What Charismatics Need to Do Better

I’m listening to Michael Brown’s radio show where he spoke to John MacArthur’s associate Phil Johnson and I’m struck by how Brown keeps bringing up examples of Charismatic ministers and ministries that disprove the broad brush indictments of MacArthur & co. and yet Johnson keeps pointing to Charismatic televangelists as examples of all the atrocities being attributed to the Charismatic Movement as a whole. So all of this has me thinking about what Charismatics need to do better.

To start, we need to do a better job with discernment and denouncement. There are plenty of us who have no affinity with the Word of Faith movement and yet the Word of Faith Movement seems to be the public face of Pentecostalism/Charismaticism. We need to publicly denounce the many heretical doctrines that have come from Word of Faith theology and we need to call Word of Faith preachers (especially the prominent ones!) to repentance.

But there’s something that has to happen before we’re even able accomplish this task, namely, we have to take the task of Biblical interpretation seriously. Paul told Timothy to make every effort to present himself as an approved worker before God who needn’t be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). We, just as much as Timothy, are called to such a task. We have to be able to appeal to something with more authority than our personal experiences with God, as strong as they may be, and that something is Scripture.

Piggybacking off of the last point; Pentecostals and Charismatics will do well to stop deriding scholarship as if scholars are somehow less spiritual and possess a mere “head knowledge.” We need to learn from those who have invested time into understanding the Scriptures (whether they be Charismatic or not) and allow them to aid us in the task of building a positive theology.

Concerning building a positive theology we need to be able to open the Bible and explain that this is why we believe and act as we do. Put another way, we shouldn’t always (or even primarily) espouse our faith in a reactionary manner. Or put even another way, we shouldn’t feel the need to explain our beliefs and practices only when they are challenged or disagreed with. We shouldn’t allow our detractors to frame the debate so that all we end up doing is defending tongues, or prophecy, or healing or the continuation of prophetic and apostolic ministry.

This is to say that we need a full-orbed Pentecostal/Charismatic theology. Our beliefs about the gifts of the Spirit are fundamentally connected to our beliefs about the Spirit as well as the Father and the Son. And we can’t lose this point or compromise it (I have in mind here the sweeping under the rug of heretical Oneness Pentecostal theology, which is excused by some because OPs allegedly operate in the gifts of the Spirit). How we exist in this world is linked to how the Blessed Trinity has acted for us and our salvation.

On a practical level we need to stop being weird. We need to stop calling everything we disagree with a demon and stop defending every strange thing we see as a work of the Spirit. We need to focus more on the fruit of the Spirit than the gifts of the Spirit, which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t focus on the gifts, but not to the point where we elevate them above everything else. Speaking in an unknown tongue doesn’t necessarily make one a Spirit-filled believer and claiming to speak a word from the Lord doesn’t necessarily make one a prophet. And this goes back to where I started, which is the need for discernment. We have to be less impressed with this type of stuff than we are. We have to be more self-critical. The more we judge ourselves, the less we leave room for others to do it.

And speaking of judgment, we need to be less judgmental of non-Charismatic Christians. We have to stop pretending that we have a leg up on them. We have to stop pretending that we operate in power and they occupy dead spiritless churches. We have to take 1 Corinthians 12 seriously, which is about diversity in unity, and realize that every Christian isn’t going to look and act like us. This doesn’t mean God isn’t acting in and through them. It simply means that there are many members in the body of Christ and everyone can’t be a liver or a spleen; some folks have to be ears, noses, and throats.

And finally—although I’m sure there’s much more I could say—we need to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Instead of the public face of Pentecostals and Charismatics being Word of Faith televangelist heretics who fleece the people of God; let’s do a better job of highlighting the ministries of faithful Bible teachers; missionaries; chaplains; etc. We have them in abundance and yet you wouldn’t know it!



7 thoughts on “What Charismatics Need to Do Better

  1. Hi Nick, it’s been a while. I agree with pretty much everything you said and have written similar things on my own blog (you know, back when I used to blog). But one thing has bothered me as I’ve followed this little debate, and you bring it up in your final paragraph.

    Are the “Word of Faith televangelist heretics who fleece the people of God” really the public face of Pentecostals and Charismatics? Or, to put it another way, in my experience non-charismatics (ranging from the MacArthur/Johnson types to the ‘open but cautious’ types) tend to talk more about those guys than most of the charismatics I know (and keep in mind I’ve spent my whole life in various parts of the charismatic movement). The vast majority of charismatics I know don’t give a rip about the Copeland types. Most have never seen TBN, and many have never heard of it. In my opinion, if those guys are the public face of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, it’s because the anti-charismatics (MacArthur, et al) have put them there.

    I’m not trying to make my experience normative, so you (and maybe some of your other readers) may see it differently. It’s possible that because I grew up in the 3rd wave charismatic movement that I’m seeing something different from the more classical Pentecostal types. Would Pentecostals be more drawn to the Word of Faith guys? (I will say, though, that even most of my Pentecostal friends can’t stand the WoF.)

    Anyway, sorry this is so long. I would just add one more item to your (very good) list of things we can do better: ignore MacArthur. Nothing he’s sad is new or hasn’t already been said better by others.

  2. Danny: It has been a while, hasn’t it?!!

    Unfortunately, I do think that the WoF types are the public face of Charismatics because they’re the ones on TV for the most part. The reason non-Charismatics talk about them so much and focus on them so much is because they’re the ones they actually see. As insiders we get to see the things they don’t, which is why we have to do a better job of making the good guys recognizable, I think.

    As for me, I actually spent the first half of my adult Christian life in an independent Pentecostal church (that was birthed out of COGIC) that was influenced by Word of Faith theology. TBN was a regular part of my life for a few years. My pastor never went off the deep end with that stuff, but there are things that he taught that I wholeheartedly disagree with nowadays.

    In my experience in independent black Pentecostal churches, which is fairly extensive, WoF theology runs rampant. I think there’s less danger of it in the major Pentecostal denominations because of the inherent accountability structure they have. The one person I can still watch on TBN is Perry Stone whose eschatological teaching I’ve come to disagree with more now then I did back in the day, but whom I still consider a man of integrity and faithful teacher of the Bible, and I attribute this largely to his being an ordained elder in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).

    The fact that he’s accountable to others in the denomination and to his church’s statement of faith and core beliefs keeps him balanced, or at least I believe it does. And I think that’s something else I should have added to the list, namely accountability. There are too many Pentecostals/Charismatics doing the independent thing, which affords them the opportunity to come out of left field with all types of strange doctrine and practice. At least that’s been my experience, which I wouldn’t want to universalize either.

  3. Hi Nick,
    Long time for me, too. I’m back to blogging too, albeit sporadically.
    Controversy is not the focus of the blog, but this is the first issue I’ve posted on over there. I guess this topic is drawing people out of the woodworks!
    You’ve got a lot of good points here. I’m less charitable to MacArthur than you are; I think he and his ilk need to get called out a little more on their errors rather than just them calling out others. I’m more charitable to the WoF movement, probably more so than I should be. (And even then, I’ve gotten some nasty offsite pushback on it.) I do agree, however, that WoF does seem to be the public face of the movement; people should not underestimate the influence they hold over many sections.
    All the best,

  4. Jeff: My pleasure!

    Sean: Great to hear from you! So glad to hear you’re blogging sporadically. I’m all for calling the MacArthurs of the world out on their errors, but to me, disproving cessationism is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. And I think most of the responses to Johnny Mac and his cronies over this Strange Fire stuff have been more in reference to his sweeping generalizations, which should be challenged publicly, and less to his denial of the legitimacy of charismatic worship. I’m looking forward to Michael Brown’s book-length rebuttal to precisely that point!

    But I’m with you on the book thing. I won’t read Strange Fire because I’m sure I’ve read it all before in Charismatic Chaos. What more can he possibly say? That’s also largely the reason I’m not so put off by this conference or the new book. This has been a major part of his ministry for decades. When he teaches on this stuff I roll my eyes and wonder how someone who can clearly interpret the Bible rightly in many places can get it so wrong on this issue. It’s an enigma.

    Concerning WoF theology, I’m not very charitable to it overall for theological and experiential reasons. I’m all about good theology, as I know you are, so for me to hear a lot of the aberrant and often heretical teaching from WoF teachers is quite frustrating. But I’ve also seen the damage that this theology can cause in real life. I know people who have refused medication because they thought they could speak their healing into existence. I know people who actually believe that God cannot act in this world without their allowing it and this belief has resulted in some of the grossest pride I’ve ever encountered. I’ve seen the financial bondage that this theology has put many hardworking people in. So on and so forth.

    I’ve also spent a lot of my personal time having to explain to people who don’t know much about Charismatics and Pentecostals that we’re not all like that. It’s a tedious and tiring task (pardon the unintentional alliteration!), which is why I wish we could get a widespread movement doing some of the things I noted in the post. We need academics like you who have a genuine faith and a real prayer/praise/worship life to step up and start producing the materials to help equip the rest of us! So I’ll await your many contributions to the betterment of Charismatics and Pentecostals the world over!

    Keep in touch!

    Benjamin: Thanks!

  5. Thanks so much for your kind words, Nick!
    I do hope eventually to produce a constructive Pentecostal systematic theology. Unfortunately my writing career is taking off quite a bit more slowly than I would like. :)

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