I had an awesome visit from an old friend last night. He was off interning with the now infamous Todd Bentley. The thing I like about him is that he has a good head on his shoulders, and he isn't afraid of critiquing a movement that he also deeply respects. I'd say that his challenge is getting appropriate critical distance, but who doesn't have that challenge? (if we are being honest) However, we had a wonderful talk about hermeneutics, presuppositions and dangerous tendencies within the Charismatic world. Now to be upfront - I felt a bit out of the loop as to the players in that world, but it is the world I come from too. We both agree that the deep need is for Charismatics to interface with theologians and for theologians to interface with Charismatics. As it is most Charismatics, and this is a judgment I am making, consider having the "Spirit" as mitigating their need to have anyone teach them anything. It should not surprise us then that Charismatics have a huge range of innovations functioning in their midst - both the truly horrid and the truly brilliant. But there are no real tools for assessing innovation or even correcting some of the more disturbing innovations.
I might take up this task in detail here on the blog. It is dear to my heart. I still know (sometimes personally) half of the players in the Charismatic world. And some I deeply respect. Others, not so much. But for this post I want to focus on this notion of having the "Spirit". Which at its worst is the same old elitism that erupts in every movement that thinks it has the "whole truth", and at its best is a cry for a deeper spiritual intimacy for all Christians.
My buddy would talk about this "having the Spirit" quite a bit in regards to the inability of Charismatics to learn from others. This notion, if I am reading him right, is not that only the Charismatics that have access to the Spirit of God (and by that I mean immediate, unmediated access) but that somehow only the Charismatics have somehow ascertained the true way to maintain that access. The problems with this sort of pneumatological proposition are what led to my exodus from Pentecostalism. But lets focus on what the implications are here.
If, as is proposed and often admitted, Charismatics have immediate and unmediated access to the Spirit, by which they can only mean direct communication from God, then there should be specific fruit evident. At least my critical mind would go looking for the fruit. What should/would that fruit be? Unity? Mercy? Justice? Restoration? Healing? Peace? Love? Joy? Fulfillment? I would think none of those should escape an assessment of any theological innovation. Of all those, I think only healing has had any sort of evaluation - and that is usually the more dubious emotive healing experience of the ecstatics and not the continual assessment that can only take place years after such events have occurred. (Even still has anyone compared ecstatic healings with long term prayerful healings?) As a close second perhaps joy is also looked at - but I'm not convinced that some of the ecstatics junkies I've met really qualify as having the type of deep joy I read about in scripture.
Now I'm not building this case to discard the innovations (even the ecstatics), but to say that there needs to be a way of assessing these phenomena and bringing some of the better innovations into prominence in the corporate ecclesial psyche. In other words what gift can these Charismatics make to Christ's Church?
I am suggesting that the notion of immediate and unmediated is deeply flawed.
It functions like this. Influential Charismatic X has an experience. They reveal this experience to other Charismatics. It is given the same weight as say scripture or tradition. Such experience becomes integrated into the normative spiritual experience without any real evaluation (innovation). Others have similar experiences (supposedly - that is they at least mediate them in the same way) and it becomes normative within an ever growing population. The late John White talked about the psychology of this in "When the Spirit Comes with Power" which I highly recommend.
In that scenario what is missed is that mediation happens all the way along. (That is it is neither immediate nor unmediated). The Influential Charismatic X interprets their experience, even if it is to put a narrative around it. Charles Parnham was talking about tongues long before Asuzu (and Seymour was sitting in the hall listening to those lectures). We all have theological assumptions operative, so experiences are instantly mediated through our assumptions and our worldview(s). Now there can be worldview changing experiences, this is well documented, but even these are mediated and reined in through our internal need for coherence. We never land far from where we start. In other words it is naive to assume immediate or unmediated access to the Spirit.
Does this invalidate our experiences of the Holy Spirit? Not at all. It simply contextualizes them and better it lets us critique the innovations they lead us to. So if flopping on the floor leads to the fruit we outlined earlier - I will be the first one joining you in flopping! But if it is really only a way for me to feel good about myself, then lets work together to something more mature and more beneficial for the Church and ultimately the world that God so loved.