What would it look like to exercise the charismatic gifts in the life of the church in a way that is consistent with Scripture? This is a somewhat difficult question to answer, made all the more complicated by the ubiquitous unbiblical practices of many so-called Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. As a pastor and theologian, Sam Storms has wrestled with this specific question for years, and in Practicing the Power has sought to outline a model for faithful churches today. This book outlines a practical guide to the exercise of the charismatic gifts that has the potential to refine modern Charismatic practices.
While this book is focused on the practice of the charismatic gifts, it is important for readers to know upfront that it is not a defense of Charismatic theology. That is to say, for those looking for a theological and exegetical defense of the continuance of the Spiritual gifts today, this is not the book. Storms’ goal is different; he writes:
My desire is that every follower of Christ will come away from this book with a better understanding of the spiritual gifts and will be energized by the power of the Spirit. But my aim is not to rewrite the books I’ve already published on this subject. Neither will I spend time trying to persuade you of the validity and operation of all spiritual gifts in the present day. (20)
This is not an apology for Charismatic theology. It’s goal is much more pastoral and practical. Storms desires to help the reader who is already persuaded of Charismatic theology, but is not sure how to implement it practically and Biblically in the life of the church. This is a book for those who are asking: What now?
The first four chapters of the book are not likely to stir up too much controversy. Storms sets the context in which the Spiritual gifts will be most well received and function best. These include a commitment to prayer and fasting, for example, which he calls “nonnegotiables.” This also means an earnest desire to seek the gifts and to follow the Spirit wherever He leads. Storms sets readers up for a good start by establishing these foundational principles. The temptation for many is to jump right into the dramatic demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, but Storms starts with a commitment to a relationship with the Spirit. We must seek and submit the Spirit before we practice the Spiritual gifts. We want to cultivate a context where the gifts will be exercised in a healthy and godly manner.
As he turns to consider the specific Charismatic gifts and how they may be practiced he does so with a constant focus on what Scripture teaches. Storms is very concerned to emphasize a Biblical practice of the Charismatic gifts. Often, churches and leaders advocate for practices that do not align with the Scriptural teaching, in fact some flatly contradict what the Bible says. Storms wants to ground his advice in Scripture. Of course, it won’t take readers long to observe that the New Testament does not necessarily spell out every detail of the outworking of the Charismatic gifts. So, Storms offers a model that is built off of the Scriptural principles but which comes with some nuance, and suggestion. He writes with humility, knowing that how a church chooses to work out some of these details is flexible. He does not insist that we do things exactly as his church has done them, but he offers examples to help guide the practical outworking.
Due to space, Storms does not address all the gifts. He focuses primarily on the more controversial gifts: healing, prophecy, and deliverance. He interacts with counterpoints at times, noting his disagreements with Neil Anderson, for example, on the issue of deliverance. He also wrestles with the practice of prophecy in the corporate gathering and offers some suggestions on both how to do this and how not to. He is also good at offering guidelines on how to distinguish between the general practices of the church as a whole and the unique practices of the Spiritual gifts. So, he can speak of generally praying for the sick, and possessing the gift of healing. He can speak of general insight, wisdom, and spiritual impressions, versus having the gift of prophecy. The distinctions are important to know and Storms does an excellent job of walking readers through these clarifying points.
The book concludes with some serious and important warnings. On the one hand he encourages readers not to fall prey to “quenching the Spirit.” He lists specific ways that we might do this and offers course-corrections to help us steer clear. He also warns about the dangers of manipulation. It is tempting to trade theological integrity for zeal, and he warns us against such things. By listing the characteristics of manipulation he gives readers an evaluative tool for thinking about ministries, ministers, and themselves.
Overall this is a unique and one of a kind work. This uniqueness is due, in part, to its author’s uniqueness. Sam Storms is a Reformed theologian who also happens to be a convinced Charismatic; he calls himself a Calvinist Charismatic. He has his feet in two somewhat divergent camps, and offers here a paradigm of spiritual practice that capitalizes on the strengths of both. Practicing the Power offers direction for readers wanting to practice the Charismatic gifts, but it does so with both humility and primary commitment to Scripture. Not everyone will agree with Storms’ suggestions. There are elements of his model that I did not agree with, and yet I found the book a refreshing move in the right direction for the whole Charismatic movement. A commitment to Scripture first will help refine the practice of the Charismatic gifts in the church, and Sam Storms has offered an excellent tool for such refinement.