I’ve been reading The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, by Bill Johnson. Johnson leads a large charismatic church in Redding, California. His book is an attempt to explain Pentecostal Christianity—particularly its emphasis on supernatural healing, words of knowledge, and exorcisms—in biblical and theological terms. It’s a book for lay people, meant to convince them to change their way of life.
Over my lifetime I’ve been exposed to a lot of charismatic Christianity. My first job out of college was with a charismatic publisher. Later, in Kenya, nearly all my best friends were Pentecostal. Back in the US, I interviewed John Wimber several times during his heyday and got exposed to the euphoria of his movement. Years later I spent a week at Jack Hayford’s school for pastors.
All along, I’ve found a lot to admire in those Pentecostals. They definitely get me to examine my own life! I always wonder whether I could live as they do, and I sometimes pray that I might. I feel the tension, the pull and push, and I’ve tried to pray boldly. But in my own life Pentecostalism never happened. No tongues. No miracles. No voices from heaven.
Today the attitudes between charismatics and non-charismatic evangelicals are as positive as they have ever been, I think. Nevertheless, some very odd emotional currents still swirl beneath the surface. Pentecostals feel that they get little respect, and they resent it. They hate being told, by word or attitude, that they are emotionally unbalanced and have no theology. They really want to be appreciated! But they rarely seem to understand that what they teach and believe–that only those who share their experience are truly and fully yielded to Christ—is inevitably irritating and condescending toward other Christians.
I doubt we will ever disperse these latent hostilities, short of heaven. What interests me in Bill Johnson’s book is how clearly we share a basic understanding of the Kingdom of God. I’ll get into some more detail in days to come, but let me simply say that the primary point of divergence seems to be the “already/not yet” duality of the kingdom. Johnson is sure the only thing holding back the kingdom is human unbelief. Whoever has the right kind of faith will see “your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” The only “not yet” seems to be (I haven’t finished the book yet) the “not yet” of our total abandonment to faith.
People like me, on the other hand, think there is a “not yet” that comes from God’s side. He has not yet brought in the fullness of the kingdom. And we can’t do it for him. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” means that we continue to believe in God’s purpose and ultimate triumph without necessarily seeing it happen in our time.
That’s a simple statement of the differences, but I want to delve into them more. In the next week or two I plan to work through some of the key points of the book. Johnson definitely has a point when he suggests that most Christians live as though the kingdom has no sway on earth. He’s part of a growing tribe, worldwide: the church is increasingly Pentecostal in its belief and practice. I want to look at that a little more carefully over the next week or more.
But for now: what’s been your experience? If you are charismatic/Pentecostal, do you feel respected by other Christians? If you’re non-charismatic, does the charismatic message bug you or compel you? Without trying to settle the score, deciding who is right and who is wrong, I’d love to hear about experiences.