The appearance of John MacArthur’s recent rant against Pentecostals and charismatics, Strange Fire has made quit a splash. Thankfully, many reviewers have measured his work and found it wanting in grace or charity, but also hermeneutically crude and lacking in understanding of church history. Hopefully, Strange Fire will pass away without unduly disturbing those who do the difficult task of leading churches to practice non-cessationist spirituality such as active healing ministries.
I have heard some pastors say they will buy the book just to see if the negative things said about Strange Fire are true. Take my word, they are. Save your money, don’t buy Strange Fire, and don’t further enrich this Pharisee.
MacArthur, in his disdain for all things Pentecostal and charismatic, argues that the “Fallings,” or what Pentecostals often call being “slain in the Spirit” are illegitimate and unbiblical. His argument is fallacious, but is understandable in that there is poor understanding of this phenomenon in traditional theology.
This in turn points to a HUGE gap in all of Western theology, Catholic or Protestant, about the “energies of God.” These energies are distinct from the persons of the trinity, especially the Holy Spirit. In fact, there was no theology of the energies of God in Western Christianity until the advent of Mrs. Agnes Sanford’s The Healing Light in 1947. (Still in print, and available as a free download HERE) But because Mrs. Sanford’s work was seen as devotional, i.e. on the healing ministry, and not “serious theology,” her insights into the energies of God were not incorporated into mainline or academic theology.
But first, about the “fallings.” Contrary to what MacArthur affirms, the Bible has an example of this in the Old Testament of this in 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14 when the priest offered sacrifice at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.
In unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His loving kindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (NASB)
Observers have recorded the “fallings” in practically every major revival. They also have recorded that a person who “falls” often come up healed or transformed. The Rev. John Lyle, a Presbyterian minister and participant in the famous Cane Ridge revival of 1801, (the start of the Second Great Awakening) wrote in his diary:
…we began to talk and pray for those that were fallen down and ——– a deist fell, son to widow ——. … He had said just before he would not fall so for a thousand dollars and that he did not believe in heaven, hell of the devil. Shortly after two of his cousins fell. He lay speechless for an hour or two then spoke and said he had been ridiculing the work before he fell and said he wanted to seek Christ.
Enthusiastic preaching and “manifestations,” including fallings, at Cane Ridge:
In the current world wide Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, millions of persons have experienced such fallings. Millions could also testify to having experienced healings, or graces of spiritual comfort and growth in that experience (note below, the example of my wife’s experience). It is also true that many have fallen with little or no noticeable change. Perhaps a grace was present that did a work that was interior and not obvious. Also, some fall because others in a healing line have fallen and it is expected of them (a “courtesy drop”). In any case, the faking of a phenomenon in one person does not disprove its real manifestation in other persons.
MacArthur’s creates a distorted picture of the fallings in Strange Fire. Instead of taking a large sample of persons who have fallen in current decades, he seeks only negative current examples that might be used to discredit the fallings. He has found in his search several cases where people have been injured in falling, and one case in which a frail woman at a Bennie Hinn even died when another person fell on her. MacArthur thus concludes that falling phenomenon could not be from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit would certainly not cause harm. This seems quite logical.
MacArthur errs in this conclusion because Western theology does not distinguish the Holy Spirit from the energies of God. In this regard MacArthur also mocks the often reported experience of tingling sensations in the hands or body during healing prayer, an often cited experience.
To understand this confusion and gap, we need to know something of Early Church history. The overwhelming majority of Early Church theologians (the “Church Fathers”) followed and adhered to the philosophical system of Plato. This is especially true of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), whose theology much inspired John Calvin and his Reformed Protestantism. Plato understood things that were permanent, as in his famous “forms,” but paid little attention to temporary things such as energy, which comes and goes. Aristotle, whose philosophy later became the basis of St. Thomas Aquinas’ theology (and became the official theology of Roman Catholicism), also had a prejudice for the permanent vs. the temporary. His philosophy favored “essences” which were permanent, as against “accidental” characteristics which were temporary. The transitory nature of energy was not a focus of either Plato’s or Aristotle’s philosophical system. Thus, classical Western theology, based on the Fathers, never gave sufficient attention to the “energies of God,” either in their scriptural examples, or their theological implications.
Eastern Orthodoxy and the energies of God:
It is a different story in Eastern Orthodoxy. There, the monastic tradition of intense prayer made the monks aware of the light of God as a real phenomenon. This was elaborated in the theological writings of St. Symeon the “New Theologian” (945-1022 A.D.). St. Symeon had various mystical experiences in which he was enraptured in the light, love and energies of God. He went on to develop a theology of this. He believed, and Eastern orthodoxy had followed him here, that God in his essence is unknowable, but He chooses to make himself known to us through his “uncreated energies.” These energies permeate the entire universe, but are intensified and shown to the Christian during prayer.
Biblical Description of the Energies of God:
Before we go further, we need to go to a several scriptures which point to the energies of God as distinct from the personhood of God. A key passage comes from a scene described by the prophet Ezekiel of the reformed Temple service, at the moment when the priests come out of the sanctuary from offering sacrifice.
When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. (NIV, Ezk. 44:19-20)
The issue here is that the priests’ clothing were radiant and full of the energies of God, as in Jesus’ garment which was touched by the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8: 43-48). The Gospel account is particularly clear in that “power,” dynamin, left Jesus’ garment to do the healing work. That is energy at work. The Western theological tradition has been so deficient on this that the King James Bible translated this passage with the word “virtue” for dynamin – a translation atrocity.
Even in modern times translators have tended to downplay the word energy. For instance, the translation of the NAS Bible, which is known for its literalness, translates Colossians 1:29 in this way: “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” The word “power” in Greek is really energia and should have been translated as “energy.”
Also, we are informed in the book of Acts that Paul’s aprons and handkerchiefs were carried to the sick and demon possessed and they were healed by contact with these items, just as Jesus’ clothing was energized. (Acts 19:11-13).
There is another scripture, puzzling to many commentators, which is clear if one reads it as dealing with the energies of God. It is the incident of the resuscitation from the dead of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4). In that incident the woman came to Elisha and he discerned that the boy was dead:
Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.” But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.” When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. (NIV vs. 29-35)
Why this strange action about Elisha’ staff? Why would Gehazi inform Elisha that the “boy has not awakened”? It is understandable if we see that Elisha’s staff had, through contact with the great prophet, the energies of God, and that Elisha believed that energy would possibly resuscitate the boy. It did not, so he did “plan B” to bring the boy back. He laid on him directly so that the energies of God in his body and clothing would complete the job. St. Paul would use Elisha’ method of resuscitation (body to body) when the young man Eutycus fell to his death (Acts 20:8-10).
In regard to the Ezekiel scripture cited above, note the warning: the energies on the priests’ clothing are ready to discharge, and can alight on person who wanders in and is not ready to receive them. We are not given the “why?” for this. Perhaps that means that the person may not be ready because, unlike the priests, he is unclean, ritually and spiritually. By analogy, I can think of a half dozen charismatics who received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit before they were really ready for it, and made fools of themselves in their immaturity. Recall also Paul warned Timothy, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”(1 Tim. 5:22, NASB) In summary the Bible shows that the energies of God act semi-mechanically, and are capable of doing something inappropriate, or not for the best, if they are not channeled properly.
Now back to MacArthur’s critique. He does not have a clue as to what is going on in the fallings, or in the tingling sensation of the energies of God as there is no traditional Western theology for this. He does not understand that the fallings happen because of an infilling of the energies of God – not the person of the Holy Spirit. The energies of God have to be understood and respected – as Ezekiel warned. For instance, in practically every revival line where a healing evangelist is blessing persons and people are falling, there is a “catcher” that goes along to catch the person and bring him/her to the floor in a soft landing. That is a working understanding of being careful with the energies of God. If someone falls without a catcher doing their job, that is a human error, not God’s.
Now, let me speculate on what happens in a charismatic “healing line” when someone “falls” using my wife’s example. Carolyn was born an underweight baby, and in addition her mother almost died giving her birth. As the newly born Carolyn was placed in an incubator and not expected to live, and her father focused on attending to his wife in the first critical days. In her life Carolyn often felt fears of abandonment for trivial reasons. For instance, one Saturday I left early in the morning while she was asleep to go to a church men’s breakfast. When she awoke she thought I had left her for good (she forgot I told her about the breakfast the day before).
Sometime later Carolyn “fell” during a healing line, and during her “carpet time” had a vision of Jesus smiling at her and loving her as a baby in the incubator. This was a great healing to her. I believe what happened to her was that when the healing evangelist touched her forehead a jolt of the energies of God went into her which temporarily immobilized her neurological system. At that point the person of the Holy Spirit ministered to her in the vision she experienced. The falling was because of the energies of God – the vision was the work of the person of the Holy Spirit to give healing to her soul and glory to Jesus.
Energies of God and the “Jerusalem Syndrome:”
In recent decades there has been identified a temporary form of insanity, called the “Jerusalem Syndrome.” This strange mental state occurs only in Jerusalem. A person in its grips believes he is a Biblical character, a special prophet, or the Messiah, and acts out that belief, as in dressing as an ancient prophet, giving a Jeremiad type sermon, etc. This happens to about 100 or so of the tourists who come to Jerusalem every year. By now the Jewish health services are well prepared to handle these temporarily deluded individuals.
A recent Jerusalem syndrome messiah:
The syndrome was popularized by an episode in “The Simpsons” TV series, in which Homer Simpson believed himself to be the messiah. He preached a highly charged sermon to the crowds on “peace and chicken,” i.e, the meat that Christians, Muslims and Jews can eat together in peace!
Homer Simpson about to catch the Jerusalem syndrome:
One of the Israeli psychiatrists assigned to help persons with the Jerusalem syndrome is Dr. Yair Bar-el, who wrote an article on his work for the British Journal of psychiatry. Dr. Bar-el divides these deluded individuals into three broad categories. The first are those persons who have serious mental conditions when they arrive at Jerusalem. The second category is of those persons who are not mentally disturbed but have strange ideas, such as the specific time and sequence of the Second Coming, spiritual UFOs etc. The third category are persons who have no previous metal problems or strange ideas and come in with a normal tourist group. In this last category a certain pattern is common. The person begins to feel anxiety and distress. He or her then separates from the tourist group and wanders among the Holy Places in Jerusalem for a period. He or she then feels a compulsion to wash repeatedly and dress in religious (biblical type) dress, often merely a modified white sheet. This person then acts out some highly charged, garbled and irrational “message” as in Homer Simpson’s “peace and chicken.”
The Jewish mental health professionals are acutely aware of this syndrome, and have trained tourist guides to identify such persons in the early stages of the syndrome. Persons under this syndrom are usually not dangerous, although one person thought he had the divine command to destroy the Muslim holy places and usher in the Second Coming. That led to rioting and destruction. Normally, left to themselves they these persons often recover. Significantly, Dr. Bar-el noticed that recovery is hastened by removing the person form the environs of Jerusalem. After a few days of rest and recovery the person feels embarrassed over what they have done and is reluctant to talk about it, but is otherwise normal. Dr. Bar-el also noted a strange fact: “…the Jerusalem syndrome is related to religious excitement induced by proximity to the holy places of Jerusalem,” The Jerusalem syndrome or any similar mental disturbance does not occur in other holy places or pilgrimage sites. There is, for instance, no “Medjugorje syndrome” in which persons who go to that site in Herzegovina (former Yugoslavia) believe themselves to be Jesus or Mary, saints of old, etc.
Speculation: The Jerusalem syndrome as a manifestation of the energies of God:
Let me begin this speculative part by saying I have never had the pleasure of going to the Holy Land. I have had several of my Christian friends return from there and exclaim how blessed they were and how they felt the “presence” of God (energies?) in Jerusalem in a special way.
All of this leads me to conclude that the Jerusalem syndrome is a manifestation of the energies of God on persons who are unprepared to receive them. Remember Ezekiel’s warning that the common person should not come into contact with the priest’s energized garments. I believe that cases of the Jerusalem syndrome alight on persons of nominal or arrested spiritual development, and who come to too close or too many times in intimate contact with the energies of God as they flow down and are manifest in that Holy City.
The persons who come in with prior mental disorders may or may not be religious in inclination, but their mental illness has most likely short circuited serious spiritual growth and maturation. Similarly, the pilgrim with wild conspiracy theories or fantastic Biblical scenarios probably also has a truncated spiritual development. (Persons of this order usually have a deep streak of vanity, in which they believe they have figured out some profound spiritual mystery better than anyone else). I would wager that the “normal” tourist who gets this syndrome is a nominal sort of believer who comes to Jerusalem as tourist, not real pilgrim.
On all three types, the energies of God, which constantly shower on Jerusalem for its blessing and protection, and which mightily bless the devout pilgrim, have the bizarre effects now identified as the Jerusalem Syndrome.
A last note on the “fallings:” I have never noticed any negative or psychotic type reaction to the fallings. MacArthur may believe that a person coming up from a fall who begins to speak in tongues is delusional – but we can dismiss that out of hand as cessationist ignorance. My hypothesis is that the energies of God flowing on a person once or twice at a revival meeting are a lot less intense than the special energies that are present in Jerusalem’s holy places, and thus much less likely to produce unwanted outcomes.
 John MacArthur, Strange Fire, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013)
 For a bevy of excellent reviews check the website of Pneuma Review at: http://pneumareview.com/
See also the review posted in First Things by Timothy George “Strange Friendly Fire,” posted 4 Nov. 2013
 I received a pre-publication edition from the publisher as a review copy. I am happy to say I did not pay a penny for it.
 I am using the work Pharisee in its biblical sense as one who opposes the present work of the Holy Spirit: See; William De Arteaga, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary; Creation House, 1996). Still in print.
 Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light (St. Paul: MacAlester Park, 1947).
 Catherine C. Cleveland, The Great Revival in the West, 1797-1805 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1916), 187. This works includes many eyewitness accounts of revival phenomenon, including the fallings. The best single work on the great revival at Cane Ridge is, Paul K. Conkin’s, Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990). Again, I summarize the literature in chapter seven of my book, Forgotten Power: The significance of the Lord’s Supper in revival (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) Chapter 6: The Second Great Awakening (1797-1805). Out of print: complain to Zondervan!
 Strange, 7, note #8
 Strange, 4
 Strange, 6
 I learned of this problem in classic Greek Philosophy from Karl R. Popper’s now classic work, The Open Society and its Enemies (London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1947) in which he traces the West’s totalitarian ideologies to Plato and Hegel. See especially vol. 1, “The spell of Plato.” In print in various later editions.
 There several new studies on St. Symeon, as well as translations and studies of his works. See: Symeon the New Theologian, Trans. By C.t. Catanzaro, The Discourses (New York: Paulist Press, 1980).
A difficult but insightful article by: Pachomios Penkett, “Symeon the New Theologian’s vision of the Godhead,” Phronema, 15 (2000), 97-114. And especially useful: Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood; St. Valimir’s Seminary Press, 1976), Chapter 4 “Uncreated Energies.” St. Symeon and Agnes Sanford’s views on the energies of God coincide to an amazing degree – an excellent topic for a scholarly paper or dissertation for someone out there.
 I believe that if the Early Church would have paid more attention to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and less to Plato, a theology of the energies of God might well have developed early on.
 A great description of the syndrome is found, of all places, in Wired Magazine, see: Chris Nasawaty, “The Jerusalem Syndrome: Why Some Religious Tourists Believe They Are the Messiah,” March, 2012. The link is: HERE
“The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed,”(March 28, 2010). Hilarious and available on line. It skirts the real spiritual issue by having Homer go into the syndrome because he get dehydrated.
 Yair Bar-el, et al., Jerusalem Syndrome,” British journal of Psychiatry, 1:75 (2000) 86-90.
 Yair Bar-el, “Jerusalem,” 86.