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There are different varieties of Charismatics, just as there are different varieties of Baptists and different varieties of fundamentalists. Holding one variety of Charismatic responsible for the views or deeds of other varieties of Charismatics would be uncharitable and unethical. Responsible critics hold people accountable for their actual doctrine and practice, not for the beliefs and deeds of others who happen to wear their name.

Nevertheless, it has been amusing to watch some Charismatics and their friends recently trying to claim that they are not really Charismatic at all. Yes, they admit to believing that the charismata continue into the present day. But because they do not hold to some other versions of Charismatic theology, they insist that they are not Charismatic at all (so goes the argument). Alternatively, they may admit that they are charismatic (note the small “c”), but deny that they are part of the Charismatic Movement. They also claim that they have corrected the most egregious features of Charismatic theology, so that (as they claim) their views are quite compatible with a very conservative version of evangelicalism.

On the one hand, this claim is understandable. After all, what thoughtful Christian of any stripe would want to be associated with extreme voices like the Crouches, Creflo Dollar, or Kenneth Copeland? On the other hand, the attempt to say that “I’m charismatic but I’m not really Charismatic” falls flat, if for no other reason than that it fails to recognize the development and divergence of the Charismatic Movement.

Back in 1983, C. Peter Wagner started talking about the “Three Waves” of the Holy Spirit’s work during the twentieth century. The First Wave was the old Pentecostal movement. The Second Wave was the Charismatic Movement that began in the fifties. The Third Wave was occurring at the present moment, and it represented the “opening of the straight-line evangelical and other Christians to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that the Pentecostals and [Second Wave] charismatics have experienced” [C. Peter Wagner, “The Third Wave?” Pastoral Renewal (July 1983), 1-5].

While Wagner used the expression Charismatic Movement in reference only to the Second Wave, students of the movement usually speak of all three Waves as aspects of a single Charismatic Movement. Old Pentecostalism was the First Wave. The Pentecostals were an outgrowth of the Holiness movement who were pushed out of the established churches and forced to start their own (the Assemblies of God and the Foursquare Churches trace themselves to this Wave). They believed that the Holy Spirit was still granting the same miraculous gifts (the same charismata) that He had granted during the New Testament era. They believed in at least one, and often more, additional works of grace following salvation. Speaking in tongues was the initial sign of being baptized in the Spirit. Healing was considered to be part of the atonement and thus directly connected to the gospel. Oneness Pentecostalism also developed out of the First Wave, though it represented a relatively small segment of the Movement.

The Second Wave Charismatic Movement was theologically similar to Old Pentecostalism, but it differed socially. Whereas the First Wave comprised social outsiders, the Second Wave was driven by successful people in mainline denominations. Incorporated into some Second Wave theology was a new component: Word Faith teaching, which led to the Prosperity Gospel. Not all Second Wavers hold the Word Faith doctrine, but some of the most visible ones do. Since the theology of the first two Waves was so similar, both could be defended together by Douglas Oss in Wayne Grudem’s book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? [Zondervan, 1996].

With the Third Wave came a significant shift in the theological rationale for miraculous gifts. The First and Second Wave grounded healing in the atonement and tongues in a second work of grace, usually called the baptism in the Spirit. The Third Wave moved away from these untenable positions and grounded miraculous gifts in (ultra-)inaugurated eschatology. Beginning with the proposition that the kingdom of God has already begun on earth, Third Wave thinkers reason that the presence of the kingdom requires the exercise of kingdom authority. This theology is nicely summed up in Jack Hayford’s chorus, “Majesty, kingdom authority, flows from His throne, unto His own; His anthem raise.”

The Third Wave grew up at Fuller Seminary (where Wagner taught that the authority of Christ is demonstrated through “power encounters”), in John Wimber’s Vineyard churches, and in Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel movement. It took a strange twist with the Toronto Blessing, which some thought might portend a Fourth Wave. It also took a twist toward a more conservative version of evangelicalism.

The main theologians of the early Third Wave were Gordon Fee, Jack Deere, and Wayne Grudem. Fee managed to keep one foot in the traditional Pentecostal camp. Deere became enamored with John White, the Kansas City Prophets, and especially Paul Cain, who represented a more extreme version of Third Wave sensibility. Grudem, however, managed to corral some of the excesses of the Third Wave by arguing for a softened meaning of New Testament prophecy.

On Grudem’s view, only apostles were the equivalent of Old Testament prophets. Local church prophecies had to be weighed and sifted, could sometimes be ignored, and might even contain mistaken elements. Prophecy was a human report of a revelation, and Grudem understood revelation to mean simply something that God brings to mind [The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, Crossway, 1988].

While Grudem eventually left Vineyard, that move did not separate him from the Charismatic Movement. In fact, it really began a new variation within the Third Wave. Numbers of evangelical leaders have been drawn to Grudem’s softened view of prophecy while standing within the overall structure of Third Wave Charismatic theology. Comparable views have been expressed by John Piper, Sam Storms, and C. J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries. These individuals do not represent a departure from the Charismatic Movement, but a new development within it. Their commitment to the continuation of supernatural gifts (the charismata) remains unaltered, as does their grounding of these phenomena in inaugurated eschatology. They are still Third Wave.

Does it matter? Have Grudem and his friends made enough concessions to render Charismatic theology acceptable? Sound theological triage must take account of the relative importance of the doctrine in question, its proximity to the gospel, and its overall effect upon the system of faith. Understood in these terms, even this milder version of Charismatic theology remains a fairly serious error. It affects several important doctrinal concerns: the present work of the Third Person of the Trinity, the nature of revelation and prophecy, and the degree to which the kingdom has already been inaugurated (if at all). It is also a practical error that has consequences for the understanding of the Christian life and the overall shape of Christian ministry. In short, it is the kind of error that ought to limit or even preclude Christian cooperation at many levels. Biblicist institutions should still reject Charismatic theology and the Charismatic Movement—including all variations of the Third Wave.


This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.


Above the Starry Spheres
Ambrose of Milan (340-397), trans. Edward Caswall (1814-1878)

Above the starry spheres,
To where He was before,
Christ had gone up, the Father’s gift
Upon the Church to pour.

At length had fully come,
On mystic circle borne
Of seven times seven revolving days,
The Pentecostal morn.

When, as the Apostles knelt
At the third hour in prayer,
A sudden rushing sound proclaimed
That God Himself was there.

Forthwith a tongue of fire
Is seen on every brow,
Each heart receives the Father’s light,
The Word’s enkindling glow.

The Holy Ghost on all
Is mightily outpoured,
Who straight in divers tongues declare
The wonders of the Lord.

While strangers of all climes
Flock round from far and near,
And their own tongue, wherever born,
All with amazement hear.

But Judah, faithless still,
Denies the hand divine;
And, mocking, jeers the saints of Christ
As full of new made wine.

Till Peter, in the midst,
By Joel’s ancient word,
Rebukes their unbelief, and wins
Three thousand to the Lord.

The Father and the Son
And Spirit we adore,
O may the Spirit’s gifts be poured
On us forevermore.

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.