Puffing Holy Smoke over Strange Fire: A Critique of John MacArthur

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Excerpts from Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire: A Critique of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire & Charismatic Chaos by Frank Viola.

The central focus of this critique is simply to show that both Scripture and church history yield strong evidence that spiritual gifts are still extant in the church today.

My primary intention in writing it is to help my non-charismatic brethren who have been influenced by MacArthur’s books to reconsider and re-examine their understanding of the present-day work of the Spirit. My hope is that my non-charismatic brethren will open up their hearts more fully toward their charismatic brethren and sistren and vice versa.
(page 11).

3. Commending & Criticizing MacArthur’s Charismatic Blasting

Having read both Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire, I want to cut to the chase in this Introduction and tell you where I think MacArthur is dead-on and where I think his conclusions are flawed and even outrageous.

The rest of this critique will provide evidence and examples supporting each point:

The charismatic world is an easy target for any critic because there are a lot of problems within the camp.
There is no doubt that a number of high-profile charismatic leaders are guilty of outlandish teachings, absurd practices, stunts, gimmicks, exaggerations, and even fraud. And so are some of their followers. MacArthur is right about this and he articulates the problem well.

However, MacArthur is not the only person who has made this observation. Many charismatic leaders have as well. MacArthur even quotes some of them in Strange Fire.

Just as those charismatic leaders were not able to reel in the excesses that exist within the movement, I do not think MacArthur’s attempts will do so either. In fact, MacArthur’s latest book is his third attempt on this score (The Charismatics, 1978; Charismatic Chaos, 1992; Strange Fire, 2013).

(page 13).

MacArthur is wrong in that he paints the entire charismatic world–which would include all charismatics and all charismatic churches–with the same broad brush. The fact is, I have met many charismatics who were not guilty of any of the problems that MacArthur benightedly lays at their feet.

For example, the late David Wilkerson was a tremendous help to me when I was in my 20s. He encouraged me to make Christ, not the Holy Spirit, preeminent in my life.

Wilkerson—a charismatic leader—wrote a classic article called A Christless Pentecost on this subject.

I would encourage anyone who buys MacArthur’s arguments to read The Cross and the Switchblade and ask yourself if it is possible that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are still operative today.

In addition, I wonder if MacArthur would admit that Teen Challenge, founded by Wilkerson, has been a blessing to many lost young people.

Throughout his books, MacArthur continually uses phrases like, “Charismatics believe … such and such.” “Charismatics think … such and such.” And then “the charismatic movement is guilty of . . . such and such.”

This is simply false. It would be accurate to say, “some charismatics believe” … or even “many charismatics believe …” or “some in the charismatic movement believe… .”

Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive, and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.

6 Comments

  • Reply November 4, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Dan Irving So we have NAR, BAR and any other #caristmatic Tzar… Then we have this. What have we done for 100 years of global Pentecostalism to establish at least some balance in our movement and theological tradition?

  • Reply November 4, 2017

    Dan Irving

    Apparently, we have failed to draw clear lines between classical Pentecostalism and rogue groups bent upon manifestations. Even the author of this article calls David Wilkerson a “charismatic.” As far as I understand, Mr. Wilkerson was an AG minister, which would have made him classically Pentecostal and undeserving of being lumped into the amorphous category of a “charismatic.”

  • Reply November 4, 2017

    Terri Tippins

    I agree Dan.

  • Reply November 5, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Dan Irving for the past few years in this here group we have attempted to establish a solid classical Pentecostal foundation for doing theology. Sure, there have been new groups erupting within modern day Pentecostalism BUT the main problem is liberal theological streams from California, Canada and some EU that keep on speaking against entire sanctification and initial evidence – doctrines without which there would have never been a modern day Pentecostal movement Paul Hughes Walter Polasik among many others may agree that such stand is a step back in our theological tradition and an attempt to equalize it to any bapticostal wannabe

  • Reply November 5, 2017

    Dan Irving

    Troy Day, A solid classical Pentecostal theology requires a model that incorporates a variety of redemptive elements, e.g. Initial Regeneration, 2nd Work Sanctification, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, spiritual circumcision, the bodily resurrection, etc. There is a clear model provided in scripture, but nobody seems to consider it. I detail it in a video, but it gets few views.

  • Reply November 5, 2017

    Dan Irving

    BTW, the model has proved very beneficial to me in gaining an understanding of the prophets.

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