Book review: Charismatic renewal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Three British authors who were all involved in the charismatic renewal movement examine it theologically over a period of thirty years. They come from different theological backgrounds, and so contribute from different perspectives. Tom Smail was originally Presbyterian when he became involved in the renewal, and later became Anglican. Andrew Walker was raised as a classical Pentecostal, and later became Orthodox, while Nigel Wright is a Baptist.
The book is in four parts. The first is the testimonies of the authors, describing their own involvement in the charismatic renewal, and how it affected their own spiritual growth.
In the second part the authors each give a theological interpretation of the charismatic renewal. In some ways this is the most important part of the book. When the charismatic renewal began in the non-Pentecostal churches in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a tendency for charismatics to adopt Pentecostal pneumatology, often quite uncritically. In some cases this proved quite divisive. Pentecostal pneumatology sometimes was incompatible with the existing pneumatology of a church, and so some argued that new wine needed new wineskins, and several broke away to form new denominations, hence the rise of Neopentcostal churches.
Smail, Walker and Wright, however, try to interpret their charismatic experiences in terms of the theology of their own traditions, and thus try to have a more balanced theology, not separating pneumatology from the rest.
The third section is devoted to certain aspects of the charismatic renewal that have proved controversial or have caused problems in other ways.
Tom Smail deals with worship, and notes the disjunction between charismatic worship and the rest of Christian worship. Nigel Wright deals with prophecy, and those who isolated prophecy and claimed it as a special spiritual gift. He deals with the so-called Kansas City prophets, who also influenced the Vineyard movement. Andrew Walker discusses miracles, and especially the temptation to use alleged miracles as crowd-pullers, and a form of showmanship, whereas they should rather lead us to see and desire the holiness of God.
The last two chapters, written jointly by the three authors, deal with the so-called prosperity gospel and the “Toronto blessing”. They critcise the theology of the “prosperity gospel”, which they consider verges on heresy. The discussion of the “Toronto blessing”, in which people laugh uncontrollably and sometimes make animal noises, takes the form of a panel discussion or conversation between the three authors. While they do not oppose it, they seem to think that it has “jumped the shark”, as they say in show business – gone over the top.
While it concentrates on the British scene, the charismatic renewal was sufficiently widespread to make this book useful for anyone seeking to understand the movement.