Thursday, October 27, 2016

On failing to be a charismatic

There's an interesting article over at Think about the relationship between theology and healing.  Although it doesn't directly address the issue of whether and to what extent we should expect healing today, it still pokes me in a sensitive place: my failure to be a charismatic.

It's really not through want of trying.  My background is hard cessationist: canon complete, no more apostles, therefore no more gifts or miracles.  Full stop.  For a variety of reasons, I've moved away from that position.  I've come to think that the "therefore" doesn't really work.  For a variety of reasons, including thinking more about the doctrine of Scripture and pondering the role which miracles and spiritual gifts seem to play in the NT churches, I couldn't sustain it.  And philosophically, I began to suspect that cessationism had more in common with the Enlightenment than its Reformed advocates would have liked to admit.  It's been a while since I've been a cessationist - in principle, anyway.

I remember chatting to a pastor who described himself as a failed cessationist.  He was inclined toward cessationism, it fit his view of God and church and revelation, he was alarmed by the clear excesses and often dubious theology of those elements of the charismatic movement with which he came into contact.  But at the same time, he couldn't make the Biblical evidence fit.  Whilst his experience pushed him towards cessationism, his reading of the Bible prevented him from landing there.

In some ways I feel like the opposite.  Theologically and philosophically I feel inclined towards the charismatic position.  In common with all evangelicals, I believe that God can do the miraculous today.  Unlike cessationists, I can see no reason why - given that he has done in the past, which is accepted by all sides - he would not do so today.  Particularly when it comes to healing, my understanding of the gospel pushes me to think that healing ministry ought to be a regular part of church life.  But my experience holds me back.  I have been in church all my life, but have heard no clear and credible accounts of miraculous healing.  None at all.  Maybe I'm setting the standard of credibility too high, but it seems to me that lots of people have 'friend of a friend' stories, and not many people even claim to have first hand experience of this sort of thing.  In terms of my own experience, I want to be 'open' to the miraculous, but to be honest my (very limited) experience of being in charismatic churches has been a massive turn off.  So, my theology pushes me towards the charismatic position, but my experience prevents me from landing there.

And that's a frustration.


  1. Interesting Dan. I feel that I have been brought to a cessationist view point after years of people praying for/declaring healing for/shouting at my mum who suffers from multiple sclerosis. I remember as a child genuinely thinking that she would be healed and expecting to see her running on miraculously restored legs. I think that the prophecies of healing that she has received over the years have been false, and have done more harm than good, although they were well intentioned. I'm always sceptical of those third hand "and then the arm grew back before my eyes !" stories. My mum has had a long journey toward a more robust hope for the new heavens and the new earth and a resurrection body.

    1. Thanks Adam - it's really useful to get the perspective of someone moving in the other direction. It sounds like a very painful experience, and one of the things I'm wary of is the way in which we can destroy people's faith by promising them more than the gospel actually promises. Wherever we end up on the particular issue, we need to be really clear that the real hope is new creation - and that new creation is a really great hope!

  2. Not even my story?? :-)
    Had bad brain haemorrhage as baby, non-Christian parents prayed with a friendly nurse (who later couldn't be tracked down and no one had heard of her) and the next day the doctors were utterly baffled as there was no sign of a bleed and brain was completely healed. They actually said, 'in medicine, this is what is known as a miracle.' They warned that the damage would mean I would probably never be able to read or write - but we know how that went.

    My aunt was healed of a broken leg when we were at a Christian conference as a kid. (Don't know if that constitutes 'friend of a friend' evidence).

    Qu: what evidence would you want to see? Would you trust it?

    1. Thanks Tanya - a really useful result of writing this is that a number of people have got in touch to tell me or remind me about their stories of healing, and I realise that actually there is rather more evidence in my immediate circle than I had perhaps thought. It makes me wonder whether I am just resisting the force of that evidence, and if so why that would be, or whether I am just disappointed that I haven't been in even closer proximity to the miraculous than I have. I am sure there is some scepticism/unbelief involved as well. Mulling...