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strange fireThe world of social media was abuzz last week as John MacArthur hosted the Strange Fire Conference, a meeting designed to launch MacArthur’s new book written to equip Christians to evaluate the claims of the charismatic movement.

MacArthur has long held concerns about charismatic practices and the erroneous teachings of those in the Word of Faith movement. Today, it seems he is concerned that what was once the fringe has made its way to the mainstream, a sign that the continualist position (the belief that the miraculous gifts described in the New Testament continue to this day) necessarily reaps a harvest of aberration and false teaching.

Sometimes, a controversy can be revealing – not because of the issues directly involved in the controversy, but because of the way people engage in debate. There is a right way and a wrong way to engage in a controversy, and in the flutter of Twitter and blog activity last week, I saw signs of both.

The Right Way

If you believe in truth and error, facts and falsehood, right and wrong, then you recognize the need to seek truth as opposed to false teaching. This is the position of John MacArthur, and it should be the position of every evangelical Christian, including those who disagree with MacArthur’s cessationist views.

Here’s the fact of the matter – the continualist who believes MacArthur is wrong and the cessationist who believes MacArthur is right are closer to each other than the person who says this debate doesn’t matter or cannot be decided. Why? Because both the committed continualist and the committed cessationist believe God has revealed Himself on this issue and that we are accountable to live according to God’s revealed truth.

If MacArthur is wrong, he is in the frightening position of attributing the work of the Spirit to satanic deception. If MacArthur is right, charismatics should repent of false belief and practice. As you can see, the stakes are high.

If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.

The Wrong Way

Unfortunately, much of the controversy surrounding this conference seemed to me less like continualists and cessationists making the case for their respective positions and more like postmodern aversion to saying someone could be right or wrong. In fact, some of the criticism launched at MacArthur seemed to imply that MacArthur is wrong simply for being so sure he is right. As if certainty or confidence is at odds with humility.

As Dale Ahlquist writes:

“When the prevailing philosophy claims that truth is relative or basically unknowable or strictly personal or largely irrelevant, in other words, when our only certainty is our uncertainty, there is nothing more irritating than someone coming along and smashing such nonconclusive conclusions. There is nothing more unsettling than someone who has settled things.”

Regardless of your view of MacArthur or the wisdom of hosting this conference (and I’ve seen continualists and cessationists question his aims and criticize his handling of the issue), we must not surrender to the postmodern ethos of our time that would deny the possibility of discovering what is true and false, right and wrong. God has revealed Himself in His Word. We may disagree on how clearly He has revealed Himself on this issue, but we cannot surrender to the idea that truth and error do not exist, or think that both sides can be right. These positions are at odds with each other. They are different. Papering over the distinctions will not aid us in dialogue and debate, but only mask the issues at stake.

Discovering Truth

Good dialogue takes place when both parties recognize that there is a right answer to these questions and we are pilgrims who are seeking to study the Scriptures and arrive at those answers. Humility will inform our quest to discover truth, of course, and we ought to be open to changing our position if convinced by God’s Word. But humility does not mean refraining from taking a stand or making it known.

MacArthur’s conference should be judged on the merits of the case he and the other speakers made:

  • Did the speakers make a solid, exegetical case from Scripture for cessationism?
  • Were the speakers fair to charismatics who decry the excessive practices and theological errors of other charismatics?
  • Would the continualists listening to these messages agree that their position was represented fairly and accurately (even if ultimately rejected)?

You may find MacArthur’s conference to be sorely lacking in these areas. That is fine, but let’s not judge the conference speakers as wrong simply for gathering together and taking a stand against doctrines they believe to be false. As Christians, we may be continualists or cessationists, but we are not relativists.

Chesterton was right:

“The aim of argument is differing in order to agree; the failure of argument is when you agree to differ.”


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103 thoughts on “The Right and Wrong Way to Engage John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference”

  1. I have read a good deal of the comments criticising/defending John MacArthur’s conference and I disagree that people are complaining that he is too sure that he is right. The complaint is that he is too eager to exclude people from being called Christian.

    1. Rick says:

      Well said. That is what I have seen as well.

    2. Andrew Orlovsky says:

      Exactly, I attend a church where many of my fellow congregants are followers of flat out Charismaniacs (Bill Johnson, Randy Clark, etc.). While I do believe my brothers and sisters are being deceived by false teachers, i know they are true Christians whose love for Jesus puts myself to shame.

      1. Mr. Gaytan says:

        Can false teachers who are by implications teaching false teachings produce true students, or what I am implying: true converts? Food for thought. (:

        1. Andrew Orlovsky says:

          I’m the “students” are learning from other teachers too, not just the Charismaniacs. My pastor practices expository preaching through entire books of the bible and is very solid. I’m just worried about a large faction of our church that follows other, less solid, teachers as well.

      2. Jiri says:

        To Orlowsky
        Does it mean that it is wrong to point out their error for their benefit? Is it nice of us to leave them in that deception? No! What MacArthur did is actually loving. He wants to help these people to get out of that deception and continue the way which is only honoring God. And protect others to fall in it. Promoting, supporting or even being part of false stuff and deception is not honoring God and is bad witness to nonchristians. Regards for Czech R.

        1. Jon says:

          The problem is that MacArthur isn’t really just pointing out ‘error’ (most charismatics agree with certain errors that are pointed out), but grossly misrepresneint the truth and lacing arguments full of fallacious logic. Is it purposeful, just ignorant, or somethign else? I don’t know.

          Gordon Fee’s book ‘The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels’ is a much better treatment of ‘error’, IMHO — and its from someone much better versed in scholarship (IMO).

          But I like what Wesley said regarding his talking with George Whitefield about certain experiences that MacArthur would most likely refer to as satanic or not of God:

          “I had an opportunity to talk with him [George Whitefield] of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly founded on gross misrepresentations of matters of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better; for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second trembled exceedingly; the third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him”

    3. Michael says:

      complaining that he is too sure that he is right = The complaint is that he is too eager to exclude people from being called Christian.

      After all, he is too sure that some are Christians and some aren’t, correct?

    4. Susan says:

      I listened to most of the live streamed conference. MacArthur identified Christians in the movement as those who hold to the true gospel. Those who have responded to and perpetrated a false gospel, as some strains of the movement do, he considers nonchristians. I think that’s fair and accurate. Unfortunately, a lot of people are saying things like this because they didn’t listen carefully to the conference and they are perpetrating hearsay.

      1. RDavid says:

        But some apparently did listen carefully.
        Adrian Warnock is one who did follow the conference closely, and wrote:

        “Since I reported that MacArthur accused the Charismatic Movement en masse of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit I have been very concerned. That concern has not abated as the conference progressed.”

        Then Warnock quotes JM at the conference:
        “I’m convinced that the broader charismatic movement has opened the door to more theological error than any other theological aberration in this day. Liberalism, psychology, ecumenism, pragmatism, mysticism, are all bad. Nothing is as bad as Charismaticism because of its extensive impact. And once that kind of experientialism gets a foothold, there’s no brand of heresy that won’t ride it into the church. Charismatic theology becomes the strange fire of our generation and we have no business flirting with it at any level.”

        http://www.patheos.com/adrianwarnock/2013/10/strange-fire-a-charismatic-response-to-john-macarthur/

    5. Michael Mannucci says:

      That is untrue and a misrepresentation of John Macarthur. You are either ignorant of what John said or you’re lying. Either way, you need to repent for making such a ridiculous and false claim.

      1. Chuck Peterson says:

        Michale, perhaps you could point out exactly what the lie is. Macarthur said a lot of terrible things, unfortunately. He’s been called out by many. To issue a blanket, “you’re wrong or your lying” doesn’t cut it.

  2. Adam Harwood says:

    Wise words, Trevin.

  3. Chad says:

    Thanks for this clear-headed reminder, Trevin. Lots of opinions floating in cyberspace that aren’t exactly helpful. I hope readers take head.

  4. J Gordon says:

    The tough thing is that this is not an either/or (either MacArthur is right or wrong), because he didn’t deal with just one issue. The outrageous clips shown at the conference, and the examples of false teaching and unbiblical practice they represent, should be rejected by anyone that holds Scripture to be our rule of faith and practice. Word-faith teaching, and Modalism, should likewise be rejected on exegetical and historical grounds. I don’t think much of an exegetical case, even with respect to these clear errors, was made at the conference. But even if that case is made, it does not Biblically prove cessationism. Logical fallacies abound (guilt by association, genitive fallacy, hasty generalization, and countless ad hominems), in the attempt to connect any and every one that holds continuationist views with these errors. Maybe the goal is just to “play it safe” by dismissing it all out of hand “just in case” even if Scripture isn’t clearly brought to bear on the issue. Carson has done a sound exposition of 1 Cor 12-14. Elsewhere (not in the conference) MacArthur has dealt pretty loosely and creatively with the text to allege that Paul there has the same message as the conference (i.e., stop all this pagan, demonic charismatic stuff). It seems to depart from his typical rigorous and disciplined exegetical approach to the text.

    I think MacArthur can be right about Modalism, Word-faith, the “new apostolic reformation”, and the error of seeking after signs for signs’ sake (distracting from preaching the gospel and Inadequately exalting the Person and work of Christ), and still be wrong about cessationism.

    I also believe MacArthur and other cessationists still minister in the direct, personal, supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit as they preach faithfully, counsel with insight, etc. I don’t think the NT allows for the view that, since the time of the apostles, God’s involvement in ministry is only generally providential, and the Spirit’s work consists merely in helping to make purely natural means (like study, practice, training, etc.) more effective. (cf. Acts 4:31, 6:10; Mark 13:11).

    Where I disagree with MacArthur, it’s for exegetical, not emotional or experiential reasons.

    He’s wrong on eschatology also, but that was a different conference.

  5. Pete says:

    So Trevin, are you going to share your opinion on the content that was presented at the conference?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I’ve only seen the blog summaries at this point. I may interact with the book at some point.

      Right now, it looks to me that his point in showing the egregious extremes of charismatic practice was intended to demonstrate how only cessationists can rightly condemn the extremes, and that continualists have no solid ground in critiquing excessive practices because their position is closer. I don’t think that strategy will be effective in winning people over to his point of view.

      1. James Henrric says:

        Trevin, they went to great lengths showing that they weren’t highlighting the fringe extreme but instead the norm. Also, his point was NOT that people like you can’t criticize the charismatic heretics. His point was that you WON’T and haven’t. He’s pleading with you to join him in condemning it.

        Also, it’s unwise to so openly speak negatively about a conference you admit you didn’t watch.

        Why the harsh words for MacArthur but not Sproul?

        1. David Burkhardt says:

          Agreed James, these practices are often the norm!! And that decent expositors who lean continualist will cover or not critique these!! There was a 2010 YouTube of Ian Hamilton at a UK confernce without notes critiquing Wayne Grudem concerning continualism with very Biblical and practical points! The idea is to agree with these folks on primary points, sing around the campfire and not point out any errors of continualism or seeker-sensitive foolishness! When these so called 2nd or 3rd degree errors have bloomed as abberrant overgrown weeds in the garden of the Body of Christ!

        2. Trevin Wax says:

          Where did I speak harshly of MacArthur?

          1. Melody says:

            You didn’t.

        3. Scott Shaver says:

          Perhaps because Trevin doesn’t want the words of a friend (Sproul) “insulted.”

      2. Pete says:

        That seems to be the lesser of the concerns coming out of this conference/book. The greater is the haughtiness with which all continuationist are judged as false believers; the inconsistency of that position (re: the comments concerning folks like Piper and Grudem); and the blindness that their haughtiness has rendered from seeing how badly they presented and defended thier positions in throughout the conference (and no dubt the book). Why wait to comment only on the book when the positions that are held were presented in an unvarnished way in the conference? “Sometimes, a controversy can be revealing – not because of the issues directly involved in the controversy, but because of the way people engage in debate. There is a right way and a wrong way to engage in a controversy”

      3. Deborah says:

        Wow. I think probably the best way to respond to the controversy is to actually listen to/read all of what was said and then form your opinion.

  6. Jeff Irwin says:

    This is where the discussion must begin indeed. Both sides can’t be right…Is the Bible unclear on this? Or have we ourselves muddied the waters in recent times as MacArthur seems to suggest?

    (As an aside, I think that MacArthur is in general an excellent expositor of scripture. He gets the Gospel right, and personally some of the most powerful preaching I have ever heard has been by a Masters Seminary Trained Pastor: Shannon Hurley http://sosministries.com/history.)

    Nevertheless, it’s strange that MacArthur attacks the history of the charismatic movement (rightly I think) while dismissing similar kinds of historical attacks against a much more dubious movement within the church, namely Dispensationalism. What hero’s would he proudly list from that camp, (no pun intended). Instead of Sproul, Spuergon, Calvin you have Darby, Scofield, Margaret MacDonald??? Kidding…

    Sorry for grinding that axe… J Gordon started me on that Train…

    Anyways, a close comparison of top exegesis (of all relevant passages) from both sides would be helpful in my estimation. I haven’t read D.A. Carson on 1 Cor 12-14. Could someone point me to that via a link?

    1. taco says:

      Also Kevin DeYoung has a helpful post posted friday.

    2. David Burkhardt says:

      JND via MacDonald and the Irvingites, who were a small group of English charismatic in late 1700s who derived their eschatology from a RC priest writing on the parousia even years earlier!

      Supposed you have read Jon Gerstner’s book on Dispensationalism, which definitely wakened me from my exclusive PB roots!

      Armini-Dispyism, Charismania, Pyscho-heresy, Universalism aka Peale-Bell-Osteen all in the toolbox of the enemy!

  7. James Henrric says:

    Is TGC going to respond to the very specific requests made at the conference for Grudem, Piper, and Storms to finally renounce the charismatic heretics they have and continue to endorse and support? Specifics were given that shouldn’t be ignored.

    1. Jeff Irwin says:

      Thanks David

  8. a. says:

    may He continue to teach us how to best heed…
    yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:15-16

  9. Ryan Phelps says:

    I dunno.

    Here’s my question, and it’s leading. On non-essential issues like these ones, especially ones based on limited and/or unclear supporting evidence, shouldn’t we be gracious and avoid condemnation? This is not to say that don’t do what Trevin says: work hard to discover and defend truth. But where we can agree that the information we have on an issue is limited and/or unclear–in other words, when the only obvious truth is that the truth is not obvious–shouldn’t we avoid condemnation and simply agree to disagree? This issue is an issue not because MacArthur has argued passionately for cessationism, or even because he’s argued passionately that the other side is wrong. This issue is an issue because he’s taken the extra step of condemning on a non-essential issue that has limited supportive evidence. Isn’t this unwarranted and ungracious?

  10. Jason Ackernal says:

    MacArthur pleads with the reformed to start renouncing charismatic heresy with boldness and join him in pleading for the millions of lost souls caught up in this movement. TGC’s response? No thanks.

    1. J Gordon says:

      I thought MacArthur was part of TGC already, and I know the guys who are part of it are certainly preaching the gospel to unbelievers among charismatics. Guys who were more comfortable with Modalism (or maybe decided, contrary to Nicaea, that it was a non-essential) felt compelled to drop out of the group.

      The conference wasn’t really about charismatics “policing the movement” (as was said a couple times), but a call to them to forsake the beliefs entirely. The point was clear that any charismatic beliefs or practices were problematic per se, and that’s where the line was drawn (not on Biblical or historical theology, nor particular heresies). What was presented was pretty much a continuum between Hinn/Copeland/Bill Johnson/TD Jakes at one end, and Wayne Grudem and John Piper at the other (maybe Chuck Smith & Jack Hayford in between?). There was no sense that a strongly theologically sound charismatic would then be OK, as that was plainly declared oxymoronic.

      1. taco says:

        The funny part about that is there is clearly much more support for Piper/Carson/and Grudem types in Reformed (see Kevin DeYoung’s post) history than “Reformed Dispensationalists.”

    2. Scott Shaver says:

      God is Ryan. You ain’t.

      Was He or was he not guiding your thoughts and the inclinations of your heart when you penned: “…the millions of LOST (caps mine for emphasis) souls caught up in this movement?”

      A simple yes or no answer would suffice if not too much trouble.

      Additionally, how does it feel to be the only human being apart from Jesus Christ to be appointed by God as judge and consigner to Hell of others for whom Christ died?

      1. Scott Shaver says:

        I’m sorry Ryan:

        My comment was meant for Jason Ackernall

  11. Christiane says:

    I like the scripture that WADE BURLESON gave on his blog, this:

    “”Gamaliel rose and spoke saying..’Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God'” (Acts 5:38-39 NIV).”

    1. David Burkhardt says:

      Gamaliel was speaking as an unbelieving Jew to the unbelieving Jewish Sandhedrin! Not as Jesus or Paul condemning false teachers warning the true disciples/flock to discern, avoid, and stand against!

      1. Scott Shaver says:

        Ah yes, but still true and unbelievably prophetic on Gamaliel’s part considering your demand for context.

    2. Scott Shaver says:

      I’m with you Christiane:

      Acts 5:38-39.

    3. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      Christiane: “I like the scripture that WADE BURLESON gave on his blog”

      I like the way Pastor Phil Johnson anticipates and refutes Wade’s argument in his address: Is There a Baby in the Bathwater?.

      Read the section titled: Twisting Gamaliel into Submission.

  12. Trevin, thank you for the calm, level-headed call to examine the positions of cessationism vs continuationism scripturally, and especially for the good word that truth indeed may be found! It may be that the two camps are not quite as far apart on everything as it seems. For example, I am a cessationist in that I think the miraculous, prophetic, tongues are not normative today. Yet I don’t discount healing and even miracles happening today in answer to prayer. And perhaps special experiences and even prophetic words may be given by God on occasion; I just think that the charismatics err in trying to say these things must happen, and portraying the Christian life as a constant miracle fest. This is my current take on the topic and a response to Strange Fire: http://reformingchristianity.com/2013/10/19/its-time-to-get-the-gospel-right.

  13. Michael Boyd says:

    Trevin, I was glad to see you bring up the postmodern mindset response commonly seen in response to the conference. I’ve been thinking and troubled by the exact same thing as I’ve spent WAY to much time reading people’s responses to the conference over the weekend. I have commented multiple time to my wife on my being troubled about this. Question: has this revealed a deficiency in Christian worldview? Or is it nothing new, but an on-going problem? Is it an issue that needs to be dealt with or is it one that’s already been sufficiently dealt with? I know it has been dealt with in various books and a Desiring God conference in the past. I’d like to read your thoughts on this. Oh, and thanks for your wise words in the article!

    One more thing, just to let my fellow believers know. I’m a critical care RN and due to this allowing me to see people and their families in a more intimate manner than normal, and in talking with these patients and families, and in seeing TBN commonly on in their hospital rooms, I can attest it has become mainstream. Not only that, but it represents the views of almost all my co-workers who claim to be Christian. I think those who dismiss MacArthur’s concerns are not realizing the grave problem TBN Charismaticism is and it now being a mainstream Christianity. Because the attack on the Gospel it represents and in keeping sound teaching from people on various issues, this is a first-tier concern. Now, I’d agree that the differences between say MacArthur’s cessationism and Piper’s continualist position is secondary, but not their position vs what we commonly see on TBN. Thanks again!

    1. David Burkhardt says:

      Well said!

  14. W says:

    Beginning with the first question of exegesis, I would suggest this where the rub comes into play, as you can see from other posts such as Thabiti Anyabwile’s from last week exegetically there is no way to prove the position maintained within the conference, this is why they have to use the videos from the extreme side and implore upon church history. Now I am not saying church history is a bad reference but I think we all could agree it is certainly second to Scripture but I would suggest that even portions of church history were used out of context.

    Emotion determines both sides of the issue. Just like the charismatics are driven by the emotion of the moment, so too are those on the other side of the spectrum and they so desperately want their position to be true that they over look things such as exegesis, context and even checking the facts. Here are two examples.

    If and when you get the Strange Fire book you will notice a quote in the back from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur even mentioned him in a couple of his talks including his last address as a cessationist holding to his view. The sheer fact no one is calling foul shows the fact that most of those who are backing this line of reasoning have done no or little research on their behalf. Given Lloyd-Jones’ last book he ever wrote “Joy Unspeakable” one has to wonder what Lloyd-Jones would have thought about the Strange Fire Conference, considering he believed in a second blessing of the Holy Spirit.

    In MacArthur’s last address he pushed the problems of the modern charismatic movement on to Calvary Chapel but in the last update to Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur praises Chuck Smith for standing up against heretical charismatic pastors. As a matter of fact this is why there was a Vineyard movement because Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith kicked them out. If a person were to listen to Chuck Smith’s sermons, which you can for free on Blue Letter Bible, you will hear all throughout his ministry calling false teachers out for how they really were.

    I suggest we all need to be listening with our listening ears and then act like the Bereans and actually dig into the Word, into history and make our assessment from there.

  15. Dave Miller says:

    I would not advocate relativism or the idea that Scripture doesn’t speak clearly, but I think that humility demands that on some issues, Scriptural evidence is not nearly so black and white as we make it.

    I believe that my views are biblical, but I also realize that people with a love for Jesus and devotion to the Word would also believe their views are biblical.

  16. Paolo Romano says:

    I don’t understand how so many Christians say they believe the “whole counsel of the Word of God,” but then write off 1 Corinthians.

    It’s not unclear here that Paul is instructing non-Apostles on the use, power and order of the spiritual gifts – http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2014&version=NIV;KJV;ESV;NASB;HCSB

  17. Carl G. Oehling says:

    Words and ideas like arrogant and haughty are not needed. Discuss the issues or please be quiet. None of the writers at the conference are ignorant or stupid. Stick to the positions and proofs.

  18. Simon says:

    Here is the problem with Trevin’s post. Those who think they are absolutely right about the issue (i.e. MacArthur) are not going to change their views. They’re simply not. And anyone who thinks people with that sort of mindset are going to change their views are kidding themselves. So we have a problem. These kinds of controversies are the hallmark of the American evangelical experience. And, I’m afraid, it has become more than just a cottage industry for people like MacArthur – conference to launch his book…. hmmmmm racketeering anyone?? Sounds like it to me.

    Of course the only real alternative to this mess is for Christians to join a communion who take Church history seriously and can be confident of the Spirit’s work within the Communion. Join the RC, EO or Oriental Orthodox (and perhaps the Anglo-Catholics).

    1. Carl G. Oehling says:

      Simon, I have already joined the Universal Church, but it is not the RC, EO, or their ilk.

    2. Jonathan Walker says:

      “These kinds of controversies are the hallmark of the American evangelical experience. And, I’m afraid, it has become more than just a cottage industry for people like MacArthur – conference to launch his book…. hmmmmm racketeering anyone?? Sounds like it to me.”

      If the Strange Fire conference is a shady attempt to trump up sales of the Strange Fire book, MacArthur isn’t very good at it. Every subscriber to Grace to You, myself included, will be receiving a copy of the book for free. I believe conference attendees did as well, unless I’m mistaken. Whether you agree with John MacArthur on cessationism or not, hopefully his motives aren’t in question: He genuinely believes these things, is genuinely concerned for the souls of men and women, and wants others to feel the same.

      1. Jonathan Walker says:

        As coincidence would have it, my roommate handed me my mail not long after I finished the previous post, and I must apologize for being too hasty in my defense of John MacArthur’s reputation. It’s a mail-in offer, and Grace to You actually expects me to use my own stamp if I want the free book! What kind of racket is MacArthur running over there!?!

        1. Scott Shaver says:

          May not be racket. You just may be cheap.

          1. Jonathan Walker says:

            Easy too. Can’t forget that.

  19. Dan says:

    Not everything can be definitively settled in this life. I disagree that the stakes are as high as you think regarding the issue of cessationism. That doesn’t make me a relativist.

  20. Charlotte says:

    I listened to the entire conference & took notes. MacArthur NEVER claimed that people in the Charismatic movement weren’t Christians. He maintained that he had friends in the movement & that he knew that there were true believers in the movement. He did question the false teachers & false prophets like Todd Bentley and he has a biblical right & responsibility to do so. People should listen to the conference before making false accusations & spreading gossip and slander against MacArthur.

    1. Deborah says:

      Actually, he did. I heard him. And here is a summary produced by members of his team. Please read it all.

      http://thecripplegate.com/strange-fire-a-call-to-respond-john-macarthur/

  21. Mike says:

    Good post, when you stated in the wrong way section, “MacArthur is wrong simply for being so sure he is right. As if certainty or confidence is at odds with humility.” I think one needs to take the overarching approach of MacArthur’s ministry into account. He is overly critical and very heavy handed on nearly everything. I have heard hundreds of hours of him teach and read over a dozen of his books; he is just never wrong and doesn’t demonstrate exegetical humility on any contriversal topic (except one time in particular nuances of election). For me, this is not a single conference leading to my thoughts, but is seeing a consist bulldog approach to the ministry that he has conveyed for many, many years. I find it disappointing that so many Christians cannot see that MacArthur is just acting like a high school bully, just in the name of God. It is sad.

    1. Dave says:

      Mike, kinda hypocritical don’t cha think since you have reeped the benefit of all his hard work? with the hours and hours and all his books you have read? Now you will tell me you didn’t learn any thing ether. Give me a break…JMac is one of the greatest minds in the body of Christ of our day. You may not agree with all his points, but he sure backs them up with the WORD. If anyone is serious about knowing God they can only go to the WORD OF GOD. Nowhere else. We need a BULLDOG in these times to stand for TRUTH.

  22. Will says:

    On judging the conference, from all the quotes I’ve seen and heard, the answers to your last 3 questions about the merits of the conference must all be an emphatic “NO.” I think what riles so many continuationists is that we see it as a differing interpretation of Scripture – have continuationists organized a conference to condemn cessationists?

    It’s one thing to have a differing view and to speak out against abuses; it’s another thing altogether to paint with a broad brush using a heavy hand as it sounds like has happened. It’s something that is damaging to the body, not edifying, not helpful.

    1. Brian W says:

      Good point, WS.

      It reminds me of the John 3:16 conferences where they gather to simply condemn Reformed theology. We reformed folks often have conferences to promote something, i.e. the gospel, but we don’t often see an anti conference, i.e. Anti-Arminianism. Although. . . maybe we should because I would argue that its done more harm to the church than even TBN!

  23. Wayne says:

    Good article– very insightful –but obviously we are relativists. We are relativists awaiting a consensus–striving, at times, for a consensus… Enjoying at times a measure of consensus… But the truth is not what we think… We are not what we think… Meanwhile, the Way, the Truth, and the Life is with us always!

    “Listen! I Am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).

    “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. Whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

    http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/the-divine-presence-that-i-am/

  24. James says:

    I agree with MacArthur that the continualists should critique their one group. Therefore I’m waiting for MacArthur to first examine and critique his own group(s) – i.e. Fundamentalists/hyper-Bible movement, Legalism in the church, Professionalization of the ministry, hyper-calvinism, etc…

    He would be modeling what he is calling for if JM held a pre-conference examining the many failures of the groups represented by those attending the “strange fire” conference.

    That would be a great example, service to all believers and it would go far to open the hearts of his opponents to his message.

  25. Trevin, the problem with your approach is that it inevitably results in the attitude that John MacArthur has about people who have come to different conclusions about scripture than he has. Protestants need to learn to be just as concerned about schism as we are about heresy. I don’t think God is invested in us coming to a final consensus on the endless debates that we have between Arminianism and Calvinism, premillenial vs. amillenial, cessationism vs. continuationism, etc. Haeresis is the Greek word for faction. There are consequences to bad doctrine; it causes little ones to stumble and prevents people from surrendering themselves fully as vessels for God to pour His love through. But seeking correctness for its own sake is idolatry.

    Today’s lectionary scripture reading was from Matthew 11:25-30. Jesus talks about how God has hidden things from the wise and revealed them to infants right before saying, “Come to me you who are weary and I will give you rest.” I had never made a connection between the two before. If what we’re after is knowledge to puff ourselves up, then God will hide it from us. True wisdom is resting in Christ. The way to evaluate charismatic spiritual gifts is to ask: do they build up or puff up? Do they produce fruits of the spirit or fruits of the flesh? That was Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians. There may be different answers in different communities. I think it’s fruitless to try to battle each other into some kind of ultimate conclusion about THE Biblical position on this issue. Be a pragmatist like Paul and Jesus both were.

    1. Austin says:

      Thanks Morgan – that was really well said.

  26. Catau Adrian says:

    It is obvious that leader as John M. refers over and over to the truth, biblical truth, historical truth, etc. So in his expositions truth is an obsession. But this is not bad as long as they are objective, but when they are subjective they are no longer valid in their statements. So, like David Pawson once said, “Catholics have a trinity like: Holy Father, Christ, and Mary and some evangelical have another: Holy Father, Christ and Scripture.” This obsession is so visible in John MacArthur speech, he emphasizes so much the trust that he is right because he knows the Scripture. But despite of the evangelical stronghold which is studying the Scripture, the irony is that in some parts of the Scripture they cannot understand the role, power and person of the Holy Spirit in the Church of Jesus Christ today. I am not defending any charismatic leader, they might be right about them condemning their falseness, fake healings, money laundry and so many bizarre manifestations that they claim and attribute to the Holy Spirit.

    Although they are very good on many exegeses in the Scripture, the Holy Spirit work, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit existence in the Church related at modern time is an embarrassment for cessationists, because they apply the Word of God in a very subjective mode. In other words, they are the ones that try over and over to annihilate any work, gift of the Spirit on the fear of falseness and fake, which is almost dangerous as false prophets do submitting bizarre manifestation to the Holy Spirit. They also claim that they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit when interpreting the Scripture but they never had and encounter with the Holy Spirit, which they admit. So they claim that they work and honor the Holy Spirit but criticize any manifestation of the Holy Spirit in other churches.

  27. Gareth Lowe says:

    I have got to say I am very disappointed with your response to the broadside attack on The Charismatic church. It’s really a veiled defence of MacArthur. I hope it doesn’t represent the Gospel Coalition.

    I would never claim there aren’t problems with the Charismatic church that need correction. But MacArthur is not trying to CORRECT the Charismatic church – he is trying to DESTROY it. He has labelled it, “a farce and a scam” a “false church” a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity and “Satan’s false teachers … spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.” He says, “Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers” “as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity,” and urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement.

    And yet you think it is wrong for Charismatics to be unhappy about this accusation of blasphemy and call for collective war? And this unhappiness is because they have given in to Postmodernism. I think not!

    Jesus was very clear that when the Holy Spirit is doing something and you call it the devil, you are blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:24-32). Jesus was also very clear that you should not try and stop someone who is doing miracles in His Name (Luke 9:49-50). Even the Pharisee Gamaliel had the wisdom to warn against opposing people that God might be using because you might find yourself fighting against God (Acts 5:39).

    The Bible warns against resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), quenching the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19-20) and grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30). It also warns us against divisively attacking Jesus’ Church and the danger that puts someone in (1 Cor 3:17).

    Charismatics and non-Charismatics are brothers in Christ – whether non-Charismatics recognise that or not. To reject your brother is to reject Christ in Him.

    Please don’t defend people who are attempting to tear the body of Christ apart and slandering leaders in abusive and often untrue ways.

    I appeal to you to write another post that shows that the Gospel Coalition does not condone brutal attacks and a call for collective war on the Charismatic church.

    These links may also interest you:

    http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/41371-a-final-appeal-to-pastor-john-macarthur-on-the-eve-of-his-strange-fire-conference

    http://www.charismamag.com/fire-in-my-bones/18919-to-my-fundamentalist-brother-john-macarthur-grace-to-you-too

    http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/41499-john-macarthur-cessation-theology-and-trainspotting-for-cave-dwellers

  28. Jeff Rickel says:

    Good Article and Good Discussions. I just started listening to he conference and reading MacArthur’s “Charismatic Chaos” MacArthur’s point in the book is that any discussion of the Charasmatic movement or its manifestations must be thoroughly grounded in scripture and not experience. In keeping with this I wanted to present some of the scriptural boundaries within which such a discussion should take place. Four have to do with tongues, one with God.

    1. Not everyone who is baptized in the Holy Spirit is going to speak in tongues.1 Corinthians 12:25,30
    so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. … Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?

    2. Those who don’t speak in tongues should not look down on other believers because they do.
    1 Corinthians 14:39 NIV Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

    3. The primary evidence of a spirit filled believer is a new heart, not his prayer language. 1 Corinthians 13.1
    1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

    4. This was already well presented but I hope it is ok to repeat it. Tongues should not be used to divide the church or to separate us from the Holy Spirit (never emphasize or value the gift more than the giver). Mark 3:24-25
    If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
    It should be noted that the context of this passage deals with the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

    Regarding God. Whatever spiritual gifts or manifestations others do or do not receive from God are the Holy Spirit’s choice and not ours. It is at best presumptuous and at worst insubordinate to be telling God what he can or cannot do with his own people.
    1 Corinthians 12: 4, 11– There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. … All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as HE determines.

    I pray that our discussions will honor God in the tone and spirit in which they are carried out. We all have the same Master and serve the same cause.

    1. Jeff Sandoval says:

      Excellent communication. Really appreciate your tone and spirit in which you wrote. Blessings to you.

  29. Dave says:

    EVERYBODY

    Who do you think the people are in Matthew 7…. LORD…LORD ? I have many dear friends… Loving… Kind… Filled with joy Brothers and Sisters in the wu wu camp and I am not saying I think I know where they will go eternally. That’s not my business. FAAAAAAAAAAAAR FROM IT. Obviously many are deceived, from the passage it’s pretty clear. We must study to show ourselves APPROVED unto GOD. It’s unto GOD. HE MUST APPROVE. A workman correctly handling the WORD of TRUTH.

    1. Wayne says:

      Let us not confuse the written word with the Living Word:

      “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” ~ John 5:39-40

      http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/lord-show-us-the-father/

  30. steve johnson says:

    Good blog post! thanks

  31. Dale Switzer says:

    This is really shameful. You claim that the only way to resolve this is for everyone to come to the same conclusion. This is child-like thinking. Maturity teaches us that reasonable and Godly men disagree about all sorts of important doctrines. This particular disagreement is over a century old. Why stop at this one? Let’s go back and re-litigate Lutheran Pan-Substantiation versus Zwingli’s representative nature of communion. Why stop there, let’s go back and argue the Scholastics versus the Monastics. Or if we want to stay post-reformation, lets do Predestination versus Armnianism again. Oh, and by all means, let’s not forget pre-trib versus post-and mid-trib and progressive sanctification versus second-definite work.

    The Great Commission is “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” not “Go into your neighbors church and call him a heretic”

    1. Brian W says:

      And what are you supposed to say when you neighbor IS a heretic? What did Paul say? What did Jesus say? Neither was all “Live and let live”. Truth matters.

      Have you seen the conference video? If not, you should watch it all before you make another comment in order to prevent yourself from saying something foolish.

  32. David says:

    Tim interviews MacArthur at http://www.challies.com! Throws couple of fastballs! Maybe clarifies, maybe infuriates!??

  33. I firmly Believe in truth and error and right and wrong but I’ll definitely do not agree that this is MacArthurs approach in his ranting concerning the charismatic movement. MacArther groups all Pentecostal believers in with the “Word of Faith” ultra charismatic movement. Nothing could be further from the truth however I digress. I would like an answer to the question,” At what point in the scripture does it say or at what place does it say that signs and wonders and miracles and all of those things that Jesus and his disciples did, and said that would follow all those who believe, when scripturally did they stop?” I am repulsed when I hear Mike Murdock,Creflo Dollar, Jessie Duplantis, Kenneth Copeland, and a host of others rant and rave about the health wealth and prosperity gospel.I think Mr. McArthur is frightened to death of the Pentecostal movement in the Pentecostal experience as it was practiced in the book of Acts and is still being practiced by legitimate Pentecostal believers in these troubled times when if ever the Church needed a Supernatural move of God the Holy Ghost we definitely need it now! The apostle Paul had some pretty tight things to say about people who spoke evil of things that they did not understand. It really must be a frightening life when your spiritual beliefs carry you no further than what you can figure out with reason and logic. Mr. MacArthur and his strange fire crew are little more than the history revisionists of our modern times. Pathetic!

  34. David Schlewitz says:

    Who would have thought John MacArthur would post anything different then what he did? His presuppositions of course do not accept the miraculous, etc. I think he has no business doing this. He was and is in over his head and meddling in another Church. It would be like the baptists having a conference on “Strange Communion” (a critique of the Catholic Church). Some of his critiques are childish and his own view of the Bible is apparent. He also makes a basic mistake in saying God does not heal and do miracles anymore. Really?! Hmmmm, Lord God, be sure to remember what John says you don’t and can’t do. He is pretty important as a Pastor you know.

  35. Dave uwasinachi says:

    see 1 Samuel 19: 20-24. many of those who criticise the pentecostal movement assume that anything that seems “weird” or “excessive” or disorderly (whatever they mean by these words) cannot be from God but must be from the devil. That assumption is very flawed. There are many manifestations of the Spirit in the bible which should easily fall into the category of “weird” or “excessive” or disorderly, but which are clearly attributed to the Spirit of God. example: 1 Samuel 19:20-24

  36. Brian Leffert says:

    I believe that if we do not accurately understand all of particular functions that the offices of apostle and New Testament prophet fulfill in their part of building up the body of Christ, we will then be vulnerable to misjudging whether or not there is a continuing need for someone to fulfill these functions today.

    In other words if I misunderstand all that an officer is responsible for I will also be prone to misunderstand when these responsibilities have been fulfilled.

  37. Dave Fredickson says:

    Jesus said in John 14 verse 12 I tell you the “TRUTH” anyone who has “FAITH IN ME” will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I go to the Father.”
    Jesus put absolutely no limits on what a believer can do when moving by Faith and in the power and annointing of the Holy Spirit. I have been a Christian for 30 years and over that time have seen many fall from grace into deception. Charismatics have become liberal or heretical, Conservatives have become legalistic or humanistic & believers from every Christian persuation have tragically fallen into immorality. Paul in Galatians put his finger on the heart of the matter when he said ” The only thing that matters is FAITH expressing itself in LOVE” (Galatians 5:6) The Holy Spirit is clearly alive and well today no one would ever deny that. But why limit His power on earth today when Gods word clearly tells us ” That all things are possible for him who believes. (Mark 11:22-25) The issue is simple. Is the source (the faith of God) and is it done in the (love of God). Lastly does it bring glory and honour to the precious name of Jesus.
    I am a pastor, I love reformed theology, I fear God and I have a burning desire to move in the annointing and power of the Holy Spirit. Lets not be side tracked and instead believe that we will see Joels prophecy becoming more of a reality in these last days…”In that day I will pour out my spirit on all flesh”
    Shalom Dave

  38. E Ball says:

    My apologies my earlier posting was prematurely sent before finishing.
    “If MacArthur is wrong, he is in the frightening position of attributing the work of the Spirit to satanic deception.”
    I make a prediction: All the “prophecies” of the last fifty years will be forgotten in a century from now, whereas the Word of God will never fade , and stand for ever. Is this dishonouring to the Holy Spirit to say this?

  39. Gladys says:

    [Look at what I found while on my computer. Just sharing it.]

    Stages of Pretrib Rapture History

    If a young woman in Scotland hadn’t dreamed up the “pre-tribulation fly-away” in 1830; if a British clergyman hadn’t hijacked her dream and sneakily planted it around the world in the 1800s; if a crooked, jailed-for-forgery lawyer with no theological background hadn’t come out with a reference Bible in 1909 with the same fly-away escapism in marginal notes; and if modern-day rapture robber barons and tribulational tycoons hadn’t found numerous ways (and gimmicks like four “blood moons”) to widely mass-market the same delicious delusion for the masses while breaking sales records, no one could now be into the moonshine, looking up at the moon and saying “Moon, you mush be drunk becaush I shee four of you!” LOL (If none of this had ever happened, no one would have written anti-pretrib articles that are on Google etc., articles like “Evangelicals Use Occult Deception,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” and “Pretrib Rapture Stealth.” And no one would have written “The Rapture Plot” – the most accurate, most detailed, and most highly endorsed nonfiction history of the 184-year-old pretrib rapture theory, available by calling 800.643.4645; the author of it will give $1000 to anyone proving there is any deliberate dishonesty in it.)

  40. chuck peterson says:

    Well said and on the money.

  41. David says:

    Good article and as a catholic Christian I quite agreed with the Chesterton quote at the end :

    “The aim of argument is differing in order to agree; the failure of argument is when you agree to differ.”

    But then , of course, I expect MacArthur would say Chesterton couldn’t possibly be a real Christian because Chesterton was a Catholic.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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