Charismatic and Lutheran Intersections in Sweden

Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a Visiting Professor of the Strasbourg Institute based in Tokyo, spent a week during October 2019 as a guest of the Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen (Swedish Evangelical Mission, SEM), a renewal group within the Church of Sweden. The SEM traces its roots back to the Pietist revivals under the guidance of Carl Olof Rosenius and today embodies the intersection between Lutheran theology, Pietist practice, and Charismatic spirituality.

The Livsväg (“Life Way”) conference, an annual event hosted by the SEM at the Johannelund School of Theology in Uppsala, welcomed several hundred young adults aged 18 to 35 for a long weekend of worship, prayer, study, and fellowship. Prof. Wilson delivered the sermons at the worship services, preaching about “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” “The Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” and “The Fruit of the Holy Spirit.” Given that Sweden is considered one of the most secular nations in the world, it was deeply inspiring to see such a large gathering of youth committed to their faith and a mutual ministry of prayer.

After this uplifting weekend, Prof. Wilson spent two days giving lectures for theology students as well as a wider audience of professors and community members. Her first set of lectures discussed the history of Pentecostalism, case studies in Charismatic renewal within Lutheran churches, and places for fruitful conversation between the theology of Martin Luther and Charismatic practice today. The next day she turned to an extended exploration of the distinction between law and gospel, and how this distinction can be used to analyze and challenge preaching, church practice, and society at large. There was very lively engagement on the part of the audience, asking good questions and delving deeply into the material.

In addition to lecturing, Prof. Wilson spent time in conversation with both the leadership of the Swedish Evangelical Mission and the faculty of the Johannelund School of Theology, further exploring the tasks of spiritual discernment, catechesis in the church, and theological education for pastors and church leaders.

In the final portion of her visit, Prof. Wilson traveled south to the city of Malmö to visit with the ministry team of United Church, a large congregation from a Pentecostal background that recently joined the Church of Sweden via the Swedish Evangelical Mission. Over two days Prof. Wilson discussed with them their journey toward Lutheran theology and liturgy, the gifts of Pentecostal spirituality that they wanted to preserve, and how to address the post-Christian context in Sweden. Here again it was inspiring to see that Luther’s penetrating insights into the sinful human soul and the boundless grace of God still speak with surprising relevance and helpfulness to Christians five hundred years later.

Altogether it was a very fruitful trip and heartening to see the devotion to the gospel that continues to bear its witness in the Nordic countries. It is also clear how greatly Charismatic renewal and Lutheran theology can support and foster one another for the good of the whole church. Special thanks are due to Prof. Wilson’s host, Prof. Dr. Tomas Nygren, who teaches theology at the Johannelund School of Theology and has done much to communicate the theology of Luther to both church and society in Sweden.

Audio recordings of some of Prof. Wilson’s talks will be available later this year on her podcast, “Queen of the Sciences.”