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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.

Charismatic Chaos And Why They Won’t Listen

As I write this, The Strange Fire Conference headed by Dr. John MacArthur is winding down.  The conference will be viewed as a success by many evangelicals who see the charismatic movement as dangerous to true Christianity.  This would include some Calvinists and Arminians alike.  Some will cheer as Dr. MacArthur and his other speakers preach against the charismatics and against their theology.  Some will be very sad.  But honestly, most charismatics simply will not listen.

Back in 1992 when I first was saved at a Pentecostal church (that I had attended before my conversion), the book Charismatic Chaos, was making the rounds.  While everyone in our church wanted me to attend our denominational Bible college in Florida, I chose instead to attend a local evangelical college.  I had heard of Charismatic Chaos but had not read it.  I begin work for a Christian bookstore which allowed me to borrow any books I desired.  I soon borrowed (and later bought) Charismatic Chaos.  I read the book and totally agreed with Dr. MacArthur, that the Word-Faith movement was heretical and wrong but I didn’t agree with  him that all Pentecostals were the same.  In his book, Dr. MacArthur seemed to want to lump all charismatics the same.  Having been raised in a Pentecostal home and saved in a Pentecostal church, I knew this was not true.  I knew that our church preached against the so-called “health and wealth” gospel.  I knew that the Assemblies of God had put out statements against the “name it, claim it” movement.  I also knew that Pentecostals differed with charismatics over the issue of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as subsequent to salvation and over the issue of whether speaking in tongues was the initial, physical evidence.  While Pentecostals and charismatics agreed over the issues regarding spiritual gifts and whether we should seek God for revelatory gifts, I knew that there were serious theological disagreements.  To paint all Pentecostals and charismatics as the same was not only untrue but unfair.

Sadly, I believe this is the case again with the Strange Fire conference.  While I don’t believe that Pentecostals and charismatics are beyond correction, they simply will ignore such a conference because of the polemic nature.  For example, had Dr. MacArthur and his group welcomed Pentecostal and charismatic scholars to a discussion over the Holy Spirit, His work, His gifts, etc., most would have looked on and perhaps tuned in.  Because the conference was bent on lumping all charismatics together as one and the same, most will choose to ignore the conference altogether and the book to follow.  While Reformed cessationists will find another book to add to their library on the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals will once again shut the door to the criticisms that Dr. MacArthur will offer in his book.  While I know that Dr. MacArthur has made appeals to godly charismatics to essentially “come out from among them”, his words nor his book will affect the charismatic movement as a whole.  It will simply do what Charismatic Chaos did in the early 1990’s and will be ignored and written off as hatred.

For non-charismatics I believe that several truths need to be seen about charismatics to understand why they will not listen.

1.  The Charismatic Movement is not Cohesive.  

Again, Assemblies of God theologians differ with Vineyard theologians and Reformed charismatics differ with Pentecostal Holiness theologians.  You cannot lump a Benny Hinn with a Stanley Horton and expect Pentecostals to listen.  You cannot lump a Todd Bentley with a Loran Livingston.  They are not one and the same.  No one person or church speaks for the Pentecostal/Charismatic community anymore than John MacArthur speaks for all Calvinists.  To try to attack the movement while putting them all under the same banner is not fair.

The Pentecostal movement is largely like the Baptist in that they have many splits in their 100 year history.  Almost all of the splits was over theology.  The Assemblies of God split away from the Wesleyan Pentecostals (Church of God, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God in Christ) in 1914.  The “finished work” sermons of William Durham helped convince many early Pentecostals that the so-called “entire sanctification” application after salvation was wrong.  Durham taught that we are saved and at that moment are sanctified in Christ.  After this we receive the baptism in the Spirit for empowerment for world evangelism (Acts 1:8).  In other words, Durham preached two works of grace instead of three as in the early stages of the Pentecostal revival.  Durham was outcasted by early Pentecostal pastors for his views but adopted by the Assemblies of God with their founding in 1914.  To this day, A/G churches preach only two works of grace instead of three as in the Church of God.  I point this out simply to show that Pentecostal don’t all agree.  They are not one movement that agrees on all points.

2.  The Charismatic Movement Offers Experiences Where They Have Been None.

Frankly, I have been in many Reformed churches that were full of theology but dead as doornails.  There was no passion for prayer, for worship, no joy in the Holy Spirit, no mention of the presence of God.  Yet in a Pentecostal church I have seen the opposite with little regard for theology but much regard for experience.  This is not true, of course, for all Pentecostal churches or people but for me only.  What Pentecostals need is balance and sometimes we have not had that.  But neither have evangelicals.  Some evangelicals were so scared to even lift a hand in singing praises to God.  I once visited a large Baptist church that was not charismatic one bit.  During the singing, I was so touched by the song that on the front row I stood up (while no one else was standing but the choir) and I lifted my hands to God.  I could feel the fire from behind me for my “emotionalism” but I did not care as I was hungry for Jesus and His presence in my life.  After the service, a lady came up to me and with tears said thank you for doing that, for breaking out of my comfort zone and worshiping the Lord.  She said that she was longing to see someone worship God in that church.

Sadly, many people enter charismatic churches because of the longing for God’s presence.  They are tired of hearing about God and about miracles and they want to experience God.  Right or wrong, they are seeking God for this in charismatic churches.  Because people have “experienced” God in their church, they often will not listen to you rebuke them for “unbiblical” practices.  They have “felt” God in that church and they will not go back to dead churches is their motto.

Isn’t it ironic that the prayer movements come from charismatic churches.  The healing emphasis comes from charismatic churches.  The worship music that so many of us love come from charismatic churches.  Most books on the Holy Spirit (right or wrong) come from charismatic churches.  While I am not defending charismatic theology here, I simply point out that charismatics offer what many evangelical churches do not and that is an experience with the living God.  That is powerful and cannot be underestimated.

3.  Like It Or Not, Pentecostals Typically Listen Only to Pentecostals.

When I first read Charismatic Chaos, I asked a theological question that John MacArthur had raised in the book to a Pentecostal pastor.  He responded, “MacArthur is like a blind man describing a sunset to blind people.”  His point was that MacArthur had never been a Pentecostal and was trying to write on the movement but he only was viewing in from the outside in.  He had never been in a healing meeting or a meeting where people “prayed through” for someone to be saved or filled with the Spirit.  MacArthur admitted that he had never spoken in tongues or prophesied nor been involved with churches that did.  In the minds of Pentecostals, MacArthur was ignorant of the movement and was attacking the same people they were while trying to lump all Pentecostals together with the Word-Faith movement.  They simply refused to listen.

I remember at that time also reading a scholarly review of Charismatic Chaos in a Pentecostal theological journal that I was receiving then.  The journal stated that they agreed with MacArthur that the Word-Faith movement must be addressed and corrected and pointed out that the Assemblies of God was doing just that with tracts and with Bible teaching on their own.  However, they felt then that MacArthur undermined his voice by placing all Pentecostals and charismatics on the same level.  To say that because a few charismatics were into this or that does not mean that all of them are or that they are endorsed by the Assemblies of God or the Vineyard.

Pentecostals and charismatics will listen to rebuke but they typically come from the inside.  The late David Wilkerson could powerfully preach to Pentecostals and he often did.  Wilkerson rebuked many “revival” movements and his voice was heard.  In the Assemblies of God, what Dr. George Wood teaches and says is often heard and his rebuke would be welcomed.  Dr. Wood’s teaching on the Word-Faith movement is one of the most downloaded sermons he has produced.  While I do fear that Pentecostals and charismatics are falling into the pragmatism of the modern evangelical church, most of them will still only take rebukes from their fellow people.  You can call this pride if you want but I think you’ll find it true for nearly all theological movements.

Conclusion

I enjoy Dr. MacArthur.  I have enjoyed his verse by verse teaching for years.  I have not always agreed with him (his Calvinism for example) but I do enjoy him.  But that said, his voice will not be heard.  He will be cheered by those who love him, agree with him, and like him want to rebuke the charismatic movement.  The charismatic movement is the largest movement in Christianity on earth.  It ranges from classical Pentecostals to even Catholics who claim to be charismatics.  I don’t agree with all aspects of charismatic teachings.  I am bothered by many issues in the charismatic movement but the movement will not be corrected by Dr. MacArthur.  His voice will go unheard.  That is sad to me.  We are not beyond correction no matter who we are.  We all are humans.  We all need correction from time to time.  How often have I been Apollos who need godly correction (Acts 18:24-28).  I pray that my pride is not too much that I would not  heed correction from a godly saint no matter what they may be.  I need godly charismatics in my life as well as godly cessationists.  I need godly Calvinists as well as godly Arminians in my life.  I need the children of God to help me be a man of God.

So while I am grateful for Dr. MacArthur and his voice, he will not be heard by my charismatic brethren and his cry will fall on deaf ears.  Perhaps I am wrong and I pray that I am.  We all need to be corrected and to stay true to the Word of God.  None of us are beyond correcting.  We all need to hear Dr. MacArthur’s voice and make sure what we believe and teach about the Holy Spirit is based on the Word and not upon our own subjective experiences.

Dr. George Wood (AG) on the Supreme Court Ruling Concerning Marriage

Here is a link to the official statement issued by General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, Dr. George Wood, on the United States Supreme Court ruling concerning same-sex “marriage.”  It is a good statement and one that I agree with. May we pray for revival in the United States (and around the world as sin increases and wickedness is accepted).  God, by His grace, can turn the tide of sin and save sinners who repent.

You can read the statement here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/28/2013 at 1:50 PM

The Assemblies of God and the Atonement

I read recently a Calvinist speaker who stated that the Assemblies of God held to moral government view regarding the atonement of Christ.  In reality, this is not true.  Granted, the Assemblies of God can be diverse in their views since the Sixteen Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God simply states that Christ is our substitute.  It does not define what is meant by that.  Yet in the official Assemblies of God theology text, Systematic Theology edited by Dr. Stanley Horton, the text clearly lays out why the Assemblies of God holds to a penal substitutionary view regarding the atonement.

In fact, the text states that the moral government view has its problems and lists them (p. 341).  To be fair, the text also states three main objections to the penal view (pp. 342-343).

I do wish the text-book spent more time on the atonement (and other theological issues) but the statement it makes regarding the atonement, no Arminian nor even Calvinists would have an issue.

The text then gives three aspects of Christ’s saving work.  They are:

  • Sacrifice for our sins.  In this is included propitiation.
  • Reconciliation (Romans 5:11).
  • Redemption (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:24).

The text then looks at the extent of the atonement.  In this, the Assemblies of God are Arminian.  The text, after examining various passages of Scripture showing the atonement to be for all people, concludes: “We conclude that the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that it is effective only for those who believe.  It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect” (p. 354).

No Arminian should disagree with the above.  Clearly the Assemblies of God, from their theology text at least, are not to be associated with moral government theology.  While it might be true that some Assemblies of God pastors have taught the atonement from a moral government view, the stance of the official systematic theology text would stand for the penal substitutionary view while still recognizing that not all Christians even agree with that view.

AG Enrichment Magazine and Calvinism

I wanted to point out that this month’s edition of the Assemblies of God ministry magazine is focused on Calvinism.  It is good reading and features several good articles by Arminians.  The A/G’s have historically been an Arminian fellowship and even calls for their ministers to sign a yearly statement that basically states that they will adhere to faithful doctrine and will not teach Calvinism.  I have had a few A/G brothers leave over this because they either embraced eternal security (once saved, always saved) or Calvinism as a whole.

You can find the magazine online here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/23/2012 at 4:58 PM

Is There Really A Theological Middle Position?

Over the years I have met many who claim not to be either Arminians or Calvinists.  While I was working in an Assemblies of God church for several years, I encountered many pastors who claimed to hold a “middle of the road” approach to the Arminian/Calvinism debate.  They claimed to not hold to any one view and they claimed that they could not be labeled as either.  In fact, some claimed to hold to a little bit of both systems.  Some tried to be humorous with the tag, “Calminian.”  The Assemblies of God themselves, while historically Arminian in every way, does not use the term to describe their views and even tries to avoid the term Arminian in their systematic theology text edited by Dr. Stanley Horton.

Many in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are the same.  They are neither Arminians nor Calvinists they claim.  They are somewhere in-between.

Is this true?  Can a person be somewhere in-between?  I have a friend in the Restoration movement (Churches of Christ) and he does not hold to either Arminianism nor Calvinism.  He leans much more Arminian but he rejects some aspects of Arminianism such as total depravity.  He also disagrees, to a degree, with the Arminian teaching of imputation of righteousness.  He definitely does not hold to Calvinism and rejects all five points of Calvinism.  Yet he does not wish to be called an Arminian at all.

I am of the opinion that most are not in his camp.  Most either are Arminians or Calvinists and I believe the vast number of people are actually Arminians.  I know many SBC pastors who do not wish to be labeled Arminian yet they only hold to eternal security and yet would rather be called simply a Baptist or a Calvinist then to be an Arminian when in fact they would much more comfortable in an Arminian church then in a Calvinist church.  For example, many AG and SBC pastors would hold to nearly all five major points of Arminianism in comparison to the five points of Calvinism.  While some SBC pastors would hold to perseverance of the saints in Calvinism, that would be about it.

And so why the rejection of Arminianism?  I believe that a lot of it has to do with the attacks we face from Calvinists.  When you have prominent Calvinist teachers saying that Arminians are “half saved” or that we are borderline heretical in our views, this causes borderline people to not want to take a stand.  It’s much easier to stay on the fence than to make a decision to fight.  Furthermore, in the SBC there are many pastors who are Arminians in essence and then many pastors who are Calvinists.  The church we take our boys to on Wednesday night for Awana has a secret Calvinist pastor.  He knows that many in this SBC church are not Calvinists so he uses phrases that I catch on to but most would not when he is teaching the Bible study that let’s me know that he is a Calvinist (not to mention many handouts having quotes from John Piper on them).  Because there is a range of different pastors in the SBC, some choose not to opt for either and simply never teach theology so they won’t give away their views.  Let’s face it, many SBC churches now are so watered down theologically that they need not concern themselves with Arminianism and Calvinism.

I for one am thankful to be an Arminian.  I am proud of my heritage.  I am thankful for the godly example left to us by great Arminians such as Arminius, Wesley, Asbury, Clarke, Chadwick, and many more.  I am proud of our gospel preaching and of our emphasis on missions.  I am proud to be called an Arminian.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/15/2011 at 5:45 PM

Posted in church

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