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What is a reformed charismatic?

Terry Virgo gave three sessions at our leaders conference last week that captured the essence of newfrontiers. We are a people of the word and the Spirit (reformed and charismatic), a people who love the church, and a people gathered within apostolic spheres of influence (more on that sometime soon).

I was very struck during the church history track on Calvin by the explicit doctrinal foundations of the movement. Andy Johnston, Greg 'Banner of Truth' Haslam and Lex Loizides were all very strong on our emphasis on the authority of Scripture. We are Bible people who love the sovereign rule of God, especially in saving his people.

When we speak of ourselves as reformed we speak of the God of the Scriptures to whom salvation belongs. There is a lot more that could be said about being reformed which flows from this foundation regarding sin, grace, and indeed a deep valuing of all of life. David Stroud's session on the need and value of Christians in the workplace and all of life is a clear illustration of this. A Calvinist mindset is a big-God mindset which is a richness of life mindset. A coffee-appreciating and culture-enjoying, tasty and thinky, colourful and communal, lyrical and lifey mindset.We are a reformed people.

When we speak of being charismatic we say we are people who want to experience the presence of God, knowing God actually is among us, who want our affections effected by him and who eagerly desire the gifts that Christ and the Holy Spirit give to the church for her upbuilding. We are a charismatic people.

Lex illustrated our position from Acts 18:9-11 on John Calvin's birthday:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

1. The sovereignty of God who has many in this city - an elect people.
2. This election is motivation for mission not for fear and passivity, though reformed theology is often perceived as the quencher of joy and mission, contra the examples of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey and Charles Spurgeon amongst others!
3. This doctrine comes to Paul in a charismatic experience, a vision. Somewhere along the line the church decided to make every charismatic experience in the book of Acts an exception, but how many exceptions do you have to list before it starts to look normal?

Together On a Mission Conference, Brighton Highlights from Newfrontiers on Vimeo.
TOAM '09 Highlight video

Download main sessions from the Together on a Mission 2009 conference - I particularly recommend the three by Terry Virgo on newfrontiers, past, present and future, and Joel Virgo's session which is on being part of a team. Stef Liston was also excellent on humility. 

My one plea for the future, given there are 1189 chapters in the Bible, it'd be great to be spared the fourth versions of 1 Samuel 14 and Daniel 1. In 9 main sessions we could actually preach a full series through several possible books, as demonstrated by The Gospel Coalition on 2 Timothy etc.


  1. "we are people who want to experience the presence of God, knowing God is actually among us"

    What does that actually look like in the present? How do you avoid that being seperated from the word of the gospel? How do you stop that becoming a theology of glory? How do you put that in eschatological perspective?

    That sort of statement can be, and has been (a) quite divisive (b) quite damaging to consciences (c) quite distracting from Christ. It need not be, but the only way I can avoid it being so is by disconecting it from the description of being charismatic. If it is to be read positively (I think) it can only be read as a description of being a Christian. Does that make sense?

  2. I agree, it shuold be what it means to be a Christian, likewise all our descriptors!?

    I'd say it looks like it did in 1 Cor 14 when someone confesses "God actually is among you"


  3. "Somewhere along the line the church decided to make every charismatic experience in the book of Acts an exception, but how many exceptions do you have to list before it starts to look normal?"

    Surely if you want to make an argument for charismatic gifts still being around today you can at least make a good argument. You (presumably) know that cessationists claim the time of the apostles was exceptional, not that each individual miracle, sign and vision was exceptional. Your argument may hold for someone denying those gifts while the apostles were still alive, but saying the early church had visions does not mean we do.

    I think an argument can be made for charismatic gifts today, but this surely isn't it.

  4. Tim,

    It's not the only argument at all but it is a much overlooked one.

    What makes the days of the first apostles so different?

    I think the burden of proof is with the cessationist to argue that gifts cease not with the continuationist to say they continue...

    Since fellowship, loving one another, evangelism, discipleship, breaking bread continue, why not visions, prophesies and other gifts?

    Some will say you can't take doctrine from narrative, but we do in many many cases for other things, so why not this? Why should such things cease?

    The NT letters are writtne as if these things are normal for the life of the church, seems to me that the hermeneutical gymnastics are being done by the cessationist rather than the charismatic, but I'm open to persuasion and argument.

  5. I agree the burden of proof is with the cessationist. I still haven't thought through the various passages and decided my own views, so I can't really argue with what you've said.

    Thanks for the gracious response.

  6. Thanks for posting, it's worth engaging the issues carefully and thoughtfully.

    At the heart of such study should probably be Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    We have to ask, what do I do with the events of Acts, and what about the commands to "eagerly desire prophecy" in 1 Cor 14? If there is good reason to distance ourselves from these then fine, but if there isn't then it's not just a matter for education but for action.

    And, if they are what they seem to be then there is nothing to lose and much to be gained by pursuit and exercise of such gifts, for they are presented as means to strengthen and encourage the church.

  7. There is a burden of proof with all Christians, though, to show that what we practice and experience is biblical.

    This goes beyond any simple "cessationist" / "continuationist" or "charismatic" / "non-charismatic" division. Is what we do biblical or are we just baptising our modern or post-modern ways.

  8. My Reformed Charismatic friends have asked me to explain my non-charismatic position. I did in a series of blog posts summed up here

  9. Alan, I agree entirely - if we cannot show our position Biblically, and beyond just proof-text we have no ground for holding it.

  10. Dave,

    Good response. Can't believe I forgot that verse. Maybe though I forgot it because I read the language of experienced presence in a subjective internal way (which I think many charismatics and non-charismatics would also do). You are right that biblically the more objective and external understanding is the right one. And in that tongues and prophesy have an important role.

  11. liking your post here Mr Bish. I'm with you.

  12. In 9 main sessions we could actually preach a full series through several possible books, as demonstrated by The Gospel Coalition on 2 Timothy etc.

    I agree with you here. I think part of the problem is the way that it is billed as a "leaders" conference, meaning that all the speakers feel compelled to speak on leadership, vision, church planting etc. The fact is that hearing any part of the Bible taught powerfully and clearly will prove just as beneficial to leaders as to anyone else.

  13. Most charismatics would want to put more on the table as well as experiential and non-cessationalist. Wouldn't they?

    For example; doctrine of sanctification; style and character of teaching; declarative vs. experiential congregational worship; role of Holy Spirit in interpretation of Scripture; physical healing

    You can't say that you are wearing the trousers if you only have one leg in them Bish. And unless there is a more careful examination of what the charismatic is, then there can be no real non-denominational conversation.

  14. All communication requires some limiting of the discussion. I'm happy with what's above for the purpose of this particular topic.

    Doctrine of sanctification - yes to do with the Spirit's work and to do with being reformed...

    Style and character of teaching; - not sure that needs pinning down too much.

    declarative vs. experiential congregational worship; - both/and...

    role of Holy Spirit in interpretation of Scripture; - not sure that's too much of a debating point..

    physical healing - comes under the category of a spiritual gift surely...

  15. For the purpose of this discussion, I refer you to the description above, concerning the presence of God, the affections and Spiritual gifts...

  16. The trouble with some of these words is that they are often arbitrarily defined. Either you take the word 'charismatic' very literally, and see it as gifted Christian - which means every Christian is a charismatic - or it gets defined in other ways, which can vary hugely depending on the agenda of the person concerned. If wishing to write-off charismatics, it can be all linked with health and wealth, and extremism, as it seems to me sometimes happens in Oz. One man i know in another country, who likes CJ Mahaney, was saying how they would not link with charismatics. I said 'what about CJ Mahaney?'. He said 'He's not really a charismatic!'. Others will define it by something that is just a surface issue such as whether hands are raised or not. Still others will expect regular signs and wonders otherwise its not real. Some view it historically and will view Pentecostals as a distinct grouping, while others include them in the broad sweep of what is charismatic... etc etc.

    I get to the stage where I'm not sure I see the point in trying to define the term and think it is better to just get on with living out the biblical practice of the gifts (and everything else), as you best understand them. Pigeon-holing has its limitations!

  17. Pigeon-holing has severe limitations, and I guess we have to ask what we're trying to achieve by it... The best we can do is to seek to be Biblical, and get to know people well, and get serving where we are. Shibboleths should be spoken quietly.

  18. The big-God mindset does have its fanaticisms however. Michael Spencer (the IMonk) wrote a great post on the dangers of being too God-centered:

  19. "When we speak of being charismatic we say we are people who want to experience the presence of God, knowing God actually is among us, who want our affections effected by him and who eagerly desire the gifts that Christ and the Holy Spirit give to the church for her upbuilding. We are a charismatic people."

    The trouble is that yr definition/ description of 'charismatic' above doesn't tell us what it is that is distinctive about being a charismatic from any other true believer. It's therefore a redundant term, an unnecessary definition. Unless the three things above are (and I'd contend that they are) to be defined and understood in a particular way that is distinctive to charismatics and not necessarily shared by all believers. hence charismatics are those who

    1. Desire experience of God's presence in a particular way and who attach knowledge that God is among us to particular distinctive experiences and phenomena (historically this has ranged from tongues to ecstatic feelings during singing and many other things inbetween) without denying that his presence is also felt through various means and circumstances that other christian groups and denominations also look to.

    2. Want their affections effected by God and understand that to come about by particular means and circumstances and phenomena (certain gifts, certain styles of worship and styles of Christian gathering) without ruling out that it also comes by other means which other groups of christians would also look to (the preached word for example).

    3. Desire God's gifts for edification and have a particular understanding of what certain of those gifts are/ look like/ are useful for/ how they should be used etc. (without denying etc. etc.).

    I say this because I would sign up to all three of your descriptions and yet I bet no-one in NFI would recognise me as a charismatic. I want the presence, the affectation and the gifts. But, for example, I don't think the phenomenon that is often called 'tongues' as it occurs in many charismatic settings is the biblical gift of tongues. That (and other things) makes me in most people's eyes not a charismatic in any historically-sociologically-ecclesiastically-theologically meaningful way. And terms, if we're going to use them to distinguish us from others, need to be meaningful in these ways.

    I'm not trying to be a pain in the derriere, honest. :)

  20. "I don't think the phenomenon that is often called 'tongues' as it occurs in many charismatic settings is the biblical gift of tongues"

    Do we mean "many" or do we mean "any"?

    On the one hand, I'm not sure charismatic should be anything different to Christian, the question is what we mean by these things, what experience, what affection (more a puritan than charismatic mark I'll grant!), and which gifts...

  21. I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago...

  22. If I were to plump for a very quick definition (and far too late at night) it would include the following two things:

    1. Someone who thinks charismata continue beyond the completion of the canon of the NT, and who wants to take the injunctions of 1 Cor 12:31 and 1 Cor 14:1 seriously. Namely to follow the way of love and eagerly desire the greater gifts, especially prophecy for edifying and building the church. This is clearly not the same as the person who says they eagerly desire God but only meet him through the word preached. The reformed charismatic fully acknowledges that to be the normal way God speaks without ignoring the 1 Corinthians commands. I have heard some really odd reasons given for why these commands should not be considered authoritative today, from people who make a strong claim for the authority of scripture

    2. The non-charismatic most normally maintains that the chief uniting factor between evangelicals is the cross/resurrection as the historical means of our salvation. The charismatic maintains it is the twin loci of cross/resurrection (historical means) and work of the Spirit imputing, enlivening, crystalising, gift-giving and empowering today (present experience). Do the second without the first and you have charismatic ecumenism. Do the first without the second and there is no good reason to believe in conversion

    I would add that affections are invariably important to the charismatic. I believe they should be for all believers, but know some non-charismatics who seem to so fear excess that they think it is possible to love God without the affections. Its not for me to comment on their state with the Lord

    Individual matters of style or specifics on gifts are less important to a definition than the broader principles.

    The desire of the cessasionist is to protect scripture. The usual means is to bring a special pleading not from scripture but from a doctrine of scripture to show that revelation can only come via scripture. And hence scripture is the only tool of the Spirit. I have never heard the case made without it being fatally flawed at the level of assumption - namely that a doctrine of scripture is used to make a special pleading for why what seems common in scripture isn't now

    Therefore a chief difference between the charismatic and the non-charismatic is whether (to quote Edwards) it is only the method of the Spirit to work by secret, silent and undiscernable means, so that there is no telling by sense the difference between his work and the exercise of my own faculties. Or whether, on the other hand, we ought to expect subjective experience of God in our lives. For the life of me I can't quite see why people object to the latter (Edwards didn't). And I know plenty of people who take the former view who, in the search for objectivity, come perilously close to being evangelical rationalists

  23. So,

    What is a Charismatic?

    Charismatics vary, historically, it isn't easy to say what they are.
    Charismatics like feeling stuff.
    Charismatics like lifting their hands up.
    Charismatics like speaking in tongues and prophecy and healings
    Charismatics like agreeing on their view of the Holy Spirit as well as their view of the gospel.
    Charismatics think that the Holy Spirit has something to do with being transformed.
    Charismatics like declarative and experiential worship.

    And there seem to be many different kinds of Charismatics out there. Some do all of this, and others just lift their hands up when its really dark (sometimes that is so other people don't think that they have defected).

    So, the question remains, clarity eludes us a little longer.

    What is a Charismatic?

  24. 'Do we mean "many" or do we mean "any"?'

    I said 'many' to allow that perhaps not all charismatic churches experience this gift. Also, because I don't know every charismatic church there is and the tongues they experience.

    But, if you're asking me whether or not I go with the general charismatic understanding of tongues as an 'angelic' language that is no known human language then the answer is no I don't.

  25. Tom - I think Marcus is offering some great clarity on the question.

    The issue of secret or evident work of the Spirit is an important angle here. Peter curiously gives testimony that the Gentiles have received the Spirit - he's aware of it having happened, he could tell that it had...

  26. Dave,

    Certainly what Marcus said was helpful, but this conversation has felt like a theology student's analysis of what a charismatic is.

    Theological analysis is indispensible, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to describing what something like, a charismatic is.

    See my point?

    What is a Charismatic?

  27. I do, but beyond saying where this particular charismatic (and some of his friends) is coming from, in the charismatic area of theology and practice, I'm not sure we can be more helpful to you.

    What is an Apologist?

  28. What is a Christian Apologist?

    Quick answer: A type of Christian who talks to non-Christians about the cross and listens to their objections/questions carefully.

    But watch out for:

    1. Misguided Apologists (only speak to Christians, and don's see it as evangelism)
    2. Macho Apologists (beat people up with ideas, are insensitive and cold, go too far in one hit)
    3. Moody Apologists (no relation to Moody in USA) get grumpy and stroppy when challenged, because have some character problems)
    4. Mumbling Apologists (don't seem to make a clear point and never get to the cross)

  29. Quick answer: A type of Christian who talks to non-Christians about the cross and listens to their objections/questions carefully.

    So an apologist is a Christian at their best.
    Likewise a charismatic, but watch for the

    1. Misguided Charismatic who things their own spiritual experience is the point.
    2. Macho Charismatic who beats others up with their gifts and experience.
    3. Moody Charismatic who wont alloow themselves to be challenged or tested, because they have character problems.
    4. Mumbling Charismatics who talk mumbo-jumbo and ignore the cross.

  30. Not trying to be a pain. Really not. But here's another attempt to make my point about the kind of definition of 'charismatic' you're using.

    Say that I

    a. Believe all the gifts are for today

    b. But don't believe in the common understanding of what several of those gifts are - e.g. I think tongues is always exisiting human languages.

    c. And I believe in the reality of the christian life as experiential, including the possibility of quite dramatic experiences of the Spirit.

    d. But I don't believe any of these experiences should be labelled 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' which I think happens at conversion.

    Could I pastor an NFI church?

    If yes, then perhaps your very loose definition of charismatic is fair enough. If no, then your definition of charismatic is not all that accurate.

    Sometimes yr definitions read like a charismatic is simply a modern-day puritan, or a christian who believes in the reality of experiencing God. But I don't think that's really adequate, since it means lots of people are charismatics who would neither want the label nor be recognised as such by the vast majority of charismatics on either side of the atlantic. I understand the rhetorical attraction of describing like that, but I wonder whether it's accurate.

    AS I said, not trying to be a pain, honest. Neither am I pushing an anti-charismatic agenda or anything. I love the unity that has been going on through NWA and the like. I am excited and encouraged by lots of what NFI seems to be about, and rejoice in what God evidently has done and is doing among and through you all.

  31. PeteinCyberspace,

    You just made an excellent point. I'm keen to read Bish's reply.

  32. I agree, an excellent comment from PeteinCyberspace. Surely "charismatic" is not simply self-defined to mean whatever I like it to mean?? I recall a well-known (definitely) not-charismatic minister saying to me "let's go for a wide definition, by which we are all charismatic."

    Partly I think this thread is a struggle with a label. And therefore almost inevitably an unresolvable one because labels - much more than doctrines - don't always allow for tight definition or analysis, and don't need to. Not least of all because people use them to denote and connote different things, not least of all in the UK and America. I have had lengthy conversations with conservative Austalians about charismatics in which it was very obvious that they didn't mean the same as me in their context, and they didn't think that Australian charismatics mean the same as me either.

    I am happy to accept that, but not happy that it makes labels unhelpful or irrelevant. Just that we need to know what we are talking about in a specific context with a specific group of people. Having the geographically widest discussion about a label invariably introduces nuance and connotation that not all parties will recognise. Further, labels will sometimes be true of those who wouldn't use them to describe themselves, and sometimes untrue of those who would use them. I know people who call themselves evangelicals who clearly aren't by any historic definition.

    Therefore I want (for example) a tight, strong, clearly-from-scripture doctrine of the atonement. But am less concerned about a tight strong definition of "puritan" or "reformed". Or, indeed, "charismatic". Or, to put it another way I want someone to be able to clearly articulate their doctrine of the work of the Spirit clearly from scripture, but am less concerned about the definition of the word they attach to a broader range of commitments of which that might be one.

    It seems to me that the only time a tight definition of what is at least partly a sociological term is felt to be necessary is when we want to know who is "in" and who is "out". We should always be unhappy and suspicious of using labels to do that. So while the word isn't self-defined, it certainly is contextual and could connote good things or bad ones depending in part on one's previous experience of good or bad practice and good or bad theology from its practitioners.

    This is one of the reasons I prefer the word "continuationist" to describe myself, though a lot of friends will think its just sophistry. I would count anyone who makes points (a) and (c) above very close to where I am coming from because they are primary defining statements. Statements (b) and (d) ought to be more rightly matters of nuance and discussion among evangelicals who believe in spiritual gifts and contemporary experience of God.

    One final comment. Let's never assume we know everything about someone because of a label they willingly attach to themselves, or we attach to them. Or because of a label they decline to attach to themselves. "I like/dislike, can work with/can't work with you because you say you are/aren't a charismatic" and "you say you are/aren't a charismatic. This means you must also have all the following beliefs as well which makes you acceptable/unacceptable" are unworthy forms of discourse among believers.

    I, unlike PeteinCyberSpace propose that loose definitions are OK in an area like this, as long as we don't build huge theological edifaces on top of them. I certainly want to be a "modern-day puritan who believes in the reality of experiencing God" and would settle for that as a working definition

  33. Pete - not a question I think I can answer, the question might more usefully be more, would you want to?

    To say Newfrontiers is Reformed & Charismatic, as Terry Virgo did last week isn't an attend to say that those two words can contain a movement, but rather than the movement is at least those two things... I agree that b&d are particular nuances, but it depends what you mean to some extent.

    Could the summary of the definition be outlined a bit more clearly and detailed, undoubtedly yes.

    The same debate could doubtless be held over the word 'reformed' if we must.

  34. I think I agree with much of what you're saying about labels in general. I do think though that we need to be clear on what we mean by them for any discussion to be meaningful.

    What's more, being clear on a definition doesn't have to be about means of exclusion or inclusion from christian fellowship or partnership. Rather, it could be about enabling more constructive, charitable brotherly discourse over matters which don't make or break fellowship. In this discussion in particular I take it as a given that the group(s) we're defining ought to be happy to work with one another, as I hope Bish knows is my own feeling on this.

    What's more, loose definitions are OK, if they are true. I guess what I've been asking, particularly in my latter comment, is what does 'charismatic' actually and in reality mean when the NFI use it of themselves? I continue to suspect that it involves more specific distinctions on the b. and d. type stuff than the kind of definition Bish is giving seem to imply (I might be wrong there, of course, hence the questions). I'm not debating the validity of such positions being held, or even seeking a debate about whether or not they are scriptural. But if NFI mean that sort of thing when they self-describe as charismatic, then it is inadequate to give a broader definition in its place, and it doesn't help clear discussion between brothers take place.

  35. Sorry, the comment above was meant to be addressed to Marcus. (Btw, I like 'continuationist')

    We could endlessly debate a lot of words, as you rightly indicate. And it's not really worth it is it? For me, this has already taken enough time I should've been doing other things so I'm bowing out at this point. Maybe we'll bump into one another at a conference at some point and discuss over some real coffee! Hope I haven't been a pain in the derriere. Keep up the stimulating, godly, gracious blogging!

  36. Glad to talk. I like continuationist too.
    Agreed, that'll probably do for now.

  37. What a great note to conclude on: the pursuit of clarity for the sake of charity! Always done much better over coffee with a Bible open than in cyberspace.

    I like the tone of discourse in this thread very much. Looking for fellowship with brothers and sisters rather than excuses to ditch each other. Bob Horn had a great phrase for finding out about fellowship with others: start with the most generous assumptions.

    Just as "evangelical" is a broad church Pete, I suspect you will find "NF" is as well, with variety of practice and theological definition. And just like all the rest of us with some practice and definition that isn't as good as their aspirations as well as plenty to contribute and teach the wider church.


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