This is the post that started it all – a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. And now, without further ado…
And this is why I value talking to people and not just about their ideas, beliefs, and actions. Dialogue opens up so many doors of mutual understanding, respect, and maybe even partnership in common endeavor, despite (or because of!) the real differences that exist at the end of the day. When I posted Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction? I emailed John Crowder and Ben Dunn privately to a.) Let them know about the post and b.) Let them know that in addition to my cautious and idiosyncratic support for what they were doing, I had some questions and concerns. John quite graciously took time from his busy schedule to write me a novel in response – something I’ve not often seen any challenged people in ministry do, from any stream of the family of faith. I’m quite taken with the breadth, depth, and tone of John’s response, even while some differences of spirituality and praxis remain. So without further ado, I’m going to hand today’s blog entry over [with only the barest occasional interspersions-and hyperlinks-from me]. Ladies and gentlemen, Brother John Crowder!
Hi Mike – Thanks for writing and thanks for what you do. Enjoyed your blog and we would love to contribute something for you. Feel free to use any of these rambling thoughts for the site. [Thank you, John! I shall use them all. And if this is how you ramble, I’d hate to see you focused!]
I am normally quite busy for something like this (doing my circus road show in church basements all over the world! : ) ) but I appreciate your honest questions and know that you reach a lot of people who have a clear hunger for the things of the Spirit. We are quite familiar with the emergent church, and while not actively involved in Emergent as an “entity” we are having a lot of fun watching the fur fly, as we seem to have inadvertently broken a few sacred paradigms over the past few weeks. It’s an entertaining ride. It was exciting to garner a full expose in the Wittenburg Door – a magazine I have secretly loved for years! I feel like I need to buy a white suit now and preach from a golden throne to live up to all this notoriety. We also got an indirect slap on the wrist from Charisma this month in the editorial (for smoking Jehovah-wanna and Baby Jesus). When it rains it pours!
You hit the nail on the head in discussing the deconstruction of Pentecostalism – and kudos for addressing the topic of “emergent snobbery,” something the emergent camp has long winked at, if not openly coddled (especially toward “Spirit-filled” ministries – how dare those charismatics have a brain!)
[Mike sez: I think this is actually a little more complex than that – of course, wouldn’t I, being emergent and all? ; ) But really. A whole term has been coined, ‘post-charismatic,’ (not ‘anti’) to describe many ’emergers’ who love the Holy Spirit but who feel down-and-out about many aspects of Pentecostal and charismatic culture. In our own efforts at deconstruction, we’ve tried very hard not to throw the – ahem – baby out with the bathwater, but I know we’ve fallen short in many areas.]
I would love to talk about this just a little, as well as to give a brief anti-apologetic on the ongoing blogger fray, before getting to your questions.
[Yes! Please do.]
Obviously, there are many bloggers better educated than I, who have an edge on what God Almighty is doing, who will never be able to acknowledge His movements outside their own personal experience (Bless their hearts). I would not waste time trying to convince someone who already has all the answers. For this reason, we do not engage in defensive diatribes (not trying to be negative, just honest). But I do love constructive (& deconstructive) controversy in the name of our Lord. Rather than offer up an apology to anyone who has a beef with us, we have just chosen never to defend ourselves. A form of radical pacifism I suppose, or else its just too much work to keep track of it all, considering the trail of carnage we leave behind us. Our nonresponsiveness on the blog circuit should not be mistaken as elitism – we do not assume ourselves too posh to combat these rampant strikes at our good names (My favorite are those blogs which end with the classic pomo courtesy tag at the end: After viciously lashing out at us, they say … “Or maybe I’m missing something and Crowder is right after all.” True Christian humility, I am sure).
[Aww, Steve’s not so bad. Next time you’re in C-Town hanging out with Ricky J and Company, look him up. He’ll have a drink with you – though spirits or Holy Spirit on tap, that y’all will have to work out!]
Anyway Mike, you are the first person to approach us directly, so we appreciate the chance to talk.
[And I appreciate that you’re talking!]
Of course, nasty emails are common for us, but I know where the delete button is. We’ve found the freedom in not caring about reputation or having to spend ourselves on the already satiated. I’m too addicted to the Wine Room to care about that stuff. And there are so many thousands of hungry people who want to experience God in fresh new ways, why get sidetracked by a few resilient critics? Other than this forum, folks should know we won’t be scrambling to correct every inaccuracy that floats around about us on the web. In fact, we like to intentionally chuck rocks at the hornet’s nest, just to stir things up all the more, then run away snickering at the mess we’ve made.
Just wanted to clear that up, so that readers know our motives in writing this. We want to be available to the thirsty, but this is not a knee-jerk reaction to some cyber-persecution. Whenever we get defensive, we cease to be on the offense. Life is too short to continually be explaining yourself.
I honestly believe that the age of apologetics is over, and the age of activation has come. Experience is more important than explanation. Not that explanation is irrelevant, but it is subsidiary. When we look at the ministry of Jesus, He rarely gave an explanation, prior to the experience. Mystery must be embraced before it is explicated. Jesus only explained Himself to the inner circle who were truly hungry. To those on the outside, he always spoke in parables and enigmas. It is almost as if he put up an intentional roadblock to the minds of men, offending their thoughtwork in order to reveal their hearts. Consider when He told the multitudes to essentially “Eat Me.” He knew that half of them would walk away, but He said it anyway.
What we see today is a lot of people looking for a Pneumatology without the Pneuma. They want the package without the Toy. What if God is intentionally making the package raw and offensive to these, in order to reveal their true colors? Maybe the package is irrelevant, as long as we’ve got the Toy.
It’s Hubris but it Makes Me Feel Cool!
Let me say something quickly about the emergent movement, while I’ve got your ear:
[Please do. You’ve got it! The emergoblogosphere is listening.]
While I have long acknowledged the existence of postmodernity as a reality of the age, this very intellectual elitism on which you have commented is one of the chief reasons I have been hesitant to dive headlong into the trendy “fad” aspect of the emergent discussion. I should add at the onset that I would not consider myself “emergent” anymore than I would consider myself “charismatic.” But both camps try to pin me down into the other. In the same way, you could say I am neither catholic nor protestant (I am not protesting anything; I am pursuing Someone). Like most emergents, I reject labels. Without the restraints of such labels, we are more apt to truthfully address the sacred cows in every respective camp. My orthodoxy may not be as generous as McLaren’s, but I am not ignorant of the discussion and appreciate the influx of new ideas. This openness is a God-given dispensation, but it must be guarded in the context of true humility. Whether they like to admit it or not, many emergents are entrenched in a religious package of trying to look cool and trying to impress a select audience with their perceived edginess of theological progression. The melee of anti-charisma these past few weeks is an indicator of a deeper problem. It surfaces clearly, for example, when they do not have a grid for someone who comes along with an outlandish orthopraxy.
[I’m not gonna say much here…but…most of those who came out strongest in response to some YouTubes they saw of you, actually are charismatic folks who would consider themselves ‘moderate’ and also in some way ’emerging.’ I hope to be hearing from some of youse in the comments below…]
To many emergents, some of my colleagues and myself will always be a challenge to the “new” intellect-based models of Christianity. I believe the intellectual pursuit of mystery is intrinsically modern in nature, by the way. It is an old hag carried over from the Age of Reason/Enlightenment, or shall we say further back – it is gnostic in origin (the idea that we are saved by knowledge is perhaps the very antithesis of the gospels, which say we are saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ). Gnosis is not the gateway that reveals mystery – faith is. And so for all the talk of pressing into terra nova, I believe there is inherent danger of building an intellectual religion of non-religion that is rooted in “ideas” and “discussion-only” without true, tangible interaction with the divine. I love the emergent notion of pulling outside the ecclesiastical boundaries of dead formality. But without radical possession by the Holy Spirit, we are simply “moving out” of something, and never “entering into” Someone. I do not see a majority of emergents discussing personal, supernatural experiences with this God we so glibly talk about, though many are quick to lay charges of charlatanry on anyone who does (by supernatural experiences I mean far more than the simple, goose-bumped quiet time, as beautiful as they may be. What is so far-fetched about healings, dead-raisings and even more extreme miracles, if we claim to know Big Pappa Himself?). I do not say this of ALL emergents, only those who are quick to shoot with their religiously non-religious anti-bullets. This criticism of what we do not understand (or have maybe never experienced firsthand) can be the most detrimental element to our spiritual walk. It is the very essence of hubris.
A Lack of Discernment
According to the recent blogstorm surrounding us, we are accused of being anti-intellectual, if not throwing our “discernment” right out the window (love the graphic, Robby Mac. God still loves you). I’ve previously made the point that I am rubber and the critics are glue, but nevertheless, allow me to respond to this topic. Let me say for one that “discernment” is not an intellectual tool made up of theological principles and opinions. I would die for good theology, and we all need sound doctrine. But discernment comes not from the head, but from the belly. If I may be so fundamental as to use a scriptural example, consider Luke 1 when Zechariah (a priest highly educated in theology) encounters an angel. Zack’s discernment of this encounter was so poor that he essentially asked the angel to “prove himself.” Zechariah, a well-studied priest, should have comprehended that this experience was from God. Because of his spiritual dullness, doubt, fears or all of the above, he was struck mute. He should have been on the cutting edge, but he missed it.
But hold the phone! In this very same chapter, a young, simple, likely uneducated girl named Mary had a similar angelic encounter. She lacked the theological armory and Princeton training of Zechariah, but she could taste something of Heaven on this experience. Mary was given a much more far-fetched word: you will give birth not merely to a prophet, but to the Son of God Himself! How crazy! Yet somehow, because of her intimate relationship with the Lord, her hunger or her faith – she instinctively discerned that this encounter was legitimate. She did not say “prove it to me.” She said “tell me more.” She said “let it be according to your word.” Her discernment was greater, because she intimately knew God enough to recognize how He felt, tasted and smelled. She had been with Him, not merely read about him. She could smell the cassia and aloes of Heaven on this encounter, and she jumped right in without having to process it. She discerned correctly. Not from her head or her theology. From her belly.
Intellectual discernment is a holdover from modernism. Moreover, it is paranoia-based (always focused on keeping the devil out, but never recognizing God when He is trying to come in). This spirit of fear is the bread and butter of the heresy hunter pages. The greatest discernment you will ever have is to be able to recognize God, not the devil. Anyone, the most depraved sinner, can point out the devil. But will we recognize God when He is trying to come in? We should embrace Him, even at the cost of our present level of understanding. I want to intimately experience Him. And I trust Him enough to explain later, if an explanation is even necessary. I would rather my spirit and heart to fully engage in experiential interaction, and allow my mental paradigms to catch up later. Is this anti-intellectual? Far from it. It is simply putting the mind and its Greco-rationalistic structures in their place, secondary to heart. What many consider “intellectual” is actually mental insanity (1 Cor. 2:14-15). True sanity only comes through conscious-altering epiphanies with God.
God wants the intellect to bloom and flourish. He does want a renaissance of fresh ideas and creativity to revolutionize not just the face of Christianity, but to transform all of society in a holistic fashion. But how arrogant to think our minds can be supernaturally renewed at such a colossal fashion apart from the very Spirit of God Himself! Who are we to limit God to the academic diagnoses of the seminary, or to the reading of books? I know Who I have experienced. I have seen His power. I have tasted His freedom. I’m done trying to make sense of it all. I am in for the ride.
If I am a nutbar for shaking on the floor – and yet I am experiencing the love of Jesus – then count me with the crazies. I am tired of running endless mental circles and playing religious games. The time for playing games is over. The time has now come to play games.
And there you have it, friends! Not quite the staggering HolyGhostDrunk response many anticipated, eh? So whaddaya think? Keep it respectful, please, but be free. And yes – there’s more! Over the next week, John and I will be discussing, one at a time, all the “Yeah, but…” ‘s that occurred to me as I dipped into my past and their present concerning the Holy Spirit’s wild side.
Originally posted May 30, 2008.