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The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

Needed: Biblical Discernment

Proverbs 2:3-5 (NKJV) reads:

3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.

I am convinced that we need a revival of biblical discernment.  How often do I hear sermons, songs, books, movies, etc. that claim to be Christian but lack any sound doctrine?  Sound doctrine is neglected as pragmatism now reigns over the churches.  We truly need a revival of discernment.

We need to question everything and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  How do we learn to discern?  Discernment comes by heeding the Word of God.  We must learn to hide the Word in our hearts so that we have the sword of the spirit to cut through false teachings (Hebrews 4:12).  This comes by faithful reading and studying of the Word of God (Hebrews 5:11-14).  As we hide the Word in our hearts, the Lord gives us the ability to discern based on His truth (John 17:17).

Proverbs 2:3 above states that we are to cry out for discernment and lift our voice for understanding.  John MacArthur writes:

This shows the passionate pleading of one who is desperate to know and apply the truth of God.  The least bit of indifference will leave one bereft of the fullness of wisdom.

I often pray for God to give me discernment according to His Word.  I want to judge all things by the truthfulness of the Word of God (1 John 4:1-2).  God’s Word is perfectly sufficient to provide all we need in hearing from God and learning discernment.  We don’t need the Bible plus an inner voice or plus hearing “the voice of God” by subjective means.  We need to open the Bible, learn the Bible, and through the Bible we get discernment to judge all things.

If this were to take place in the Church of Jesus Christ at large can you imagine what would take place?  “Christian music” would turn from shallow, narcissistic lyrics to sound doctrine.  Sermons also would turn from shallow stories, poor eisgesis, toward sound doctrine with unction.  Evangelism would be focused on the gospel and preaching the truth of the gospel instead of trying to make friends with the world.  The church would turn from its entertainment drive toward truth proclaiming.  Pragmatism would be replaced with sound doctrine and biblical discernment of Bible teachers.  False teachers would be turned away as the Church embraced the sufficient of the Word of God and learned how to rightfully divide the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).

All the things the church is now known for from the love of money to the willingness to accept false teachers who fleece the saints to using worldly entertainment to feed the goats, this would all clear up if biblical discernment were sought after diligently.

Where do we begin?  First, we must pray for discernment (Proverbs 2:3).

Secondly, we must seek discernment from the hidden treasures of God’s Word.  This will in turn lead to a holy fear of the Lord and we will find the knowledge of God.

I want both the fear of the Lord in my life as well as the knowledge of the Lord.  I want to know Him more and more (Philippians 3:7-10).  I know that only in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).  I want to know the Word of God not just to point out false teachings but for the good.  I want to hear from God (John 8:47) and I know that I hear from God when I read and study His Word.  His Word is the voice of God (Hebrews 1:1-3; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I need no other voice.

Lord give me discernment.

We Will Not Bow

Here is a link to a sermon by Dr. John MacArthur called “We Will Not Bow.”  I highly recommend it.

You can find the sermon here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/25/2015 at 7:56 PM

The Conditional Texts

There are over 85 New Testament passages that speak of conditional security of the believer.  The Church has struggled with what to do with them.  There are basically three approaches.  First, we make them all be only speculative.  They are not real.  They are just there to hypothetically warn us.  The second approach is to say that they speak to those who are not true disciples of Jesus.  These are false converts and the Lord is giving these warning texts to warn false disciples.  The final approach is to hold that the apostasy texts speak of very real warnings to disciples.  Disciples are to remain faithful to Christ Jesus from the beginning to end.

I hold to the final view.  Most Arminians do.  If you heard a sound Arminian preach the warning texts, they would sound very much like Calvinists do who hold to perseverance of the saints but we would differ with the Calvinists over whether apostasy is true or not.  Calvinists such as John MacArthur hold that true saints will persevere to the end but he believes that false converts will be shown by leaving the faith (1 John 2:19).  This is a popular view and I admit that I have more in line with this view then with the view of radical “once saved, always saved” teachers such as Charles Stanley or Tony Evans.  Ray Comfort, whom I greatly love, holds to MacArthur’s view.

The problem I have with this view (of perseverance of the saints) is twofold for me.  First, most Calvinists (and some Arminians who hold to eternal security) preach hard on the assurance of our salvation (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:4-6) but they don’t preach as hard on the necessity of perseverance.  I fear that some do this wanting to promote assurance while failing to preach the full council of God.  The Scriptures are balanced in showing us that we are saved by faith and kept by faith (1 Peter 1:5), that we are secure in Christ Jesus (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39) but we must remain in Christ (1 John 2:24-25; Jude 21).  The balance view of Scripture is that God saves us and He keeps us (Jude 24) but He also warns us to continue in the faith (Romans 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; 2 Peter 1:10-11).

The second problem I have with the view above of MacArthur or Comfort is that it doesn’t truly promote assurance.  A person would wonder each time they sin whether they are not elect or not.  After all, as MacArthur preaches, the true elect will persevere and those who fail to persevere were never saved to begin with.  How can one have assurance then apart from preaching necessary perseverance?  Surely we should preach as Paul the Apostle did in Acts 14:22?  The promise of Jesus in John 8:51 is that if we keep His Word, we will never see death.  We will die naturally in this world (Romans 5:12) but we will never die for eternity if we keep His Word (John 3:16-17).

The truth is that the conditional texts do not scare me.  They do not make me feel less saved.  They do not make me believe that i am working to keep myself saved.  In fact, just the opposite happens to me.  I thank God for the conditional texts.  I am thankful that God cares enough about my soul to warn me to continue in the faith.  I am thankful that God’s Word warns against sin (Galatians 6:7-9) and His Word calls me to forsake my sins while trusting in Christ and His grace to help me overcome sin (Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 2:1-2; 3:4-10).  I am thankful for the work of the Lord Jesus in saving me from sins by His grace and through faith in His blood (Romans 3:23-24).  Yet I equally fear Him just as He said (Luke 12:4-5).  I humble myself before the Lord Jesus and confess that I not only need Him for my salvation but I need Him for holiness as well (Luke 14:11).  Jesus alone is my salvation and I will never cease to need Him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

My advice is this: preach both the security and assurance we have in Jesus and preach the warning texts as well.  Preach the balanced view of Scripture.  Charles Spurgeon had written over his Pastor’s College: “Holding fast I am held.”  That should be our motto as well.  Jesus is our salvation.  We are not saved by faith in an ism but through faith in the living Person of the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9-10).  Our salvation is not based on what I do but upon His works (Titus 3:5-7).  I am not striving to enter the kingdom by my works but His work (John 6:29).  I hold fast to Him.  I cling to Him.  I love Him above all others (Luke 14:25-27) and I pray to remain steadfast in faith in Him (Colossians 2:6-10).  I pray that nothing captivates me like Jesus (1 John 2:15-17).

The Fruit & Proofs of Authentic Christianity

The following is taken from the MacArthur Study Bible.  This is good to show people who profess to be going to heaven, disciples of Christ while living in blatant sin.  I have been encountering such people much lately in evangelism.

  1. Love for God (Psalm 42:1; 73:25; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:7)
  2. Repentance from Sin (Psalm 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; Romans 7:14; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:8-10)
  3. Genuine Humility (Psalm 51:17; Matthew 5:1-12; James 4:6, 9)
  4. Devotion to God’s Glory (Psalm 105:3; 115:1; Isaiah 43:7; 48:10; Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
  5. Continual Prayer (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 5:16-18)
  6. Selfless Love (1 John 2:9; 3:14; 4:7)
  7. Separation from the World (1 Corinthians 2:12; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; 5:5)
  8. Spiritual Growth (Luke 8:15; John 15:1-6; Ephesians 4:12-16)
  9. Obedient Living (Matthew 7:21; John 15:14; Romans 16:26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22; 1 John 2:3-5)
  10. Hunger for God’s Word (1 Peter 2:1-3)
  11. Transformation of Life (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And I would add a few more to that including holding firmly to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 2:13-14; 1 John 4:1-6; 5:2; 2 John 9) and to forsaking a life of sin (John 5:14; 8:11; Romans 6:1-4, 11-14; 8:12-17; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 12:21-13:5; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 John 2:1-2; 3:4-10).  I know that some would see repentance as forsaking a life of sin and I would agree but I believe that this point is not clear in the MacArthur Study Bible.  

Final Thoughts on Strange Fire Book Review

My review of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire has been a long process.  For that I do apologize.  I actually read the book in January and started my review then.  However, because of my work schedule and family duties, etc., I have had to post here and there on the book.  I pray that you did learn something from the review as I tried to be fair with the book and the content.  You can find the first post on this series here.

The book has an appendix in which MacArthur quotes from various Church Fathers and leaders through the centuries about the nature of spiritual gifts.  His point is to prove that many church leaders including men like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon all held to modern cessationists views.  Of course, modern charismatic theologians will often respond in two ways.  One is to say that even such views were held, this does make them right or wrong simply because they held those views.  The bottom line for authority is not Augustine or Gill but the Bible.  I know that MacArthur would agree.  Secondly, some charismatics would argue that the Pentecostal revival brought back an emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit that had been buried by tradition and unbelief.  Others, like Dr. Jack Deere, would argue that it is just unbelief and a presupposition argument against miracles that leads to such views.  You can find Deere’s views in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.  

In conclusion to my review, let me state that I do believe that charismatics would benefit from reading MacArthur’s book.  I said the same when he released Charismatic Chaos back in the early 1990’s.  I read Charismatic Chaos three times!  I agreed with much of what he wrote back then and still do today.  I think most charismatics (and I do not align myself with this camp) would agree with much of what MacArthur points to in his books.  The errors of the prosperity gospel, the errors of the healing movements, the sinfulness of some charismatic leaders, etc., are all things that we should all oppose.

Nonetheless, MacArthur painted with a big brush.  He grouped together men such as Dr. George Wood with men such as Todd Bentley.  He grouped together even Reformed charismatics like Wayne Grudem with the likes of a Rick Joyner.  He blasted all charismatics as blaspheming the Holy Spirit while ignoring the good that is done in the name of Jesus by groups such as the Assemblies of God, Church of God (Cleveland, TN), or the Foursquare Gospel Church.  What about ministries such as Teen Challenge that was started by a Pentecostal (David Wilkerson) and is still maintained by Pentecostals?  Teen Challenge remains the top ministry for those addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I personally have visited Teen Challenges and seen the good that they do.

Two prominent seminaries, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) and the Church of God Theological Seminary (now called the Pentecostal Theological Seminary) are both schools that seek to glorify Christ and exalt the Word of God.  AGTS teaches its students that expository preaching should be the norm for biblical preaching and teaching.  These are both seminaries with theologically trained teachers.  These are not fanatics are they?  Should we lump AGTS alongside Bill Johnson and Bethel Church?

However, the main issue is what does the Bible teach.  It is easy to lump people together in groups and say that they are all the same.  Both Arminians and Calvinists and have done this for years.  Yet people are still people.  Some charismatics are out there.  Most are not.  There are false teachers among Pentecostals.  There are also false teachers among the Presbyterians as well.  People have fallen into sin in the Pentecostal movement.  The same is true of people in all other circles as well.  None of us escape the temptations of the flesh.  But we must seek to be biblical.  The Bible must be our guide.  Not one teacher or group.  The Bible is where we must fall or stand.  I am grateful that I personally know godly Pentecostals who love the Bible and preach the Bible.  They would be appalled if someone said that they were basing their faith on their emotions and not the Word of God (2 Peter 1:19).

I pray that God would use MacArthur to call all of us back to the Bible.  The Bible and not MacArthur or a study Bible or a denomination must be our foundation (Matthew 7:24-27).  We must be people who love the Word of God and delight in His commandments (Psalm 119:131).  We must be like the Bereans and search the Word of God for truth (Acts 17:11).  We must not be foolish and fall prey to false teachings (1 John 4:1-2) but we must embrace and love the truth of God (Psalm 119:173).  This is my earnest prayer, that God would help us all to love the Word and follow Him with all our hearts.

Strange Fire Review (Chapter 12)

This is the final chapter of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  To find the previous posts, you may begin here.

In this final chapter, MacArthur writes an open letter to his continuationist friends.  This would include mainly Reformed theologians and preachers who are charismatic such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, CJ Mahaney and Sam Storms.  Both Piper and Mahaney have spoken at MacArthur’s church and at conferences with him and I believe that Grudem has taught some classes at the Master’s Seminary.  All of these men (and many other charismatic Calvinists) would disagree with MacArthur over some (not all) of what he has written in this book.

MacArthur gives eight reasons why he believes that the continuation of the revelatory gifts is dangerous.  I will only list them without comment:

1.  The continuationist position gives an illusion of legitimacy to the broader Charismatic Movement.

2.  The continuationist position degrades the miraculous nature of the true gifts that God bestowed upon the first-century church.

3.  The continuationist position severely limits the ability of its advocates to confront others who fall into charismatic confusion.

4.  By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement opens the gates to confusion and error.

5.  By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement tacitly denies the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

6.  By allowing for an irrational form of tongues-speaking (usually as a private prayer language), the Continuationist Movement opens the door to the mindless ecstasy of charismatic worship.

7.  By asserting that the gift of healing has continued to the present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministries of charismatic faith healers.

8.  The continuationist position ultimately dishonors the Holy Spirit by distracting people from His true ministry while enticing them with counterfeits.

MacArthur ends by calling his continuationist friends back to the Reformation and what it means to be Protestant.

Interestingly, I read after the Strange Fire Conference that MacArthur stated that he wanted to draw a line in the sand at some point and ask all who agree with him to stand with him.  He stated that he would ask his friends who share his theology (Reformed) to cross over and denounce the charismatic movement once and for all.  I have not heard more about this as of this post.

In my estimation, Satan usually offers counterfeits to the truth.  Cults often take some truths of Scripture and build on them but they deny the gospel in essential ways.  Satan will take some truth and sprinkle it into many lies but he seeks to counterfeit the power of God.  This is the case with false healings.  Satan raises up fake healers to spread their heretical “health and wealth” gospel while using a truth about God, that He can do miracles but they ignore that God does them for His glory.  I think that we should not cast away our desire for God to do miracles, for His name to be glorified through His divine intervention simply out of fear of fakes.  This is what I see and hear when I read Strange Fire.  

MacArthur has made many valid points and Pentecostals can read this book and will no doubt amen much of what he has written.  I believe that all disciples of Jesus (whether you agree with MacArthur or not) would agree that the Bible must be our sure foundation.  The Bible alone is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13) and we must stand on the Word of God (Matthew 4:4).  This must be the case when examining healings or those who would claim to speak for God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).

Yet I also believe that MacArthur has labeled many people in the Pentecostal or charismatic with tags that they would not appreciate.  I know of godly Pentecostal missionaries who are gospel centered in their preaching and are in foreign nations now preaching the gospel to the lost.  These are not heretics who are wishing to dethrone Christ from His place of honor and worship.  These are godly men and women who have given up everything for the King.  I know of godly Pentecostal prayer warriors who spend hours in prayer for others and for the nations.  I know of godly Pentecostals who love the Bible and seek to exegete the Word of God using sound skills of interpretation.  To simply label the entire charismatic movement as a false manifestation of the Spirit is misleading and wrong.

That said, all of us need godly correction.  None of us (including MacArthur) are perfect in our understanding of God or His Word.  We see through a glass rather dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  While our hearts must be for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), we humbly acknowledge that we are imperfect people seeking to know a perfect God.  I rejoice that God reveals Himself to us in His Word (John 20:31) and I rejoice that the Holy Spirit leads us into His truth (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).  I rejoice for the grace that He has given to me to know Him (Philippians 3:9-11).  None of us have arrived to perfect doctrine but we strive to know God, to understand His truth, to interpret His Word, and to preach His gospel.

I pray that whatever areas of correction I needed while reading Strange Fire, I pray that the Lord does use MacArthur and the Word of God to correct me.  But I equally pray that for MacArthur.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/26/2014 at 9:02 PM

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