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Defending Charismatic Theology to Non-Charismatic Believers

 

How to make a humble, biblical case for the charismata and allow the Holy Spirit to do the convincing.

In one sense, charismatics have finally achieved a certain level of respectability within the Evangelical movement. Today, we have academic societies and publications1 dedicated to the study of charismatic and Pentecostal issues in which even non-charismatics participate. Our books can now be published outside of denominationally-based publishing houses.2 One could reasonably argue that the movement has finally found a seat at the Evangelical table.

While it is gratifying that much of the overt and bitter opposition to charismatic theology has diminished in recent years3, charismatics still confront pockets of theological opposition. In the spirit of having answers for those that question (1 Pet 3:15) and rebuttals for those that doubt (Tit 1:9), I have several tips to help defend and propagate charismatic beliefs.

Before delving into the tips, I must lay a little ground work. First, this article deals with apologetics within the Christian community. Although elements of the following tips may be helpful for responding to non-believers that purpose is secondary to the goals in this article. Second, apologetics is a dangerous game not just because of the important theological and spiritual issues at stake, but also due to the emotions and pride that can accompany debates. Certain personalities are drawn to the challenge of ideological conflicts. If this trait characterizes you, I want to caution you to avoid the error of being more concerned about winning the argument than helping a brother understand the truth. Spiritual maturity is a critical element in responsible apologetics. We must always remember that our debates with fellow believers should have a different tone and spirit than our work with non-believers. Furthermore, one must employ wisdom when selecting among the following tips. Just as a golfer chooses different clubs for different situations, so apologists must select the right tip for the particular situation.

Pentecostal/charismatics still confront pockets of theological opposition.

Third, understand that non-charismatics fall into two main groups, belligerent and non-belligerent. Those that are hostile to charismatic theology, I call anti-charismatics. They can be identified by their public and vocal opposition. Their statements may range from those showing great theological care and nuance to those dripping with venom and derision. Thankfully, most non-charismatics fall into the non-belligerent camp, which I call the non-charismatics. Non-charismatics are not hostile to charismatics as they do not consider charismatics to be heretical, just mistaken or a system that does not fit their personality. I suggest that non-charismatics are more likely to open to change than anti-charismatics. However, do not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to break the hard-heart of anti-charismatics.

Tip #1. Ask the anti-charismatic to tell his/her testimony and experience in Christ. It may sound strange but I believe that many anti-charismatics took this position because of a bad experience. In other words, their bias against charismatic theology stems from experience not exegesis. Whether their negative experience was legitimate, or simply a misunderstanding on their part, is ultimately irrelevant. The point is that their negative experience with charismatic theology or behavior has colored their understanding and view of charismatics. I discovered this truth during a conversation with a non-charismatic minister. He recounted a sad story of how his charismatic mentor ultimately failed him. I could sense that his emotional pain still lingered even though many years had passed. I can only wonder how this brother’s theology would have developed if his charismatic mentor had treated him differently.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2010

About the Author: Stephen M. Vantassel, Ph.D. theology (Trinity Theological Seminary), M.A.T.S. Old Testament (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), B.S. Biblical Studies (Gordon College), is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, U.K. and Assistant Editor for the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics. His dissertation on the role of animals in Christian theology was published in expanded form in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). He lives with his wife in Lewistown, Montana. He regularly posts articles at kingsdivinity.academia.edu/StephenMVantassel.

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