So was it important that the excellent things that Bob Kauflin was saying at the TWIST pastor’s conference were being said by a ‘Reformed charismatic’?
At one level the answer has to be ‘no’. The truth is the truth. Doesn’t matter who says it.
But the truth is never contextless, nor are we ourselves. We have relationships and history. And that Bob’s history and ours should intersect at this particular point I think has the potential to be really helpful but also possibly harmful. I have three reasons why it’s positive and three why it’s potentially negative.
First the positives:
- It’s got to be good for us here in Sydney to listen and interact with people who are in the same theological ballpark, and yet different enough to challenge us and to highlight our blindspots. Listening to smart and thought-through people from different traditions almost always teaches you something, and keeps you humble.
- It was also excellent that Bob said the things he did coming from his particular background, because it almost certainly helped people hear the ideas more clearly. What I mean is that if one of our Sydney evangelical leaders had stood up the front and bagged out the ‘rock concert’ culture of modern Christian ‘worship’, it might easily have been dismissed as an anti-charismatic, anti-Hillsong, anti-emotionalism rant from one of the usual suspects (like me for example!). But because of who Bob was, and where he comes from, I’m sure people listened and took his critique on board (not to mention that he said lots of other positive and insightful things, and delivered the material in a winsome, thoughtful, and convincing way).
- Thirdly, it was helpful to hear Bob Kauflin speak because it revealed something of the trajectory that the Sovereign Grace movement is on. As Bob himself would readily admit, 20 years ago he would have thought and expressed himself rather differently—on all sorts of issues. As a movement, Sovereign Grace has discovered Reformed theology, and is on a journey to work out the implications of that discovery. Trying not to be too simplistic about it, their movement (led by CJ Mahaney) seems to be on its way out of traditional pentecostalism and into a more Reformed and evangelical space. There is no doubt that they are a gospel-loving, word-centred, genuinely Calvinist bunch. They might not be all the way there (as a glance through their official doctrinal statements will reveal). And perhaps they have come as far as they are going. But this has certainly been their direction in recent times, and it is wonderful to see.
However, I also thought Bob’s charismatic background and context could be unhelpful for us. For three reasons:
- There are those amongst us who are on the opposite trajectory—that is, who are a bit disgruntled and dissatisfied with Reformed evangelicalism and are looking for ‘something more’. This is the sub-group in our churches (who are always with us) that tend to be susceptible to the charismatic offer of a deeper experience, a higher level of the Spirit’s power, a more victorious life, and so on. And I worry that Bob’s visit may unwittingly encourage and embolden them to go further on this trajectory (that is, away from a word-centred, cross-centred, Calvinist theology and ministry). The irony is that if they do so, they will in all likelihood pass Bob and the Sovereign Grace movement going in the opposite direction!
- Related to this, although Bob said so many helpful things, he continues to couch all that he’s saying in ‘worship’ language and (to some extent) worship categories. He retains his ‘Worship Development’ title, runs ‘WorshipGod’ conferences, and his book (which I’ve just finished reading) is called ‘Worship Matters’. For a whole range of reasons, I can’t see how labelling our singing as ‘worship’ would be helpful.
And finally, I’m not sure that Bob has completely escaped a charismatic paradigm of church music—by which I mean a view of music in which the music is a means for mystical contact with God, a means of ‘encountering God’ or experiencing his ‘active presence’. (But I’d like to re-read his book before I make any further comments down this line.)(In light of Stephen’s and Bob’s comments below, I think it was a bit unfair to make this third point without substantiation. I’m withdrawing it.)
I think the task before us is to continue to articulate (and put into practice) a robustly evangelical approach to singing: one in which the singing is gospel-centred, and is addressed to one another and to God (depending a bit on what we’re singing); one in which the words and theology are vital, but in which the moving of the affections is also important. And we’re trying to do this in a climate where the charismatic model (exemplified and promoted so widely by Hillsong and others) exerts a constant influence.
Given our context, I think we can make the most of Bob’s visit, and I am grateful to him for coming all this way to see us. So let me say: Bob, thank you for your hard work, your graciousness, your extraordinary musical skill, your good humour and the excellent and stimulating things you had to say. (And it was a pleasure to meet you in person at last.)
Now, the points I’ve made above raise lots of questions—about ‘worship’ language, for example, and its place. And also about whether evangelicalism really has a theology of the ‘affections’, or whether we need to inject ourselves with a bit of the charismatic movement in order to find some.
But before I say anything else on these topics, I want to hand the microphone to Philip Percival, the director of Emu and the organizing force behind TWIST. Philip and I have been chatting about these issues, and he has thought about them more than anyone I know. So the next entry in this mini-series will be a guest post from Philip …