My formative Christian years were as part of Charismatic,
Evangelical churches; either Baptist or ‘New
Church’. The sense that God was
doing a new thing, the kingdom of God
was near was the dominant culture. There were strains of course, and I emerged
as someone on the side of being ‘biblical’ rather than just ‘spirit led’.
A significant development was going to Spurgeons’ college.
College life moulds and forms you in a myriad of different ways so it is a bit
unfair to single people out. However, three people had a significant impact on
me; John Colwell who tried to teach me to think theologically, Alastair
Campbell who made a valiant attempt to make me think about Scripture, and Steve
Holmes who, for one Semester, taught me the ‘Doctrine of the Spirit’. Not only
did they all give me tools to reflect on and critique my experience but they
also pointed to possible ways forward.
About five years after leaving college, helped in part by my
own research interest in the theology of the Trinity and of ordained ministry I
increasingly saw my charismatic past as something I was leaving behind. The
shallowness of activism, the cultural captivity of worship styles, the
intellectual challenges of unmediated immediacy. [Or in plain English the
charismatic tendency to focus on doing the next new thing, singing particular
types of songs and thinking God is always speaking/touching my life].
No doubt some of this was exacerbated by my own mental
health, it enabled me to fit my spiritual journey with how I felt. But it
failed to differentiate between my understanding of God, church and world and
my own feelings and the lens through which I viewed life. It is never possible
to separate them completely, I only ever think, see, feel and perceive as me;
and ‘me’ is not entirely logical, consistent or coherent.
Yet at heart I remain a charismatic. My experiences and
theological journey mean I have come to appreciate different theological
positions and styles of worship. I’m comfortable talking theology with people across
the spectrum; I’ve come to appreciate forms of worship from across the church.
And I am richer for this. I recognise much of what passes as charismatic
evangelicalism is naff, and there are times when things are done in a way that
hurts or damages people, but in essence I remain convinced that God desires a
relationship with us as persons. I remain convinced that God works, by the
Spirit, in people’s lives and that charismatic gifts are an outworking of this.
It’s a sort of second naivety. One that accepts Spiritual
manifestations include lots of humanness, but still believes the Spirit is
working in and through them. One that accepts the cultural baggage of church /
worship but still believes the Spirit is enabling people to declare the
Lordship of Christ and cry ‘Abba, Father’. One that recognises the activist
tendency but still believes Christianity involves people becoming disciples –
followers of Jesus – who share in the mission of God. It is this naivety which means I still believe
I’m called to pastor churches which seek to be open to the Spirit, worship in
contemporary ways, who expect God to be present and active in our midst.
Hallelujah Neil, you have realised that you are not part of the ‘grey sock’ brigade!