My Take on Charismatic Christianity

Charismatic Christianity is trendy, from what I can tell. That’s where Christians experiment with miraculous healing, prophesy, speaking in tongues, discerning whether Jesus or Satan is at work in a given supernatural occurrence, and other “spiritual gifts”. The bible enumerates those gifts. Look it up if you’re intrigued.

The word charismatic has nothing to do with charm or cocktail party prowess, although practicing its principles can certainly capture an audience’s attention, which is indeed one purpose or effect of charismatic Christianity. The root phrase is charis mata, Greek for “gifts of Grace” or “manifestations of Grace”. (I think I have that right; correct me if I’m wrong about any of this.) Rather than try to explain Christianity through logic or indoctrination, charismatic Christianity seeks to bring people to Christ by demonstrating his powers “in the flesh”, so to speak. It’s direct.

I think charismatic Christianity is ballsy. It takes balls to put hands on a person and openly try to heal him in the name of Jesus Christ. Either it works and everyone’s jaw drops, or it doesn’t and you make an embarrassment of you and your faith. Most folks practicing charismatic Christianity are wise to not make any grand overtures, but to practice quietly and humbly. This saves face.

I think charismatic Christianity is trendy right now because of the incredibly fast decline in church attendance that’s been going on in the United States over the past few decades. There doesn’t appear to be any sign of a turnaround. The church needs warm bodies, new blood, a fresh round of sustenance. Time to pull out the big guns: Magic tricks Flashy spectacles Miracles are in order.

You might think by my tone that I am belittling the movement. On the contrary. I think it’s rad. Why? For one reason, I honestly do think the tradition is ballsy. It forces adherents to put their money where their mouths are. Anyone can recite bible passages and announce their beliefs. It takes a whole other level of commitment to go around expecting miracles.

Charismatic Christianity is an effective rhetorical tool. Everyone knows Christ supposedly went around healing people. But not everyone knows why he did it. Sure, half the reason he did it was to be kind. But the other reason was to prove he had heavenly authority on Earth. That’s right, part of the reason he healed a paralyzed dude was just to make a point.

The final main reason I like the movement is because that’s how I came to know God. A dude healed my knees, and moments later I had a spiritual awakening.

I shouldn’t believe in any of this. That’s not who I am was. But the fact is I’m now under the spell of this thing called Christ, and it’s not hurting anyone.

So I roll with it.

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10 thoughts on “My Take on Charismatic Christianity

  1. One of the things I like about you, and your writing, is the fact that you aren’t afraid to say “I don’t get this. Or I see a flaw in this.” And yet, still give the belief, the action, the person the benefit of the doubt. Looking at Christians, it seems like there is this fear to say “That seems off….or I don’t think that’s quite right.” Or, forbid we even say “We don’t quite get it. We don’t fully understand.” I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with saying those things the past few years. I don’t need this Jesus thing to fit in some nicely wrapped boxed. Actually, I don’t want it in a box at all– I want it living and breathing and changing me.

    I’ve been reading a book called “Love Does” by Bob Goff. Not sure if you heard of it, but I read this quote yesterday and reminded me of you: “I’d rather trade all the religions jargon for the chance to invite one person into experiencing Jesus.” I’ve resolved in my heart that I want to commit the rest of my life to truly loving people. To stop trying to give them answers. And to simply love them through life. Sure, sometimes loving someone means offering correction, but a lot of the times it means grace. And it means listening. And it means giving.

    Yesterday, I received word that the friend I wrote about in Thursdays blog (“The heart of the matter & crap…) was found dead. The past 12 hours have had my really thinking. I had this one last moment with him, and in it I chose to love on him. I remember hugging him more than usual. Telling him verbally that i loved him. Listening to his heart ache. And as much as I miss him, as much as I grieve a life that had much more work to do here on Earth, I feel like I finally started living out that life of love.

    There’s a lot there and I don’t mean to “unload” on you– and its jumbled and not very coherent, but all that to say THANK YOU for writing. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • Oh, the pleasure is all mine when you offer such honest posts and responses. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Sounds like you did the right thing in his last days. I’ve got your blog on my list of things “to do” — to comment on, in this case.

      Love Does. I’ll make a note of it. I just picked up a book called “Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases” by Peter Haas, a pastor at Substance Church in the Twin Cities, MN, which I attended for the first time yesterday. Nice title, right? Haas is one of that growing contingent of establishment ministers who are fighting the corrupted system from within. My kinda guy. That kind of attitude is about as Christ-like as you can get, I would estimate. Seek the good aspects in established fellowship traditions, but discard the unprofitable aspects, and look to God directly to fill in all of the blanks. That’s my game plan, anyway.

      • Haas has quite a way with titling books. :) That’s a mouth full, but by the sounds of it– he’s got something amazing to share. You’ll have to let me know how it is. How was it going to church? I know you had mentioned in one of your posts that you weren’t sure when you would be visiting one– I’m interested to hear how it went.

        He seems to be the type of man who wants to change things by being a part of them instead of excluding himself. And I think that’s the way to do it. Any system– educational, political, relational– needs to be changed from within. Anything done from the “outside” looks like an attack, but when done from within there’s an aspect of love behind it. An ownership to it.

        In my life, I’ve boiled it down to love. I’ve got to love the stupid people. I haven’t mastered it, not even in the smallest form, but its my mission. To love that person (fuck, that large group of people) who seems to be divisive, ignorance, unkind, selfish, etc. Church was difficult for me yesterday. It’s difficult for me every Sunday. And in that difficult place I just keep asking God to help me love these idiots.

        • Amen to all that! Funny you should ask about my impressions of church. I was writing a review when you posted your comment. Boom.

          Church should feel good, I say. The point of church, it seems to me, is fellowship, worship, and love. If it ain’t got all those, or if there are just too many cynical bastards who wouldn’t know Christ if he swaggered up and healed them right in the face, then it’s not worth going.

          • It was as if you read my mind– glad you posted your experience. :)

            Eh, I know a lot of Christian bastards who have not only misrepresented Jesus, but haven’t recognized Him. That’s my biggest struggle. People. I love them as a WHOLE, but ask me to love an individual and it becomes harder for me.

    • I have heard of that — people using peer pressure to get others to fake speaking in tongues. That seems a form of blasphemy in itself, worse than any swear word, because it’s disingenuous and even dishonest. If someone is speaking in tongues, it ought to be because they feel the spirit moving them to do so, not because holier-than-thou Aunt Prissypants is foaming at the mouth and expects you to follow suit. :)

  2. In many ways the charismatic stuff is more popular/prevalent in other cultures. In the African and South American contexts where animism and ancestor reverence are strong forces the charismatic Christians oppose spiritual force with spiritual force.

    The Enlightenment happened at about the same time as the American Revolution and so many American faith traditions take an Enlightenment view of the world (i.e. reason trumps mystery, physical laws explain everything, human thought can discover anything).

    The move away from the Enlightenment ideals have opened the door for the acceptance of mystery, spiritual power, and the inability of human thought to solve every quandary.

    Where the charismatic movement stumbles is when the signs are used as proof that one is right. Some groups (though not all) use things like speaking in tongues as an identity marker indicating those who are truly saved. It’s a move away from the humble ballsiness to a hubristic sensation-seeking.

    Where charismatic movements excel is when they admit that God can do whatever the eff he wants and we aren’t the boss of him.

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