What is a "pneuma" blog, you ask? Well, it is a blog that ascribes to the view that charismatic gifts have continued to this day and have not stopped, as "cessationists" believe. Receiving this recognition from PneumaBlogs is, while an honor, quite ironic, coming at this time. This is because in looking at things through more reformed lenses lately, I have been questioning my beliefs about many popular charismatic practices. When I began writing this blog, my tag line describing this blog included the following phrase: "cultural commentary by an evangelical, charismatic, thinking christian". I had been attending charismatic churches where there was strong respect for the Scripture, yet wasn't fully satisfied with the teachings I heard on issues frequently mentioned in charismatic churches. I was not questioning the existence or continuation of spiritual gifts, but how they were being practiced.
Even as I read the writings of various teachers, some long dead and some still with us, such as Smith Wigglesworth, Kenneth Hagin, Derek Prince, Watchman Nee, Charles Kraft, Jack Deere, John Bevere, T.L. Osborn, F.F. Bosworth, David Yonggi Cho and more, and also read countless charismatic teaching articles on the Internet, I somehow could not fully embrace the charismatic worldview, when I tried to reconcile it with the Bible and with my observations on the reality of life. So I had and continue to have strong reservations about common charismatic teaching on such topics as healing, deliverance, prophecy, tongues, the "favor of God", the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and hearing personal words from God in order to discern God's will. I was already examining these teachings and trying to justify them biblically before I began to study the reformed view. But with study of the reformed view I have developed an even stronger conviction that all teachings by anyone need to be examined for soundness of biblical interpretation.
Now some may think in taking this reformed approach, I am going backwards. I will be missing out, some may believe, on things God the Spirit is doing today, things that are being restored to the church, or far worse, will become guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit. However, I agree with the principle of "sola scriptura" (by scripture alone) which, as one of the foundations of the reformed view, says "that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the only source of Christian doctrine" (from Wikipedia article on Sola Scriptura).
I fully believe that the Word of God is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17)". Thus, no harm will come to me or my family from careful and diligent study of the Scriptures, to decide whether or not these things be so (Acts 17:11).
I certainly don't want to "throw out with the baby with the bath water", as they say, and revert to a position that discounts all charismatic gifts just because there is a lot of nonsense being preached on these subjects in popular Christianity-- nonsense because it is not argued from, nor substantiated by, proper interpretation of Scripture. But to me the man-centeredness of much of popular Charismatic teaching is evident, as it emphasizes my "rights" to healing, prosperity and the good life here and now on earth, but deemphasizes sin and holy obedience. Equally alarming is how the sufficiency of Scripture to guide us through life, as the Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, is also being diminished by much of this teaching. For example, when it is argued that prayer is about getting special personal revelations from God in order to help you decide your future, or when modern prophetic utterances are given as much weight as Scripture, this seems to take away the preeminent place Scripture ought to have as authority over all things pertaining to our walk in Christ.
Of course I recognize that it is challenging to interpret Scripture correctly and that sincere believers may come to different conclusions on many subjects, based on their present understanding of the Word. Additionally, no one comes to Scripture totally objectively, but in the weakness of our human condition, and because each of us is wired differently, we all come to the Word carrying certain biases which influence our understanding of what the Bible means. For example, generally speaking, the reformed view might appeal more to someone whose temperament is very logical, while the charismatic view might appeal more strongly to someone who is by temperament more emotional. Yet we are commanded by Jesus, as the great and first commandment, to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." We see in this that really there ought to be no conflict between various parts of our selves (heart, soul and mind), but rather they should be working together, as representing a unified whole, to love God fully. The reformed view should not lead to dry, unemotional, Spirit-less intellectualism in its application of Scripture. The charismatic view ought not to turn off the mind and bypass reason in order to embrace a Spirit-filled passion for God.
So if I am to love God with my whole self, this will involve cooperation with God's spirit in order to purify my heart, soul and mind from all obstructions to this aim. To me this means to have a sincere love for God and neighbor that can only be generated by the Spirit, as all parts of me work in harmony. My mind must be sharpened biblically, so that I am worshiping the true God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, as opposed to the God of my preferences or of my imagination. And the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) and tries to draw away my heart from God- must be put to death (Col 3:5). I have been given the privilege of "working out my own salvation", knowing that as I do so that it is God who works in me, "both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). Furthermore, knowing that by God's power I am being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, I must prepare my mind for action, and be sober-minded, as I set my hope fully on the grace that will be brought to me at the revelation of Jesus Christ, so that in the end, I will receive the outcome of my faith, the salvation of my soul (1 Peter 1:5,9,13). As an obedient child of God, I am not to be conformed to the passions of my former ignorance, but instead I am called by a holy God to be holy in all of my conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16)."
As these my paraphrases of the above verses show, there is no coasting in the Christian life, but I can expect both hard work and suffering as a believer in a suffering Lord. My expectation of the Christian life must therefore not be the false message (often preached in Charismatic circles) of obtaining a sort of heaven on earth, for this is completely contrary to the portrait of the Christian life painted in Scripture. Rather, as I look back on my old life, a life that was leading me away from God and towards destruction, I should concur with Paul:
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:7-21)"
As I continue my faith journey then, what really counts is not whether I call myself charismatic, Arminian or Reformed, but whether I am being obedient to the teaching of the Bible. I seek to embrace whichever theological position is truest to the whole counsel of Scripture, no matter what my personal preferences. My studies thus far have led me to conclude that the Reformed position offers a framework for interpreting Scripture that is biblically solid, and that unfortunately there is much found seriously wanting in the popular charismatic interpretation and application of Scripture. Undoubtedly I will probably encounter flaws in the Reformed views as well. My studies so far have been limited mostly to examination of the "doctrines of grace", and not the Reformed view of eschatology, or other areas. Or I may find that the view is being interpreted and applied mistakenly by some.
With regard to charismatic phenomena, I know that we worship an unchanging God of unlimited power who has worked miracles in the past. So I remain very open to the idea that God may want to work such miracles among His people again, or speak to His people through prophecy in greater ways in the future. Yet I also embrace the Reformed approach to examination of such phenomena, believing that the Word is an infallible, inspired guide that will not leave us without guidance in these areas.