Monday, 17 November 2014

A New Reality: Challenges from the Global Charismatic Movement

One of the major challenges for Western theology in the 21st century, is to adjust itself to a new reality of global Christianity – the demographic shift of Christianity to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Lived theology is rapidly and thoroughly changing under influence of non-Western charismatic Christianity, also within Western countries due to global migration. As British missiologist Andrew Walls put it, “The Christianity typical of the 21st century will be shaped by the events and processes that take place in the Southern continents, and above all by those that take place in Africa.”[1]

[Part 2 in a series on New Wine and systematic theology, drawn from my research master thesis Life to the Full. From Creation to Re-Creation, VU University 2014]

The vast majority of this non-Western Christianity (over 65 %) can be labelled as Pentecostal or charismatic, emphasizing powerful experiences of the reality and presence of the Spirit of God in terms of healing, deliverance and the gifts and endowments of the Spirit.[2]
If Western theology wants to remain relevant and “have a future”, Dutch Reformed theologian Bram van de Beek asserts, it must be willing to learn from, and be changed by, these developments in the worldwide church.[3] Ghanaian Presbyterian theologian Kwame Bediako (1945-2008) rightly stated that it is the question,

"whether Western academic theology has the courage, the will and the intellectual capacity to face this challenge, for it will not prove to be easy as the differences sometimes run deep." [4]

Charismatic renewal in the Global West: Migrant Churches

Not only in the Global South, but also within the West the face of Christianity is changing because of the growing influence of the charismatic movement. This is partly due to the influx of Christian migrants from the South, whose numbers are often underestimated. According to researcher Philip Jenkins (Professor of History and religious studies), the vibrant, charismatic immigrant churches might very well “signify a re-Christianization of post-Christendom Europe”, as thousands of African missionaries and church planters are sent to Europe to “bring back the Gospel” and evangelize Europeans.[5] 

Charismatic renewal in the Global West: Both Catholic and Protestant

But also within Western churches the charismatic renewal has matured and is growing. According to Jenkins, the number of charismatic Christians - both within the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, and in the (Neo-)Pentecostal movement in Europe - add up to twice the number of Muslims in Europe. Jenkins specifically refers to the rapid growth of the charismatic renewal within the Catholic Church since the 1960s, and within the Church of England since the 1990s.
This Anglican renewal - that finds expression in for instance the New Wine movement that was founded by bishop David Pytches, in the youth movement of Soul Survivor, and in Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha Course - spreads far beyond the Church of England, and deeply influences Evangelical and Reformed churches on the European mainland.[6]

Third Wave and New Wine

This influential renewal within the Church of England and beyond may - humanly speaking - be ignited by John Wimber and the so-called “Third Wave of charismatic renewal”[7], it is standing on the shoulders of the “second wave” of charismatic renewal within the Protestant churches, that coincided with the Catholic renewal of the 1950s and 1960s (the “first wave” then being the renewal of the early 20th century within mainly Methodist and Baptist churches, that led to the birth of the Pentecostal movement). This “second wave” - mostly simply referred to as the charismatic renewal in the Protestant churches - prepared the ground for New Wine and Alpha within mainstream Protestant churches, and its significance should not be underestimated.[8]

Systematic Theology and Charismatic Experiences

Western academic theology will have to take these charismatic experiences within the worldwide body of Christ seriously, and process these experiences also in its systematic theology. In the words of German Reformed theologian Michael Welker, Reformed theology will have to be a “realistic theology”, mediating the concerns of Reformation theology with the charismatic experiences within the majority of global Christianity.[9] 

Also British New Testament scholar (and minister within the Presbyterian Church of Scotland) James Dunn argues,
“that the traditional churches need to be more open to the still growing third or charismatic dimension of Christianity [and] dogmaticians need to integrate the experienced Spirit more fully into their systems.”[10]

Series on New Wine and systematic theology:

Part 1: The First Time I Found Myself Praying in Tongues...


[1] Andrew F. Walls, ‘Africa in Christian History: Retrospect and Prospect’, in: Journal of African Christian Thought, 1/1 (June 1998), 2.

[2] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom. The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 – revised and expanded ed.), and its sequel, The New Faces of Christianity. Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh. Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 19; Michael Welker, God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 7-15.

[3] Bram van de Beek, Van Kant tot Kuitert. De belangrijkste theologen uit de 19e en 20e eeuw (Kampen: Kok, 2006), 253 (my translation).

[4] Kwame Bediako, ‘African Theology as a Challenge for Western Theology’, in: Martien Brinkman en Dirk van Keulen (eds), Christian identity in cross-cultural perspective, Studies in Reformed theology, Vol. 8 (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2003), 52-67.

[5] Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent. Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 87-102.

[6] Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent, 74-75, 79-85.

[7] Any periodization obviously is a construct, and it can be debated whether this movement of charismatic renewal really was a distinct “third wave”. However, the label has become rather common in Anglo-Saxon theology, and it is indeed possible to define some distinctives (see next section), though the movement is quite diverse. It was Peter Wagner who introduces the term “Third Wave”, first in 1983 as he was interviewed for Pastoral Renewal magazine on what the Spirit at that time seemed to be doing in a variety of churches. In response to the question about whether what he was describing was something new or just an extension of what had been going in on Pentecostal and charismatic movements, Wagner used the term Third Wave”, that went into the headline of the article. In 1988, Wagner published his book The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit: Encountering the Powers of Signs and Wonders Today (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1988).

[8] It is hard to tell how and where the “second wave” started. Most likely it sprung up simultaneously at several places, as experiences of charismatic renewal within several traditional Protestant churches were testified of in the 1950s. These experiences included speaking in tongues, prophecies, and miracles of healing. It appears to have been rather manifest within the Church of England. Interestingly, the charismatic renewal saw a remarkable growth within the Netherlands, too. Dutch Reformed pastor Karel Kraan came into contact with healing ministries within the Church of England when he pastored a Reformed church in London (1949-1956), and became one of the founders of the charismatic renewal in the Netherlands. Together with Wim Verhoef, also a Dutch Reformed pastor, he initiated the Charismatische Werkgemeenschap Nederland - the “charismatic work community”- in 1973. The Netherlands also saw an interesting processing of these charismatic experiences in academic theology, not least thanks to Reformed theologian Jan Veenhof, systematic theologian at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (1973-1989). Many of his essays on the pneumatology and charismatic renewal are collected in Vrij gereformeerd (Kampen: Kok, 2005). See also Jan Veenhof, De Parakleet. Enige beschouwingen over de parakleet-belofte in het evangelie van Johannes en haar theologische betekenis (Kampen: Kok, 1974). Partly due to his efforts an endowed chair for the theology of charismatic renewal was constituted at the VU University, together with the Charismatische Werkgemeenschap Nederland and the Katholieke Charismatische Vernieuwing (Catholic Charismatic Renewal). This chair was held subsequently by Martien Parmentier (1992-2000), Kees van der Kooi (2003-2007), and Benno van den Toren (2010-2014). Noteworthy publications are Martien Parmentier, Heil maakt heel. De bediening tot genezing (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 1997); C. van der Kooi, Tegenwoordigheid van Geest. Verkenningen op het gebied van de leer van de Heilige Geest (Kampen: Kok, 2006). Also within the Dutch orthodox-Reformed churches the charismatic renewal has been propagated by prominent theologians, such as G. Boer (1913-1973), C. Graafland (1928-2004), Mart-Jan Paul, and Jan Hoek.

[9] Welker, x-xi.a. Welker defines this “realistic theology” as “a theology that is related to various structural patterns of experience and that cultivates a sensitivity to the differences of this various patterns. It is precisely in this diverse and complex relation to God’s reality and to creaturely reality as intended by God that realistic theology seeks to perform its task” (x). This does not imply that Welker’s theology is a theology “from below”, grounded only in human experiences and people’s search for God, he hastens to say. “A realistic theology mediates this need of theologies grounded in human experiences with the concern of classical, Reformation, and dialectical theologies “from above” to take God’s divinity seriously and not to obstruct enjoyment of the fullness and glory of God” (xi).

[10] James Dunn, ‘Towards the Spirit of Christ: The Emergence of the Distinctive Features of Christian Pneumatology’, in: Michael Welker (ed.), The Work of the Spirit. Pneumatology and Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 3-26.

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