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Emerging Charismatics

13 Jan

The latest Barna report is entitled, “Is American Christianity Turning Charismatic?” The report is made up of two different studies showing that “Pentecostal perspectives and practices has grown significantly in the past two decades.” While conversations about Pentecostalism tend to bring up images of snake-handling or Elmer-Gantry-inspired televangelists, the reality is that Pentecostal/charismatic doctrines, practices, and spirituality is spreading in the United States.

Any discussion of Pentecostalism requires definitions. What exactly is Pentecostal and charismatic? In their research, the Barna group classified a charismatic or Pentecostal as respondents who “have been filled by the Holy Spirit and believe that the charismatic gifts, such as tongues and healing, are valid and active today.”

Here is what the report revealed:

  • Half of evangelical adults (49%) fit the charismatic definition.
  • Nearly half of all adults who attend a Protestant church (46%) are charismatic.
  • One out of every four Protestant churches in the United States (23%) is a charismatic congregation.
  • Four out of every ten non-denominational churches (40%) are charismatic.
  • Almost one-quarter of all charismatics in the U.S. (22%) are Catholic.
  • 7% of Southern Baptist churches and 6% of mainline churches are charismatic.
  • Charismatic ministries are more likely than other Protestant churches to use five of the seven technological applications evaluated dispelling the myth that charismatic churches are only rural or unsophisticated.

Barna notes that the growth of Pentecostalism in the United States coincides with cultural trends. This includes the emerging generation’s lack of interest in the debates of Pentecostal doctrine from the past. Barna notes, “We are moving toward a future in which the charismatic-fundamentalist split will be an historical footnote rather than a dividing line within the body of believers. Young Christians, in particular, have little energy for the arguments that have traditionally separated charismatics and non-charismatics. Increasing numbers of people are recognizing that there are more significant arenas in which to invest their resources.” I agree. Doug Banister declared an end to the war between evangelicals and charismatics years ago in his wonderful book, The Word and Power Church (1999).

Charismatic doctrines and practices are spreading throughout evangelical churches in the United States. And yet, I find myself redefining my own faith and ministry in ways that seems less charismatic. I first began to wrestle with this in a November 2006 blog. Subsequent to this blog, I declared to my congregation that I had “packed my bags” and left the charismatic movement. The declaration was awkward and a bit over-stated, but “packing my bags” was the only metaphor that seemed to fit. I found it much more honest to define myself as a Trinitarian Christian than a charismatic Christian.

As I have reflected for more than a year on the reclassification of my Christian experience, I have come to find that I haven’t left Pentecostal/charismatic doctrine as much as I have left a Pentecostal/charismatic subculture.

A subculture can be indenified by a number of things, but I would define a Pentecostal/charismatic subculture by the following eight values: anti-intellectual, hyper-emotional, ahistorical, spiritual elitism, selective hermeneutic, pragmatic spirituality, cultural disdain, and over-realized eschatology. Here is a fuller explaination:

Values of a Pentecostal/charismatic Subculture

Anti-intellectual
Charismatics typically do not value an intellectual approach to the faith. Systematic theology and scholastic methods of biblical study are ignored or viewed with suspicion. Rigorous academic training is considered unimportant for ministry training. Reason is not out-right rejected, but it is subordinate to “spiritual revelation.”

Hyper-emotional
Charismatic worship typically evokes an emotional response. However within the subculture, emotional reactions become the sign of spirituality. It is assumed that a person’s connection to the Holy Spirit is measured emotionally. Frequently charismatic worship services are valued in terms of how the congregation is moved emotionally.

Ahistorical
Pentecostal/charismatics have prided themselves for more than 100 years that they are free from the constraints of “traditionalism.” They tend to celebrate their own history within the Christian story, but do not lend value to Church history unless it reflects charismatic distinctives. There is little discussion of the creeds or the ecumenical councils.

Spiritual-elitism
The ugliest side of the Pentecostal/charismatic subculture is the subtle arrogance that those who are “Spirit-filled” are somehow more advanced in those spiritual journey than those who are not “Spirit-filled” (as defined by charismatics). This value prevents some charismatics from reading books from other Christian traditions or entering into to Christian community with non-charismatics.

Selective hermeneutic
Charismatics, like any Christian subculture, have their favorite Scripture verses. A good charismatic has the verses on the Holy Spirit, healing, deliverance, prophecy, spiritual gifts, blessings, and prosperity underlined or highlighted in their Bible. This obsessive highlighting causes them to overlook the verses on suffering, self-sacrifice, contentment, and hardship that are a part of the Christian life.

Pragmatic spirituality
The Pentecostal/charismatic subculture has a way of discussing life in the Spirit that is subjective, personal, and consumer-driven. The blessings of God (spiritual, physical, or material) are proclaimed for the use of the individual. You can order your own blessings through Christian television or by entering your credit card into any charismatic ministry’s website. For any size “love gift” you can receive all sorts of “ministry resources” that will (of course) bless your life.

Cultural disdain
The Pentecostal/charismatic subculture grew out of holiness revivals. The downside to this holiness background is a disdain for culture. The term “secular culture” is synonymous with “the evils of Satan.” Art, beauty, music, etc. must carry with it a Christian label, without which it is simply sinful. Such a disdain for “secular” culture isolates charismatics from the rest of the world, creating a challenge for the missional life of the Church. It also makes charismatics look weird.

Over-realized eschatology
This theological extreme includes an over-powering apocalyptic vision, triumphalism, and the like. The essential problem is that many charismatics believe that the end has already come. The power and victory that is waiting for us at the end of the world has come now and thus Christians should live “in complete victory as an overcomer.” The truth is that the kingdom has already come and yet is still coming. In other words, we do get to taste moments of “victory,” but complete victory will not be secured until Jesus returns. We have not arrived. We have a long way to go.

Rejecting these values and leaving the charismatic movement does not mean that I have lost any of the charismatic doctrinal distictives that I picked up while I was in the movement. I still pray in tongues (i.e. speak in tongues). I still believe in prophecy. I still lay hands on the sick and pray for miracles of healing. I am just no longer a living in the subculture.

I have struggled with vocabulary to describe what this is that I am moving into. It is an emerging charismatic journey of sorts. The emerging church is a conversation of like-minded Christians within evangelicalism. They are asking questions and challenging the assumptions of fundamentalists. I find the language of the emerging church to be helpful in explain what this is that I am moving into…it seems that I am becoming a emerging charismatic.

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14 Comments

Posted by on January 13, 2008 in Ministry, Theology

 

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14 responses to “Emerging Charismatics

  1. Nathan

    January 13, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Great post! It is the subculture…I think that distinction is the difference.

    I think the term “emerging” is dying off, or losing some steam, not because the ideas and content of what is being sorted out is having less interest, far from it, but because of the baggage that goes with the emerging/emergent terms. Heresy hunters, misunderstandings, etc.

    Really, why would I want to get in a silly argument from someone (who may not understand the issues involved) when I say “emerging”, when I can just discuss…say…the differences between an attractional model church and a missional model?

    Cheers.

    PS I got a new post about prophecy. I was getting some feedback from BZ about it, and just wondering what you thought?

     
  2. Derek Vreeland

    January 14, 2008 at 3:46 am

    Yeah it seems that “emerging” may be a passing fad, but it is helpful in describing what this is that I am in on my spiritual journey.

    It is a sort of post-charismatic stage for me. I like the language of “conversation” in emerging church dialogs. That is what I am doing…questioning the assumptions and values of the P/c subculture. It is jumping on Rob Bell’s theological trampoline.

    I am not trying to be a part of the latest evangelical fad. I am just trying to explain where I am on my spiritual journey.

    Derek

    PS I will check out your post on prophecy…

     
  3. Brian Zahnd

    January 14, 2008 at 5:37 am

    Excellent!

    Anti-Intellectual
    Hyper-emotional
    Ahistorical
    Spiritual-elitism
    Selective hermeneutic
    Pragmatic spirituality
    Cultural disdain
    Over-realized eschatology

    A very good summary of why I had to move on.

    Anti-intellectual. More than anything else this is what forced me to pack my bags. As Dylan said in “Chronicles”, you have to lose your passion for dumbness. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movements just exaggerated a negative trend that was already present in American evangelicalism. Evangelical forerunners like Wesley and Edwards were anything but anti-intellectual — both of them employed intellectual brilliance in their revivalist labors.

    Hyper-emotional. The reintroduction of emotion into the uptight, Enlightenment influenced church was a good thing. Let’s just make sure we don’t end up with the tail wagging the dog.

    Ahistorical. Eclectic as the third of my “Five Words” has much to do with realizing we have a 2,000 year history — not a 100 year history. I need Augustine, Aquinas, Assisi.

    Spiritual elitism. God forgive me.

    Selective hermeneutic. I said years ago, the Word of Faith movement doesn’t have a Bible, is has a pamphlet.

    Pragmatic spirituality. We need a revival of Christian mysticism (defined as the philosophy and practice of a direct experience with God). If someone says that Christian mysticism is dangerous, I tell them, not as dangerous as Christian pragmatism. MYSTERY!!

    Cultural disdain. We need to join the human race. We find common ground in our common humanity. Good art needs no further justification than it is good art.

    Over-realized eschatology. For me, the Charismatic movement has been Left Behind.

    So I’ve packed my bags. I packed my bags because there are good things worth keeping. But the Charismatic movement must be a contribution, not a totality.

    Anyway, good thinking, Derek.

    Enjoy the journey.

    BZ

     
  4. peri

    January 14, 2008 at 7:47 am

    your list left me feeling embarrassed…but now happy to admit i was embarrassed and glad i don’t have to be anymore….

    hey i have a nice leather bound charismatic concordance which only lists the verses “we” are likely to need. it’s quite a bit smaller than the old exhaustive type….i’ll sell it to you cheap!

     
  5. Revere

    January 14, 2008 at 8:30 am

    A good read for me, a Christian with a Calvinist background now attending a pentacostal church…I was nodding my head in agreement all the way through — but I love these people here and the our church community, and as long as this is on the periphery what can be considered the salvation issues, looks like I may be here awhile!

     
  6. Derek Vreeland

    January 14, 2008 at 8:47 am

    BZ & PZ — Welcome to the comment line!

    Brian, thanks for the commentary. I like the” WOF pamphlet” comment. They don’t have a Bible, they have a pamphlet…HA! Your “five words” – cross, mystery, eclectic community, and revolution – are each pathways in leaving the P/c subculture.

    My exodus was not something I wanted to do. It was something I had to do. It was my “Maggie’s Farm.”

    I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
    No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
    Well, I try my best
    To be just like I am,
    But everybody wants you
    To be just like them.
    They sing while you slave and I just get bored.
    I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

    Peri, I am always looking for a good book deal. My favorite charismatic book purchase was 101 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988. I bought it for 50 cents in 1996!

    Derek

     
  7. Derek Vreeland

    January 14, 2008 at 8:47 am

    BZ & PZ — Welcome to the comment line!

    Brian, thanks for the commentary. I like the” WOF pamphlet” comment. They don’t have a Bible, they have a pamphlet…HA! Your “five words” – cross, mystery, eclectic community, and revolution – are each pathways in leaving the P/c subculture.

    My exodus was not something I wanted to do. It was something I had to do. It was my “Maggie’s Farm.”

    I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
    No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
    Well, I try my best
    To be just like I am,
    But everybody wants you
    To be just like them.
    They sing while you slave and I just get bored.
    I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

    Peri, I am always looking for a good book deal. My favorite charismatic book purchase was 101 Reasons Why Christ Returns in 1988. I bought it for 50 cents in 1996!

    Derek

     
  8. OPM

    January 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Derek,

    Just a quick comment here — I believe these eight points could describe almost every denomination and sect of Christianity in one way or another.

    Anti-Intellectual – most would not want their adherents questioning their most adhered too doctrines — and while each having their “scholars”, they would not promote scholarly thinking among believers per se’.

    Hyper-emotional – while this one is more exclusively Pentecostal/charismatic — I beleive the seeker-sensitive model is rapidly changing that.

    Ahistorical – almost all (with the exception of Calvinists and Catholics) reject church history as of viable importance. Most keep to only their denominational history and miss out on so much.

    Spiritual-elitism – which denomination/sect doesn’t believe they are the best? (I would suppose that anyone belonging to a particular group of believers would do so b/c they believed them to be the best).

    Selective hermeneutic – thus, we have doctrinal papers — once again — with each having their own specialized denominational (or “non”) emphasis.

    Pragmatic spirituality – a truth that has always been the case in the church — even in our efforts to back off we becoe pragmatic in our spirituality — therefore we blog…

    Cultural disdain – a problem of the church at large since almost the very beginning…

    Over-realized eschatology – I hear what you’re saying here – but not exclusively a Pentecostal/charismatic problem. I would interject — eschatology (what I think on the end of things) is a biblical concept (however one may be slanted in their thinking) — and that “over realized” is somewhat of an “over-relative” statement.

    Very interesting “conversation” — thanks for the post — may God bless.

    p.s. went a little longer than expected – sorry.

     
  9. Derek Vreeland

    January 17, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Shane,

    You know I think you are right. I can only talk about my “tribe” from real experience, but if I am looking from the outside in — I think you are right. It does seem that MANY evangelical denominations can adopt these subculture-ish traits.

    I haven’t read Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, but I think I heard people saying that he may be hinting at the same thing.

    These may be sub-culture expressions throughout evangelicalism. The P/c movement is just one expression of that ism.

    Good thoughts!

    Derek

     
  10. Derek Vreeland

    January 17, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Shane,

    You know I think you are right. I can only talk about my “tribe” from real experience, but if I am looking from the outside in — I think you are right. It does seem that MANY evangelical denominations can adopt these subculture-ish traits.

    I haven’t read Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, but I think I heard people saying that he may be hinting at the same thing.

    These may be sub-culture expressions throughout evangelicalism. The P/c movement is just one expression of that ism.

    Good thoughts!

    Derek

     
  11. Santosh

    January 19, 2008 at 1:56 am

    This was an excellent post.

     
  12. pbs17

    April 3, 2008 at 1:50 am

    I found your post while googling “Over realized eschatology” for a message in am preparing for this weekend. Great stuff! I am a pastor with the Assemblies of God, and I wrestle with many of these issues.
    I consider myself a Christian first and foremost — and find myself embarrassed by many of the excesses of “Pentecost”.
    Thanks for what you are doing in your blog and your church! I will be back!
    Brent — Oak Harbor WA

     
  13. Acidri

    October 30, 2009 at 2:19 am

    Very thought provoking post there. Thank you for highlighting very pertinent issues. Its over a year ago when you put up this post but as i read it, its just like reading todays news. I have always been proud to call my self charismatic in private but in public i prefer being called an evangelical christian. It just seems each time a the word “pentecostal” or “charismatic” is mentioned every one even the strongest of believers wants to run for the hills. The unbridled excesses of prosperity gospel in this time and age have bordered coveteousness and flirted with greed. Healing ministries have turned into institutions causing grievious bodily harm and profaned a once gracious gift and brought much disdain to the name of the Lord. Its with great sadness that i say this but i hope we charismatics are not delving into a different gospel. We have faith in faith rather than faith in Gods word…we name and claim…loose and bind but rarely inquire of the Lord first if it be his will. We are sripturally illiterate. Yet do not acknowlege our need; as the zeal for our fathers “earthly blessings” has consumed us.I use the pronoun “we” with great humility.My frustrations are well chronicled in my blog. Feel free to cast a stone or write in the sand.

     
  14. derekvreeland

    October 30, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    We need to redeem the word “charismatic.” If it means “to embrace the gifts of the Holy Spirit” then we have something to build on. I have been given over to calling myself a “trinitiarian” instead of a charismatic. I like that because it doesn’t ignore the holy spirit. I worship God who is father, son, and holy spirit.

     

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