charismatic – ngrams

We all love a captivating person, right? Somebody who walks into a room and just commands the attention of everybody present.

Interestingly, that may not have always been such a focus of attention, as this week’s ngram shows.

As always, read this if you haven’t heard of Google’s ngram tool.

This week we look at the word “charismatic.”


Prior to about 1940 the word “charismatic” was almost never used. Then something happened around World War Two. The word gained in popularity, and rather rapidly so.

Poking through some of the book titles associated with the use of the word pre-1961 (see links at the bottom of the page) it seems much of the use of the word related to charismatic political leaders and the charismatic movement within Christianity. If these are the two primary uses of the word – and this may not be the case, this is only a cursory review after all, but if they are – then that raises a couple of questions in my mind.

First, were political leaders not typically all that charismatic prior to World War Two? Was there a time when politics was not about selfies, hair styles and personalities? Perhaps a time when government was understood to be about stewardship of the nation rather than self-aggrandizing. Sounds kind of nice, really; imagining a world where politics was about policy and we, the public, didn’t view politics as though it were some kind of reality TV show.

Second, how does the recent advent of the word “charismatic” impact one’s understanding of the charismatic movement in Christianity? Some would dismiss the charismatics as a bunch of crazed lunatics (and, to be fair, some in that community are about as batty as they come), but a more balanced assessment should lead the thoughtful Christian to recall that living for God is inherently going to leave others scratching their heads at times. It comes with the territory. And part of that territory must involve certain practices that are going to be of a more supernatural nature. So to dismiss everything about the charismatic movement would be premature, it seems to me.

Yet it’s popularity skyrocketed quite recently. That should lead us to wonder if the movement as it exists today isn’t, perhaps, somewhat skewed from what God originally had in mind. After all, is it more likely that 2,000 years of church history were significantly divergent from God’s plans and purposes, and we only managed to figure it out in recent decades, or that the charismatics of recent decades somehow went off the rails from orthodox Christianity?

Food for thought.