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Is Charismatic Experience the Way Forward in Postmodernity : No and Yes!!

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Carl Raschke is one of the more storied teachers of continental philosophy on the N. American continent. In his book, The Next Reformation : Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Baker, 2004), he encourages evangelicals to look critically at their own commitments to Enlightenment Rationality as the basis of church, theology and life. I am certainly grateful to Prof. Raschke for this analysis and am in agreement with him on this point. I must admit, nonetheless, that I am puzzled by Raschke’s appeal to charismatic experience in the church as one way evangelicals can embrace postmodernity.

For one, I am not sure the response of the church to postmodernity should be to embrace it. Rather, I believe we must listen to its critique of modernity and look at the short falls we evangelicals have been left with because we have accommodated ourselves to the worst of modernity’s maladies, i.e. individualism, autonomous reason as the source of all truth, the subversion of life to technique, exchange, efficiency and science, etc. We must then seek ways to embrace being the church living the authentic narrative of Christ as a people in the world with an integrity in itself sufficient to witness to the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But secondly, and this is the point of my post, I am puzzled by Raschke’s proposal that evangelicalism embrace charismatic worship experience as an engagement with postmodernity. He states:

Charismatic Christianity is emblematic of the new postmodern evangelicalism. It is multicultural, global in scope, and interracial. It is post denominational, not simply non denominational. It is post propositional and post theological. For the most part it is more biblically oriented than many of today’s so-called Bible churches. The dance with the Lord is the dance of the believer in the full presense of, and in full relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, who is the Lord of the dance. Dancing, like genuine faith, is an intimate experience. (205)

I think I get what he finds attractive about charismatic churches from this quote. I find all of this attractive as well, including the multicultural interracial global nature of charismatic churches and the authentic self expression that is found in charismatic worship. But I doubt nonetheless that the charismatic church as traditionally concieved within modernity (say for example the Azusa revival p.180) is the answer to the “modernist” evangelical rationalists Raschke seems to target (p.197). I certainly have no great affection for the evangelical rationalist, but have we not all learned from the structuralists and the linguistic philosophers that experience and Cartesian rationality are two sides of the same coin? Have we not learned from Wittgenstien, Lindbeck, et. al that there is no “uninterpreted experience.” Have we not learned from Baudrillard, Deleuze, Foucault that all subjective experience is being formed by various forces or technologies of power and signification. Postmodern writers have exposed the constituion of our subjectivities within the linguistic worlds and the cultural semiotics of our day. Would not a simple resort to charismatic experience be as naïve as the evangelical rationalist’s resort to autononmous reason? How can we return to Schleiermacher and the Romanticists at a postmodern time like this?

This however DOES NOT require we forgo charismatic experience!!, or for that matter true authentic experience of God’s presense in mystery and trasncendence. Rather, where we must go is to the deep, rich and historic liturgies of our history in Christ. Practice and participate in the ongoing linguistic worlds that emanate from the Scriptures and the Table of Our Lord. Instead of seeking spontaneous experince as if it were a core given pre-critical experience (Schleiermacher), let us return to the mystery centered around His Table, let us return to symbol, poetic prayer, liturgical participation, creedal affirmation, historic confessions, great responses in music and song all born within a arena of worship that is made accessible and beautiful by the liturgists, artists and curators of our churches. This then is where experience is shaped and formed out of our relationship to God, all He as done, is doing and will do. This does not mean we return to dry dead rote liturgy. Rather we make liturgy alive and accessible much as several of our emergent church brothers/sisters are attempting to do. This is where charismatic experience is produced faithfully and authentically in relation to God. As I tried to say in The Great Giveaway, “True worship shapes us mind, body and soul toward the glory of God in a community and thereby enables experiences hitherto unknown by the pagan soul.” In other words, as the emergent church seeks to take evangelicalism (and others) past modernity, we will only find authentic charismatic experience in these postmodern times through the passageway of renewed liturgical practices. I think the AMIA churches (Anglican Mission in America) are evangelical churches in our midst that are showing us the way in this regard. I think several emergent churches are doing the same.

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