Learning from David Wilkerson: A Reflective Moment

David Wilkerson died Wednesday in a tragic car wreck on a rural East Texas highway bridge. I wrote about this yesterday and have had more time to reflect on Reverend Wilkerson’s life and ministry and what struck me again and again as I read his blog posts and some of his books, was how he defied being put in a neat box.  It is a time for us to reflect on the life of the man and the content of his ministry so we might learn from him and serve God’s people.

If you cherry picked his writings you could paint a picture of him to make him in your own image. His theology was classic Pentecostalism and he was a Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist. These two pillars were foundational to his ministry. He was a young Pentecostal minister before Pentecostalism hit the mainstream and became a fashionable faith for well off political conservatives.  Pentecostalism began as a movement among the not so well to do back in the early part of the 20th Century. I think that gave David Wilkerson a heart to go into the slums of New York City and begin a ministry to gang members, drug abusers and prostitutes, people that most churches across the denomination spectrum of the day held in distain kind of like the religious crowd back in Jesus’ day.  He certainly didn’t go there for the money or for that matter with the goal of building a mega-church.  He went there because he heard about the violence and the suffering and he was used by God to change a lot of lives.  Likewise he never lost sight of that ministry but took it worldwide and then in the late 1980s when New York was in the tank awash in poverty crime and gang violence he went back. He took a former theater in Times Square which was the hub of all sorts of nastiness and planted a church there which is there to this day attracting a wide variety of parishioners and pilgrims.  By the church-growth school models it was not a smart move but he was obedient to the call that God had placed upon him two decades before.

His message was influenced by his Eschatology or belief in the End Times.  That message saturates his writings as he called people to be ready for the coming of the Lord, something that if I recall correctly is scriptural even if one does not embrace Wilkerson’s Dispensationalism as their eschatology. The Creed even says it “and he shall come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Wilkerson was a Pentecostal in his understanding of this and also believed that God still speaks today and that the spiritual gift of prophecy was still operative in the church. In this he was not unique even if some of his warnings seemed overblown or did not take place.  However his messages were always full of sadness when he spoke of judgment and he obviously was not watching CNN on a daily basis to check out what changes he needed to make to his message to sell more books and tapes.  He was authentic and honest and the message that he preached came out of a heart that was broken for the people of the earth. Through his work with the least, the lost and the lonely he was very sensitive to injustice, greed and the cult of personality.  When he preached a message of impending judgment it was because he believed it and because like so many of the Biblical prophets, especially Jeremiah who he reminded me of.  One could disagree with his interpretation of the signs of the times but one could never doubt that he actually cared about those he was warning.

If that was all that you wanted to believe about him you could paint him as just another Fundamentalist preacher.  But he defied that label.  His work, preaching and life showed that he was a man who also embraced the call of Jesus to care for those who were not welcome in respectable circles making him somewhat of a social Gospel type as well. In his prophetic preaching he condemned the Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism and some of his harshest messages were to the financial elites especially the banking industry.

Another interesting thing about him was that as he grew in ministry he refused to judge or condemn individuals and unlike many popular preachers had friends who were homosexual.  He did not agree with their lifestyle and he was honest in what he believed about homosexuality when he dealt with them but he did not drive them away.  He hated what he believed were the sins of homosexuals but he actually had compassion for them and maintained friendships with homosexuals, in other words he hated what he believed to be their sin but loved them and had compassion for them.

Wilkerson held himself and others to very high standards of Christian conduct a direct outgrowth of Pentecostalism’s roots in the Holiness movement.  Again he wasn’t a hypocrite, in his writings he admitted his own struggles in regard to his faithfulness and what he believed were his own failings. When one reads his last several months of essays on his blog you see a man engaged in an intense personal spiritual struggle even as he sought to encourage others going through similar times.  His willingness to write about this was remarkable by present standards where so much allegedly Christian preaching is shallow and insipid pop-psychology covered with a veneer of Bible verses and baptized as “Christian teaching” by men and women that never admit their weakness or faults until a scandal erupts and they have to apologize.  His writings as I pointed out last night reminded me of Jeremiah the weeping prophet who undoubtedly suffered from severe depression and even a bit of Martin Luther who struggled with his own worthiness even as he proclaimed the message of being saved by grace through faith.

I think that we can really learn from David Wilkerson’s life without putting him on a pedestal and proclaiming him as some sort of extra-special Christian that he would tell us not to do.  He was not a man of pretense and if you read his writings there are in them a sense of humility and unworthiness that at times comes to the forefront.  I think we need to remember him as someone who was obedient and authentic in the way that he lived his life and conducted his ministry.  He didn’t seek out the approval of the rich or powerful and was not one who was a partisan political activist. Where he was politically active it was mostly at the local level in trying to help those without a voice.  He was not a pawn of either major political party. Liberals could agree with his messages against corporate greed while conservatives could agree with his message of personal responsibility.  He was simply a Christian minster who cared about the kind of people that Jesus hung out with most of the time.  He embodied the traditions of his Pentecostal faith and was not a man that pursued the latest and hottest ministry fads.

I think that those things make him unique and hard to copy. There will be those that seek to emulate him and if they do it in his spirit versus trying to “claim his mantle” as some would want to do they will do well. I hope that those that emulate him will do it in humility and seek to be who they are as Christians and ministers and care for those that he cared for rather than trying to mimic his prophetic messages.

As I read article after article about Reverend Wilkerson today I was struck that even those that disagreed with him had nothing bad to say about him. The closest thing to a snarky attitude in an article came from the Wall Street Journal which appeared attempt to smear him by noting that Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were fellow Assembly of God ministers and was the only paper to make light of his preaching.   The “liberal” New York Times, USA Today and others were much classier than the journal in writing about Wilkerson and good on them.

I didn’t agree with his eschatology and some of his teachings as I theological moderate from a catholic tradition. Likewise I see his struggle in his writings and I wonder about the circumstances of his death in light of those writings, but none of that takes away my admiration for his authenticity and willingness to care and be a voice for the least, the lost and the lonely.  We can only hope than in our time of economic crisis and political division that we will have more men like him who are authentic and faithfully proclaim the Word of God while caring for God’s people without seeking their own aggrandizement or power.

We thank God for David Wilkerson and for the lives that were changed through his ministry even as we pray for his family, friends and co-workers.


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

21 responses to “Learning from David Wilkerson: A Reflective Moment

  1. A compassionate prophetic voice seems to be an oxymoron. Nevertheless, his words and deeds seem to have portrayed just that.

    Your comment, ” We can only hope than in our time of economic crisis and political division that we will have more men like him who are authentic and faithfully proclaim the Word of God while caring for God’s people without seeking their own aggrandizement or power”, sums it up very well.


    • Dear Steve Dundas . . after your (from the heart) words such as ‘fundamentalist,’ ‘struggles”, ‘hypocrite,’ ‘apologise ‘ what esle is there that your heart can be thankful for?

      You ae hurting us . . . .

  2. John Erickson

    I have a variety of sources for information, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of criticism about David Wilkerson, even at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. His message truly transcended political alignment, and if that were all, he would still be a great man. His work was obvious in Times Square of the late 80s and 90s – I spent a number of weeks scattered across that time period in and around NYC, and witnessed the results of his good works.
    We are poorer here on Earth for his loss, but so VERY much richer from his words and deeds. I trust he’s found the rest he so richly deserves.

  3. Jim Michaels

    I just came across your thoughts on Pas. David Wilkerson’s death where you suggest the possibility that he may have committed suicide.

    You’re a sick freak who has absolutely no respect for this man of God that you would rather resort to even uncivilized means of tarnishing anyone’s image if it will give you five minutes of fame. I pray God has mercy on your soul.

    • padresteve

      Without being disrespectful to Reverend Wilkerson who I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for despite positing that he might actually be human and suffer from things like depression and despair I think that you are an asshole. Assholes don’t like to have their idols smashed. You have fashioned an idol out of Reverend Wilkerson. Besides, if I was seeking fame I would have marketed my theory to a publisher and tried to make some money on it.
      By the way. I pray that God has mercy on my soul too because I know without His grace that I am nothing. Get a life.
      Padre Steve+

      • John Erickson

        It’s a pity that some readers ignore line after line of praise and support, pick one simple line, and inflate it into a personal and obscenity-laced attack. I wonder what David Wilkerson would say about that?

      • padresteve

        Sad huh? People don’t like admitting their idols are human like the rest of us. I think that comments like Jim’s come from deeper issues and insecurities that they have in facing life.
        Blessings my friend

      • Listen Friends: this padre’s comments are speculation. . . a very very poor theory about depression and suicide. It is his own attempt to explain what he thinks God did. A poor theory indeed. . .

      • padresteve

        Dear Ed

        Deep Sigh…

        Comments like the three that you made show just how ignorant that many religious people, of all persuasions are. You did not address any facts or even deal with them. I called a bully named Jim what he is. He refused to deal with facts but instead called me some vile names, much worse than what I called him. In fact a whole bunch of other supposedly Christian people did the same regarding this subject.

        In your e-mail you talk about me being Roman Catholic which shows that you don’t even bother to find out that I am not Roman Catholic and never have been. That showed me that you really don’t care about facts or even making reasonable speculation about a subject. I have the police reports on the accident and I have been an accident investigator and have investigated similar crashes. The non-suicide options have all been ruled out. Nothing was wrong with the car, he had no medical condition that affected the crash according to the coroner, he was awake and there is no mention of distracted driving. His final blog was that of someone who was seriously depressed and can easily be taken as a suicide note. His car did not swerve into the opposite lane, there is no evidence from the police report that he did not try to avoid the crash. His car went straight into the truck at a high speed.

        I did not question Reverend Wilkerson’s faith, his character or life. But by merely suggesting that he may have committed suicide I have been treated most rudely and for that matter hatefully by you, this Jim guy and a bunch of others on the initial article.

        The lesson that I am gleaning from your response and that of other militant fundamentalist Christians to me is that this isn’t about Jesus, it is not about truth, it is about your feelings. Your feelings got hurt. Too bad.

        When you can actually discuss this issue, or any issue logically come back. I know that you are not American nor do you understand me or the people that I serve. Maybe you should take the time to try to understand before you publish such ignorant rantings. I think Jesus might actually be for that. Don’t you?

        Peace and blessings

        Padre Steve+

    • Look daer ‘padre’ you do NOT have to use such strong language against JIm. Why? Because. . well YOU are a Padre! Right?!!! Just getting worried aboutthe soldiers who you have to minister to. . . . such language from one of the santos. Haibo!!

      • speculation is NOT Facts. Then again SOME FACTS do not make the TRUTH

      • padresteve

        All you can do is scream. You refuse both logic and virtue in your argument. You embody the attitude that I have been talking about. Do the math. Eliminate all other potential causes and then deal with what is left. I wish that his death could be explained in another manner.

  4. Scream? Oh Brother Stevie. . . . all I did waas to ggive you chance number two to re-read your own words. Your conclusion is plain: your whole being and spirit etc says Wilkerson committed suicide. Period.

    All we say is: You, Steve are WRONG. Period. Now that is NOt too difficult to understand is it?

    • To be MORE specific : Your speculation landed on the wrong answer. Yes I think that sounds a bit better.

      • padresteve

        So then facts don’t matter believe what you want and stop bothering me. I haven’t done anything to you and unless your “faith” is so weak that you can’t entertain the possibility of suicide then you have a very small view of God’s grace, mercy and ultimately his love.

      • Trying to read in my writings to you: sorry. . yes you see somewhere I mentioned God? Did ? Yes maybe. . . maybe that too is a fact? But then it is. Why?Because you said so!! See.

      • padresteve

        Since you are now trying to post under a different name I am going to have to block future posts. You are rude, inconsiderate and simply dreadful. Your last three posts on the other e-mail are simply mind numbing in their ignorance and I will not have any more of it. Go write your blog. No more of your comments will be added simply because you cannot act in a decent manner. You make Christians look small minded and intolerant. Go away.

    • padresteve

      Do the Math and don’t act all holy. You want to and maybe need to believe that to be the case. I don’t because I still regard him highly. Good and Godly people often despair of life and can do things that in normal times that they would not do. Regardless of how it happened it is still a tragedy.

  5. padresteve

    You have been blocked, get lost… none of your posts are getting approved… I am so tired of your ignorant rantings that I will no longer reply to them…

  6. padresteve

    Comments are now closed after the behavior of Ed. Other comments of his from a different e-mail address were so malicious, hateful and ignorant that I realized that I could not continue to give him a forum. I did not approve those comments. The only way to do that was to end the comments. Sorry about that. This is only the second article of over 1200 on this site that I have had to do this, coincidently the other was also about David Wilkerson and was shut down for the same reasons .


    Padre Steve+