The New Charismatics?
I’d like to introduce you to John Crowder. I’m tempted to describe this guy as an “Emergent” pentecostal*, a “new charismatic,”** if you will. But to label John Crowder as “Emergent” would be to perpetuate a shallow stereotype of “Emergent” meaning a young-ish guy with a (ginormous) goatee who does ministry in jeans and an untucked shirt. No, that stereotype needs to die a quick, painful death.
What John Crowder does represent is a stream of Christianity that I, frankly, have very little experience or contact with: the charismatic, speaking in tongues, no-holds-barred, barking like a dog (or shall I say, howling at the moon?) “in the Spirit” stream.
Before I get into the wacky stuff that initially prompted this post, I have to acknowledge that the Crowders (John, his wife Lily, and kids) are involved in the fight against global sex trafficking by building an orphanage in India. That’s a noble cause that I respect and that finds resonance among emerging churches that have a local/global passion for holistic social justice. The Crowders’ tagline, “a postmodern prophetic ministry,” is another emergent connection that I find intriguing (although I’m not exactly sure what is “postmodern” about the Crowders’ ministry).
Discovering the Crowders (no relation to David Crowder, that I know of anyway) reminded me of the good stuff Tony Jones wrote in his book The New Christians about the importance of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit has often been left out, or dramatically downplayed, in our trinitarian theology. But, having brought that into the conversation of John Crowder, I don’t think this is what Tony was talking about … (UPDATE 5/13/2008: The “Tokin’ the Ghost” video has been taken down, so I’m replacing it with this one, which is along the same lines:)
Did you catch that? “Tokin’ the Ghost,” as in, the Holy Ghost. “Jehovah-juana,” get it? Jehovah-marijuana? I honestly thought this was a joke, until I saw this next video, which was presumably recorded at one of John Crowder’s many speaking engagements:
John Crowder literally acts “high on Jesus,” laughing awkwardly and squinting as if his eyes have become dilated, etc. At one point, he says he’s “possessed by joy.” One has to wonder if he isn’t “possessed” indeed …
As an emergent Christian, the last thing I want to do is put God in a box and say, “God can’t operate this way.” So instead, I’m simply asking some questions (as good emergents do): “Does God really operate this way?” Or rather, “Why would God operate this way?”
Now I’m sure my “new charismatic” friends would argue that the Jews who received God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost were accused of being “drunk” (Acts 2:13-15), and Ephesians 5:18 kind of makes the case for the Holy Spirit as a good substitute for spirits (so there must be some connection). Heck, even Jesus was accused of being a “drunkard” by the Pharisees (Luke 7:34). That’s not bad company to be in, right?
Here’s my problem (or rather, problems): I just don’t see God, as revealed in all 66 books of the Protestant Bible, operating like this. A few prooftexts (like the ones above) do not make a complete picture of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. And why is it that it only seems like God’s Spirit is “moving” like this inside the walls of these particular kinds of churches? Or when this style of preacher gets up to speak at an open-air “revival”? I mean, this is 2008 (i.e., a long time after God sent the Spirit to be our counselor), and I honestly wonder: Does the Spirit of God really make people “sloshed”*** or “whacked up” like back in the day (i.e., the Day of Pentecost)?
I gues what I’m really asking is: Does God really want us to spend time and energy pursuing ecstatic spiritual experiences like “tokin’ the Ghost”? Is that part of the missio dei? Is this what the message of “the kingdom of God” is really about? Or is it even part of the “inbreaking” of God’s kingdom? I have to say: No, no, no, and, uhh, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. It’s just so far outside my understanding of God based on Scripture and personal faith experience.
I could be wrong, of course. I have to reaffirm my epistemic humility here. But, again, I just don’t see this as being part of the deal, based on the discernment given by God’s Spirit to me.
I hope my charismatic friends will help me out here, because my
crap detector hermeneutic of suspicion is twitching has got me all buzzed over this. Maybe God will clear things up by dropping some of that “heavy, drunken glory” on my noggin. And maybe, in true emergent fashion, John Crowder and I will become friends. Maybe even … drinkin’ buddies? God can be funny like that. Heh. Heh heh. Heh heh heh heh heh. Oi yoi yoi yoi yoi …
Wondering if you should stop watching John Crowder videos?
Available Light Online helps you be discerning
*John O’Hara might disagree.
***It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that this “SloshFest” event is being promoted on a website called EmergeWales.com, as in “the emerging church” in Wales, UK? The emergent connections are, well, intoxicating …
UPDATE 5/13/2008: Cynthia Clack doesn’t link to my post (thanks a lot, Cyndi! wink, wink), but she does address this whole topic head on with a lot of great personal reflection and pointing to other good articles/resources.