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.