John Wimber’s Paradigm Shift, The River Movement and the Kundalini Effect

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by Kevin Reeves 
John Wimber’s Paradigm Shift, *The River Movement and the Kundalini Effect

The Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship’s success on the world stage is best understood within a Vineyard context, as that church was a Vineyard affiliate at the time of the revival’s outbreak in January of 1994. It was Vineyard magnate John Wimber who ushered into popularity the term paradigm shift, an idea which brought the charismatic arm of the church to a radically new viewpoint of what biblical practice should entail. A paradigm is an example or pattern, and according to Wimber’s purported discovery of the gaping differences between the Middle Eastern and Western mindsets, the Christian West needs to be turned on its theological head. Believers in Middle Eastern countries, Wimber taught, have an openness to the supernatural which allows them to experience personally an interaction between the physical and the spiritual realms. We in the Western world have become so deadened, the theory goes, to spiritual reality, it is difficult and often impossible for miracles, manifestations, and revelations from God to break through. Thus, Wimber says, we need a major alteration in our method of approaching God and allowing Him to approach us. The old study and learn method (commended by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:13-16, and II Timothy 3:14-17) is no longer adequate. In fact, according to Wimber and a flood of Third Wave teachers, it never has been. Experience is what counts, they say, and all that head knowledge we’ve been accumulating all these years is a big waste of time. This teaching states that to really know God, His power and miracles, we need to shuck all that dead letter stuff and get into the life.1…

[Wimber] first introduced into mainstream charismatic congregations the incredibly strange manifestations that are supposedly initiated by the Holy Spirit. Pogoing (jumping up and down in place), rippling on or under the skin, tingling, shaking, convulsions, uncontrollable laughter–many of the same kinds of manifestations traditionally attributed to demonic influence–have now attained prominence in River meetings. A former New Age medium describes what is known as the Kundalini Effect, which takes place during deep eastern-style meditation. It is shocking and frightening to see the similarities between this and Wimber’s manifestations:

Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, tingling sensation, and uncontrollable twitching. The Sanskrit word Kundalini means the curled one, and is also called Kundalini awakening or the awakening of the serpent. Practitioners describe it as a curled channel in the tailbone area. It can rise through the chakras (psychic centers situated along the spine from the tailbone to the top of the head), creating physical symptoms ranging from sensations of heat and tremors to involuntary laughing or crying, talking in tongues, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, rigidity or limpness, and animal-like movements and sounds.

How is it that River revival movement signs are no different than the demonic symptoms described by the ex-New Ager? And yet, it is taught that those who don’t experience these to some degree are rather deficient in their ability to receive God’s “manifest presence.” Although this too will be vehemently denied by a verbal majority in the River, that same majority calls the inhibited Christian “hard to receive.” I know. As a member of New Covenant leadership I knew it to be standard policy to downplay the spiritual maturity of those who resisted or criticized these manifestations. We figured that if God was moving in our midst only spiritual babes, or those bound by fear or legalism, would be unable or unwilling to enter in and appreciate the wild goings-on in our meetings. And while we would listen to the teaching from the pulpit, it was widely recognized that it was merely a precursor to the real excitement, such being ministry time.

John Wimber’s dependence on experiences to define spirituality is summed up in one overused word–fruit. Basically the idea is that if someone was hanging from the ceiling for hours during a spiritual encounter, we are not to judge the experience immediately, but rather look at the person’s fruit. If the individual claimed a deeper love for Jesus after the experience, that would be enough to validate its being from God.

Where is the plumb line of God’s Word in all this? In a 1983 Vineyard leadership conference, John Goodwin quotes Wimber as saying: “All that is in the Bible is true, but not all truth is in the Bible. We integrate all truth, both biblical and other, into our experience of living.”3

As a self-described former Vineyard pastor for eight years who often accompanied Wimber on his travels, Goodwin notes that the fruit of this spiritual smorgasbord is partially the result of Wimber’s borrowing theological thought from such notables as Agnes Sanford and meditation promoter *Morton Kelsey. Having twice read one of Sanford’s books called The Healing Light,4 I can attest to its gross New Age content. It is replete with such ideas as thought vibrations, visualization, metaphysical healing techniques, and positive confession. Kelsey, in Healing and Christianity, equates the ministry of Jesus with shamanism,5 commends encounters with the dead as natural spirit-earth links,6 bases much of his book on paganistic Jungian psychology, and calls the atonement a “hypothesis developed” by the early church.7

With this anything goes mentality, the playing field is wide open. In one of our Sunday afternoon meetings, the wife of one of our elders shook, cried out, and fell unmoving to the floor. Pastor Tom Smalley strode forward from the pulpit, looked the congregation right in the eye, and said, “If you don’t like what just happened here, then you’ve got a religious spirit, and you need to get rid of it!” … The bottom line was that a manifestation could not even be questioned without the inquirer’s spirituality being put on trial.

Disparaging and adding to the Word of God in River groups is common in the extreme. How many times have we heard that “God is bigger than His Word?” According to Goodwin, Wimber used the term often.8 Such reasoning sets up a false conflict between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit! How can God act outside the boundaries of His own written proclamation to His own covenant people? One of the main reasons for covenant is to assure that both parties will know what to expect from each other. If God were so completely unpredictable as those in the River assert, then what is the sense of even having the Bible? It becomes merely a convenient guidebook at that point, an elastic text with as yet unwritten pages. (This is an excerpt from The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves, 2007, pp. 166-169.)

*The River Movement is an offshoot of the Latter Rain revival, which began in Saskatchewan, Canada in the 1940s. Many other movements sprouted from Latter Rain. Followers believe that the Latter Rain revival is the latter rain referred to in such scriptures as Jeremiah 3:3, Joel 2:23, and Hosea 6:3.

*Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian priest was a strong advocate for contemplative spirituality and said: “You can find most of the New Age practices in the depth of Christianity…. I believe that the Holy One lives in every soul (A Time of Departing, p. 67).


1. John Wimber: 1934-1997. Wimber’s “paradigm shift” is discussed and documented in several books and articles such as C. Peter Wagner’s Acts of the Holy Spirit (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000), p. 123.
3. John Goodwin, “Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard” (quoting John Wimber from the Vineyard ’83, Leadership Conference, “The Five Year Plan,”, accessed 01/07).
4. Anges Sanford, The Healing Light (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, Ballantine Edition, 1983).
5. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 51.
6. Ibid., p. 332.
7. Ibid., p. 338.
8. John Goodwin, “Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard,” op. cit.

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