In yesterday’s blog I claimed the mantle of “charismatic,” which to many sounded like a confession of a new found status. It wasn’t. I’ve considered myself a charismatic a long time. By that I mean that my Christian existence is such because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. In that sense, every Christian is charismatic, even if they don’t know it.
In yesterday’s post, I used the term charismatic to distinguish my view of Scripture from a more Catholic view. I’ve found the Protestant slogan, sola scriptura, to be an inadequate way of accounting for faith and belief and authority, and in re-imagining my views on Scripture I’ve come to realize that I can only make sense of things if the Holy Spirit is prominent in my thinking. This is not a new view for me, but one that has grown in significance over the past 10 years or so.
I’m not a pentecostal, in the more demoninational sense of that term. I don’t deny signs and wonders, in fact just the opposite, I’ve experienced things beyond the ordinary and believe they are from God and accept the stories of my friends of experiences I have not had. But I’m not sure these kinds of things are signs that you’ve found favor with God or have somehow arrived at a higher Christian existence. I think of Jesus’ blessing at the end of the Gospel of John, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Or Paul’s statement that some demand a sign and turn their nose up at the “weakness” of a crucified God. Some pentecostals are too much resurrection and not enough cross, and running neck and neck with legalism, this kind of triumphalism is the worst form of “Christian” belief.
And I have real problems with particularly the “white” expressions of pentecostal theology and politics in North America. I’m much more at home with Bishop Jakes (though not without some problems there) than I am Pat Robertson. I don’t share, for instance, their dispensational views and the politics that follow from those. I’m not a fundamentalist and many of them are. As I noted in my last post, most pentecostals would have real problems with my “charismatic” approach to Scripture. And there’s too much properity gospel in the pentcostal mix for my sake. I’m concerned that sometimes signs and wonders function as validation for an unreflective kind of faith. Not surprising then that “white” pentcostal politics tend to be conservative, protecting a world in which whites have had privelege and power. There are, of course, exceptions to this characterization and I apologize if I’ve painted with too broad a brush. But these are my concerns based on my vantage point.
Still, I am convinced that in an age that suppresses the transcendent, what Charles Taylor might call a disenchantment, that the charismatic should be a leading edge of Christian theology. If we don’t recognize and name the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, then we’re forced into the choices left to us by the spirit of the age, none of which are good: dogmatic rationalism, private and sentimental pietism, or a moralizing info-tainment. This work is serious and requires our best efforts and must arise from every Christian tradition.
This is another reason I love Amos Yong’s book, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh. While Yong is a part of the pentecostal tradition, he sees the the good and the bad and is endeavoring to bring pentecostal theology into dialogue with the great historical traditions of the church. This is the kind of serious work that is needed.
A final, personal reflection. While I would make a terrible pentecostal, I’m convinced that my charismatic convictions will necessarily move me past my comfort zones. I think that those of my tribe have been historically conditioned to fear the mysterious work of the Spirit. We absolutely cannot be afraid. It simly isn’t Christian to live in fear. If our own fathers, Jesus says, who are evil would never give us a snake instead of an egg (a very odd pairing of potential gifts), how much more will God (who is only good) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
Come, Holy Spirit.