Pentecostal or Reformed?

With the rise of contemporary Reformed thought, a number of Charismatic groups have also arisen which embrace Calvinism. Perhaps the most important of these is “New Frontiers” a major church planting network from England. A major concept for Charismatics in the 20th century was a dream of unifying the “Word and the Spirit.” Ern Baxter, one of the major leaders of the Shepherding Movement, was one who held to this concept. So was R.T. Kendall, who wrote a book by the same title with Paul Cain. Smith Wigglesworth gave a major prophecy on this topic near the end of his life. Baxter and Kendall saw this as a union between Calvinism and the Charismatic. And there are many heirs of the Shepherding Movement today who hold to Calvinism. C.J. Mahaney is perhaps the one with the highest profile. So there has been, and continues to be a shift toward Calvinism among Charismatics.

This partly because of the logical connection between Charismatic ideas like hearing God speak, being refined by fire, and waiting on God with the concept of a God who controls the details of our lives. If you doubt that these ideas create problems or go together, look no father than the recent book written by the young Reformed pastor titled: Just Do Something.

Now the reality is that few people hold a truly consistent theology.  Instead we tend to get our ideas out of a buffet of the current ideas of the time. At the same time, even those who are expert in theology are not always consistent, because the consistency leads to uncomfortable conclusions. Now to a certain extent, such tensions are inevitable – since the creator of the universe could never be reduced to a single idea. On the other hand the recognition of tension does not mean that we have to live in confusion, contradiction or denial. Every theology has a “center” that really determines the direction it will ultimately go, regardless of what beliefs specific individuals hold.

So for example, if you are a Calvinist and belief that God predestines people to salvation, you can of course be a very evangelistic person and belief in the urgency of mission. However this is logically inconsistent. If God has already predestined them, it takes a lot of the urgency of mission away. Therefore with time – perhaps a couple of generations, the theology will tend toward it’s logical “center.” This is about where things stood in the days of William Carey, when he launched the missions movement almost singlehandedly against the Calvinistic bent of his day. This idea of a God who is in control is the logical center of Calvinism. Therefore I believe that a truly consistent Calvinism will ultimately always tend to be more focused on government of this world than evangelism. There will also always be more Calvinist intellectuals than Arminian ones, because the logic focus on the need for man to “do” is decreased, and the logical need for him know the correct theology is increased. Only when you look into history and trace what happens to an idea after it has been living in a church culture for a few generations do you really get the flavor of where it leads.

Arminian theology seems to thrive best as a response to Calvinism because it does not have as good of a theological “center” as Calvinism does. A theology of “free will” alone can too easily lead to liberalism or humanism. People crop up to call themselves “Arminian” basically only when the Calvinists start telling us that God is damning people. Aside from that most Christians are glad to ignore the “systems” and just say that God wants people saved. If Calvinism and Reformed though are not healthy centers, and Arminianism alone is not a viable center, long term, what is?

The reason I feel the need to address this topic is because I was listening to the Introductory lectures of the brilliant instructor Richard Pratt, on the RTS Itunes U. His explanation of Reformed/Calvinistic thought as a tradition was compelling, and it led me to ask, do we have a tradition that can be as logically compelling as Reformed thought or are we just a protest movement?

In my last post I talked about a unifying idea for a truly Pentecostal/Charismatic theology: Possibility in God. This is a truly Arminian concept, yet it is also a God-centered concept. I propose this as an alternative “theological center.” For Wesley, this manifested in the sanctification idea. He believe that holiness was possible in God. 150 years later, the holiness people were putting this into practice and seeing dramatic miracles (and yes, a good deal of legalism). The Pentecostals took the holiness ideal to its logical conclusion and became a movement based around the possibility of walking as Jesus walked. As long as we are reaching toward God as a people, we as people will continue to move theologically and eschatologically toward Him. As soon as we stop, we are off into error.

Share this:


  1. Thinkinggriddles

    I am glad those blogs were helpful to you. I hear different stories on Larry Tomczak leaving the group. He was involved in some of the shepharding they did before he left the group so one can’t make him a total martyr on this issue.

    Thanks for sharing your other blog entry. I will check that out.

    1. Steve, as an ex-insider to these kinds of Shepherding things, I don’t really believe in martyrs per se. The system is corrupting. There are a few true villians at the top, many innocents at the bottom, and in between there are some good intentions and some with bad intentions. All need to be helped to find the “exit” like I did. Ultimately I had to take hard look at myself and figure out why I was “sucked in,” and then take the hard steps to become someone different. I have a number of other posts here that deal with the roots of the Shepherding movement. Unfortunately for Larry, he left the frying pan of SGM and jumped in with some of the guys I left.

  2. As a member of a New Fontiers church I think i should make a response to this.

    The first thing to say is I found this particular article fairly onesided in its view of ‘Reformed’ churches.

    Reformed does not mean no mission in fact for me as a Reformed Charismatic, it actually leads me to do more outreach, more mercy work than i would probably do. Why, quite simply grace. It is by Gods grace that I am saved, not my will but His being done. I do not have not nor will I deserve this grace that I have recieved. As I have received so should I give.It gives me MORE urgency to mission than less.

    New Frontiers is I guess fairly ‘Calvinistic’ in its doctrine. But that has not stopped it being one the foremost church planting organisations in the UK and seeing many thousands saved over the years. Mission is our … well mission 😉

    I see in the states that Mark Driscoll who heads up Mars Hill Church in Seattle and is Part of Acts 29 is also very Calvanistic in doctrine, yet he and those two organisations are also very mission and church planing focused.

    Maybe you need to get out of your stream a bit (not saying that in a negative or accusational way) and see what the others are doing, especially in terms of mission. It is my experience in the Uk that those charismatics who are not calvanistic in outlook who are doing the least in terms of ‘mission’ and are part of the “bless up” mentality which I have no time for. They tend to be the charismaniacs who do everything in the church and nothing outside it.

    I think you see the dry theology and doctrine and forget the Spirit who dwells within and motivates us. That is why your ‘logic’ does not stand up in this case. Sometimes we need to move beyond the logic of cold theological doctrine and remember that we are people dealing with a Person, Jesus.

    As ever my friend in love

  3. Drum, thanks for your response. I really like you guys over at New Frontiers, and I have a lot of respect for people like Grudem or Sam Storms who have blended Reformation Theology with the Charismatic. My comments here are cursory as I’m trying to work with the “big ideas”, but I don’t want to be dismissive. I would view myself as a “Reformed Pentecostal Arminian” if there were such a thing.

  4. “Arminian theology seems to thrive best as a response to Calvinism because it does not have as good of a theological “center” as Calvinism does. A theology of “free will” alone can too easily lead to liberalism or humanism.”

    I know that Wesley-Arminian theology has an aspect of “free will”, but perhaps it being our(I am one) ‘center’ is more claimed and emphasized by our Calvinistic brothers & sisters on the other side of the fence. We are indeed saved by “grace through faith”. Perhaps a W-A ‘center’ might better be termed as “faith centric”. After all, there’s not much I can do or need to do about God’s sovereignty other than accept it where applies. However, there’s much I can and should do about my faith. I have no responsibility for God’s sovereignty, but I do have responsibility for my faith.

    1. Jerry. I agree with your point that Arminianism and “Faith” go tightly together. A Calvinist might be more likely to say you are “saved by grace” where as an Arminian would be more likely to say “saved by faith.” Of course both are Scriptural formulations but “faith” emphasizes that we actually have a part to play in salvation — receiving it.

      On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s a “center” in the sense I’m thinking of. A “center” is an orienting impulse fundamental to human nature around which a theology can be built. So “safety”, “tradition”, etc, make good “centers.” I like the idea of optimism or “possibility” because it reflects what I think draws most people into the things of the Spirit — a desire to have more of God than they have. Wesley put this in terms of “holiness” but holiness by itself seems to lead to works.

      1. I like your idea of “possibility” or optimism. In mentioning “faith”, I mean faith as in the reaching for possibility – an optimistic faith, an expectant faith. If faith ain’t about possibility I don’t know what is. (bad grammar, good truth) Kinda like faith is the hand in the glove of …., anyway. Thanks for your continued writing.
        “go flying pigs” (i know what they are)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>