Monday, November 15, 2010
"But the core of it all - for me it seems that the charismatic movement from its beginning has lead people to believe in an authoritarian God. A God who comes with force, who overpowers you etc. Where as in Jesus I see a very different approach."
I think this raises a very important point: when speaking about "basing theology on experience" that needs a qualifier. I should say basing theology on the experience of grace. Grace is the central narrative of the New Testament, and it is also the lens though which Jesus and the authors of the NT interpreted the Old Testament. Grace is what characterized the entire ministry of Jesus to the sick and the sinner. Grace is what turned a violent Saul into the Chirst following apostle Paul. Miss grace and you miss everything.
The gospels tell a beautiful story of a "sinful woman" who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and pours a jar of alabaster perfume over them. The Pharasees are shocked at this display. But Jesus says "those who are forgiven little, love little" (Lk 7:4). From that let me make a bold assertion: Those who do not know grace, cannot properly understand the Bible. Those who have experienced grace little, understand the Bible little.
On the other hand, if we have experienced grace - that is, if we have known God's amazing grace in the middle of all of our brokenness, darkness, and hurt, that unearned wonderful love completely changes us. It sends us to our knees, it melts our hearts. Such a lived experience of grace is absolutely essential to proper theology. Truth to be understood, must be lived. We need to come to the text as those who know grace and have been transformed by it. Otherwise we may miss its central point. We see this in the story of Paul who before his encounter with Jesus has in fact completely misread the narrative of Scripture and as a result was opposing the church. When he was encountered by grace, this changed his whole outlook, including how he read the Bible.
This experience of God's grace also needs to be how we judge our own religious experiences and interactions with others. Are these demonstrating grace? Are we encountering people with God's transforming love? Is that the main focus of what we do? When charismatics focus more on the manifestation of gifts than then do on the purpose of a gift which is to show love, then I think they miss grace. I was raised charismatic, and still consider myself to be charismatic, so I know that church (it's good parts and bad parts) quite well. I've been in services that get really hyped up and freaky. I've seen many pastors who are on power trips. I've also seen us evangelicals focus on morals and "right and wrong" in a really unloving combative way when what we should be doing is treating others with the same mercy we so desperately need. In each of these grace gets pushed out of the way when it should be the very center of what we do and who we are.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:1-8a)