John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology, by William DeArteaga

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John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology, by William DeArteaga

The thesis of John MacArthur’s new book, Strange Fire is that Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, are heretical movements that must be rebuked and eliminated from the church. 1 Everything to do with these movements is fraudulent, inauthentic or a misrepresentation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Strange Fire continues his war on the Pentecostals and charismatics begun with his book published twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos.2

In the public launch to Strange Fire, MacArthur made clear his utter disdain for the Charismatic Movement in particular:

Nothing coming from the Charismatic movement has provided recovery or strengthening of the biblical Gospel. Nothing has preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion, and error. Yes, there are people in the movement who know and love the truth, have an orthodox Gospel, but are heterodox on the Holy Spirit. Not all of them are heretics. But I say again the contribution of truth from the people in the movement doesn’t come from the movement, but in spite of it.3

In the introduction to Strange Fire we find this accusation about the Charismatic Movement:

In recent history, no other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel, to distort truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine. Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers (pxvii).

The Rev. MacArthur bases these judgments on his close adherence to Reformed and Calvinist theology, and especially the doctrine of cessationism. This doctrine holds that the gifts of the Spirit, as described in Epistles and the Book of Acts, disappeared with the death of the Apostles or shortly after. Thus, in MacArthur’s mind, any manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the present must be of a fraudulent nature.

Strange Fire is divided into three parts. Part One critiques both the origins and the workings of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements as counterfeit revivals. Part Two focus on four areas of Pentecostal/charismatic ministry that MacArthur feels are especially fraudulent: the contemporary ministry of prophecy, the healing ministry, the act of speaking in tongues, and the recovered apostolic office. In Part Three MacArthur presents what he deems to be the proper work of the Holy Spirit as salvation, sanctification, and illumination of the Scriptures—the traditional Reformed understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work. This part ends with an open letter to Pentecostal/charismatics, which he calls “continuationists,” urging them to repent of their folly and return to the authentic, i.e., his Reformed and cessationist, form of Christianity.

I wish to make clear in this critique of Strange Fire that I consider that MacArthur’s biblical analysis is often excellent. His methodology of interpreting Scripture with Scripture can often be very insightful. His analysis of the Old Testament seems to be consistently of a high quality, and his radio program Grace to You has blessed millions.

But now I must say that Strange Fire is a deeply flawed book. It is an unintended and woeful parody of Jonathan Edwards’ standards of discernment which MacArthur cites, but fails to apply. Strange Fire, like his previous work of twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos, is deeply Pharisaic in content, theology and tone. I use the term Pharisaic in its biblical meaning. That is, it is a religious perspective that is orthodox in essential doctrines, but flawed in discerning the present activity of the Holy Spirit.

The thesis of John MacArthur’s new book, Strange Fire is that Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, are heretical movements that must be rebuked and eliminated from the church. 1 Everything to do with these movements is fraudulent, inauthentic or a misrepresentation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Strange Fire continues his war on the Pentecostals and charismatics begun with his book published twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos.2

In the public launch to Strange Fire, MacArthur made clear his utter disdain for the Charismatic Movement in particular:

Nothing coming from the Charismatic movement has provided recovery or strengthening of the biblical Gospel. Nothing has preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion, and error. Yes, there are people in the movement who know and love the truth, have an orthodox Gospel, but are heterodox on the Holy Spirit. Not all of them are heretics. But I say again the contribution of truth from the people in the movement doesn’t come from the movement, but in spite of it.3

In the introduction to Strange Fire we find this accusation about the Charismatic Movement:

In recent history, no other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel, to distort truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine. Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers (pxvii).

The Rev. MacArthur bases these judgments on his close adherence to Reformed and Calvinist theology, and especially the doctrine of cessationism. This doctrine holds that the gifts of the Spirit, as described in Epistles and the Book of Acts, disappeared with the death of the Apostles or shortly after. Thus, in MacArthur’s mind, any manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the present must be of a fraudulent nature.

Strange Fire is divided into three parts. Part One critiques both the origins and the workings of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements as counterfeit revivals. Part Two focus on four areas of Pentecostal/charismatic ministry that MacArthur feels are especially fraudulent: the contemporary ministry of prophecy, the healing ministry, the act of speaking in tongues, and the recovered apostolic office. In Part Three MacArthur presents what he deems to be the proper work of the Holy Spirit as salvation, sanctification, and illumination of the Scriptures—the traditional Reformed understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work. This part ends with an open letter to Pentecostal/charismatics, which he calls “continuationists,” urging them to repent of their folly and return to the authentic, i.e., his Reformed and cessationist, form of Christianity.

I wish to make clear in this critique of Strange Fire that I consider that MacArthur’s biblical analysis is often excellent. His methodology of interpreting Scripture with Scripture can often be very insightful. His analysis of the Old Testament seems to be consistently of a high quality, and his radio program Grace to You has blessed millions.

But now I must say that Strange Fire is a deeply flawed book. It is an unintended and woeful parody of Jonathan Edwards’ standards of discernment which MacArthur cites, but fails to apply. Strange Fire, like his previous work of twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos, is deeply Pharisaic in content, theology and tone. I use the term Pharisaic in its biblical meaning. That is, it is a religious perspective that is orthodox in essential doctrines, but flawed in discerning the present activity of the Holy Spirit.” />

Paul Mark Villanueva Lacerna [01/11/2016 6:29 AM]
It not just a Flawed Book. It is a Generalization. It only confirms that Cessationism is dangerous theology.

John Kissinger [01/11/2016 6:40 AM]
it’s more than that – shows aggressive theology that attacks

Nancy Hensley [01/11/2016 7:55 AM]
Total lies. I know that the gift of the Holy Ghost is real and the initial evidence of this is speaking in tongues and I have this gift and know that it is so real.

Paul Mark Villanueva Lacerna [01/11/2016 8:20 AM]
Although i understand his staunch against prosperity gospel, etc. But this time i fully disagree with Cessationism.

Wayne Hazard [01/11/2016 8:56 AM]
Seems to me, he needs to read the book of Acts again!

John Kissinger [01/11/2016 9:01 AM]
MacArthur is a well rounded theologian who has read the book of Acts and actually convincingly quotes Acts in to prove the point of his book. But William DeArteaga among others puts him in his spot and rightfully so

Brian Crisp [01/11/2016 9:44 AM]
Macarthur needs to study and get Spirit-Filled.

Curtis Fenison [01/11/2016 9:45 AM]
Cessationism is doctrine that justifies blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.

John Ruffle [01/11/2016 12:09 PM]
Problem with mega bucks ministry. If they have money and audience that can say whatever they want. I’d be happy to be part of a properly conveened symposium in the subject and we’d all come enlightened. But that’s nit popular and doesn’t bringing money to sekf-perpetuate their heresy. Need to pray he’ll get a Damascus road experience like Saul, the White House Hatchet Man Chuck Colson and James Robinson.

David Lewayne Porter [01/11/2016 2:46 PM]
Charismatic and Pentecostal

Let’s get Biblical

Let’s see People start dropping dead and the ministers reading their mail and see what they call that form of Scripturally and Biblically based Christianity, Acts 5.
And by the way I am both Pentecostal and Charismatic.

John Kissinger [01/11/2016 2:53 PM]
David Lewayne Porter what is the difference between Pentecostal and Charismatic and how do you determine you are both?

David Lewayne Porter [01/11/2016 3:14 PM]
My personal definitions:
Pentecostal (book of Acts and New Testament moving of the Spirit and doing what Jesus commanded us through the Holy Ghost/Spirit – gifts and fruit).
Charismatic
Doing the above in a public and (un-ashamed) fashion.

Deborah Nimm Dearborn [01/11/2016 4:25 PM]
About two years ago I read Strange Fire as a research project for a class. I knew beforehand that MacArthur was a cessationist as well as a predestinationist. Though I disagree with both positions, I still believe in the unity of the Church by our faith in Jesus Christ and love for the brethren. But I was highly disappointed in MacArthur for his lack of demonstrating any sort of unifying or loving spirit. Nor do I consider his book to rise to the level of scholarly work which one would expect from a person of MacArthur’s background and reputation. For example, his use of disparaging adjectives [e.g., describing all Pentecostals and Charismatics as “aberrant groups” (p. 48), tongues as a “a cacophony of gibberish” (p. 152) and “nonsensical gibberish” (p. 142), “mindless and out-of-control forms of worship . . . necessary to conjure up ecstasy” (p. 72), charismatics giving “lip service to the primacy of Scripture” (p. 218)] lowers too much of his book to the level of a playground bully who wants everyone to fall into line with his beliefs. But what concerns me most about MacAruthur’s attack upon Pentecostals and Charismatics (and all Continuationists) is that I find myself even, at times, questioning his salvation (realizing, of course, that I am totally unable to make a judgment). Jesus said that “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But where is MacArthur’s love? I cannot find any in this book, though he calls reformed charismatics and evangelical continuationists “friends” (p. 247). MacArthur “cannot understand why anyone would want to legitimize a practice that has no biblical precedent” (p. 247), yet I cannot understand why MacArthur finds it necessary to take such a vehement stand against what millions have found to be a legitimate and biblically based work of the Holy Spirit.

William DeArteaga [01/11/2016 4:36 PM]
Excellemt

Gabriel Powell [01/11/2016 6:37 PM]
Is this article supposed to conclude with the sentence “That is, it is a religious perspective that is orthodox in essential doctrines, but flawed in discerning the present activity of the Holy Spirit”? It sounds incomplete and the affirmations of the book are based on evidence while the critique of the book is unsubstantiated.

Jim Price [01/11/2016 7:46 PM]
Good review of MacArthur’s book.

Ricky Grimsley [01/12/2016 12:08 AM]
I wonder if john macarthur was ever saved. Any idiot that teaches his people they can take the mark of the beast and still be redeemed later should denounced as a heretic.

John Kissinger [01/13/2016 8:13 AM]
C Peter Wagner denies the rapture of the church. So do Mike Bickle and the IHOPchurch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEqAJpVy8Jw

Ricky Grimsley [01/13/2016 8:46 AM]
How can anyone deny the rapture? That is nonsense.

John Ruffle [01/13/2016 9:10 AM]
Many divergent authoritative voices and they can’t all be right – some might be right on some points but the chances of even one voice being correct on all points is quite remote. That is why rigid dogmatism that refuses to listen or dialogue I find distasteful – and more than that, plain dangerous.

3 Comments

  • Timothy Ross
    Reply June 3, 2016

    Timothy Ross

    Many great Theologians deny the rapture note.I note believe there are Heretics among certain circles in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement but none the less God still gives gifts as He wills.

  • Terry Wiles
    Reply June 3, 2016

    Terry Wiles

    Of course he does.

    He’s the new Catholic order of the third wave spirit movement who had dominionist beliefs that Christ won’t return until the church reacts the world to hand over to Him when He does return.

    Apostles who rule rather than serve.

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