As I think I may have mentioned earlier, I have a book coming out this spring as part of the University of California Press’s Anthropology of Christianity book series. The book is called A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement, and it is primarily about the Association of Vineyard Churches, a Charismatic Evangelical church-planting movement effectively founded by John Wimber. The Vineyard is a movement that has been given some significant anthropological and sociological attention before and is also starting to receive attention as a place for serious theological reflection. But without taking away anything from these other works, I still think that I have something new to contribute.
The book takes up as linked questions miracles and variation. Miracles are a problem because this is a movement that is centered on the miraculous – in fact, John Wimber taught a very controversial “applied” class on miracles at Fuller Seminary, which is arguably the premier Evangelical Seminary in the United States. Variation is a problem because individual Vineyard churches and individual Vineyard believers differ so much, and not just from each other, but they also self-differ over the course of time. They differ in politics, they differ in the level of commitment they have to the miraculous, they differ in how they self-govern, and they differ in class composition and in their levels of formality and ecstasy. I argue that the Vineyard is held together not despite all these differences, but because of them, through the miracle. The miracle can do this because it is an open and transformative way of re-organizing the world, the church, and the individual will. I also argue that the miracle is used at times as a way of both organizing and acting in what is normally understood as economic and political spheres. I do all this through a detailed discussion and ethnographic account of various Pentecostal-style miracles that are common in the Vineyard and in Charismatic Christianity: prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and battling demons are just some of the miraculous instantiations I address. This work makes much use of the French theorists Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the diagram, but it also takes up issues from linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of ethics and morality, and even from some of the discussions of ontology that have been occurring in anthropology as of late. And I close the book by expanding on and concretizing an argument about the category or religion that I have discussed before in this blog and in print.
While the book has a few pages of ethnographic passages that have appeared in other works, the vast majority is ethnography that I’ve never shared before, and the analytic passages are all new as well. It’s available for pre-order, but if you can’t wait (or if you are on the fence!) I have excerpts from the book’s forward and the introduction free to download here as a PDF.