Book Review: Toronto in Perspective
This book is a retrospective study of “the Toronto Blessing” (TTB), from a variety of contributors. Although it is now coming up to 12 years old, it offers useful and thought provoking perspectives on the issue of manifestations of the Spirit, and will be fruitful reading for pastors and academic theologians alike.
David Hilborn, who edits the work, provides a brilliantly insightful introduction and comprehensive and judicial historical account of the historical roots, rise, spread and decline of the TTB. His contribution to this text is a masterclass in good theology.
The other papers are excellent too. They each approach the subject of TTB from a different angle answering the questions:
1) To what extent do you now view the Toronto Blessing as the work of God?
2) What lessons can be learnt from the Blessing?
3) Does the Blessing have a future, or was it only for a “season”?
Each one answers this question with admirable skill, with the authors’ conclusions shedding light on the subject in helpful and contrasting ways. I felt that Mark Cartledge and Patrick Dixon offered the most intriguing insights. Both suggest that TTB was not a miraculous intervention by God but an interactive experience of his working through natural phenomenon, such as Altered States of Consciousness (ASC). This suggestion opens up interesting avenues for further enquiry.
However, I feel that the book does not explore some vital questions that explain why TTB was so controversial:
1) Hilborn states that TTB brought about a crisis of discernment, but the roots of that crisis are, in my opinion, profound; this is not explored. With regard to discerning the motives of the Christian heart there is a discrepancy between conservative evangelical scepticism and pentecostal/charismatic optimism. Conservative theology leads Christians to consciously examine their own sinful motivations and, for this reason, conservatives tend to regard charismatics as undiscerning and naive. However, Charismatics are more optimistic about a Christian’s ability to discern, and tend to view conservatives as narrow-minded, pessimistic, and critical, especially of novelty. What is at the root of this difference? I suspect that there are unrecognised, fundamental theological presuppositions at work that could be identified. These differences often go unnoticed, but when tested by something as extreme in character as TTB they become more obvious and schismatic.
2) The nature of the spread of TTB is described but not discussed. Did it only ever occur when “passed on” through the presence or speech of those who had visited a meeting where TTB was experienced? If so, this opens up avenues of sociological, psychological and theological enquiry that are crucial to discussing the validity of phenomenon like TTB.
Despite these criticisms, this is a very helpful volume, not just for those exploring TTB but for all who are interested in charismatic phenomena, spiritual discernment, and the resolution and exploration of practical theological disputes.