Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

What My “Crazy” Charismatic Friends Always Teach Me

Over the past weekend, I made a quick trip to Kentucky to spend some time with dear friends who work together in a mission organization.  For many years I worked with them until I felt like my new job at SMU necessitated resigning from the board of trustees.  But these friends and Gospel co-workers are truly like family, so I made the trip in order just to be with them, if only briefly.

As usual, I heard the amazing things God is doing through people whose hearts are broken for the suffering and the lost. I heard prophetic words from scripture, and visions.  As usual, this experience made me think of something I’ve been reading…in John Wesley’s journal.

A couple of examples:

October 13, 1749: “At the meeting of the [select] society such a flame broke out as was never there before.  We felt such a love to each other as we could not express: such a spirit of supplication, and such a glad acquiescence in all the providences of God, and confidence that he would withhold from us no good thing.”

(United Methodists, when was the last time you felt like this in a small group, a  prayer group, or a church meeting of any kind?)

December 11, 1749: “I read, to my no small amazement, the account given by Monsieur Montgeron both of his own conversion and of the other miracles wrought at the tomb of Abbe Paris.  I had always looked upon the whole affair as mere legend…but I see no possible way to deny these facts without invalidating all human testimony.”

(Miracles?)

I like to tease my “crazy” charismatic friends about some of their ways.  In truth, I am only teasing, because in so many respects, they live closer to the experience of a John Wesley than most modern United Methodists, including myself.  Just look at the comments from his Journal: both the miraculous and the sheer, undignified, emotion-filled basking in God’s love.

So, I’m paying attention to Wesley’s journal and thinking about these friends and pondering as well my experiences with other heirs of Wesley in our United Methodist denomination.  I feel like I’m visiting two different countries.  Actually, two different worlds.   One world is infused with the direct experience of God.  The other, having many reasons to commend it, nonetheless seems trapped in a different dimension.

I want both.  Can I have both?  Can I have the serious, careful, scholarly work of the academic and the honest, open-faced, unabashed love for a God who can do literally anything according to his own purposes?

Maybe this is a wanting to have my cake and to eat it, too.  I don’t think so and I hope not.  I don’t want to live in the eighteenth century.  I don’t want to be overly-credulous.  But when I look at Wesley’s life – as well as my friends in KY – I come again and again to the conclusion that I’d rather be like them than the kind of Christian who doubts more than he/she believes.  And in the denomination that I love, there’s far too much of the latter.

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July 12, 2010 - Posted by | Christian Spirituality, Ministry, Religion, The Church, United Methodism | , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. I’m not a charismatic, but a real, live experience with a real, live, active God is a necessary ingredient of the Christian life – and a missing ingredient in too many of our churches. That’s why I have such an argument with Weber – we’ve routinized charisma right out of our life.

    Comment by Richard H | July 13, 2010 | Reply

    • Pastorally, how do you help people recognize and yearn for the difference you’re identifying? I often ponder the link between awareness (or lack thereof) and expectations regarding worship, for example.

      Comment by steverankin | July 14, 2010 | Reply

      • I haven’t found a sure-fire method (but then if I did, it would refute my conviction), but I include a few elements.
        1. I talk about the difference between going on a sort of auto-pilot and living a life of ongoing relationship with God (that is more than merely therapeutic for me).
        2. I pray for a discontinuity between our way of living and the expectations of the world. As I teach I also highlight the discontinuities between expectations and the work of Jesus, whether that discontinuity is present in the original setting or in the current reader’s setting.
        3. For my own life, I’ve found missionary biographies to the most unsettling and faith-provoking.

        Helping people hunger for Christ and true life with him is one of the things I’ve found hardest about ministry. The generalized “Moral Therapeutic Deism” of our culture (whether in the broader culture or within the church) leaves us with very low, and mostly de-Christianized expectations.

        Comment by Richard H | July 14, 2010

  2. My life and ministry were forever changed by my involvement in the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church. There is a deep mysterious well of joy that is tapped when one discovers the power of the Spirit. Our “holy longing” never ends and God never disappoints!

    Comment by Judy H. | July 14, 2010 | Reply


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