Arminian Today

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Thoughts on The Strange Fire Conference

Dr. John MacArthur is not stranger to theological debates.  I first heard of Dr. MacArthur when I was a young believer over the issue of Lordship salvation.  At that time his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, was influencing many people to preach against “easy believeism” and was causing a stir.  His other books that have hit a nerve in terms of debates have been, Charismatic Chaos and Ashamed of the Gospel.  I read the book, Charismatic Chaos, while being fully involved with a Pentecostal church.  I thought the book was a book that Pentecostals and Charismatics needed to read and interact with.  I hoped the book would promote a new look especially into the faulty theology of the Word- Faith movement.

Now Dr. MacArthur is taking up the charismatic movement again with his new book, Strange Fire.  I have not read the book but do plan to and will offer a review in time.  This week Dr. MacArthur is hosting a conference at his church in Los Angeles called, The Strange Fire Conference, in which he plans to address the issues of the charismatic movement and teach correctly what the Bible says about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  I do hope to watch some of the conference online as time permits.  I know that the conference will produce countless of other blog posts and articles on the charismatic issue.  This is good in my estimation.  We need a good biblical discussion about the Holy Spirit and His work.

Some have taken exception with the conference.  Most notably has been Dr. Michael Brown.  Dr. Brown has written several articles on the conference for Charisma Magazine.  Dr. Brown believes that Dr. MacArthur needs to interact with serious charismatics like himself instead of attacking and lumping together all charismatics to the likes of Todd Bentley or Benny Hinn.  Dr. Brown also questions Dr. MacArthur’s use of “blasphemy of the Spirit” in relation to the charismatic movement and he believes that this is dangerous, to say that charismatics are blaspheming the Spirit since this would imply that they are not saved and never can be (Matthew 12:32).  Who can make such a claim about a person other than God?

I stand in-between on this debate.  In fact, I rarely address the spiritual gifts issue here because it is not my theological passion.  I would not even label myself as a charismatic but as a partial cessasionist (as I believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and the final authority for all things).  That said, I agree with Dr. MacArthur that there are excesses in the charismatic movement.  However, not all Pentecostals or Charismatics can be lumped together.  I don’t think it is fair to lump all charismatics in with the Word-Faith movement.  They are not one and the same.  I know of many godly Pentecostal men and women who truly love Jesus, love the gospel, preach the truth of the gospel, long for souls to be saved, are educated, love the Word, and are seeking to be holy.  I myself was saved in a Pentecostal church and currently attend a Pentecostal church where you would not find excesses nor would you find people chasing their feelings about the Scriptures.  I don’t know of any perfect Pentecostals so perhaps if you talked to someone long enough you might find something you disagree with but you would not find wacky, shaking, longing for subjective experience people in our midst that I am aware of.  Further, I have known many Pentecostals over the years and none of them have elevated their own experiences above the Word of God.  I have met some weird people but I don’t see that coming from their Pentecostal theology as much as just being ignorant of God’s Word period.  And to be honest, I have met weird people from all walks of life and from different religions.  Pentecostals are not unique in that regard.

I also agree with Dr. Brown that there are many godly men and women around the world serving Jesus and preaching His gospel while disagreeing with Dr. MacArthur over his view of the gifts of the Spirit.  MacArthur would acknowledge this as well.  I know of one brother who is laboring in Southeast Asia for the kingdom.  He is preaching the gospel, discipling the saints of God, and he loves the Word of God.  Yet he is charismatic.  Is he blaspheming the Spirit?  I don’t think so.  Why lump him with the likes of a John Crowder?  I do appreciate the fact that Dr. MacArthur has stated that he does believe many Pentecostals and charismatics do love Jesus and do preach the gospel yet he believes that the movement, as a whole, is off base.

I do believe that we need to know the truth of the Holy Spirit.  His work is vital to the Church and to the growth of the disciple of Jesus.  I do believe that all movements need correction from time to time.  It is possible to lose focus from the Lord Jesus and begin to focus on the gifts of the Spirit above the gospel of the kingdom.  I have seen churches lose focus from the gospel and embraced a social gospel instead of the gospel that sets sinners free by the grace of God.  It is possible that some charismatics have glorified the Spirit above the Lord Jesus and this should not be since Jesus said the Spirit would glorify Him (John 15:26).  I have seen Calvinists in love with Calvinism above Jesus or KJV only followers in love with the KJV above Jesus.  It is easy to lose focus and become unbalanced.

I do welcome The Strange Fire Conference.  I believe we need such a conference but I do pray that Dr. MacArthur would interact with godly men such as Dr. Michael Brown or other Pentecostal theologians.  This would include him interacting with Reformed charismatics such as Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Matt Chandler, and many others.  In reality, Dr. MacArthur is attacking a large part of the body of Christ whom he disagrees with but I also fear using Matthew 12:31-32 for all of these brethren.  This is dangerous and I agree with Dr. Brown that we must careful when this assertion.  I disagree with many aspects of Reformed theology but I would not dare label their worship as false or worse, as blasphemous to God.

One final note.  I too have been troubled by the “revival” movements of the past including the Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville revival.  I actually visited the Brownsville revival on three separate occasions.  I walked away seeing some good and seeing some bad.  While I rejoice that some people did repent, I have no doubt that there was much flesh that I witnessed.  I also struggle with “charismatic” television such as TBN or the God Channel.  I once visited the TBN station in Atlanta, GA and found it to be full of idolatry and the worship of flesh.  I believe those in the Pentecostal and charismatic movement should speak out more against the false teachings and misleading statements that are made by popular charismatic preachers.  How I wish that unknown heroes of the faith such as Terry Roberts, pastor of Trinity Assembly of God in Columbia, SC, would be the standard and not a Joel Osteen or a Kenneth Copeland.  We need more faithful men of God who love the Word, preach the truth of God’s grace, and are full of the Holy Spirit instead of the likes of a Todd Bentley or a Paula White filling our homes with their teachings.

And those are my thoughts on that issue.  I will say no more.

10 Responses

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  1. A very good post my friend.


    10/16/2013 at 10:33 AM

  2. Perhaps you could be persuaded to say just a bit more. I promise that I will not try to argue or debate you, and probably won’t even reply to your answer, so no worries about big arguments breaking out — on my part, at least.

    Since you are intimately familiar with charismatic teaching and experience, I’m hoping you give brief some description of just what the “charismatics gifts” are for, if not for further revelation beyond the scriptures. What is their purpose; what role do they play if not to supply further info from or personal interaction with God beyond the scriptures?

    I promise that I ask for clarification only. I will not start a debate with you, and I plead with anyone else looking in to not do that, either.


    10/16/2013 at 10:57 AM

    • I believe the answers, from a charismatic perspective, would be that speaking in tongues is used for A) private prayer, B) to speak a word of revelation to the saints though it must be tested. Prophecy would be for the edification of the saints and again would need testing. Scripture must be the final authority and any “revelation” that does not remain faithful to the Word must be rejected. While charismatics would say that God does speak outside of the Bible, He does not speak in contradiction to the Bible.

      I heard one charismatic teacher say that God speaks normally through His Word and sadly people run around wanting a “word” from God when He has already given them His final “word” in His Word.

      I am not in complete agreement with all this. That is why I label myself a partial cessasionist. I don’t see the arguments for cessasionism being strong from Scripture but do believe the Bible is the final word from God and we would do well to just hear Him in His Word. I don’t need a vision or a dream or a prophecy when I can hear from God clearly in His Word. I fear that so many charismatics fail to test all things by the Word and some are ignorant of His Word altogether.

      That said, my wife disagrees with me and she sees no problem with a prophecy, dream, tongue, or a vision so long as it does not contradict the Word.

      • If you will allow me to add: Though I’m not a Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave proponent, I would assume an answer to the question “What are the charismatic gifts for?” to be this: the charismatic gifts, as all spiritual gifts, are “for” the building up of the body of Christ (cf. Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; 2 Cor. 10:8; 12:19; 13:10; Eph. 4:12, 16, 29). Edification of the body is the cornerstone of all spiritual gifts, whether we nominate them as “charismatic” or “servant-oriented” or even “menial.” We must remember that the “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit is given to every regenerate believer (1 Cor. 12:7).

        William Birch

        10/16/2013 at 11:23 PM

    • sloveall, I see that genuine spiritual gifts are intended to minister to the local church and its members in the here and now, addressing specific current situations. We see examples of this in Acts where the prophet Agabus gives two prophecies that address specific situations in the life of the church and Paul.

      The difference between those scriptural examples of the revelatory NT gift of prophecy in action and the complete canon of scripture itself (that has allegedly replaced the need for prophecy) is that scripture addresses matters that (taking into account context) have universal and timeless relevance.

      The continuing gift of prophecy applies more locally, usually having no wider application. Again, returning to Agabus, he told Paul of what was ahead for him if he went to Jerusalem. That was relevant to Paul alone- it does not extend to every potential visitor to Jerusalem.


      10/16/2013 at 7:25 PM

  3. “Dr. Brown also questions Dr. MacArthur’s use of “blasphemy of the Spirit” in relation to the charismatic movement and he believes that this is dangerous, to say that charismatics are blaspheming the Spirit since this would imply that they are not saved and never can be (Matthew 12:32). ”

    Ironically, what was the situation that Jesus was addressing when He gave the warning about blaspheming the Spirit?


    Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

    Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

    But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.

    “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.


    10/16/2013 at 5:24 PM

  4. Since the inerrant word of God legitimizes the continuation of prophecy into the NT church, I find it hard to see justification for the idea that prophecy is no longer legitimate today.

    To say that prophecy would be some kind of addition to the completed divine revlation given in scripture ignores the fact that countless LEGITIMATE prophets are mentioned in scripture whose words were never recorded as scripture.


    10/16/2013 at 7:15 PM

  5. I would encourage you to read this response to Michael Brown’s article in Charisma Magazine.

    Mark Friesen

    10/16/2013 at 9:36 PM

  6. John MacArthur is a cessationist and believes that any pentecostal/charismatic expression is abhorrent. I don’t understand why pentecostals would give him any attention on this matter.

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