Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Strange Fire" and Responsible Criticism

I published a post a couple of weeks ago about John MacArthur and his upcoming Strange Fire conference.  I expressed concern over the rhetorical and theatrical recklessness of the promotional video as well as Pastor MacArthur's book Charismatic Chaos.  The way that MacArthur argues leads one to believe that he sees absolutely nothing beneficial to the "charismatic movement."  In this post I want to look at a more responsible critic of the charismatic movement to demonstrate a better way to speak and interact with this theological movement.

In 1984 J. I. Packer published Keep In Step With the Spirit.  In that book he engaged the charismatic movement critically but responsibly--and Christianly.  Packer begins by using a credal test and a moral test as drawn from 1 John.  In light of these, Packer states:
When we apply these tests to the charismatic movement, it becomes plain at once that God is in it.  For whatever threats and perhaps instances of occult and counterfeit spirituality we may think we detect round its periphery (and what movement of revival has ever lacked these things round its periphery?), its main effect everywhere is to promote robust Trinitarian faith, personal fellowship with the divine Saviour and Lord whom we meet in the New Testament, repentance, obedience, and love to fellow Christians, expressed in ministry of all sorts toward them--plus a zeal for evangelistic outreach that puts the staider sort of churchmen to shame. (p. 185)
Packer then goes on to list out 12 "positive aspects" to the charismatic movement.  Here is the list along with a few of Packer's comments.
1.  Christ Centeredness.  Faith in, devotion to, and personal fellowship with the living Christ of Scripture are at the movement's heart.  Charismatic books and songs show that whatever my be true of this or that individual, the mainstream of the renewal is robustly Trinitarian, and the stress on the Holy Spirit's ministry does not displace the Lord Jesus from his rightful place as the Head of the body, Lord and Saviour of each human limb in it, and the constant focus of affection and adoration in the worship of his and our Father.  On the contrary, the Spirit's floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus is well understood, vigorously affirmed, and by all accounts richly enjoyed wherever the renewal takes hold.
2.  Spirit-empowered Living.
3.  Emotion Finding Expression....Granted, charismatic forms of emotional expression can easily become an exhibitionist routine, but then cool bodily stillness, with solemn fixity of face, can equally easily be the expression of a frigid, heartless formalism.  Between these two you may make your choice, but by scriptural standards there is no  doubt that a disorderly liveliness, the overflow of love and joy in God, is preferable to a tidy deadness that lacks both.  A living dog, after all, really is better than a dead lion (see Ecclesiastes 9:4).
4.  Prayerfulness....Many who pray in tongues pray much and for long periods of time; it is doubtful whether those who do not pray so much have any right to criticize what they are doing.
5.  Joyfulness.
6.  Every-heart Involvement in the Worship of God.
7.   Every-member Ministry in the Body of Christ.  
8.  Missionary Zeal.  Charismatics' concern to share Christ, their readiness to testify to their own experience of him, and their unwillingness to be discouraged when their witness is coolly received are exemplary.  No evangelical advocate of lay witness could ask for more.  The boldness of Acts 4:13 and 31 is much in evidence in charismatic circles.
9.  Small-group Ministry.
10.  Attitude Toward Church Structures.  
11. Communal Living.
12.  Generous Giving.
Packer goes on in this chapter to list out 10 "negative aspects" of the charismatic movement to balance out the ledger.  My purpose is not to detail Packer's arguments but rather to show that this Reformed critic of the charismatic movement is able to see much that is good and commendable in the charismatic movement.  This is surely a more accurate way to evaluate this large and variegated movement than MacArthur's wholesale dismissal of the entire movement under the charge of "blaspheming the Holy Spirit."