The Charismatic Spirituality

| February 13, 2012 | 7 Comments More

The Charismatic Spirituality

So far, in trying to understand aspects of orthodox Anglicanism, I’ve looked at Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Now it’s time to look at the Charismatic spirituality.

The modern Pentecostal movement, which is the precursor to the Charismatic spirituality, is often dated from the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, although others acknowledge antecedents in other movements such as the Welsh Revival, the Irvingite movement, and Wesleyism. Dennis Bennett, an American Episcopalian who came under the influence of international Pentecostal leader David Du Plessis, is usually seen as the first (in 1960) to bring the Charismatic renewal experience, or the Charismatic spirituality, into Anglicanism.

In common with Pentecostalism, the Charismatic spirituality within Anglicanism has had an emphasis on baptism in the Spirit, attended by miraculous outpourings of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and prophesying, as well as a “restorationist” view that the church is experiencing what the church in the book of Acts was experiencing. Others would see the Charismatic spirituality as emphasizing a lively or “renewed” style of worship, fellowship, healing, every member ministry, spiritual warfare, the end times, and evangelism. More generally, Charismatics have expressed a renewed and much appreciated emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s people. In some ways, you could see the Charismatic spirituality as a corrective to certain deficiencies in the contemporary Church.

While based on a biblically orthodox theology, the Charismatic spirituality sometimes has a tendency to tear at the fabric of Anglican identity. One of the most important ways in which some Charismatic Anglicans are challenging orthodox Anglican identity is in their belief that “experience unites but theology divides.” This “experiential theology” is often expressed not only in terms of theology proper but sometimes more noticeably in terms decision-making processes. For example, AMiA Bishop Chuck Murphy’s recent description of the Holy Spirit “now doing” a “new thing” seems to represent this Charismatic aspect and its potentially negative consequences.

It’s possible to see the Charismatic use of praise choruses in place of traditional hymnody as part of the temptation to exalt experience over theology. A study of the theologies of praise choruses compared to the hymns, for example, of the 1940 Hymnal, would reveal very different theologies in terms of the focus and comprehension of each. The placement of a large number of praise choruses at the beginning of the worship service, as opposed to being responses to a particular word or act of God rehearsed in worship, seems to be another indicator of this “experiential theology.” In some cases, the desire for a different experience and freer worship has led Charismatic Anglicans to replace Prayer Book worship with alternative forms of worship.

The Charismatic Anglican tendency to elevate experience over theology is also visible in the very influential Alpha course, as one high profile of a Charismatic Anglican theology. While God has undoubtedly used Alpha to spread His kingdom, much of the focus of the Charismatic theology inherent in Alpha is in contrast to Anglican spirituality and theology. When, for example, the topics of Alpha talks are counted, there are two talks about Jesus Christ, three about the Holy Spirit, and none about the Father. Furthermore, the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t have a talk devoted to it and is rarely mentioned throughout the series, while the Father is mentioned only incidentally. Of the topics of the fifteen talks, four are more clearly theological in nature, but the overall emphasis tends to be on experience, with titles such as “How Can I be Sure of My Faith?” “How Does God Guide Us?” “How Can I Be Filled with the Spirit?” “How Can I Resist Evil?” and “Does God Heal Today?”

Another notable distortion of orthodox Anglican theology and practice is the devaluation in Alpha of the role of the sacraments. Questions of Life, the Alpha course in book form, devotes one paragraph to baptism in a chapter titled “What About the Church?” The importance of Holy Communion in the life of the convert is never discussed. And yet Alpha devotes an entire talk to healing and assumes a restorationist view that the healings which Christ and the apostles performed in the first century are also normative for today, claiming that “Jesus expected all of his disciples to do the same.” The talk “How Can I be Filled with the Spirit?” spends most of its time arguing for the fact that speaking in tongues is to be expected when one converts to Christ and discussing hindrances to people speaking in tongues as a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit. In discussing healing, it is a person’s feelings that govern the experience and are, therefore, in some ways normative. Nicky Gumbel writes, “After we have prayed we usually ask the person what he or she is experiencing. Sometimes the person feels nothing, in which case we continue to pray. . . .  We continue praying until we feel it is right to stop.”

The experiential nature of Alpha is most evident in the “weekend away” or “Holy Spirit weekend,” which often seems to be carefully orchestrated to produce the intended effect of a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The influence of the Charismatic spirituality lies not only as an independent spirituality. The Evangelical Anglicanism re-emergent in the U.S. and England was from its inception in some ways connected with the new Charismatic spirituality of the 1960s and 1970s, and much of contemporary Evangelical Anglicanism is Charismatic. J.I. Packer once wrote that “the charismatic reinforcement has effectively demoted and indeed elbowed away the zealous concern for ‘sound doctrine’” and “for continuity with the evangelical past.” Packer also believes that by treating God’s exceptional modes as the norm, the Charismatic spirituality has altered the temper of evangelical piety.

The Charismatic spirituality is also closely related to what I’ve termed the “Global spirituality” of much of the Global South. With its emphasis on healing and deliverance, demons, dreams, ecstatic and prophetic utterances, and other supernatural phenomena, the Charismatic spirituality is in some ways a natural ally of the worldview that many Global Anglicans already share. The convergence of the Charismatic and Global spiritualities is therefore a powerful force that needs more careful consideration.


When we speak, therefore, of being Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, or Charismatic, we need to appreciate not only how each of these spiritualities might bring life to Anglicanism but also how each sometimes tends to lead away from any clear and coherent Anglican identity.

Enough of Anglican spiritualities! Next time, I’ll look at some historical definitions of Anglicanism.


The Holy Spirit – CC Image courtesy of Librarian by John Kroll on Flickr.jpg

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  1. Ministry Partnership | Anglican Rose | June 16, 2012
  1. Lee Poteet says:

    This, Father, is an excellent article. As I have some experience with those involved with Charismatic experience, I think you have been quite right on with almost everything which you have written. As a classic prayer book Anglican the thing which has alarmed me the most is that most of the spirituality of these people is focused upon prayer meetings outside of the regular services of the church. Indeed it almost requires a refusal of the traditional Anglican services, of Holy Communion and especially of the daily offices, with the result that these lose their connection with traditional and real prayer book spirituality.

    • Charles says:

      Good comments, Bp. Sometimes we focus on the particulars of the charismatic gifts, but I think the real issue is in terms of the whole spirituality, which, as you’ve said, tends to color outside the lines of the Prayer Book services. What could be supplements tend to become a different spirituality altogether.

  2. Charles says:

    I’m very depressed over the effect of ‘three streams theology’. We seem to be uniting beliefs which normally contradict, and, in so far as this is true, I see so-called ‘orthodox’ Anglicanism rooted in sand. That’s not a cure to what increasingly ravaged TEC. The ACNA venture, with its three streams and ancient-future worship, very much reminds me of what the United Church of Christ attempted a half-century ago, bringing together Reformed, Evangelical, and Revivalist churches that handled hot button topics by ‘local option’ or congregationalism. My ACNA diocese, DoW-REC, is far more influenced by the recent TEC escapees rather than our clergy influencing those parishes belonging to AM, Western Anglicans, Pittsburgh plants, DoSJ-Fifna, et al.. It’s a very depressing situation, and though I sit on a DoW-REC vestry, begging a theological approach to ecumenicism gets dismissed in favor of this ‘experientialist’ ideology. We get a lot of talk about pietism combined with dumb sacramentals, but nothing on historic Anglicanism. And, though we would describe ourselves as Anglo-Catholic, the idea that ‘theology divides’ definitely drives our relationships. Perhaps this is not so surprising when one measures the effect of liberal catholicism upon early 20th century Anglicanism in general, which seems to me a common denominator between many who wade in the ‘three streams’. REC-DoW problems, however, are really caused by our leadership or lack thereof, and I think the blame ultimately falls upon the Bishops who forget their parishes in favor of ecumenical work which I am not convinced keeps any confessional integrity. Very depressed.

    • Charles says:


      I’m sorry to hear that the current state of things is depressing you. I wasn’t aware of the tenor of the REC in the Diocese of the West, but what you describe concerning a more experientialist approach can take many forms, even an Anglo-Catholic one, I suppose. I also think you’re right about the importance of the effect of liberal catholicism, which I think has infected parts of Anglo-Catholicism for some time. One way this shows up has been the lack of proper biblical training or emphases. A healthier approach to ecumenism is to be clear about your own identity and then bring your own particular charisms to the whole church, rather than trying to have everyone blend. When I researched these matters in my Ph.D. thesis, I discovered that there is a lot of talk about Anglican realignment but little deep discussion about the Anglican identity upon which any realignment or reformation must take place.

      I like life in the Diocese of Mid-America. We have bishops who are clear about the Reformed Catholic nature of Anglicanism and are effective, godly leaders.

      I appreciate your thoughts: you seem to be a well-read and articulate Anglican!

  3. Charles says:

    Hello Fr. Erlandson,

    The DMA Bishops and their patient work is truly a silver lining inside ACNA.

    The REC-DoW presently stands as the principle fruit of FACA. DoW is unusual in that we came from APA, a more anglo-catholic jurisdiction, rather than home-grown REC. Therefore, it might be said we are the only St. Louis Affirming diocese inside ACNA, and that our peculiar relation and history to the Continuum gives DoW something of a unique role to play, standing as an example of what Continuers might expect if they joined ACNA, even if a later date. DoW’s history with APA, even XnEC/EMC, seems a natural avenue to renew FACA dialogue, increasing the visibility of the APA-ACA’s Ministry Partnership with ACNA, not unlike AMiA which steals the spotlight. Lastly, the emphasis upon the St. Louis Affirmation combined with 1549 BCP as standard text allows DoW an advantage with Lutheran-ACNA talks, of which Bishop Mott is currently involved.

    Unfortunately, most of DoW is more concerned with ‘reinventing’ themselves, engage ancient-future colloquies and acquiring dual citizenship with certain Dioceses-in-Formation (DiF’s), etc., rather than preserving the chrism most relevant to our own history and ethos– in short, maintaining our doctrinal distinctives with APA and the other St. Louis churches, keeping FACA alive and open, and, finally, applying our particular sacramentology to better assist the ACNA’s ecumenical task force, especially with Lutherans.

    In my mind, these latter points have far bigger dividends than DoW’s slow yet inevitable devolution into three or more “conservative” DiF’s, in so doing, comprehending both the 1979 BCP and WO deacons. Unfortunately, DoW has yet to articulate a more positive identity and vision relevant to our roots with the Continuum. Pray our June Synod reverses this trend. Thanks again, Charles

    • Charles says:

      Charles: thanks for this insight into DoW. I will pray that in your June Synod you will successfully articulate your identity. My whole Ph.D. thesis was written with this idea in mind: that there can be no realignment, renewal, or reformation without a clear identity.

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