Continued from previous post: J.I. Packer Quotes on the Charismatic Movement
In his book Keep In Step With the Spirit, theologian J.I. Packer wrote a helpful theological work on the person and work of the Holy Spirit and shared in a couple of chapters his thoughts on the charismatic movement taking place in much of the world today.
My goals for sharing this is not to choose sides or argue for a middle ground in the recently renewed interest in debating cessationalism and the charismatic faith (reignited by the StrangeFire conference and book by John MacArthur) but rather to share helpful truths for both sides to ponder.
I hope the information presented here will help both sides avoid misunderstandings that lead to straw men argumentation, widening the chasm between the differing sides within the body of Christ that Christ so desperately wanted to be unified (John 17:23).
Toward the end of his discussion on the charismatic movement, Packer sums up his views in nine final conclusions. The conclusions are themselves summarized for brevity’s sake, and I sought to be honest in sharing the heart of his position and argumentation:
1. Spirit Baptism
…This charismatic theology sees the Apostles’ experience at Pentecost as the normative pattern of transition from the first and lower level to the higher, Spirit-filled level. But this idea seems to lack both biblical and experiential justification, while the corollary that all Christians who are strangers to a Pentecostal transition experience are lower-level folk, not Spirit filled, is, to say the least, unconvincing.
2. Sign Gifts
The restorationist theory of sign gifts, which the charismatic movement also inherited from older Pentecostalism, is inapplicable; nobody can be sure, nor does it seem likely, that the New Testament gifts of tongues, interpretation, healing, and miracles have been restored, while Spirit-given prophecy, which in essence is not new revelation (though in biblical times this was often part of it), but rather power to apply to people truth already revealed, is not specially related to the charismatic milieu; it has in fact been in the church all along…
The charismatic stress on faith in a living Lord, learning of God from God through Scripture, openness to the indwelling Spirit, close fellowship in prayer and praise, discernment and service of personal need, and expecting God actively to answer prayer and change things for the better, are tokens of true spiritual renewal from which all Christians should learn, despite associated oddities to which mistaken theology gave rise.
4. Glossolalia [speaking in tongues]
…[tongues] has its place in the inescapable pluriformity of Christian experience, in which the varied makeup of both cultures and individuals is reflected by a wide range of devotional styles. It seems clear that as a devotional exercise glossolalia enriches some, but that for others it is a valueless irreverence…Even if (as I suspect, though cannot prove) today’s glossolalists do not speak such tongues as were spoken at Corinth, none should forbid them their practice; while they for their part should not suppose that every would-be top-class Christian needs to adopt it.
Two questions needing to be pressed are whether, along with a sense of worship and of love, the charismatic movement also fosters a realistic sense of sin and whether its euphoric ethos does not tend to encourage naïve pride rather than humility among its supporters.
6. The Spirit
Though theologically uneven (and what spiritually significant movement has not been?) the charismatic renewal should commend itself to Christian people as a God-sent corrective of formalism, institutionalism, and intellectualism…Charismatic renewal has forced all Christendom, including those who will not take this from Evangelicals, to ask: What then does it mean to be a Christian and to believe in the Holy Spirit? Who is Spirit filled?
…Yet the charismatic life stream still needs an adequately biblical theology and remains vulnerable when it lacks one.
The central charismatic quest is not for any particular experience as such, but for what we may call thoroughgoing and uninhibited totality in realizing God’s presence and responding to his grace. In worship, this totality means full involvement of each worshiper and the fullest openness to God. In ministry, it means not only nor even chiefly the use of sign gifts, but the discerning and harnessing of all capacities to serve…The charismatic quest for totality is surely right…This challenge must be received as from God…The charismatic movement is a God-sent gadfly to goad the whole church into seeking more of totality before the Lord than most Christians today seem to know. Face the challenge!
The charismatic movement is theologically immature, and its public speech and style seem on occasion half-baked as a result. Its exponents …on occasion appear to be man centered and experience centered in their interest, tritheistic in their theology, and mindlessly mesmerized by the present moment, as children are. The movement’s intellectual and devotional preoccupation with the Holy Spirit tends to separate him from the Son who he was sent to glorify and the Father to whom the Son brings us…What emerges, therefore, is intensity with instability, insight not always linked with intelligence, and oversimplified one-sidedness on spirituality, and an enthusiasm that is too often escapist…But in any case, whichever is the right diagnosis, it can hardly be doubted that the immaturities of the charismatic version of Christian life can only be cured through a theologically deepening that will result in an acuter self-awareness and self-criticism. It is to be hoped that such a deepening will soon come.
The charismatic movement, though a genuine renewing of much that belongs to healthy biblical Christianity, does not exhibit all the features that belong to God’s work of revival. While vigorously grasping the joys of firm faith, it knows too little of the awesome searchlight of God’s holiness and the consequent godly sorrow of radical repentance. Also, in settling for the joys of the faith and the celebrating of gifts the movement has, as it seems, been satisfied too easily and too soon…