This post links in a totally unplanned way from the exegetical discussion of NT gifts to the contemporary question of how the heck what is described so routinely in the NT is to be ‘applied’ to contemporary church life.
I’ve been aware but pretty uninterested in the internet kerfuffle started by John McArthur’s Strange Fire conference.
However, it has sparked a couple of interesting reflections on this side of the Atlantic – in Britain anyway if not in Ireland. Both are by ‘Reformed charismatics’ – which in itself is an interesting combination.
Steve Holmes has a typically thoughtful piece on what defines a charismatic – and it is NOT primarily what one believes about the continuation of the charismata. Rather it is this
In my experience, it is certain practices: a practice of worship that focuses on and aims towards an experienced encounter with God; a practice of pastoral care that sees one-on-one extempore prayer ministry as fairly central; a practice of liturgy that is expectant of, and welcoming to, unplanned interventions; a practice of ministry that assumes the involvement of a significant number of lay people, some acknowledged to be more skilled/effective in certain areas than the pastor herself; and a ‘crisis’ spirituality which expects a series of defining moments that will lead to step-changes in Christian experience/discipleship …
All of which is to say that I suspect that an engagement between ‘charismatic’ and ‘cessationist’ evangelicals which is attentive to the lived reality of faith will turn less on confessions of belief about supernatural gifts, and more on debates about the place of spontaneity in worship, and about the effectiveness of crisis moments in sanctification and about the right ways to work out vocation.
I was happily a member of a charismatic Baptist church in England for some years and I think this sounds sounds right. Being ‘charismatic’ there was more about a style or ethos around worship, prayer, immediacy of the presennce of God in ministry and so on than it was about how exactly some spiritual gifts were (or were not) practiced.
But if you think ‘evangelical’ is hard to pin down, this also highlights just how slippery the term ‘charismatic’ is. Holmes’ description is pretty subjective stuff.
I also read the team written Think Theology blog. Andrew Wilson, New Frontiers pastor and excellent blogger (even if he has yet to see the light on women in ministry) has a comprehensive and thoughtful post here.
What struck me reading it was his 5th point and the phrase (borrowed from Tim Keller) the ‘mushy middle’. The mushy middle is an abstract form of charismatic belief. Those who in theory believe in in the continuation of all the gifts today but in practice are pretty well indistingushable from cessationists.
Would someone like John Stott, with his ‘open but cautious’ view have fitted here I wonder?
The mushy middle sees NO exegetical and theological reason NOT to believe in the continuation of all the gifts described in the NT, but neither do they see any great reason to upset the status quo by getting all hot and bothered about the actual practice of those gifts. For, to be blunt, they could be more trouble than they are worth. There are more important priorities. If they show up fine, but let sleeping dogs lie if not.
In contrast, Wilson argues, “So anyone who believes the miraculous gifts continue should, to be biblically consistent (let alone loving towards others in their church), pursue them.”
I’ll be honest here and say the term ‘abstract charismatic’ probably describes me pretty well. While I’m not fully persuaded by his argument (will come back to this in another post) what he says is challenging and thought-provoking.
How about you?
Comments, as ever, welcome.