Barna's study on the growth of "Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity" is interesting on several fronts. If his data and interpretation are valid and sound, then it underscores the importance for non-Pentecostals and Charismatics to pay attention to this growing trend and assess its strengths and weaknesses.
But there seems to be several missing or omitted elements from Barna's "reflection":
First, Barna seems to mostly present an emotive and cultural interpretation of charismatic expression and experience when he writes, "the freedom of emotional and spiritual expression typical of charismatic assemblies parallels the cultural trend toward personal expression, accepting diverse emotions and allowing people to interpret their experiences in ways that make sense to them." Granted, this may be true as far as obvious sociological reflection goes, but charismatics also have diverse theological reasons and evidences for cultivating the emotionality of their individual and corporate expression. Namely, Charismatics and Pentecostals expectantly confide in God with the understanding that he is alive, active, and not impotent in his world. In short, they actually believe that the presence of God is real and not imaginary; he's always active at work in mission and not impotent or indifferent to the responsiveness of his creation.
Second, Barna's research and reflection does not seem to take into consideration the growing association of what Peter Wagner has called "third wave" churches, such as the Vineyards and the Calvary Chapels. If these are taken into consideration, then their categorization is not obvious or clear in this Barna report. These movements have been, I think, the historical catalyst for change and bridge-building, if you will, between traditional evangelicals and Charismatics/Pentecostals.
Third, "third wavers," especially of the Vineyard sort, increasing make the case, theologically and practically in corporate church experience, that it is the nature and significance of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and the ministry of Jesus and NOT whether "sign gifts" are for today, as the differentiating reason for why we can continue to expect God to bring healings, prophetic words, deliverances, etc in our midst.
Why does God do these things? Because they are signs - and not the only ones, either - of God, the presence and power of his Kingdom, and the ministry of Jesus actually our midst. If you gathered for church or in a small group with the expectation that God is in our midst, that he is alive and actually desires to interactively communicate His heart, administer his ministry, and bless us in order to make us a blessing to others, pray tell, how could your emotions and affections, let alone your mind and will, not be stirred and compelled? But this explanation, in content and tone, is omitted in Barna's research and reflection as a viable theological explanation for informing and forming so-called "Charismatic/Pentecostal experience."
Fourth, there is a growing number of church movements (e.g., Sam Storms, and other Charismatic and theologically Reformed folks), who would consider themselves "evangelical" but also charismatic. Indeed, this is, perhaps, the real news about the growth of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity in the U.S.: its been hugely influential in areas of theology, teaching, worship, music, and overall ecclesial practice among evangelicals, who continue to remain evangelical but with an eagerness to interactively know the living God and practice his presence.
I'm encouraged by what appears to be the genuine growth of Charismatics and Pentecostals in the U.S. Their growth also signals the importance of helping them, and all of us, develop our inner lives in the discipline of Christian formation so that the life of our minds are skilled in virtue, theological knowledge and wisdom, which I demonstrably discuss in Kingdom Triangle (see chapters 4-7).
- I urge people to read the suggested works on pages 200-201 and encourage others to read them.
- I will make it my aim to learn about and grow in the supernatural aspects of the Kingdom. I will do this by selecting some of the suggestions from pages 181-187 and doing them.
- I will make it my aim to grow in my inner life, especially my emotional warmth. I will ask a loved one or close friend how they experience me, to give me feedback about my emotional distance, coldness and so forth, and together with him/her (or them), I will seek to grow in this area.
- I will seek to spread the things in Kingdom Triangle with which I agree. I will form a study group using the book and seek to influence others.
- I resolve to spend an afternoon listing my strengths and weaknesses in each leg of the triangle, and identify which leg is my weakness. I will try to find ways to grow in that area and to balance that area with the other two.
The second leg of the Kingdom Triangle is the cultivation of a tender heart, a spiritually mature inner life, a life of character and wisdom. Spiritual disciplines, while not exhausting the tools God has given us to develop these traits, represent a time-tested set of exercises unto godliness. But the Western church lost touch with spiritual disciplines, especially the Protestant branch of the church. Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is the single, most important book in the last century for restoring these disciplines. It's impact for Christ has been immeasurable.
Some people have rejected Foster's book for extremely harmful and superficial reasons, e.g., his suggestion that we employ visualization is therefore New Age. But this claim violates the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent: If one is a New Age person, then one uses visualization, one uses visualization (Foster), thus one is New Age. New Age folk each, drive cars, and do lots of things that believers do, but that does not make a believer a New Age practitioner. Likewise, there can be more than one reason for using, say, visualization (not to mention more than one way to practice it and more than one meaning to attach to it and more than one way to specify the goal for its employment).
At the end of the day, Foster's book has brough countless believers into a deeper walk with God, and along the way, helped many not to wear their emotional underwear too tightly.