I’ve heard this term bandied around a bit of late and recently it came to my attention that quite a few people feel unnerved by the phrase.

Eminent bible teacher and preacher Philip Jensen has a go at tackling the issue here.
Jensen rightly points out that classical Charismatic theology and classical Reformed theology are incompatible. His thoughts are helpful in thinking through these terms.
However, Jensen rightly points out at the beginning of his discussion that words can be redefined by just about anyone. While his discussion is helpful in considering the classical positions of Charismatic and Reformed theology, I cannot help but feel that Jensen hasn’t done quite enough to discuss the new wave of ‘Reformed Charismatic’ movements which appear to be coming from the US (with guys like CJ Mahaney, John Piper and Mark Driscoll as the common faces of the movement – though to my knowledge these men have not used the phrase ‘Reformed Charismatic’ to describe themselves). This new wave appears to happily use the term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ to identify themselves while at the same time disassociate themselves from ‘Classical Charismaticism’. Jensen speaks firmly, and I think appropriately, on the issue of whether classical Charismatic theology can be reconciled with classical Reformed theology – but he doesn’t speak on the issue of how this new wave of ‘Reformed Charismatics’ define themselves and their teaching.
At this point I defer to a blog post by CJ Mahaney who defines himself as ‘Reformed’ in his understanding of the doctrines of Grace (soteriology) and ‘Charismatic’ in his continuationist beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Classical Charismaticism defined itself partly in the requirement that a believer demonstrate gifts of the Holy Spirit, in particular tongues (as a sign of baptism by the Holy Spirit). This position inevitably creates a tiered system of faith – those who are Christians but yet to experience the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and those who have had the experience and are more ‘complete/full/better’. This position, of course, is inherently unbiblical.
However does holding a continuationist position (that the gifts of the Spirit, those listed in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in particular, continue to this day) necessarily contradict holding a Reformed position? At this point I defer to the works of well respected Evangelical scholars such as DA Carson (Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14), JI Packer (Keep in Step With the Spirit) and Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology edit: it has been brought to my attention by a trusted and more learned brother that Grudem comes from a slightly different theological background than Carson or Packer – so his material needs to be read with a little bit more discernment). Leading voices in Evangelical thought and scholarship who agree that the gifts of the Spirit continue to this day, but (and this is an important but!) with sanctions on their use as determined and restricted by Scripture (as found in 1 Corinthians 12-14).
Recently John Woodhouse, principal of Moore Theological College, had a go at answering the question. Here are his (brief) thoughts on the issue:
I think Woodhouse does a very good job at answering the question in an insightful and humble manner. Picking up on one of his points I’d like to close with some things we can do in response.
Firstly – know where things are coming from. Woodhouse rightly points out that the ‘Reformed Charismatic’ camp seems to stem from two different places – one founded in Reformed theology and one founded in Charismatic theology. Let me illustrate with this diagram…

The tension behind this debate is probably based in the unknown potential of where each theology is heading. Logically it works out, as the diagram shows, that those coming from a Charismatic background will more logically moved towards a stronger Reformed theology and vice versa. But this is only potential – it may or may not happen. But I think it’s helpful to know where someone is coming from to know possibly where they might move to next.
Secondly – be discerning. As Woodhouse rightly points out, this is a new “fad” (I use the term very loosely). Don’t simply jump onboard because everyone else is. Test the teaching that you are hearing against scripture and pray about it. If no warning lights come on then pray for your own heart, that what you are hearing or reading would implant in you a desire towards godliness, faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Thirdly – (carried from the last point) don’t be overly critical. Throughout the history of the church God has worked in waves of revival. We should welcome any such revival in the churches grounded upon God’s Word and work hard to ensure that the effects are long lasting.
Finally – don’t forsake the past. The tension of this debate threatens to drive a wedge between faithful older generations and faithful younger generations. The Reformed Charismatic movement is predominantly a younger generation movement. If you are caught up in the wave do your utmost to maintain unity within the body. It will be a terrible indictment upon the movement if its proponents forsake the fertile ground prepared for them by hard working older generations. Both generations need to remember that ultimately it is God who brings growth – one generation might do the sewing and planting, another does the watering – and both are equally important for the fruit of God’s Word to grow.
I am intensely interested to hear Woodhouse’s view regarding the cessationist/continuationist debate. No doubt he will be well thought out – but I’ll have to wait for another time to ask that question. Perhaps if I ever bump into him I’ll take him out for some coffee and ask!

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7 Responses

  1. Hi Steve, thank you for stopping by and leaving your comments. As with any ministry there will always be detractors, critics and even factions – indeed Paul declares it necessary for factions to exist within churches (cf 1 Cor 11:19).

    Having briefly read through the links you have posted can I make a few brief observations without wanting to come across as though I am defending SGM:

    1. The complaints on the first page appear to center not necessarily on the biblical understanding of 'fellowship' but on the pragmatic outworking of Covenant Life's 'small groups' methodology. Having recently sat through a teaching week from Mark Dever (from non-SGM affliated Capitol Hill Baptist) titled '9 Marks of a Healthy Church' and listening to his views of biblical 'fellowship' and 'membership' it appears to me that there is biblical freedom granted to each church to determine their practice of membership and fellowship (indeed this is partly why we have so many different denominations within the one body – a good thing as it meant somebody stood up for something at some point in the past). That first site might not like the methodology of Covenant Life – does that give them warrant to publicly air their concerns?

    2. It is telling of the motivation of both sites there does not appear to be any sort of dialogue with SGM or Covenant Life leaders over any issues raised. Rather on the first site under the banner 'things that make you go hmmm…' there is suspicion and division fueled in the comments.

    3. Within the comments on the posts on each site there seems to be a lack of grace. There are obvious differences in theology – for instance 'complementarianism' – but the manner in which these differences are spoken of are not in the nature of 'let us express our biblical freedom differently' but pernicious sound bites and blaster-cannon truth tactics.

    4. Despite the original authors intent regarding their sites, they have inevitably fueled unhappy/disgruntled members/readers and bred an ungodly discontent against the body of Christ.

    Websites and blog posts do that – I know I'm guilty of it myself. But I would hope that if my words are innappropriate (as they have been in the past) that a brother would correct me individually first (which has even happened in reference to this blog post – of which I am thankful for). I have edited and taken down blog posts which have caused offence or I felt bred ungodly discussion. I pray the owners of those sites would likewise see the errors in which they are leading many of their readers into.

    Thank you again for dropping by. :)

  2. you cant comment on your own post!
    hahaha long read…will finish later…
    but noteable…i was at that johnwoodhouse talk if you listen clearly you can hear me cry out "you tell it brother!!"

  3. Steejei

    Thanks for looking at the blogs I referenced.

    I will address your item concerns:

    1. It appears that you are looking at just some of the current issues people are discussing about Sovereign Grace Ministries. If you read some of the past entries you will see other issues. One is what people see as their overemphasis and imbalance on submitting to leadership. With that goes a culture that doesn't like people that question or even compare statements leaders make to Scripture. A notable "excommunication" was Debra Baker of the CFC/Philadelphia Church.

    Another sad incident is how poorly the SGM Leaders handled a 3 year old girl being molested by a 15 year old member of SGM.

    2. You are correct that there is no dialogue. SGM Leadership so far has seemed to want to ignore or pollute the well with the stories shared on these blogs vs. address issues being raised.

    Many who share on these blogs have reported trying to go to SGM Leadership only to find the leaders "turning the tables" on member/former member and the leader saying the person has a bad attitude etc. without addressing the concerns the member brought up.

    3. I am sure there is some "lack of grace." That doesn't discredit what is being brought up.

    4. Sometimes things like this need to be brought up and shared. SGM has many times been able to hide what they have done under the auspices of calling it "gossip" and "slander." If there is abuse going on within SGM shouldn't others be made aware of it?

  4. Thank you again for stopping by Steve and leaving a comment. Thank you for pointing out the extensive archive on the sites – I had a quick flick through them and read through some of the posts.

    I'd like to close off this particular train of comments in this post as it is now quite removed from the intent of my original post. So here are some concluding thoughts:

    – The mode becomes the message. The internet is clearly a good and terrible instrument. It is a good vehicle for us to air our thoughts and share information, but at the same time it is a terrible place to communicate between individuals or debate ideas. The internet and blog sites like the ones you've mentioned allow people to say things they would never normally say in face to face conversation. Caution needs to be exercised in relation to sites like these for the very fact that much of the content comes unsubstantiated and lacks any discourse with the offended and offending parties.

    Our western civilisation legal code is partially built upon the principle that we are innocent until proven guilty, and silence does not equate to guilt. The mounting voices posted on these sites adds layers of unwarranted cynicism and does not lead to any godly edification. The mode of airing these concerns has now become the message itself.

    – Sin is all too real. As a theological student and ‘pastor-in-training’ I’ve seen the effects of sin closely and how it destroys relationships. I pray that these particular bloggers would not let sin fester on their sites leading to more sin. I honestly believe this is/was not their intention – either in starting their sites or in the ongoing maintenance of their sites. But ungodly discontent can be clearly seen in the many comments connected to their posts. In how many ways can you express ‘concern’ over the sin of another? According to these sites in many, varied and public ways.

    In all my experience I have never seen, and do not expect to see, ungodly behaviour left to its own device build godly people. Concerns need to be aired, yes, but there are appropriate measures to do so. Matt 18:15-17 spells it out clearly and I’m certain Jesus did not intend for his followers to walk away thinking, “If my concerns have not been addressed then I will publicly air my concerns with placards, signs, advertising, blogs and media.”

    – Jesus loves his church more than you or I do. He died for it. We are not to blast the body for any perceived sin against us, for that would be to sin against the body and ultimately against the head. History has shown us that when any church or its leaders becomes wayward doctrinally it may grow well in the short term, but ultimately it begins to disintegrate. Our concern for any church needs to be aired appropriately, but we must never take the place of the Head in seeking change. Jesus will do it himself when the time is right. We can be so short-sighted in our concerns that we forget Jesus’ ultimately plans for his church. There will be a day when he judges us for the good and the evil we have done – those sins of SGM or Covenant Life will be shown for what they are, and yes, even the sins of these other websites will be made known. I’d hate to think that I spent all my time being busy with concern over another’s church when there is so much work to be done and so much of life to be lived.

    Now, I must get back to being a student!

  5. Hey Steeejei!

    I hope you don't mind me dropping by. I stumbled upon your blog via a search for folks contributing to Steven Altrogge's #systheol project.

    I found the video of Dr. Woodhouse's thoughts on "Reformed Charismatic" interesting. Your diagram and thoughts were also clarifying on the subject. It seems to me, just from my experience "from the inside", that the general structure of what Reformed Charismatic folks are aiming at is built more upon Reformed dogmatic and confessional history than Pentecostal/Charismatic thought. Though I admit it's a guess, and not an unbiased one at that!

    I appreciate his observation that people are defining things differently in the debate. I have found differing definitions and ignorance on what another's position is to be great barrier to constructive conversation on these issues. You might find this appendix to Wayne Grudem's book on vies on prophesy in some historical examples to be interesting (though the reading is limited there). I don't know how much of Carson's book you've read, but I've found it incredibly helpful in working through the exegetical issues of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!
    Yours,
    ~Jacob

  6. In regards to your mention of some of those at the forefront of "Reformed Charismatics". I have found blokes like John Piper, C J Mahaney and Mark Driscoll incredibly helpful in raising and keeping raised my spiritual fervour.

    They have passion that is rarely found in traditional reformed preachers and teachers. Their passion is infectious and has deepend my love for God and others incredibly over the last few years I have been listening to their sermons and reading their books.

    In my travells I haven't agreed with everything that has been said. Nor have I disagreed with most of what is said.

    May the Word of God itself be our guide and may those in positions of preaching and teaching be faithful and true to it.

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