Mark Van Steenwyk has just written On Being Charismatic, in which he describes a bit of his charismatic past and some discomforts with it before outlining seven statements on the charismata. He doesn’t use the terminology, but the essence of what he’s saying would put him, as I would describe it, in the post-charismatic camp. I’ve written about this a fair bit, though the magnum opus is forthcoming from Robbymac.
The term “post-” anything seems to raise people’s hackles. Postmodern may to some be an overused term, and post-evangelical can make people think about heretics, but these are not the right associations to be used with these terms, nor with post-charismatic. The clearest example of the prefix in an unambiguous use would be “post-industrial.” Just as the “post-” prefix in this usage is not intended to imply anything negative about industrialization…. in fact in many ways, quite the opposite. And it is precisely this tone that should be inferred when considering the term “post-charismatic.”
This got me to thinking about the types of post-charismatics that are out there, and I think I can provisionally identify six variations on the theme. In the descriptions, I use “abuses and excesses” to describe the experience of the post-charismatics. Without discussing or defending the phrase, it is intended to simply be descriptive of the perspective common to the post-charismatics. Absent this common assessment on their part, most of them would by definition not be post-charismatic. The list, then:
- Post-Charismatic Cessationists are those who had a charismatic experience or who once actively practiced the charismata in their former church lives, but for one reason or another, or perhaps for many personal reasons, have come to believe that the charismata are no longer active and that some alternative explanation exists to make sense of their prior experience. These are the closest to losing their faith over the excesses and abuses they’ve seen, being prepared to write off all of it as mass hysteria or any number of other possible explanations. Some of these may have the lingering question, “If all of that was false, how much of the faith itself is false too?” Those retaining their faith may still walk away with a cessationist view simply because it’s more palatable to them to think that God was in no way the author of what they saw or experienced.
- Former Charismatics are those who want to put their charismatic days behind them, completely. These are people who have no wish to continue the exercise of the charismata at all. They don’t believe that the charismata have ceased, but based on their past experience, they may be viewed as too dangerous or simply not worth the risk of the damage they can cause when weighed against the potential benefit they provide. It would be better, they reason, not to attempt to exercise the gifts because they only lead to abuse and excess, and not enough people get healed to make the whole package worth pursuing, simply for the experience of speaking in tongues, the value of which they might question.
- Functional Cessationists are those who, like the Former Charismatics, don’t dismiss the charismata, but they’re open to them… kind of. They don’t really pursue the gifts, and are just wary enough that there’s no actual practice of the charismata taking place. This group is actually content with the way things are because it feels appropriate, non-controversial, and allows a focus on other important spiritual priorities with none of the mess. They don’t deny the gifts in their theology, but in practice, they certainly aren’t sought or encouraged, so although the function of the gifts haven’t been ruled out, they don’t actually function.
- Detoxing Post-Charismatics are those who have set the charismata aside, but only for a season. They have a desire to see the gifts practiced and functioning in their everyday life and church community, but based on their past charismatic experiences, they’re excercising an extreme caution. Unlike the Functional Cessationists, they aren’t content with this mode, and want to actively pursue the gifts. As it stands however, their past experience has left them asking a lot of questions and sorting out what’s been from God and what hasn’t. The detox period they’re in is one of sorting out a new understanding for the ongoing function of the charismata, which they fully intend to pursue as they figure things out a bit more. There may be various degrees of awareness of it, but they are feeling wounded from the excesses and abuses in their charismatic experiences and observations, and to some degree, for many, it may be best to excercise caution in their practice of the gifts until they are able to heal from their woundedness and begin to use the gifts again in a way that is untainted by their past experience.
- (Classic) Post-Charismatics are those who have rejected some of the forms of their charismatic backgrounds — the excesses. Having considered any excesses and abuses they have observed or experienced, they have also considered the positive impact of the charismata, and moved beyond it. They have a strong desire to pursue the practice of the gifts in their life and in the life of their community, and are seeking ways to integrate the regular practice of the gifts in ways that are void of the negative aspects and effects they’ve seen in the past. They have evaluated the good and the bad, and unlike the Former Charismatics, they have weighed the potential benefit and the potential pitfalls and found the benefits worth the “risks.” To some extent, they are still experimenting with how to integrate the gifts without being drawn into some of the excesses or errors which caused them to want to leave the charismatic movement, but fundamentally, they value and seek to practice the gifts. They’re attempting to get on with it, but haven’t completely finished asking and answering some of the questions they’ve posed for themselves.
- Realized Post-Charismatics are those who have found ways of integrating the charismata into their life and practice, and are getting on with “doin’ the stuff,” as John Wimber used to call it. They have rejected the excesses and abuses that have characterized some of the charismatic movement they’ve known, but have been able to put all of it enough into the past so as not to be too bothered about it any longer. These are much like the (Classic) Post-Charismatics, but they’ve stopped asking quite so many questions, having reached a place of peace with answers that they have come up with so far. They are Post-Charismatic in the sense of having left the charismatic movement, but having integrated the good from the charismatic movement into their ongoing life of faith and practice.
A kind of progression can be recognized with some or most of these categories. Some will settle in one of them and stay there for a long time, perhaps indefinitely or permenantly, but I believe that all post-charismatics can and should move toward the “realized” stage. From my perspective, there are not a lot of voices from this camp in the emerging church movement, but there are getting to be more people in the (Classic) Post-Charismatic camp, seeking to move forward. Taking steps together from there though, I do see a reason to hope for a reasonable contingent of believers in the emerging church conversation that are finding ways to integrate the gifts of the Spirit on a practical ongoing fashion.