Is it ‘real’ or ‘dangerous’?
I got wind of the current Christianity Today cover story focused on Bethel Church in Redding, CA–a place our family spent two significant years doing ‘research’. It’s a good read, I’d liken to watching a stone skip across a deep lake. But I can’t stop smiling about a subheading from it: “is it ‘real’ or is it dangerous?” I imagine it is a ‘teaser’ designed to grab our attention (and get people to write blog posts). I can’t seem to help playing around with the words in my mind: “it is ‘real’ or dangerous–or both?” “is it really real or just sort of?” “is it ‘what I like, prefer and lines up sufficiently with my past experience of these things’ or it is dangerous for my likes, preferences and current perspectives”. And because I’m currently working on a doctorate on what influences how people from traditionally non-Charismatic backgrounds make sense of Charismatic stuff and because of over 15 years of journeying through this myself, I’ve become less interested in whether someone thinks something is ‘real’ or ‘dangerous’ and more about how they go about deciding. That we ask this question in the first place and how we approach answering it tells us alot—but about what? Possibly more about ourselves and about our culture/worldview (our preferences and perspectives) than about the charismatic experiences of others and their authenticity and impact. Yes, yes this is a huge topic and for those with ‘eyes to see’ I am hitting on the kind of stuff philosophers have debated for thousands of years (about how we ‘know’ what we ‘know’), but let’s keep it short and specific. What do you appeal to to determine whether something is really God or dangerous (or both)? It is easy to miss the criteria we use to judge, assess and validate, because it is the lens we are looking through, not at. But, the lens does affect how and what we see. Quick example: a person is standing up on stage during a church service leading a prayer and their body starts to tremble, twitch and shake. One person (who happens to be a neurologist) offers the person free medical advice after the service to diagnose and treat the neurological disorder. Another figures the person praying is nervous being in front of so many people. Another person leaves in tears because her son had an epileptic seizure years ago that debilitated him for life. Another person leaves because the last time they saw someone do this it was part of an abusive pastor’s ministry. Another starts silently praying against the demonic. Another person starts silently praising God that he is powerfully moving through the prayer time. A bunch of others don’t even notice because their eyes were closed in prayer or they were checking Facebook or they noticed but it doesn’t really matter to them. Is it real, or is it dangerous? Wait, are we still talking about the shaking, quaking prayer or the ways people assess and react?