Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Charismatics, Preaching, Dodgy Doctrine, etc

It's often far too easy to blame other people (especially for men). I find it much more helpful to blame myself for stuff...

I subscribe to the Briefing, which is a frequently thought-provoking and sometimes well-thought through read from a very conservative Christian perspective. For those who know what such labels mean, they're evangelical but not fundamentalist, with a strong overlap with Sydney and Oak Hill Anglicanism, which is a position I nearly share. Their latest issue was mostly a fairly well-informed and theologically astute discussion of Hillsongs Church in Sydney. I agreed with the analysis of the theological weaknesses (trying to appeal to lots of people, no real content), but disagreed with their understanding of why it is like that and how we should respond.

I disagree with large swathes of charismatic theology, but recently I've got to know quite a few theologically-inclined charismatics, and I agree with them on pretty much everything. The simple truth of the matter seems to be that most of the charismatic "heresies":

  • Saying that singing draws us into the presence of God (rather than into an experience of his presence)
  • Emphasis on knowing joy without knowing suffering
  • Lack of order in church
  • etc, etc.

Most of them are simply examples of bad wording by people who haven't thought it through properly. The charismatics I know who think about things theologically and Biblically seem to agree that these are weaknesses when asked, but know "what people mean by the language" because they're used to it.

The difference seems to be down to two distinctives of the charismatic movement, both of which can be argued to be the fault of less charismatic people like me.

Greater Participation by the Theologically Illiterate

As evangelicals, we're great believers in every member ministry, but all too often that just means a select few people with the right sort of Bible training. I'll be blunt - I don't remember Paul making doing a Cornhill course a prerequisite for preaching in the church. My experience is that charismatics are in general much better at letting everyone contribute to meetings, but that this (of course) does create issues when people who haven't got the basics straight do stuff up front.

Valuing Singing over Preaching

And I can see why.

How many sermons are over-long, dull, avoiding the passage, not applied properly, aimed at people other than the congregation, arrogant, obvious, infantile, boring? How many sound like someone's reading an essay or that they haven't thought beforehand about what to say?

Most preaching is rubbish, and that's just the evangelicals. I can see why people prefer singing - if the songs are decent you'll often get more Scripture better applied in the songs than in the sermons.

On the other hand, when the preaching is good, often the music does not engage the emotions properly - it doesn't apply the word to our hearts, and so again we fail.

So how should we respond? If we don't like the songs, then write better ones, ones which engage the emotions properly in response to God's word. If we don't like the theology, preach God's Word powerfully, clearly, relevantly and with our whole selves so that people other than conservative evangelicals come to value Biblical preaching again. But don't judge other people because they try to avoid our problems and fall into ones of their own.

Yes, I know in this I've assumed that there are two groups - charismatics who value singing and conservatives who value the Bible. I know that isn't true. I hope that one day as well as meeting charismatics who value the Bible as much as I do, I might attend a service where the Bible is preached properly and emotions properly engaged. But I can't remember a single one...

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