What can we learn from the charismatic movement?

God doesn't only encounter our minds, he engages our whole personality.
Some observers dismiss the charismatic movement the way Ralph Nader used to disparage American cars: unsafe at any speed. Charismatics are at best self-deceived, more likely beguiled by Satan. Others lavish the movement with praise, viewing it as God's final, triumphant effort to revitalize his church and redirect its mission in an anti-Christian world.

But here's a surprise: while rebuking its excesses and even rejecting its authenticity, many non-charismatics suggest we can learn lessons from the charismatic movement. In fact, we've already learned more than we may realize.

A search for certainty

In an age of cool logic, impersonality, and lovelessness, charismatics want to believe in God passionately, to feel the delight of communion with him, and to see him at work in their lives. They want proof that they belong to God. Speaking in tongues (and receiving the other "sign gifts") offers physical experience that is notable and personal.

Where does one find certainty? In view of Jesus' perfect life and substitutionary death, God declared the whole world "not guilty!" An "iffy" gospel--"God will forgive you if. . ." (you give your life to him/you get rid of your sin, etc.)--is really no gospel at all. "God has forgiven you . . ." (and so you can trust him/you can live a new life) gives certainty. God's Word, not my experience, convinces me. Truth, not my perception, makes me sure.

Certainty also comes when our life together as a community of believers reflects Jesus' good news. Does your church, in Christ, restore the sinner, welcome the stranger, confess God's truth together? Those are signs of God's Word at work.

A place for emotions

No, faith is not created by schmaltz. No, human feelings dare not determine eternal truth. Martin Luther did say, "No, I do not feel forgiven. Feelings come and go." Faith isn't based on emotion.

But can't God's truth touch our emotions? Isn't there a legitimate place for an emotional response to the gospel? And isn't there also room for variety in emotional response? Or is the only proper way to greet the good news with a somber, restrained, predominantly male Jawohl?*

Luther also described his own "religious experience":

I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates." (Luther's Works 34, 337)