Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Charismatic Confession

Written by: on January 23, 2020

Some of my cohort mates may have missed it but I slipped in a confession in our discussion last week. I had quickly said that I have times when I feel slightly embarrassed by my faith tradition. This occasionally occurs when discussing doctrinal matters. subjects more intellectual in nature or when thinking of charismatic charicatures. That is somehow connected to what makes Taylor’s A Secular Age followed by Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind wonderfully disruptive. It has surfaced some important, albeit partly subconscious, issues for me.

Upon further reflection, one thing I did not articulate in our Zoom chat was that I saw a place of strength and contribution from charismatic Christians in what Taylor was deftly, dizzyingly exploring. While I wonder at times what more sophisticated (less emotive?) Christian streams may think of Pentecostals, I had a small epiphany of opportunity. In a world that is dying from the immanent, brass box we have created, experiential-laden Christianity has something to offer. This is especially true if it is offered to the world from a strong Christology and does not obsess over particular manifestations, but points people to a God they can know and experience.

Notre Dame and Wheaton College’s Mark Noll begs us to not get carried away with emotion, experience, missions, and the like, and forget the mind. His assessment is that evangelicals are “dominated by the urgencies of the moment”.[1] The mind and its development does matter and can easily get bypassed by the urgent. Byers believes Noll wrote his earlier Scandal book about why there has been evangelical aversion to scholarship, then his later book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind was about how to develop intellectually in light of all we know about the historical Jesus.[2] He is convinced that Jesus is enough for a lifetime of searching and “if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning”.[3]

My research this semester is focused on charismatics and how their praxis and beliefs may make unique contribution to the exhaustion epidemic. I am no subject matter expert (except, of course, in the way we all are, which is our own life experience) but I know that charismatics are known for an affective, emotive approach to spirituality. The dictionary definition of affective is “relating to moods, feelings, and attitudes”. But Robert Baker makes an important distinction that as Christians, it is less about subjective moods and feelings and more about the fostering of virtues. Virtues are steadier than feelings and can be developed over time. To exclude emotions and affections from our faith would not honor how God made us. It would not honor the example of the biblical authors themselves. “Pentecostal scholars are in a unique position to deconstruct the Enlightenment myth and ideal of critical and passionless objectivity. As Pentecostals, we focus not only on orthodoxy, but also on orthopraxy, and orthopathy.”[4]

James K. A. Smith adds another voice to the balance act. A large part of his work and writings are leveled at our infatuation with rationality. Smith is concerned about a conception of the Christian faith that focuses only on the life of the mind. He writes that such a model is both “dualistic and reductionist” because it “reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions”.[5] He calls for a middle way forward together.

I am sobered by Noll’s accusations aimed at evangelicals but am encouraged as well. We need to heed him and bring our whole selves to bear upon our faith – including our mind and affections.

[1]Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2011), 243.

[2]Philip D. Byers, “Jesus Christ is the Life of the Mind: A Review of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind(1994) AndJesus Christ and the Life of the Mind(2011),” Christian Higher Education 12, no. 3 (2013): pp. 229-238, https://doi.org/10.1080/15363759.2012.741463.

[3]Mark Noll, Jesus Christ, x.

[4] Robert O. Baker, “7. Pentecostal Bible Reading: Toward a Model of Reading for the Formation of the Affections,” Pentecostal Hermeneutics, January 2013, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004258259_008, 96.

[5] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 32.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

11 responses to “A Charismatic Confession”

  1. Hi Andrea, I did pick up on that last week, either through our video chat or responding to your blog. I can’t remember exactly. I don’t know your full story, but it’s ok (actually good in my humble opinion) to keep denominational distinctives loosely.

    Noll tries to imagine if we shifted categories, i.e., Kuyperian Reformed signs and wonders, vigorous Catholic evangelism, etc.? We need to look for the “doubleness” in things as Noll suggests if we are to engage in proper scholarship. I don’t think this means we should be wishy washy in our thinking. Quite the opposite. I think we should think carefully about what looks like opposing views, remain charitable without compromising our convictions and just know we could be wrong. In my experience, truth is somehow discovered in the middle.

    Enough of my ramblings….

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Harry! Yes! I loved the “doubleness” that Noll brings up and have a whole other blog on that and tensions that I mused about this week. Alas, I ran out of space but found this to be one of the most helpful contributions from Noll and pertinent to my research of action and contemplation. Appreciate that you discovered and resonated with it too!

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent, Andrea. I completely resonated with your confession and have had the same response many times. I have learned much through this cohort as it is the most diverse theologically and culturally group that I have been in continual interaction with for this length of time. My response to you is the same as to Jacob, we need each other. We need our differences to develop us. None of us have it all right, but together we create the beautiful Body of Christ.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Well said, Tammy. I am grateful for this experience for many of the same reasons.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Amen Tammy. We need each other. One of the frustrating things that happened a few years ago when Justin was in a denominational role was when they made a shift away from including any outside (not associated closely with the denomination) speakers at events. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Justin. I am sure there was something to their concern but more and more we find ourselves drawn to and in need of different perspective of other believers.

  3. Rhonda Davis says:

    Great post, Andrea. Like Tammy, I can completely identify with your confession. Reading Noll, as well as the critiques from our tradition, has helped me realize the importance of a chorus of voices in our faith formation. Though I was frustrated reading him at times, I am adding Noll to my constellation of mentors, challenging me to be a better student and a better follower of Jesus.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    What a splendid post! I love how you deftly wove Taylor, Noll, and Smith together. In my post, I also confessed some of my embarrassment growing up with so little recognition that as Christians we need to develop all of our humanity (including our mind) and not just our “spiritual man”. But you are spot on, the scriptures are clear that knowledge puffs up but thankfully it does not need or should be either/or (my historic Pentecostal paradigm) but rather is and always should be both/and. Thanks again for a splendid post.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, I heard your confession but also believe there is nothing to confess. Having been raised Roman Catholic, saved then a non-denominational Evangelical, later a non-denominational Charismatic, and now a Baptist, I can say each stream has its benefits. I really miss the worship of the Charismatic church and the freedom of expression. However, I really like the tradition of the Baptist as well as the encouragement to be educated as a clergy. How I wish we all could take the best parts of each but I know God moves in each stream. Thanks for pointing out the benefits of your stream.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Mary – I so appreciate your strength and that you have given it to me a few times in our journey together. Thank you again for calling me to stand up a little straighter. Much love.

  6. Thank you Andrea, I so appreciate the opportunity to be in such a diverse cohort which, has afforded me great exposure and learning which, I believe will empower me serve better and in diverse cultures. I appreciate that there is so much to learn from across denominations and the differences in practices which opportunity, I have through my pursuit of intellectualism. This will increase my sphere of influence as a Christian leader and which I can and will leverage for more impact in ministry. There is a lot of benefit in intellectualism.

  7. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi there. Great thoughts to ponder. Don’t be too harsh on your tradition, at the end of the day the pneumatic aspects of the Christian world are the results of cultural, social and human experiences. In the same way, academic research and it’s attendant structuralism is the tail of enlightenment thinking. I note that someone suggested we needed each to other in the sense that we are all different. However, I would suggest we need both Individually. When we seperate experience from knowledge we are buying into a Baconian view of the world that places everything in categories. Pentecostal theology was and remains a gift to Christian thinking and witness. My personality punches me to the centre of reasoned thinking, but my life tells me there is so much more. When I studied philosophy, one of the intriguing discoveries was that many philosophers were originally mathematicians, and the reason they turned to philosophy was to consider age-old questions that the symmetry of maths could never resolve – mystery. Yes, we think rationally about what we know and it’s application to science and social constructs, but we also allow ourselves to enter the world of that which cannot be pinned down – to some extent it is the world of the Spirit, or more appropriately, transcendence (ala Taylor). Catholic academics and spiritual writers have lived in that integrated space longer than evangelicals, and there’s a bit to learn from them. Personally, I think Pentecostalism is a sort of modern take on the church split over the filioque clause (Filioque: ‘and the son’) of the Nicene Creed. A thousand years ago the western church wanted to pin down the mechanics of the Holy Trinity, while the eastern church wanted to keep it a mystery; a simple clause insertion split the church. However, the issue was much bigger of course – it was also about political and social power through propositional theology vs mysticism of faith and tradition. Noll was right in his second book, humility is a requisite for scholarship, and I wonder is much of that humility is garnered from an openness to the ‘already at work’ Holy Spirit. Don’t stray too far from your pneumatology, just enhance it with a bit of thinking, history, tradition and research. You might just find the Sprit speaks in a much louder way. That was long!

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