Sporadic Charismatic

Sporadic Charismatic August 24, 2015

Quite by accident, I have stumbled across an excellent tool for scholarly analysis.

My source is the comic strip ZITS, by Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott, which focuses on the teenager Jeremy and his permanently exasperated parents. It is so agonizingly realistic that it must be based on a writer’s personal experience of parenthood.

In a recent strip, the mother complains that “That’s it! I’ve had it, Jeremy! Sometimes you’re so much fun to be around, and other times I don’t want to be in the same room with you!” As Jeremy tells his much-pierced friend, Pierce, “My mom called me a sporadic charismatic.” Pierce responds, “Critical, yet poetic. I respect that.”

Sporadic charismatic. That’s actually an awfully learned reference. If you google the phrase, you will find a number of intriguing examples from diverse scholarly literatures – on Pentecostalism, on ancient Hebrew prophecy, even the Book of Judges. Following up those references is actually interesting and worthwhile in its own right.

But perhaps the term works best when we look at contemporary global religious statistics. Scholars today place believers worldwide in a number of different categories – evangelical, charismatic, Pentecostal (with both large and small P). The term ECP – Evangelical/Charismatic Protestant – is quite common. The problem is that these labels are not hard and fast, and in terms of their lived religion, people float between those practices according to need and occasion. In Latin America, famously, the term evangélico usually refers to what North Americans would call a Pentecostal.

On occasion, members of “mainline” churches also use charismatic practices. Quite apart  from Catholic charismatics, who run into the tens of millions, Anglicans, Lutherans and other Christians sometimes do and say things that might strike observers as charismatic, although they do not primarily define themselves according to that label.

Depending on culture and denomination, many Christian believers sometimes use charismatic and Pentecostal practices, although those do not define their Christian identity, and we should never pretend that they do. One passing episode of glossolalia does not a Pentecostal make. Nor does a single healing. Such believers are indeed sporadic charismatics, and we should explore that provocative concept and its implications.

It’s an obvious point, but one that often gets elided in discussions of denominations: no hard and fast line separates charismatic/Pentecostal believers from other Christians. There is no frontier to cross. Or if there is, people cross it quite freely and, well, sporadically.

Perhaps the principle can also be applied usefully to celebrated historical revivals and awakenings in the English-speaking world. So was this a charismatic movement? No, but it was definitely sporadic charismatic.

Thank you, ZITS, for the ideas. Critical, yet poetic. I respect that.



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  • Mark Byron

    People in the pews of non-charismatic churches tend to be more open to charismatic stuff than the pastors are, since being opening charismatic pastor in such denominations is often a recipe for getting the left foot of disfellowship.

    That’s less of an issue in mainline churches who are often flexible on both the right and left edges of theology, but evangelical but not-charismatic denominations often have anti-charismatic policies in practice if not in official doctrine; the Southern Baptists would be a good example, where the Baptist Faith and Message is not cessationist, but the function policy is.