Book Review: The Last Chapter by A.W. Rasmussen

In 1973, Pastor and influential member of the Pentecostal Movement, A.W. Rasmussen, released an autobiographical read titled, The Last Chapter. This review is an overview of this read, and Rasmussen, but I will not explore in great detail the ideology or theology present. 

For background, A.W. Rasmussen was raised Lutheran, but some early experiences with the Holy Spirit took him on a spiritual journey, where he moved past his paradigms of Dispensationalist practice and theology. On that spiritual journey, Rasmussen became a close friend and associate to William Branham (father of the Latter Rain Movement). Rasmussen is often thought of through his connection to the Latter Rain movement for the good and the bad. I should point out that the Latter Rain movement had significant issues and errors in both theology and praxis, often marrying a nationalistic and Dominion-ish theology to their theological and prophetic understandings. They also had some interesting (to say the least) eisegesis of various Old Testament passages. We cannot overlook that these errors ultimately gave birth to some serious and dangerous ideas, and perhaps some abusive leadership models. This movement may have helped also to inspire cults like Jim Jones’ and the Peoples Temple. In my opinion, this restorationist Pentecostal movement was defined by passion, but low oversight and accountability. Early on there seems to be a concern, especially with Rasmussen, to hold the theological and experiential together, but I believe some of that tension fades overtime.

I will state, that despite the problems, this movement also had good. In many ways this movement restored passion, renewed faith in younger people and developed some early missional paradigms. They also inspired followers of Jesus to reconsider team models of leadership and understandings of women in leadership, Ultimately, this movement thankfully inspired and advanced the Evangelical Church’s understanding of both the Five Fold Ministry and Gifts of the Spirit. All of these positives seemed to bring a sense of life, global connection and new postures to a Western Church that was largely fundamental, dispensationalist, stoic, cookie cutter and dying. All of these realities put them at odds with many Evangelicals but also with many other Pentecostal Churches. Personally, I read this book from a place of wanting to learn more about the historical Pentecostal moments that preluded and predated the Jesus Revolution (or Jesus People Movement) of the 60s and 70s. I believe we can still learn good things from those who make mistakes, in the same way that we often have learned from our own. Reading these books helps us to chew on the meat they might offer us, and it is on us to spit out the bones.

Around the same time the Azusa Street Revival that was shifting and shaping the Pentecostal movement in 1906, Scandinavian Baptists were also experiencing the same sort of revival and phenomena in other places, such as Chicago. As a result of these revivals, many of the Scandinavian churches joined Pentecostalism, including Dr. A. W. Rasmussen. In 1918, A.W. Rasmussen would go on to found the Independent Assemblies of God (IAOG). This movement of churches was at the headwaters of several revival based church denominations and networks.

From the start of this read, one cannot undervalue Rasmussen’s parent’s faith influence, and that intentionally invested parenting seems to be something that he passed on to his children. His son writes the forward and highlights an honor and love for his dad. Rasmussen grew up in a traditional Scandinavian family and came to faith in a rural Lutheran Church near Pennock, Minnesota. On his own story, Rasmussen remarks, “I doubt it if mothers and fathers know how deep an impression they make on their children. It’s an awesome thought. What greater heritage can any child have than Christian parents who know God and are led by His Spirit?”[1] Though this is an autobiographical narrative of revival and charismatic outpouring, the author points out that perhaps the greatest miracle is the one in which God reveals himself to a child that was given such a good upbringing; “I’m convinced,” Rasmussen writes, “that there isn’t a miracle much greater than that which takes place when the Holy Spirit reveals the need of salvation to an already “good” person. We all want to retreat into our self-righteousness, and declare ourselves good enough. But that night I saw that all of my supposed goodness was only as “filthy rags” in the sight of God, and I saw that I needed Jesus.”[2] Through his book, it is evident that his coming to Jesus moment was undoubtedly as influential on his life as was his upbringing, if not more.

Rasmussen felt the Holy Spirit setting him apart at an early age and mentioned an encounter with God’s presence that filled the room, encouraged him and never seemed to leave him. However, he also realizes that by his teens he hoped God would use him for anything but a pastor. Even a mentoring pastor reminded him, “Andrew, I would not advise any young man to go into the ministry and become a preacher unless there is no other way out.”[3] Yet, the call on A.W. Rasmussen’s life was evident and he continued to pursue God with reckless abandon. That pursuit led to more experiences of revival and phenomena. Yet, he thought he was anything but a Pentecostal. He even remarked, “I knew that there were some funny people called Pentecostals who believe you must speak in tongues in order to receive their baptism.” [4] Despite how you may believe, understand or explain his visions and encounters, Rasmussen’s desire to serve God is contagious throughout this book.

Seemingly, God continued to reveal himself to Rasmussen, and this autobiographical book is full of stories on what he believes he experienced with God – from visions to prophetic words, to wisdom on the scriptures and more. In seeking God, he found himself pursuing God’s Spirit as a result of these experience, and he experienced what is often referred to as a Baptism of the Spirit. This ultimately would lead him and his wife to a change in churches as they realized that they “were both now committed to an interest in the Spirit-filled life.”[5] His obvious shift into a stream of Pentecostalism theology and practice is noted at this point. Though, he looks to hold good and solid theology in tension with what he is experiencing. 

By his own account, Rasmussen went on to pastor in several local churches in the Pentecostal movement. Interestingly, it seemed he never stayed in one for more than five years (though perhaps I misunderstood). New doors, which he discerned was God nudging, seemed to always open. I do respect that it appears he never sought out new opportunity, but allowed opportunity to come to him. In each new church, according to his report, growth and outpouring happened and it led to a greater understanding of the inbreaking of God’s presence. 

What I appreciated about Rasmussen’s leadership style is that he personally went from a sense of call to total submission in his mentoring/discipling relationships, where he personally experienced God’s healing and waited until God opened the doors. He never tried to make things happen. There is no greater witness to revival and phenomena than when we wait for God’s provision and providence to prove the encounters and words. It was also obvious that his leadership approach was different in each church context, looking to discern the uniqueness of each context and their unique problems and strengths. It is evident his heart’s desire was to rely on God in each context and situation.  Rasmussen is a notable example of adaptive and transformative leadership in an era defined by stoic and cookie-cutter programming, or technical leadership.

Rasmussen’s heart is evident in his writing. Yet, it also seems he could have benefited from greater accountability. This is a critique of the movement overall as well. By the time Rasmussen was back in Chicago, re-pastoring a church he had pastored earlier, I noticed a change in his tone and posture. It seemed like he had grown less discerning in some of his ideas. This is most evident with the passing of his wife. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but I am just making note of what I believe is a noticeable shift in his writing and posture. For this reason, I believe he could have benefited with greater communal discernment.

It is evident that despite the brokenness of mankind, God was doing a new thing in the life of the church; 

“Little did we know of God’s plan to restore His power to the Church. We were familiar with the Bible teaching that Jesus might return at any time, but we failed to see that He is coming for a healthy Church, full of the Spirit, full of grace, exercising all of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-10), being perfected by the five-fold ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11-13) until the Church comes to the fullness of the stature of Christ – a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. We saw none of this—but we prayed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It was at this same time that the Holy Spirit initiated many unusual ministries across North America. Oral Roberts began his tent crusades, with mighty miracles of salvation and healing. The great Billy Graham Crusades were also launched during this same period. The Kathryn Kuhlman ministry began in Pittsburgh, with the power of God falling on packed auditoriums. T.L. Osborne traveled around the world in great evangelistic and healing campaigns. The late William Branham took his healing crusades to practically every major city on the continent. Something was happening. The power of the Spirit was beginning to fall.”[6]

That sense of God’s Spirit converging on the churches in this era is what led me to read this book. As stated prior, I read this book to learn more about the historical Pentecostal moments that preluded and predated the Jesus Revolution of the 60s and 70s. Though the Jesus Revolution received more press, God was doing these same new things in stoic, dying, and institutional church movements a decade before the revivals of Calvary Chapel, Hope Chapel, and the Vineyard. I believe much brokenness and richness emerged in this quieter era that is often overlooked or forgotten. If you are interested in this book, I would certainly agree with the forward of this book that this read is a “most optimistic message about the last days of the Church and the second coming of Christ. There is also much fresh teaching about the significance of the charismatic outpouring…revealing the many grandeur of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is also a worthy read on the history of the church in this era.

One of the experiences Rasmussen elaborates on that encourages me the most, is a greater hope for the unity of the church. Rasmussen reflects on the ways that Methodist, Catholics and others were also experiencing this same sense of revival and phenomena. Perhaps if Pentecost reversed the realities of the Tower of Babel, than perhaps Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the church (John 17) will be fulfilled in the days ahead as well, reversing the fracturing of the Reformation.

Rasmussen’s reflection is encouraging to me;

“That was when it began to dawn on me that God was doing a wonderful thing. A miracle was taking place within the Church. The old denominationalism was beginning to die. The Holy Spirit was bringing the Lord’s people into unity. I could easily visualize the day when people would no longer be saying, “I’m a Catholic, or, “I’m a Presbyterian.” I knew the day was coming when all such child’s play would be forgotten. There was something else far more important.”[7]

“The Holy Spirit is bringing us back the simple things…He doesn’t want us to be equipping about little nonessentials.” [8]

“Well…I know now how the last chapter ends.”[9]

To the hope of that sort of prophetic witness and collaboration, despite our many differences, I say “Come, Holy Spirit.”

[1] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 18-19.

[2] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 20.

[3] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 40.

[4] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 36.

[5] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 71.

[6] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 133-134.

[7] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 280.

[8] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 280.

[9] Rasmussen, A.W. 1973. The Last Chapter. (Monroeville, PA: Banner Publishing), 285.

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