The Charismatic Spiritual Conversational Style

If you’re just joining us, read Part I of the series as it introduces the topic of Spiritual Conversation Styles (SCSs).

Those who use the Charismatic SCS are often associated with the Charismatic/Pentecostal subculture of the Christian world. In conversation, the Charismatic SCS appeals to personal revelation of the Bible as an authority for interpretation and application.

Some advocates of the Charismatic SCS despise biblical scholarship, paying little attention to the principles of hermeneutics and sound exegesis, deeming them “human” and “man-made.” Statements like “the Lord showed me” or “God revealed this to me” or “the Spirit told me” are peppered throughout their conversations.

Those who do not use this particular SCS usually feel quite uncomfortable with such phrases. While they may experience spiritual illumination from the Holy Spirit, they believe it’s unbefitting to wield it as a basis of authority. They also find such claims to divine authority difficult to analyze and inadequate to settle disputes. Not to mention that they believe these declarations often convey the clear impression of “boasting in the flesh.” In short, those who do not employ the Charismatic SCS feel that the mere appeal to personal revelation makes the playing field unlevel in the arena of theological discussion.

Here’s an example. Suppose that Bill and Chris are discussing a theological issue. Chris uses the Charismatic SCS, while Bill doesn’t. After Bill shares an interpretation of a biblical passage with Chris, Chris responds, saying, “The passage does not mean what you say. God showed me that it means thus and so.” In Bill’s mind, any attempt at biblical discourse now becomes inadequate, for “God has shown” Chris otherwise. When Bill challenges Chris’s position using the principles of exegesis (appealing to historical context, the original meaning of Greek words, etc.), Chris accuses Bill of being “unspiritual,” unable to comprehend the language of the Holy Spirit.

Now Bill believes that Chris cannot explain or defend his position academically. He can only appeal to personal revelation. Therefore, Bill feels that Chris has fallen into the subjective soup of mysticism and is lost in the sauce. From Bill’s vantage point, there’s no common ground for communication. The source of authority is neither equal nor mutual. While Chris verbally affirms that Scripture is the measure of all truth and may even push the envelope of biblical authority, in Bill’s mind, Chris’s appeal to personal revelation demonstrates otherwise. To Chris, Bill is not a spiritual person because he cannot understand or accept the divine inspiration that he (Chris) has received.

In addition, because Bill does not use the mystical jargon that fills Chris’s vocabulary, Chris concludes that Bill’s relationship with the Holy Spirit is subnormal. Worse still, Chris may judge Bill to not have the Holy Spirit at all, for if he did (he muses to himself), Bill would agree with him.

In effect, Chris is frustrated because he fails to convince Bill of his revelatory encounters (and he may even go so far as to accuse Bill of having a “religious spirit”). Chris doesn’t understand why Bill would question his experience, because he is convinced that God speaks to him.

Bill is equally frustrated. He feels that he can’t communicate on the same level as Chris. To Bill, Chris’s subjective appeals cloud the issue and make the source of authority ambiguous. For Bill, Chris’s revelations by no means secure the theological terrain. Chris’s discourse, which is cluttered with verbal cues of mystical experiences (“God showed me”), is both unimpressive and unconvincing to Bill.

Chris, on the other hand, is troubled with Bill’s “unspirituality” simply because he doesn’t share these explicit verbal signals. So in the end, the person using the Charismatic SCS ends up feeling frustrated and hurt because of his failure to convince those who embrace a different SCS. Likewise, those who disagree with the Charismatic SCS find themselves up against similar frustrations.

See the next installment: The Quoter Spiritual Conversational Style

About Frank Viola

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  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    Adrian, I’m starting to think there’s a world of difference between US and UK Christians! N.T. Wright mentions differences here and there in things I’ve read of his, but now that I am getting to know you, I think that there may be even more differences than I thought.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock Adrian Warnock

    I did read the whole thing and I stil find the description of this as “**the** Charismatic conversational style” like there is no other way us charismatics talk about the Bible to be offensive.

  • Joyce

    I so appreciate this insightful series, rings true in my experience, and i am looking forward to the rest of the SCS’s.

  • Frank Viola

    Point taken. “Mystical” is probably better for the reasons you’ve stated. However, I hope you read the whole piece. Many people who believe in the ultimate authority of Scripture use this SCS when talking about their theological views. And they may in reality mostly agree with someone who doesn’t use that specific SCS, but they *think* they disagree or the conversation gets stalemated. That’s the whole point I’m trying to get across with Spiritual Conversational Styles. The conversational style, when they differ, impedes discussion.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock Adrian Warnock

    Reckon it is important not to call this “The Charismatic Spiritual Conversation Style” I am a charismatic and I don’t do this. Call it the “Super-Spiritual” or something else. It paints me and my brothers and sisters in broad brush strokes that are not in the least bit flattering. Even if this is prevalent it is surely not the only charismatic view, of that much I am sure.

  • Frank Viola

    P.S. I saw that someone just tweeted this: “Living this daily on FB: The Charismatic Spiritual Conversational” – so it’s still alive and well.

  • Frank Viola

    Perhaps another example of differences between the UK and USA in this arena. But the appeal to subjective revelation is prevalent in the USA among *many* Charismatics. Not all use this SCS, but many do. I would think that some (many?) in the UK are inclined to say “God told me” or “God showed me” when they discuss spiritual things or theology. That’s a typical part of the Charismatic SCS. I’m sure you’ll be able to spot the Quoter Conversational Style . . . which I’ll post on Friday. They flip out over that kind of language, even if they might agree with what’s said.

    Btw/ there’s no “having it in” for anyone. These are just examples of styles of communication among believers.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock Adrian Warnock

    Ive grown up in charismatic circles and also spent some years in a pentecostal church. I aint never met a single person who claimed God told them what a Bible verse meant the way you described! Either US charismatics are way different to us Brits or you have it in for my brothers, my friend!

  • http://www.soulsanctuary.ca Gerry Michalski

    Great article…. here is something I wrote a while back…..focus on the “GOD CARD.”

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  • Sally Roach

    A few years back, I encountered friends using a method of child rearing called something like, raising children God’s way. Well, who can argue with that? It’s God’s way! If you disagreed with it, as I did, then you were going up against the Almighty. Whatever!