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Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the…

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by John MacArthur

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This is a sharply criticized book but it primarily points to the rampantly unbiblical word of faith movement, which needs to be exposed as heretical. He does address charismatics who preach the true gospel but his biggest argument to them is that they are lending credibility to the Benny Hinns of the world.
You may not agree with every word but you should read this book. ( )
  HGButchWalker | Sep 21, 2016 |
I should probably state upfront that I am a MacArthur fan, although I don't agree with all of his views. I read "Charismatic Chaos" a few years ago and found it really helpful in trying to find the correct path through the maze of charismatic confusion that seems to be everywhere. I remember being astonished by just how much error had crept in to mainstream evangelicalism and even into what I had thought were trusted sources. I shouldn't really have been surprised as of course the confusion is predicted in the Bible but the enemy is clever in his schemes.

"Strange Fire" is an updated and in my view more comprehensive read than "Charismatic Chaos." It addresses the issues of modern day tongues speaking, prophesy, health and wealth prosperity teaching and healing ministries. MacArthur uses scripture to definitively show how the "gifts" being exercised in charismatic circles and now even in mainstream churches bear little or no resemblance to the true gifts experienced during the New Testament era. He leaves no room for confusion or doubt clearly stating a Biblical position on each topic.

In perhaps his boldest move he concludes by writing an open letter to continuationist Pastors and Preachers in mainstream evangelicalism (including John Piper who is frequently quoted) encouraging them to effectively "get off the fence." He details the damaging effect that holding a continuationist position is having on the attempts to stem the tide of charismatic chaos.

I highly recommend this book to anyone involved in a charismatic church or one that is sympathetic to charismatic practice. Also to anyone who is or has become confused about any of these issues due to experiences they or others have had. This book will provide clarification and help from the only worthwhile source; the Bible.

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  sparkleandchico | Aug 31, 2016 |
John MacArthur doesn't pull any punches. He thinks the charismatic movement is dangerous. Strange Fire is his plea with the modern church to rethink the Charismatic Movement through the lens of Scripture.

MacArthur always writes with clarity. Strange Fire is no exception. MacArthur builds both a biblical and historical case against the Charismatic Movement. He goes all the way back to the start, tracing the the suspect origins of the movement. He follows the line through the heretical thought of E.W. Kenyon and those that followed him to develop the Word of Faith Movement. Hardly any television preacher is left unscathed by MacArthur. Like I said - he doesn't pull any punches.

This book is a must-read today. Any believer, whether conservative, liberal, or full blown Pentecostal, will benefit from this book. The explosion of the Charismatic church in the developing world as well as here in the U.S. makes this subject one of utmost importance. If you are a proponent of the charismatic movement, MacArthur will challenge your thinking. If you are a skeptic, MacArthur will help you understand what is at stake. If you are against the Charismatic Movement, MacArthur will arm you with biblical information that will help you warn others against the excesses of the movement.

Did I mention that MacArthur doesn't pull any punches? He even takes a swing at one of my favorite authors, Wayne Grudem. Grudem's Systematic Theology is a staple in my library. I give them away to young preachers like Tic Tacs. I think it is a phenomenal work that should be read and digested by every believer. But Grudem is open to the continuation of the charismata, and MacArthur firmly believes that is an untenable position. In fact, MacArthur ends the book with an open letter to his brethren that still view the gifts as operative.

Overall, I think this book is strong. If it has a flaw, it's that at times it is too strong. MacArthur can be guilty, in my opinion, of writing in a scathing fashion. I sometimes wonder if he wouldn't help his cause more my writing in a more pastoral tone.

Still, this book is excellent and I highly recommend it! ( )
  RobSumrall | May 14, 2016 |
It is easy to take John Macarthur for granted. He has become such a mainstay in conservative evangelical thought that it is easy to forget about him. It is for me at least. As I search the books I want to read, I almost always find myself looking for the next author and the next idea. I forget how much I enjoy and benefit from Dr. Macarthur’s writings and teaching. I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I have never been disappointed in a Macarthur book. I have always learned. I have always been challenged. I have always enjoyed the experience of reading it.

I have not, however, always agreed with what Dr. Macarthur has had to say. Dr. Macarthur and I look at many things very differently. Sometimes I have felt he was overly harsh or unfairly made his points using caricature and hyperbole. But we are brothers in Christ and he is a gifted teacher. His writings are lucid and entertaining, deep yet readable.

One thing I admire about Macarthur is that he is not afraid to take a stand. He plants his feet on important issues. He is not afraid to divide over important issues…which is a good thing. It is a good and necessary thing to be willing to divide when necessary; it is another thing altogether to be divisive. Sometimes I have felt that Macarthur has been too quick and too willing to divide over issues that were not necessarily worthy of division. With all the controversy surrounding the writing and release of this book, along with the conference that accompanied it, I was concerned that this was exactly what Macarthur was doing.

In Strange Fire, John Macarthur sets out to make an argument for a cessasionist view of sign gifts, arguing that the apostolic gifts ceased with the Apostles. Macarthur is characteristically bold in his argument, sometime to a point that is a quite disorienting and even concerning. It is one thing to be critical and to even be harsh; it is another thing to attack and disparage. I am not sure that Macarthur is guilty of this, but he walks right up to the line and leans over it a good ways at times.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s army of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagates his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy.

Macarthur makes serious charges and does well in defending his position. I personally would be afraid to make such bold assertions, but Macarthur’s fear seems to be the opposite. He is so convinced that the modern-Charismatic Movement is operating in opposition to God that he feels compelled to sound the alarm. One reason for his increasing concern over the movement is the acceptance of the movement within mainstream Evangelicalism along with the Charismatic movement being the face of Christianity to the majority of the unbelieving world.

In spite of their gross theological error, charismatics demand acceptance within mainstream evangelicalism. And evangelicals have largely succumbed to those demands, responding with outstretched arms and a welcoming smile. In so doing, mainstream evangelicalism has unwittingly invited an enemy into the camp. The gates have been flung open to a Trojan horse of subjectivism, experientialism, ecumenical compromise, and heresy. Those who compromise in this way are playing with strange fire and placing themselves in grave danger.

Macarthur has seen no benefit to modern charismatic theology, arguing that it has offered nothing to the cause of Christ.

Put simply, charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation; rather, it represents a deviant mutation of the truth. Like a deadly virus, it gains access into the church by maintaining a superficial connection to certain characteristics of biblical Christianity, but in the end it always corrupts and distorts sound teaching. The resulting degradation, like a doctrinal version of Frankenstein’s monster, is a hideous hybrid of heresy, ecstasy, and blasphemy awkwardly dressed in the tattered remnants of evangelical language. It calls itself “Christian,” but in reality it is a sham—a counterfeit form of spirituality that continually morphs as it spirals erratically from one error to the next.

Macarthur is clear. The Charismatic Movement, in his eyes, is heretical. He highlights moral failures of leaders, false worship, and a focus on the self demonstrated clearly in some of the more excessive forms of Charismatic worship. Macarthur does so, not to build a straw man for his argument but because he believes that this is the natural outflow of what the Charismatic Movement is based on.

Macarthur cites the Charismatic Movement’s elevation of experience as ultimate authority as the reason for much of, if not all of, their error.

But how has such blatant heresy managed to not only survive but flourish in charismatic circles? The answer points to a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes its home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it.

The sad fact is that biblical truth has never been the hallmark of the Charismatic Movement, where spiritual experience is continually elevated above sound doctrine.

So what caused this elevation of experience to the role of ultimate authority? Macarthur traces the modern Charismatic emphasis on experience over biblical truth to the Romantic movement of Schleiermacher in 19th century Germany.

Schleiermacher sought to replace the foundation on which Christianity rests by exchanging the objective truths of Scripture for subjective spiritual experiences.

The modern charismatic counterfeit is following down that same perilous path—basing its belief system on something other than the sole authority of Scripture and poisoning the church with a twisted notion of faith. Like the medieval Catholic Church, it muddles the clear teaching of Scripture and obscures the true gospel; and like Schleiermacher, it elevates subjective feelings and personal experiences to the place of highest importance.

So if our experience does not determine a work of the Holy Spirit, what does? Macarthur borrows from Jonathan Edwards teaching on 1 John to test and see what is truly a work of the Holy Spirit.

We might frame these tests from 1 John 4:2–8 in the form of five questions: (1) Does the work exalt the true Christ? (2) Does it oppose worldliness? (3) Does it point people to the Scriptures? (4) Does it elevate the truth? (5) Does it produce love for God and others? These are the tests Jonathan Edwards applied to spiritual revival of the Great Awakening.

How does the Charismatic Movement’s experience based truth tests fare in these tests? According to Macarthur, not well at all. This is because, once again, the Charismatic Movement places the majority of its emphasis on personal experience, even to the detriment of Scriptural submission.

At the practical level, Pentecostal churches regularly elevate experience over truth. Unbiblical practices like being slain in the Spirit are promoted, not because they have scriptural warrant, but because it makes people feel good. Women are allowed to be pastors in the church, not because the New Testament permits it (1 Tim. 2:12), but because female leadership has always been a hallmark of the Charismatic Movement. Mindless and out-of-control forms of worship are encouraged, not because the Bible condones them (1 Cor. 14:33), but because emotional fervor is necessary to conjure up ecstasy. Many more examples could be given, all illustrating the fact that within Pentecostalism spiritual experience consistently trumps biblical authority.

In the same vein of the personal, subjective truth claims of individual experience, the Charismatic Movement suffers from the presence of “new revelation”. “God told me…”is commonplace and virtually irrefutable because, really, who can argue against someone’s personal experience and what God told them? This has always been a sticking point for me for much of my Christian life. I have had multiple conversations with preachers and friends about the danger of their “God told me…” moments. It doesn’t sit right with me and, apparently, it doesn’t sit right with Dr. Macarthur either.

The notion that God is constantly giving extrabiblical messages and fresh revelation to Christians today is practically the sine qua nonof charismatic belief. According to the typical charismatic way of thinking, if God is not speaking privately, directly, and regularly to each individual believer, He is not truly immanent. Charismatics will therefore fiercely defend all manner of private prophecies, even though it an undeniable fact that these supposed revelations from on high are often—one might say usually—erroneous, misleading, and even dangerous.

Not only does the Charismatic Movement promote new revelation, it does so because not only are the gifts still in operation but the office as well. This understanding that the office of Apostle is still active is commonplace in the Charismatic Movement. New revelation from active “Apostles” is a breeding ground for abuse of power and corruption, and, Macarthur argues, has tragically been shown in the history of the Charismatic Movement.

This is not the first time in church history that power-hungry false teachers have nominated themselves as apostles in order to gain greater spiritual influence over others. False apostles were prevalent even in New Testament times, where Paul denounced them as “deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.

Modern charismatic leaders like Peter Wagner may argue for the continuation of the gift and office of apostleship; Roman Catholics might similarly insist on an apostolic succession that they apply to the pope. But both assertions are severely misguided. Any honest evaluation of the New Testament evidence reveals that the apostles were a unique group of men, hand-picked and personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus Himself to lay the doctrinal foundation for the church, with Christ as the cornerstone. No one alive today can possibly meet the biblical criteria required for apostleship. And even in the first century, when all agree the miraculous gifts were fully operational, only a very select group of spiritual leaders were regarded as apostles.

Macarthur rejects the idea of new revelation and the idea of the perpetuity of the Apostolic office, both of which would necessarily leave the Christian Canon open and challenge the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. I could not agree more with Macarthur here. This is my immediate and pervasive problem with the Charismatic Movement’s position on the perpetuity of the apostolic office. It leaves a canon open for further revelation and leaves room for anyone to anoint themselves “Apostle” and then burden their church with a “new revelation” that is not from the Lord at all.

But if there is no further revelation from God, does He communicate to me at all? And if God in no way communicates to me apart from what is explicitly in Scripture, do I pray and ask God to guide me in my life? Do I ask whom I should marry? Do I ask where I should attend school? Do I ask for guidance in everyday events that the Bible is not explicit about…?

Does this mean God has stopped speaking? Certainly not, but He speaks today through His all-sufficient Word. Does the Spirit of God move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly, but He works through the Word of God to do that. Such experiences are in no sense prophetic or authoritative. They are not revelation but illumination, when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truth. We must guard carefully against allowing our experience and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word.

But Macarthur has not set out to simply offer a polemic against Charismatic excesses. He spends ample time showing what the Holy Spirit is doing today since He is not empowering apostolic type miracles or new revelations. Macarthur argues that the current work of the Spirit is five-fold and includes the Spirit working to 1)regenerate sinful hearts, 2)bring sinners to repentance, 3)enable fellowship with God, 4) indwell the believer, and 5) seal salvation forever.

So what does it mean to be “Spirit-filled”? Macarthur argues, forcefully and persuasively, not to mention, biblically, that to be “Spirit-filled” is more about being conformed to the image of the Son by the Spirit’s sanctifying work much more than it is about “tongues” and “prophecies” and being “slain in the Spirit” or “uncontrollable laughter, mongrel barking, erratic twitching, and bizarre symptoms of intoxication,” because “those who are Spirit-filled seek to please God by pursuing practical holiness”.

It needs to be made clear that Macarthur is not arguing that all those who embrace Charismatic doctrine are unregenerate. He is, however, warning believing brothers and sisters that, though they are in Christ, they are in serious danger by “exposing themselves” to the Charismatic Movement.

I do believe there are sincere people within the Charismatic Movement who, in spite of the systemic corruption and confusion, have come to understand the necessary truths of the gospel. They embrace substitutionary atonement, the true nature of Christ, the trinitarian nature of God, biblical repentance, and the unique authority of the Bible. They recognize that salvation is not about health and wealth, and they genuinely desire to be rescued from sin, spiritual death, and everlasting hell. Yet, they remain confused about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the nature of spiritual giftedness. As a result, they are playing with strange fire. By continually exposing themselves to the false teaching and counterfeit spirituality of the Charismatic Movement, they have placed themselves (and anyone under their spiritual care) in eternal jeopardy. For true believers, the Charismatic Movement represents a massive stumbling block to true spiritual growth, ministry, and usefulness. Its errant teachings regarding the Holy Spirit and the Spirit-inspired Scriptures perpetuate immaturity, spiritual weakness, and an unending struggle with sin.

Why does Macarthur take such a hard stand against men like Henry Blackaby and Wayne Grudem, both extremely respected and conservative Christian scholars? While Macarthur acknowledges these men as brothers, his concern is that the” continuationist position exposes the evangelical church to continuous danger from the charismatic mutation.” It is the slippery slope that worries Macarthur so.

Nevertheless, continuationists insist on using biblical terminology to describe contemporary charismatic practices that do not match the biblical reality. Thus, any personal impression or fleeting fancy might be labeled “the gift of prophecy,” speaking in gibberish is called “the gift of tongues,” every remarkable providence is labeled a “miracle,” and every positive answer to prayers for healing is seen as proof that someone has the gift of healing. All of that poses a major problem, because it is not how the New Testament describes those gifts. For any evangelical pastor or church leader to apply biblical terminology to that which does not match the biblical practice is not merely confusing, but it is potentially dangerous teaching for which that person is culpable.

I felt that Dr. Macarthur made a brilliant case for a cessasionist view of the apostolic gifts. As always he has encouraged me to challenge my perspective and left me a little less sure of my own holding of the position he attacked…which is exactly what a good book will do. I do think he may be a bit guilty of “the baby with the bath water” as he uses the health and wealth, prosperity, TBN, televangelist, con-man, sideshow of the Charismatic Movement as the definition rather than the aberration, and then dismisses the movement as a whole. Also, Macarthur has seemed too willing to discredit any work that has been done by the Charismatic Movement in furthering the Gospel and very willing to definitively say that certain things are unquestionably the work of the enemy when I am not so certain and definitely feel the need to tread lightly in making a claim that, if incorrect, would seem to blaspheme the Spirit of God.

I have seen Charismatics respond negatively to this book, many having read none of it and just presuming what is the content. Strange Fire, flawed as it may be, has much to be considered and Macarthur has done a service to the church as a whole by bringing the topic to the forefront of evangelical thought. The discussion is necessary, even if Macarthur might have overstepped in certain areas.

I love how God uses John Macarthur to challenge, incite, encourage, and convict the people of God. When reading John Macarthur, for me, there are plenty of “amen” moments and plenty of “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments as well. Strange Fire does not find itself to be an exception to this rule. What you do not get in a Macarthur book is bored or disinterested and Strange Fire is no exception to this rule as well.

John Macarthur has done an extensive interview with Tim Challies dealing with some of the questions raised by his book and conference. It is well worth the read.

*I received a review copy of this book for providing an honest review.
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  joshrskinner | Jul 30, 2014 |
I originally posted this review at http://primum-mobile.net/0801/article2.html

[As a note, this is a review of the book, not the conference. I would not be opposed to reviewing the conference, but I was not there and nor have a listened to it, and therefore I would be presumptuous to do so. Many have told me that the speakers at the conference were too harsh on those people who believe in the continuation of the apostolic gifts but otherwise have solid theology. I cannot comment on that, having not listened to it. I do not believe that the book was harsh on this topic.]

Only a few years ago, I was solidly in the continuist camp, which is a term theologians use to refer to the belief that the apostolic gifts of tongues and prophecy continued to this day and would until Christ returns. Over several years, I drifted gradually to the cessationist view (meaning that I now believe that those gifts were used to confirm the message of the apostles, and have since ceased), and it was not a casual journey. In fact, this journey was one that touched on many of the most important times of my life. This is not a topic I take lightly, and I did not come to this book lightly.

In addition, John MacArthur is one of those guys about whom I have very mixed feelings. I love his work on the Lordship Controversy, and he was also one of the people who steered me toward Reformed Theology. In fact, it was a sermon preached by him that finally convinced me of Limited Atonement. On the other hand, despite his statements that he is Reformed, he is Dispensationalist through and through, and that taints his reading of the Bible in a lot of areas, perhaps most fully in his eschatology. His criticisms of the Reformed view of baptism are made ignorantly of our actual views, and it was his blatant ignorance that sent me researching the topic, and that research convinced me of the Reformed view of baptism. In that way, he helped change my views twice – once toward what he believes out of the power of his arguments, and once away from what he believes because of the ignorance of his arguments. He was once someone I followed closely, but no longer.

All of that to say this: I really wasn’t sure what I was going to find in this book, and I didn’t go into it determined to agree with the author.

But at the end of the day, what I’m finding from people who read this book is the same thing I’m finding whenever we approach this debate – the people who agree cheer; the people who disagree dismiss. You are either going to accept his approach or not. He can present the arguments, show the examples, and discuss the verses, but he cannot free people from the emotion and tradition that is wrapped up in this issue. He spends hundreds of pages going through the problems with the Charismatic wing of Christianity, and there are going to be people who say, “Yeah, well, you only dealt with the weirdos out there and not the theologically sounds ones.”

But here’s the thing – that’s what we always said. And that’s why I had to leave the Charismatic tribe eventually. The problem is, you can say that about any book critical of your team, but at some point, you’re going to need to deal with the weirdos yourself, and start figuring out who are those “theologically sound” ones you keep talking about.

They are there, yes. There are people like John Piper and D. A. Carson who are orthodox and good thinkers in other areas. But they are the exception, and they get unbiblical when they start talking about tongues being a secret prayer language (that’s not it) and that prophecy can be wrong (it can’t). And even those who have decent theology tend to be bad at discernment. Piper’s own errors on this front are documented in the book, and to that I will add a big one – his public acceptance of Rick Warren was astonishing and disturbing. D. A. Carson’s discussion of tongues in the book is downright disconcerting. Mark Driscoll is an extreme example. He started off as a pastor with decent theology and a big mouth, and he’s now retained the mouth and is so bad in his theology that he has accepted at least two people spouting the prosperity heresy as Christian brothers (T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen). The definite trend in this movement is a move toward bad theology or at very least bad discernment.

And MacArthur points that this sort of thing too, but continuists have so far generally ignored that he tackled Piper and Carson in there and only focus on the criticisms of the weirdos. That’s what I always did. I made the same excuses. And you’re probably thinking the same thing about me, that I’m focused only on the bad out of the movement instead of taking it as a whole.

Michael Brown, the person who literally wrote the response to this book,1 appeared on Benny Hinn’s show not too long ago and did not at all mention Hinn’s false gospel and damnable theology. Brown faced a lot of (deserved) criticism for this appearance, but initially responded by saying that “While I'm quite aware that some of you feel he is the ultimate false teacher and charlatan while others believe him to be a wonderful man of God, I have actually not monitored his ministry over the years.”2

Let’s think about that. Dr. Brown is the one who wrote the book-length response to Dr. MacArthur. Strange Fire discusses Hinn ten times, often detailing particular aspects of his ministry, and Brown suggests that he has “not monitored his ministry.” The fact that the man responding to the book does not seem able to comment on one of the primary focuses of the book says something about his position. Again, we have a lack of discernment here. Also, it should be added, a lack of scholarship, since apparently Brown didn’t research the book to which he was responding, which is not something we would normally say of Dr. Brown, who is normally quite a good scholar.

Brown next wrote, “Let's just say that Benny Hinn was as bad as some of you say. Why shouldn't I reach his audience with gospel truth for five days, even if it means some people will be upset with me? (Just more food for discussion!)”3

Ignoring the suggestion that Benny Hinn is not that bad, I would say that this is a good point, had Dr. Brown gone to Benny Hinn and called him out on his false theology and preached the Gospel to him and his audience. This is not what happened. No, they had a discussion of Dr. Brown’s books as though they were brothers, and as a brother is how Dr. Brown approached Hinn. This is not a case of Brown coming in to correct the bad theology and set the audience aright.

There’s been much discussion of this online, and as much as I would like to continue examining it, it’s not really the point of this article. As far as I can tell, Michael Brown is a dear brother in the Lord, and I have benefitted from much of what he has taught. At the same time, there is a lack of discernment here, and that lack of discernment is a common theme in those continuists who otherwise have good theology. There is a confusion there because the charlatans and false teachers are doing the things that these men teach is from God. Brown, Piper, and Driscoll teach that tongues, prophecy, and healing are from God, so what are they to do with false teachers who feature tongues, prophecy, and healing in much the same way? If the tongues that Piper advocates is from God, then where does it come from when Hinn uses tongues?

This magazine’s main focus is not to stir up controversy. We try to write basic theology, back it up with Scripture, and help people better understand the Bible. We are here to proclaim the Gospel. We take definite positions, yes, but not normally in a way that points out where specific people are going wrong. We have been hestitate to discuss topics like this in Primum Mobile precisely because of how emotional the debate becomes. But the point is that if affects people’s lives. It affected my life. I was going through a very trying time and I was listening to people who claimed they were hearing from God. When I rejected one “prophet’s” instruction to me because her advice went against Scripture, I was told I was disobeying the Spirit. That is not a minor issue.

But that’s not why I rejected the charismatic movement. I, like so many others, just passed over that as a mistake by a good-intentioned woman. The reason I eventually rejected it, years later, was because there wasn’t anyone doing better. I should have had the discernment then to figure out that something was terribly wrong.

This is happening. People are having their consciences bound by a word that God did not speak. Their church leaders are telling them that God told them something, and so congregation has to obey it. That’s not the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That’s something different.

To speak on the practices directly:

I simply don’t find any Charismatic groups that are defining tongues and prophecy biblically, and MacArthur does a good job laying out what these terms actually mean biblically. They have their own internal definitions that do not match with what the Bible says it is. They find some reason to think of tongues as an unknown and bewildering language that overcomes you, when the Bible says otherwise. They find some reason to believe that New Testament prophecy doesn’t necessarily have to come true, contrary to Scripture.

My friends who are continuists – find me the people who are defining these terms right, and then we can talk. If all we are talking about are people who are babbling in the exact same way as some Mormons do and some Catholics do and some pagans do, then don’t try to tell me that we’re talking about the Spirit of God.

Next, reject the charlatans. By name. All of them.

And on that note, exactly what good is a “word from God” that may or may not be right? We are dealing with people having their consciences bound here. We are dealing with a woman who told me personally that I was disobeying God when she was wrong. We are talking about pastors making proclamations from the pulpits that affect people’s lives. And they may be wrong? What good is that? Why would you want to bind someone’s conscience over something that you don’t know is true, that could just be heartburn?

MacArthur hits on these issues systematically and exegetically. He tackles the people involved head-on, both the ones with terrible theology and the ones with better theology. He talks about the particular passages and the definitions of what we are dealing with.

There is one area of criticism that MacArthur touches on, but backs away from in a hurry, and that is the testimony of the historic church. The Christian church until 1901 believed that tongues and prophecy had passed with the apostles. Until that date, no one was speaking in tongues except the pagans. The continuist must explain that. If these gifts were truly for the church until Jesus’ return, then why was the church denied those gifts for centuries while unbelievers had them?

MacArthur, of course, cannot go down that road, because his general theological team is just as young. He is a Dispensationalist, a hermeneutical system that didn’t exist until the mid-1800s. No one before that point believed what MacArthur believes, and while we embrace MacArthur as a brother in Christ, we would encourage him to repent from this very large error, every bit as large as believing in the continuation of the gifts and larger still, and come to a better understanding of the Word with the historic church. MacArthur knows good and well that to attack the continuist on this point is to attack himself, and so he doesn’t.

But I can.

Look, we do not hold the Church to be infallible. We are not Papists who do not understand the history of their own faith. But we should and must take the learned and Spirit-led understanding of the saints that came before us into account when working out our theology. These men studied the Word to master it, and while their theology was not perfect, we can learn much from their work. We would be fools to ignore it!

We are not to take a poll of believing Christians over the years and decide that the highest results are the right ones. On the other hand, if you are innovating theology, and no one in 2,000 years has thought that before, I can pretty much guarantee that you are wrong.

The continuist have to answer to that, as do the Dispensationalists. And they both need to really answer for that. To remind us of the rules of debate – the challenger has the burden of proof. Both are newcomers, and the whole of the history of the Church disagrees with them. It is for them to prove that they have the right interpretation, not to wait for us to prove them wrong. (We will do our best to prove them wrong, of course, but the continuist who says, “You have not convinced me” has the whole thing backwards.) The biblical reasons that both are wrong win the day, yes, but this argument should be added to the mix, not as an infallible one (like the Scriptures are infallible), but as a testimony of men who knew a lot more than we do.

Despite MacArthur’s failings here, this is a book that should be approached with prayer and an open heart to the truth. Our traditions love to get in the way of the Word of God, but we are unfaithful to the one who saved us when we do that. Let us repent of our bad theology and seek the truth in righteousness and grace, praying all the while to be shown the truth.

If you can approach the book that way, then I urge you to read it. If you cannot, then you are called to repentance for your pride. I do not say that you are prideful if, after careful study, thought, and prayer, you disagree with me or MacArthur, but if your only response to us is, “Well, you’re judging the whole movement by a couple of extreme examples,” then you have some soul-searching to do.


1. Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur's Strange Fire, Excel Publishers, 2013.
2. https://www.facebook.com/AskDrBrown/posts/821177267907877 (accessed March 5, 2014)
3. https://www.facebook.com/AskDrBrown/posts/821236351235302 (accessed March 5, 2014) ( )
  nesum | Apr 29, 2014 |
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Scripture calls us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Anything un-holy-- including prophecy, and religious hypocrisy-- is a kind of "strange fire," deserving of the most severe judgment. MacArthur provides a rigorous evaluation of those whose foundation and direction have betrayed the God they claim to represent.… (more)

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