I come to Michael Brown’s final chapter of Authentic Fire. Here is where he wraps up what he has been saying throughout his book, as well as provides his concluding words of exhortation as to what we, his readers, should take away from the Strange Fire conference.
He begins by laying out four reasons why the Strange Fire conference and the published book will be significant.
To summarize those reasons [AF, 309-310]:
1. Strange Fire will be a negative landmark in the increasing minority position of cessationism.
2. More believers will study afresh the Scriptures and see that continuationism is true. In other words, Strange Fire will backfire!
3. Pentecostals and charismatics who previously had no connection to each other will be united, along with non-hostile cessationists connecting with non-crazy charismatics and working together for God’s kingdom.
4. Charismatics will look more seriously at some of their more glaring errors both doctrinally and morally.
Brown then concludes the remainder of his chapter with three challenges to those Christians sympathetic to the Strange Fire message.
First, The Whole Bible is Wholly True. Believe it. Meaning, “if the words or promises or exhortations or commands apply to us, we need to take God at His Word and believe and act on what He says” [AF, 311]. If the whole Bible teaches continuationism, then it should be believed, not rejected.
Additionally, Christians, especially those of the cessationist view, should not develop their “theology” as a reaction against what is truly false teaching. So for example, those carnal prosperity teachers who have abused and maligned the Bible’s teaching on giving money and receiving God’s blessing should not cause Christians to overreact against what the Bible truly says about our giving and God’s rich blessing.
The same can be said of those who teach falsely about physical healing. Just because there are some who have abused the gift of healing and promised healing when none really came, should not cause us to disregard what the Bible teaches on physical healing. “Just because some charlatan,” writes Brown, “abused the Bible doesn’t mean I can’t use it rightly, and just because some teacher misinterpreted a verse doesn’t mean that you should cut it out of your Bible. And just because some leader or denomination declared that certain parts of the Bible no longer apply to us today doesn’t mean you have to accept that verdict when the Word seems plainly to say otherwise,” [AF, 315].
Second, The Holy Spirit is Moving Around the World. Receive It! Pentecostalism has been historically a missionary driven movement. “The fundamental conviction of Pentecostals is that the power they receive through the Spirit is to evangelize all nations and so glorify Jesus Christ,” [AF, 316]. Hence, when multitudes of people really are turning from idols to the living and true God and putting their faith in Jesus for salvation, that should be cause for great rejoicing.
Rather than being critical of this mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the nations, it is better to study anew what the NT says about the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can be more like Jesus and reach our dying world. So while it is wise to put up healthy walls of discernment to keep out false spirits, don’t let those walls keep out the true Spirit of God.
And then third, The Body of Christ is Multifaceted and Beautiful. Embrace it. People in both cessationist and charismatic camps will demonize members of the other side. Even Brown was warned by some charismatics to avoid MacArthur because his opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit only proves that he isn’t even saved and is a Christ-killing Pharisee. Certainly MacArthur received similar warnings about Brown.
However, those absurd warnings should be rejected in the strongest possible terms. Both camps must see that we are all brothers in Christ and by God’s grace will spend eternity with each other. So now each side should seek to establish enriching friendships with each other to further the kingdom of God now.
If MacArthur recognizes fine leaders like John Piper and Wayne Grudem as brothers, despite their alleged errors of charismaticism, then it is possible for charismatics and cessationists to lay aside differences and work together. But in order to have that happen and to help each other we will need to communicate with each other openly, honestly, publicly, and privately. That way we can all experience the sweet words of Psalm 133 where it says, Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Review and Analysis
Brown’s final chapter summarizes a number of arguments he has already put forward in previous chapters. Both Lyndon and myself have done our best to address what we consider to be the salient points to his overall complaint against MacArthur and the Strange Fire conference. Thus, a lot of what I may hit upon with this chapter review will come across as redundant (Well, it is the last chapter, so I guess that is to be expected), because I’ll refer readers back to previously posted reviews. So with that in mind, allow me to consider his three exhortations in turn.
1). The Bible is wholly true, believe it.
Brown explains that when he says the Bible is “wholly true” he means we need to take God at His word, believe it, and act upon what He says. That is essentially what he argued in chapter 6 so I won’t belabor this point too long.
In chapter 6 he wrote that if the Reformed folks, like MacArthur, truly believed in Sola Scriptura like they say they do, then they would believe that God still works with spectacular, supernatural signs and wonders through the hands of spiritually gifted Christians. Because those Reformed folks reject charismatic claims of supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit as being genuine, they are acting contrary to the doctrine they profess to believe.
As I pointed out in my review of that chapter, Brown levels that charge operating from his Pentecostal/charismatic presupposition that Christians throughout all of church history can expect to do similar miracles as those recorded in the NT that were done by Jesus and the apostles. Hence, when he challenges cessationists to “wholly believe the Bible,” he has in mind them believing like he does: that all Christians can do miracles of power and healing if they would merely be open to that reality.
As I concluded in my review, if a person would first ditch the presupposition that Brown has read onto the Bible, and then apply his principle of believing the Bible as being wholly true, he will come to an entirely different view of miracles than the one promoted here in Authentic Fire. Instead of a never-ending parade of healers and prophets until Jesus returns, we see that God had particular purposes for miracles and historical periods of miracles which was to authenticate the Messiahship of Jesus and the ministry of His apostles. I get that understanding from reading and believing the whole Bible, not cherry-picking selected citations that fit my theology.
2). The Holy Spirit is Moving around the World. Receive It!
Brown is insistent that MacArthur and all the supporters of Strange Fire are completely wrong about Pentecostalism and charismatics in foreign countries like India, Africa, and Latin America. Rather than being overran with wild-eyed fanatical prosperity Word of Faith charismaticism as Conrad Mbewe documented at the Strange Fire conference, Brown complains that his evaluation of African charismatics is grossly exaggerated and unfair. In fact, such out-of-control, unbiblical Word of Faith theology is not anywhere near being as harmful as Mbewe claims. Craig Keener, in the first appendix of Authentic Fire, though recognizing that some of his concerns are valid, even being recognized by many African Pentecostals, writes that it is a blanket judgment that easily leaves a false impression about African Christians, [AF, 358].
As much as both Brown and Keener wish to put a happy face on international charismatics, both men are woefully out of touch and naive. The testimony on the ground from genuinely concerned Christians who live in those countries paints a bleaker picture of the situation than both of them are willing to admit.
Lyndon addressed African charismatics with his review of Authentic Fire chapter 3, and the influence of Word of Faith on African charismatics with this overview here at his personal blog. In an extended review of chapter 5 also found at his blog, Lyndon addresses the famed Lausanne Survey Report that allegedly claims 90 percent of African leaders reject the prosperity gospel. He demonstrates how that figure is exaggerated and drawn from inadequate survey questions that game the results.
But the real proof of the problem with charismatics in foreign countries come from personal, eye-witness accounts. For example, in October 2013, around the time the Strange Fire conference was kicking off, James White of Alpha and Omega ministries made a trip to South Africa to lecture, teach, and preach, as well as engage in debate with a number of Islamic apologists. When he returned, he gave his report of his trip, and his take on the situation in South Africa is that prosperity, Word of Faith charismaticism is the face of Christianity to the people there, especially Muslims. Listen to his report here from the 17 minute mark to around the 19 minute mark to get an idea of what he meant.
3). The Body of Christ is Multifaceted and Beautiful. Embrace It.
When we come to the last point, it is regrettable to say that Brown becomes a tad whiny. There really is no other way to describe it. He is bothered that MacArthur will readily embrace continuationists like John Piper and Wayne Grudem as brothers in the Lord despite all their alleged theological errors regarding continuationism, [AF, 321], but not him. Piper and Grudem are not the jumping around the building and shouting old-time Pentecostals like he is, so they function as the nice, token charismatics that can be readily accepted by cessationists like MacArthur.
He then goes on to write, “The fact is that God wants the Strange Fire camp to recognize as dear brothers and sisters the Pentecostals who jump and shout and run around the building because they are excited about the Lord,…”[ibid]. Really? Earlier in the chapter, when Brown listed out his four reasons why the Strange Fire conference will be significant, he writes, “…many non-hostile cessationists will begin to connect with many non-crazy charismatics, leading to mutual edification, building up the church, and even effective missions and evangelism work, [AF, 309]. In Brown’s thinking (I am guessing), he sees MacArthur as a hostile cessationist because he doesn’t want to connect with a “non-crazy” charismatic like himself.
The reason why MacArthur can readily accept Piper and Grudem, and maybe some other men who are sympathetic to “continuationism” like D.A. Carson, is that they are the “non-crazy” charismatic variety that Brown identifies. Their commitment to sound, soteriological doctrine specifically, helps to reign in any craziness and bridges the fellowship between cessationists like MacArthur. So contrary to what Brown says here, MacArthur, the so-called “hostile” cessationist, is already friendly with “non-crazy” charismatics that Brown believes would improve his life.
The difficulty cessationists have with Brown, however, is that he seems to have no problem with embracing and endorsing the “crazy” charismatics. He regularly visits with them to promote any books he’s written, even willingly speaking at their churches and conferences.
And when I say “crazy” I really mean crazy. Like barking at the moon…
We all know about Brown going on Benny Hinn’s TV show, so there is really no need to bring that up again. However, he has also appeared with Cindy Jacobs on her “God Knows” TV show,
Cindy Jacobs, if you don’t remember, is famous for claiming that she fed 3,000 people at a church in Colorado Springs in the same fashion Jesus fed the 5,000. Even more amazing, She claims God multiplies her kids’ food, the oil in her house, and preserves her shoes from being worn out in the same manner the Israelites had their sandals preserved while wandering in the wilderness.
What on earth is wrong with your spiritual life dear saint if God isn’t doing this for YOU!
Now Brown expressed annoyance with those people who drew attention to his “loose” affiliation with Cindy Jacobs [AF, 94.95]. He was on her show once or twice and doesn’t necessarily run in her circles. The people who attempt to lay a “guilt by association” on him are no different than those hyper-Fundamentalists and their secondary separation doctrine. But if Brown had appeared with only Jacobs just one time to talk about his book on homosexuality, then maybe I would be unfairly nit-picking and he would have a good point. But that isn’t the case.
Brown has also appeared with Sid Roth,
For those who have never heard of Sid Roth, he’s the Christianized version of George Noory. He hosts a show called “It’s Supernatural!” (“Where it’s naturally supernatural!”) that is basically the Coast to Coast AM for charismatics. And you think TBN is bad. In fact, I’d encourage the reader to at least watch the 30 second intro to the show so as to just get a feel for what he regularly promotes.
Roth interviews such guests as heaven tourist Steven Brooks, who earnestly recounts (with video reenactments, mind you) his experiences with seeing angels everyday (who strike a uncanny resemblance to Fabio) and being pulled up to heaven and into the throne room of God, which by the way, has a black and white checkered linoleum floor like the Kroger grocery store my family went to when I was a kid.
Steven has been given a special vision,
Roth also entertains riveting researchers like L.A. Marzulli, who has a DVD set on his research into the Nephilim and their skulls. Or this guy who says he knows the secret to supernaturally changing your DNA so as to break the generational curses not one generation!, not even four generations!, but all the way back to Adam and Eve! (By using this one weird trick!)
I could go on and on about Sid Roth. Spend 20 minutes clicking through his Youtube or Godtv channel. You’ll be amused, amazed, but horrified that people believe this is pawned off as biblical Christianity. And Michael Brown regularly visits his TV show and radio program.
But wait, there’s more!
Here’s Brown speaking at Bethel Church in Redding CA.
That’s right. You all know Bethel Church Redding. The church that gives us,
And Kevin Dedmon encouraging a group of guys to walk on water and through walls,
The glittering glory cloud that falls from the ventilation system,
And of course fire tunnels.
The only thing missing from the wackiness that happens at Bethel is snake handling.
Look. The reason MacArthur can be friendly with Piper, Grudem, and Carson in spite of their continuationist quirks is that none of those men, at least to my knowledge, have appeared on television shows and radio programs where the hosts boast about feeding 3,000 people with a loaf of bread, or promote guests who believe they can command armies of angels, or spoken at churches where the ministers encourage their youth to walk across swimming pools and glitter falls from the vents and is called a glory cloud.
In chapter 2 of Authentic Fire, Brown is insistent that he has always been quick to call out what he calls the “excesses” in charismatic churches. He has written numerous books condemning those excesses long before MacArthur even considered having a Strange Fire conference. My question of Brown would be, does he think Jacobs, Roth, and Bethel church promote “excesses” (though “excesses” is too mild a word in my opinion), or would he consider them non-crazy and what they do as “authentic fire” that should be embraced?
If Brown is serious about going forward from Strange Fire with the intention of learning something from MacArthur, he needs to recognize that the problems MacArthur has with charismatics and Pentecostals goes way, way beyond loud worship services with people swaying back and forth with their arms in the air. His concern is with the occultic, new age mysticism that is promoted as spirituality in charismatic circles that leads to horrific theology and doctrinal practice. And it is ubiquitous throughout both charismatic and Pentecostal denominations.
I am fearful that Brown doesn’t see those things as dangerous. His main concern seems to only be what he calls “manipulative” fund raising done by televangelists. But honestly, until he can come out and say the stuff that is taking place at Bethel is damnable heresy, that Sid Roth promotes damnable heresy on his TV show, and the number of various NAR personalities with whom he associates teach damnable heresy, there isn’t going to be any genuine fellowship with MacArthur and those of us in the Strange Fire camp. We are circling in entirely different orbits.