the charismatic impulse

I have observed that the desire for experience manifests itself in many different ways. In some circles, there is a lot of hooting and hollering (in the vernacular, hootin’ and hollerin’), shouts of ‘Amen!’, emotion laden sermons that tell sob-stories to invoke an emotional response, and so on.

There is another kind of push for emotionalism that finds expression in terms like these, “intensely”, “intentional”, “relentless”, “passionate”, “saturated.”

What drives this desire for experience? I am not advocating that we become as expressionless as Heimie the robot on the old Get Smart series (my all-time favorite which seriously dates me…), but why do we see such a desire for emotion in religion? Has it always been this way?

If we look back in history, we see the rise of charismatism since the 1970s, the Pentecostal movement in the 60 years preceding that, the camp-meeting/revivalist emphasis (especially rural) in the 19th century, and the Pietist movement before that. I wonder if what we are seeing today is an increase in the desire for experience or if it is the norm. I wonder if it is the product of popular culture: music, movies, television, video games, etc. or if it is simply the natural expression of most humans (stick-in-the-muds like me as exceptions).

I wonder if it is good or bad. I kinda think bad, but, then, maybe that’s just me.



  1. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Appreciate the pondering on this issue. I would say it is part of the human experience to have emotion-laden stimuli. I think of Naaman in the OT, he wanted a blaze of glory to heal him instead of “7 ducks in muddy water” (sermon title I once heard on this passage). But as we are grounded in the Word of God (that “more sure word of prophecy” Peter speaks of) we become less prone to desire the sensational for justification of our experience. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t do the sensational’ just we are looking solely for it. We desire that “still small voice” rather than the earthquake, fire, etc. The adrenalin rush lasts only so long and we must have more and more to keep that kind of rush going. I will take the Word of God anyday over the other.

  2. d4v34x says:

    Hi Don,

    Two readers with above average comprehension skills missed your point. Can you clarify?

    • First, while the vocabulary list did come from Chris’ presentation on music/worship, I have no real issue with what he said in that presentation. In fact, I purposely refrained from mentioning him and his presentation because I have no desire to get into an argument with him, especially on what he said in the message.

      Rather, his use of words struck me as symptomatic of the vocabulary of a number of people lately, most of whom are followers of Piper, who is charismatic. It struck me that the words are particularly emotion-laden (saturated!) and are evidence (to me) of something I first notice after attending some meetings of KJO types. My brother and I both attended the meetings and he remarked to me that it seemed like the fellows there ‘needed’ the hype and the emotionally laden preaching, etc. It dawned at me that there is very little difference between the desire for that sort of result/feeling in meetings than there is in the charismatic drive for experience.

      I think this drive for the experience is quite a broad phenomenon and it shows up in a wide variety of places. Amongst reformed types, it seems to show up among those who are enamoured of Piper who advocates pursuing the emotional aspect of worship as an end in itself. (I realize that some deny this is Piper’s view, but it seems to me that it is.)

      So I wonder at the preponderance of emotion laden words in the sermons of a certain segment of Christianity. It is true that we all use such words from time to time, but some people seem intentional about being passionate, if you know what I mean. That, to me, is a general evidence of something I call the ‘charismatic impulse’, the desire for experience as a primary goal of Christian life. I think it is an error, and its emphasis produces an aberrant spirit. I believe that Christianity is much more a religion of the streets, meeting people in their daily lives and in their mundane needs. I am not one for cathedrals, whether of stone or of fancy. Our worship services should be meeting people where they are and making disciples of them, not leading them to emotional heights.

      As such, I was making a general observation that was drawn from a vocabulary set of a particular message. I wasn’t criticising that message, per se, and am not criticising it now. There might be an overemphasis that could be discerned from what Chris said, but it is the habit of speech, the vocabulary set, that I am criticising, rather than what was said in the message itself.

      I had no intention to make the criticism personal. Chris took it personally, and responded personally. That’s his choice, but I think he missed the main point of what I am saying by my observation and by his personal pique.


      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      PS, I have to say that I was a little surprised at the comments at Chris’ site, where I expected the remarks to be explosive against me. On the contrary, many were at least somewhat sympathetic to the tension I am pointing out with my observation.

  3. d4v34x says:


    I think if your OP were as long and clear as this explanation the explosives had been diffused.

    A couple things now that I understand you better. I think you and I would have a high level agreement with something Scott A talks alot about- affections. If feeling rightly about God is nearly as important as believing rightly about God, the foundational assumption is we ought to feel about God. Our worship leaders ought to intentionally guide those affections.

    Secondly, I think you may perceive a link between the “language set” and the “Charismatic” where there may not be one. Folks in those groups will not understand you. Beyond that, you may be wrong about other groups.

    I think I was over the line comparing you to LM. I’ll address that lack of restraint in the arena I “let loose”.

    • Hi Dave

      Well, you are likely quite right that a longer and clearer explanation would defuse the reactions, but I thought I was clear! Obviously not clear enough, however.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Don, I appreciate your explanation, though I still am not in agreement with you.

    As far as my taking your post personally, I’m sure I was influenced in my interpretation of this post by your very severe criticism of my message on Jude, where you similarly didn’t name me explicitly. Based on the response of others whom we both respect to that message, it seemed to me that you have an issue with me personally and are determined to find fault.

    We disagree on the issue of emotion, but if it seems like I took your post personally, well yes, I probably did. With cause, I think.

    • With cause? I don’t think so. If I had been going after you personally, I would have named you.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Just a note: we don’t accept anonymous comments here. You need to identify yourself in order to be posted.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

  5. d4v34x says:

    Don, as to your final paragraph in the OP. Would you be concerned if one of your parishoners indicated they sang in mental assent in obedience to scripture but never experienced any emotion in connection to the truths of which they sang?

    • Hi Dave

      Technically, we don’t have parishioners.

      However, as to your question, you need to follow the antecedents. The word ‘it’ refers to ‘the desire for experience’. I have no problem with emotions that arise out of worship. What I am challenging is the focus on emotionalism/experience as a desired end of worship.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. d4v34x says:

    Right. I’m offering another possible conclusion, that while emotional engagement is being purposefully cultivated, it is not actually the desired end. That maybe the desired end is that people love God with all their hears, souls, mind, strength, but you’re hearing something other than what they’re encouraging.

    Perhaps if you link some of the ‘push for emotionalism that finds expression in terms like these, “intensely”, “intentional”, “relentless”, “passionate”, “saturated.”’ we could discern the difference, if any.

    • Hi Dave


      Ok, I’ll concede that those using this emphasis have the end of loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength in view. How is that achieved by focusing on stirring emotions in worship? Jesus said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’ The love of God certainly includes a certain emotional attachment, but is that the foremost way we are to express our love to God? Is it called for in Scripture?

      The Scriptures have much to command about sobriety, circumspection and self-control. I don’t think we are urged to pursue emotion as the means to that maturity.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  7. d4v34x says:

    True or False If our affections (what most people call emotions) are not (ordinately) involved in worshipful love/loving worship of God, our love and worship is incomplete.

    I don’t contend that emotional engagement should be a focus or a goal in itself. Emotions/affections are going to be involved in all but the coldest of fish. Emotions are something to be shepherded along with the rest of the “person”.

    I think that may be all the intentional/saturated crowd (at least the better eggs among them) may be saying.

    Furthermore, as someone who hit the big 40 this past year, I have noticed anew the calls to dignity and sobriety in the NT. I think maturity is a failure of our society in general and of the church as well.

    I also think that failure to pursue maturity perpetuates the tendency to equivocate between emotions and affections.

    • Hi Dave

      Welcome to the Power Decade. (That’s what I said when I hit 40.) Alas, I have passed it behind and am now into the Waning of Power decade. Pretty soon I’ll just be old.

      I don’t think your question is really a true or false question, since you start with a conditional statement. I am not sure I buy all of the talk about Affections. I especially don’t buy the distinction between Affections and Passions, as if there is a dichotomy between them. I don’t see it in the Bible, especially when we are told to set our affections on things above. That implies that the normal stance is to set affections on things below. Thus, I think Affections/Passions/Emotions are basically the same thing.

      I’d have to think about it a bit more whether worship MUST involve ordinate affections, whatever that is. I am not sure that is required. This is an aspect of Scott Aniol’s teaching that is under the category of “not proven” as far as I am concerned.

      I will concede that the ‘intentional/saturated crowd’ may only be saying that they want to point worship in the right direction. In fact, I think that is what Chris Anderson is saying. My objection isn’t really to the subject of his message at the PtTC. That’s why I didn’t want to bring his name into it. I object more to the pervading vocabulary. Chris isn’t the only person that uses it, and I am wondering if it isn’t connected to the desire for experience. I think it is a mistake to use the vocabulary, especially because of how it is used elsewhere. I think that it can tip someone over into the pursuit of experience for experience sake, rather than achieve what Chris might be after in his use of the terms.

      As for your last sentence, what do you mean by equivocating between emotions and affections? Not sure I get that one.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. d4v34x says:

    “. . . what do you mean by equivocating between emotions and affections?”

    For starters I do mean I buy the distinction between them, and I think my (as well as many others my age and younger) former failure to recognize it has to do with the fact that we in our culture do not take life as seriously as we ought.

    BTW, I don’t think that’s true of you. I assume you have looked seriously at it and just disagree.

    • Well, I appreciate the emphasis that Scott has put on ‘ordinate affections’, I think he is generally headed in the right direction. I just disagree with the terminology, for the most part. I think that making a distinction where none exists may weaken the overall thrust of the argument. (And I think the argument about affections is too dependent on Jonathan Edwards, who, for all his brilliance, is not infallible.)

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  9. Eric Rea says:

    Don asked, “Why do we see such a desire for emotion in religion? Has it always been this way?”

    By those questions (and subsequent discussion) are you implying that emotion in religious expression is somehow an invention of the 20th century?!

    As for your list of emotional terms, we could add “earnestly” “yearn” “longing” “grief” “weep” “exult” etc.
    If these words also strike you as inappropriately emotion-laden and unsuitable for worship, then I suggest you spend more time in the Psalms.

    BTW, “intentional” isn’t a word of emotion at all, but of intellect and volition. Just sayin’.

    • Eric, thank you for stopping by.

      First, I am of course not suggesting that emotion in religious expression is somehow an invention of the 20th century, as I already said in my post by listing pre-20th century manifestations.

      Second, my point is not to deny that emotions come into play in religion, but to question whether the pursuit of emotional religion is an error or a virtue. I tend to think of it as an error, because it idolizes the experience instead of worshiping God. Such idolatry is possible with or without ‘official’ charismatism. Some of my KJO friends seem to pursue it by using highly emotional illustrations in preaching and staging their services in an emotive way. I suspect that others, non-charismatics and non-KJO, make the pursuit of emotion the prime directive of crafting their worship experiences.

      To say all that is not to say that the presence of emotion or emotive elements is idolatry. What I am asking is this: is the pursuit of emotion actually a kind of idolatry?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  10. Eric Rea says:

    Don, thanks for the further clarification. There are certainly people and churches out there who use and pursue emotion for its own sake, both in and out of the Charismatic movement. My concern would be that we not lump them in with all who are calling for the importance of emotion in worship. The latter, in my mind, are responding to a long-standing trend of intellectual stoicism in worship that is devoid of any emotional response. Pointing out that something is missing does not mean they’re making that thing an end in itself.

    Maybe their vocabulary contains words of emotion because that has been decidedly lacking in their circles in their generation. Maybe their vocabulary contains words of emotion because they’re reflecting the worship language of the Bible (A point I would like to hear you respond to from my previous post, if you have time). To assume they use that language because they’re so influenced by a particular preacher, or because they’re just seeking experience, doesn’t quite follow.

    And can you please explain/demonstrate which emotions the words “saturated” and “intentional” correspond to? I’m having trouble connecting those dots.

  11. Eric Rea says:

    Regarding the “20th century” comment, I misspoke. My intent was to ask if you regard the importance of emotional expression in worship as having a relatively recent origin and not coming from Scripture itself.

    • Hi Eric

      Sorry, I missed your question regarding the language of Scripture in your earlier post.

      I would suspect that if the Biblical words marked the vocabulary, I would be less suspicious of a man-centered approach. As it is, the terms used seem too much to be popular buzz-words that reflect an over-dependence on certain charismatic leaning preachers rather than a dependence on the Scriptures as the primary source.

      And no, I don’t think the charismatic impulse is something new. I think it is a long standing error.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3


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