Thoughts about “Renewalism”

Thoughts about “Renewalism” February 23, 2012

I spent Tuesday of this week (February 21) at Regent University in Virginia and learned a new word–“Renewalism” (and phrases like “Renewal Studies” and “Renewalist”). Of course, the term “Renewal” isn’t new to me. In fact, I read a paper there on Pietism and Pentecostalism the thesis of which was that the two are cousins. I put them together under the category of Renewal movements.

“Renewalism,” however seems to be emerging as a technical category both sociological and theological. Its sociological meaning is clearer to me than its theological meaning. I was informed that it is an umbrella term for Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wave Christians and Global South churches that are like those.

I take it the point is something like this. Pentecostals are finding common ground with non-Pentecostals and need a new category that includes all who share this common ground. What is the common ground? It seems to me it has to do with experiential Christianity and especially belief in a subsequent-to-conversion experience of the Holy Spirit with accompanying gifts of the Spirit such as healing, speaking in tongues, etc. BUT–not all Renewalists believe that speaking in tongues (or any one gift) is the sine qua non of being Spirit filled. Many, perhaps most, Pentecostals do. But most other Renewalists do not. This has kept them somewhat apart over the years, but now SOME classical Pentecostals are reaching out to neo-Pentecostals and others who share belief in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit and seeking to forge together with them a broader movement that includes them all.

Sociologically, my question is whether this Renewalist movement might include at least SOME classical Pietists? I brought up the Blumhardts (father and son, Johann and Christoph) as examples of pre-Pentecostal Pietists who believed in healing, exorcism, prophecy, etc.

I wonder whether something like Renovare (Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, et al.) might fit into this Renewalist category? The question is how broad and inclusive will this be?

The sociological “center” seems to be passionate belief in and commitment to spiritual renewal of individuals and churches through experience of God including the contemporary supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

What about the movement’s theology? Must a person or church be trinitarian to be included? Can Roman Catholics be part of it? What about non-Pentecostal Wesleyans? (They usually believe in healing if not speaking in tongues.) What about Keswickians?

I think what I am hearing about Renewalism sounds familiar to me from my two years at ORU. It wasn’t called that there or then, but the place was awash with people from all kinds of denominations (everything from Mennonites to Roman Catholics) who shared a common belief in the gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e., rejection of cessationism). They did not agree on many other issues. Some were sacramentalist and some didn’t observe sacraments at all.  Some were Calvinist-leaning and some were radically Arminian. Some were Pentecostal and some had no affiliation with that. Some were low church and some were high church. What held us all together was that common belief in the contemporary transforming work of the Holy Spirit through subsequent to conversion infillings of the Holy Spirit and receiving and exercising supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some were more expressive than others about that. But everyone believed in it or they wouldn’t have been there.

So, in order to understand Renewalism (in the sense I heard of it at Regent U.) I have to go back to my ORU days and remember that Holy Spirit ecumenism. It was probably the best thing about ORU then.

Personally, I would like to advocate including among Renewalists genuine Pietists whether they manifest supernatural gifts of the Spirit or not (so long as they are not cessationists). I think it would be very interesting to have a conference at a place like Regent that brings together (for example) Renovare people and Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals for conversation about church and personal renewal.  I think they would find much in common.

I still have enough of Pentecostalism in me to believe this, Renewalism, is an extremely important movement beneficial to Christianity today (even though I do not speak in tongues and do not believe it is for everyone). Conservative evangelicals have been pushing correct doctrine as the path toward church renewal for quite a while now (even in the mainline churches). I don’t think that alone will do what needs to be done. If we want to see revival as it is happening in the Global South in North America and Europe, we will have to be more open to the present operation of the Holy Spirit in very emotional ways. (I don’t mean “emotionalism” as in emotion for its own sake.) We have to shed our sense of sophistication and respectability and allow ourselves to experience God in ways that may be embarrassing for those of us with M.Divs and Ph.D.s and M.D.s and etc.


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