Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals

by David Pawson

Published by Terra Nova, available from Anchor Recordings Ltd

Renowned Bible teacher David Pawson wrote a book on the need for charismatics and evangelicals to unite a quarter of a century ago. He still believes that the ‘marriage’ of Word and Spirit in our churches has yet to happen

David Pawson nails subtle doctrinal differences
David Pawson nails subtle doctrinal differences

“Theology without experience is barren. But experience without theology is dangerous.” David Pawson’s statement neatly encapsulates the problem with charismatics and evangelicals remaining apart. His book is for anyone who desires ‘the best of both worlds’ when it comes to evangelical grounding in the Word and charismatic freedom in the Spirit. Drawing on his years of experience teaching in evangelical and charismatic circles, Pawson calls both sides to humbly re-examine their positions against Scripture.

The book was first published in 1992 under the title ‘Fourth Wave’, when the two streams seemed to be coming together as a result of the charismatic renewal. In the 1998 preface, Pawson notes that in some ways they have drifted apart again (especially with the charismatic tendency to emphasise a worship ‘experience’ over preaching the Word), meaning that the issues he raises remain relevant 20 years later.

In fact, Rev Pawson chose to preach his own carefully prepared sermons before the worship time in his own Baptist services, based on the early synagogue model. He reasoned that people would be far more ready to enter into worship after they had heard a convincing exposition of God’s greatness! Certainly it dealt with the unpreparedness of many to worship as soon as they walk into church and neatly avoided the ten minutes of fidgeting and distraction that can delay a supernatural encounter with the living God.

In part one, Pawson overviews the traditional differences between the two groups. He sketches a brief history of charismatics from New Testament times to the present, including surprising quotes by historical figures who experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit – such as St David of Wales, John Wesley and CG Finney. The author also explains why evangelicals have not always related favourably to charismatics, citing factors like the Reformers’ lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the Puritans’ focus on preaching and dispensational theology.

In part two, Pawson uses a ‘take the beam out of your own eye first’ approach. He tackles different aspects of the Christian life – theology, prophecy, initiation, glossolalia (tongues), worship and holiness – by addressing each group in turn over an area where they need to align with Scripture.

Each chapter contains pithy subheadings such as “Prophecy is not Scripture” (to charismatics) and “Apostolic is not abnormal” (to evangelicals).

With his measured yet probing tone, Pawson clarifies seemingly subtle doctrinal distinctions that actually have serious practical implications. Addressing evangelicals, he contends that “believing is not receiving”, meaning that the gift of the Holy Spirit is not automatically received at salvation, but is a separate, “conscious experience with clear evidence”, a necessary step that equips believers for righteous living.

To charismatics, he explains that “spontaneous is not spiritual”; in corporate worship, openness to the Spirit must not mean sloppy preparation. He also shows the need for developing the fruit of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit’s ‘instantly available’ gifts must never replace steady maturation in godly character.

Pawson clearly demonstrates that in order for the Body of Christ to reach its full potential, both streams desperately need each other, because each holds the answer to the other’s imbalance!

The process of integration will involve some painful heart-searching, but the result – seeing “the liberty of the Spirit and the light of Scripture… beautifully blended” – has to be worth it!

Anna Coxon

David Pawson is, at the time of writing, still hoping to complete two Bible commentaries. However, his health is fragile (he is in his mid 80s) and he would probably appreciate readers’ prayers. 

Sometimes controversial (“leadership is male”, “divorce prevents remarriage”), his legacy is a profound one and it is hoped to examine this in a future issue.

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