Let me make two statements before I address this topic:
1) I am a longtime fan of John MacArthur’s ministry, his writings, and his theology. I am in no way anti-Mac.
2) I did not attend or stream his recent “Strange Fire” conference, nor have I read the book. My experience with MacArthur and his views on the charismatic movement are based on his older book, “Charismatic Chaos” and other books I read as a young cessationist preacher boy (fresh out of Dallas Seminary), which informed my view on charismatic/Pentecostal issues for the first decade or so of my ministry.
John MacArthur and the strict, passionate cessationists who agree with him have set the theological/social media world on fire (strange fire?) with his conference, just concluding, called “Strange Fire.” In this conference (evidently), MacArthur confronts the dangerous doctrines of the Word of Faith movement and demonstrates that this movement twists the gospel to its breaking point. But, according to discussions, he and his compatriots also seem to be arguing that WoF and other extreme views are the norm in charismatic/Pentecostal circles. Some of the readers of this post may have streamed the conference and may be able to expand upon, or even correct, my representation.
As I said, I read “Charismatic Chaos” and other such books a long time ago, when I was what I now call a “hopeful cessationist.” I found charismatics weird and I badly wanted to believe that the Bible had no support for their doctrine. Then, two things happened to me. First, as I studied the biblical bases for cessationist doctrine, I realized that it just didn’t pass biblical muster – straining exegesis to the breaking point. Then, I began to fellowship with, pray with, and even do some limited ministry with charismatic and Pentecostal friends in Cedar Rapids. I still had some theological differences with them, and at times they were pretty strong differences. But I realized that they were not the wacko extremists that I had expected them to be as a result of my consistent diet of cessationist anti-charismatic propaganda.
I have mixed feelings about John MacArthur (and his fellows) and their teachings on the subject.
1) John MacArthur is RIGHT – Word of Faith, Prosperity and other Extreme doctrines are serious threats to the biblical gospel.
I am glad MacArthur is taking a stand against the false doctrines that have become so prevalent in the world today. The high-profile televangelists offering unlimited health, wealth and happiness to anyone who follows Christ are truly offering “strange fire”, deceiving God’s people and leading Christ-loving folks astray. It is important that we confront those false doctrines – directly and even by name. That is not popular in this world and I appreciate that through the years Mac has been willing to take unpopular and bold stands against false teachers and their destructive teachings. Weak-kneed Christianity is not helpful in a world of false teachings.
I know we have a variety of eschatological here at Voices, but my view (also known as the correct or biblical view – sorry) takes note of the fact that just about every passage in the Bible that deals with the end times also warns that false teachers will abound in those days. To simply assume that every person who names the name of Christ is a genuine Christian preacher is naive at best and spiritually suicidal at worst.
I appreciate that MacArthur and others are identifying and confronting false doctrine.
2) John MacArthur is WRONG – Word of Faith and Prosperity preachers are false, but they are not the heart and soul of charismatics today. This is the problem I have with many of the more virulent cessationists – their tendency to paint the extremes of the C/P movement as the norm.
I’ve seen some of those same people complain about those who have applied the same technique with Calvinists and Calvinism. A lady in my previous church once asked, “Why do you guys spend so much time on these outreaches. If God wants to save them, he will.” That is an extreme and dangerous viewpoint. But it is not representative of the Calvinist movement as a whole. In my church, some of the most actively evangelistic and “missional” people in our church are the “five-point” club (with a few 4 point members). Calvinists do not want their viewpoint defined by those extremes, nor is it fair or accurate to do so. Cessationists, many of whom are Calvinists, should not employ this unfair tactic and define charismatic/Pentecostals by the extremes.
I think it is unfair to sit back in our spiritual enclaves and paint our theological opponents in extreme terms. Calvinists are the enemy. Anti-Calvinists are out to destroy the Calvinists. Charismatics are wackos. Non-Calvinists don’t like the Holy Spirit. When we paint our theological opponents as extremists, we damage the Body of Christ.
The solution, I think, is fellowship and discussion. Frank Page’s Calvinism committee brought theological opponents together and some friendships and better understanding was reached. It was personal fellowship with charismatics and Pentecostals that helped me to realize that the televangelists I disdained (unapologetically) were not representative of rank and file charismatics.
Fundamentally, I think a conference by a cadre of passionately anti-charismatics to discuss the failings of the charismatic movement will be unhelpful and even destructive. Why not engage some of the leading, but less extreme, charismatics in a discussion, rather than marshaling speaker after speaker to lash and bash those on the other side?
So, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur’s willingness to draw theological lines against false doctrine and those who promote them, but I think he goes too far when he tends to paint the extremes of the movement as the norm.