Archive | Spiritual Gifts

Let this Strange Firestorm be a Lesson

Controversy is like a social hemorrhoid that will flare up on a regular basis & need to be cooled and soothed (I almost used the term strange anal fire but I thought better of it).  Some controversies are uglier than others. The worst kind of ugly controversy is the kind that might have been avoided because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Usually the culprit is misunderstanding, failure to define terms, or generally sloppy reactionism. When the internet was set ablaze with the anointing flame of controversy last week over the “Strange Fire” Conference in So-Cal, I had to wonder if this had the makings of one of those misunderstandings and failures to make responsible distinctions.

And in large measure I fear that this was just the case. As the smoke from the temple clears, I think there is a lesson to learn from this. The controversy was not just a quiet charismatic-cessationist stare-down. It was at times noisy and contentious. Names were dropped, reputations put on the line, and personal feelings bruised. Unfortunately there will likely remain some rifts between prominent persons and between prominent churches over the affair. And it may have been avoidable.

The biblical and theological debate about the gifts aside, wisdom demands something from us when it comes to a big public cyber-spat like this one. In this case I humbly submit that discernment requires distinctions. Some distinctions were not made that should have been made. Going forward, here are three things that must be clarified and made distinct on this subject.


1. The meaning of “charismatic”

Quick word association: I say “charismatic” you say …

Maybe you think of Robert Tilton with eyes shut tightly and hand raised, asking viewers who need a financial miracle to place their hands on their TV screens. Is that what we mean by that word? For some people it’s anyone who ever lifted a hand during worship. Maybe it’s belief in Holy Spirit baptism (aka “Second Blessing”). Or is it merely non-cessationism?

One thing is for sure, you’d better make clear the meaning you have in mind, and if you’re debating someone about it, you’d better agree between the two of you what precisely you both mean when you use the term. It has been painfully obvious to me in the brief eruption of attention on this issue that people are using the term differently. Some of them mean merely those whose theological position is not cessationism. Others seem to mean Todd Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, and people spending hours “Holy Ghost glued” to the floor.

Often usage determines meaning, and common or shared usage of a word can alter how we perceive it. Since this word is biblical, it seems most appropriate to recapture, as best we can, its early etymology as at least a starting place for defining it properly. As first year Greek students learn and as footnotes in your Bible may tell you, the word is essentially the word “grace” (“charis”) used in such a way (charisma or charismata) as to denote gracious acts or gifts. The specific use of the word to describe spiritual gifts (mostly in I Cor. 12 and Eph. 4) – and particularly the more extraordinary and supernatural gifts, like miracles, healings, tongues, prophetic words – is responsible for it being used to describe Christians who emphasize those kinds of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

So far so good, but this still doesn’t help me know whether or not I should use the word only to describe those who believe that the supernatural gifts did not cease (as opposed to “cessationists” who believe that those gifts were for the messianic and apostolic eras and not normative for the church all-time), or whether I should use the word to include things like the prosperity movement, the strange semi-Eastern doctrines about how your words create spiritual realities (the so-called “Word of Faith” movement), and the outlandish “outpourings” that have people spending hours gyrating, fainting, laughing then growling, freezing and seizing.

Like many people, I have seen both the good and the utterly bizarre under this umbrella of “charismatic.” I have attended churches and have known ministers (even in my own family) who are charismatic by identification, of whom I would never say the sorts of things I say about certain televangelists. I’ve met old-school Southern Baptists overseas serving as missionaries who, though they were raised in a non-charismatic church setting, are convinced of supernatural spiritual activity based upon years of experience.

Then again, I’ve attended a charismatic service where the so-called preacher reads one verse from Isaiah (31:4 in case you need an idea for Sunday) about how God speaks as a “roaring lion” and then proceeds to lead the congregation in 45 minutes of “roaring in the Spirit.” A simplistic approach won’t do. There are charismatic Roman Catholics whose language and church life bears little resemblance to what you would find at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (as it used to be called). When debates on cessationism broke out in the seminary classes I attended long ago, the mostly Southern Baptist students were very much split on the issue.

It may well be that we cannot presume to know what another person hears in the word “charismatic”, which means that we have to make the minimal effort of finding out and negotiating a definition that we can all understand. Even if I and an opponent agree to define the word differently, each of us will at least know what the other person is meaning when he or she uses the word.

2. “Charismatic” vs. the Prosperity and/or Word-Faith & Otherwise Whack-job Televangelists

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Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 3

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Am Not a Charismatic, Part 1

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts

Do We Still Need Miracles Today To Believe?

(Lisa Robinson)

It is not long before this this topic comes when engaged in a conversation about continuationism vs. cessationism.   Some will insist that we still need miracles today.   One of the common misunderstandings that I have observed continuationists have concerning cessationists is the charge that cessationists believe that miracles are no longer needed.  While I do believe there are cessationists who don’t believe in the existence of miracles, most would deny this charge and be open to the possibility that God can do whatever he wants to win people to Himself.

I think the challenge with the perspective that miracles are needed and the fact that some don’t believe they are, is how a miracle is defined.  When some of my Pentacostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters utilize the term is compatible with the belief that the demonstration of signs and wonders as seen in Acts are to be expected such that they are needed to 1) believe the gospel and 2) demonstrate empowerment by the Holy Spirit.  But a miracle can be defined more broadly as something out of the ordinary.

Now the cessationist would say that the miracles demonstrated in Acts were done to demonstrate that the validity of the apostles testimony concerning Christ.  After all, the record of the Old Testament shows that when God did something new, previously unrevealed, He did so with miraculous events.  And God was doing a new thing by bringing both Jew and Gentile together as one body through the sacrificial death of His Son (Ephesians 2:13-16; 3:1-7) marked by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).  Jews considered themselves the privilege group and Greeks were accustomed to pagan worship and sought after knowledge.  Both groups needed to experience something out of the ordinary to know that what was being proclaimed through the apostles witness was real.  But once the New Testament church was implemented, the body of Christ grew and the message spread, there was less reliance on these types of miracles for validation.  This is especially true with a completed canon of scripture that indeed validates the testimony of Christ. Continue Reading →

If God Has Stopped Speaking Then Why Do I Still Hear Him?

(by Lisa Robinson)

It has been five years since my ‘conversion’ from being a somewhat radical charismatic to embrace a soft-cessationist position…I think.  The reason I say put that qualifier on there is because I have had to wrestle through not only some doctrinal dilemmas concerning the cessation of gifts, but also some more pragmatic concerns – that of experience.  That is not to say experience is the qualifier to determine what is or is not a legitimate spiritual expression, but it does challenge some cessationist positions or rather some allegations concerning cessationism.

Most notably, it is the idea that cessationism means that God has stopped speaking.  This has been a common statement I have heard, most often in the form of a question, as noted by the title of this post. The statement presumes that cessationism means God has stopped speaking, except through scripture.  This is a position that hard cessationists take, but not all.

However,  I have come to conclude that this question misses what cessationism espouses vs. how God communicates today.  Let me explain.  The premise of cessationism is that revelation is complete.  We see that God has revealed himself progressively through scripture and ultimately through his Son.

“God after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power.  When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Here, God speaking and his revelation are inextricably  linked, so that his final expression is found in Christ, who reveals God.  The significance of the apostolic witness is related to the testimony of Christ as the ultimate revelation of God.  Since the testimony of Christ is transmitted through the apostolic witness, the apostles teaching provide the same authority as the word of the Lord, which would ultimately become scripture.  Thus, since God has already spoken in His Son, and Christ’s work is complete, this presumes that God has nothing further to say.  While the continuation of all spiritual gifts is not the topic of this post, I do believe that certain gifts were to authenticate the apostolic message during the apostolic age.  This is why scripture does not indicate that certain gifts have ceased because the apostles were still alive when the letters were penned. But let’s not go there. Continue Reading →

Full Gospel Christianity?: A Theology of More II

(by Lisa Robinson)

A while ago, I addressed in A Theology of More a mentality that has a continual quest for greater external manifestations that demonstrates that God is active in the lives of his people, both individually and corporately.  The quest is usually part and parcel of alignment with  Charismatic/Pentecostal theology and the belief that people today should experience the full continuation of gifts, miracles, signs and wonders, etc. similar to what was experienced when the church was first implemented.  I myself,  spent a number of years as a Charismatic.  That means I was a full blown adherent of the continuation of spiritual gifts, believed in the 2nd work of grace known as the baptism in the Spirit and was fully committed to the language used to express what I believed the Charismatic movement offered in terms of reasonable expectation for Christian life, worship and service.

Since that time, I have reverted my position, not because of experience or personal reasons.  But because I began to consider how the book of Acts was read in context of God’s redemptive program outlined in scripture.  It was also because I began to consider the purpose of the gifts in relation to the exaltation of Christ and the edification of the church.  Most significantly, it was because I began to consider how certain gifts were endemic to the foundation that was being laid with the implementation of the church (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:10), specifically through the apostolic witness to the revelation of Christ (John 14:26; John 16:13-15; Acts 1:2-8; Hebrews 1:1-3)

Hopefully, I will be writing more about this in a separate post, specifically with respect to the foundation and authority of the apostles.  But for the purposes of this post, I would like my Charismatic friends to understand that there are good and valid reasons that cessationists hold to the position that some gifts were revelatory in nature and foundational to the establishment of the church.  But cessationists believe they are not needed today since the revelation of Christ is complete and transmitted through the apostolic witness which is inscribed with the completed canon.   The signs and wonders as described in Acts are associated with this apostolic witness.  Some believe that the gifts that were revelatory in nature are permanently extinguished while others, including myself,  believe that such gifts are not needed with the completed canon but can be continued in places where Bibles are absent. Cessationists are not putting God in a box, only recognizing the box that is believed God himself created.  Cessationists do not negate the living and active role of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer and who commands to fill every believer such that His control and influence is experienced.  Nor do most negate the existence of miracles and healing.  I know I certainly don’t and can’t given contemporary evidence, especially in remote parts of the world.

However, the point of this post is not to discuss distinctions in cessationism vs. continuationism, nor to argue about which position is right.  Much ink has been spilled in Michael’s comprehensive series here. My friends over at To Be Continued write extensively on this topic and have addressed some of there concerns with his position.   While I am no longer aligned with the Charismatic/Pentecostal theology I once embraced, I do seek to find common ground and focus on things shared in common.    In fact, I have backed away from challenging the continuatist position by recognizing that if one is edified and experiences Christian growth through the use of some things I do not consider essential for the church today, then who am I to quibble. Continue Reading →

Why I am Not Charismatic (Complete)

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I used to walk through Christian book stores and choose my books based on whether or not the author was a charismatic. I would pick up a commentary and turn immediately to 1 Cor. 12 (the section on spiritual gifts). If the author believed that the spiritual gifts were for today, I would put it back on the shelf in disbelief that the store would carry such misleading material. If they did not believe that the gifts were for today—if the author was a “cessationist”—I would consider purchasing the book.

Such was the time when I believed that all those who believed that all charismatics were practicing a different Christianity, at best, or demon possessed, at worst.

I am not a charismatic, and I have my reasons, but I do not feel the same way today as I used to. Let me first define the terms and set up the field of play.

The word “charismatic” can be used in many ways. It is taken from the word “charisma.” Websters Dictionary defines it as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader).” Many would say that Barack Obama has charisma in such a way. Charisma is taken from the Greek charisma which means “gift.” Its root, charis, means “grace.”

In Christianity, “charismatic” refers to those who believe that certain “spiritual gifts” such as tongues, prophecy, and gifts of healings, are normative for the church. In the Scriptures, we are told that God gives certain gifts to everyone in the body of Christ. Representative gift lists are mentioned in 1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12, 1 Pet. 4, and Eph. 4. Some of these gifts seem to be natural extensions of the recipients personality (leadership, teaching, encouragement) while others distinguish themselves by their extra-ordinary nature. A charismatic is one who believes that God still gifts people in the church with the extra-ordinary or supernatural gifts and that these gifts are normative in the body of Christ for the extension of God’s message, glory, and grace.

Charismatic is not a denomination, but a trans-denominational theological stance or tradition which can find representation in any denomination or tradition, including Evangelicalism. In fact, I think that the charismatic position (or some variation thereof) is the fastest growing tradition within Evangelicalism. 

A cessationist (taken from “cease”), one the other hand, is one who believes that the extra-ordinary gifts ceased in the first century, either at the completion of the New Testament or at the death of the last Apostle. Cessationists believe that the supernatural gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healings were “sign gifts” that were given for the establishment of the church and then passed away due to a fulfillment of their purpose. They served as a supernatural “sign” from God that the Gospel message being proclaimed was unique and authoritative. Since the Gospel message has been proclaimed and established in the New Testament, cessationists believe that these type of gifts ceased due to an exhaustion of purpose. Therefore, with regards to the “gifts of the Spirit,” there are “permanent gifts” and there are “temporary gifts.” Continue Reading →

Charismata and the Authority of Personal Experience

Have you noticed the rise in psychic “hotlines” and TV shows nowadays? Five years ago, it would have been difficult to find even a psychic commercial on TV. Now, there are several half-hour infomercials, aired almost round the clock.

Have you also noticed New Age music cropping up here and there, not to mention the infiltration of Eastern Mysticism into the West, and increased UFO sightings (not to mention TV programs about them)? How about the rise of “what’s in it for me” attitudes, a morality of convenience, and a market-driven society (i.e., making a living as an end in itself)? While we’re at it, we could add the increasing denial of absolute truth by most Americans–even though a large proportion claim to be evangelical Christians, the prioritizing of relevance over truth, of pragmatics over knowledge, of feelings over beliefs. Al Franken, of Saturday Night Live fame, some years ago epitomized what we are seeing with his self-serving commentary (he humorously suggested that this decade should be labeled the “Al Franken” decade).

A New Kind of Charismatic

Part and parcel of this phenomenon is the rising popularity of charismatic Christianity–especially among those who had never been attracted to the charismatic movement before. Specifically, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement historically has roots in Wesleyan theology and practice. In other words, it has historically been associated with Arminian theology. The reason for this is not immediately obvious, but can be seen through a variety of connections. Arminianism teaches, among other things, that a person once saved can lose his salvation. Hence, Arminians put a strong emphasis on moral duty, as well as spiritual experiences, as the continued confirmation that one is still saved. It is a natural extension from this stance that the test by which a person knows he is saved is various manifestations of the Spirit. Thus the craving for supernatural experiences is both endemic to the charismatic mindset and necessary as continued confirmation of salvation.

But this craving for confirmation is not the motivation of many who have become charismatics in the last few years. Indeed, what is unusual about the current popularity of the charismatic movement, principally the Vineyard form, is that has attracted many Calvinists as well as many well-trained scholars. Every year at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings1 I learn of a few more professors of theology who have joined the ranks of the Vineyard movement. Often, the response of colleagues when they find out about one these theologians is one of astonishment: “No! Not him! I never would have expected him to become a charismatic!”

Cognitive Christianity and the Impoverished Soul

Why are scholars suddenly becoming charismatics? What has happened in the last few years to attract the intelligentsia to this group?

We can give both a short answer and a long one. The short answer is that many Christian scholars have for a long time embraced a Christianity that is almost exclusively “from the neck up.” That is, theirs is a cognitive faith, one where reason reigns supreme. They are usually fine exegetes and theologians, able to defend the faith and articulate their views in a coherent, biblical, profound, and logical way. But (without naming names) many of these savants have lost their love for Christ. They love the Bible and know it inside and out. But their soul has become impoverished. They love God with their mind only; that is the extent of their spiritual obligation as they see it. In fact, for them, personal experience–especially of a charismatic sort–is anathema. It has no place in the Christian life. Study of the Bible so that they can control the text is what the Christian life is all about.

But when crisis comes–such as the death of a loved one, a teenage daughter’s pregnancy, or some major upheaval in their church ministries–their answers appear shallow and contrived, both to others and themselves. They have the inability to hurt with the hurting, though they know all the right verses on suffering! They begin to search for answers themselves, answers of an entirely different sort. Often, in the crucible of the crisis, they attend a charismatic meeting. And there, a “prophet” reveals something about their life. They are both amazed at the prophecy and deeply touched at the perception into their own condition. (Of course, cognitive types almost always marvel when other, more sensitive people, intuitively recognize traits and characteristics, internal workings and struggles in others.) Their souls get drenched with an emotional infusion that had been quenched for too long. It doesn’t take long before they hold hands with those whom they used to oppose, even to the point of now leading charismatic groups. They in fact become the theologians of a new breed of charismatic, giving a rather sophisticated rationale for charismata. In the process, they have gone through a paradigm shift: their final authority is no longer reasoning about the Scriptures; now it is personal experience. Continue Reading →