Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Inital Reflections on "Convergence - Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist" by Dr Sam Storms.
Impatience prevailed and I decided that I couldn't wait till June for Kingsway to get their act together and release this long-awaited book by my hero so I ordered it online. This book was always going to be a 'must-have' for me due to the importance that Dr Ern Baxter placed on the tension that must be held between Word (Reformed Doctrine) and Spirit (Charismatic Experience).
'By the Word of Their Testimony'
First and foremost this book contains a great deal of biographical material from the life of Dr Storms. He does so with reluctance finding the idea of an autobiography "distasteful and pompous". But the genre of writing lends weight to his argument. I myself have come from a similar background of church history, being born into a fully fledged charismatic church, that then subsequently became both practicing and doctrinally cessationist and anti-charismatic. I then went to university and joined a charismatic church where I stayed for the duration of my training, then moving into an "open but cautious" church and finally ending up where I am in Newfrontiers. I found that many charismatics find it difficult to comprehend what life is really like in a cessationist church, and most definately vice versa!
Surely Dr Storms has a point when he says: "There's no escaping the fact that a serious, and occasionally vitriolic breach exists between Word-based evangelical cessationists and their more experientially orientated charismatic cousins" but quite accurately goes on to note that: "Ironically few in either party to this divison believe that a divorce has occured in their own experience! Word-based cessationists refuse to concede that they have diminished the role of the Spirit or failed to acknowledge and embrace the fulness of God's power for life and ministry ... Charismatics typically react with no less surprise to the argument that they have ... failed to build faithfully on the foundation of the final and all-sufficient canon of Holy Scripture".
So this book does deserve a gracious hearing from both sides of the divide because the author is a man who has experienced both extremes of Word and Spirit (or as he calls it 'Orlando' and 'Anaheim').
A Charismatic Apologetic.
One reviewer noted that while Dr Storms; "spends a small amount of time affirming his respect for and belief in the doctrines that have come to be known as Calvinism, the vast majority of the book discusses charismatic teachings. The book is clearly not an attempt to lead charismatics to the doctrines of grace, but is an attempt to lead Calvinists to accept charismatic teachings". He then stated; "But on the issue of the charismatics gifts, I think he is, quite simply, just plain wrong. I do not have time or inclination in this review to provide a thorough refutation of charismatic theology, so I will simply address the major points of the book from the cessationist perspective". It is of little surprise perhaps that reviewer confesses that he aligns his cessationists views with John MacArthur's 'Charismatic Chaos' (a book which also spends little time in the biblical text refuting charismatic teaching and more in charismaniac horror stories that he has heard).
I disagree with this assessment. Admittedly Dr Storms does devote a lot of his time to charismatic testimonies but he wrote; "I didn't begin this study with the expectation that either cessationists or charismatics would lay aside their convictions and openly embrace the other. I do hope, however that some of the animosity, mistrust and misrepresentation of which both are guilty would diminish". The book did not suggest to me that Storms had a secret charismatic agenda to attempt to 'convert' cessationists. It was more his honest testimony to the power and activity of God through His Holy Spirit in his life.
A Larger Perspective.
As one who has devoted much of their life to Ern Baxter's teaching, my heart leapt as much of Dr Storm's book is not (in the typical cliche) devoted to tongues and prophecy. Rather he examines the more broader glorious topics of 1. God Still Speaks. 2. Worship and 3. Spiritual Warfare.
1. God Still Speaks. - "The God of the Bible is a speaking God".
This is dealt with in the third part of the book. Dr Storms accepts that the cessationist concern in accepting that God speaks outside of and alongside His Word, is that damage may be done to the sufficiency of the canon. Interestingly enough Storms actually takes issue with his hero Jonathan Edwards at this point. He quotes from Edwards; "Why can't we be contented with the divine oracles that holy, pure Word of God that we have in such abundance ... now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have anything added to them by impulses from above?". In answer to this Storms says;
"Believing in extra-biblical revelatory activity of the Spirit is not because of a lack of contentment with Scripture. In fact it is precisely because of what Scripture teaches concerning the activity of the Spirit that leads us to embrace so-called "impulses from above". I personally believe in the on-going revelatory activity of the Spirit precisely because I am unreservedly "contented" with the absolute truthfulness of everything Scripture says".
The challenge for us, he says, "is anyone listening?".
2. Worship. - "What both groups share in common is their conviction that worship must be theocentric".
Dr Storms suggests that the difference between cessationists and charismatics in the sphere of worship is concerned with the issue that cessationists believe that the focus of worship; "is to understand God and to represent Him faithfully in corporate declaration. Worship is thus primarily didatic and theological and their greatest fear is emotionalism". This assessment would tie in with the responses that I observed to the "Draw Me Close - Colson" debate.
Charismatics on the other hand; "believe God is most glorified not only when He is accurately portrayed in song but when He is experienced in personal encounter. Charismatic worship does not downplay understanding God but insists that He is only truly honoured when He is enjoyed. Worship is thus emotional and relational in nature and their greatest fear is intellectualism". Or to summarise the divide yet more succinctly;
"Perhaps the best way to illustrate this difference is the way both groups think of God's Presence in times of corporate praise. Cessationists view God's Presence as a theological assumption to be extolled, while charismatics think of it as a tangible reality to be felt".
3. Spiritual Warfare. - "It is more an issue of what they believe the Bible says is legitimate for us to expect the Spirit to do in today's church".
One of the major encouragements in this book is that Dr Storms does not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for no apparant reason, or for enjoyment, or to simply characterise a church. Spiritual gifts are given, he argues quite rightly, for a purpose. The section on spiritual warfare is contained within the more personal section of the book and there are indeed some dramatic testimonies of "the demon-defeating, Christ-exalting power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father".
One question that occured to me while reading this section was - are demons really that bothered by correct orthodox doctrine? Indeed the Bible promises that "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" but "even the demons believe and tremble". Or to ask another question, if a persoon was possessed by a demon and seeking deliverance, is it most likely that he would go to a Reformed evangelical church where the doctrine was correct - or would he seek a charismatic church where exorcism and the promises of Mark 16 were believed and taught?
This book wasn't what I was expecting. There is less on practical ways to see Dr Storm's envisaged "convergence" and more devoted to a deeper understanding behind the motives and desires of both cessationists and charismatics. However I found this a useful technique. Understanding a situation often brings a degree of insight and having read this book, I do feel that I understand cessationist mentality a lot more. They do not set out to "quench the Spirit" or the other unfair accusations that are often levied against them by militant charismatics! Both cessationists and charismatics actually seek to glorify and honour the same God and love Him as best as they can.
Like the more critical reviewer who stated that this book hasn't changed his mentality towards charismatic gifts, I also have no desire to become a cessationist or to pursue a more Reformed conservative approach to my Christian life. Actually this book has increased the desire in my heart for more of the Spirit's activity in my life and the life of my church! It has been useful to show that noone can ever settle on laurels thinking that they have the monopoly on the Spirit of God.
However let me restate that this book has been helpful for understanding more of the mentality of both cessationists and charismatics. Maybe a real unity brought about by the Spirit of God and not characterised by "what we don't talk about" isn't so far away after all ...