September 30, 2020

iMonk Classic: An Appetite for Fanaticism

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

From CM: In the light of yesterday’s video post and discussion, I thought it appropriate to dig out some of Michael Spencer’s thoughts on religious enthusiasm.

* * *

An Appetite for Fanaticism:
Is there something wrong with saying “You’ve gone too far”?

It occurred to me this week, while observing a group of religious fanatics putting on a public demonstration of embarrassing, excessive religious behavior, that I would be considered way out of line if I told the fanatics to cut it out and calm down. Such is the equation of fanaticism with the genuine work of God, that I would be proving to my peers that I was totally insensitive to the Holy Spirit if I questioned the behavior of fanatics in any way.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a fanatic as a person motivated by an extreme, unreasoning, enthusiasm for a cause. The original latin root had religious connotations referring to orgiastic temple rites and ceremonies. Today, the word “fanatic” is used generously in everything from sports to hobbies to religion. Americans are, generally, quite tolerant of fanatics, whether they be grown men dressed as Jedi Knights or football fans colored and tatooed like some kind of visitor from the islands of New Guinea. Unvarnished, undiluted enthusiasm is considered a good thing, even if it borders on the excessive.

The exception to this seems to be the secular view of religion. Your average Joe or Joanne doesn’t want to work next to a religious fanatic, have their kid’s team coached by a fanatic or be visited by fanatics selling literature. A whole array of laws have now come into existence to warn the religious fanatic to build his church elsewhere and keep his religion invisible. So one may tattoo a team logo on his forehead, but John 3:16 tacked on a cubicle may result in reeducation camp. Even churches are discovering that their once-welcome presence in the community is now interpreted as an invasion of drooling pedophiles.

On the other hand- and of more interest to me in this article- is the inability of the Christian community to come to terms with fanaticism in its own ranks, and to agree that it is 1) probably not the work of the Holy Spirit and 2) ought to be discouraged- firmly and frequently.

This has been a perennial problem in Christian history, but I do not have the space to document that claim. I will make a view historical observations. For one thing, Americans have always shown a temperament for fanaticism. From the two great awakenings to Azusa Street to the Toronto Blessing, religious enthusiasm has frequently broken out into behavior that needed…uh…explanation. One will find that other cultures- such as the British- may have burned at the stake from time to time, but the kinds of historical appetite for fanaticism we enjoy on our side of the pond have been rare to unknown.

Further, American Christian history is full of the defense of the fanatical impulse. One will find that in virtually every historical outbreak of fanaticism, no matter how manipulated or bizarre it may have been, there will be someone defending it as the work of the Holy Spirit. From Jonathan Edwards to the editors of Christianity Today, there have always been those who made reasoned defenses of unreasonable behavior. The Biblical evaluation of such defenses is the purview of the reader, but I am struck by the fact that so many are clearly uncomfortable saying “Barking like a dog or stumbling around drunk are unspiritual, fanatical, bad behaviors and we ought to have nothing to do with them.”

Instead, there is a tendency to be influenced by what I call the Pentecostal mindset towards the excessive or the strange. The Pentecostal mindset, exemplified most clearly in the early years of the Pentecostal movement, says that when bizarre and fanatical behavior occurs in the context of Christian experience, one ought to consider, even be willing to err on the side of, the possibility that such behavior is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Vineyard movement is the most sophisticated practitioner of this approach, and only the frightening excesses of the Toronto movement caused the Vineyard to put on the brakes, and even then at the cost of many Vineyard congregations who preferred to give the shaking, drunken, laughing, barkers the benefit of the doubt.

The scriptural support for this approach is meager. It consists of the following: 1) the description of some Old Testament characters acting fanatically under the influence of the Holy Spirit. 2) The notation in Acts that, when filled with the Spirit, some concluded the disciples were drunk. 3) The description of worship in Corinth, which sounds rather busy. Beyond that, you have the word of observers of such behavior that, in the end, it was really mostly God. If you sense I am not impressed, you are right. That the Bible makes a case for the Pentecostal mindset towards fanaticism seems to me to be a claim built upon certain presuppositions that should be routed.

What are those presuppositions? Anything done zealously is the work of the Spirit. The louder,the better. The more attention-getting, the more likely God is in it. Whatever is different from a typical Sunday morning in a well-behaved church is certainly God at work. If the fanatic gives God the credit or the blame, then God was at work. This is all, of course, patent nonsense.

As plainly weak as the case for generously overlooking fanaticism is, it is the rare Christian who will tell his or her friend or family member or pastor that they are over the edge. Perhaps it is a case of “What right do I have to judge?” And the answer should be, the perfect right all Biblically reasoning people have to call the unreasonable ridiculous and wrong.

For example, one frequent mild case of fanaticism I experience is the person who tells me that “God has told me to sing this song in church.” I will admit that I rarely challenge this claim, since it does little harm to tolerate it, but what if I did? (And really I should.) What if I said that there is no reason for me to believe God is telling them what to sing, that God instructed them specifically that I should give them an place in public worship to do so or that I should subject the congregation to the claim that God is whispering secret messages into the ear of some people but not others.

I would be perfectly right to say that if she would like to sing, just ask me, and keep the fanatical ploy out of it. There is nothing more spiritual about saying “I am only singing this Ray Boltz tune because God appeared to me like Moses and told me sing it.” This is an attempt to parade one’s spiritual experience, it is probably a lie, and it can’t be verified. Just ask, do it for the glory of God and sit down.

Of course, some of you are already shocked at the rudeness of this, and have concluded, like me, that tolerating this is the greater good. You suppose that when the youth groups come to the altar rubbing and hugging all over one another, I should bless God for their love in the Spirit. You suppose that when a group of church members begins telling others not to vaccinate, pay taxes or use contraceptives because God directly told them so, I should say nothing. When the pastor says that God told him we are to sell, move and build, we ought to do exactly that. You suppose that person who quits their job to watch TBN full time may be hearing from God and who am I to judge?

And it may be, in every case, that the zealot is right and I am wrong. But tolerating fanaticism has turned American Christianity on its head. Rather than being a religion of the Word, it is a religion of experience. Instead of being objective, it has become hopelessly subjective. Instead of being a collective, corporate participation in a Biblical community, it has become an individual, radical, quest to “chase God.” Instead of being comprehensible, it has become esoteric and mysterious.

In modern Christianity, fanatics have a clear runway to positions of leadership and influence. And virtually no one wants to dampen our appetite for fanaticism, no matter how much scripture and reason indicate a better way. Perhaps we are so sensitive to the secular persecution of our religion, that we are reluctant to criticize anything within our own fold. Our reluctance could prove costly, as fanatics tend to rise above correction, and to only be deterred when the damage has been done.

Here’s a closing thought. Jesus was perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit, and he seemed to be a really normal guy. Not normal as in sinful, selfish and foolish, but normal as in not a fanatic. He didn’t fit into the world system, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t because he was a wacko or a zealot. He was impassioned with the Spirit of God, and he shows us what a real God-filled person is like. God-centered, sacrificial, love-motivated living without the distractions of fanaticism.


  1. One of the traditional tests of sainthood was that the saint should be humble enough to doubt whether he or she really had received any message from God, and obedient enough to defer to the judgement of their superiors in the church (should they countermand “God’s” orders).

  2. There’s so much of this stuff going on in way great and small that it blows the mind.

    We are suckers for it.

  3. I understand what he is saying. I guess nowadays, after so many excesses, it seems the pendulum is swinging the other way. The congregation I attend claims to believe that all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today, but in all my years of attendance there I have never once seen their demonstration in a service. There is virtually no teaching on the topic. So it seems now that because of the “fanatics”, we are so averse to any demonstration of the supernatural that we will not allow it to happen at all. At least that has been my experience of late.

  4. Calling someone a “fanatic” always seemed to be similar to labeling someone a “liberal” to me. It’s all a matter of degree. In Minnesota, you’re considered something of a loose cannon if you simply tell someone what you’re really thinking.

    One thing that Michael doesn’t really address in this essay, but I think it worth mentioning, is that the modern-day Pentecostal movement has its roots firmly planted in people who were already at the fringes of society. They were people that the “good” churches hadn’t really invested in anyway. So you see this desire in them to get around those barriers. Does this lead to excesses? Undoubtedly. But I guess the thing is this. I have a hard time squaring the picture of Jesus in the Gospels who came proclaiming “the Kingdom of God is at hand!” to the religious establishment with a desire to simply get everyone to calm down and not get too excited.

    If we rid our Christian experience of everything we can’t understand or can’t explain, what we’re left with is something that’s suitable for church ladies sitting around playing bridge. Something tells me there should be more to it than that. But I also think there needs to be room to tell someone they’re wrong.

    • WMC and Phil M., the problem I have with what you are saying is that you are posing a completely false dichotomy — either we have a God who performs what we define as supernatural acts or we have “something that’s suitable for church ladies sitting around playing bridge.” I think we have a serious definition problem, and I will write about this either later today or tomorrow.

      • I’ll be interested in reading your piece.

        You’re probably correct in that being a false dichotomy. I think God is for church ladies, too. I find it’s a very hard thing to offer an opinion on these things that doesn’t sound like I’m endorsing going the opposite extreme. In a way I see this as another area where we have to hold to ideas in tension. Jesus is Lord in everyday ordinary things, but sometimes He works in ways that completely transcend our expectations.

        For the record, I think people like Benny Hinn and his ilk are charletons. It pains me that many people I know sincerely believe the things he says.

        • I take issue with your stereotype of old “church ladies.” 😛
          Some of them are the most exuberant charismatics I know, pushing the envelope when younger folks want to reign it in! They may seem calm on the outside, but let me tell ya, there’s a fire a burnin’ in dem bones!

        • If I could jump on your previous point about people already on the fringe of society that “good churches” haven’t invested in…

          The #1 thing I noticed in yesterday’s video was the racial integration. IHOP seemed to be more racially integrated than any other church or church movement that I’ve seen.

          I’m not endorsing IHOP but pointing out how they are doing something we good church folk have failed at.

          • This is something I have noticed too. Whatever else their faults, Pentecostal and charismatic churches are usually far more racially intregrated than their non-charismatic, non-Pentecostal counterparts.

          • I would say it’s not just racial integration, but socioeconomic integration as well. I can only speak for my own experience, but growing up my church had many more poor people in it than most other churches I’ve been to. I think part of the reason is that when a church really believe God can speak through anyone, it’s a powerful thing.

          • Sadly I think the “fringe” has become more “mainstream”. They have had a couple of 24 hours houses of prayer here in DC in the past. Mention that and people are like, “Wow they are really committed!!” The more committed you are the more serious one must be. Can one dare raise their voice and say, “Excuse me…is this right?” You come across as stopping God in action. You also come across as not having faith. That’s the problem with charasmatics. Since God must be true. How sad…

      • I was primarily speaking from my own experience. I agree that there is fanaticism out there. I have witnessed it myself. It just seems of late that many of the folks I know are so leery of fanaticism that they refuse to have anything to do with the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They will talk about the Bible or the gospel all day long, but the Holy Spirit and anything having to do with Him are somehow off limits.

        I agree that there is a beauty in everyday, ordinary living that evangelicals sometimes miss in their pursuit of the sensational. I guess I just don’t want it to become an either/or thing. Either we have grounded, sensible believers living out faithful everyday lives or we have to be fire-breathing fanatics always looking for the next “high”. There must be a middle ground somewhere.

  5. My disagreements with the above article are so numerous that it would require my own article to adequately respond. I’ll save everyone that pain and just summarize a few of them.

    He acknowledges in Scripture the positive “fanaticism” of the prophets, the sons of the prophets, the disciples on Pentecost, and the better worship practices of the Corinthian church. Then instead of dealing with any of these Scriptures he simply writes dismissively of modern practices apparently based on what he is or is not comfortable with.

    He repeatedly attributes inward motives to the outward actions of others like the girl who said God told her to sing a song. “This is an attempt to parade one’s spiritual experience, it is probably a lie…” I think this is called judging someone’s heart. If we are trying to teach our kids to walk with, talk to, and hear from God, is it really so crazy that this girl should feel so led? She may be right or she may be wrong, but do we want to disparage her motives and squash her “fanaticism”? Does he even believe that God speaks to and leads people (“subject the congregation to the claim that God is whispering secret messages into the ear of some people but not other.”)?

    Then his plea for Objective Christianity; “Rather than being a religion of the Word, it is a religion of experience. Instead of being objective, it has become hopelessly subjective.” Christian interpretation of the Word has never been purely object. It has always been subjective based on the collective experience of the people doing the interpreting. There is no such thing as Objective Christianity. Christianity is a relationship and relationships include a significant amount of “experiencing.” Sure there is reasoning, but there better be a lot of feeling too otherwise it isn’t much of a relationship.

    I could go on but in summary, yes, of course there is a “too far” but this article doesn’t help to identify it. Talk about subjectivism; this is an opinion piece based on nothing more than one man’s comfort zone.

    • Here’s my take: we should absolutely teach people to walk with, talk to, and hear from God. BUT–what sort of things should we expect God to be saying–arbitrary things like songs, or things that are related to what Jesus said? I think when God speaks to us to tell us to do something, the VAST majority of it is stuff like “You’re too proud,” or “You should treat that person better,” or “Stop striving and be content with Me.” But that’s boring and hard. Todd Bentley saying “God told me to kick that old woman in the face,” (and I promise you that’s real, google it) on the other hand, is exciting and mysterious and doesn’t require a bit of the sorts of hard things that Jesus and the epistles talk about, like fruit of the Spirit, or do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

      As for the girl who says “God told me to sing this song at church”–I doubt she’s lying, exactly. What she probably means is, “This song really spoke to me and moved me, and I want to sing it because I think it will move other people too.” The difference is that the first version is more exciting, and sounds more spiritual, and is probably how she’s been trained to speak about these sorts of things.

      • Michael – We agree that there is such a thing as “too far” and that activities illegal and immoral (like kicking an old lady in the face) fall into that category. Also concerning the more ordinary activities like the girl who wants to sing, I agree that your speculation on her motivation is probably correct. So here is my next problem:

        Pentecostal Speak – God said for me to…

        Evangelical Speak – I feel lead to…

        Mainline Speak – I feel a calling to…

        We all acknowledge that God has a specific will for our life that we should seek and obey. There is probably some difference of opinion in the granularity of the communication. But why should one tradition feel a need to criticize the others in this regard?

        On an aside, all your examples of hearing God speaking are negative. Is that all He has to say? I believe Abba also has a lot of encouragement that He speaks.

        • I specifically focused on the negative, because those things are hard. (Of course, accepting God’s love and forgiveness can be too.) But then again, depression, as HUG said about himself in a comment on another post, is one of my spiritual gifts. Perhaps I’ve unwittingly exposed a big flaw about the way I look at God?

          But my point is that people are always looking for something new and different and exciting. I struggle enough with stuff He said 2000 years ago. My Christian walk used to be much more…not really Pentecostal, but it was definitely focused on listening to what God had to say specifically to me. Not exactly a private revelation, but something sort of similar and scaled down. Looking back, I was copping out. (I’m just speaking for myself–NOT accusing anyone of copping out, except me.) I wanted Him to say something new, because I really sucked at what He had already said.

          • “Looking back, I was copping out. (I’m just speaking for myself–NOT accusing anyone of copping out, except me.) I wanted Him to say something new, because I really sucked at what He had already said.”


  6. I appreciate what WMC and TPD had to say. I would also point out that, while success is not the arbitrator of truth, it is still certainly important. Pentecostalism is dominant where Christianity is on the rise, such as Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America. The “gifts ended with the closing of cannon” form of Christianity is dominant where Christianity is declining — Western Europe, America, Canada.

    One other note. Unchristian, by David Kinnaman, contains results from surveying thousands of people outside of the church. One of their major criticisms is that they do not believe they can find the supernatural in Christianity, so they are going elsewhere to find it! We may as well open a restaurant and send hungry people elsewhere for food!

    Moses outdueled the magicians with the supernatural. Shouldn’t we be doing the same?

    • “What is popular is not always right, and what is right in not always popular.”

    • “Pentecostalism is dominant where Christianity is on the rise, such as Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America. The “gifts ended with the closing of cannon” form of Christianity is dominant where Christianity is declining — Western Europe, America, Canada. ”

      Michael Spencer made the same observation.

      • So are prosperity gospel teachers, cults, and all manner of charlatans promoting superstitions.

        • Chaplain Mike. I have a lot of respect for you!
          But on this one it seems like you are speaking out of your prejudices, not the side of you that is open and caring.

          • The “side of (me) that is open and caring” and pastoral, I might add, is grieved by the charlatanism, immaturity, and spiritual and emotional bondage that has been fostered by those who have misused teachings about the Holy Spirit.

          • I think you and I are of one mind in this. I feel exactly the same way, and in fact at times it infuriates me.

            But I cannot let my anger with them cloud the issue that God is still at work through the gifts of the spirit, it is just that there is lots of counterfeit stuff. The way to counter it is with solid teaching and practice in the real stuff.

        • Good point. I was merely pointing out the Michael Spencer had made the same observation.

    • How many times did Moses do that? And wasn’t Moses specially called? And wasn’t the Exodus a unique moment in salvation history?

      It is this kind of flattening of the Bible and it’s “teaching” that leads to bad theology and practice.

      • When all books of the Bible are taken to be equal, then I think charasmatic theology (among other forms…) can be the result. The problem is that Charasmatics take their pre-conceived notions to the Bible and lay out their expectations on the Bible. They are not alone..I think many Christians do this. It’s just that charasmaticsim becomes really, really weird under these circumstances. It also becomes a distraction from other Christian work. And I think the more charasmatic a person is the more likelihood the fall. Haven’t some of the most incredible scandals involved churches such as AOG, charasmatics such as Ted Haggard, or other who were deeply into charasmaticism?

        CM are you going to review and discuss Julia Duin’s newest book on the charasmatic era that grew out of the Jesus movement? It’s called “Days of Fire and Glory” It would be appropirate to such a post, as it shows the excesses of the movement.

    • “Moses outdueled the magicians with the supernatural. Shouldn’t we be doing the same?”

      I really don’t think so. What we should be doing is quietly, and without bravado, studying the words and works of Jesus, so that we are formed into his body. There may of course be accusations at times that we are not making room from the supernatural. This is a distraction from Jesus and should be ignored.

      Incidentally, that’s got to be the first and most important criticism I would have of the kind of fanaticism Michael’s criticizing. There’s often a bunch of loud Jesus-talk happening, but very often little or nothing of substance.

      Cessationism, I would have to argue is far from “dominant’ in western Christianity. Quite the opposite. Very few
      true cessationists are out there anymore.

      • It seems to me these days that many are “continuationist” in theory but “cessansionist” in practice. They will affirm that of course God can do anything He wants at any time He wants, but in actual practice they do not have the gifts of the Spirit operating in their churches, nor do they really want them. It just seems to me that they are so afraid of looking “fanatical” to the outside world as well as their cessanionist brethren that they do little to promote the idea of spiritual gifts (at least of the more supernatural variety).

        Again, I am just thinking out loud based on my admittedly limited viewpoint looking at the Church today. This is a pendulum I have swung back and forth myself on through the years.

        • You’re probably right that in some churches many are practically cessationist. However I would caution people against an understanding that where no obviously supernatural phenomena going on, that means that they’ve rejected, or aren’t moving in, the gifts of the Spirit. The thing that kept me charismatic after a stint with the wilder breed of them was that God showed me how many people move in, for example, prophecy, without having instruction in it, without having a banner that reads “prophetic words spoken here” and sometimes without even realizing it. I’m a big believer in, and try to look for, charismatic expressions where God is moving in ways that un-hyped, and perhaps even unspoken that it’s indeed supernatural.

  7. Erik Baumann says

    This article reminds me of some of my own experiences. I was raised in a very “fanatical” assembly of god church in Denver, Colorado. At that church it was not a normal Sunday if someone didn’t fall on the ground and shake after being “touched by the holy spirit.” It was average for a person in the congregation to stand up while the pastor was preaching and scream loudly “JESUS” and run laps around the church. It was normal for fellow associate pasors and church members to regularly pray in the “language of the angels” which sounded a whole lot like baby gibberish to me. I specifically remember one of the men in the choir fell down on stage and not a single person ran over to him or thought he might be hurt…they were all positive he had been struck in the holy spirit.

    In no way do I want to demean these peoples religious feelings or beliefs. But it was exactly this type of conduct that drove me away from Christianity for several years during my youth. Predominantly because I felt like I never fit in. As a child, the church would regularly line us up and touch us all on the head with holy water. Nearly every child fell down, cried, and shook in the holy spirit (most adults did the same during altar calls). When I didn’t fall (and I never did) I felt completely out of place. I prayed for years that God would give me a similar experience. I wondered what I had done wrong, if I was Christian enough. Ultimately, I had to pick between two conclusions. Either God just wasn’t interested in having a relationship with me the same way he did with other members of the congregation or it was all a sham. In the end I chose the latter, and spent the majority of my late teenage youth as far away from Christianity as I could get.

    In my early adult life I came back to Christ in my own way, through apologetics rather than fanaticism. I have since come to believe that God doesn’t necessarily endorse this type of conduct. At its best, fanaticism stirs up excitement among believers that God is really “active” in their church. At its worst, it causes people to fake spiritual experiences with God in order to fit in while driving away those who wonder why the holy spirit won’t touch them–all the while convincing unbelievers that Christians are just flat crazy.

    In my opinion, Christianity is a test of ones humility (loving others as much as oneself) whereas fantacisim is a test of ones pride (a desire to appear to appear to others as the most faithful). An analogy to the pharisees comes to mind.

    • I remember church shopping in the Dairy State when I lived there. At this AOG service this women behind me crowed like a bid and made weird animal sounds during the worship. It really freaked me out. I could not attend an Assembly of God church for many reservations. One is that I want to be normal.

  8. In my formative years I went to Pentecostal churches. I have been the full gamut of charismatic churches, and some others as well.

    There was in some cases a whole lot of nonsense, enough to make me cringe and see why any good Baptist would turn tail and run, and some of the behavior makes one almost want to believe the gifts ceased. Charismatic movements are sometimes their own worst enemies.
    At the same time, I have been for years in environments where these gifts were practiced in the way they should be, and it is a beautiful thing. And I can say God still moves in miraculous ways, and it is a wonderful thing.

    It is funny how we can tolerate things like preaching/teaching that is completely off base and it never occurs to us to ban those gifts. We just look and say ‘this guy is off base’. And yet when someone abuses other gifts, particularly charismata, we are quick to say it is wrong.

    • “It is funny how we can tolerate things like preaching/teaching that is completely off base and it never occurs to us to ban those gifts. We just look and say ‘this guy is off base’. And yet when someone abuses other gifts, particularly charismata, we are quick to say it is wrong.”

      Well said!

      • I think Internet Monk has a well established reputation for not being narrow in our critiques.

        • My agreement above wasn’t directed toward you here at IM. I was thinking of the church in general. It seems there is more of a discomfort when it comes to the supernatural and so there is more of a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater to avoid that discomfort. And even though I didn’t agree with much of the article above, the overall point he makes is valid regarding confronting the extremes.

        • I would agree, IM is usually not too narrow.

          Part of what I was thinking about is that I am in an evangelical seminary working on a Masters degree. It is almost like the Godhead consists of Father and Son, there is another unamed one in there somewhere. I don’t get that closedness in my Anglican seminary (I attend 2 schools, and in a while a 3rd!)

          I would have thought that we were over that nonsense years ago, but it is not so,

      • To be fair, it’s much easier (in my opinion) to discern good preaching from bad than to discern “iffy” charismata from genuine, at least in terms of the way manifestations normally seem to happen in the U.S. So it doesn’t surprise me that people are more reluctant to ban the gift of preaching.

        Most of what I’ve seen in my eight years in an AG church and other Pentecostal circles (that ended about a decade ago) would probably not fall into the “genuine” category. It seems to me that if God is going to speak (the way he does in the Bible), it should be easier to differentiate God’s voice from my own thoughts than what we see in the West (see the Essay in the IM archive about No Voices in My Head). And I’ve heard tons of bad sermons within those circles, too, though not in every instance. The strangest sermons were always from guest speakers. So in practice, I did ban *both* preaching and the barrage of “spiritual gifts”; in other words, I finally left that setting.

        Some people are better at eating the meat and spitting out the bones (in terms of spiritual gifts and preaching), but just I’m not wired that way. The inevitable manipulation (of both) gets to be too much for me to handle and leads me to anxiety and depression and generally unhealthy ways of thinking, so I’d rather stay away from it, thank you very much.

  9. Michael Spencer also wrote:

    “Every cessationist I know is frightened by the excesses of the charismatic/pentecostal/third wave movements. Certainly we ought to be concerned with excess, for it is the work of the devil, discrediting the real. But we ought to be more concerned about a kind of theology that tells the church supernatural means are not available to encounter the powers of evil and the results of sin.”

    • Michael Bell, that’s a good quotation you have here from Michael Spencer. You said today or yesterday that you are a “quiet charismatic.” That kind of describes me. I was raised Catholic and you didn’t see or hear the things you see and hear in a Pentecostal church. Then, for a couple years, I attended a non-denominational charismatic type of church and sometimes an Assembly of God church. I was not “vocal” to the extent that some of those people were, but I did learn about the different ways that God may work within his people and God did some gentle working within me as well. I also acquired more ways to pray. Then I found that there were charismatic groups within the Catholic church and I made my way back to my Catholic “roots.” With time, I found Centering Prayer as taught by Father Thomas Keating and things kind of fell into place for me in terms of how I prayed, worshiped, etc. I am definitely a quiet Christian. Contemplative prayer helps to strengthen all forms of prayer, in my humble opinion. The weird thing is, I still manage to distract myself with all kinds of things…books, TV, gardening, work, computer use. Why do I not make more time for prayer when it is something that I love and that I feel is so beneficial on so many levels? Sometimes I think I am prayer-lazy!

  10. I hear Todd Bentley hollering in the background somewhere…

    Speaking of old TB, i haven’t heard much in the public square from wigged-out shaking barkers since that whole debacle went down. Maybe somebody actually felt chastened enough to at least keep the worst of the stupidity out of sight for awhile. If the correction to that stuff is on the upswing in Christian circles, than I think we have Michael’s insight to thank for at least part of it.

  11. “God-centered, sacrificial, love-motivated living without the distractions of fanaticism.”

    love-motivated. Now we could have a whole post on that! One test of character authenticity in charismatic circles I use is this: do people do simple, natural, out-of-the-way things to express love to each other….even when there’s no miracles going on?

    • humanslug says

      I agree.
      Love should be the law, the social norm, and glue that binds God’s people together within the church.
      And whether we’re dancing like David in the sanctuary or just reverently observing clergy going through the liturgical motions, it’s all meaningless in the absence of love.

  12. I am a Pentecostal, brought up Pentecostal, still am Pentecostal. The difference between you and us (I say “you” because YOU made that distinction between us, not me) is that we see the Holy Spirit as a tangible presence in our church services, He gives us the same manifestations that the early church got, the same power that was given in the upper room. To say we’re more prone to fanaticism or more prone to fall (if we don’t fall off a cliff from all the shaking first lol) is just ugly coming from my fellow brethren. The shaking, rolling, running, etc, is not the Holy Spirit, it’s something obnoxious and out of order and is seen in only independant Pentcostal churches that have no governing body to keep them in check like with the AoG. Paul made it very clear the order and manner in how the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in a service, and jumping through windows and hanging on chandeliers aint it.

  13. By the way, the Toronto hysteria was a different manifestation than what happened with the Azusa Street Revival… Just so you know ; )

    • Just a little historical side note:

      On September 12, 1890, A.B. Simpson (considered one of the key influencers of the the Pentecostal movement, and the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance), was praying on the 25th Anniversary of his ordination. He asked God for a special touch from His Spirit, and reported in his diary that he was given the gift of Holy laughter for about an hour. This was 15 years before Azuza Street and 103 years before the phenomena was repeated in Toronto.

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  15. “Perhaps it is a case of “What right do I have to judge?” And the answer should be, the perfect right all Biblically reasoning people have to call the unreasonable ridiculous and wrong.”

    “Rather than being a religion of the Word, it is a religion of experience. Instead of being objective, it has become hopelessly subjective. Instead of being a collective, corporate participation in a Biblical community, it has become an individual, radical, quest to “chase God.” Instead of being comprehensible, it has become esoteric and mysterious.”

    “Perhaps we are so sensitive to the secular persecution of our religion, that we are reluctant to criticize anything within our own fold. Our reluctance could prove costly, as fanatics tend to rise above correction, and to only be deterred when the damage has been done.”

    I don’t think Michael Spencer had any war against Pentecostalism; in fact, in another essay he stated what we can learn from those groups. I think these quotes get to the heart of the matter.

    This week, I saw an article defending Mormonism, because comparatively is no more weird than any other religion. So I think that the cost and damage of not drawing lines is becoming apparent.

    Objectivity can be taken too far, as in the case of Randianism. God is not an object, and neither are we. If we believe God is personal versus impersonal, then we do meet Him in the realm of subjectivity and not just cold, hard facts. But to say God is not only a person and also sovereign and therefore can do any and make us do any bizarre thing imaginable is going too far. There are other aspects of God which need to be taken into account, including immutability.

    As one who spent my highschool and college years in Pentacostal circles, I can best describe it as subjective legalism. How good of a Christian you are is based upon esoteric experiences but also on whatever fad the wind, I mean the “spirit”, blew in this week from the famous pastors to the person in the pews with a “word of knowledge”. Excessive subjectivity does not make God more personal but less. As I said in another post, if anything goes in terms of the “will of God”, we are back in nihilism, where nothing can be known for certain. What is truth? We’ll have to wait and see what it is this week. But let’s keep beating liberals over the head for their supposed relativistic, situational view of truth.

    • Balance is found in the sacraments. If one does not start from an incarnational perspective, where God reaches out to “seek and save the lost”, versus we reaching out to God or “Chasing” God, then we end in legalism and despare. Again, the only ones who love legalism are the self-righteous. But everyone has their burn-out point. You may never see the IHOP folks reach that point.

  16. In 60 years I went from Methodist (president of the MYF) to Baptist to non-denominational to charismatic to Assembly of God to Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) to Assembly of God again and to Methodist once more, where I am now. I have seen deadness pass for reverence and I have seen excessive emotionalism masquerade as “deeply spiritual”….oh, and my mother was Jewish. I have been on my face before the Lord, and I have sat quietly in a traditional church service. God is in both places.

    Forty years ago when I was a member of Bibletown (now the Boca Raton Community Church) in Florida, our pastor, Dr. Torrey Johnson (the man who founded Youth For Christ and helped to launch Billy Graham’s ministry) said to the congregation after adults expressed some concern about some young people who had returned from a week-long camp exhibiting Pentecostal tendencies, “I’m not worried about a little wildfire. We have enough wet blankets around here to put it out.”

    And they did.

  17. That is one creepy photo.

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  19. Having been in the A.G. for 12 years; one of my sons is a pastor, and his church is charismatic; and I work for Teen Challenge started by the A.G. I have some insight and experience with the charismatic churches. Sadly the fanaticism in many churches centers around the worship and doctrine and not in the humanitarian. Even in Teen Challenge where I work with 40 men waring against addictive behaviors, there are only 2 men that come in and volunteer to help and chat with the guys. Mercy! Can that be? Give me a fanatical Christian for good works, that I would like. I have attended both “Spirit Filled” churches and non-charasmatic and I find the people are the same in both. Not the lingo, but the works, and generally the works could use a bit more fanaticism. When the nursing homes have so many volunteers they have to turn them away, maybe we are too fanatical. When the poor have their needs met worldwide, then maybe we are too fanatical. But most in the ministry will attest that the turnouts are weak and the funds have to be pleaded for when it comes to mission work at home and abroad. We are created and gifted in Christ Jesus unto good works, this is how I determine if faith is real or conjured. When I visit a church I look at the Sunday School program, here one can tell if the church is Spirit filled and fanatical; when the teachers are no longer solicited because they have a thriving children’s ministry. David said, “my heart is stirred by a noble theme.” Let me judge the depth of spirituality by the fruit not the lips. There are babes in Christ thirsting for more of God and often they do the most embarrassing things, especially in worship, but they can be completely genuine. The embarrassing incidents should diminish if there is good leadership. The world outside the church rarely criticizes a church for too many good works of compassion and love. These things make even our enemies like us. Don’t you think?

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