The Charismatic Spiritual Conversational Style

The Charismatic Spiritual Conversational Style February 6, 2021

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

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