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They Moved the Kingdom of God Forward: An interview with Dean Merrill

Pneuma Review speaks with Dean Merrill about his book, 50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders Every Christian Should Know (Chosen, 2021). Please tell us about your own involvement in the Pentecostal Movement.

Dean Merrill: My parents—good Midwestern Quakers—were drawn toward a fuller experience of the Holy Spirit about the time I was born. My personal infilling came while I was still a boy, a year after my conversion. Sensing a call to ministry, I trained at a Pentecostal school (Chicago Bible College) and was ordained thereafter by Philadelphia Church, Chicago. My convictions have remained the same throughout my life, even though much of my editing and publishing work has been in generically evangelical circles. Where did the idea for this book come from?

Dean Merrill: Actually, it was the idea of the publisher (Chosen Books, part of the Baker Publishing Group). They had published two similar volumes: 50 People Every Christian Should Know (2009) and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know (2014). They approached me to keep the series going. Were there specific criteria that were used to determine which Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders would be included in this volume?

Smith Wigglesworth, bold as a lion
William J. Seymour, igniting Azusa Street
John G. Lake, making room for the Healer
Aimee Semple McPherson, everybody’s sister
David du Plessis, bridge-builder
Leonard Ravenhill, sounding the alarm
John and Elizabeth Sherrill, scribes of the renewal
Jesse Miranda, up from the barrio
David Wilkerson, straight shooter
Cindy Jacobs, the “general”
– from the Publisher’s page

Dean Merrill: Well, yes—first, as the title says, it had to be people whom “every Christian should know.” (There were some possible names I didn’t want every Christian to know about!) Second, they needed to be people with a credible ministry. Notice, I didn’t say “perfect.” Many of them had flaws and shortcomings (which I don’t gloss over the book), but generally speaking, they moved the Kingdom of God forward. And third, their influence had some breadth to it; they touched people beyond their own little corner of the church. In the book you mention that you and at least one other family member received ministry from a couple of the people whose stories are in the book. Please tell our readers a little bit about those encounters.

Dean Merrill: I was about ten years old when, at an Oral Roberts campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, my father guided me into the healing line to receive prayer for my enlarged adenoids. It was the last night of the campaign, so Roberts was moving us through quickly, trying to touch everyone who hadn’t been able to come up previously. He laid his hand on my head and prayed a short prayer. My problem went away thereafter, never requiring surgery.

They were confident that the God who saves us is the God who heals.

A year or so later, I was sitting in the row when healing evangelist William Branham singled my dad out of a large crowd at the Chicago Coliseum and said, through the word of knowledge, that his serious ulcer problem would now be healed. We all broke up in tears of joy, since his stomach flare-ups had been just agonizing. That night after the service, we went out to a restaurant, where he had a zesty meal and suffered no ill effects. It made an indelible impression on my young mind and heart. As you have studied the lives of the leaders who are included in the book, what would you say are some of the key factors that caused them to be so effective?

Dean Merrill:

  • They were incredibly bold, courageous, “gutsy.” Think about Maria Woodworth-Etter facing down a half-drunken mob intent on burning down her tent. Or David Wilkerson reaching out to hostile New York City gangbangers.
  • They paid very public, no-apologies attention to the ministry of healing. They were confident that the God who saves us is the God who heals as well.
  • If they felt God had told them to do something or had promised to provide, they didn’t flinch. No second-guessing.
  • They had a laser focus on Spirit empowerment, not just human flash and flair.
  • They prayed like crazy, all the time.


Is there one person in the book that you found to be particularly interesting?

Dean Merrill: Oh, my—that’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite. I’m intrigued with them all! How can the stories in this book challenge Pentecostals and Charismatics today?

Dean Merrill: They show us that Book-of-Acts Christianity is not just a historical relic. They tell us that it’s not all that important whether we keep our membership in what I call “the evangelical club.” In the book I quote Donald Gee (the British writer/editor), who wrote back in the 1950s, “Revivals are never launched without someone going to an extreme…. There has to be an extremism to move things…. Miracles of healing occur when faith refuses to be logical, and blinds itself to arguments, based on plenty of contrary experience.”

They assure us that the wind of the Spirit still blows in our time, if we will only take notice.

But then he goes on to add: “We need the extremist to start things moving, but we need the balanced teacher to keep them moving in the right direction.… Only a wisdom from above can reveal the perfect synthesis.” How can the accounts in this book encourage Pentecostals and Charismatics today?

Dean Merrill: They assure us that the wind of the Spirit still blows in our time, if we will only take notice. The Holy Spirit has not gone off, like a grizzly bear, into a long hibernation. He is alive and active wherever given a welcome. Those who listen to him can do remarkable things for God’s cause.




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Category: Church History, Spring 2021

About the Author: Dean Merrill has been published in over 40 Christian magazines and is the author or co-author of 50 books. His most recent title is 50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders Every Christian Should Know (Chosen, 2021). He has also written Miracle Invasion: Amazing True Stories of the Holy Spirit’s Gifts at Work Today (BroadStreet, 2018), Damage Control: How to Stop Making Jesus Look Bad (Baker, 2006) and seven other solo titles. As a co-author, he is perhaps best known for the award-winning “Fresh Wind” trilogy with Jim Cymbala, pastor of New York City’s Brooklyn Tabernacle, which sold more than a million copies in hardcover (Zondervan). The initial book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, was named Christian Book of the Year in 2000. He also assisted Gracia Burnham, missionary survivor who endured a year of captivity with a Muslim terrorist group in the southern Philippines. That book, entitled In the Presence of My Enemies (Tyndale), made the New York Times bestseller list and won a Gold Medallion award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Other notable titles have included a second book with Mrs. Burnham, To Fly Again (Tyndale); More than a Hobby, with Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green (Nelson); a book with Compassion International president Dr. Wess Stafford on the value of children, Too Small to Ignore (WaterBrook); and Every Man’s Bible (Tyndale), for which Merrill was the general editor.

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