A Charismatic Primer Part 2 – The Outreach Top 50 (#1-5)

Okay, with regards to all the artillery exchange between the Cessationist and Charismatic camps in anticipation of the upcoming Strange Fire conference, there have been some accusations lain back and forth that the Cessationists are misrepresenting the Charismatics, and the Charismatics are likewise misrepresenting the Cessationists.  So, I’ve decided to put together a (sort of) guide on the issue (this whole “Charismatic Primer” series) that should help those who are honestly interested in the differences between both positions and want to make some sort of informed decision on the issue.

Also, like my previous post, this series won’t be a “read this in 10 minutes” post, but rather a resource post that you can come back to and use again and again (though I suspect that within 1-2 years, some of the links will be dead).

I’ve compiled some stuff that should be both fairly up to date and representative of the variety within the Charismatic/Continuationist camp.  I’ve wanted to put together a list of who’s who in the megachurch circles and let they themselves tell you where they’re at on the charismatic issues.  There’s nothing better than “straight from the horses mouth, right?  Here’s my method of research:

I’ve gone through the Outreach Magazine top 100 churches of 2012 and made a list of where churches on the top 50 fall along the charismatic spectrum.  The churches on the top 50 are certainly the influential ones, and they’re most likely the ones out there that the small church folks are copying (seeing that they’re the ones holding the conferences and publishing the books).  I myself grew up in a church that basically thought that Bill Hybels (of Willow Creek) was the Protestant Pope; my church copied Willow Creek because they were Willow Creek (i.e. a HUGE church, and huge = blessed by God = they’re doing what God wants everyone to do).  I’ve done my best to include resources directly related to the issue; stuff directly “from the horses mouth”, letting everyone speak for themselves.  There’s a wide variety of positions and teaching among these churches, but this should give my readers a good taste for the actual quality and breadth of the spectrum.

Also, with regards to the basic terms cessationism and continuationism (the broadest of categories for this debate), I’d remind my readers to read that I’ve already written on those two broad definitions.  For the purposes of giving a general identification of where people are on the charismatic spectrum, I use the following terms:

A.  Prosperity Gospel– This is the far extreme of the spectrum; the crowd that actually thinks that the atonement is a means to acquire money.  These folks are also tends to bark, laugh, and vomit “in the Spirit”.  This would be the crowd that you’d see on TBN (and apparently writing in Charisma Magazine), and the crowd that tends to be the loudest and playing some sort of spiritual “bigger and better” game (i.e. church attendance numbers, evangelism statistics, deliverance stories, African miracle accounts, etc.).  Theologically, almost anything goes in these circles because, well, in practice these guys basically think that “theology” is the study of definite articles.

A Prosperity preacher “heals” you by smacking you with his suit jacket (in Jesus name…sometimes…other times he just yells “more!'” or “more fire!” or “take it!” or something equally stupid and then dances around while singing).

B.  Charismatics – These are the guys who, despite what may be major faults, at least tend to get the gospel fairly correct.  The big difference between (A) and (B) is the issue of whether Jesus to give you salvation or stuff, though Charismatics are usually more interested in theology (though not necessarily in serious biblical study).  These guys tend to all speak in tongues (often all at once), have prophets/apostles in their churches (who tend to always say the same thing), have churches where the husband and wife are both “pastors”, allow rather absurd “manifestations” of the Spirit, and won’t condemn prosperity preachers.  They will often have strange practices (i.e. things involving shofars) and yet do draw some lines.

A Charismatic preacher “heals” you by binding Satan and claiming a healing in Jesus name.

C.  Continuationists – These are the guys who try to take the Bible far more seriously, tend to be more educated, and tend to  get the gospel right along with many other things.  These guys are often the ones who try to use spiritual gifts biblically (i.e. testing prophecies and tongues only with interpretation), sometimes allow for questionable manifestations of the Spirit (and strange spiritual warfare practices), and often don’t like manifesting the sign gifts in public, choosing to reserve them for more private/personal events.  These guys will usually condemn prosperity preachers but also (uncomfortably) associate with the charismatics.

A Continuationist preacher “heals” you by praying for you and laying hands on you with the elders of the church.

D. Practical Cessationists – These are often known as the “open but cautious crowd”, and there’s a fine and fuzzy line between Practical Cessationists and Continuationists.  These are the guys who claim that they’re charismatic, but really aren’t (but don’t try to tell them that).  They tend to play with definitions and fudge categories in order to make their cessationist experience fit their “charismatic” theology (i.e. claiming that prophecy is preaching, or that tongues is the supernatural ability to learn languages with study, or that the gift of healing of apostleship is actually church planting, etc.).  These are the guys who don’t actually ever experience the bizarre manifestations of the Spirit (i.e. barking) and would likely condemn them if they did.  These are also the guys that think that occasionally (out there, usually in the mission field), there are real “book of Acts” quality manifestations of the Spirit.  Many of them claim that they’ve heard about those, or even experienced an example many years ago (when they were young and coincidentally far less discerning), so they’re “open” to the Spirit but “cautious” because they are convinced that most of the claimed manifestations of the Spirit are fraudulent.

A Practical Cessationist preacher “heals” you by praying for a healing, possibly laying hands on you, and then sending you to the doctor (and praying for him too).

E.  Committed Cessationists – These are the ones who have a cessationist experience that is matched by articulate cessationist doctrine.  These guys may claim to be “charismatic”, but they usually do so in a tongue-in-cheek fashion (in an effort to start a conversation about sign gifts) and mean “I’ve been given spiritual gifts by God’s gracious Spirit”.  The most bizarre manifestations of the Spirit you’ll see in these churches will be people closing their eyes on the final verse of How Great Thou Art, and these churches often have a fair amount of weirdness, but it’s not in the area of charismatic gifts or manifestations of the Spirit.  It’s easy to spot a cessationist because they are usually the only ones to use the phrase “charismatic gifts” or “sign gifts” to distinguish the gifts of the Spirit that are ceased from the active ones.

A Cessationist preacher asks God to heal you by praying for a healing, possibly laying hands on you, and then sending you to the doctor (and praying for him too).

F. Reformed Charismatics – This label annoys me the most because it’s so utterly non-descriptive.  These guys are part of (B), (C) or (D) but also believe the doctrines of grace (often in outlandish inconsistency with other doctrinal commitments).  They tend to be more conservative and not bark in the spirit, but you never really know what “Reformed Charismatic” means from one person to the next.  Many of them come from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from Prosperity Gospel to Practical Cessationists and have, somewhere along the way, picked up some sort of Calvinism (their main unifying characteristic).

A Reformed Charismatic preacher “heals” you by doing any combination of the above, though they do not wear suits and they aren’t very good at hitting things, like other people’s fists (time marker 5:52-56).

So here goes:

The Outreach Top 50:

1. Lakewood Church of Houston, Texas – Pastored by Joel Osteen. (Now Joel is smart enough to not say too much on any issue, but that doesn’t mean his church doesn’t teach on issues related to charismatic stuff…)

1a. A positional paper on tongues, written by Lisa Comes, an associate pastor at Lakewood and the “theological mouth” behind the operation, saying all the things that Joel does not (i.e. anything with substance).  Her website is here, and her maiden name is “Osteen” (She’s Joel’s sister).  She’s open about things like spiritual gifts, prophecy, speaking in tongues, positive confession (and this), having out of body experiences while preaching (?!?), prosperity gospel (and this and this), and spiritual warfare (part 1 and part 2, plus this)

1b.  Here’s some loose stuff showing a belief in “positive confession” from Victoria Olsteen’s blog (bottom 2 posts).

1c.  Lakewood offers their church a “quick reference card” for scriptures promising healing.  Worth looking up some of those references!

1d.  Lakewood also offers their church a prosperity gospel “quick reference card”.

There’s definitely more stuff on Lakewood’s website and the associated websites of Joel & Victoria Osteen, Paul Osteen, Dodie Osteen, Lisa Comes, etc. – it’s also worth noticing that Lakewood defines the word “nepotism”.  Every single living Osteen is the “leadership team”. Still, that should be a little start in the right direction if you want to know more.

General Idea – Lakewood is a prosperity gospel church that has a full time public relations person that they listen to closely, so they don’t make their unbiblical/unbelievable teaching too public, at least to those outside their immediate church.

2. North Point Ministries of Alpharetta, Georgia – Pastored by Andy Stanley.  This church doesn’t have enough information on their website to make any sort of guess as to where they stand, but seeing that their Southern Baptists and the SBC is cessationist as part of their distinctives, they’re likely either practical cessationists or committed cessationists.

3.  Willow Creek Community Church of South Barrington, Illinois – Pastored by Bill Hybels.  Willow Creek is rather old news in some circles, but despite the whole “we’ve been doing things wrong for 30 years” admission in the published findings of their Reveal survey, they’re still highly influential with the 12,000+ churches that are part of their network.  The church website contains some helpful stuff in understanding where they are on the charismatic spectrum:

3a.  They have a spiritual gifts test with some helpful, though annoyingly general, definitions…and also spiritual gifts that I’ve never seen on other tests (i.e. Giving? Creative communication?).  Their student ministries also has a multiple page handout on spiritual gifts.

3b.  Willow Creek requires certain spiritual gifts of all their elders and advertise the spiritual gifts of their elders.

3c.  Willow Creek has also handed out a handbook for understanding the issue in depth, with is basically a point/counterpoint written by Grant Osborne and Scott McKnight.  Willow Creek clearly leans toward McKnight’s position (and it’s telling that they classify the debate as between the “Pentecostal position” and the “negative position”.  Not stacking the deck there at all).

3d.  Willow Creek also has some stuff on prophecy here (pages 6-9) and also instructions on lectio divina and contemplative prayer (pages 18 onward).  Those two things together in the same class are rather telling.

3e.  Billy Hybels himself has preacher on Spiritual Gifts here and the sermons are from 2013.  The relevant sermons are Forward in Our Serving 1 & 2.  As per typical Bill, he doesn’t really say a whole lot that you won’t learn reading the previously linked information.

General Idea – Willow Creek is a continuationist church that allows for tongues, healing and prophecy but doesn’t make it any sort of central part of their public image at all (as I’m guessing that one of the biggest unwritten rules at Willow Creek is “don’t rock the boat”).

4. Phoenix First Assembly of God of Phoenix, Arizona – Pastored by Tommy and Luke Barnett (Tommy is the father of Matthew Barnett, “pastor” of the Dream Center in Los Angeles).  It seems like some of the biggest players in the Charismatic movement have all have taken a page from Joel Osteen’s play book.  They tend to try to be as “positive thinking” as possible, but men who have salsa in their soul cannot become as mayonnaise as Joel.  They are much like Osteen in that they keep various theological cards close to their chest, but Barnett still says innumerable bizarre things in messages like this (Barnett shows up at around 13:30 in that video).  They don’t always do everything perfect and he keeps some questionable company and is the spiritual mentor to some people who I would distance myself from.  Beyond that, he holds a pastors conference with classes on how to get the holy Spirit (pg 11) and many questionable guests, and he co-writes books with Creflo Dollar.  This gives us good reason to believe that Tommy Barnett isn’t likely ever showing up at a Ligonier conference (he probably has never read RC Sproul though he’d likely pretend to be familiar with him…).  This church is now the flagship of the Assemblies of God, and he’d be a guy worthy of further study if you want to know more about who’s influencing the charismatic movement.

General Idea – Phoenix First is a prosperity gospel church, as well as clear charlattans, but you’d have to wade through his written material (none of which is free) and actual sermons (anyone have a few dozen free hours?) to find specific statements.  He’s one of the “godfathers” of the movement though, and well worth checking out.

5. Southeast Christian Church of Louisville Kentucky- Pastored by Dave Stone.  This church doesn’t have enough information on their website to make any sort of guess as to where they stand, but seeing that they’re the largest in Louisville (home of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), there’s little chance that they’re anything but practical cessationist or committed cessationist.


So there we have it.  There’s the first five churches on the Outreach Magazine list of the top 100 largest churches in the US in 2012.

The next post will include churches #6-10 and will be up in a couple of days.

I welcome all feedback and hope this is helpful for those who are wanting to learn more.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Ad Fontes!” Unger


16 thoughts on “A Charismatic Primer Part 2 – The Outreach Top 50 (#1-5)

  1. Wow got to work through this slowly, must have been hard work to slog through everything to find some of these churches’ stance on things considering some of them are well, so non-doctrinaire

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