I was in a Christian bookshop yesterday and something really caught my attention.
I came across one of the sections: it was entitled “Charismatic Interest.” I began to browse the selection of books presented on these shelves, curious as to what sort of topics qualified for this designation.
The word “charismatic” has all sorts of connotations within Christianity. For some, it can evoke those things which are spiritually edgy or “weird.” For others it can mean the opposite of “traditional” or “mainstream.” For still others, it can refer to those elements which are “optional”–parts of the life and beliefs of some Christians, but not required or necessary for all.
I really hope that none of these definitions were in mind when this section of the bookshop was organized.
Upon browsing the shelves, I found that the books on hell, fasting, and prayer were displayed in this section. And I was a bit puzzled, perhaps even a little unnerved.
Is the concept of hell considered spiritually edgy?
Is the spiritual discipline of fasting outside the realm of traditional Christianity?
Is prayer an optional element of our relationship with God and the outworking of our faith?
What is being said in labeling these topics as of charismatic interest? Are they topics only to be explored by a narrow segment of Christians? Are they somewhat nouveau ideas only for the youngest generation or denominations to investigate? Are they optional elements, such that you can safely remain disinterested in these topics–happily browsing the other shelves of the bookshop with no detriment to your spiritual growth?
Even Merriam-Webster wouldn’t seem to relegate these topics to such a pick-and-choose mentality. Looking up the definition of charismatic leads us to the definition of charism, “an extraordinary power given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.”
Such things certainly don’t sound optional, auxiliary, or tangent to the life of a Christian!
Prayer, fasting–even our contemplations of eternity and judgment–are connections with God that we are to exercise for the good of ourselves and for the good of those we gather with. These are not just “bonus” elements that you can explore if you want to, but central pillars of our religion. Not just for those that might label themselves “charismatic” or for those who are feeling especially adventurous in their faith, but for all of us to grow in and understand.
Personally, I wouldn’t characterize myself as especially “charismatic”, but do I hold to the value of fasting? Yes! Do I believe in the reality of judgment? Yes! Am I desperate for prayer and connecting with God? Yes!
So, perhaps according to this bookshop, I have a very significant charismatic interest after all!
That’s fine. I’m just concerned that using potentially divisive or off-putting (to some) labels is doing nothing more than advertising a diluted version of Christian faith and practice. If the label on the bookshelf causes some people to move on to another part of the store, rather than stopping to contemplate their life of communication with God, then we have lost something vital.
And the bookshop will have lost some sales.