Why are charismatics so weird?

 “What should we do with these men? For it is plain to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable miraculous sign has come about through them, and we cannot deny it. But to keep this matter from spreading any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 

And they called them in and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide, for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:16-20

Why is it that Christians who operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are so often weird and awkward?

Or put another way, why do charismatics often seem to lack emotional intelligence around people?

In my journey with these supernatural gifts and their proper use, I’m starting to understand why people who use these gifts seem so weird to your average evangelical. First, we need to acknowledge that low emotional intelligence can be found in every tradition of the church. I’ve met super-awkward Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and progressives. So that part isn’t necessarily unique.

But I believe one factor that can sometimes increase awkwardness with charismatics is what happens when one receives these gifts. There is often a massive moment of full surrender in our relationship with Jesus before we start seeing the flourishing of the supernatural gifts. They may have even been there in seedling form already, but the gifts don’t flourish without surrender.

What this surrender requires is a gigantic “Yes” with our life. It is telling Jesus that we will do what He tells us to do no matter what. It is agreeing to operate with quick obedience even if it is hard, even if it is awkward, even if we’re afraid, even if it makes us look bad, even if it doesn’t fit with social norms. If the “fear of man” had a hold on our life, its stranglehold gets broken in this process of surrender.

Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” The fear of man is being overly concerned about what others will think of us. It is being overly concerned about our image and reputation. It is an oppressive desire to be liked and to have people say nice things about us. In order to fully operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, this part of us must die.

So there is a process of surrender whereby we are killing or suppressing the voice that says, “But what will people think?” or “But how will this look?” This voice is often used by the enemy to keep us from stepping out in faith and taking bold risks in obedience to the Lord. The problem is that there is a part of this voice that involves emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is often summarized as having four main parts:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Relational awareness (empathy)
  4. Relational management

When one is trying to be obedient to the Lord, part of putting to death the fear of man in our life is knowing that something will be awkward (self-awareness) and yet doing it anyway. This sometimes comes across to others as someone who doesn’t have self-management or relational awareness. An observer may assume, “If they knew how that looked, they wouldn’t do it.” But sometimes that’s not true. Sometimes the person trying to act in obedience knows how it looks and does it anyway.

Why?

Obedience. Surrender. I gave God my unequivocal “Yes” and don’t want to take it back.

But God would never ask us to do something embarrassing or awkward, right? Wrong. This is a myth that is believed by too many American Christians. We see throughout the Bible and throughout the history of the church that God continually asks people to do things that are awkward, embarrassing, and often misunderstood. And as we witness the lives of the persecuted church around the world, God even asks us to be willing to be killed for the sake of Christ.

Now, all of that said, there is a place for EQ in knowing “how” to do that thing God is asking us to do. He wants us to be loving. Many charismatics, in their deep desire to be bold in faith and quick in their obedience, have forgotten that not all EQ is the fear of man. We still are called to operate in love, and loving someone often looks like the four parts of emotional intelligence.

In other words, the reason many charismatics come across as awkward is because, in their deep desire not to give in to the fear of man, they have “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.” It is, of course, true that some charismatics just have a deficit in EQ like many other Christians. But it isn’t always that.

In my life I have found that, more often, it is a deep desire to be unquestioningly obedient and, in doing so, sometimes missing the mark on the difference between the fear of man and appropriate EQ. Charismatics don’t always get it right. They don’t always know where that line is. But I love their heart of wanting to obey the Lord no matter what. I’ll take that over a life full of fear any day. Being awkward for the sake of obedience to Christ seems like a small price to pay compared to the high price many Christians are paying around the world for their faith.