The charismatic movement had a large impact early in my Christian life. I use “charismatic” to refer to a movement in modern Christianity that emphasizes the Holy Spirit, and places heavy emphasis on prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues, and other supernatural manifestations. Charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit is capable of working as powerfully in modern times as it did in the time of the early church, if only Christians would display enough faith.

One major appeal of this movement to me was the possibility of a direct encounter with God. I had good friends who believed that God spoke to them directly, giving them guidance in major decisions. I had friends who had testimony of miraculous, medically impossible healings. And plenty more still who claimed to be able to speak in a mysterious, incomprehensible language of angels.

I was never able to really experience these more esoteric experiences for myself, despite longing for it, and trying really hard. I was also unnerved by how charismatic ideas led to unhealthy individualism. If I can hear from God directly, what use is there for church, for Christian community? Later in life, I drifted away from the charismatic movement. Nevertheless, it has had an immense influence on my faith today, an influence that I think is mostly positive.

Most importantly, I think these early charismatic ideas inoculated me from over-intellectualizing my faith, despite my career in academia. I did (and still do!) enjoy abstract theological philosophizing, but since it was drilled in me from so early on that it was this mysterious, supernatural connection with God that was most important, I never felt that it was possible to truly understand the divine through logical argument. The charismatics thus gave me an early introduction to the Orthodox idea of “mystery”, that there are things about God that are beyond the reach of human reason.

It strikes me how some key ideas from the charismatic movement are present in Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox church enthusiastically affirms the possibility of miracles in modern times, and also emphasizes that the Christian needs to know God experientially. Indeed, one way of explaining the filioque controversy, the formal reason that Rome split from the Orthodox Church in 1054, was that the Eastern churches were standing firm on the importance of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to say that I left the charismatic movement. Rather, the charismatic ideas I found most compelling were present in a different form in the Orthodox church.


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