Saturday, February 20, 2010

Charismatic Boons and Busts

In my last post, I observed that the Charismatic/Neo-Charismatic/Third Wave movement is now fifty years old. In this post, I step back (as someone with 40 years of my own charismatic history) to note some of the worthy and, uh, less worthy contributions so far.

Boon: A quantum leap in the theology of the Holy Spirit.
The onset of the charismatic movement has put an unprecedented focus on the Person and works of the Holy Spirit - especially among mainline evangelicals and Roman Catholic theologians, leaders and "lay people". The comparative dribble of Holy Spirit-focused theology that existed before the spread of the charismatic movement has turned into a tidal wave with some notably good contributions. For the most part, this has been a good thing. It's almost as if the Church finally got to really meet the One Jesus promised would be with them forever for the first time.

Bust: A quantum leap in bad theology of the Holy Spirit.
By "bad theology" I mean theology of the Spirit, His Person and His works that run the gammut from reactionary (cessasionist dispensationalism) to just plain silly (list far too long to include in this little blog). By "bad theology" I mean theology that is not grounded solidly in Scripture. By "bad theology" I mean theology that flippantlay exploits the Spirit, His gifts and His power instead of reverencing and honoring Him as God. By "bad theology" I mean theology that turns the Third Person of the Godhead into a Bartender. You get the idea...

Boon: The tremendous outburst of Spirit-empowered compassion ministry including everything from Teen Challenge to the practice of healing prayer as a staple in church life. One of the best legacies of both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements has been the ongoing outwardly-focused emphasis on the hurting, the poor, the needy and the lost that is grounded in Jesus' own mission statement: "the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor..." in a manner similar to the way the modern missionary movement is grounded in Jesus' Great Commission.

Bust: Personality cults. This probably doesn't need a great deal of explanation if you have been around "charisma" for more than about ten minutes. John Wimber said it best: "I'm tired of hearing about THIS great man of God and THAT great man of God. I'm ready to hear about the Great God of Men!" Amen!

Boon: The emphasis on so-called "lay ministry" and marketplace/everyday place ministry. There is no denying that -- once the Spirit got loose among the so-called "lay people" -- their "leaders" had to play catch up! He (the Spirit) did not wait for church big shots to give Him permission to start falling on everyday people and empowering them with boldness, creativity and spiritual vitality (see Acts 10 for the first example of this phenomenon!).

Bust: The Prophetic Movement. I know this is controversial, but I think I've paid my dues to be able to comment on "the Prophets". While I maintain a firm conviction in the reality of prophetic gifts including prophecy, the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom, my evaluation of all this emphasis on "the prophets" and their endless emphasis on God's "next big thing" is pretty much a distraction from our timeless call to simply and consistently follow Jesus as His disciples -- proclaiming His word and doing His works until He returns. For me, the bottom line is this: if all this prophetic mania evaporated tomorrow would anyone who was consistently seeking to follow and obey Jesus really miss it?

Boon: Music -- especially worship music.

Bust: Music -- especially worship music.

I love to worship, privately and corporately. I love to get on my face, kneel before the Lord, close my eyes, lift my hands, weep, laugh, keep my mouth shut in reverant awe and open in it glorious praise. The legacy of charisma has been a wonderful outpouring of worship that has truly raised my appreciation for the greatness of God and His imminence when I open up my soul to Him in worship. That said, the notion of Spirit-inspired "worship" has also suffered a truckload of indignities, shallowness and downright foolishness that almost -- but not quite -- drown out the benefits and blessings of charismatic worship experiences for me.

My favorite illustration comes from a pastor who was sitting next to me in a large meeting where the "worship band" was cranking up the volume to uncomfortable levels in the name of ... well, I don't know why. This man turned to me, flustered, and spoke the following words: "Was there worship before electricity"?

Well spoken.

Since this is getting to be a pretty long post, I'll see what you all think of what I have commented on so far before continuing.


steven hamilton said...

"endless emphasis on God's "next big thing" is pretty much a distraction from our timeless call to simply and consistently follow Jesus"

truer words have rarely been spoken...amen.

thanks for this bill, i like how you made obvious that in so many areas there is the good, the bad and the ugly. i have a personal interest in furthering the good of some of the aspects of a theology of the Spirit, thus i am really grateful for those who have come before.

and of course, also in the move toward "everyone gets to play" and compassion ministry, i just love it.

Steve Hayes said...

Concerning "personality cults" -- the most common manifestation being the prolifertion of "ministries" -- no, I don't mean prophets, evangelists, healers etc but rather the "[Insert Name Here] Ministries" phenomenon.

Concerning worship music, and indeed "worship", well, I said it on my blog here What is worship? Khanya