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Strange Fire Review: Chapter Three

I am continuing my chapter by chapter review of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  

In chapter three, Dr. MacArthur begins where he left off in chapter two by focusing on the work of Jonathan Edwards and how we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1).  As Matthew 7:16 points out, we can know false prophets by their fruit.  Does the fruit of the charismatic movement show a movement that exalts the Lord Jesus, upholds sound doctrine, and is accurate in its teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit?  Dr. MacArthur will argue that they do not.

In this opening chapter focusing on Edwards’ work, The Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit, MacArthur points out that Edwards points first to 1 John 4:2-3 and asks the question, “The First Test: Does it exalt the true Christ?”  MacArthur is clear that he does not feel that the charismatic movement has passed this test.  Both John the Apostle writing under the inspiration of the Spirit in 1 John 4:2-3 (against the heresy known as Docetism) and Jonathan Edwards writing in his day have in mind that the true work of the Holy Spirit is not to focus on the Spirit nor the flesh of men nor subjective experiences but the Lord Jesus Christ just as Jesus said in John 14:26; 16:14.

Yet, points out MacArthur, even charismatic authors and leaders such as Jack Hayford and David Moore have affirmed that the heart of the Pentecostal movement is to “experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”  Some charismatic scholars even call the 20th century, “the charismatic century” with a clear focus on the Holy Spirit.  MacArthur believes that while charismatics often claim to be exalting the Spirit, they ignore His work to draw all attention to the Lord Jesus.  Former Pentecostal preacher, Kenneth Johns, believes that the Pentecostal movement is “Spirit-centered instead of Christ-centered.”  MacArthur quotes famous Pentecostal theologian Donald Gee who lamented at the end of his life that the Pentecostal people “still exhibited an obsession toward the emotional, the spectacular, and sign seeking.”  MacArthur points out that the very movement itself is focused on the Spirit by its mere name!

In the remaining pages in chapter three MacArthur briefly teaches on the work of the Spirit to focus on the Lord Jesus and he shows this by pointing to the promises given by Jesus about the ministry of the Spirit and also how the Epistles focus on Jesus and not the Spirit.  As Greg Boyd points out, the Spirit is often “the hidden person of the Trinity in the Bible.”

Finally MacArthur turns to the test as to whether the true Christ is being exalted.  While the charismatic movement exalts the Spirit (that is clear by its name), what do they teach about the Lord Jesus?  MacArthur believes, yet again, that charismatics fail the test.  He points to bizarre teachings from Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar about Christ and how He had to die spiritually and go to hell.  MacArthur also points out that charismatics often will associate with charismatic Catholics despite worshiping another Jesus (Galatians 1:6-9).  MacArthur is clear that doctrine does not matter among charismatics so long as they have experienced the Spirit and that is what really matters in their world.  They are even willing to accept false teachings such as the denial of the Trinity by oneness Pentecostals including the entire United Pentecostal Church (UPCI) and the acceptance of false teachers such as T.D. Jakes who has consistently waffled on the doctrine of the Trinity.  I would add that to be the case with Tommy Tenney as well (his father was a UPC pastor and leader for many years) as well as the singing group, Phillips, Craig, and Dean.  MacArthur even points out that they are now Mormons who claim to be “Spirit-filled Mormons.”  The reaction from charismatics:  nothing.

MacArthur is clear that he believes that the charismatic movement has failed the test of 1 John 4:2-3.

My own thoughts on this chapter.  First, I find that I agree with MacArthur much of what he has written.  That said, I grew up in an Assemblies of God church (Airport Assembly of God, West Columbia, SC) and was saved in an Assemblies of God church (Trinity Assembly of God).  I have never seen what MacArthur describes here.  I never saw a worship of the Spirit (though He is God!) and I have never seen people desiring to exalt the Spirit above Jesus.  Jesus was always preached in our church.  Jesus was exalted in the singing, the preaching, the prayer times, the outreaches, and other programs.  That is not to say that I can speak for every Pentecostal church but neither can MacArthur. To say that all charismatics are focused on exalting the Holy Spirit is stretching there.

That said, the Pentecostal movement needs to listen to Dr. MacArthur.  I was praying just the other day and was thanking God for a man of boldness like MacArthur.  While one might not agree with him (I don’t on all issues), I praise God that he draws a line in the sand and confronts errors.  This causes the church to study the issue.  We need to do this.  We need to study the Holy Spirit and make sure that what we are teaching about Him is accurate and biblically based.  Too often we can become extremists.  As Martin Luther once said about a drunk man, “He tries to get on one side of the horse only to fall onto the other side.”  This is true of many of us.  We fail to find the center of biblical tension.  I pray that we would all find the truth in God’s Word and not subjective experiences.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/28/2014 at 10:08 AM

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve grown up and attended what most people would see as pentecostal churches and I have not seen what MacArthur talks about. I have never seen it in a church setting but I have noticed that in conference or camp settings these extremes can be seen. I also have seen people adore and worship Jesus. There is an acknowledgement of the Spirit, but not the glorification of the Spirit in the same way that Jesus is glorified.

    I’m sure these type of things happen, but I’m not sure it happens as much as what most people think. I haven’t read any of John MacArthur’s books and really don’t have much of a desire to. I’ve listened to some sermons and videos of him teaching, he comes off to me as a cranky bitter man. I will at some point, though, pick up and read some of his books. Any suggestions?


    01/28/2014 at 1:32 PM

  2. “…the Pentecostal movement needs to listen to Dr. MacArthur”

    I strongly disagree. The “Pentecostal movement needs to listen to GOD – as does John MacArthur. It seems currently that NEITHER are doing so; both are pursuing and promoting traditions, doctrines and practices that have no foundation in scripture. Both are leading others astray.


    01/28/2014 at 4:23 PM

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