The Charismatic Curse of Happiness

I am a charismatic and I am unembarrased to say that I think that the charismatic movement has contributed a lot to global Christianity. But charismatic cultures do have their problems and one of those is the inability to handle sorrow in the presence of God.

Just take a look at the many volumes of charismatic worship songs (bearing in mind that in charismatic worship the songs play a far more significant role in giving shape and direction to the communal encounter with God than they do in more traditional churches). How many of those songs address issues of pain, sorrow, grief, and darkness? The answer is that hardly any do (although the number is, happily, growing). Now consider how many reflect joy, happiness, celebration and the like. The answer is, quite literally hundreds - probably thousands.

The songs reflect something of the wider culture of worship within charismatic churches and they indicate a congenital inability to know how to handle anything that is not full of glee. This is what I call 'the charismatic curse of happiness'. Wonderful in what it affirms but dreadful in what it denies.

We do not know how to think theologically about sorrow, we do not know how to make space for it in communal worship, we lack the doxological vocabulary to bring the whole of our human experiences before God and so instead we simply bury them.

We call our congregations to count their blessings, to stop thinking about the afflictions they face and to think about God instead because - 'the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.' We sing happy in the hope that we might feel happy.

Do we lack the faith and courage of Old Testament saints to lament? To refuse to keep any dimension of our human experience from God but to come before him as we are - in our joy and our pain? Can we contemplate songs that are something other than celebrations and triumph? Can we imagine a liturgy for loss? May it even be possible that our lament could be Spirit-led? That the Spirit of God might groan simultaneously in sorrow and hope through our groaning?

So the challenge is this - how can we widen and deepen charismatic worship so that we can take it beyond green pastures and still waters into the valley of the shadow of death?


Anonymous said…
Nice blog, Robin. Good food for thought. I whole-heartedly agree with your observation. My beef - and I will try not to mince my words here - is that charismatic worship very rarely acknowledges the public or communal dimension to our experience.

Where are the laments (or celebrations) over the fall of Christendom? Where are the passionate protest worship songs, crying to God for an end to human trafficking or oppression in Zimbabwe? Where are the songs of mourning for the victims of knife crime? Where are the anti-consumerist dirges? Who will write the rousing choruses that will unite our churches in condemnation of the beefburger? That's what I want to know.
Robin Parry said…

Nice puns. Don't tempt me - I think I could write a funny burger chorus for worship (there was a great one based on Leviticus some years ago in Wine Bibber - a Christian Viz magazine).

But seriously - yes. I am with you all the way.

Anonymous said…
Hi Robin

Some good thoughts...I do try and bring an understanding of sorrow into our church.

Our Good Friday service are usually very dark...even more so if we have it in the evening:)

You are right though, we can be too fluffy, happy and clappy...

Traditionally we have had some rousing Chrsitian hymns like 'praise my soul the King of Heaven'...and also some dark hymns like 'Let all mortal flesh keep silent'.

Yes God is wonderful, lovely, amazing...he is, but he also died a brutal, painful, tortured death.

I think it is time to redress the balance.

and stop singing about hwo I feel about God and do a bit of praising:)
Robin Parry said…

that sounds good. You've got me thinking - perhaps it is time for Charismatics to reclaim ideas from the traditional Tenebrae service from Holy Week. During Tenebrae the focus is on the encroaching darkness leading up to the death and burial of Christ. The candels are extinguished as various Scripture readings (including several from the book of Lamentations) are read. In the end a single candle remains which is taken off into a side chapel until Easter when it is brought out again. Are there ways for charismatics to take on board ideas from such ancient rituals?
Linda said…
Hi Robin,
It's nice to meet you. I just stopped by on Jason Clark's recommendation.

As an example of this, I have some charismatic friends who would not sing the chorus "Blessed Be Your Name" because of phrases in it like "on the road marked with suffering," "though I walk through the wilderness," "you give and take away."

These friends were from the word of faith branch of charismatics, and in that realm, there is no allowance for suffering. Anything less than health and wealth is a failure of the person's faith.

From an evangelical standpoint, a theology of escape has influenced many of our ideas about suffering reflected in hymns like "I'll Fly Away." For charismatics with a dominionist perspective, there is a theme of overcoming in songs like "Days of Elijah."

As we develop a more well-rounded theology that includes a place for pain and suffering in the life of a charismatic believer, we will eventually see that reflected in the music. However, the tension may remain with those who refuse to tolerate the idea of pain in the life of a spirit-filled believer.

Interesting thoughts.
Anonymous said…
Hi Robin

Holy Week seemed to disappear into the the ether and my experience of evnaglical churches is just Easter and Christmas.

Baby and bathwater spirings to mind!

We did something very similar to Tenebrae. we hired a local church which is about 200 years old and lit the palce with candles, we mixed worship with video, spoken reflection and prayer.

and in the last video I blew the last candle out and the church bells tolled.

It was very effective and helped people to physically 6ouch the darkness and sorrow of Good friday.

There is so much out there that we can use. I draw my inspiriation from seeing what God has done in the more traditional churches Orthodox, Catholic whilst retaining the best of own traditions.
Robin Parry said…

I have to say, "Thank God for Matt Redman!" because he is one of a growing number of contemporary worship songwriters who does acknowledge the upside down experiences of life. "Blessed be your name" is incredibly popular in part because it creates 'space' for people to be something other than bouncy and happy. The lesson is that we need more songs like that.

I used to be into word of faith stuff (honest!). It was absolutely bonkers! You are setting yourself up for a pastoral nightmare if people are not allowed to make 'negative confessions' (what the rest of us call, 'telling the truth about how you feel'). Even if you say, "I nearly died laughing" you can get in trouble for putting a curse on yourself that might result in death. Ha ha ha ha ... URGHHHH!
Robin Parry said…

I am so pleased that your worship is creative and draws on the depths of the tradition.

I may do a post in renewing eucharist ... one day

Unknown said…
Have you come across the latest Bob Kauflin project 'Come Weary Saints' charismatic and dealing with pain.
Robin Parry said…
Dave Bish

I have not - thanks for the link. I think that Sovereign Grace music do some excellent stuff. I am especially keen on "Valley of Vision" - it has some terrific overtly trinitarian songs. I love the idea of taking Puritan prayers and making them fresh for a new generation.

The extracts on the link sound good.


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