Page 2 of 5
Engle promises that the app will help convert nonbelievers to Christianity before "the end of the age is unleashed." He whips himself into a fit of palsied rocking. A few of the eight gigantic screens hanging from the ceiling show him moving on a one-second delay, so Engle moves out of sync with himself.
Deep, low and loud notes begin to play, out of view, showing off the cavernous room's natural reverb and bumping the intensity level to that of a game show's final round. Engle asks the crowd to hold up their shoes in commitment to the Ekballo movement. Audra Lynn (an IHOP in-house musician, not the Playboy Playmate) begins a tender song about the harvest. Thousands of young people remove and hoist their shoes high above their heads as the house lights dim.
After a few minutes, Lynn closes her song, and a less passionate speaker takes the stage. Many exit through the revolving doors for an early evening dinner break. Some marvel at the weak snow that, according to a friendly Onethinger, never falls in Georgia.
The corner of 13th Street and Central bustles Friday night as a bespectacled 30-something on top of a peach crate shouts through a bullhorn at Onethingers.
"Mike Bickle did not see an angel in his bedroom," megaphone guy yells to apathetic passers-by.
He's referring to IHOP's founder, who has claimed to have heard the voice of God and has vividly described supposed encounters with demons, prophets and apostles. Bickle has also claimed to have foreseen 9/11 and referred to Oprah Winfrey as the Antichrist.
"Mike Bickle is a false prophet!" the protester shouts.
I laugh, which attracts the interest of a hunched man passing out a religious newspaper.
"Are you onboard with the IHOP people?" he asks.
"No, I'm just observing," I say, which is partly true.
"I encourage you to take some of this literature," megaphone guy implores at the backs of several teenagers. His gloved hand points to a cardboard box of leaflets. "Consider it a gift!"
The leaflet reads, "Want to hear God Speak to You? Read Your Bible. Want to hear God Speak Audibly? Read It Out Loud!"
Bickle has lent Christ an open ear. He has read things in the Bible that other preachers don't emphasize — teachings from Esther, Matthew and Revelation that, when added up and, according to Bickle, read correctly, help him preach IHOP's fundamental doctrine, the so-called "bridal paradigm." It's kind of a metaphor for a relationship with Jesus.
"Simply put, the revelation of Jesus as the Bridegroom is the revelation of Jesus' burning desire for His people," Bickle says in an IHOP brochure. "As a Bride of Christ, we are to walk in revelation of Jesus' emotions for us, to understand and rejoice in His commitment to share His heart with us, and to respond with wholehearted love and obedience to His will as we enter into partnership with Him. (We refuse all sensual overtones in the Bride of Christ message.)"
Only through this intimate relationship can so-called true believers hasten Christ's return. And when the world burns in tribulation and armies of believers rise up, the world will come into an everlasting embrace with Him — as any bride would.
Inside the main conference hall, a thin worship leader, her hair in dreadlocks, walks onstage with her band and begins a set of adult-contemporary worship tunes.