Monday, November 07, 2005

The Reformed-Charismatic divide

Phillip Johnson wrote what I thought was a well-written series of essays on spiritual warfare last week:
, and

What Johnson didn't count on was the skeptical undertow he brought with him as a cessationist and employee of a chief charismatic critic.

In response, charismatics didn't disagree with Johnson as much as they worried about what he wasn't saying, which only served to put Johnson on the defensive. Here was the volley that followed Johnson's essays:

  • I wrote a reserved defense of Dr. Charles Kraft based on personal experience. It wasn't a full-on defense as much as I felt it neccesary to shine positive light on his character based on the tone of Johnson's attack on some of Kraft's beliefs. I agreed, more or less, than some of Kraft's theology teeters on the edge of orthopraxy, if it doesn't exceed it.

  • Some commentators on my post, such as fellow charismatic Dan Edelen, felt Johnson was being "ferocious" in his response to charismatics who felt he was being a little too harsh. Others, such as the more reserved Mike Russell, were skeptical in general of any kind of criticism that comes from the ministry Johnson is involved with.

  • Tim Challies added to the blogstorm by posting a negative review a book by Sam Storms. The author of the book is a member of my organization, the Vineyard, is considered one of the formidable voices for Reformed Charismatics. Challies objected because of the weirdness of Storms' argumentation. Considering the examples Challies offered from the book, I am uncomfortable myself, but I would like to point out weirdness has never been a limitation to the God of the Bible.

  • Adrian, sensing division, took on Johnson full bore. Instead of commenting on Johnson's criticism of the more loosely practicing Charismatics, Adrian decided to turn it into a debate over cessationism. Johnson replied in Adrian's post that he wasn't attacking Charismatics, he was attacking fringe Charismatics with problematic theology, but Adrian did not seem deterred from his concern. Adrian then filed a second post on the subject.

  • Johnson then fired back in a BlogSpotting post, including a link to my post on the subject. He seemed to have a strong grasp of my perspective and realized I was not attacking him in return. He expressed concern, however, over the language used in the comments to my post. Friends being what they are -- and I value all of you -- I choose not to get involved.

    To quote Paul Newman's Cool-Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

    I did not disagree a single bit with Johnson's criticism of "rubber prophecies" and "geographical spiritual warfare." It's not just weird, much of it is patently unBiblical. Not extra-Biblical, just flat out can't find justification for it in the Word.

    Johnson, to his credit, continues to emphasize he was not attacking Charismatics. He has added a list of charismatics he finds acceptable, which I think is criticial in a time when members of the God Blogosphere could re-open wounds I felt were only recently healing. Johnson is a cessationist, but he is for the Gospel, and he is for anyone else who is for the Gospel.

    And that is really what he is defending. Anyone who puts unneccesary emphasis on orthopraxy -- such as charismatic practices -- deemphasizes the primary agenda of all Bible-based Christians, which is the Gospel. It must -- without any hinderance -- be the focus of our spiritual growth and our missional outlook.

    I am a charismatic with some highly suspect experiences. It's important to me that everyone knows I receive these as a gift from God, but I will never deem it mandatory for the whole Church body. It's not even important to me that cessationists change their mind. I believe cessationists function in the gifts whether they believe they are or not. I don't say that to offend. I only want to downplay what I consider a issue of methodology and practice, and put back on the pedastal what we want to honor.

    I hope as this blogstorm rolls on, we keep in mind the things on which we agree. No one is denying the divinity of Christ. No one is changing the formula for which we are to be saved. To me knowledge, none of those involved are denying the Trinity, the virgin birth, or -- and perhaps especially -- the divine authority of canonized Scripture.

    What will be debated is methodology and orthopraxy, which are lesser forms of theology that should never, ever divide us.
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