How Charismatic are YOU? A Spectrum of belief and practice

How Charismatic are YOU? A Spectrum of belief and practice December 1, 2011

Today, in the tradition of my previous Arminocalvinist Spectrum, Evolution vs Creationism Spectrum and Spectrum of belief on hell and salvation  I present a “Charismatic-cessationist spectrum.”  For some more background on this issue, and a fairly typical charismatic perspective see my series of posts on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  As usual this may be a bit of a living document for a couple of days as I welcome suggestions for improvement from others.

Intriguingly this spectrum is much harder to label than the previous ones.  There are many differing views about the role of the Spirit in the Church today, but the key differences are really the answers to a series of questions that do not always go together.  Some have tried to delineate the positions something like the list I created below  (and I would be very glad of any further comments), but a number of the following labels are not entirely accurate in that people will “pick and mix” on this issue somewhat.  In fact (and I do try to reflect this in the spectrum below) there are two distinct areas which are often not answered consistently: I call these charismatic beliefs and charismatic experiences.  Before reading the rest of the article, why not scroll down to the bottom of this article and take the following questionnaire to calculate your own personal “charismatic quotient” an idea I have developed from John Piper. My survey deliberately distinguishes between belief and practice, and I would welcome feedback on its validity.  But first, here is my attempt at delineating a charismatic-cessationist spectrum:

1. Strong cessationist  Perhaps this is something of a caricature, but there are a number of Christians who would basically deny that a modern Christian can have any sort of relationship with God today except  exclusively though prayerfully reading the Bible.  God’s word to us today would be entirely  limited to reading the Scriptures, and some would not expect any kind of excitement or emotion about the Christian’s time of worship.  Many in groups below would accuse these people of having a relationship with a book rather than the living God, while they would presumably dismiss all reports of divine activity today as either lies or delusions.  It is debatable how many people would truly be in this group. It should be noted, however, that when Piper wrote about how he heard the voice of God, some did criticise him for sounding too charismatic, when in fact his experience of God speaking to him through the Bible would surely have been entirely consistent for anyone who was a moderate cessationist.

2. Historic cessationist  I have often argued that prior to the pentecostal and charismatic movements, the mainstream view seems to have been one which claimed that God was very much active today, and was aware of the potential for a living relationship with him.  In fact, there have been many documented descriptions of what a charismatic today would call a word of knowledge, or a healing, or a prophecy associated with previous heroes of the faith.  But many of them would have been theologically cessationist, in that they would not have described their experiences with the language of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  There are many today who would also feel comfortable with descriptions of an experience of God, perhaps believing in a “call” to ministry, but who would not believe that gifts continue. In fact, it is very possible for someone in a group like this to have what some would term a stronger so-called “charismatic” experience than someone who would be theologically charismatic.  It is vital to remember that not only charismatics believe in the Holy Spirit, and some of the arguments are about terminology (see this article for example).  It is fair to say that most people who claim to be a cessationist have at least some sense of a personal relationship with God.

3. Aspirational charismatic  This is a term I have shamelessly stolen from Ed Stetzer who seams to have coined the phrase.  It seems to be something of a majority view among many reformed people today, especially younger ones who have read Grudem, and perhaps watched Piper or Driscoll sermons online. People in this group are theologically convinced that gifts of the Spirit are at least potentially available today. Many would not have seen any gifts in operation, or at least not in a safe, controlled environment.  At an emotional or experiential level, many might even have more distrust for the gifts in actual operation than some who call themselves a cessationist.

This is, in my view, despite its popularity, an inherently unstable position.  This is because it is a fact of human nature that our beliefs influence our behavior in every area. It would, for example, be odd indeed if someone claimed to be a baptist but did not practice adult baptism.  I suspect that many in this group of necessity will eventually either have to embrace a pursuit of the Spirit and his gifts more actively, or retreat into historic cessationism.

4. Third Wave charismatic  Popularised by the Vineyard and men like Sam Storms, this position would definitely be open to gifts, and will often have a significant experience of them. It rejects any notion of a “subsequent” Holy Spirit baptism, however.  (See Sam Storms detailed article.) It is perhaps an unfortunate term and I wish I could come up with a better one, but for the record, the term reflects the fact that this view was dominant among a historically distinct movement subsequent to both the charismatic movement of the 1960s and the pentecostal movement of the early 20th century. (see wikipedia on the three waves of the Spirit’s activity in the last century)  Some in this movement have adopted the term “continuationist” to distinguish themselves from other charismatics.

5. Strong charismatic This position advocates an eager pursuit of the Holy Spirit and all his gifts.  It would also advocate a distinct experience of the Spirit’s filling or Baptism with the Holy Spirit.  Prophecy, tongues, and other gifts would be common in these circles, but most charismatics would not insist on tongues as being the only or necessary evidence of the Spirit’s baptism.  Many point to Lloyd-Jones description of the “sealing” with the Spirit which gives assurance, and is associated with the love of God being poured out into our hearts as the root of the experience, with gifts being important but stemming from this anointing in which God visibly acknowledges our sonship. Advocates of this position would argue that receiving the Spirit is a conscious thing that may not happen at conversion. These would agree that every believer is regenerated by the Spirit and in-dwelt by him, but not every believer is conscious of a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Believers are urged to seek and “receive” the Holy Spirit as experienced in the book of Acts.

6. Apostolic  In addition to all the points in the “strongly charismatic” position, these people believe that Ephesians 4 ministries are all to be expected, recognized and released in the global Church today.  If this view is new to you, and you want to understand it further, I strongly recommend Terry Virgo’s book The Spirit Filled Church, followed by Dave Devenish’s Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission, or why not just attend our next 300 leaders conference here in London?  In case you are a new reader, it is this group that I fall into, despite (just like Devenish and Virgo) being firmly in the reformed camp.

7. Traditional Pentecostal or “tongues as the initial evidence” Some traditional pentecostals would agree with the strong charismatic position, and in some cases the apostolic also.  In some cases they have emphasized tongues to such an extent that it becomes a necessary sign that God has granted the baptism of the Holy Spirit to someone.  This position is far from universal among pentecostals, as this interview I did with Jack Hayford makes clear, and sometimes can be misunderstood with to a closely related position that encourages people to expect and pray for tongues, but without making them an absolute requirement.  Again, I am struggling for a label here, so any suggestions very welcome!

8. Extreme charismatic This label is intended for a disparate group of people who emphasise an experience of gifts to such an extent that at least one doctrinal position held by other evangelicals is displaced. Most seriously, some would begin to de-emphasise the role of the Bible in testing gifts, and even in some cases allow a so-called “revelation” to trump the clear teaching of the Bible. Some have argued that since we have a “now” word we do not even need the Bible at all! Clearly this is the way a non-Christian cult can arrise, and it is striking how often “angels” have apparently appeared to people and taught things contrary to Scripture.

Less apparently extreme (and not always stemming from a denial of the Bible), but dangerous nonetheless we see a revaluation of “standard” doctrines among some in this group, perhaps because of a feeling of alienation from mainstream evangelicalism. So, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity can sometimes be denied (eg “oneness pentecostals“), or the notion of God blessing the believer is taken to an extreme where any sickness is a sign of unbelief, or speaking in tongues is seen as necessary for salvation.  Most charismatics and pentecostals would strongly repudiate all of these positions.

So, there are some of the labels, but how charismatic are YOU in your beliefs and practices? Please complete the survey at this link or below and let us know what you think of it! You are welcome to remain anonymous if you prefer!

Charismatic / Cessationist Spectrum Questionnaire

Charismatic beliefs (tick all that apply)


Charismatic Experience / Practice (tick all that apply)

Please add up the number of number of experiences ticked above


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