The Rise of Reformed Charismatics

A 21st-century global movement sets the Word on fire with gospel preaching and powerful spiritual gifts.
The Rise of Reformed Charismatics

The rollicking worship pulsed for nearly an hour in the humid Sanctuary: energetic singing, hundreds of hands raised, prophetic words referencing the Spirit’s flames, and sparks of spontaneous prayer among strangers from different states and nations.

When the worship ended, the crowd sat down, opened their English Standard Version Bibles and settled in for a 35-minute expository sermon on Galatians from King’s

Church London teaching pastor Andrew Wilson, who brought a different kind of fire.

Each night of the Advance church planting network’s global conference featured this sort of hybrid—doctrinally rich, gospel-focused, Reformed preaching sandwiched between free-flowing charismatic worship—a combination that would make many a Presbyterian (and a few Pentecostals) squirm.

But for the crowd gathered at Covenant Life Church in suburban Washington, DC, including pastors from Kenya, Nepal, Australia, and Thailand, it flowed as naturally as it does in their own Reformed charismatic churches—more than 70 of them across the globe.

Advance is hardly the only group in the middle of this theological Venn diagram, with growing numbers of theologically savvy, Spirit-filled followers in the United States, Britain, and around the world. Five hundred years after the Reformation, Luther’s 21st-century inheritors are embracing the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways.

Newfrontiers, a network of global “apostolic spheres,” has planted hundreds of churches over the last 30 years, many of which fit the Reformed charismatic mold. The movement’s founder, Terry Virgo, a British pastor, serves as a sort of elder statesman of Calvinist continuationists and authored the book The Spirit-Filled Church.

Acts 29, the Reformed church-planting network, has also begun to showcase its charismatic side, holding a conference in London around the theme “Reformed & Revived.”

Matt Chandler, Acts 29 president and lead teaching pastor of the Dallas-area Village Church, has identified himself as Reformed charismatic. He believes the charismatic gifts are still active and should be pursued, a position somewhat uncommon among Southern Baptists.

Frontline Church, an Acts 29 congregation that has expanded to four locations in the Oklahoma City area over the last decade, combines structured liturgy (creeds, the Lord’s Table) with “planned spontaneity,” including small groups of prayer during communion, where congregants pray for each other’s healing and offer prophetic words to one another (e.g., “I believe the Lord wants to say to you . . . ”).

Lead pastor Josh Kouri thinks the church’s unique Reformed charismatic focus, “100 percent committed to both Word and Spirit,” is part of its appeal.

“Some people show up on a Sunday morning and don’t know where to peg us, but I think that is actually to our benefit,” he said. “It’s stretching, but it also feels safe to people. I think that commitment to hold in tension things we typically try to resolve . . . that’s been a big part of the unique story of our church.”

Wilson (also a CT columnist), Chandler, and Kouri, along with pastors Sam Storms (author of The Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Gifts) and Francis Chan, spoke in October at the Convergence Conference in Oklahoma City, an inaugural event focused on Word and Spirit.

Reformation and Revival

Historically, evangelicals of the Reformed and charismatic camps have been on separate ends of a spectrum, suspicious of one another’s views on the role of the Spirit’s miraculous gifts (e.g., the nine listed in 1 Cor. 12:7–10) for today’s churches.

“The mind and the emotions are not rivals. The way God reaches people is through both.” ~ Andrew Wilson

The Reformed tradition has tended to be cessationist, either denying or avoiding the continued practice of charismatic gifts like healing, tongues, and prophecy, believing they were only for the foundational era of the church. Charismatics, on the other hand, are continuationists, believing these gifts are still available and valuable.

Cessationists, like Reformed heavyweight John MacArthur, accuse charismatics of being light on biblical truth, often elevating spiritual experience above sound doctrine. As he writes in his 2013 book Strange Fire, MacArthur believes “Charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit.”

Continuationists like Chan believe many evangelical churches neglect the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (the subject of his 2009 book Forgotten God) and, out of fear of abuses or unwieldy emotionalism, come close to what Paul warns against in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.”

But in this historic divide, which has tended to pit knowledge of the Word against the experience of the Spirit, is there a third way? Francis Schaeffer thought so. In his 1974 essay, “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way,” he wrote:

Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion.

But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.

The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is incomplete without revival.

The Head and the Heart

Four decades after Schaeffer’s essay, church planter Dihan Lee saw the restoration the theologian called for, first in his own life and then at his church, Renew Church LA.

It started in a living room with 15 people. About two years later, the congregation leans on the Spirit and the Word to draw a diverse crowd of more than 400 to weekly services.

“We are card-carrying Gospel Coalition people,” Lee said. “We’re big fans of Piper and Keller. I’m a five-point Calvinist. And yet we are also people who engage with Bethel and IHOP, and I love Sam Storms. I don’t see a discrepancy between being a covenantal Reformed guy who loves theology and pursuing all of what the Holy Spirit wants for the church.”

As a pastor, Lee doesn’t label his preaching Reformed, but it’s in his skeleton if not on his sleeve. He preaches God’s sovereignty, covenants, and election, but also the prophetic, the gifts, and spiritual warfare.

“It’s a balance that people find refreshing, where you can have good theology but also freedom in the Holy Spirit,” said Lee, who found his charismatic breakthrough at a Christian Healing Ministries conference in Florida after a season of ministry burnout.

Like many Korean Americans, Lee grew up Presbyterian, Reformed, and cessationist, even if he didn’t use those terms at the time. His movement in the Reformed charismatic direction began at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under Wayne Grudem, who hosted healing sessions in class and “taught charismatic Reformed theology in a way that was very convincing,” Lee said.

At the Florida conference, he ultimately found profound healing, deep repentance, visions, and prophecy that “gave life to my theology,” he said. “It opened doors from my head to my heart in ways I’d never experienced before.”

Lee doesn’t think today’s culture is impressed by orthodoxy alone.

“So you’ve got the corner on orthodox faith. Great. Show me how that’s going to heal my marriage. Show me how that’s going to remove depression and shame out of my life,” he said. “To engage with a broken city, orthodoxy alone doesn’t cut it. You also need power.”

Wood and Fire

Just across town from Renew Church LA, Vintage Church, an Anglican congregation in Santa Monica, merged with a Baptist church two years ago. Now, its services blend the expected liturgical elements—prayers of the people, passing the peace, sermon, Communion—with extended periods of contemporary worship.

Lead pastor Ger Jones refers to the front rows as the “Holy Spirit splash zone,” where worshipers display livelier expressions and sometimes share prophetic words with the congregation during the service.

Jones sees the interplay of Word and Spirit in terms of wood and fire. The Word is the wood, which is necessary to start a fire, “but without the spark of the Spirit, it is just dry wood,” he said.

“A good fire needs good wood,” said Jones, but sometimes charismatics try to have fire experiences without good wood, without the sort of meaty, doctrinal teaching that grounds the weekly message at Vintage.

“It’s like kindling catching on fire, so it doesn’t last long,” he said. “It’s connected to a moment but not sustained. It’s event-based.”

Unlike most churches, where the singing is prior to preaching as a sort of theological tee up, Vintage offers a longer worship set after the sermon, “giving space to the Spirit to set the preached Word on fire.”

Extended periods of worship and openness to spontaneity are hallmarks of Reformed charismatic churches, but they can create discomfort for congregants and worship musicians who are more used to structure and predictability.

“Seeing how the Spirit is moving during a service is still a little disorienting as I can look out into the congregation and see some people really responding to the spontaneity and others upset because there are no words on the screen for them to follow,” said Katie Hendrickson, who sings and plays keys during worship at Southlands church in Brea, California, which is a member of the Advance Movement (and this writer’s home church).

She has come to see the Reformed charismatic worship of Southlands as “a beautiful blend of allowing the Word to formulate your response to God while also allowing the Holy Spirit to speak.”

The Cross and the Gifts

Oscar Merlo, director of Biola University’s new Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today, researches the movement of the Holy Spirit in the global church.

He believes the doctrinal foundation and biblical teaching of the Reformed tradition plus the energy and growth of global Pentecostalism could be a recipe for revival.

“More than ever, the charismatic movement can learn from a more intentional anchoring in the Word,” he said. “From the other side, Pentecostalism teaches us about the charisma, the gifts of the Spirit, and I think the Reformed tradition can learn from this, that the gifts are for the equipping of the saints for an infusion of evangelism.”

Merlo, former executive director of the Alberto Mottesi Evangelistic Associaton, one of the world’s largest Latino evangelical associations, views the Reformed emphasis on the Cross as an important corrective to the charismatic movement, which often emphasizes victory and prosperity more than the cost of discipleship.

“The Cross needs to be preached,” he said. “The Cross, the suffering, is the way of renewal. It’s where man is transformed.”

On the other hand, the charismatic movement’s emphasis on worship and joy in God can bring a buoyancy and enthusiasm often lacking in sometimes staid Reformed churches.

“I find it helps me be happier in God,” Wilson said in a 2017 sermon, “Why I am Reformed and Charismatic,” delivered at Covenant Life Church.

“Reformed theology and charismatic experience both place the greatest possible emphasis on the gifts of God,” he said. “God is a gift giver. He gives us his presence to enjoy. He gives us the gift of salvation in Christ. He gives the gifts of the Spirit to the church. And that makes me grateful.”

Wilson was raised in a conservative Reformed Anglican church (St. Helen’s Bishopsgate), but he doesn’t see the intellectual orientation of his tradition at odds with the emotional, experiential side of charismatic tradition.

“The mind and the emotions are not rivals,” he said. “The way God reaches people is through both. I’ve just seen that my whole life.”

Rational and Supernatural

Over the past few decades, globalization and immigration have connected the global church and complicated the post-Enlightenment rationalism that pervades Western culture. As the church rises in the global South and wanes in the West, Christians across the world are bound to find a greater affinity for the “naturally supernatural” elements of their faith.

The reality of spiritual warfare, and how the Spirit equips the church in the midst of it, is already assumed in the African church, said Bulus Galadima, a Nigerian theologian and dean of the Cook School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University.

“The more people in the West interact with people in other parts of the world, where there is more openness to supernatural realities, the more they will see the power of God made manifest,” said Galadima, who for six years served as president of Nigeria’s Jos Evangelical Church Winning All Theological Seminary.

Many believers in the non-Western world don’t have the sort of wealth and conveniences that can obscure one’s reliance on God.

“There are people who haven’t had a meal the whole day. When they are praying and asking God, they are expecting God to do something,” he said. “They’re able to see God’s provision and intervention more clearly. And when they tell these stories, they are demonstrating to us the power of God.”

Tope Koleoso, a London pastor and Nigerian native, emphasized the supernatural orientation of Christianity during a 2013 Desiring God conference, warning that without the Spirit, the gospel turns into a pragmatic message.

“If you sidestep the supernatural, you’re selling them something short; much shorter than what Jesus intended,” said Koleoso, whose Jubilee Church is affiliated with Newfrontiers. “You cannot theologize Satan away. You cannot lecture him away. You cannot hope him away. You need the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a supernatural calling.”

The Power and the Glory

Kouri believes the church is in an “Ecclesiastes moment” in history, an existential crisis wherein the promises of materialism and technology and postmodernity—that we can buy or think or self-actualize our way to spiritual happiness—have not led to the good life. People are hungry for something “ultimate and unchanging and true,” said Kouri, as well as something “experiential and authentic and real.”

“When you talk about earnestly desiring the gifts, it’s all about people encountering the love of God,” he said. “People are hungry to experience the reality of who God is and to encounter the love of God in Christ through the Spirit.”

“Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.” ~ Francis Schaeffer

Plenty of other pastors agree that the Word and Spirit combination addresses the challenges of today’s cultural moment.

“There’s a sense in which our cultural context has been handed over to materialism and secularism, the immanent frame, the disenchanted world, all those things,” said Joshua Ryan Butler, an author and associate pastor at Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. “The cracks are starting to appear, though, and there is a sense of God’s redemptive movement breaking out, particularly in urban centers, which seem especially hardened.”

Butler believes there is an increasing sense among urban dwellers that something is missing not only on an existential level but also on a communal level. Amid growing racial tension and political polarization, the unifying power of the Spirit is increasingly where the church must turn.

“The power of the Spirit is to form reconciled communities, across age or socioeconomic or ethnic lines,” said Butler. “It’s hard to gather a really diverse group of people by ideas. But the power and presence of the Spirit of God in our midst can.”

Beyond existential malaise and cultural fragmentation, another reason for the growing reformation and revival hybrid is the simple urgency of mission. There is a sense that the theological groundedness of the Reformed tradition, plus the missionary zeal and powerful worship of the charismatic tradition, could be a powerful missional combination.

Adam Mabry is a self-proclaimed Reformed charismatic pastor who leads Boston’s Aletheia Church, a nondenominational congregation that is part of the Every Nation network.

Mabry wrote a 2016 article for The Gospel Coalition entitled “Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other.”

“I daydream about what could happen if the passion of the Pentecostal for the power of God and the passion of the Calvinist for the Word of God could be combined to accomplish the work of God,” wrote Mabry. “The world just might see the glory of God.”

Brett McCracken is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and author of Hipster Christianity, Gray Matters, and the newly released Uncomfortable.

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The Rise of Reformed Charismatics