A caution to transitioning Ex-Mormon Christians

freedom-resistance_00418234_EDITED

It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost His crucifixion.”
— C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

by Fred W. Anson
In 1980 ordained Lutheran minister, Robert N. Hullinger, published an award winning analysis of Joseph Smith. He approached Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon skeptically, but the same time, as he explained in this thought-provoking re-evaluation of early Mormonism, “I prefer to put the best construction on Joseph Smith and let his expressed motives speak for themselves, then draw conclusions from the evidence. This approach may not always rule out a negative opinion of Joseph Smith, but it allows for a more charitable estimate of his intentions.”1 His conclusion?

In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism and the static revelation of traditional Christianity. To enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, however, he supported the deistic attack upon the view that the present Bible is God’s complete and errorless revelation to mankind. Destruction of the traditional view left him free to preserve special revelation by his own means.2

And one need go no further than Joseph Smith himself for validation of this:

Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine
(Joseph Smith, “History of the Church”, 5:340)

It was this spirit of rebellion against established orthodoxy that appealed to early Mormons and drew in new members. To the early Mormons this was glorious, heady stuff – a conquering, up-heaving rebellion usurping the world as early Mormon leader W.W. Phelps noted at the time:

Mormonism is the wonder of this world, and the great leveling machine of creeds, constitutions, kingdoms, countries, divisions, notions, notorieties and novelties; and praise it, talk about it, lie about it, exalt it, degrade it, blow at it, sneer at it, fear it, love it, hate it, persecute it, or laugh at it, still it is Mormonism, true as heaven, powerful as Jesus, eternal as element, going on conquering and to conquer.
(W.W. Phelps, “Times and Seasons”, 5:758)

Thus Hullinger explains and summarizes this seismic shift thusly:

Fifteen hundred years of church history had encrusted revelation with the weight of tradition and institutional inertia. In spite of Protestant efforts to let God speak through the Bible, some perceived him as more remote than ever. Deism rejected special revelation but accepted a remote god who could communicate through nature. Orthodoxy reacted by developing its science of textual criticism and relying on its doctrine of biblical inspiration to assure contact with God. Catholicism guaranteed the institution as the assurance. Pietism looked within the human heart.

Joseph Smith sided with Pietism in favoring his own inner assurance. But after he won the changes and freedom he wanted, Smith set in motion the very forces he once had decried in the churches of his day. The principle of personal revelation led to power struggles within the infant latter-day church until Smith received revelations allowing only him to get instruction, teaching, or revelation for the church (D&C 28:11; 43:3-6) He taught that no one could receive revelation for someone of higher authority. Secure within the church, Smith was able to lead as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.3

And thus this strange mix of the oil of personal revelation intermingled with the water of heavy handed authoritarianism continues today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On one hand, members are told – no encouraged – to seek out personal revelation in private but on the other hand will be disciplined if that personal revelation publicly conflicts with the current official, correlated Mormon doctrine that’s been approved by Mormon leaders. The net result is a kind of quiet rebellion in which you may have an entire Mormon Chapel of members who privately believe entirely different things but publicly profess whatever they must to remain a member in good standing. LDS Thesis #23 articulates this strange, paradoxical brew like this:

Mormon Atheism is Not an OxymoronLDS Thesis #23: It [the LdS Church] allows members to privately believe whatever they want – even if it’s atheistic or contradicts LDS orthodoxy – as long as they publicly “toe the party line” and continue to contribute their time and money to the LDS Church.

In fact, this particular thesis was written by a former member of the LDS Church who was called to teach the Elders Quorum in his ward even though the Bishop knew that he was an atheist. He was bright, articulate, personable, tithing, active, a successfully former Gospel Doctrine teacher, and was toeing the party line in public, so as far as this Bishop was concerned all was well. Since then we have heard of several other such situations in a variety of callings in the LdS Church. As strange as it seems, a membership heavily peppered with atheists doesn’t seem to be a problem for many Mormon Leaders.

Thus, it’s clear that orthopraxy (the practice of one’s faith) is far more important in Mormonism than orthodoxy (adherence to an established set of beliefs). In other words, Mormons will tolerate wrong belief as long the errant believer is doing all the right stuff. It sounds something like this, “I mean the dude may be an atheist but, hey, isn’t he a great Elders Quorum teacher – I always get so much out of his lessons!”

Stated plainly, Mormonism has no theological boundaries.

So why is this a problem for Ex-Mormons transitioning out of the LdS Church and into mainstream Christianity? Simple: Because they’re not aware of this dynamic they often view attempts to conform their beliefs to established Christian orthodoxy as “legalism” or “oppression”. As soon as they bump into the wall of Christian orthodoxy their “inner Joseph Smith” manifests itself.

Consider, for example, the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many Ex-Mormons simply don’t understand why mainstream Christians make such a fuss about it. I mean, after all, people in Mormonism had all kinds of screwy ideas about the Mormon Godhead and how the members of the Godhead related to each other. However, as long as at the end of the day, as long as those screwy ideas were capped with, “but they’re united in purpose”, the public line was toed and all was good. But these nick picky mainstream Christians get “bent” if you don’t get the classic formula of, “God is one eternal Being, consisting of three co-eternal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” exactly right. They’ll even correct you if you get “person” and “being” flipped around! And if you say something like, “God reveals Himself as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit: One God” they go bonkers on you, call it heresy, and accuse you of modalism. And if after having it explained you say that you still reject the doctrine of the Trinity, they’ll question if you’re even a Christian all all! What’s up with that?4

The answer is that mainstream Christianity has boundaries. Those boundaries are set and established by the Bible and were forged, formed, refined,  and perfected through the intense fire of Christian Church history.5 As I stated in another piece for Ex-Mormons:

As the Apostle Peter said, “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 KJV) and as a Christian you are joining a community of Spirit filled saints that for over 2,000 years has read, loved, struggled with, and sought God over the correct interpretation of His written revelation of Himself to man… we’re all fallen sinners prone to error and the great “cloud of witnesses” (the one that Hebrews 12:1 describes) can be of great value and benefit in guiding us in sound Biblical interpretation if we’ll listen to them through their creeds, sermons, writings, and lives. In fact even their flaws, foibles, follies, and mistakes can be instructive! No, Church History isn’t the Bible but it’s important. After all, as Elizabeth Browning said well: “Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s”6

Thus, for the biblical Christian, being knit into that great “cloud of witnesses” is critical. Yes, I appreciate the fact that one tends to be “gun shy” after coming out a Mind Control Cult.  And yes, I realize that it takes time to heal and start trusting again after being burned by said cult – after all, I came out of one myself. However, the fact remains that the Bible is clear that all Christians need to be a part of and accountable to the visible, living Church:

“…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
(Ephesians 5:21 NLT)

“…encourage one another and build one another up…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…”
(1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV)

"It's just me, Jesus, and my Bible."

“It’s just me, Jesus, and my Bible.”

So it’s one thing to temporarily isolate, heal and learn to trust again, but quite another to make this a permanent position. Unfortunately, the latter is where where Ex-Mormon tend to stay, ultimately becoming “Just me and Jesus” Lone Ranger Christians.7

The irony here is how Mormonism, while outwardly appearing to be a system of oppressive conformity, actually fosters internal Lone Rangers and rogues within its ranks. This is done via the “magic” of Mormon passive aggressivity.  As Latter-day Saint and Professor of Organizational Behavior, Michael J. Stevens  explains in his watershed article on the subject:

A passive-aggressive person will generally deploy such behavioral tactics as: keeping one’s distance and remaining silent or aloof; hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.8

Stevens goes on to explain:

If we consider modern LDS culture to be an anthropologically “tight” culture (that is, one in which there are many strong norms proscribing behavior and conduct, along with a low tolerance for deviance from those norms), then it’s easy to see how norms favoring conflict avoidance are combined with very strong social pressures against the expression of contrary opinions, views, or preferences. To state such differences openly means that one should anticipate the strong sanctions and social ostracism that will inevitably follow. The message of an obedience and submission culture is clear: No Devil’s Advocates allowed! Quit asking questions and challenging things—just nod your head and say “yes.”9

So here’s the strange irony: A key survival skill among Mormons is the ability to appear to be in compliance and conformity to established norms while simultaneously being in rebellion. So what happens when the Mormon exits this sick, dysfunctional system? Answer: They just bring those hard won, hard learned, survival skills with them.  That is, they either continue the behavior in their new church or, because there no consequences for doing otherwise in this new culture, become overtly aggressive and unteachable. Neither is extreme is healthy or productive – and both are ultimately destructive.10

So that’s the problem, what’s the solution? Answer: Healthy boundaries. As Christian Psychologists Townsend and Cloud explain:

Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited.11

On a personal level, boundaries determine where you end and others begin. In a group, or sociological, context they determine where the group begins and ends. So, for example, one can’t reject the doctrine of the Trinity and still claim to be a Christian. That’s because the doctrine creates a safe, well defined area between pagan polytheism (such as Mormon tritheism), and heresy (such as modalism). The doctrine creates a healthy boundary that determines who’s in the group and who’s out.

In a similar vein, boundaries allows us to be in a group without being run over by it:

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 7: 6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside, and the pigs outside.12

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

Boundaries enable us to remain humble and teachable because they give us the self confidence and internal assurance that we can listen and learn knowing that in the end we will only let what we want inside our fence. And because in the end we alone are the gatekeeper, there’s no point in engaging in rude, childish rebellion. That’s because if someone tries to control us we can end the control by simply shutting the gate. Thus we can be in a group without being dominated by it. If the group becomes too much of a problem, the solution is easy: Just walk away.

The key word here is balance. Health requires quiet, steady moderation  rather than bombastic, erratic skewing from extreme to extreme. So if you find yourself always on the outline looking in then you know that you’ve gone overboard with the “walking away” thing. If, on the other hand, you find yourself angry, frustrated, and unable to find your own voice then you probably haven’t walked away enough. And finally, it should be noted that healthy boundaries mean that we don’t tell others what they’re going to do (that’s control), it means that we tell others what we’re going to.

Bringing it back around, it was selfish, arrogant, irrational, and unbiblical of Joseph Smith to think that he could just discard 1,900-plus years of Christian orthodoxy and reinvent Christianity on his own from scratch wasn’t it? So how is it any different for an Ex-Mormon who does the same thing today? Respecting Christianity’s boundaries isn’t legalism or being oppressed by over bearing, controlling, and legalistic religionists, it’s just good old fashioned common sense. More than that, it’s biblical isn’t it?

Consider for a moment what would have happened if Joseph Smith had heeded this advice and would have had a humble, teachable spirit guarding by healthy boundaries – instead of having to be the lead rebel in rogue’s gallery of religious rebels? I suspect that he would have had the “knots” in his bad theology worked out over time, he would have found his place in a good 19th Century church, and would have lived a long, healthy, and happy life. Instead he left us with the aftermath of a religious rebellion that has destroyed countless families and lives.

1 Samuel 15:23 (NKJV) says that, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” In the end that’s really what we’re talking about here isn’t it? The spirit of Mormonism is the spirit of rebellion. And Mormon style rebellion has consequences.

My dear transitioning Mormon friend, after watching Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon after Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon “crash, boom, bang” due to theological rebellion, I don’t recommend it.

This is not the solution.

No matter how tempting, this ISN’T the solution.

NOTES
1 Robert N. Hullinger, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p.ix

2 Ibid, p. 150

3 Ibid, p.172

4 My intention here isn’t to start a debate or dogmatize the doctrine of the Trinity, merely to use to it as an example of a legitimate Christian theological boundary. If the reader is interested in a good resource that explains the doctrine of the Trinity from the Bible I recommend Rob Bowman’s excellent web series, “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study”.

5 In my opinion, one of the best things that every Ex-Mormon can do is learn Christian Church History. Not only does this help expose and purge the propaganda style revisionist history that Mormons are taught in the LdS Church, it helps the transitioning Mormon understand how and why these theological boundaries exist at all. A good resource here is Dr. Bruce L. Shelley’s classic work, “Church History in Plain Language”.

6 Fred W. Anson, “Dear Michelle”, Beggar’s Bread website

7 This may not be easy but it is worth it! A big help in easing the transition here is to realize that the churches and denominations in mainstream Christianity are as culturally distinct as Mormon culture is. A useful model to use when transitioning is that of an immigrant living their native country and transitioning into a new culture. You will experience culture shock when you visit non-Mormon churches, be prepared for it. That said, there are some things you can do to lessen the impact. Here’s the advice that I gave in the aforementioned “Dear Michelle” article:

“I would recommend that you try to find a church that’s in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I make this recommendation because the Mormon Chapel liturgy was “borrowed” from the 19th Century Methodist church. Specifically, that means finding and attending a Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, or Holiness church. And I would recommend that you stick with the “Traditional” (rather than the “Contemporary”) service as it’s closest to the 19th Century style liturgy that you’re familiar with in the Mormon Church.

Again, the most important thing with any church that you attend is that they love, respect, teach, and obey the Bible. Never the less, all too often transitioning Mormons are off-put by modern expressions of worship that are too far afield from the traditional Latter-day Saint Chapel service. If you want to try or move on to a different, more contemporary type of corporate worship later it’s up to you but I would recommend that you stick with the traditional “Methodist style” until you find your “sea legs” in modern mainstream Christianity.”

8 Michael J. Stevens, “Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints”, Sunstone magazine, April 2013

9 Ibid

10 Please note that with the advent of Postmodernism one will find the same problem of theological rebellion in the mainstream Christian Church as well. As Theologian, Matt Slick as rightly observed:

…postmodernism is relativism. Postmodernism is a reaction against the logical truth structures of modern thought that gave us absolute propositions about nature, time, space, mathematics, knowability, repeatability of experimentation, predictability, etc. As modernism developed the sciences, technology, and medicine, it has helped to produce a comfortable and predictable society–wherein people tend to become complacent, comfortable, and predictable. But there are always people who ask questions rather than blindly follow the status quo. They look for different ways of expression, different interpretations of truth, teach the idea that truth is not necessarily absolute and that reality can be reinterpreted. It is within the postmodern context that the Emerging Churches are seeking to work.

It is a difficult venture to try to reach the hearts and minds of those who are less open to absolutes than previous generations. So, instead of absolute truth propositions, Emerging Churches tend to focus on relationships, expressiveness, and new ways of trying to reach God. Is it good? Yes and no. It is good only so far as it is consistent with Scripture. It is bad whenever it deviates from it.
(Matt Slick, “The Emerging Church and postmodernism”; CARM website)

The key difference here is the reality of boundary maintenance that biblical absolutes and 2,000-plus years of doctrinal refinement provide. Further, theological rebellion typically isn’t enculturated into the membership, reinforced by leaders, and at the root of the entire theological system as it is in Mormonism. Stated plainly, if you take away theological rebellion then Mormonism is no longer Mormonism. Add theological rebellion to mainstream Christianity and it is no longer Christian.

However, there are still glaring exceptions – especially in the case of theological liberal churches and denominations. In those cases you will notice that many Biblical Christians are just as quick to denounce these theologically rebellious churches and denominations as they are errant individuals. There’s no double standard here, the rules apply equally to Mormon, Ex-Mormon and Christian alike.

11 Henry Cloud and John Townsend, “Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No”, p.29

12 Ibid, p.31

boundaries

THIS is the solution.

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Authentic_Fire_Book_png_grandeReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire
Author: Michael L. Brown
Publisher: Creation House
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2015
Length: 426 pages
Binding: eBook
ISBN10: 1629984558
ISBN13: 978-1629984551
Price: $9.99 (Digital), $19.99 (Print) 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to review this book or discuss the book that it’s in response to (“Strange Fire” by John MacArthur) without talking about personalities. That said, while I am a Charismatic, Michael Brown is far more Pentecostal than I will ever be – or want to be. And while I’m Reformed, John MacArthur is far more Calvinistic than I will ever be – or want to be. After reading this book and considering the output from the Strange Fire camp (including the book of that title) I find myself somewhere between the two men.

Let’s start with this book. While I concur with most of what Michael Brown and his appendix authors present in this book – particularly their superb exegesis of scripture – I was troubled by the recurrence of that oldest of Pentecostal fallacies: An over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. This is particularly troubling to me since, as a Mormon Studies Scholar, I’m all too familiar with cults and other unorthodox groups citing anecdotes and experiences as though they’re conclusive, objective, empirical evidence. Folks, they’re not, they’re just not. While to some this may seem a niggling gnat straining point, it’s not since Charismatics are often (and not without reason) accused of elevating experience above biblical authority. This the very thesis that forms the core of MacArthur’s book and the one which he gleefully hammered away at for 352 pages, through an entire conference, and now continues through countless tweets and articles.

For example, I was troubled by Brown’s frequent reference to being slain in the Spirit (or “falling under the power of God” as he more often referred to it in the book) as if it were a “biblical given” based on his experiences and stories.  The fact is that it appears exactly nowhere in the Bible (that is unless you eisegete it into the text). This is a glaring hole in this book. By relying on anecdotes, in my opinion, Brown and some of his co-contributors have left themselves open and exposed for even more criticism from the Strange Fire camp.

That said, I thought that they did an excellent job of exposing the glaring hole in MacArthur’s book in particular and his stance in general:  His failure to exegete from the entirety of scripture and tendency to exegete only from select texts. For example, nowhere in his book does he address 1 Corinthians 14 where the public use of the “sign gifts” (to use a cessationist term that never appears in the Bible) of congregational prophetic utterances and tongues is not only commended, encouraged, and endorsed but given a practical framework in which they are to work in the local church.

Another example is his failure to address the last words in the Bible on the practice of charismata which are: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39, NASB) Respectfully, Mr. MacArthur, if you truly respect the authority of scripture and the authority of the foundational teachings of the Apostles of the Lamb then you can neither ignore this Biblical mandate or criticize others when they respect and obey it.

So clearly there’s bias on both sides – to the surprise, I’m sure, of no one. So the question is, who makes the most compelling case? In my opinion, it’s Michael Brown and his appendix authors. They present a compelling and cogent case that’s truly “sola scriptura” rather than “sola scriptura AND”.  The “AND” in this case are renowned historical figures of the Protestant Reformation in general and John Calvin in particular (for example, consider “Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists” by Steve Lawson from the Strange Fire conference for a glaring example of this).

Yes, I’m Reformed but I refuse to put a pinch of incense on the altar of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, or anyone else in addition to declaring Jesus Lord and the scripture His gave us the absolute, final authority for this mortal passage. Michael Brown and the appendix authors very rightly call the Strange Fire camp to task for this.


Above: In contrast to Michael Brown’s calm, reasoned, and thoughtful response to Strange Fire, Pentecostal preacher Perry Stone demonstrates how NOT to respond. 

Last but not least, I’m not as nice as Michael Brown (after all I am one of those cranky, scholarly, truth-oriented, confessing, and Bible thumping, Reformed folks). So I’m just going to say it: John MacArthur can be a real bully. I say this while at the same time happily acknowledging all the wonderful benefit that I’ve derived from listening to more than my fair share of his excellent books and sermons over the years. I honor his gifting as a Bible teacher, expositor, and theologian. However, I’m not blind, nor am I deaf and it’s hard to miss the harsh, ungracious, even mean-spirited jabs that I have heard him take at those he differs with over the years – and that includes cessationists, continuationists, and even other Reformed theologians. It seems that you risk a declaration of war if you dare disagree with Mr. MacArthur. Pentecostals and Charismatics may be his favorite target but they’re far from his only target.

Further, after the harsh and uncharitable hatchet job that he did on John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement in 1993 (full disclosure, I and many other Charismatics were critical of the excesses in the Vineyard at the time as well) in “Charismatic Chaos” as well as the seemingly endless stream of exaggerated, unkind, unmerciful, and ungracious articles and sermons he has preached against Pentecostalism over the years neither his book or his conference came as any surprise – it was just par for the course only with a new club.

Particularly troubling was his comment in “Strange Fire Panel Question and Answer, Session 1” that, “I believe that we are not dividing the body of Christ in this conference.  We are trying to identify the body of Christ and show that these people aren’t part of it“. With that statement (which garnered applause from the audience) Mr. MacArthur has just thrown a half a billion Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians under the bus as not belonging to the body of Christ.

This isn’t theory or hyperbole, the fruit of the “license to kill” and relentless unkind, vitriol that he has  on Pentecostals and Charismatics can readily be seen in the mean spirited memes and posts that fill the Reformed groups on social media. Clearly John MacArthur and the Strange Fire camp has unleashed something is hard to describe as “Christian”. This is unfortunately and, frankly, I would expect more of someone of Mr. MacArthur’s maturity, stature, and position within the body of Christ. However, given the prejudiced model of bigoted bullying that MacArthur has modeled in Strange Fire and his two prior works on the Charismatic Movement (1978’s “The Charismatics” and 1993’s “Charismatic Chaos”) it’s no wonder less mature Christians feel the freedom to do the same.

But with that said is this response to all this bludgeoning perfect? No. However, given the ungracious, unkind, and unfair nature of the Strange Fire onslaught it needed to be written and, as other reviewers have noted, it does a fine job of addressing, as one pastor put it so well, “the strange theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”. But more than that it stands up to a bully – and that’s never a bad thing.

A few final thoughts:

First, please read John MacArthur’s book and consider the Strange Fire conference addresses (which can easily be found on the internet). Please don’t take my, Michael Brown, or anyone else’s word for what they’ve said and the way they’ve said it. Frankly, I think that it speaks for itself. Suffice to say, in my opinion, the strong criticism that these materials have received from both the cessationist and continuationist camps is well deserved! MacArthur has since tried to reposition it all as “the start of a conversation”, however, the tone, content, and rhetorical style is clearly something else.

Second, some of the best material in this book (Authentic Fire) is in the appendices. Don’t skip them. In fact, I recommend that you first read through them starting with, “Why NT Prophecy Does NOT Result in ‘Scripture-quality’ Revelatory Words (A Response to the Most Frequently Cited Cessationist Argument against the Contemporary Validity of Spiritual Gifts)” by Sam Storms. This is Appendix B. Frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with Craig S. Keener’s Appendix A (“The Ongoing Evidence of Miracles, with Thoughts on African Charismatic Christianity”) due to its over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. In fact, in my opinion, you could just skip it without missing too much. However, I should probably add that Keener’s review of Strange Fire (which be read by clicking here) is superb and brings much to the conversation – it more than compensates for any deficiency in his contribution to Authentic Fire.

Third, The Pneuma Review published a superb panel discussion of Charismatic leaders and thinkers back in October 2013 in the fall out of the Strange Fire Conference (circa October 16-18, 2013) as web portal page. Everyone from Tim Challies to Adrian Warnock is present. There are hours of reading and it’s well worth your time. Click here.

Finally, in addition to this book I highly recommend that the reader works through Don Horban’s superb teaching series, “The Strange Theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” which can be found by clicking here. Pastor Horban addresses many issues and points that were missed in this book. It is an excellent supplement to the Authentic Fire book and a masterful response to the Strange Fire camp.

(versions of this review have also been previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

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TheCharismaticsFrontCover_EDITEDReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective
Author: John F. MacArthur, Jr.
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Nonfiction, Religion
Year Published: 1978
Length: 224 pages
Binding: Hardcover, Paperback
ISBN10: 0310284902
ISBN13: 978-0310284901
Price: $12.99 (Hardcover),  $9.95 (Trade Paperback)

While it may be hard to believe now, this nearly forty-year-old book was the first crack in the dike for the flood that was to follow 14-years later in “Charismatic Chaos” (308 pages, circa 1992), and then the tsunami that hit 21-years later in  “Strange Fire” (352 pages, circa 2013). Never the less, the only things that have really changed in the ensuing years and various editions (of essentially the same book) are: a) the people and movements that Mr. MacArthur snipes at; b) the increasingly shrill tone that came with each new offering, and; c) the length and breadth of the polemic – it keeps getting longer and wider. Given all that, a better title for this book would have been, “The Charismatics: A Polemic Perspective”. In fact, Timothy George (the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University) could have been talking about this book when he wrote:

Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN [the Trinity Broadcasting Network]. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

I’ve been Charismatic since 1976 so this book brings back memories good and bad. What’s addressed here is as much a part of my personal history as they are threads in the tapestry of Christian church history as a whole. However, like MacArthur, I was more an observer than a direct participant. The reason for that is simple: The movements, places, and personalities that MacArthur criticizes (often rightly) in this work were all considered on the lunatic fringe back in the day. We moderate, theologically conservative, Charismatics avoided the likes of Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, and the first generation TBN crowd then just as surely as we avoid Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and new generation TBN crowd today.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (CA) in the late 1970's. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (California) in the late 1970’s. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

I would echo the words of Joseph Mattera (Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York) when he said, “As a believer with a Pentecostal experience since 1978 I have seen many genuine moves of God as well as many counterfeit works of the flesh. Unfortunately, many believers lack the discernment to tell the difference between what is of God and what originates with man.” (Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”, Spirit Life Magazine, September 26, 2013)

So, given that, why is it that John MacArthur presents these errant, fanatical “out there” Charismaniacs as the norm in this book while simultaneously misrepresenting or outright ignoring the theologically sound and conservative Charismatics that comprised the core of the movement at that time? For example, after giving some examples of Charismatic excesses (a lady who claimed that God “healed” her flat tire and a woman who claimed that she had taught her dog to praise the Lord in an unknown bark) MacArthur makes this claim:

Granted, both of these examples are bizarre. Perhaps it unfair to characterize the Charismatic movement with illustrations like these. I wish that were true. I wish these two examples are rare, but they are not. And the reason they are not is that in the Charismatic ranks no experience has to stand the test of Scripture. The Charismatics, by the nature of their theological persuasion, have no way to judge or stop bizarre testimonies of experience because the experience validates itself. Instead of checking someone’s experience against the Bible for validity, the Charismatic tries to get the Bible to fit the experience, or, failing that, he just ignores the Bible.
(John F. MacArthur, Jr., “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, pp.58-59, italics retained from original)

Indeed, Mr. MacArthur, it is unfair. This is nothing like the kind of normative Charismatic behavior and theology that the aforementioned Joseph Mattera articulates so well in his article:

Isaiah 8:20 says if we speak not according to the scripture then we have no light. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, correction and for training in righteousness. The scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth…

The more sure word of prophecy comes from the inspired writings of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments, which should be our guiding light for life (2 Peter 1:19-21) and by which all prophetic utterances should be judged. If the prophetic word or supernatural vision doesn’t go against the scriptures, then we still need to pray and get a witness from the Lord in our spirit as well as get counsel from mature leaders as to whether this specific prophetic word or vision is really specific guidance from Him.
(Op cit, Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”)

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and bad of this period of the Charismatic Movement.

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and the bad that went on in the Charismatic Movement during this period.

But if that misleading misrepresentation isn’t enough, later in the book MacArthur presents the following as something that Charismatics would object to rather than affirm:

“From the time of the apostles until the present, the true church has believed the Bible is complete. God has given His revelation is finished. What He gave is complete, efficient, sufficient, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.”
(Op cit, MacArthur, “The Charismatics”, p.25)

He then proceeds to construct this straw man argument:

“Although Charismatics will deny that they are trying to add to Scripture, their views on prophetic utterance, gifts of prophecy, and revelation really do just that. As they add – however unwittingly – to God’s final revelation, they undermine the uniqueness and authority of the Bible. New revelation, dreams, and visions come to be binding on the believer’s conscience as the Book of Romans or the Gospel of John.” 
(Ibid)

Well, Mr. MacArthur, I’m sure that I’m not the first to say, “That is utter nonsense!” and I’m sure that I won’t be the last. This is a complete caricature of how I and most Charismatics that I know treat prophecy, dreams, and visions. Rather, Mr. MacArthur, it’s quite simple: If any new revelation, dream, or vision contradicts the Bible it is promptly and completely thrown out as illegitimate. Period. Always has been, always will be.

Equally upsetting is how Mr. MacArthur incorrectly and flippantly dismisses the normative Charismatic stance in this area as if it’s irrelevant:

“Some Charismatics would say that people misunderstand what they mean by prophetic utterance and new revelation. No effort is made to change Scripture or even equal it. What is happening is the ‘clarifying of Scripture’ as it is applied or directed to a contemporary setting, such as the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11:28.”
(Ibid)

Yes, Mr. MacArthur, exactly! We are indeed just doing what Agabus was doing in Acts 11:28 (NKJV) …

“Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.”

… and then again in Acts 21:10-11 (NKJV):

“as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, /Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'”

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can't get more "70's" than this!

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can’t get more “70’s” than this folks!

Why is this a problem? Do you believe the Bible is authoritative or don’t you sir? If so, then why do you disobey the apostolic injunction that clearly states: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, NKJV) Was Luke errant in recording Agabus’ words and behavior as a model for New Testament ecclesiology? Was Paul negligent in not reproving Luke and Agabus for their folly? And was Paul a fool for admonishing the Thessalonians to continue in the error of Agabus?

And so it goes in this book. Straw man after straw man. Logical fallacy after logical fallacy. Misrepresentation after misrepresentation. Exaggeration, misstatement, imbalance, data mined propaganda, confirmation bias driven presuppositionalism, and bigoted, prejudiced condescension from a mind so closed that no logic, reason, or appeal can possibly touch it.1 Page after page MacArthur acts with all the grace, equity, and gentleness of a schoolyard bully. Just consider this “gem” from the chapter on authority:

“Today, with their emphasis on experience, many in the Charismatic movement are perilously close to a type of neo-Baalism! 

It is not too hard to see that experience can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of Satan. Satan delights in getting Christians to emphasize experience and to de-emphasize God’s Word.” 
(Ibid, p. 68)

So there you have it: Charismatics are the new, apostate idol worshipers drawing God’s people from true and pure worship and into syncretistic paganism. And compared to some of the other claims that MacArthur makes in this book, that’s actually tame. Elsewhere we’re told that Charismatics might be demon possessed (see pp.175-179) and their miracles actually the work of Satan masquerading as acts of God (see pp.114-117). Given all that, perhaps Michael Brown’s observation regarding the fruit of MacArthur’s last Anti-Charismatic polemic tome (Strange Fire, 2013) is just as true as his first (The Charismatics, 1978):

John MacArthur circa late 1970's/Early 1980's.

John MacArthur (late 1970’s/early 1980’s)

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

Friends, this isn’t how one talks or reasons with someone that one hopes to lovingly correct. Vineyard Pastor Rich Nathan summed John MacArthur’s Anti-Charismatic behavior well when he said:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

Stated plainly, given his polemic extremes does Mr. MacArthur really expect anyone not already in his camp to listen to him? Theologian C. Michael Patton (a cessationist and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries) spoke for many of us when on the advent of the 2013 Strange Fire Conference he suggested that MacArthur’s never-ending stream of polemic rhetoric may be causing him to lose his voice as a Christian leader:

It is irresponsible to criticize the easy targets within a movement. We call this a “straw man” argument. It is when you choose the worst representative you can and argue against him. Of course, with charismatics in popular culture, the easy targets are the “crazies” who get all the air time. Why do they get the air time? Well, it is entertaining for many to watch. And the sensationalism that can come from these abuses is also easy for the non-charismatic to look at and discredit. But think of all the movements which are part of the Christian fold today that could be picked apart because of some abuses and excesses within. The first two that come to mind would be Calvinism and Pretribulationalism. Certainly conferences could be done about both, characterizing each by the worst-of. But how responsible and godly is that? Yes, you may make a qualification at the beginning and the end saying, “Look, I realize that not all Calvinists are arrogant SOBs, but the movement is dangerous. It is filled with monsters who believe God hates unbelievers.” Or, concerning Pretribulationalism, “I know that not all Pretribulationalists are date setters, but the theology is dangerous and produces an unbiblical mentality. It is filled with date-setting and causes people to be unconcerned with this present world.” Of course, these criticisms can be true, but they are not the necessary outcome of their beliefs and, more importantly, they don’t deal honestly with the arguments…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the [Strange Fire] conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, ReclaimingTheMind.org website, October 15, 2013) 

I think that Mr. Patton is right – and it breaks my heart. I love John MacArthur’s body of work. Some of the greatest sermons and best Bible exposition I’ve ever heard have come from his pulpit. And even though I disagree with him in part, I absolutely adore my MacArthur Study Bible for the deep insight and into the biblical text that it contains – it is my “go to” commentary. John MacArthur is not only not my enemy but I consider him a valued ally in preaching the gospel, proclaiming truth, and bringing glory to God alone.

Yet here we are 39-years and two more books later and Mr. MacArthur’s loveless Anti-Charismatic blindness has gotten worse, not better. So despite my respect and admiration for Mr. MacArthur, I suspect, based on the tone of the three highly polemic works that I have read alone, that he couldn’t bring himself to say anything good about me – or think that I have anything of value to add to any conversation –  simply because I’m a Charismatic. While he isn’t my enemy I suspect that in his mind I am his. Folks, that’s just sad, isn’t it?

And the fact remains that this subject seems to be an obsession for Mr. MacArthur. So in another decade or so we can fully expect to see another work from him on the Charismatic movement. I will be praying that between now and then things will change for him (not unlike the Grinch growing a heart) and his stance will at least soften to at least a point of respectful tolerance. Yes, it will take a miracle but we serve a great God – and one who still speaks moves and performs miracles today.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970's.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970’s.

NOTES
1 Lest the reader think my rhetoric too harsh here please consider this:

First, here’s how John MacArthur cites Charismatic Theologian Gordon Fee in “Charismatic Chaos” the Anti-Charismatic work that followed the one being reviewed here:

“Gordon Fee, a writer who himself is a Charismatic, commented in the hermeneutical difficulties posed by the way Charismatics typically render the book of Acts:

If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common. Or further, is it at all legitimate to take any descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1:26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?’

But the book Acts was never intended to be a primary basis church doctrine to the church. It records only the earliest days of the church age and shows the church in tradition from the Old Covenant into the New. The apostolic healings and miracles and signs and wonders evident in Acts were not common, even in those days. They were exceptional events, each with a specific purpose, always associated with the ministry of the apostles and their frequency can be seen decreasing dramatically even from the beginning of the book of Acts to the end.”
(John MacArthur, “Charismatic Chaos”, p.208, bolding added on the Gordon Fee cited text)

But here’s what Mr. Fee actually said in it’s full context:

“In defense of Pentecostals, it should be observed that although they have tended to arrive at the biblical norm by way of experience, they are not alone in establishing norms on the basis of historical precedent rather than on the explicit teaching of Scripture. The practice of infant baptism and the theology of its necessity are based first of all on the exegesis of some historical passages in Acts and one in 1 Corinthians (7: 14); they are made normative on the basis of the historical precedent. (Roman Catholic theologians would prefer the word “tradition.”) The Baptists’ insistence on baptism by immersion is based on no clear statement of Scripture, but rather on the exegesis of certain passages (including word study: “to baptize” = “to immerse”) and historical precedent. The partaking of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is required by some Christians on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 20: 7). Likewise, on the basis of Acts 2: 44– 45 some groups in the Jesus-movement required the selling of possessions and having all things in common. Even such fringe groups as the snake-handlers argue for their distinctive practices partly on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 28: 3– 6).

The hermeneutical problem, therefore, is not unique to Pentecostals. It has to do with the interpretation and appropriation of the historical sections of Scripture. The problem may be posed in several ways. How is the book of Acts the word of God? That is, does it have a word which not only describes the primitive church but speaks as a norm to the church at all times? If there is such a word, how does one discover it, or set up principles in order to hear it? If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is, why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common? Or further, is it at all legitimate to take descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1: 26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?”
(Gordon D. Fee, “Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics”, (pp.87-88). Baker Publishing Group, bolding added on selection cited by John MacArthur)

Did you notice how Mr. MacArthur has taken a passage that explicitly indicts both cessationists and continuationists for hermenuetics that are ultimately rooted and grounded in experience first bias and data mines it? Specifically he cites only the content that suit his agenda in an out of context manner so that it appears to be an indictment of Charismatics alone when that’s simply not the case.

Second, I would refer the reader to the appendix of my review of “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko in which MacArthur also engages in similar data mining and text twisting tactics in an attempt to build a case that there’s a movement of mainstream Charismatic Christians seeking ecumenical unity with tongues speaking Mormons. As I concluded there, directly addressing Mr. MacArthur:

…you knew that these authors were Mormon converts when you dishonestly tried to pass them off as Charismatic Christians didn’t you? So, in a similar manner Mr. MacArthur, no matter how many times you attempt to count the Datskos as Charismatic Christians, zero plus zero still equals zero. Finally, as Kathy Datsko stated plainly in her February 2013 comment, and as I have repeatedly observed myself, Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur your evidence that mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.
(Fred W. Anson, “Book Review: “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko”)

Sadly, it’s quite apparent in his Anti-Charismatic work John MacArthur isn’t really interested in truth, balance, or justice. As one reviewer of MacArthur’s third Anti-Charismatic book, “Strange Fire” noted, “Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.” (Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And apparently, if that means using unethical tactics like data mined propaganda generation, then so be it.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

BACK TO TOP

451118Reviewed by Rich Nathan

Title: Charismatic Chaos
Author: John F. MacArthur, Jr.
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 1992
Length: 308 pages
Binding: Hardcover, Paperback, Sermon Audio Series
ISBN10: 0310575702
ISBN13: 978-0310575702
Price: $15.99 (Hardcover),  $9.99 (Trade Paperback), $1.99 (Pocket Paperback)

Editor’s Introduction: Why is Beggar’s Bread is republishing a book review that’s now close to a quarter of a century old and that discusses personalities, issues, that are now either dead or passe’?  Well as George Orwell said so profoundly, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” (“1984”, Kindle location 492). And if John MacArthur’s use of revisionist polemic history in his latest Anti-Charismatic book “Strange Fire” is any indication (see “Selective use of history” Craig S. Keener’s review for specifics), this is a concept that he understands very well. Further, “Strange Fire” (352 pages, circa 2013) was essentially just an expanded and updated version of “Charismatic Chaos” (308 pages, circa 1992), just it was essentially just an expanded and updated version of his very first Anti-Charismatic book, “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective” (224 pages, circa 1978). And as is so often the case, history has a way of unraveling mystery. In this case the mystery of John MacArthur’s Anti-Charismatic obsession is no exception when fully considered in its full historical context. — Fred W. Anson

There is a woman in our church who was diagnosed as having heart problems about five years ago. Her doctor prescribed heart medication for her condition. Unfortunately, the woman got sicker and sicker. She began to retain water, her skin began to crack, she was frequently depressed, and there were days when she could not get out of bed. Her physician tried a variety of medications, but the woman grew steadily worse.

After four years of being treated for a heart problem, the woman went to another physician who flatly stated that she had no heart problem at all. In fact, the woman was a diabetic and needed insulin for her diabetes. After a very short time of taking insulin, the woman felt remarkably better. She was no longer depressed, she did not retain water, her skin cleared up, and she had a normal energy level again.

This story, though true, serves as a parable for John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1992). MacArthur is like the first physician as he examines the charismatic movement. It’s clear to him that something is wrong with the charismatic movement. He sees some of the symptoms of illness, but he completely misdiagnoses the reasons for the illness. And his prescription is, frankly, designed to kill the patient.

I personally agree with a number of points in MacArthur’s book. Like many Christians, I too have grave problems with the prosperity message and the positive confession movement. Suffering, as much as faith, is an integral part of the Christian life (Phil. 1:29). I also share the general disgust that most Christians have for those television evangelists who are simply money-grubbers. Like my colleagues in the Vineyard, I oppose a view of spirituality that eliminates the maturing effect of traditional means of sanctification, such as Bible study, prayer and fellowship. And I hate the hyped testimonies of alleged “healings” that evaporate upon honest investigation.

This book, however, is particularly difficult to read for a number of reasons. MacArthur has the unfortunate weakness of exaggerating his opponents’ faults. Not only is the bizarre and the quirky repeatedly emphasized, but MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that’s balanced, Biblical, and mature. MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement – now over 400 million strong – has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God. He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement.

John MacArthur circa 1992.

John MacArthur circa 1992.

Excessive dogmatism is another fault of MacArthur’s book. He lumps heresies, such as the view that human beings can share the deity of Christ, together with questions that should be open for discussion, such as “does the gift of tongues exist today?” Since MacArthur is dogmatic about virtually everything he says (something is either “Biblical” or “patently unbiblical” in MacArthur’s book), he leaves absolutely no room for the reader to disagree and yet still be viewed as orthodox.

Indeed, in MacArthur’s world, there does not seem to be any legitimate debate about almost any theological issue within Christian orthodoxy. This leads to the troubling conclusion that either MacArthur is unaware of most of the church’s history and the legitimacy of differing Biblical viewpoints other than one’s own, or he believes that he has received some special revelation regarding what is the truth about all matters. In either case, who can fault the reader for being turned off by MacArthur’s excessive dogmatism?

There’s another problem of lumping heresies together with matters that should be regarded as debatable by orthodox Christians: by shooting at every rabbit, MacArthur fails to ever bag the really big game. The big game involves the packaging of Christianity to suit the taste and appetites of the American consumer or the necessities of the television medium. A person in Missouri who believes a chicken was raised from the dead is hardly a national religious phenomenon. Consumer centered “Christianity” is, however, a major problem for the church in the 90s (II Tim. 4:3).

Finally, by way of introduction, MacArthur doesn’t rebuke charismatics as a person would rebuke a member of one’s own family. The book reads like hostile fire shot by an outsider. The tone, as will be seen by the numerous pejorative adjectives that MacArthur uses to describe charismatics, is anything but familial or irenic. It is one thing to have your child spanked by your spouse. It is quite another thing to have your child spanked by a stranger. Charismatics understandably react to being spanked by someone who intentionally positions himself as a stranger and not as a “dear friend, fellow worker… and [brother]” (Philem. 1:2).

I. Arguing Against Straw Men
Throughout this entire book, MacArthur has chosen to exaggerate the weaknesses of the charismatic viewpoint by selecting examples of the worst or the weakest of charismatic proponents rather than the best. Examples of this technique, fighting against the weakest of his opponents, are too numerous to exhaustively catalogue (since this flaw repeatedly runs through the entirety of Charismatic Chaos). However, I will, for the sake of fairness, mention just five examples to prove my point.

A. Do Kindergarten Sunday School materials fairly represent the charismatic movement?
In his chapter titled, “Is the Gift of Tongues for Today,” MacArthur begins with a quote from charismatic Sunday school literature designed to teach kindergarten children to speak in tongues. He writes,

‘[This literature designed for kindergarten children] is titled “I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit!!!” and is an eight page coloring book. One page has a caricature of a smiling weight-lifter with a T-shirt that says, “Spirit Man.” Under him is printed “1 Corinthians 14:4 – He that speaks in an unknown tongue builds himself up.”

Another page features a boy that looks like Howdy Doody with his hands lifted up. A dotted outline pictures where his lungs would be. (This evidently represents his spirit.) Inside the lung-shaped diagram is printed, “Bah-le odma ta lah-se ta no-mo.”‘

After describing this kindergarten book for children, MacArthur summarizes his view of the matter saying, “That expresses the typical charismatic perspective” (emphasis added).

It hardly needs stating that a comic book designed for children in kindergarten is not the best or most sophisticated theological thinking on a subject. Obviously, a thorough study of Sunday school literature for kindergartners in noncharismatic churches might similarly find unsophisticated explanations of a whole range of doctrines dear to most Christians. The only conceivable reason for using this kind of example is to portray charismatics as moronic. Why did he not, rather, tackle more scholarly expositions of the phenomenon of tongues by such people as Russell Spittler, Gordon Fee, Killian McDonnell, or Kevin Ranaghan? It certainly is not to MacArthur’s credit to argue against Sunday school material rather than serious scholarly work.

B. Are charismatics anti-medicine?
In his chapter on healing titled “Does God Still Heal?” MacArthur opens with the tragedy of Hobart Freeman’s “Glory Barn.” He describes Freeman’s extreme belief that submitting to a doctor’s remedy was to expose oneself to demonic influence. He then mentions that over the years, “at least ninety church members died as a result of ailments that would have been easily treatable” (p. 194). His use of Freeman as an opening example seems to imply that Freeman is somehow representative of mainstream charismatic or Pentecostal teaching about healing. MacArthur ought to know that this is absolutely untrue. Instead of beginning his chapter with Hobart Freeman, (giving the impression that this is mainstream thinking in the charismatic movement) why not, rather, open with the more thoughtful proponents of divine healing such as John Wimber, Francis MacNutt, or even 19th century proponents of divine healing such as A.J. Gordon, Andrew Murray, or A.B. Simpson? No mainstream charismatic or Pentecostal proponent of healing subscribes to the antimedicine views popularized by Hobart Freeman. Indeed, Freeman’s severest critics have come from within the charismatic camp!

NOTE: This shrine is now closed.

The Tortilla Shrine that John MacArthur makes such a fuss about. (click for details). By the way, Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico is a non-Charismatic Catholic.

C. Do charismatics build shrines to tortillas?
In his chapter titled “Does God Do Miracles Today”, MacArthur begins with the bizarre story of Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, who was frying tortillas in her kitchen when she noticed that one of them seemed to have the likeness of a face etched in burn marks. She concluded that it was Jesus and even built a crude shrine for the tortilla. Thousands of people visited the “Shrine of the Jesus of the Holy Tortilla” and concluded that it was, indeed, a modern day miracle. “I do not know why this happened to me,” Mrs. Rubio said, “but God has come into my life through this tortilla” (p. 107). MacArthur goes on to record another bizarre story of a man who discovered an image of Jesus on the side of a pizzeria in Deptforth Township, New Jersey. In considering whether God performs miracles after the apostolic era closed, why not, rather, interact with a long line of defenders of miracles in the church’s history going back to Justin Martyr, The Shepherd of Hermas, Irenaeus, or even St. Augustine in his “Retractions?” The reader searches in vain for any meaningful interaction in this book with the best proponents of post-apostolic miracles.

D. Do charismatics deny the authority of Scripture?
In his chapter titled, “Prophets, Fanatics, or Heretics?” MacArthur goes beyond portraying charismatics as fools to lumping them together with cult leaders such as Sun Myung Moon, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Edgar Cayce, and L. Ron Hubbard. MacArthur, again, never lets the mainstream of the Pentecostal or charismatic movement speak for itself, preferring, rather, to pretend that high views of Scripture’s authority are non-existent in the movement. He even asserts that “charismatic celebrities barely even give lip service to Biblical authority” (p. 17). Perhaps celebrities (I don’t know to whom he is referring) have not given lip service. The mainstream certainly has spoken volumes.

The mainstream is well represented by the Assemblies of God statement on Scripture that reads: “The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).” Noteworthy is the conservative belief in Scripture’s “verbal inspiration.” Indeed, the Assemblies of God church became the largest member church of the National Association of Evangelicals shortly after the NAE’s founding in 1942. An Assemblies pastor was chosen president of the NAE in 1960. Its conservative evangelical pedigree should thus be assured to all but the most suspicious critics.

To preserve conformity with this Statement of Faith and historic orthodoxy, the Assemblies of God set up a Commission on Doctrinal Purity to review possibly deviant teachings of individual ministries. In examining the movement as a whole, Russell Spittler, a New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and a recognized scholar regarding Pentecostal spirituality, calls belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority one of the most significant traits of Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality.

J. Rodman Williams in the introduction of volume one of his Renewal Theology affirms the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the objective rule of Christian truth. As a professor of theology at Regent University (a charismatic institution) Dr. Williams is a credible voice for the charismatic point of view regarding the authority of the Scripture. He writes,

“To be sure, the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, and the Christian community profoundly knows the things of God through the indwelling Spirit; however, there is the continuing need for the authority of Holy Scripture. Without such, because of human fallibility, truth soon becomes compounded with error. “What does the Scripture say?” is the critical question that must undergird all theological work.

It should be immediately added that there can be no basic difference between the truth the Christian community knows through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and what is set forth in Scripture. Since all Scripture is “God-breathed” (which means “God Spirited”) or Spirit given, it is the same Holy Spirit at work in both Scripture and community. However, in terms of that which is authorative and therefore normative, what is written in Scripture always has the primacy. It tests and judges every affirmation of faith and doctrine.”

In the book titled, Pentecostal Preaching, by R.H. Hughes, Hughes sets forth several of the basics of Pentecostal preaching. Hughes’ first major point is that true Pentecostal preaching centers on the Word of God. He states:

“Pentecostals have been so identified by an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit that some observers overlook the fact that a cardinal principle of Pentecostalism has always been strict adherence, first and foremost, to the Bible. For one properly to understand the role of Pentecostal preaching, this basic first principle – the centrality of the Word of God – will have to be kept in mind… For Pentecostals today the Word is central in all life practices as well as to all doctrine. It is both the manual by which to operate and the standard by which to judge. To think otherwise, or to try to understand Pentecostalism from any other perspective, is erroneous.”

Hughes goes on to state that Pentecostal preaching must always exalt Jesus Christ. He states that preaching that extols anything “other than the grace manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ is not Pentecostal preaching no matter how it is labeled.”

E. Do charismatics believe “zapping” results in instant sanctification?
In his chapter “What is True Spirituality?” MacArthur states:

“For the typical charismatic, the gateway to spirituality is through an experience, usually speaking in tongues. The term actually used by some charismatics is “zapped.” It accurately describes the way most charismatics view sanctification. People in my congregation tell me when they have talked with charismatics about spirituality and have admitted that they have never had an ecstatic experience, the charismatic person would say, “Well, may Jesus zap you!”‘

I have been around thousands of charismatics and Pentecostals in my life and I have never met anyone who has ever said, “May Jesus zap you!” Why did MacArthur choose to use such ludicrous language in arguing against a subsequent experience of the Holy Spirit? Why not, rather, deal with the best proponents of post-salvation experiences of the Holy Spirit such as Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, D.L. Moody, John Wesley, or R.A. Torrey? Indeed, one can search long and hard in MacArthur’s book and never discover that many (presumably non-tongue speakers) have believed in subsequent experiences of the Holy Spirit that they labeled the “Baptism with the Holy Spirit.” And sadly, this demonstrates MacArthur’s repeated tendency to deal with the weakest rather than the strongest of his opponents and their arguments.

MacArthur further shows a profound ignorance of charismatic and Pentecostal doctrine when he suggests that “the charismatic movement has flourished primarily because it promises a shortcut to spiritual maturity…. Is there really a shortcut to sanctification?…. Many charismatics insist that once you get the baptism of the Spirit, spirituality is yours.” MacArthur clearly does not understand what the vast majority of charismatics and Pentecostals teach regarding the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. While the holiness variety of Pentecostalism does teach a second definite work – a post-conversion cleansing experience that enhances personal holiness – these holiness churches do not call that the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Even among Pentecostal holiness churches, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is provided not for personal holiness, but for empowerment for Christian service – such as for missionary evangelism or pastoral leadership. But apart from the holiness churches, the main body of charismatics and Pentecostals view sanctification along Reformed lines, progressing from conversion to death via traditional means of sanctification such as prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and service.

If MacArthur studied the matter, he could read numerous documents suggesting a Reformed viewpoint regarding sanctification from the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, The Assemblies of God churches, and The Open Bible Standard churches. This Reformed emphasis is also found in Vineyard churches.

In sum, MacArthur is really fighting a paper tiger when he suggests that Pentecostals or charismatics believe the “Baptism in the Spirit” or speaking in tongues provides instant spirituality. Mainstream Pentecostals and charismatics teach no such thing. Even in popular books of Pentecostal teaching, there is a clearly noted distinction between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit. Yet MacArthur is content to leave a false and misleading impression among those not familiar with Pentecostal and charismatic teaching.

F. Why should MacArthur stop fighting straw men?
Because Charismatic Chaos is so severely marred by the technique of arguing against straw men, perhaps it would be helpful to suggest three reasons why MacArthur ought to abandon this argumentative style (which unfortunately characterizes nearly all his writings).

1. The same technique can be applied to modern fundamentalism of which MacArthur is a representative and to Christianity in general.
One would not have to search too hard to find fundamentalists who believe in an especially inspired King James Version, a dictation theory of inspiration, or who have written fantastic books of prophetic schemes regarding the Middle East, which have proven to be absolutely false. Likewise, false and foolish statements from sincere nonfundamentalist Christians abound. Yet, it would be totally unfair to charge the best proponents of fundamentalism or Christianity with holding the views of their less sophisticated or educated brethren.

2. By arguing with the weakest of your opponents, one proves absolutely nothing.
One may appear to win, but the victory is false and hollow. The already convinced will applaud MacArthur and thank him for his thoughtful analysis (p. 13), but more objective observers watching the battle can rightly conclude that MacArthur either did not understand his opponents’ better arguments or did not have the ammunition to defeat them.

3. Perhaps most serious of all, arguing against straw men is unbefitting of a mature Christian.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Pinning a position to a Christian brother that he does not hold just to make him look foolish (or to win a cheap victory) is not just, merciful, nor does it display humility before God. After reading MacArthur’s book it could be asked: What price such a Pyrrhic victory?

II. The Tendency To Use Negative Labels
Perhaps the worst flaw in MacArthur’s argumentative style is his tendency to label his opponents with excessively negative and pejorative adjectives. MacArthur wonders in his introduction why he has received such strident opposition to his books from charismatics. He suggests, “The Biblical challenge is not to avoid truth that is controversial, but to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). I have endeavored to do that.” Is this, indeed, true? Has MacArthur endeavored, throughout his book, to “speak the truth in love?” He goes on to say that “most charismatics fall back on the all too easy defense that virtually every critique of their movement is unfair and unkind. Non-charismatics, intimidated by that accusation, are effectively silenced.” Perhaps MacArthur would understand why charismatics find it difficult to receive his message if he would go through his book, page by page, and simply note the disparaging labels he used and the accusations he made of his opponents’ motivations, intelligence, and orthodoxy.

John MacArthur in a 1992 video.

John MacArthur in a 1992 video. (click to see excerpts – which occur later in the presentation)

In his chapter on the Third Wave, MacArthur accuses the Third Wave of “rolling like a destructive tsunami, leaving chaos and confusion in its wake” (p.131); toning down his [Wimber’s] claims because he was being observed by objective observers (p. 133); badly corrupting the message of the gospel (p. 136); pragmatism (p. 141); being un-Biblical (p. 142); not believing in the deity of Christ (p. 143); being syncretistic (p. 148); and, engaged in a carefully crafted image that is the result of a skillful marketing campaign, attempting to sell the movement to noncharismatic evangelicals (p. 148).

In other places in Charismatic Chaos, he accuses charismatics and Pentecostals of being immoral (p. 21); “keen but clueless” (p. 40); anti-intellectual (p. 40); not far removed from existentialism, humanism, paganism (p.41); and, being “perilously close to neo-baalism” (p.43). It is difficult to dialogue with somebody who is as abusive and caustic as MacArthur is in his attacks on charismatics. He expresses surprise that charismatics become defensive when he simply “speaks the truth in love” to them. Perhaps if MacArthur stopped labeling and vilifying charismatics, they might find it easier to listen to him. (Later on I will devote an entire section to MacArthur’s charges against John Wimber).

Moreover, MacArthur uses terms such as “neo-orthodox” and “Roman Catholic” in describing some of the tendencies of the charismatic movement. Unfortunately, MacArthur displays no real appreciation of just what neo-orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is about. His understanding of neo-orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is superficial and entirely negative. While he may have read a book by Karl Barth or Emil Brunner, no one would believe that after reading his remarks on neo-orthodoxy. Likewise, he displays no current understanding of Roman Catholicism as treated by men like Hans Kung. For MacArthur, neo- orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are simply negative labels to be pinned to the chests of charismatics.

III. Fallacies Of Causation
It is commonplace in philosophy to distinguish between causation and correlation. Because A and B happen near each other, does not mean that A caused B. Thus if the stock market goes up the same day the Yankees win, it does not mean the Yankees’ victory caused the stock market rise.

A. Does charismatic belief cause immoral behavior?
Throughout MacArthur’s book, he regularly charges charismatics and Pentecostals with every type of sin imaginable. Thus, in MacArthur’s first chapter, he mentions the appalling sex scandals that have occurred among ostensibly Spirit-filled charismatic leaders. In an especially hysterical paragraph, MacArthur states:

“…such scandals are the legacy of a movement that touts spectacular signs and wonders as the only irrefutable verification of true spirituality. To authenticate their claims, some charismatic leaders resort to fraudulent or simulated ‘miracles.’ Spirituality is viewed as an external issue; godly character is nonessential to those who believe supernatural phenomena validate their claims to speak for God. Such a system breeds duplicity, trickery, charlatanism, and fraud..”

While MacArthur goes on to say he is not attempting to charge all charismatics with the broad brush of immorality or charlatanism, clearly he believes there is a causal connection between charismatic beliefs and sexual immorality, and fraud.

Unfortunately, MacArthur never demonstrates biblically how belief in tongues or the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” makes one more susceptible to immorality or chicanery. No empirical evidence is cited that charismatic and Pentecostal pastors or leaders are more susceptible to immorality than noncharismatic leaders and pastors. Televangelists’ well-publicized sins do not necessarily translate down to the man or woman in the pews or the shepherd caring for those men and women. In fact, sexual immorality is among the most abhorrent sins in the culturally conservative Pentecostal movement.

Immorality is, tragically, a phenomenon that seems to know no denominational boundaries. Indeed, several very prominent dispensational and fundamentalist leaders have had to step down from radio ministries, para-church leadership, and pastorates because of sexual immorality. One might more realistically point to the sex-drenched culture of the modern western world, the cult of sexual self-expression, and the absence of the practice of spiritual disciplines as more likely explanations for the fall of charismatic pastors than their experience of speaking in tongues.

B. Does belief in all the Biblical gifts of the Spirit cause sloppy exegesis?
MacArthur devotes the better part of a chapter to describing exegetical weaknesses in charismatic literature, and suggests that there is a causal connection between belief in charismatic experiences and sloppy exegesis. Yet, in his chapter, he never tells us why someone who believes in the present day existence of all the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, would be any more likely to exegete his or her Bible more sloppily than someone who doesn’t believe in the present existence of these gifts. Indeed, Gordon Fee, the well-known Pentecostal Bible scholar, wrote (with Douglas Stuart) one of the best popular books on Bible interpretation, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. Again, there is no empirical evidence cited for more sloppiness in exegesis among charismatics than among noncharismatics. A casual survey of Christian bookstores would yield shelves of books produced by noncharismatics on topics like eschatology, counseling, and men’s and women’s roles based on extremely questionable exegetical methods. D.A. Carson, a noncharismatic, wrote an entire book titled Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), in which he cites example after example of fallacious arguments made in popular Christian books. Most of the examples that Carson cites are from noncharismatic sources.

MacArthur himself falls prey to many of the errors that he claims are the special purview of charismatics. While MacArthur yielded to the temptation to tar the charismatic movement with poor interpretive methods, sloppy exegesis – like sexual immorality – knows no denominational bounds. It cannot be laid at the feet of any period in church history (it is found in all periods), nor can it be laid at the feet of any particular denomination (all the denominations fall short of perfectly interpreting the scriptures).

C. Do charismatic churches produce spiritual casualties?
MacArthur states:

“Charismatic chaos is usually not physically fatal, but the movement is littered with spiritual casualties. I received a letter from a Christian man whose wife became entangled with a fanatic charismatic assembly. He wrote me for counsel, brokenhearted, “She got involved with a group of charismatic women and they convinced her I was not saved since I didn’t speak in tongues, etc. as they taught her to do… finally, she left and filed for divorce two months ago. It will soon be final.”‘

Again, no empirical evidence is cited to show either that people who are charismatics are more likely (than non-charismatics) to divorce. Nor is there any evidence that the charismatic movement is “more littered with spiritual casualties” than non-charismatics. Indeed, if the findings of books such as Toxic Faith Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, 1991) are taken as accurate, fundamentalist churches often produce at least as many spiritual casualties as charismatic churches. Sadly, there are dozens of Fundamentalist Anonymous groups nationwide and the Christian Research Institute has received many reports of “casualties” from non-charismatic churches. In any case, there does not appear to be any causal connection between mainstream charismatic beliefs and becoming a spiritual casualty.

IV. False Models and False Questions
In chapter 9, titled “Does God Still Heal?” MacArthur lays out a six-pronged test, supposedly derived from the Bible to evaluate whether someone possesses a true gift of healing. The model includes the following:

1. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed with a word or a touch.
2. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed instantly.
3. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed totally.
4. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed everyone.
5. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed organic diseases.
6. Jesus (and the Apostles) raised the dead.

To this list, MacArthur added a seventh point: Jesus (and the Apostles) could use their miraculous gifts at will.

As MacArthur applies his supposedly biblically derived model he finds (not surprisingly) that modern healers do not meet the Biblical tests as outlined above. Many modern healings are delayed or are partial. Beyond that, no one heals everyone and there are few verified reports of raisings from the dead. Therefore, MacArthur concludes, whatever the source of the so-called modern gift of healing, it cannot be of God. MacArthur’s use of a self-constructed model to prove his case may indicate the contrived nature of this form of argumentation. Beyond this, model construction is a game that anyone can play. There is no necessary (or Biblical) requirement to use the criteria for healing that MacArthur supposedly distilled from the scriptures. Indeed, one could quite reasonably construct a “Biblical” model that would embrace, or would validate the current claim of healing gifts. For example, the criteria for evaluating a healing gift might be:

1. Jesus (and the Apostles) gave glory to God whenever a person was healed.
2. Jesus (and the Apostles) general healed people not to prove anything about themselves but from a motive of compassion.
3. In every healing faith is required either in the person being healed or in the person praying for the healing or a third party (e.g., the paralytic’s friends; Jairus’s daughter).
4. Jesus (and the Apostles) were selective in their choice of whom to heal.

Each of my criteria can easily be derived from scripture.

A decade has passed since the silliness of model making was pressed home to me while carrying on a discussion with a Muslim. A Muslim, whom I was attempting to evangelize, tried to prove to me that Mohammed, and not Jesus, was the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18. In Deuteronomy 18, verse 15, Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” The Muslim man said, “Mohammed is like Moses and is, therefore, the Prophet. But Jesus is not like Moses.” I asked, “On what basis do you make this assertion?” He answered, “Well, first, Moses was a political leader and Mohammed was a political leader. But Jesus was not a political leader. Secondly, Moses fought military campaigns, Mohammed fought military campaigns, but Jesus did not fight military campaigns. Third, Moses was a shepherd. Mohammed was a shepherd, but Jesus was not a shepherd. Fourth, Moses spent many years in the desert. Mohammed spent many years in the desert, but Jesus spent almost no time in the desert.” To this list, he added several other criteria that he felt proved his case almost completed.

My response to his self-constructed model was to point out that his criteria were not necessarily the only criteria to evaluate “the Prophet’s” likeness to Moses. I gave him my own “off-the-cuff” criteria. First, Moses was a Jew. Jesus was a Jew, but Mohammed was not a Jew. Second, Moses had a beard. Jesus had a beard, but Mohammed did not have a beard. Third, Moses was nearly killed at birth by an evil king. Jesus was nearly killed at birth by an evil king, but Mohammed was not threatened at birth by an evil king. I could go on, but I think the point of the foolishness of these kinds of arguments is made!

More importantly, MacArthur fails to see that the Biblical evidence doesn’t even fit his own self-constructed model. For example, under criterion number 4, MacArthur states that the Apostles were able to heal anyone. Yet, Paul, who had a Biblical gift of healing, states in 2 Timothy 4:20, “…I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” Why didn’t Paul heal Trophimus rather than leave him, presumably to recuperate, if, as MacArthur states, the Apostles were able to heal anyone? Paul himself claims that the reason he ended up in Galatia was because of a personal illness (that he apparently he could not heal himself). In Galatians 4:13-14, Paul writes, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.”

Finally, MacArthur seems to poke fun at John Wimber for claiming to have the gift of healing while having to acknowledge his own personal heart condition. The same embarrassment can apparently be laid at the feet of Paul.

V. Do Charismatic Media Personalities Fairly Represent the Mainstream Movement?
A person does not have to read MacArthur’s book too long before coming to the conclusion that MacArthur’s understanding of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements is an outsider’s viewpoint that has been chiefly informed by over- exposure to charismatic media. In short, MacArthur displays the characteristics of a man who understands American culture only through the lens of Hollywood media. Just as Hollywood is not representative of America, charismatic media stars, The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Charisma magazine do not represent the 400 million Pentecostals and charismatic Christian believers worldwide.

Reading MacArthur’s examples of charismatic foolishness (taken chiefly from television and magazine sources) reminds me of a conversation I had with a high school student in England in 1986. The high school student remarked to me, “You Americans are so cool. You get to race around in sports cars and the women in America are gorgeous. I want to go to America when I get out of high school!” I asked him why he thought that all Americans raced around in sports cars and that all American women were gorgeous. He said he watched “Miami Vice” on television all the time! As a result of watching “Miami Vice”, this high school student thought he understood America!

Rather than watch so many charismatic celebrities on television, MacArthur might have put his time to better use reading Russell Spittler’s helpful history of the Pentecostal movement [entitled “The Church”]. Spittler writes: “When the total figures are combined for classical Pentecostals along with charismatics from Anglican, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant sectors, the sum exceeds the size of [noncharismatic] Protestantism as a whole.” If for no other reason than statistical dominance, MacArthur ought to have more carefully analyzed the movement as a whole. Again, Spittler writes:

“If some varieties of Christians are geographically uniform and predictable, Pentecostals are neither. Certain features nearly always occur, yet the variety is astonishing. Who are the Pentecostals, the charismatics? How do the two differ? Some distinctions are in order. Pentecostals and charismatics of every variety are distinguished by their emphasis on the Holy Spirit and their beliefs in the contemporary relevance of the gifts of the Spirit. As a whole, they all reflect a conservative Christian orthodoxy. They value personal religious renewal. They value a restorationist impulse, a bent to an often idealized “church of the New Testament.” But there the similarities end. For example, while Pentecostals generally insist on speaking in tongues as “the initial physical evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, not all Pentecostals around the world do, nor in their origins did teach, that speaking in tongues is the necessary physical evidence of the baptism. In fact, the vast majority of contemporary charismatics do not affirm the necessity of tongues; indeed, that is an incidence among charismatics as one of the principle features that distinguishes them from Pentecostals.”

MacArthur seems to be totally unaware of the difference between Pentecostals and charismatics and lumps the two together as a monolithic whole. Spittler summarizes the distinctions between the Pentecostal and charismatic movement this way:

“Pentecostalism arose in the first half of this century, charismatics in the second half. Pentecostals formed the classical Pentecostal denomination; charismatics remained in their own churches, the mainstream ones. Most (though not all) Pentecostals insist on tongues as initial evidence; charismatics generally speak in tongues, but do not make it a matter of necessity. Pentecostals teach a strict subsequence of vital Christian experience; two, in the case of baptistic Pentecostals; and, three, in Wesleyan Pentecostalism. Charismatics, on the other hand, find ways to fit charismatic experience and renewal into their existing ecclesiastical and theological traditions.”

MacArthur also does not take account of cultural differences in the charismatic movement. For example, over 50 million charismatics and Pentecostals live in Africa. Over 60 million live in East Asia. There are approximately 80 million in Latin America and only 80 million in North America. The charismatic and Pentecostal movements are not North American media phenomena, although one would have the impression by reading MacArthur’s book that they are a narrow, exclusively white, North American phenomena.

Contrary to MacArthur’s assertion about rampant sexual immorality, Pentecostals, at least the North American varieties, are likely to reflect the strict mores rising from their holiness and fundamentalist origins. In short, MacArthur’s entire book is devoid of even the more general distinctions that any knowledgeable observer of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements would know as a matter of course. Indeed, Pentecostal or charismatic insiders will not be able to recognize themselves in MacArthur’s media-based view of the movement.

VI. Is There Any Fruit From the Charismatic Movement?
Implicit in MacArthur’s wholesale attack on the charismatic movement is that it is not derived from the Holy Spirit and therefore, has borne only bad fruit. He suggests that the fruit of the charismatic movement is entirely negative and, among other things, has “created divisions” (p. 293), “encourages mysticism” (p. 292), “denigrates reason” (p. 292), “leads to spiritual casualties” etc. Is there any fruit in the charismatic movement? “Surely, if the movement is of God,” MacArthur asks, “we ought to find abundant fruit.” Yet, MacArthur looks about him and sees no fruit at all. Perhaps the lens that he looks at the charismatics through is less than clear. A Christian approaching the charismatic movement without a clouded lens, might see the following.

A. The Fruit of Remarkable Growth Worldwide.
According to David Barrett Pentecostals numbered approximately 1.2 million in the year 1900. By 1990, that number had grown to over 400 million. As a percentage of worldwide Christianity, the Pentecostal and charismatic movements represented something less than .5% in 1900. That number has grown to almost 25% in 1990. The number of Pentecostal churches has grown from 15,000 in 1900 to 1.5 million in 1990. Giving among charismatics and Pentecostals to Christian causes has grown from 3-million dollars in 1900 to 37 billion dollars in 1990. Charismatic church organizations have grown from 120 in 1900 to 13,800 in 1990. The majority of the fifty or so mega-churches the world’s largest single congregations, each with over 50,000 members – are Pentecostal/charismatic.

Particularly impressive is the church growth rate among Third World believers. The growth of Christianity in China, particularly since 1976, has been a phenomenon unmatched in Christian history. When Western missionaries were driven out of China in 1949-1950, they left about one million Protestant believers. Since the Communist takeover in 1949, Christians multiplied. By the mid-1980s, the number was conservatively estimated at over 50 million, with some suggesting twice that number. Two expert China-watchers suggest that 85% of Chinese believers would be “phenomenological Pentecostal- charismatics.” Such amazing growth can be observed in much of the rest of the Third World. As Patrick Johnstone put it:

“The harvest of people into the Kingdom of God in recent years has been unprecedented. Never in history has such a high percentage of the world’s population been exposed to the Gospel, nor the increase of evangelical Christians been so encouraging. Although there are many factors that have combined to produce this growth, among the most significant according to most observers has been the explosive increase of Pentecostal and charismatic movements.”

B. The Fruit of Evangelism.
Evangelism has been a priority among Pentecostals throughout their history. The historical self-image of the major Pentecostal church bodies is that they were raised up to be an instrument of evangelism in the world. Traditionally, therefore, it has been felt that to be a Pentecostal is to be an evangelistic witness. Pentecostals see aggressive evangelism in the pages of the New Testament and due to their high regard for their Bible and their literal interpretation of Scripture, they interpret the Pentecostal experience as a mandate for evangelism in its various forms and methods.

Pentecostals believe that redemption is the central purpose of God in Scripture and evangelism as the comprehensive method for fulfilling that purpose. Pentecostals’ Biblical literalism has caused them to be aggressively obedient to the Great Commission passages in the gospel. Pentecostal understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit connects it with the evangelistic task and suggests that evangelism is the primary result of the Holy Spirit’s baptism (Acts 1:8). Contrary to MacArthur’s contention that tongues is central to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, evangelism occupies the central place in thinking among Pentecostals regarding the Spirit’s baptism. In his classic book Concerning Spiritual Gifts, first published in 1949, Donald Gee contends that evangelism was a natural expression of the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.

The evangelism of Pentecostals centers on the gospel or Good News. Pentecostals believe that evangelism is the act of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit with the intention that men and women will come to put their trust in Christ for salvation and serve him in the fellowship of his church. Pentecostals suggest that the telling in Pentecostal evangelism can involve more than verbal proclamation but is never a substitute for verbal proclamation. Pentecostals and charismatics understand that divine healing can be an evangelistic door opener, but is in no way a substitute for the gospel message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I am unaware of any responsible Pentecostals who suggest that the Good News is replaced by, or made subservient to, supernatural signs and wonders. Rather, supernatural signs and wonders are claimed only to open the door for or accompany the gospel message. The Pentecostal and charismatic movement has borne the fruit of evangelism.

C. The Fruit of World Missions.
Pentecostals from the beginning have been known as “doers.” Pentecostal mission theology has tended to be a theology on the move. Eschatological urgency is at the heart of understanding the missionary fervor of Pentecostalism. “Eschatology,” says Danboriena, “belongs to the essence of Pentecostalism.” Pentecostals from the outset have been involved in a variety of strategies that have contributed to the astonishing world mission growth.

These strategies include:

1. Indigenous churches. Pentecostal missions have sought from their inception to develop indigenous churches. Indeed, Pentecostal missionary Melvin Hodges’ book, The Indigenous Church (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), has become a standard on the subject in evangelical circles. His numerous other books have further earned him respect in missiological circles.

2. Church planting. Pentecostals stress the importance of planting responsible reproducing congregations as the abiding fruit of world evangelization and generally measure their progress by the number of new congregations put in order.

3. Urban strategy. Pentecostal growth and urbanization have developed side by side.

4. Literature distribution. John Thomas Nichol in his book, Pentecostalism (Plainfield, J.J.: Logos International, 1971), lists among some fifteen causes for the initial success of Pentecostalism the strong emphasis given to tabloid size newspapers and other early publications. Publishing ministries are a high priority in all major Pentecostal groups.

5. Mission stewardship. Pentecostals have given generously to the cause of world missions since the early days of the movement. In the pioneering years, whole families sold their possessions and started for the field or supported others who went. In the classic Pentecostal denominations, mission budgets continue to receive the largest share of donations. Mission stewardship has received number one priority from the outset.

D. The Practice of the Priesthood of Every Believer.
While the priesthood of every believer was doctrinally recovered during the Reformation, Pentecostalism especially put the believer’s priesthood into practice in the modern world. Sociological and historical studies have reflected on the humble social origin of the Pentecostals and the development of preachers from the common people of the poorer classes. Since they have not had a long history of formal theological training for professional clergy, the Pentecostals have emphasized that all in the body of Christ are ministers and everyone is a preacher. C. Peter Wagner’s study of Latin American Pentecostalism found aggressive lay ministry as a key factor in Pentecostal growth. Further, a large part of the dynamic world wide growth of the Pentecostal movement has been due to the higher percentage of women ministers and missionaries in Pentecostal groups per capita than in their evangelical counterparts. While maintaining a conservative view of male leadership, Paul Yonggi Cho has espoused the leadership and involvement of women as a key ingredient in the successful growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea.

In John Wimber’s teaching on spiritual gifts, in general, and healing in particular, equipping all the saints for the work of ministry is the predominant theme. Indeed, the magazine of John Wimber’s vineyard ministry is titled Equipping the Saints. (Ephesians 4:11-13 is one of the most frequently commented upon verses in popular charismatic and Pentecostal books.) No movement in Christianity today, affirms the role and ministry of the individual non-clergy as does the charismatic movement.

E. The Role of Women.
Women have had extremely important leadership roles in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, as has happened in most awakenings and spiritually vital movements throughout Christian history. Many Pentecostal pioneers were women including Florence L. Crawford, founder of the Apostolic Faith movement in the Pacific Northwest; Marie Burges Brown, who founded Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City, and Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Four Square Gospel.

Other major figures in the Pentecostal movement in North America include the following: Carrie Judd Montgomery, a woman who was miraculously healed in 1879. She became a healing evangelist of considerable promise and her book, The Prayer of Faith, 1880, gained widespread circulation. Carrie Judd Montgomery became a founding member of A.B. Simpson’s Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. Maria Woodworth-Etter was a woman involved in the holiness movement before she rose to prominence as an early Pentecostal leader. In 1885 she began to receive widespread attention for her teaching ministry and began preaching about divine healing. In the next four years, she was “responsible for starting about a dozen churches, adding a thousand members, erecting six churches, and starting several Sunday schools. In addition, twelve preachers were licensed as a result of her ministry.” Woodworth- Etter was a regular speaker in the early Pentecostal movements and reportedly saw many converts during her evangelistic revival meetings.

Many women who were pioneers of the Pentecostal movement served as itinerant evangelists and missionaries. Others worked as speakers, authors, and evangelists, including Rita Bennett, Ann Gimenez, and Corrie ten Boom. As in other periods of revival, women have historically enjoyed greater freedom in Pentecostal circles, as opposed to non-charismatic circles. A revival atmosphere usually includes an emphasis on evangelism, missions and a sense of the urgency of the times. Because the times are urgent, all available personnel are mobilized whether men or women, laity or clergy, within biblically appropriate role designations (see e.g., 1 Cor. 11:2-16).

John Wimber 1992 EDITED

Vineyard founder and leader John Wimber (1934–1997)

VII. John Wimber
MacArthur directs some of his most derisory and virulent attacks against John Wimber whom he arbitrarily lumps into the Third Wave. Not only is MacArthur’s tone unquestionably pejorative and unloving, but his chapter on the Third Wave is filled with factual and Biblical errors.

David Barrett the preeminent demographer of worldwide Christianity, used this definition of “thirdwaver” for his statistical analysis:

“These are Evangelicals and other Christians who, unrelated to Pentecostalism or the charismatic Movement, have recently become filled with the Spirit, or empowered or energized by the Spirit and experiencing the Spirit’s supernatural and miraculous ministry (though usually without recognizing a baptism in the Spirit separate from conversion), who exercise gifts of the Spirit (with much less emphasis on tongues, as optional or even absent or unnecessary), and emphasize signs and wonders supernatural miracles and power encounters, but who remain within their mainline nonpentecostal denominations and who do not identify themselves as either Pentecostals or charismatics.”

It is the fastest growing sector of what Barrett terms “the 20th century Pentecostal/charismatic renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Barrett estimated Third Wave Christians as amounting to 33 million in the year 1990.

A. Does the Vineyard have a Statement of Faith?
On page 147 MacArthur writes,

“Listening to the claims of Third Wave leaders, one might conclude their movement is essentially composed of conservative evangelicals who remain strongly committed to traditional Biblical theology. The facts do not bear this out. Much of the Third Wave is difficult to classify doctrinally. Statements of Faiths and Creeds simply are not an earmark of the Third Wave. Wimber’s Vineyard is typical. Another disturbing aspect of the Vineyard ministry is their lack of any written Statement of Faith. Because Vineyard members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, the leadership has avoided setting strong doctrinal standards. This deemphasis of doctrine is also consistent with the leadership of John Wimber and Bob Fulton, (pastor of the Vineyard in Yorba Linda, California) whose backgrounds theologically include associations with Quakers, who typically express the inner experience of God and minimize the need for doctrinal expressions of one’s understanding of God.”

MacArthur is correct in the first sentence. The Third Wave movement is essentially composed of conservative evangelicals who remain strongly committed to traditional Biblical theology. The only accurate statement in the rest of the quote is that John Wimber had twenty years ago pastored a large conservative evangelical Quaker church. Had MacArthur simply called the Association of Vineyard Churches and asked for the Association’s doctrinal statement, or spoken to John Wimber personally, he would have been given this statement, (adopted in 1986 and currently under revision) that reads in part:

"Pentecost" (Unknown Artist)

“Pentecost” (Unknown Artist)

I. Our Convictions
1. WE BELIEVE that there is ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD, eternally existing in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory that this triune God created all, upholds all, and governs all. (Matt. 28:19, Isa. 40:12-26, Isa. 46:8-11)

2. WE BELIEVE that the SCRIPTURES of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired, and the infallible rule of faith and practice; and that they are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power. (2 Tim. 3:14-17, Rom. 15:4, James 1:22)

3. WE BELIEVE in GOD THE FATHER, an infinite, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love; that He concerns Himself merciful in the affairs of men; that He hears and answers prayer, and that He saves from sin and death and all who come to Him through Jesus Christ. (Matt. 6:9, Isa. 6:3, Rom. 11:33-39, Psalms 138:5-6, Matt. 7:11, Isa. 55:6-7)

4. WE BELIEVE in JESUS CHRIST, God’s only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. We believe in His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles and teachings, His substitutionary atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, perpetual intercession for His people and personal, visible return to earth. We believe that in His first coming Jesus inaugurated the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. (John 1:14-18, Luke 1:18-20, Heb. 4:15, Rom. 5:8, 1 Cor. 15:1-8, Eph. 1:20, 1 Thess. 4:16, Mark 1:14-15)

5. WE BELIEVE in the HOLY SPIRIT, who came forth from the Father and Son to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify and empower for ministry all who believe in Christ; we believe the Holy spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is an abiding helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit and in the exercise of all the biblical gifts of the Spirit. (John 15:26, 16:8, Titus 3:5, Acts 1:8, Rom. 8:9, Eph. 1:13, John 14:16, 1 Cor. 12:4-11)

6. WE BELIEVE that all MEN are sinners by nature and choice and are therefore under condemnation, that God regenerates and baptizes by the Holy Spirit those who repent of their sins and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. (Eph. 2:1-10, Acts 2:38, Ezek. 36:26, John 1:12-13, John 20:9)

7. WE BELIEVE in the universal CHURCH, the living spiritual body, of which Christ is the Head and all regenerated persons are members. (1 Cor. 12:12-13, Eph 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:4-5)

8. WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ committed two ORDINANCES to the church: baptism; and the Lord’s Supper. We believe in water baptism and communion open to all believers. (Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 11:23-30, Luke 3:3)

9. WE BELIEVE also in the LAYING ON OF HANDS for empowering of the Holy Spirit, for receiving of gifts of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the church. (Acts 13:3, Mark 6:5, 1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6)

10. WE BELIEVE in the personal, visible APPEARING OF CHRIST to earth and the consummation of His Kingdom; in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment and eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked. (Acts 1:11, Matt. 25:31, 1 Cor. 15:20-24, Rev. 20:11, 21:8)

11. WE BELIEVE in what is termed “THE APOSTLES’ CREED” as embodying fundamental facts of Christian faith, and endorse the historic orthodox creeds of the church.

This Statement of Faith is the standard to which church plants and adoptions into the Vineyard movement must subscribe. Every Vineyard pastor subscribes to the Association’s Statement of Faith. John Wimber’s Power Points: Seven Steps to Christian Growth (San Francisco: Harper, l991), also lays out his doctrinal convictions in a more extended way. No one but the most suspicious critic of Vineyard, who reads Vineyard’s Statement of Faith or John Wimber’s book, would conclude that Vineyard is a movement without a set of doctrinal formulations.

B. Does the Third Wave underemphasize traditional means of spiritual growth?
On page 130 MacArthur writes,

“Like Pentecostals and charismatics, common Third Wave adherents aggressively pursue ecstatic experiences, mystical phenomena, miraculous powers, and supernatural wonders – while tending to under-emphasize the traditional means of spiritual growth: prayer, Bible study, the teaching of the Word, persevering in obedience and fellowship of other believers (emphasis added).”

Again, had MacArthur taken time to examine the Association Vineyard Churches Statement of Priorities or had he spoken to John Wimber personally, he would have discovered that fundamental Vineyard priorities include:

1. Worship
2. The teaching of the Bible
3. Prayer
4. Fellowship
5. Ministry
6. Training
7. Evangelism and World Missions

Our first leadership requirement is “a sincere love and pursuit of Jesus Christ demonstrated in regular personal worship, meditation on God’s Word, and prayer.” Even a casual visit to a Vineyard church will disclose a significant emphasis on fellowship as demonstrated by the numerous small groups in the church, an emphasis on intercessory prayer, an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible, and an emphasis on obedience to God’s word.

As a Vineyard pastor whose church numbers approximated 1200 on Sunday mornings, our Vineyard church has about 65 small groups that are designed specifically for fellowship, prayer, worship, and Bible study. (John Wimber’s Anaheim Vineyard has over 100 small groups designed for similar purposes.) On Sunday morning at our church we take about 40 minutes for Biblical exposition. Our Tuesday evening Training Center for adults in the Vineyard regularly has several classes on basic Christian doctrine, Old and New Testaments surveys, and various books of the Bible. Our particular church also has numerous intercessory prayer meetings. My experience of the Vineyard movement as a whole indicates that prayer and fellowship are certainly strongly emphasized.

C. What is Power Evangelism?
John MacArthur claims: “The underlying assumption that drives the whole Third Wave movement is wrong. Miracles, signs and wonders are impotent to produce either faith or genuine revival.” To justify this, MacArthur claims that nowhere in the book of Acts do we see power evangelism practiced. And, he claims that Jesus, himself, did not practice “power evangelism.”

What is “power evangelism?” Let’s be clear about what John Wimber means (and explicitly wrote) about his coined expression “power evangelism.” In his book titled, Power Evangelism, Wimber writes:

“By power evangelism I mean a presentation of the gospel that is rational, but that also transcends the rational (though it is in no way ‘irrational’ or anti-rational). The explanation of the gospel – the clear proclamation of the finished work of Christ on the cross – comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is preceded and undergirded by demonstrations of God’s presence, and frequently results in groups of people being saved. Signs and wonders do not save; only Jesus and substitutionary work on the cross saves. Through these supernatural encounters people experience the presence and power of God. Usually this takes the norm of words of knowledge…healing, prophecy, and deliverance from evil spirits.”

Nowhere does this definition diminish the gospel message of the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection preached with the intention that men and women will come to put their trust in Christ for salvation and serve Him in the fellowship of His church. John Wimber believes that the gospel message presented without signs and wonders can save:

“Before exploring power evangelism further, however, a healthy word of clarification and caution is needed. The Bible does not teach that evangelism apart from signs and wonders is invalid, or that the addition of signs and wonders somehow changes the gospel message. The heart and soul of evangelism is proclamation of the gospel.”

Healings and “words of knowledge” are simply a “door opener” for the preached message. Wimber’s entire purpose in presenting “power evangelism” is to suggest to modern conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, such as John MacArthur, that eliminating signs and wonders as a “door opener” is “patently unbiblical” (to use MacArthur’s phrase in Charismatic Chaos).

MacArthur claims that biblically “miracles do not produce a real faith in an unbelieving heart, “Miracles, signs and wonders are impotent to produce either faith or genuine revival.” To bolster this claim MacArthur cites the story of the healing of the lame man in Acts 4. He says the Jewish religious leaders did not deny that a miracle occurred (Acts 4:16). But the response was far from saving faith.

There is truth in the assertion that miracles do not “produce” saving faith. But nowhere does John Wimber assert that they do. Indeed only the Holy Spirit can “produce” saving faith, that comes as a gift. Rather, signs and wonders accredit the message and messenger of salvation. They provoke the unbeliever to consider the truth claims presented by the messenger. Put another way, they help to open the door and remove roadblocks to faith and so function as an apologetic for the message. Signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts illustrate the reality of the presence and power of God to save.

It is unnecessarily narrow to restrict the mode of the gospel presentation to just preaching. God speaks through books, magazines, film, and miracles.

Why did MacArthur stop with Acts 4? Reading ahead five chapters to Acts 9, we find an undeniable connection between the demonstration of powerful signs and wonders and the rapid expansion of the church. For example, in Acts 9:32-35, Luke writes:

“As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

What is it that provoked the response of faith and the turning to the Lord by the residents of Lydda and Sharon? MacArthur asserts that miracles cannot biblically produce faith in observers nor by implication can they serve as a “door opener” to the gospel. The residents of Lydda and Sharon who are now “at home with the Lord” would likely be puzzled by MacArthur’s anti- supernatural assertions.

The next incident recorded in Acts 9 further demonstrates power evangelism at work. Luke goes on to write about a woman named Dorcas who had died. Luke writes: Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40-43). Again, what was it that removed barriers to belief in the Lord other than the raising of Tabitha from the dead? This is power evangelism in its most explicit form.

The Apostle Paul also practiced power evangelism. In Acts 13 Paul met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, whom the scripture recorded:

“…was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:7-12).”

"Pentecost" by Jean II Restout (26 March 1692 – 1 January 1768)

“Pentecost” by Jean II Restout (1692–1768)

What is it that opened the proconsul’s heart to trusting in the saving message of the gospel? The scripture is quite explicit. He saw the miracle wrought by the hands of the Apostle Paul, and was amazed at the authority of the teaching. Again, MacArthur selectively ignored this clear teaching of power evangelism in the book of Acts. Paul’s methodology of evangelism generally included a coupling of the gospel message with “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4). It would have been a surprise to people in the early church to uncouple signs and wonders from preaching for they generally prayed like Peter “‘Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your Word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant, Jesus. ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly” (Acts 4:29-31). Why did Peter pray for signs and wonders if, as MacArthur asserts, “they are impotent to produce faith or genuine revival?”

Do miracles produce faith? No. God does. But in the case of the citizens of Joppa, Sharon, and Lydda, miracles clearly provoke unbelievers by removing barriers to faith and illustrating the truth and power of the message. In the case of the Pharisees, it is recorded “even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). The difference obviously depends on the responsiveness of the human heart, not any deficiency in miracles to provoke faith. MacArthur may wish to reread Old Testament passages such as Exodus 4:1-6 regarding the ability God to work through miracles to produce faith. That text reads:

“Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.”‘

"Pentecost 4" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 4” William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

Pharaoh refused to believe, not because the miracles could not lead to faith – they could – but because his heart was hard. In contrast when Aaron performed signs before the people, “they believed” (Exod. 4:31).

Indeed, Jesus invited his disciples to believe based on his miracles. In John 14:11, Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” He condemned the Pharisees because they did not believe that he and the Father were one, based on his miracles. (John 10:38) Far from emphasizing the ineffectiveness of miracles to provoke belief, (as MacArthur asserts), Jesus’ point in John 10:38 is that some Jews willfully disbelieved even when faced with the overwhelming evidence of miracles. As Jesus said later in John 15, “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their law ‘They hated me without reason.'”

MacArthur is wrong! The Pharisees were condemned because they had reason to believe Jesus and rejected the obvious evidence staring them in the face: the miraculous power of the Son of God! When the messengers of John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was the one to come, (i.e., the Messiah) or should they expect someone else, Luke records Jesus’ answer as, “go back and report back to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7:18-23) Jesus does not simply point to the preaching of the Word of God as the reason to believe. He points, chiefly, to his miracles.

MacArthur is so strident in his opposition to the miraculous element in Jesus’ ministry that he goes so far as to say, “For Jesus, preaching the Word was more important than performing signs and wonders. The emphasis of Jesus’ ministry was not miracles, but preaching. He often preached without doing signs and wonders.” To bolster his claim, MacArthur refers to Mark 1:38, “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages, so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” However, he fails to add the next verse, which reads, “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:39, emphasis added). Why does MacArthur kick so hard against the goads? No responsible interpreter of scripture can fail to note the general coupling of the proclamation of the gospel with the demonstration of signs and wonders. Matthew 4:23-24 is one of many summary statements of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew records:

“Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.”

A similar summary statement of Jesus’ ministry is found in Matthew 9:35 which reads, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

In the first post-Pentecost sermon, Peter addresses the crowd who have witnessed the receipt of the Holy Spirit saying, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). In a later sermon, again at a pivotal moment in the expansion of the gospel, Peter speaks to the gentile household of Cornelius saying, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37,38).

Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews explicitly states that the salvation message announced by the Lord was first announced by the Lord, “was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb. 2:3b-4). Clearly God confirmed the life and message of Jesus through miracles.

There is no opposition in the gospels or the book of Acts between the demonstration of power through healings and the proclamation of the evangel. Nor does the Bible support MacArthur’s diminution of signs and wonders as an evangelistic “door opener.” Proclamation and demonstration were the normal way that the gospel proceeded in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the New Testament church as recorded in the book of Acts. That is John Wimber’s simple, but profound, point in his book Power Evangelism.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

D. Does John Wimber believe in the deity of Jesus Christ?
MacArthur writes on page 143,

“Wimber’s teaching regarding the person of Jesus Christ is careless at best, blasphemous at worst, but in any case, clearly contradictory to scripture. In his taped healing seminar, Wimber says ‘Haven’t you been taught that Jesus knows all things? There are many times in the gospel where Jesus doesn’t know and he has to ask questions.’ (MacArthur concludes): That statement denies the omniscience of Christ.”

Several points can be raised regarding MacArthur’s use of the unpublished tape as evidence of John Wimber’s disbelief in the deity of Christ. A minor, but troubling, point is why MacArthur would use a tape of some oral remarks made by Wimber during a conference, rather than his more substantial written statements in books such as Power Points? It is hardly lame reasoning to suggest that many oral statements, particularly those made during preaching, or in fielding a question, may not be as well stated or articulate as one would make in written communication. Beyond the obvious point that one may say things orally that do not represent a full or complete disclosure of all of a person’s thoughts on a matter, there seems to be a vindictive motive in MacArthur’s publishing of old oral material. Why did he not quote Wimber’s well stated and orthodox view of the deity of Christ from Wimber’s own Power Points?

One reason MacArthur may have neglected a lengthy quotation from Power Points, is to leave readers (who would be unacquainted with Wimber’s writings) with the absolutely misleading impression that Wimber doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ. Again, MacArthur unjustly and unlovingly pins a position to an opponent, that his opponent does not believe. Quoting this oral material, without at least mentioning Wimber’s written statements, is an obvious attempt to portray Wimber as a heretic.

E. What does John Wimber believe about the deity of Christ?
Since MacArthur chose not to quote Wimber’s own written statements on the matter, we will, for the sake of simple fairness and justice, redress this omission. In Power Points, Wimber devotes an entire chapter to the deity of Jesus Christ. Chapter 17 of Power Points is titled, “Fully God.” It begins this way:

“What does God’s Word say about who Jesus is? First and foremost it says that Jesus is fully God. This is clearly stated in many passages. John says, “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) – later, in verse 14, John identifies the “Word” as Jesus “and the Word was God, and the Word was God.” Paul says Christ, “is God overall” (Rom. 9:5) and tells us to look forward to the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). He says that in Christ, “all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).”

Wimber goes on to write: “Jesus not only claimed to be God, he acted like God….When he received Thomas’ worship, he implicitly claimed deity.”

Indeed, Wimber is careful to explicitly deny the kenosis theory of the person of Christ when he writes:

“‘…[the phrase in Philippians 2:7] made himself nothing’ can also be translated ’emptied himself.’ The Greek word from which ’emptied’ is translated is kenosis. Its precise meaning is unclear. Some theologians interpret kenosis as meaning Christ completely emptied himself of deity while on earth, so he was limited to the knowledge and abilities of an ordinary man. This interpretation comes dangerously close to denying Christ’s deity. Others interpret kenosis as meaning Jesus retained his divine nature but emptied himself of his divine prerogatives – the high position and glory of his deity. This interpretation is probably closer to the truth. Jesus did not give up his deity, but he did lay aside his glory (John 17:5) and submit to the humiliation of becoming a man (2 Corinthians 8:9). The idea behind kenosis is not that Jesus took on humanity and took off deity as though they were coats that could be changed; it is that he took on humanity while remaining fully God.”

"Pentecost 2" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 2” William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

What we read here is nothing that is outside of a fully orthodox view of the person and deity of Christ. Later, Wimber explicitly affirms his own personal faith in the Chalcedonian definition (which he actually quotes) and states Jesus was “at once complete in God-hood and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man…coming together to form one person in subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God, the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” What is it that MacArthur detects in Wimber’s explicit statements that lead him to believe that Wimber is anything other than an orthodox Christian? Indeed, Wimber’s oral statement regarding the omniscience of Christ can easily be read as touching on Jesus’ human nature. The Bible itself says in Mark 13:32: “But of that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Similarly, Luke 2:52 tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom.”

Reading Wimber’s oral statements without a heresy-hunting perspective might lead to the conclusion that Wimber was simply referring to Jesus’ human nature without denying the omniscience that he possessed in his divine nature. In any case, Wimber does not hold the heretical view that MacArthur is so desperately attempting to pin on him with a brief oral statement from a 1981 tape.

F. How shall we assess John Wimber’s ecumenism?
As has been historically common among fundamentalists, MacArthur views an ecumenical spirit in an almost entirely negative fashion. He uses a Wimber quote about the Pope as an example of Wimber’s dangerous drift away from Biblical orthodox. The quote that MacArthur used (again, from an unpublished tape) is as follows:

“The Pope…by the way is very responsive to the charismatic movement and is, himself a born-again evangelical. If you have read any of his text concerning salvation, you’d know he was preaching the gospel as clear as anybody is preaching it in the world today.”

Whether Wimber would reassert this off-hand oral statement twelve years later is impossible to say. But, a more positive reading of the statement would suggest that Wimber was personally glad that the Pope was making a call to all Roman Catholics to personally assert their faith in Christ. Indeed, the Pope has on numerous occasions called for a personal choice of faith in Christ. The Pope has also called for a massive evangelistic campaign beginning with the Roman Catholic Church in the decade of the nineties. Celebrating the Pope’s statements hardly makes Wimber guilty of heresy.

The broader question, however, concerns MacArthur’s uniformly negative views of ecumenism. He sums up his entire book by suggesting that “charismatic ecumenism is steadily eroding any claim the charismatic movement ever had to Biblical orthodoxy.” In sounding the alarm against ecumenism, MacArthur is echoing a theme that has characterized fundamentalism in this country for the past seventy-five years.

Billy Graham’s ministry, likewise, has repeatedly been assailed from the fundamentalist right. As early as 1957 the publication, “The Sword of the Lord,” contained numerous articles detailing Graham’s supposed misguided inclusion of liberals in his meetings. Fundamentalist rage increased during Graham’s New York crusade. One critic charged that of the 140 people on the general crusade committee at least 120 were “reputed to be modernists, liberals, infidels, or something other than fundamental.” John R. Rice intoned that “Dr. Graham is one of the spokesman, and perhaps, the principle sparkplug of a great drift away from strict Bible fundamentalism and strict defense of the faith.”

In a later section, I will more pointedly draw a connection between MacArthur’s writings and the fundamentalist fighting spirit that so thoroughly characterizes Charismatic Chaos. For now, I will simply make a few comments about ecumenism.

"Icon-Pentecost" by Phiddipus

“Icon-Pentecost” by Phiddipus

G. Ecumenical cooperation and John Wimber’s perspectives regarding cooperation.
John Wimber has never accepted an invitation in which he was required to water down his conservative evangelical beliefs. Nor has he ever toned down his ministry to accommodate himself to a church organization that invited him to minister. Much like Billy Graham, Wimber has been willing to speak and minister in a variety of church settings including the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican church, the Lutheran church, etc., that Wimber may personally differ with on a variety of doctrinal points. Wimber doesn’t accept invitations to speak and minister in such places because he agrees on all points with Roman Catholic, or Anglican, or Lutheran doctrine. Nor is it because he thinks that differences are irrelevant. Nor is it because he is an utter pragmatist, as MacArthur asserts, and cares nothing for truth. It is, rather, because Wimber sees a huge need for the message and ministry that God has given him and is willing to declare that message wherever and whenever God gives him an opportunity so long as he can o so without conditions or compromise.

MacArthur would do well to read Robert Ferm’s book called Cooperative Evangelism (Zondervan, 1958) in which Ferm defended Billy Graham’s ministry from precisely the same attack that MacArthur levels against Wimber. In a fascinating summary of ecumenical cooperation in history, Ferm cites the examples of Wesley, Whitefield, Finney, Moody, and Billy Sunday. Regarding Jonathan Edwards, Ferm quotes from Jonathan Edwards’s well-known Thoughts on Revival:

“‘Spiritual pride disposes people to affect separation, to stand at a distance from others, as better than they, and loves the show and appearance of distinction…but on the contrary, every humble Christian…delights in the appearance of union with his fellow creatures, and will maintain it as much as he possibly can, without giving open countenance to iniquity, or wounding his own soul, and herein he follows the example of his meek and blessed redeemer, who did not keep such separation and distance as the Pharisees, but freely ate with publicans and sinners that he might win them.’ Indeed, Edwards insisted that his decision to work with those of differing opinions was deliberate and considered. He made it a point never to judge the spirituality or even the total orthodoxy of another minister. At one other time he wrote: ‘I am glad that God has not committed such a difficult affair to me; I can joyfully leave it wholly in his hands who is definitely fit for it without meddling at all with it myself. I know f no necessity we are under to determine whether it be possible for those who are guilty of it (heresy and opposition) to be in a state of grace or not.'”

Likewise, Whitefield was criticized because of his non-separation for associating with certain groups, considered in his day to be unorthodox. His response was simple and to the point: he said he rejects the views of those who consider that there are “no others among the Lord’s people but themselves. [If they are right] and if others are the devil’s people, then [these others] have more need to be preached to. For me, all places are alike.”

Moody’s view of Roman Catholics is interesting to note. After reporting on Moody’s crusade in Dublin, Ireland, an editorial read: “There is not an evening that Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, have not found their way to the inquiry room. Probably one reason is that there is no denunciation of Roman Catholicism. Men are not addressed by their particular church but as sinners. Roman Catholics are not mentioned by name at the evangelistic service, and feeling no hurt, and not having opposition forced upon them, those who go once are pretty sure to return.”

El Greco, "The Pentecost"

“The Pentecost” by El Greco (1541–1614)

Ferm writes that Moody had a great affection for Roman Catholics even though he did not agree with the official teachings of their church. Certainly the same could be said about Wimber. Indeed, Moody went beyond John Wimber by contributing money to the Roman Catholic church in an incident reported by Heng Drummond:

“With everything in his special career, in his habitual environment, and in the traditions of his special work, to make him intolerant, Mr. Moody’s sympathies have only broadened with time. Some years ago the Roman Catholics of Northfield determined to build a church. They went around the township collecting subscriptions, and by-and-by approached Moody’s door. How did he receive them? The narrower evangelical would have shut the door in their faces, or opened it only to give them a lecture on the blasphemies of the Pope, or the iniquities of the Scarlet Woman. Mr. Moody gave them one of the handsomest subscriptions on their list. Not content with that, when their little chapel was finished, he presented them with an organ. ‘Why,’ he exclaimed, ‘if they are Roman Catholics, it is better that they should be good Roman Catholics than bad. It is surely better to have a Catholic church than none; and as for the organ, if they are to have music in their church, it is better to have good music.’ ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘these are my own townspeople.'”

Example after example of warm-hearted tolerance and love of others with whom orthodox Christians may differ can be piled on from Ferm’s book. The point is that evangelical luminaries from the past, display none of the bitter, invective, separatist, fighting spirit that MacArthur believes stamps someone as “biblical.” Wimber is closer to the irenic spirit of Moody, Edwards, and Whitefeld and indeed, to Jesus, himself, than are his fundamentalist critics. If seen in the above light Wimber likely takes it as more of a compliment than a criticism to be tarred with the label “ecumenist.” And he is not alone. Chuck Colson, a conservative Southern Baptist seems to have irenic attitudes to the whole Body of Christ in all its expressions.

H. Are John Wimber’s healings unverifiable?
In MacArthur’s chapter on the Third Wave, MacArthur states that “all those [medical healings] are utterly preposterous. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they are either utter fabrications or yarns that have grown with the telling. In each case, the people to whom the miracles have supposedly occurred remained anonymous. In the two cases reported by Wimber, he maintains that medical doctors witnessed the events. Yet he offers no documentation.” MacArthur goes on to suggest that the only “so called” miracles that ever occur in the signs and wonders movement are psychosomatic and involve hard to prove cases involving “back pain, inner healings, migraine relief, emotional deliverance, ringing in the ears, and so on. The only detailed anecdotes involving known people actually describe the occasions when the healing doesn’t come.”

Interestingly MacArthur never mentioned the book-length academic investigation of 1,890 people who attended one of Wimber’s conference in Harrogate, England in 1986. The book is titled Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), by David C. Lewis. The author is a social anthropologist with degrees from Cambridge and Manchester. Dr. Lewis prepared a detailed questionnaire that people filled out during the conference, and then followed-up with some randomly selected cases several months later. Of 862 cases of prayer for physical healing, 32% (279) reported a great deal of healing or total healing. Another 26% (222) reported a fair amount of healing. All the physical problems prayed for are listed in a detailed appendix. The physical problems are distinguished from prayer for spiritual problems such as emotional healing and deliverance that are separately tabulated by Dr. Lewis. Many case studies were reported in detail, and several incidents with medical reports are quoted at length. MacArthur suggests that no medical verification is ever given. Why not respond to Lewis’s book rather than resort to ad hominem attack?

On a personal level, I would invite MacArthur to examine a case in our own church involving a young man who had epilepsy from the time he was five years old. For over twenty years, this young man suffered grand mal seizures. Before he received prayer from John Wimber, he experienced at least three grand mal seizures a week. We attended a conference where John Wimber was present and John agreed to pray for this man. In describing the experience of prayer, the man reported the feeling of a wind rushing through his body. While he was prayed for almost an hour, he said he was entirely unconscious of time passing, but felt surges of power through his body. Whatever his subjective claims, one startling objective fact remains. After being prayed for by John Wimber, he has had no grand mal seizures in the past three years.

Now MacArthur may attempt to explain away this story (I don’t know what motive he would have for doing so). The fact is, that there is one man who can now work, who can live a functional life, who may, very shortly, obtain a driver’s license and who has been spared a radical brain operation simply because he was physically and verifiably healed through the prayers of John Wimber. I would be happy to speak with John MacArthur about this case personally and other physical healings that I have had the pleasure of both observing and participating in.

"Pentecost" Stained Glass Window

“Pentecost” Stained Glass Window

I. Is the Third Wave simply a slick marketing technique?
John Wimber has never labeled himself as a leader of the Third Wave. Dr. Peter Wagner coined the phrase and Dr. David Barrett has used it to describe conservative evangelicals who hold both a Reformed evangelical view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and believe the full range of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and miracles are available today. MacArthur forces Wimber to defend a label that he himself is uncomfortable with and only gingerly holds himself. Wimber has remarked in public that “I am a conservative evangelical who speaks in tongues.” He does not see himself as leading a new splinter group within evangelicalism. However, the Third Wave is a descriptive label.

MacArthur repeatedly asserts that the Third Wave is nothing other than a marketing technique. For example, MacArthur states: “The effort to market the Third Wave as noncharismatic fits as a pattern of shrewd promotion and semantic smoke screens that permeate Third Wave teaching.” Later in the chapter, MacArthur states: “The truth is the evangelical veneer of the Third Wave is a carefully crafted image, another crucial element of the skillful marketing campaign that is attempting to sell the movement to non-charismatic evangelicals.” To say this, MacArthur, by definition, is departing from confronting objective observations regarding the Third Wave and is involved in judging the heart motivations of John Wimber and other Third Wave leaders. There is no way for MacArthur to know whether something is sincerely believed or is, instead, “a skillful marketing campaign.”

While he may legitimately object to what the Third Wave teaches, it is wholly inappropriate for MacArthur to suggest that Wimber is “slick,” or “shrewd,” or involved in a “marketing campaign designed to mislead.” Again, these kinds of charges fan into the same unfortunate pattern that characterizes Charismatic Chaos as a whole. But, once a charge has been made and is read by thousands of Christian friends, it demands to be answered. No, Vineyard’s views are not designed as a marketing campaign! One of the observations that have been repeatedly made about John Wimber by friends and foes alike, is his unfailing willingness to confess mistakes, to display weakness, to admit to failures, and to be, in general, ruthlessly honest, especially about himself.

While he is known as advocating a healing ministry for the church today, John Wimber has repeatedly emphasized his own failures in healing. This is not, as MacArthur takes it, clear evidence that a healing ministry is an impossibility in the twentieth century. Rather, it fits squarely within Wimber’s kingdom theology of the “already and the not yet” of the present age. Wimber never promises healings (or any other blessing). Anyone who has listened to him for more than five minutes will see a major difference between his teachings and beliefs and the beliefs of the positive confession movement. Wimber emphasizes suffering as a major means of spiritual growth in the Christian life. He is not shy about talking about his own suffering and the suffering of close friends. Nor is he bashful about his promotion of Biblical preaching, sound exegesis, and the need for pure doctrine in the movement that he leads. Finally, Wimber promotes ecumenical cooperation, not out of pragmatism, but as a matter of Biblical conviction regarding the spiritual unity of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Pentecost" by Wiggin

“Pentecost” by Mark Wiggin

On a more personal note, I have spoken with and heard John Wimber teach on more than one hundred occasions now. His public image is no different from the private person that I have come to know and respect. He firmly holds to conservative evangelical beliefs regarding the trinity, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, Christ’s physical resurrection, the inerrancy of the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, and the personal, visible return of our Lord Jesus Christ. His theology has been heavily influenced by the conservative evangelical theologian, George Eldon Ladd. He is unabashed in his indebtedness to Ladd. Anyone who reads any of John’s conference notes, listens to him speak, or reads any of his books will see John’s debt to George Ladd.

Wimber is not a man who is shy or secretive about his own views or his own theology. He went so far as to write an article in Charisma magazine, declaring that he personally rejects the view that healing is “in the atonement.” His article was a dear line of demarcation, distinguishing his understanding from traditional Pentecostal teaching regarding healing. John has also, both privately and publicly, affirmed his own belief that the so- called “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is not a post-conversion experience, but occurs as part of the initial conversion experience. John has also denied the Doctrine of subsequent evidence” taught by some Pentecostals.

To sum up, MacArthur’s charge of marketing deception, and intentional semantic diversion, especially when applied to Wimber, is quite unfair and inappropriate. It is a personal attack. It is an attack on Wimber’s motivations and personal integrity. John MacArthur, frankly, owes John Wimber a personal and public apology regarding these statements.

Shakespeare, in Othello, describes the wrongfulness of injuring another’s reputation, when he says,

“Good name in man and woman…is the immediate [most valuable] jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash – ’tis something, nothing, ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been the slave to thousands – But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Conclusion
In 1957 Carl Henry, the Editor of Christianity Today magazine wrote a critique of fundamentalism that accurately summarizes my own critique of the central problem with John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos. Henry wrote:

“The real bankruptcy of fundamentalism has resulted not so much from a reactionary spirit – lamentable as this was – as from a harsh temperament, a spirit of lovelessness and strife contributed by much of its leadership in the recent past. One of the ironies of contemporary church history is that the more fundamentalists stress separation from apostasy as a theme in their churches, the more a spirit of lovelessness seems to prevail.

The theological conflict with liberalism deteriorated into an attack upon organizations and personalities. This condemnation, in turn, grew to include conservative churchmen and churches not ready to align with separatist movements. It widens still further, to abusive evangelicals unhappy with the spirit of independency in such groups as the American Council of Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. Then came internal debate and division among separatist fundamentalism within the American Council. More recently, the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham and [the] efforts of other evangelical leaders, whose disapproval of liberalism and advocacy of conservative Christianity are beyond dispute, have become the target of bitter volubility.

This character of fundamentalism as a temperament and not primarily fundamentalism as a theology, has brought the movement into contemporary discredit… Historically, fundamentalism was a theological position; only gradually did the movement come to signify a mood and disposition as well. In its early [years] leadership reflected ballast, and less of bombast and battle… If modernism stands discredited as a perversion of the scriptural theology, certainly fundamentalism in this contemporary expression stands discredited as a perversion of the Biblical spirit.”

Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.

On a personal note, I have enjoyed John MacArthur’s radio ministry on the occasions that I have been able to listen to it. Charismatic Chaos, I am afraid, is unworthy of the teaching gift that God has given to John MacArthur and to the grace that has been so richly displayed in his church’s life.

Carl F.H. Henry

Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003)

About the Author
Richard Nathan is senior pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Columbus, Ohio. After being converted in 1974 at age 18, Rich joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He became the chapter president and later served as the InterVarsity faculty advisor for five years at Ohio State University. Rich graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Case Western Reserve University with a BA in Religion and History in 1977. He holds a Juris Doctorate with honors from the Ohio State University School of Law. After teaching at Ohio State University for five years, Rich began pastoring at the Columbus Vineyard.

Originally published as, “Vineyard Position Paper #5, April 1993: A RESPONSE TO CHARISMATIC CHAOS, The Book Written By John F. MacArthur, Jr”. The usage rights for that publication are as follows: “Permission is hereby granted to anyone who wishes to reproduce this booklet in any form. ©April 1993 By The Association Of Vineyard Churches”. This edition has been very lightly edited to correct grammatical and spelling errors found in the original article. 

NOTE: Click on book graphic in the upper top right of this article to download the audiobook sermon series from John MacArthur’s website. Or play the embedded videos in the above article – they contain the same content.

BACK TO TOP

Front Cover Reviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Author: Rob and Kathy Datsko
Publisher: eBookIt.com
Genre: Non-fiction, religion
Year Published: 2012
Length: 402 pages
Binding: Paperback, Kindle, Nook, PDF, ePub, Mobi
ISBN10: 1456613413
ISBN13: 9781456613419
Price: $2.99 eBook, $23.95 paperback

I know that this may seem like an odd book to review. It’s self-published and a niche of a niche, of a subset of a subset, to boot! Not to fear, the appendix below explains how I found this quirky little imprint and why I’ve bothered to write a review for it. Sometimes things are not always as they appear and that’s the case here. So segueing off of that, let’s first consider the “About the Authors” information from the back of the book and maybe things will start to gel, come together, and start making sense here:

“Rob and Kathy Datsko met at the University of Michigan, and were married in 1976. As of 2012, they have enjoyed over 35 years of Christian marriage. Between the two of them, they have a combined total experience within the Spirit-filled Christian community of 74 years. They have a combined 17+ years of experience as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were sealed in the Denver temple in 2004. They reside in Loveland, Colorado, and have two wonderful sons, Rephaiah and Jon.”
(Datsko, Rob and Kathy, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)”, Kindle Locations 7444-7449)

Friends, this information is conspicuously missing from the book’s description and the author’s page on Amazon. Yes, that’s right, I had to buy the book to find out that I was reading what was essentially -no scratch that, there’s no “essentially” about it, that is – an agenda driven propaganda piece from a “Charismatic cum Latter-day Saint” married couple. So armed with this new found knowledge I found their full backstory elsewhere on the Internet. This is from the wife:

“I’m a born again Spirit-filled Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian who came into the LDS Church 10 years ago because the Holy Spirit, whom I have loved since I was 24 led me here. I’ve known and loved Jesus since I was 16, and tried to follow Him my entire life. I was baptized in 2002, endowed in 2003, a month later my husband was baptized, and we were sealed in 2004. We go to the temple regularly.

I could not stay within this oppressive culture if I did not have the gift of tongues which I received at age 24. Praying in tongues regularly gives me the strength to live with the full knowledge that I was willing to give up worship, the wonderful presence of the Lord in our services, the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, Word of knowledge, laying on of hands healing (yes, a brain tumor disappeared after I joined several others and we all laid hands on a friend’s head and prayed), etc. to gain the Book of Mormon and the LDS Gift of the Holy Spirit and the sealing ordinance.

I would come into the Church again even though we have lost so much: We had prophetesses in our other churches, priestesses, and 50% of all the leadership was women. My husband was told by MD Anderson Cancer Center that research had shown that the very strange cancer he contracted two years ago was most likely caused by a traumatic loss. We immediately knew the “loss” was the presence of Jesus, the worship and Power of the Holy Spirit that we willingly sacrificed to obtain the Restoration. He was sobbing last week again- from the pain of missing the Holy Spirit in this our “new” church. He has the gifting and anointing to help invite the Holy Ghost in, through worship, and his gift is not welcomed. It is not in the almighty Manual.

We have sacrificed all things, including family *and* liberty for both women and men – and come into a camp where everyone is afraid to even talk to the Holy Spirit – but just talks about duties and obeying the commandments and the leadership. I know the Restoration is true. I *know* the Church is not. The Church will only be true when all are encouraged to embrace their agency and follow the Lord with all their hearts, rather than just follow the Prophet (who is an ‘honest but imperfect man’ as Neil Andersen stated in Oct Conference [2012]).”
(Kathy Datsko, comment on “Ask Mormon Girl” website, “Ask Mormon Girl: Time to come out of the closet as a Mormon feminist. How do I tell my husband?”, February 20, 2013 at 12:36AM. Lightly reformatted to improve legibility for this context)

"Confusion Bridge" by Tuah Roslan

“The Confusion Bridge” by Tuah Roslan

And trust me, folks the opening salvo of my review wasn’t too harsh, this book is propaganda – the authors are attempting to get the LdS Church to become Charismatic (as stated above) while getting Charismatics to accept the LDS Church as mainstream Christian. The net result is, “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view” – which is what the Oxford English Dictionary gives as the definition of propaganda. For example, let me demonstrate how again, again, and again the authors misrepresent both Biblical Christianity and official, correlated Mormon Church doctrine in this book via direct quotes:

“Today when a SFC [Spirit Filled Christian] states, “I believe in the Trinity,” he is often asserting he believes there is a distinction between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. When stating, “I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity,” I am saying “I believe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate, yet distinct beings, and I believe that somehow They are one.”   Most LDS [Latter-day Saints] have an outdated understanding of what SFC mean when they use the word Trinity, as the LDS understanding stems from a definition that was held 30-50 years ago. In fact, this definition is no longer accepted by Spirit-filled Christians today. LDS generally believe that the doctrine of the Trinity or belief in the Trinity implies that somehow there is no distinction between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They think Trinity refers to some weird nebulous oneness in the Godhead, in which all distinction has been lost. They often believe that Trinity refers to the creeds that used to be so prevalent in many churches prior to the 1970’s (see SFC view under ‘Restoration’). Perhaps this was what Trinity meant before the 1960’s or even the 1970’s, but it is no longer true among Spirit-filled Christians.”
(Datsko, Rob and Kathy, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)”, Kindle Locations 5909-5918)

Mormon friends this is simply wrong! And I am saying this as a Spirit-filled Charismatic Christian. The doctrine of the Trinity is, and always has been, as it’s defined in the Bible and summarized in the (circa 4th Century AD) Athanasian Creed. The doctrine, in a nutshell, is as follows: God is one eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Being consisting of three co-eternal, co-omnipotent, co-omnipresent Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God is one in essence, but three in person. And creeds aside, each of these points can be proven directly from the Bible. This doctrine has never changed. Ever.1

And if that’s not enough, the authors then go on to misrepresent both groups:

“The term ‘Trinity’ does not even exist in the Bible, which means that each group has developed their own understanding of what it actually means. SFC would state emphatically, “I believe in the Trinity,” and LDS would say, “I do not believe in the Trinity.” They are each saying the exact same thing: that they believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate, distinct Persons (Personages), yet (somehow) deeply united in covenant as “one.”   When LDS state they don’t believe in the concept of the Trinity, SFC think they are teaching against the Godhood of Jesus Christ and/or the Holy Spirit. When a Latter-day Saint states, “I don’t believe in the Trinity,” his SFC friend will wonder “Which person of the Godhead does he not believe in?” The Spirit-filled Christian will most likely assume his Latter-day Saint friend is not a Christian, since he has just stated that he does not believe in at least one of the three Persons within the Godhead.

LDS generally express their belief in the ‘oneness’ of God by saying they believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one in purpose.” This makes complete sense to LDS. However, the concept “one in purpose” can be very frustrating and confusing to SFC. They think their LDS friends are implying that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are willing to work together with the same purpose on a project, but that there is no deep covenant of oneness between the three of Them. SFC may therefore think LDS have the belief that Heavenly Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are like business partners; there is deep respect between Them, but certainly no affection. The phrase “One in purpose” (for SFC) implies the idea that there is no deep communion between the three of Them, and certainly never any demonstrations of tenderness.”
(Datsko, Rob and Kathy, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)”, Kindle Locations 5920-5934)

At this point, I would hope that any mainstream Christian reading that is rolling their eyes at how egregiously they and the doctrine of the Trinity have been presented yet again! The members of the Trinity are no more, “deeply united in covenant as ‘one'” than my soul is “covenanted” with my body, or my head is “covenanted” with my neck. Your nature and being is what it is. Period. No covenant or agreement is required.

And I suspect that Latter-day Saint eyes are also rolling, since what the authors have given as Latter-day Saint Godhead doctrine bears little to no resemblance to the official, correlated definition which is as follows:

“The Mormon view of the members of the Godhead corresponds in a number of ways with the views of others in the Christian world, but with significant differences. Latter-day Saints pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. They acknowledge the Father as the ultimate object of their worship, the Son as Lord and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the messenger and revealer of the Father and the Son. But where Latter-day Saints differ from other Christian religions is in their belief that God and Jesus Christ are glorified, physical beings and that each member of the Godhead is a separate being.

The true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy that followed the Savior’s mortal ministry and the deaths of His Apostles. This doctrine began to be restored when 14-year-old Joseph Smith received his First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17). From the Prophet’s account of the First Vision and from his other teachings, we know that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father’s divine plan of salvation.”
(official LDS Church website, Gospel Topics, “Godhead”)

To be clear here Mormon friends, there’s really no bridge to be built or crossed since that tritheistic definition, according to mainstream Christian orthodoxy, is both heretical and blasphemous. It changes the only one true God into a council of polytheistic gods with Heaven Father as the “Head God”. In other words, the Godhead is a henotheistic council. Changing your presentation to make it more palatable for mainstream Christian ears won’t change that offensive heresy. And when your Christian friend finds out that you have attempted to obfuscate official Mormon Doctrine and orthodox Christian Trinitarianism in the manner in which the Datskos do in this book, they will most likely feel betrayed, angry, and may even call you a liar. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Making a splash! In preparation for the explosion, a stretch of I-270 crossing from St. Louis, Missouri, to Granite City, Illinois, was demolished in February 2015.

“Mormon friends, there’s really no bridge to be built or crossed here…”

But wait, it gets even “better” when the authors then advise you, my Mormon friend, to point your “SFC” friend to early (pre-1834) Mormon scripture in the Book of Mormon and D&C in which Joseph Smith and Mormonism held to a largely Trinitarian view of the Godhead (albeit with a strong modalist skew). It is common knowledge that Joseph Smith’s view of the Godhead shifted radically between 1834-1835 resulting in the previously”leaky” Trinitarianism in early Mormonism being supplanted by the aforementioned henotheistic tritheism.2 So you and I both know that if you’re truly honest you would turn instead to sources like these (post-1834) scriptures which more accurately reflect the current LDS Church position on the Godhead – which, as previously stated, is both tritheistic and henotheistic:

The Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham Chapter 4:1-4
“And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.

And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters.

And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.

And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.”

“The King Follett Sermon”; Ensign, April 1971, p.13
“A Council of the Gods. In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.”
— Joseph Smith

“Sermon in the Grove”; History of the Church 6:474
“I will preach on the plurality of Gods… I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”
— Joseph Smith, “Sermon On Plurality of Gods,” June 16, 1844

“Sermon in the Grove”; History of the Church 6:476
“The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us…”
— Joseph Smith, “Sermon On Plurality of Gods,” June 16, 1844

So stated plainly, what the authors are coaching you to do is lie and obfuscate what Mormonism really believes, aren’t they? And this is just one of innumerable examples that I could cite from this book. So, if you really, feel comfortable violating Gospel Principles, Chapter 31 which says . . .

“Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

… then buy this book and follow it’s advice.

Speaking as a Spirit-filled Charismatic Christian, I simply can not recommend this book to Christians. And speaking as a Mormon Studies Scholar I can’t recommend this book to Latter-day Saints either. Rather, I advise you to save your $2.99 (the current price as this is being written) and look elsewhere if you’re looking for credible work on Mormon/Evangelical intrafaith discussions. Here are a few suggestions:

How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation
Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation between a Mormon and an Evangelical
The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement

None of these recommended alternatives are perfect but they’re much, much, much better than this messy, poorly crafted, misleading, and agenda laden book.

The net result of following the advice given in this book whether you’re “SFC” or “LDS”. Any questions?

APPENDIX: What It Is And Why It Matters
Here’s the backstory on how I found this book and why I have burned a fair amount of time reading, analyzing, and exposing it per the above, admittedly scathing, review.

First, a little about myself. I am a Christian Mormons Studies Scholar. I am also a Charismatic Christian with a strong Reformed Theology (I usually tell people, “Just think ‘Charismatic Presbyterian’ and you’ve pretty much got it”). So it was with great interest that when I read the following in John MacArthur’s controversial book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship:

“Similarities between the two groups [Charismatic Christians and Mormons] have led some to seek for greater unity. In their book ‘Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints’, authors Rob and Kathy Datsko assert, “Although there is an incredible language and culture barrier between LDS [Latter-day Saints] and SFC [Spirit-filled Christians], often these two groups believe many of the same basic doctrines.” Though Pentecostalism has traditionally rejected the Latter-day Saints, comments like those made by Joel Osteen suggest that a new wave of ecumenical inclusivism may be on the horizon. It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians.”
(MacArthur, John F., “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship”, pp. 51-52)

Strange Fire Front CoverWell after writing articles about the errors of cessationists Richard J. Mouw and Roger E. Olson, as well as Pentecostals Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richardson, and Cal Fullerton I thought that I’d pretty much covered all the active Christian voices that had been seduced by Mormonism in the way that MacArthur describes. And I felt no need to address the error of Joel Osteen since he was so thoroughly shellacked within Evangelical Christianity, by cessationists and Charismatics alike, for making such blatantly stupid statements about Mormonism. Inclusivism? Sorry, Mr. MacArthur but no.

So who were these new players, the Datskos, who I had never heard of? I asked my Christian friends and colleagues in Mormon Studies and got crickets chirping. I asked my Mormon friends and got the same. No one, and I mean no one, knew who these people were – they were a mystery to everyone.

So I did an Amazon search, found the book and started reading. I also did a Google search and found a September 2012 Deseret News article entitled, “LDS converts write about building bridges with other Christian faiths” as well as Kathy Datsko’s February 2013 comment from Joanna Brooks’, “Ask Mornon Girl” website that’s cited above. And the result is the review that’s now before you.

All this raises some questions for John MacArthur and his Strange Fire collaborators:
1) Why are the Datskos implicitly presented as Charismatic Christians in your (circa 2013) book when, in fact, they have been Mormons since 2003?
Mr. MacArthur, this was a manipulative obfuscation and a misrepresentation of the facts – and as I will show later you knew that they were Latter-day Saints when you wrote this. Respectfully but directly sir, you have attempted to manipulate and have thereby borne false witness here.

2) Where are the rest of the Charismatic Christians that you declare, are seeking greater unity with Mormons?
Sir, I can name three: Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richards, and Cal Fullerton. And all three of these men are not only not leaders but are considered, marginalized, lunatic fringe, Charismaniacs by mainstream Charismatics. In this author’s case, I have now written twice on Lynn Ridenhour’s errors,3 and once on the errors of Paul Richards and Cal Fullerton.4 In fact, Mr. MacArthur, you will be pleased to note that I cite a selection from your Strange Fire book that I agree with in support of my case against these men in the latter article. And, sir, if those articles don’t get the job done, I’ll write more. This is hardly an issue where Charismatics in Mormon Studies have been lax or negligent – despite your misleading and polemic rhetoric.

"Talking Doctrine" the latest offering from Richard J. Mouw and his team of cessationists who are seeking closer ties with Mormonism.

“Talking Doctrine” is the latest offering from Richard J. Mouw and his team of cessationists who are seeking greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians.

3) Why do you single out Charismatics when, in fact, it’s cessationists who are taken a far greater, more active role in seeking greater unity with Mormons?
For example, you hide a reference to former Fuller University President, Richard J. Mouw (who is a cessationist) back in the footnotes (see footnote 61 on p. 285) in reference to this misleading prose in the main text of p.52, “It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians”, somehow implying that it’s the Charismatics at Fuller rather than their liberal theology that’s the problem.

In actual fact, the leaders of this movement are cessationist not Charismatics. Let me name names: Craig Blomberg (Denver Theological Seminary), Christopher Hall (Episcopalian theologian), Gerald R. McDermott (Beeson Divinity School), and James E. Bradley (Fuller Theological Seminary). And there’s more where that came from. Mr. MacArthur – the people on the vanguard of this “inclusive” initiative are cessationists. So I just don’t see how Pentecostal Theology is the root cause here. Rather, I think that the problem is generally bad theology combined with a good ol’ fashioned lack of common sense and/or good judgment. Honestly, Mr. MacArthur there’s enough “stupid” on both sides of the cessationist/continuationist divide to go around isn’t there?

4) Where are all these Charismatic Latter-day Saints that you refer to on p.73 of Strange Fire? That’s where you claim, “Today there are even charismatic Mormons. Regardless of what else they teach, if they have had that experience, they are in.”
And most interesting Mr. MacArthur, footnote 53 for that passage takes us to this: “See, for example, “Hi. I’m Kathy, I’m a born again, Spirit-filled, Charismatic Mormon” at Mormon.org, accessed March 2013” (p.290) and one clicks on the link that’s provided in the footnote and it takes us to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) Kathy Datsko’s Mormon testimony! Sir, no many how many times you count her Kathy Datsko is one, and only one, Charismatic Latter-day Saint. Add in her husband Rob and now you have two. Are we now to believe that two people in a church of 15-million people somehow represents a major trend meritorious of your claim?

Further, as stated previously you knew that these authors were Mormon converts when you dishonestly tried to pass them off as Charismatic Christians didn’t you? So, in a similar manner Mr. MacArthur, no matter how many times you attempt to count the Datskos as Charismatic Christians, zero plus zero still equals zero. Finally, as Kathy Datsko stated plainly in her February 2013 comment, and as I have repeatedly observed myself, Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end, Mr. MacArthur your evidence that mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.

Making a Mountain out of … Absolutely Nothing at All
Case in point: The book being reviewed here appears to have been published stillborn. There is absolutely no interest in it from either side of the Mormon/Evangelical divide and the only review that I could find of it anywhere prior to mine was the empty and inane 5-Star September 2012 review which said, “Wow! Awesome Read! Thanks for writing this much NEEDED book! May our Heavenly Father BLESS you and Keep you! May His Face shine upon you and give you Peace!!!” review that preceded mine here on Amazon. Stated plainly no one seems to care about this poorly conceived, poorly executed, and hopelessly flawed book. So to refer to it as if it somehow has a following and/or some influence in Charismatic/Mormon dialog is just silly. More than that, it’s absurd.

In the end Mr. MacArthur, not only is this passage in your book making a mountain out a molehill, it’s just flat out wrong. As is the case with so much of Strange Fire, you have exaggerated, misrepresented, and borne false witness in your mindless polemic tirade against Pentecostalism. Sir, this isn’t truth, this isn’t reason, and this isn’t biblical Christianity. Rather, this is nothing more than agenda driven prejudice and bigotry.

"When beliefs are formed, confirmation biases kick in and begin to look for information that supports our views, and selectively ignore everything which doesn’t."

“When beliefs are formed, confirmation biases kick in and begin to look for information that supports our views, and selectively ignore everything which doesn’t.” — Rachael Murphy

NOTES:
1 I would refer the reader to “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity” by Rob Bowman on the Institute for Religious Research website for a good exposition of this.

2 To see a full analysis of this see Chapter 6 (Kindle Location 2941) of “The Godhead and Plurality of Gods” of Latter-day Saint Charles Harrell’s watershed work, “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Part 1). Also see Johnny Stephenson’s excellent summary on the Mormon Coffee website entitled, “What Happened to the Trinity in Mormonism?”, or Ronald V. Huggins’ classic essay, “Joseph Smith’s Modalism: Sabellian Sequentialism or Swedenborgian Expansionism?” on the Institute for Religious Research website.

3 See “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour” and “Weak Arguments #7: “The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.”’

4 See “Pentecostal Charismaniacs: Mormons Gone Bad”.

(an earlier edition of  this review was previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

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Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

by Bob Betts and Fred Anson
As theologian R.C. Sproul points out, the issue of hell is a critically important, albeit disturbing, one:

No matter how we analyze the concept of hell it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand.
(R.C. Sproul, “What Is Hell?”)

But still, what could possibly be more unsettling than the eternality of hell? As Dr. Sproul goes on to explain:

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony if they know it will ultimately stop. In hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. The same word is used for both eternal life and eternal death. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards, in preaching on Revelation 6:15-16 said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.”

Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.
(Ibid)

"Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" from "The Book of Mormon The Musical"

“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” from “The Book of Mormon The Musical”

Given this it should probably come as no surprise that many attempt to lessen the disquieting effect of biblical truth. For example, the Mormon religion today claims that hell is not eternal for the vast majority of people. Consider, for example, consider how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describes hell:

Latter-day revelations speak of hell in at least two ways. First, it is another name for spirit prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality. Second, it is the permanent location of Satan and his followers and the sons of perdition, who are not redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
(“Hell”, Gospel Topics article, Official LdS Church website)

And as influential Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained in his classic work, “Mormon Doctrine”:

Hell will have an end… After their resurrection, the great majority of those who have suffered in hell will pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as sons of perdition, will be consigned to partake of endless wo with the devil and his angels. Speaking of the telestial kingdom the Lord says: “These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times.” (D. & C. 76:84-85, 106.) As to the sons of perdition, the revelation says that after their resurrection “they shall return again to their own place” (D. & C. 88:32, 102), that is, they shall go back to dwell in the lake of fire with Perdition and his other sons. Thus those in hell “are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.” (D. & C. 88:101.)

Thus, for those who are heirs of some salvation, which includes all except the sons of perdition (D.&C. 73:44), hell has an end…
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Mormon Doctrine” (Second Edition, 1966), pp.249-251) 

The Book of Mormon and the Eternality of Hell
However, the following Book of Mormon passages speak of the eternality of hell for not only the most wicked but for anyone and everyone who either rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ during their mortal life – who or fails to live up to it’s demands.

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

1 Nephi 14:3
And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell — yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end.

1 Nephi 15:29,35
And I said unto them that it was a representation of that awful hell, which the angel said unto me was prepared for the wicked…

And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

2 Nephi 2:29
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

2 Nephi 9:12,19
And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel…

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

2 Nephi 28:19-23
For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well — and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he [the devil] flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none — and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

Jacob 7:18
And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

Alma 5:6-10
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Helaman 6:28
And also it is that same being who put it into the hearts of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven. And it was that same being who led on the people who came from that tower into this land; who spread the works of darkness and abominations over all the face of the land, until he dragged the people down to an entire destruction, and to an everlasting hell.

Moroni 8:13
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

Supporting Book of Mormon Texts
And while the following verses do not speak of the actual eternality of hell, they lend additional proof that “hell” should be a taught Mormon doctrine, since, the alleged prophet “Mormon”, formed a book that speaks so extensively about the subject. This is not an exhaustive list.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

2 Nephi 1:15
But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

2 Nephi 24:15
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

2 Nephi 26:10
And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.

2 Nephi 28:15
O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!

2 Nephi 33:6
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.

Jacob 3:11
O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

Alma 13:30
And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.

Alma 14:6
And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.

Alma 26:13-14
Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?

Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.

3 Nephi 12:22,30
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your across, than that ye should be cast into hell.

One can only wonder why the book that Joseph Smith claimed contains “the fullness of the gospel” contradicts the other standard works and what Mormons are taught today.

Bob Betts

Bob Betts

About The Authors
Robert “Bob” Betts received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, in 1970, at the age of 18. After one year of Bible college (’72-’73), Bob was forced to discontinue that education due to a severe bout with valley fever. By 1974, the fever had dissipated, and in 1975, Bob met and married his wife, Patricia (Patty), and started a family. Bob and Patty have been married for 40 years as of 2015, with three children and seven grandchildren.

In the mid ‘90s, God developed within Bob, an interest in the study of the religion of Mormonism. The interest became a passion, and a compassion for the Mormon people. In 2,000, Bob went into full time ministry to Mormons, and to any people directly affected by Mormonism’s outreach (families, friends, Christians, non-Christians, ex-Mormons, inactive Mormons, etc.). He oversaw a website “discussion board,” debating and challenging (and being challenged by) devout Mormons for over 10 years, and thousands of hours, seeing the fruit of salvation in a few, for which he readily gives God all the glory.

After 12 years, Bob left that ministry, but continues on social media to reach out to Mormons and ex-Mormons with the hope and truth of pure, biblical Christianity, honing the gift that God gave him to reasonably and logically dismantle the impossible gospel and theology of Mormonism.

Fred W. Anson is a Mormon Studies Scholar and the publisher of Beggar’s Bread. 

"Christ’s Descent into Hell" Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

“Christ’s Descent into Hell” Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

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Strange Fire Front CoverReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship
Author: John F. MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2013
Length: 352 pages
Binding: Digital, Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook
ISBN10: 1400205174
ISBN13: 978-1400205172
Price: $10.99 (Digital), $22.99 (Hardcover),  $6.99 (Paperback), $9.99 (Audiobook)

My pastor could have been speaking of John MacArthur when he said to me, “Your message is usually substantive and true but the way that you deliver it often leaves the other person so in reaction to the messenger that they can’t receive the message.” Yes, friends, I empathize with John MacArthur since I’m on of that those annoying “truth first, grace and mercy second, and let the pieces fall where they will third” guys too. And try as I may to not react to the messenger rather than the message in this review I will warn you in advance that I may not succeed.

The More Things Change . . . 
Anti-Charismatic books are nothing new to John MacArthur. In 1978 he published “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective” In 1992 it was “Charismatic Chaos” and in 2013, his latest offering, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship”. So three titles and thirty five years later and what has changed? Obviously, not a lot since the twenty one old words of Vineyard Pastor, Rich Nathan are just as applicable to “Strange Fire” as they were of “Charismatic Chaos”:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

And this is a pity because MacArthur has always done a very good job of indentifying and condemning the excesses in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. In “Charismatic Chaos” it was the immature abuses of “out there” Vineyard churches (like the bizarre Holy Laughter of the Toronto Airport Vineyard and the insanity of the Kansas City Prophets), the zaniness of The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the charlatanism of Benny Hinn – who has very appropriately returned as the favored punching bag and dart board target of Strange Fire. To all this, like so many other, mainstream, theologically cautious and conversative Charismatics, I can only stand, applaud, and yell, “Bravo!” These are things that we are in complete agreement with Mr. MacArthur on. In fact, these are things that we ourselves have publicly and repeatedly condemned and denounced ourselves. Bravo Mr. MacArthur, bravo!

John MacArthur

John MacArthur

Broad Brush Polemics
However, MacArthur isn’t content with reprimanding just a few bad apples. It quickly becomes apparent that in his mind, if you’re a Charismatic, you’re a bad apple – period. Consider these excerpts:

“The Charismatic Movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. From its inception by Charles Fox Parham to its most ubiquitous modern representative in Benny Hinn, the entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers. True biblical interpretation, sound doctrine, and historical theology owes nothing to the movement— unless an influx of error and falsehood could be considered a contribution. Like any effective false system, charismatic theology incorporates enough of the truth to gain credibility. But in mixing the truth with deadly deceptions, it has concocted a cocktail of corruption and doctrinal poison— a lethal fabrication— with hearts and souls at stake.”
(John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 113)

“the gospel that is driving these surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.”
(Ibid, p.xix)

As one commenter on The Pneuma Review website said well of such over the top polemics:

“There are excesses in the charismatic group that need to be addressed, but Strange Fire is devoid of any hint on J[ohn] M[cArthur]’s part to meet with these whom he feels are in error to try to make sure he understands them. In taking this to the extreme that he has, he has become an example of the extreme he is trying to point out in others.”
(Rick Collins, Aug 24, 2014 8:27pm comment, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”)

And again, Rich Nathan’s description of “Charismatic Chaos” yesterday is just as true of “Strange Fire” today:

“MacArthur doesn’t rebuke charismatics as a person would rebuke a member of one’s own family. The book reads like hostile fire shot by an outsider. The tone, as will be seen by the numerous pejorative adjectives that MacArthur uses to describe charismatics, is anything but familial or irenic. It is one thing to have your child spanked by your spouse. It is quite another thing to have your child spanked by a stranger. Charismatics understandably react to being spanked by someone who intentionally positions himself as a stranger and not as a “dear friend, fellow worker… and [brother]” (Philem. 1:1).”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.3)

Folks, I could stop right there and you would have an apt brief review of Strange Fire. Unfortunately, when the specifics are considered Strange Fire gets even worse.

Double Standards
Adding insult to injury is MacArthur’s use of Double Standards. He spends an entire chapter pounding away at the scandals in the continuationist camp while utterly ignoring his own shattered cessationist glass house. As Time Magazine observed:

“Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York believes Pentecostals are no more trouble-prone than other Protestants. “The same sort of thing is happening to Baptists and Presbyterians,” she says. “Except for one big thing. They are not media figures.”
(David Van Biema, “Are Mega-Preachers Scandal-Prone?”, Time magazine, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007)

One need go no further than the dedication page of MacArthur’s first Anti-Charismatic book (“The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, circa 1978) to see MacArthur’s blind hypocrisy. It reads as follows:

“To Dave Hocking,
A true and beloved friend
with whom I share a common love
for the Word of Christ
and the purity of His church.”

Yet just fourteen year later, and just 6 months after MacArthur’s second Anti-Charismatic book (“Charismatic Chaos”, circa April 1992), fellow hard cessationist and Anti-Charismatic David (aka “Dave”) Hocking was involved in a scandal that involved not one, but two high profile Southern California churches:

“In Oct 1992, the elders of Calvary Church [Santa Ana, California] caught David Hocking in a major scandal involving marital infidelity. The elders of the church told Hocking that he would no longer be the Senior Pastor of Calvary Church and would have to undergo a three-year restoration process.

Refusing to accept the restoration plan of the elders at Calvary Church, Hocking’s long-time buddy Chuck Smith [the founding Pastor of Calvary Chapel and the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California at the time] took him in. Reportedly, Smith said that this great man of God should not be wasted, and took in David Hocking as a Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa staff member. Hocking was excommunicated by Calvary Church of Santa Ana after he refused to submit to the elders of the church in their restoration process…

This was a major point of contention between Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and other local churches in the community (particularly CCSA [Calvary Church Santa Ana]). This caused a major scandal here in Southern California where the results are still being felt.”
(“The Calvary Church of Santa Ana/David Hocking Incident”, Calvary Chapel Wiki website)  

And this is just the tip of the cessationist iceberg of scandals. We could also talk about Southern Baptist Charles Stanley’s divorce, R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s  (whose father R.C. Sproul, Sr. spoke at the Strange Fire Conference) “Ashley Madison indiscretion”, or the scandals of Baptists, Kent Hovind, Lonnie Latham, Coy Privette, or Joe Barron (see “List Of Christian Evangelist Scandals” for details).

Further, and speaking as someone in the same Reformed camp that MacArthur is in (yes, I’m one of those dreaded “Charismatic Calvinists” that Steve Lawson woodshedded at the Strange Fire conference) it pains me to admit that Frank Viola was largely correct when he observed:

“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.

And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, et al. to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R.T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard, et al. to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles, et al. to characterize Fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R. Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr., et. al. to represent Reformed Baptists.

My point is that charismatic, Reformed, and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes as each of them have strong critics within their own movements. Even so, the game of burning down straw man city with a torch is nothing new.”
(Frank Viola, “Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire” p.9; also cited in Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.157)

But probably no one summed it up better than Rich Nathan when he said:

“Immorality is, tragically, a phenomenon that seems to know no denominational boundaries. Indeed, several very prominent dispensational and fundamentalist leaders have had to step down from radio ministries, para-church leadership, and pastorates because of sexual immorality. One might more realistically point to the sex-drenched culture of the modern western world, the cult of sexual self expression, and the absence of the practice of spiritual disciplines as more likely explanations for the fall of charismatic pastors than their experience of speaking in tongues.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.8)

Treating the Extreme as the Norm
This treating extremes as the norm is the biggest problem with MacArthur’s approach to Pentecostalism in general and his Anti-Charismatic books in particular. Consider this example from Strange Fire:

“More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teachers— with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos— constitute the public face of Christianity. And they propagate their lies in the Holy Spirit’s name.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 13)

Again, writing of “Charismatic Chaos” Rich Nathan’s response is just as applicable:

“MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that’s balanced, Biblical, and mature. MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement – now over 400 million strong – has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God. He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.2)

And as this review is being written, Pentecostals and Charismatics not only number over 500 million adherents but represent the fastest growing segment of the modern Christian Church. All this while mainline denominations are shrinking and cessationist numbers are flattening. No numbers and don’t equal veracity but, if nothing else, it bespeaks an ability to meet needs and bear fruit – something that John MacArthur sees as a net negative due to his antipathy toward continuationism in all forms. Such prejudice driven hard hardheartedness and blindness is heartbreaking.

Exaggeration, Data Manipulation, and Guilt by Association Fallacies
Equally concerning is how MacArthur repeatedly engages in gross exaggeration and “Guilty by Association” fallacies. Please consider this example:

“[Joel] Osteen’s muddled comment about Latter-day Saints introduces an interesting point of discussion— especially since the founders of Mormonism claimed to experience the same supernatural phenomena that Pentecostals and charismatics experience today. At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith reported various types of charismatic phenomena— including tongues, prophecy, and miraculous visions. Other eyewitness accounts of that same event made similar claims: “There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels”; and, “There the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. Hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues.” More than half a century before Charles Parham and the Pentecostals spoke in tongues, the Latter-day Saints reported similar outbursts, leading some historians to trace the roots of Pentecostalism back through Mormonism.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Well the “some historians” referenced in the footnote for that last sentence is exactly one historian, and one historical work (Hard Cessationist, Thomas R. Edgar’s Anti-Pentecostal treatise, “Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit”, p.218 and p.108)

Further, speaking as a Mormon Studies Scholar, the fact is that the early Mormons were merely one of many tongues speaking groups in the Second Great Awakening. Joseph Smith and the earliest Mormons didn’t speak in tongues at all until Brigham Young and his tongues speaking brothers arrived on the scene along with their tongues speaking friend Heber C. Kimball. And, for the record, Young and his brothers were Restorationist Pentecostals (specifically tongues speaking Primitive Methodists in most cases) before joining the Mormon Church – so the phenomenon didn’t, I repeat, did not originate in Mormonism.

Rather, it’s generally conceded that the fountainhead for all this 19th Century, Second Great Awakening tongues speaking was the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival. So for a historian to claim that the roots of modern Pentecostalism can be traced back to early Mormonism isn’t just ludicrous, it’s hack scholarship.

But wait, MacArthur isn’t done yet, there’s more:

“Even today, similarities between the two groups have led some to seek for greater unity. In their book Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints, authors Rob and Kathy Datsko assert, “Although there is an incredible language and culture barrier between LDS [Latter-day Saints] and SFC [Spirit-filled Christians], often these two groups believe many of the same basic doctrines.” Though Pentecostalism has traditionally rejected the Latter-day Saints, comments like those made by Joel Osteen suggest that a new wave of ecumenical inclusivism may be on the horizon. It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Regarding this passage, as I pointed out in my review of Rob and Kathy Datsko’s book, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints” MacArthur’s argument is based on data manipulation, flawed evidence, and good old fashioned exaggeration. Please consider the following questions I posed to Mr. MacArthur in this regard:

1) Why are the Datskos implicitly presented as Charismatic Christians in your (circa 2013) book when, in fact, they have been Mormons since 2003?
Folks as soon as these folks converted to Mormonism, they were no longer Charismatic Christians, they were Latter-day Saints who were following another Jesus and preaching another gospel.

2) Where are the rest of the Charismatic Christians that you declare, are seeking greater unity with Mormons?
Friends I’m a Mormon Studies scholar and I will tell you plainly: Any that have tried this (such as Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richardson, and Cal Fullerton) are now considered, marginalized, lunatic fringe, Charismaniacs by mainstream Charismatics. They have no significant power or influence among us.

3) Why do you single out Charismatics when, in fact, it’s cessationists who are taken a far greater, more active role in seeking greater unity with Mormons?
I’ll name names: Craig Blomberg (Denver Theological Seminary), Christopher Hall (Episcopalian theologian), Gerald R. McDermott (Beeson Divinity School), and James E. Bradley (Fuller Theological Seminary). Oh, and let me add newcomer, Baptist Author and Educator, Roger E. Olson, to the list.

4) Where are all these Charismatic Latter-day Saints that you refer to on p.73 of Strange Fire?
That’s where you claim, “Today there are even charismatic Mormons. Regardless of what else they teach, if they have had that experience, they are in.” Footnote 53 for the passage on p.73 takes us to this: “See, for example, “Hi. I’m Kathy, I’m a born again, Spirit-filled, Charismatic Mormon” at Mormon.org, accessed March 2013” (p.290) and one clicks on the link that’s provided in the footnote and it takes us to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) Kathy Datsko’s Mormon testimony! Folks, no many how many times you count her Kathy Datsko is one, and only one, Charismatic Latter-day Saint. Add in her husband Rob and you now have not one but two Charismatic Mormons.

This is far from a trend or even a pattern people! In fact, other than these two I know of no other Charismatic Latter-day Saints. That’s because Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur’s evidence that there’s a major trend involving mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.

Confirmation Bias Driven Evidence Presentation
As continuationist Bible scholar Craig S. Keener notes:

“MacArthur’s selective approach to history is meant to substantiate his approach. Yet his appendix on church history, if intended to be representative, cherry-picks only statements that agree with him. Yes, cessationists existed; but not all orthodox believers have been cessationists. Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all claimed eyewitness accounts of healings and exorcisms. Historian Ramsay MacMullen shows that these sorts of experiences constituted the leading cause of Christian conversion in the third and fourth centuries.

MacArthur cites Augustine as an advocate of cessationism (252-53) without noting that he later changed his mind and reported numerous miracles, including raisings from the dead and some healings that he personally witnessed. John Wesley valued weighing prophecy rather than rejecting it, reports healings, and offers his own firsthand report of what he believed to be a raising from the dead. Late nineteenth-century evangelical leaders such as Baptist A. J. Gordon (for whom Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is named) and A. B. Simpson, founder of Christian and Missionary Alliance, were continuationists and recounted healing reports.”
(Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website)

And it’s not in the book but in the follow up video on to the book and conference that Mr. MacArthur did at The Master’s Seminary entitled, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” (it can be seen on YouTube) John MacArthur said of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement that in 1967 “a bunch of Jesus freak people.. go to Calvary Chapel…and for the first time…that I know of in history, the church lets the very defined subculture dictate what it will be,” citing “the hippie culture, communal living…kids coming out of drugs and free sex, and all that” as displacing “all the normal and formal things,” and typifying the charismatic church, with the movement becoming Calvary Chapel. (video transcription from Wikipedia)

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I was at Calvary Chapel in the 1970’s during the height of Jesus Movement and what Mr. MacArthur has just said is nonsense! Chuck Smith’s friend and colleague Jacob Prasch has called it “false witness” and I agree with him. Folks, it simply isn’t true. Anyone who thinks that staid, culturally and theologically conservative Pastor Chuck wasn’t fully in control of things and wasn’t keeping a leash on the insanity that we hippies brought in tow with us simply wasn’t there! Case in point: Chuck Fromm (the founder of Maranatha! Music and Chuck Smith’s son in law) once told me that Pastor Chuck didn’t like the rock music that was on the label and was always trying to convince him to shut that side of the ministry down and focus on just worship music – which Fromm eventually did.

While we all loved and respected Pastor Chuck, we still thought that he was a bit of an establishment square, a stick in the mud, and even an encumbrance to all our “grooviness” at times. To suggest that we children were leading a strong willed, in command, personality, father figure, and leader like Pastor Chuck is just laughable! And if there’s any doubt on any of this please see watch the “Pastors Perspective 4/3/2014” video on the K-Wave Radio YouTube Channel and you can hear it straight from Brian Brodersen, Don Stewart, Steve Mays, and Ray Bentley who were there at a much higher level than I ever was.

Conclusion and Other Perspectives
Since the Strange Fire conference and publication of the book John MacArthur has stated that they were supposed to be “the catalyst for conversation” (see “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” on YouTube). Well if that’s the case, given the harsh, polemic, condemning tone then this “conversation” started with all the charm and grace of an alley mugging by a bully.

Equally amusing is how in the aforementioned, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” video Mr. MacArthur complains about the ad-hominems leveled at him in the reviews on Amazon. This coming from a man who spends, pages, chapters, and even the greater part of a book engaging in personal attacks, character assassination, and some of the most derogatory and insulting slurs against fellow Christians imaginable. Mr. MacArthur that thing sticking out of your eye is what’s called a “beam”.

That said, I have one last piece of advice to my Charismatic friends: Read the Strange Fire book. Yes, read the book. I think it speaks for itself. Please don’t take my word for it, read the book and see for yourself if all the criticism that this book has garnered from myself and others is justified or not.

Finally, probably no one summed up the mindset, spirit, and content of “Strange Fire” better than the late, great, first editor of Christianity Today, Carl F.H. Henry who said in 1957:

“The real bankruptcy of fundamentalism has resulted not so much from a reactionary spirit – lamentable as this was – as from a harsh temperament, a spirit of lovelessness and strife contributed by much of its leadership in the recent past. One of the ironies of contemporary church history is that the more fundamentalists stress separation from apostasy as a theme in their churches, the more a spirit of lovelessness seems to prevail.

The theological conflict with liberalism deteriorated into an attack upon organizations and personalities. This condemnation, in turn, grew to include conservative churchmen and churches not ready to align with separatist movements. It widens still further, to abusive evangelicals unhappy with the spirit of independency in such groups as the American Council of Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. Then came internal debate and division among separatist fundamentalism within the American Council. More recently, the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham and [the] efforts of other evangelical leaders, whose disapproval of liberalism and advocacy of conservative Christianity are beyond dispute, have become the target of bitter volubility.

This character of fundamentalism as a temperament and not primarily fundamentalism as a theology, has brought the movement into contemporary discredit… Historically, fundamentalism was a theological position; only gradually did the movement come to signify a mood and disposition as well. In its early [years] leadership reflected ballast, and less of bombast and battle… If modernism stands discredited as a perversion of the scriptural theology, certainly fundamentalism in this contemporary expression stands discredited as a perversion of the Biblical spirit.”
(Carl F.H. Henry, Editor of “Christianity Today” magazine in 1957)

Appendix: Other Voices
Here are some other quotes on and about John MacArthur and Strange Fire that I thought the reader might find interesting:

“Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.”
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

‘On each point, it is surely misguided to single out charismatics, says [Pastor John] Piper. “Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, financial abuses, all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches.” Of charismatics and non-charismatics alike, “we all stand under the word of God and we all need repentance.”

But those charismatic abuses remain. So how are these excesses best policed? How are Christians today protected from the abuses of the charismatic church? Is it through attack-centered books and conferences?

“I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth. I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find, because what I believe, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth.”’
(John Piper, “Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos”, Desiring God website)

“In his “Strange Fire” conference (that starts today), book (upcoming), and ensuing promotions, John MacArthur has, I believe, acted very irresponsibly and is doing incredible damage to the body of Christ.

It is no secret that John MacArthur pushes the polemic line and causes many of us to be uncomfortable. This is just who he is and I don’t really expect him to change. But this conference is an excessively eristic and unnecessarily divisive crusade against charismatics. And, to be frank, it is even over the top for him…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, Reclaiming the Mind website, October 15, 2013)

“I’m not just talking from the sidelines as a bystander but as someone who has had a lot of experience and education in both [the Charismatic and Reformed] traditions and still embraces a respect for each while feeling free to critique both.

As I watched the video [of John MacArthur’s opening address at the “Strange Fire Conference”] I felt a growing anger as well as a disgust for what MacArthur was saying and how he was saying it. His speech is as lofty as his demeanor. His criticism of charismatics is as old as the charismatic movement itself. So it’s nothing new. It is a familiar flame. What I found dismaying is his complete dismissal of the movement and all its adherents in a single one hour dignified gesture. With one speech he purged the rolls of salvation of over 500 million believers.

Basically his argument is that charismatics dishonor God. Since they are therefore not in Christ, their theology is demonic. So since they are serving Satan and promoting him, there is a hotter hell reserved for them. He claims that the charismatic movement has done nothing to advance sound doctrine or biblical theology but in fact has caused more damage than anything else ever has because it has only delivered confusion, distortion and error to the church. He questions the church: You have always defended God. You have always defended Jesus Christ. Why do you not defend the Holy Spirit? Instead, the church opens the gates to the charismatics and they have taken over the city of God and set up an idol in its center. He doesn’t understand why God doesn’t just strike all these people down. He sadly supposes his ways aren’t our ways…

I’m not just angry. I’m not just disappointed. I’m sad. After watching MacArthur I was tempted to throw in the towel. Even though many people would distance themselves from MacArthur and his position on charismatics, it’s still a sign that the church and its leaders may use anything at their disposal to elevate themselves above their brothers and sisters, even if it means separating themselves from them forever.

I thought we were better than this.”
(David Hayward, “John MacArthur Sends 500,000,000 Charismatics to Hell”; nakedpastor website, October 18, 2013

“MacArthur’s latest book does not represent an honest search for truth. It is obvious that his mind was already made up when he began his research for Strange Fire, and he found what he was looking for. He presents a circular argument, beginning with a faulty premise and proceeding with selective anecdotal evidence that determines the outcome. He begins with a commitment to cessationism, the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church after the death of the twelve apostles and the completion of the writings of the New Testament. Since that is the case for him, that means modern expressions of Spiritual gifts must be false. He then utilizes the selective anecdotal evidence to buttress his presupposition, which leads him back to his starting point of cessation.

It seems that MacArthur wants to believe the worst about the movement of which he writes. At times I felt he was embellishing the bad to make it even worse. For example, Oral Roberts was not a Christian brother with whom he had profound differences but a heretic who did much damage to the body of Christ, “the first of the fraudulent healers to capture TV, paving the way for the parade of spiritual swindlers who have come after him” (p.155). Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.”
(Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And while Pastor Jack Hayford didn’t call out John MacArthur (who by the way he’s close personal friends with) directly, for anyone who’s read the Strange Fire book or watched the conference videos there’s no mistaking what prompted the following response:

“It is essential to note: as with any sector of the church, at times ungodly and wholly unworthy leaders rise and gain a following. From local pastorates to notable media ministries one can find shameful violations of the Word and personalities lauded as ‘anointed’ who ignore biblical standards regarding morality, financial accountability, and biblical integrity. Pop culture themes that compromise the whole truth of God’s Word on subjects that lead to human, financial, lifestyle, and attitudinal shoddiness are often paraded in the name of ‘charismatic.’ This is a tragic miscarriage of a biblically rooted word (charismata) and shameless rejection of the charismatic lifestyle modeled by the apostles’ own first-century ministry—one lived without compromise of truth, character, behavior, or morality, and devoid of any self-serving ways.

May it be known and affirmed here: such biblically inconsistent leaders, be they men or women, who violate God’s Word—and any who follow them—are not and should not (no matter what ‘signs following’ are claimed) be seen or understood to be a valid definition of what charismatic or Pentecostal life or leadership is about.

It is grieving to all who seek to live and walk in humility and holiness as members of the Spirit-filled community of believers, when there is evidence of a leader’s doctrinal, ecclesiastical, moral, or financial compromise, and yet nothing of confrontation, discipline, or disapproval appear to be administered. However, truth is that this is not at all the case among the vast majority of those within the Pentecostal or charismatic community. For the most part, existing denominations and structured nondenominational networks do administer correction and discipline, as well as directing recovery and restoration programs where repentance is shown by the errant or fallen.

The most flagrant cases of violation and neglect of discipline occur in the glaring instances where independent, self-directed, self-ruled, and self-governed leaders move. The absence of structures requiring accountability to fellow leaders, or the ‘cronyism’ of some who unite, but do so forming small circles of equally errant ministers who ‘measure themselves by themselves’ (2 Cor. 10:12) and smugly exercise a self-affirming tolerance and grace that refuses the legalism of critics; these are of the nature of those the Epistle of Jude identifies as ‘dreamers’ who ‘defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries,’ and as having ‘gone in the way of Cain, run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah . . . for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever’ (Jude 4-13, NKJV).

Further, it is an egregious exercise in unkindness when categorical charges or institutional ‘blackballing tactics’ are leveled against charismatics as though all are given to indifference concerning Bible interpretation or moral recklessness. Even those differing theologically know full well that such broad brush treatment is a violation of facts—that the few characterize neither the values nor lifestyle of the many, i.e., charismatics who love, honor, and live for Christ, the Lord of us all—charismatic or otherwise. May God extinguish the foul incense from the ‘strange fire’ offered by voices among leaders at either group’s altars, and may His ‘holy fire’ baptize us all with a fresh baptism of His unifying love, whatever our doctrinal differences.”
(Jack Hayford’s foreword for R.T. Kendall, “Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives”, Kindle Locations 3477-3504)

Recommended Reading
The following books have been written in response to “Strange Fire”. They offer a fuller, richer perspective on the book and address in greater detail MacArthur’s errors – up to and including his confirmation bias driven hard cessationist exegesis of scripture.

“Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” by Michael L. Brown
This book directly addresses the issues raised by the Strange Fire book, conference, and camp in a calm, even toned, and scholarly manner. (note: I have also reviewed this book)

“Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives” by R.T. Kendall
A thoughtful scriptural exegetical response to MacArthur’s hard cessationist arguments from a theologian in the Reformed tradition who is Charismatic.

“The Essential Guide to the Power of the Holy Spirit: God’s Miraculous Gifts at Work Today” by Randy Clark
A combination defense of continuationism and practical, scriptural guidelines which, if followed, would eliminate would eliminate many of the abuses and excesses that MacArthur correctly criticizes in Strange Fire.

Christian Historian William De Arteaga’s short analysis of how John MacArthur abuses and misrepresents Church History in “Strange Fire” is very informative and enlightening.

William De Arteaga, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology”, The Pneuma Review website, November 8, 2013

And, finally, while I would like to believe that my review is pretty good, I’m not sure that these reviews of John MacArthur’s last two Anti-Charismatic books can be topped. I’ve cited from some of them above but I encourage a full read in order to fully appreciate them for yourself: 

Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website, November 15, 2013

Monte Lee Rice, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Monte Lee Rice”, The Pneuma Review website, December 26, 2013

Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993

(this review was previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

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