I am not Charismatic man, I swear!

“I am not Charismatic man, I swear! I’m not into this scene, I’m just here with a friend. Yeah…”

Those are the words that came out of my friend’s mouth when I ran into him at a Pentecostal church meeting that my friends and I were visiting a few weeks ago. It almost felt like I was a parent who had just caught my kid with a small bag of weed in his sock drawer. “Its not mine Dad, I swear! I’m just holding it for a friend!” Shenanigans!

This moment, although funny at the time, revealed something. Among certain circles, being Pentecostal is frowned down upon. Yes, we might accept others being Pentecostal, especially if that person lives somewhere in the global south. But Pentecostalism isn’t for us “well educated people who know better than to get carried away by emotionalism.”

In his 2008 article titled “Thinking in Tongues” for “First Things” magazine, James K.A. Smith (a reformed/charismatic theologian) said:

Over the past decade, Pentecostalism has become something of an academic darling for historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars of religious studies. Researchers ensconced in the secularized environs of the university have produced a flood of books and studies about the fantastic worlds of global Pentecostalism. And yet, while sometimes sympathetic and irenic, the academic interest in Pentecostalism has had the curious backhanded effect of disenchantment. The sociological fascination proves a cover for condescending incredulity, with Pentecostalism reduced to a sort of global snake-handling.

Smith goes on to say:

Although Pentecostalism sometimes gets a space on the table as a subject of study, it rarely gets a seat at the theological table as a contributor to the conversation, even among serious theologians.

Smith is absolutely correct. This was on full display in my interaction with my friend from Fuller. My friend knew me from Oliver Crisp’s “Doctrine of the Atonement Class,” as I was one of two M.A. students in this Ph.D seminar. So this guy’s perception of me, which he later shared with my friends from my church, was that I am the smartest M.A. student he knows. He said, and I’m not exaggerating, “this guy is the smartest master’s student I know, he is brilliant! He is absolutely brilliant. ”(I’m not going to lie, it was weird to hear him bragging about my intelligence in front of my other friends.) Anyway, this guy perceived me as being super smart, and hence he thought I would look down upon him for him engaging in some “charismatic” worship. He also knew that I was pretty Reformed. And Reformed people aren’t charismatic. So the cards were supposedly stacked against him. He felt as though I was supposed to judge him. After all, I am a “smart” “reformed” theologian… that is intimidating right? But why are those things incompatible with being Charismatic? Apparently this guy thought they were, and apparently he though that I, being a “smart reformed theologian” , would look down on him for being at a charismatic church gathering.

Why are the words, smart and charismatic or reformed and charismatic oxymorons? I don’t know. But hopefully one day these words will be seen as complimentary rather than opposite.

(If, by the way, you can’t tell, I am in fact Charismatic and Reformed.)


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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