at Calvary Chapel Riverside, now Harvest Christian Fellowship. Greg Laurie, the evangelist and radio teacher was and is the pastor. I was playing baseball in college and one of he guys on the team kept bugging me to go to church with him. I did and got converted. Lots of young people, Jesus music and Greg’s message—it was really simple.
Many people are interested to know why and how you moved from being a leader in the Vineyard movement to an Anglican priest. Can you share a bit of that journey? I tell this story in an upcoming book from IVP—The Accidental Bishop—due out late 2010. The title gives you a big hint, but the short story is this: it was completely unexpected. I was not a Robert Webber-ite or on the Canterbury Trail. I was not a charismatic or evangelical secretly looking to be more liturgical…or anything like that. After three intense decades in ministry, I was actually trying to semi-retire. I left as President of Alpha USA, I had turned down other high-level positions, and was looking to slow down, write, speak, teach as an adjunct and be at home more. But there was one more thing—and this is what tripped up my plan to semi-retire.
As much as I wanted to sit in my home office in Eagle, Idaho, stare out the window at the mountains and think smart thoughts and write them down or teach them, I did not what to become a loner. I wanted to do all that from the context of a local church. Thus I thought: maybe I could be a teaching pastor somewhere? That led serendipitously to conversations with friends attached to The Anglican Mission. I resisted at first, but had a dramatic encounter with God that called me to plant, God helping me, 200 new churches on the West Coast of America. Readers can check out www.c4so.org for more on our vision, values, etc.
Once I received that vision it became clear to my conversation partners in The Anglican Mission that I would need the appropriate ecclesiastical authority to carry out such a vision. Thus The Accidental Bishop…
Along with a couple Catholics (Teresa and Dorothy Day), looking back I can see lots of Anglican influences in my life: John Stott, J.I. Packer, Michael Green, David Watson, Lesslie Newbigin, Roland Allen and Tom Wright, just to name a few. But still, I would have never connected those dots to think that I would one day be an Anglican—that was a big surprise.
What is your answer to those who would ask: “When you look back on the early days of the Vineyard where the miraculous was prominent, the meetings were informal and many participated in the gatherings, how do you view that in light of where you are at now in life?” One pithy answer is: spontaneity is over rated! Just look at American Idol verses Michael Buble. Seriously, I loved those times. I am not critical of the Vineyard of that era. I still employ the basic practices of hearing from God and seeking his power and gifts to minister his grace and healing to others. I have a chapter in Christianity Beyond Belief about this. But every model of ministry that I have ever seen has both strengths and weaknesses. I could easily be a Vineyard Pastor today. It just did not work out when I reached out to them in 2008 and I ended hearing this unusual call to plant Anglican Churches. But that is not a comment on, or rejection of the Vineyard. I did not “join” the Anglican Church as a consumer decision. I did not pick up a menu of ecclesiastical options and think, “I’ll think I’ll have Anglicanism”. I was called to it, and I accept it for what it is—with its particular strengths and weaknesses. My upcoming book from IVP—Giving Church Another Chance—spells out how I foresee using the various elements of liturgy as tools for evangelism and discipleship.
Tell us about your book, CHRISTIANITY BEYOND BELIEF. What is the main point of the book, and what has the reader response been like? It is kind of brain dump—sort of like “here is what I have been thinking about the past ten years”. I had been asked to write for many years, but I did not think I had anything original to say. Finally a couple mentors convinced me to write. With the help of a good agent and great editor at IVP, we formed a book that basically gives my spin on Wright, Willard, Peterson, Foster, Wimber, etc, all in way that says: Christianity is more than just what one believes.
One would think that this does not need to be said, but evidently it does need saying. In the book I try to put “beliefs” in their wider story and context. I come out saying that to be a Christian means to have and live, through Christ, a certain kind of life. The New Testament calls this life “eternal life”. Thus I come out saying that to be a Christian means to be a cooperative friend of Jesus, who lives a constant life of creative goodness, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of others. I then suggest a way of doing so within the rhythyms and rountines of one’s actually life. It is called Three Is Enough Groups. See www.3isenough.org
The reader response has been great. I get a lot of comments about putting into words what others have been thinking. Or I get complemented for writing a Willard and Wright for dummies. People tell me I make their work more accessible. I am happy to be their scribe and bullhorn. I very much doubt that I have ever had an original thought.
What are you most passionate about – what drives you? Evangelism and spiritual formation, learning an ever better way to understand the Bible and to communicate that to others in the cause of evangelism and discipleship. I would have rather been Billy Graham or even Greg Laurie, but it never worked out for me. Thus I have taken my twin loves of evangelism and spiritual formation, mixed them with my gifts and temperament and it has come out as “church planting” for three decades now.
What puzzles you the most about the Christian faith? Why it doesn’t seem to “work” better. That is the question I explore in Giving Church Another Chance. Why do people like Barna, Kinnaman, Pew, Gallop, etc, measure such low levels of discipleship? Do we have a deficient message? Model? Practices? Or What? I think this is why Foster, Peterson, Willard and Wright have meant so much to me over the last 19 years.
Who are the 5 people who have influenced your life and ministry the most, and how have they influenced you?
Chuck Smith/Greg Laurie: They gave me a love for and confidence in the Bible. They taught me how to teach it in relevant ways. They also modeled for me that peaceful, joy-filled evangelism can be done effectively through local churches.
John Wimber: Leadership; that leadership means risk; it means finding and following God. John taught us to trust the person and work of the Holy Spirit and to value the Kingdom of God as a present, but not consummated reality.
N.T. (Tom) Wright: Tom is the most influential theologian in my life over the past 10 – 15 years. He gave me the Bible as a story from Adam and Eve to the renewed cosmos. He shows how Christians embody that story.
Peterson/Foster/Willard: In 1991 I was in a very low place. Foster, Peterson and Willard, through their writings gave me new life. We have since become friends. They are HUGE treasures in my life.
Max DePree: Max is the most influential author for me on leadership. His Leadership is an Art and Leading Without Power are must reads. He gives us an imagination for leadership that is simultaneously effective and ethical, results oriented and community building. He spirit, his ideas and his books are beautiful.
What do you hope to accomplish on this earth? What are your ministry goals? Be specific as possible. Many years ago I picked up a practice from my old friend Steve Sjogren of “Servant Evangelism” fame. Every time I see a penny on the ground I pick it up and say a prayer: “Lord, help me lead one more person to faith in, and followership of Jesus”. That’s it—everything else flows from that. No matter what role I’ve had over the years, I’ve tried to leverage it to that end.
Presently that translates to being the best pastor I can at Holy Trinity Church in Costa Mesa, California, the best bishop I can of C4SO to train and release new leaders, to write books that guide people to Jesus and, as an adjunct professor, to teach students at seminaries to do the same.
Are you working on any future books? If so, tell us about it. Thanks for letting me pitch my books Frank! Christianity Beyond Belief has been out almost a year. IVP is bringing out a paperback version of it this summer. Giving Church Another Chance will be out next month (February 2010) from IVP. The Outsiders Interviews will be out from Baker this spring. Using the groundbreaking research of David Kinnaman in Un-Christian, two friends—Jim Henderson and Craig Spinks—and I went around the country interviewing young outsiders and filmed and wrote-up the results. It is a “DVB”, a DVD and book together. I am really excited about it. I could help thousands of parents, grandparents, youth leaders and others understand the views of 16 – 29 year olds on Jesus and Christianity.
Reflections from Frank:
Thanks for this interview, Todd. I so appreciate your humility. And will point out that you and I share a lot of common ground.
For instance, I loved what you said about “eternal life.” The way I’ve put it for years is that eternal life is not just a description of longevity; it’s moreso a description of a certain kind of life-form. According to 1 John 5, eternal life is a Person. It’s Jesus Christ. He is eternal life. “I am the Life.”
To me, the missing ingredient in the church today is understanding that the Christian life is living by an indwelling Lord. That’s my definition of “church” by the way also – a group of people who are learning to live by God’s life together and display that life visibly.
Interestingly, Anglican theology is far closer to my views on God, community, and spiritual formation than what’s found in most of evangelicalism . . . that includes charismatic Christianity and its off-shoots.
I think this is why From Eternity to Here and even Reimagining Church are favorites among many Anglican believers. The difference in the latter book is that I personally believe that if we draw the theology of the mystery of the Godhead and community to its logical/practical conclusions, we end up with something more organic rather than systematic and hierarchical. Organic doesn’t mean that it contains no specific expression or organization; it simply means that the source is coming from the DNA of a life-form rather than the traditions of a system. And thus in the end it looks very different.
The Accidental Bishop looks like a great read. I’ll add that one to my list.
One thing that concerns me deeply is the massive confusion over the word “church.” For instance, the title “Giving Church Another Chance” will mean different things to different people. This may sound odd, but that title could have worked just as well for my volume Reimagining Church, because I’m speaking of an experience of church-life that’s very different from the norm, but much closer to what I believe Jesus and the apostles envisioned church to be. Reimagining is also written for post-church advocates who have given up on any form of fellowship with the Body of Christ and would call Facebook chats “church.” Perhaps that’s part of your audience as well.
Those who are outside the institutional form of church and who are meeting in Christian community unto Jesus Christ as Head would probably want to retitle your book “Giving the Institutional Form of Church Another Chance” as it would be clearer to them.
I’ve written a piece that attempts to clear away the fog around the word “church” and how it’s being used today by those inside the institutional church as well as those outside of it. To my mind, it’s one of the most important articles I’ve ever written. It’s called WHY I LOVE THE CHURCH: In Praise of God’s Eternal Purpose.
Finally, I resonate with your observation about the Christian faith in its present form not making disciples. I have my own opinions on that, namely, that we’ve removed discipleship from its native/natural environment.
Well, those are my initial reflections. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and interestingly, some of the same people who have influenced you have also influenced me. John Stott, to my mind, is one of the finest biblical exegetes alive today. Wright has done some wonderful work. And I’ve always had great love and appreciation for John Wimber.