One of America’s wisest and most perceptive theologians is, I would suppose, little known outside a rather small circle of friends and connoisseurs—unless one happens to remember his weighty and highly acclaimed 1980 Man and Woman in Christ. Stephen B. Clark does not hold an academic post, nor has he ever, to my knowledge, published with a major house. A devout Catholic, his concern for many years has been with the leadership of ecumenical Christian communities, and his writing appears to arise directly from his pastoral experience in that capacity.
I brace myself every time I prepare to read a book with a title like Charismatic Spirituality written by a charismatic. So much about this movement seems to me a religious cover for some vice, some foolishness, some deception, or some outworking of human weakness, that whatever good it has done is more than compensated by a deservedly bad reputation connected with the “gifts” by which charismatics exalt themselves over other Christians. In this book, however, Clark does not make much of these at all, but concentrates on the wisdom and charity out of which the use of every spiritual gift must arise, and how they are to be used for the edification of the body of Christ. It could just as well be titled something like An Enchiridion of Christian Spirituality.
Clark’s style is so gentle and deferential that his criticisms sometimes sound like wry understatement. Here is an example from the book:
Hyperspiritualism can lead us to overlook the importance of human effort in mature Christian living. It can also lead us not to value (or to seriously undervalue) the ‘natural means’ for being effective in our Christian effort, even when those means are spiritualized [and by this he means energized by the Holy Spirit]. It can lead us to rely only on manifestly supernatural workings and special inspirations or “leadings.” We think God has to bypass us for something spiritual to happen.
This attitude is expressed in the following transcript from a talk that was given some years back:
"When I was coming on an airplane to the taping of these talks, I prayed as hard as I could that this wouldn’t be me speaking, because if it’s me speaking you’re not going to get the good things that I want you to receive. You are not going to get the blessings, you are not gong to get the happiness, the holiness, the power, that I would like these talks to communicate to you. For that to happen it can’t be me speaking. It has to be the Holy Spirit speaking through me. And that’s what Jesus promises, power, that all we have to do is open our mouths willingly, letting the Spirit speak through us.”
Judging from the remainder of the talk, I think the speaker would have done better had he put more time into preparation of what he was going to say, rather than equating lack of preparation with greater reliance on the Lord. [pp. 101-02]
When a charismatic talks like this, I am willing to hear him out, and in this case it was worth it. The book may be purchased at its publisher's website. I heartily recommend it, along with everything else that Steve Clark has written.