stainedglass-pentecost.jpg This morning I see that American Christianity is Turning Charismatic. Well, he phrases it as a question, but he’s pointing out a trend as he’s been comparing charismatics and evangelicals in the USA. Actually, he compares Christianity in general, but evangelicalism is a key part of the survey.

Charismatics are found throughout the fabric of American Christianity. Although just 8% of the population is evangelical, half of evangelical adults (49%) fit the charismatic definition. A slight majority of all born again Christians (51%) is charismatic. Nearly half of all adults who attend a Protestant church (46%) are charismatic.

This isn’t what the landscape looked like when I became a charismatic. I don’t know what the stats were, but it was decidedly less popular. In my mind, the answer to Barna’s question is “yes.” I think that evangelicalism is becoming increasingly charismatic… wherever it’s not fundamentalist, that is. I’m starting to wonder about “pure” evangelicalism without one of those two descriptors attached. Would that form (whatever it looks like) be in sharp decline? How else might one explain the bestseller-ness of Joel Osteen and The Prayer of Jabez before him? (Unapologetically, no links to the books are provided here.) It seems to me there were (and are) a whole bunch of American evangelicals saying, “Well, some of this stuff ain’t half bad.” (And they’re half right.)

Barna does point out some differences — the financial ones surprised me, as the non-charismatics are slightly ahead of the charismatics in average annual budget and pastoral compensation. What did not surprise me was the education level. “A large majority of the Senior Pastors of non-charismatic churches (70%) have graduated from a seminary. Not quite half of the charismatic pastors (49%) have a seminary degree.” I’m quick to want to suggest that this means 21% of Senior Pastors are talking about “types and shadows” or uttering the phrase, “Gawd wants you rich!” In actual fact though, some of those degrees where issued by charismatic institutions…

“When I was a charismatic, I talked like a charismatic, I thought like a charismatic, I reasoned like a charismatic. When I woke up, I put charismatic ways behind me.” Uh, sorry, I got carried away a bit there. When I was a charismatic, we were taking note when prominent or notable scholars crossed the line to join our ranks. We looked to men like Gordon Fee, Wayne Grudem, Peter Davids and others who, even if not supportive of all charismatic theology, were nonetheless legitimizing voices for the continuation of the charismata. Not to mention, of course, Jack Deere, C. Peter Wagner. With these and others, we were getting some theological heavyweights in and around the edges of the charismatic movement, guys with real Ph.D.s from real theological schools. Hot dang! Evidence we’re not all heretics.

While it seems that certain of the aforementioned theologians (can you say “New Apostolic Reformation?) have slipped beyond what I would endorse theologically, I wonder if some of our charismatic ideas should have stopped where others of these guys did rather than carry on to excess, leaving a trail of post-charismatics in its wake.

These days, I’m thinking that the biggest blight on North American Christianity is the excesses of the charismatic movement as they seep into mainstream evangelicalism… particularly through prosperity teaching, the me-centered gospel, and to a lesser extent, spiritual authority. Christianity aside, North America has been overripe for erroneous teaching like this. Yes, I realize that “biggest blight” is a pretty harsh statement… and I say “lesser extent” concerning spiritual authority only because I think the teaching has so far been less pervasive; in many people’s experience, it has been more damaging.

Not that there aren’t positives… the continuation of the charismata is something to which I still hold and value. As charismatic theology spreads, this tenet must be more widely adopted as well. But sadly, as I survey the present landscape of the charismatic movement, I see something that looks a lot less like the Jesus People and The Vineyard and a lot more like Word-Faith cum Prosperity Gospel… which in D.R. McConnell’s words, is A Different Gospel altogether.

Curious what people think on this… as Barna asked, “Is American Christianity Turning Charismatic?” And is that good or bad? How so? And am I to harsh in my own consideration of the trend?

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