Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard

Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard, by Ruth A. Park and C. Rethmeier. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017. 148 pp. $25.00.

Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard is the fifth in a series of books published by Eerdmans designed to look at significant worship case studies from worshiping communities across the world, over the centuries, and throughout Christian history. Each book is designed to take an in-depth, critical approach at important groups and their contributions to the history of Christian worship. Worship leader Andy Park, theologian Lester Ruth, and Cindy Rethmeier, a worship leader with roots in Vineyard’s early history, set out to look at the emerging movement of contemporary worship through the eyes of the Anaheim Vineyard.[1]

This volume examines the early days of a movement headed for a popular explosion as the twenty-first century approached, the importance of the worshiping community’s worship leadership, worship as lifestyle, and how the teaching and preaching of founding pastor, song writer, and keyboardist John Wimber helped to form a generation of worshipers and worship leaders in the earliest days of the contemporary worship movement. With the series of books’ purpose clearly stated as being “case studies of specific worshiping communities from around the world . . . that can inform and enrich worship practices today,” the authors set out to evaluate how Vineyard accomplished just that (viii). The book explores how the Anaheim Vineyard was searching for a deeper experience and knowledge of the Father, and in doing so, they would pursue renewal and revival as they garnered interest from a young target audience. The book provides interviews, photos, helpful commentary in their “sidebars,” and excerpts from the sermons of John Wimber who, as the authors continually point out, was at the center of Vineyard’s growth, success, and challenges.

As is true with any case study, it is a challenge to obtain objectivity and to present as many relevant facts as necessary for the reader to make an informed judgment about the subject at hand. Park, Ruth, and Rethmeier have done an excellent job in assembling resources to look at this group from an objective viewpoint. They begin by offering helpful information about the context and location surrounding the Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda/Anaheim Vineyard. This group is not long separated from the Jesus People in the late 1960s–1970s, and the influence is felt among this young congregation as well. John Wimber, a 1963 convert, as he would say in his important sermon “Loving God,” came from the music industry by way of this movement (87). This information accompanies an incredibly helpful summary of important themes and practices (22–24). The authors organize these items under the subjects of piety, time, place, prayer, preaching, music, and people. These few pages establish a foundation for the detail that is to follow. Also of note is the inclusion of photos throughout the volume that help to illustrate the story of this group, which started in a small house and quickly grew far beyond their wildest imaginations. The photos exemplify one point that the book’s authors return to on several occasions: with a contemporary movement such as this one, primary sources are critical to documenting its history for future generations. Their assembling of resources, be it chord charts or musical excerpts, orders of worship and documents for how worship was planned, Wimber’s important sermons “Loving God,” “Why Do We Worship,” or “Don’t Lose Your First Love,” are very helpful to an outside observer seeing the passion with which this church’s leaders organized themselves and prepared themselves for the potential success they hoped to see with the Spirit’s blessing (99–105).

Following on the heels of the early Charismatic movements, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in dramatic ways was an important piece of worship. Be it in prayer, gifts of healing, freedom of expression, or in the first-person language of many songs written by this group, there was an expectation for the Holy Spirit to be active in their services. The interviews of participants in these early experiences vividly demonstrate this as well (75).

The book’s closing section consists of detailed documents identifying what the community believed and taught about worship. These documents include a theology of worship, their five phases of worship, the importance of the role of the musicians and the difficulty of their role, as well as a host of first-person interjections. The authors’ inclusion of study questions as well as a detailed bibliography at the close of the text are helpful resources for anyone who wishes to go deeper.

In reading this important volume, it seems very clear that its authors have written in such a way as to make their work accessible to the armchair historian, the congregant, and the student of worship history that wishes to look in-depth at a movement that had an important role in the contemporary worship development of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book does an admirable job of remaining objective. The inclusion of many interviews help the reader to have a clear understanding of not only what they believed, but what the experience was like among them. The book’s narrow focus on just this particular community does not yield itself for a broad comparison against other charismatic or contemporary movements of its time, which might have been instructive. However, in the book’s detailed opening timeline establishing the community’s context, the authors do a good job of showing the reader just how much was occurring around this movement as the contemporary Christian music industry was booming and a host of other movements were seeking renewal and revival. This book as well as the others in the series of “The Church at Worship” can serve as helpful volumes individually or as a set to be studied and used in historical sequence. Students of modern/contemporary worship should read this volume as it provides valuable insight into an important, recent development that has a significant influence on worship today.

D. J. Bulls
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

[1] Other books in this series investigate worship in fourth-century Jerusalem, sixth century Constantinople, an African-American Holiness church in Mississippi at the turn of the twentieth century, John Calvin and sixteenth-century Geneva, and two forthcoming volumes will examine Watts and eighteenth-century London and mid-twentieth-century Baptists in Argentina.

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