It has been my privilege to spend a good portion of last year editing Bruce Shelley’s remarkably popular Church History in Plain Language. The 4th edition is due in December. I have ventured a humble effort to describe the nature of the Christianity which is expanding at an astounding rate around the Globe and especially in the Global South and China. This expansion or revival is typically charismatic. A recent conference may have strayed off course from critiquing the prosperity Gospel to offering a general condemnation of Charismatic experience; a panel discussion did strike a note of caution calling for patience for two evangelicals who were strangely open to the movement, John Piper and Wayne Grudem. The following observations may be helpful.
1. There are very grave challenges faced by the “new Christianity” sweeping around the globe; some are deficient in the doctrine of the trinity; some may be overly emotional and naive; some offer crude and manipulative instruction concerning money, indeed there are many other concerns. I am not a charismatic but I am humbled to report a magnificent working of God across the globe. Almost every revival has had similar criticisms and corresponding false and deviate versions of genuine Spirit phenomena.
2. The biblical case is admirably summarized by John Piper; he cites I Corinthians 14:29 (instructing prophets be allowed to speak but be evaluated), I Thessalonians 5:20-21 (ordering the church not to hold prophesy in contempt but to evaluate it), I Corinthians 11: 4-5 (stipulating proper decorum for men and women prophets – Piper cautions about women exercising authority), and I Corinthians 13:8-10 (teaching that these disputed gifts would be in place until Christ returns). The presumption that prophecy is unbiblical is unwarranted.
3. Our concerns for Charismatic teaching and practice hold strange ironies for “first world” evangelicals. One example will suffice. I am deeply troubled about how many charismatics talk about money. Too many times their teaching is crude and appeals to the worst kind of greed. But I fear North American Evangelicalism has too little to teach them and too weak an example to give witness to a better way. Are they much more sick on this issue that we? They teach the Gospel carries with it the notion that believers who have nothing (especially the oppressed and abjectly poor) will receive reward; we teach the Gospel includes the caveat that wealthy believers need change little about the way they live or handle their money. The desire for worldly wealth seems to drive both. Jesus warned in Matthew 6:24 that Wealth / Mammon can endanger those who have wealth (Matthew 6:19 – 24) as well as those who have nothing (Matthew 6: 25-34). We need a better way forward.