Do Reformed Charismatics Have an Image Problem?

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to an Anglican evangelical group about engaging with our culture, and had a splendid time making some new friends. During the talk I made some passing comments on the subject of worship and truth, and how worship content should be connected to the scriptures, so that the delight of worship is transparently delighting in the Lord, rather than in emotion for its own sake. 

Afterwards a man - a well known hymnodist as it turns out - asked if he could quote me in a piece he is writing. I asked him to let me know the context and he kindly sent it to me this morning. I was slightly bemused to read that he clearly liked my comments, but was very surprised to hear them coming from a reformed charismatic: "even an avowed reformed charismatic has said something similar..."!

Putting aside the fact that I didn't know I was an "avowed" anything (??!), the thing that immediately hit me was that he didn't expect to hear a strong message about truth in regard to worship from a reformed charismatic. The shock was in the "Even", ie, "the last person I would expect to say this". (For me, Reformed = doctrinally rooted in the Calvinist end of the Reformation; charismatic = continuationist on spiritual gifts in the church and lively with regards to the affections. Go read Jonathan Edwards if you want to know who I most closely identify with). 

Then this week I read an article this week on gospel convictions that seemed to place clear blue water between evangelicals and charismatics: "[between evangelicals and charismatics] there are also significant differences of conviction." With the clear implication that charismatics necessarily stray from evangelical fundamentals at some key points. (Granted this article appeared in a conservative Australian journal and I accept that words may have rather different connotations and historical associations there to in the UK).

Here is the thing: I know a lot of people who are charismatics who want to strongly identify themselves with the very core of evangelicalism, by their doctrinal convictions and their mission-mindedness. We are Christ-centred, cross-centred, scripture-centred, grace-centred, faith-centred. Passionate to build churches to the glory of God. Not only so, but among some of these friends I number preachers and other Bible handlers of an astonishing degree of gifting: exegetically good, powerful in application and full of the Holy Spirit.

So why don't people expect to hear that from us? Is the question even relevant? You might respond, "who cares what anyone thinks, just get on with building the kingdom." Except that I think that biblical charismatics have a terrific role to play right at the very heart of evangelicalism - energising, showing how to build and plant churches, demonstrating what the best preaching and most inspirational Bible teaching can be like. I'm not happy to answer by withdrawing and just getting on with it.

Some other reasons might be:

  • Conservative evangelicals haven't been exposed to the best that the charismatics do, leaving them with a one-sided negative view
  • Charismatics have just done their own thing without believing that we can make a good contribution to the wider church
  • Some people just spread nonsense around the place about charismatics. Search Twitter for "charismatics" and you will see some of the bizarre things that people say. My favourite is the current second from top which seems to suggest that "not all [charismatics] are bipolar and crazy" Well, thank goodness for that!

Or, just possibly, we haven't been as good as our biblical aspirations. I ought to at least allow the possibility that if someone is really surprised to hear me talk strongly about truth, then I haven't majored on it enough. Maybe its my lack, not theirs.

I think that people who self-consciously want to be full of Word and the Holy Spirit ought to be modelling the best preaching, the keenest regard for teaching the scriptures, and should be seen to do so for the benefit of others who need the Bible applied to their lives and ministries. Any reformed charismatic friends reading this, let's commit ourselves to building the strongest foundations on scripture and preaching and teaching of scripture that is accurate, profound, keenly applied and full of adoration. Let's do even better than we do at present.

Let's pray that in a decade's time anyone in the UK who is hungry to meet God in the scriptures automatically assumes that's what they will find from us, rather than being surprised or shocked.