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Rodney Howard-Browne, the often flamboyant Pentecostal preacher, tip-toed into New York City for a six-week crusade in Madison Square Garden starting July 7.

Previously, the South Africa–born Howard-Browne has styled himself as the "bartender of holy laughter," a charismatic manifestation that has ranged from uncontrollable laughter to the noises of animals. Five years ago, his teaching on "holy laughter" initiated the "Toronto Blessing" that led to a worldwide charismatic renewal and controversy (CT, Oct. 24, 1994, p. 78). The manifestations became so contentious that the Vineyard Association of Churches severed ties with the Toronto Airport church where they originated (CT, Jan. 8, 1996, p. 66).

Joking that he might be "a closet evangelical," Howard-Browne opened his Madison Square Garden rallies in the fashion of evangelist Billy Graham—with a straightforward gospel presentation to an orderly audience.

Howard-Browne argued that too many people had concentrated on his "joy thing" and had missed his biblical message. "Critics have gone overboard on the holy laughter," he said. Consequently, the New York meetings emphasized soul-winning and not church renewal by "holy laughter."

Indeed, the tough New York press initially gave favorable reviews to Howard-Browne. New York Newsday wrote, "The first evening of the six-week crusade was a festival of forgiveness—a message of God's all-encompassing love, without harsh judgment of New York City."

However, most of the press left after the first couple of nights and Howard-Browne changed to a furious hellfire and brimstone style. It may be that the change was an effort to turn around the low attendance for his first meetings, averaging about 3,000 in an arena that can hold ...

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August 9, 1999

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