Chapter 1 Summary 1. The chapter opens with Dr. Brown paying respects to John MacArthur, commenting on his extensive contributions to the church, his gospel proclamation and his integrity in both public and private spheres. He then shifts gears into and writes several sweeping statements:
1a. “Pastor MacArthur’s criticisms of the charismatic movement are inaccurate, unhelpful, often harshly judgmental, sometimes without scriptural support, and frequently divisive in the negative sense of the word.” (Kindle Locations 193-195)
1b. “Where he rightly points out some of the most glaring and serious faults in the charismatic movement, I add my ‘Amen,’ having addressed these same abuses for many years myself.” (Kindle Locations 195-196)
1c. “But when he damns millions of godly believers, demeans the real work of the Spirit, accuses true worshipers of blaspheming the Spirit, and calls for an all-out war against the charismatic movement, a strong corrective is needed, along with a positive statement of the truth of the matter. That is the purpose of this book.” (Kindle Locations 196-198)
2. Dr. Brown then presents John MacArthur’s indictments against the charismatic movement.
2a. Dr. Brown quotes John MacArthur in an interview with Phil Johnson from 2011 where Pastor MacArthur blames the charismatic movement for “virtually every area where church life is unbiblical…” (Kindle Location 201), “bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation” (Kindle Location 202).
2b. Dr. Brown then quotes a sermon from John MacArthur saying that the movement has theology that is “bad, it is unbiblical, it is aberrant, it is destructive to people because it promises them what it can’t deliver” (Kindle Locations 203-204). Dr. Brown further refers to Pastor MacArthur’s statement about how the charismatics attribute the work of Satan to the Holy Spirit and how charismatics have “stolen the Holy Spirit and created a golden calf and they are dancing around the golden calf as if it is the Holy Spirit. . . The charismatic version of the Holy Spirit is that golden calf . . . around which they dance with their dishonoring exercises” (Kindle Locations 206-208).
2c. Dr. Brown then quotes the Strange Fire book saying that the charismatic movement was “a farce and a scam ”since the beginning and that it “has not changed into something good” (Kindle Locations 210-211) and Dr. Brown quotes the book as saying that the charismatic movement represents “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity” (Kindle Locations 211-212), against which Pastor MacArthur calls for a “‘collective war’ against these alleged pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God'” (Kindle Location 212).
Dr. Brown spends three more paragraphs quoting Strange Fire on how the Holy Spirit in much of the charismatic movement/teaching is unlike the Holy Spirit in the Bible, how the charismatic movement has done more damage to the gospel, truth and sound doctrine, how the charismatic movement has”has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation” (Kindle Location 219), how Satan’s false teachers gladly propagate errors, and how “By inventing a Holy Spirit of idolatrous imaginations, the modern charismatic movement offers strange fire that has done incalculable harm to the body of Christ. Claiming to focus on the third member of the Trinity, it has in fact profaned His name and denigrated His true work.” (Kindle Locations 222-224).
Dr. Brown then writes “when Pastor MacArthur has called for a collective war against charismatics, he means just what he says, believing that the vast majority of charismatics are not truly saved, while those who are saved are involved in serious error and some level of deception” (Kindle Locations 226-227).
3. Dr. Brown shifts gears to comment on how various evangelical leaders find Pastor MacArthur’s statements to be errant and grossly overstated. Dr. Brown references Mark Galli (of Christianity Today) as “finding great sympathy” with Dr. Brown’s article written on the eve of Strange Fire, Dr. Timothy George (of Beeson Divinity School) and his article on First Things, Dr. Tom Schreiner’s (professor at SBTS) review of the book Strange Fire, Ron Phillips (of Abba’s House Church) in an article he wrote saying that John MacArthur’s “stance on the gifts of the Spirit, support of cessationism, and his related and unrelenting attacks upon his brothers and sisters who believe and walk in the fullness of the Spirit are – quite simply – wrong” (Kindle Locations 266-268), a cessationist commenter from Facebook, and an unkind blogger. 4. Dr. Brown closes off the chapter asking “What then is the truth about the charismatic movement? Where has Pastor MacArthur spoken accurately and where has he misspoken? And what do the Scriptures have to say about these critically important issues? We’ll take these questions up in the rest of the book” (Kindle Locations 287-289). ****** Chapter 1 Comments 1. It’s good to see at least some recognition of the fact that John MacArthur isn’t the outright enemy.
1a. Remains to be proven (at this point in the book/response), so no further comment.
1b. Michael Brown has suggested previously that he has addressed the same abuses (and mentions them at length in chapter two), but those he addresses aren’t even really on the radar for John MacArthur (or other cessationists like myself). Just watch from 0:48 – 2:07 & 9:30 – 11:00 to get an inkling for what the debate is about:
1c. Dr. Brown has to admit that he doesn’t know how many believers there are in the charismatic movement, at least on the basis of their profession of faith. Surely this is part of the very point being argued; namely the authenticity of the claimed numbers of “converts”. Most of Dr. Brown’s complaints are only legitimate if charismatic theology is biblically defensible, but that itself is the debate at hand.
2. The accusations:
2a. Looking at the interview with Phil Johnson, one should realize that Pastor MacArthur was talking about the impact of the charismatic movement after 1960, when the charismatic movement entered the liberal mainline protestant churches (and a few years later, the Roman Catholic church), but that doesn’t really change the thrust of his comment…except that it looks relatively true in that contextual light. Was bad charismatic theology found outside charismatic circles before the 1960’s? How about superficial worship, at least in the sense of biblical content and philosophy? What about the celebration of ego? The prosperity gospel? Personality elevation and Christian celebrity culture?
I cannot answer that from my personal experience, but my understanding of 20th century church history suggests that such may actually be the reasonable case… I just consider:
…led to Calvary Chapel’s founding….
…which lead to the Vineyard Church’s founding…
…which lead to the Toronto Airport Vineyard barking revival and a whole lot of other related insanity…like this:
I’d suggest that one read the interview. John MacArthur actually makes a reasonable case to back up what look like amazing claims. Then, check out those claims on your own. For example, it’s worth noting that the Jesus movement was an almost exclusively charismatic movement involved with the worst false teachers from the beginning (that’s Chuck Smith on the right in the blue suit, Ted Wise [i think] introducing the segment, Kathryn Kuhlman and Lonnie Frisbee – faith healer, power-evangelist and unrepentant homosexual who also helped start the Vineyard movement – read pages 132 to 135 of this). Not exactly an exemplary beginning, and I’m immediately suspicious of someone who lacks the theological discernment to see through Kathryn Kuhlman (Doesn’t the singer in that video look familiar?). Do some reading on the rest of it, and see if the line of argumentation doesn’t start to look at least reasonable.
2b. Does the charismatic movement have theology that is unbiblical? Well, if tongues was earthly languages, if there are no more apostles, if nobody heals in the same manner as Jesus and the Apostles or has the gift of healing that they had, etc., then yeah. Speaking broadly about a global movement, charismatic theology (meaning the theology that is distinctive to the movement) is generally unbiblical.
2c. The same can be said at this point too. Was the charismatic movement a farce and a scam from the beginning? If the charismatic movement was started by scamming charlatans who got their ideas from hucksters, new-thought cranks, eschatological quacks or farcical misunderstandings of scripture, then yeah.
Has it changed into something good? Well, depends on where you look. I’ve previously documented, at some length, how the Foursquare church (one of the larger charismatic denominations) was started by Aimee Semple McPherson, a complete and utter fraud, and they still proudly embrace her teaching today. Now I wouldn’t say the charismatic movement is all bad, and the bad beginnings can be redeemed with a return to biblical fidelity. We’ve seen that in various places, but why has the Foursquare church not recognized the biblical deficit of their foundations, left that behind, and matured as a denomination? Where’s the charismatic denomination that openly rejects their founders as quacks and has gone full circle in returning to biblical fidelity? In many ways, the only component of the movement that has improved since the beginning is the marketing…
I’ll gladly admit that the various denominations/streams of the charismatic movement are mixed bags with some churches that are great churches of mature and dynamic believers, but no denomination (that I know of) on the whole has cleaned up it’s act beyond the theological fumbling of the founders.
Does the charismatic movement equate the explosive growth of a false church? Well, globally speaking, a statistical majority of the charismatic movement is represented by the prosperity gospel (and other more even more prevalent heresies – generational curses, positive confession, the idea of physical healing being provided in the atonement, the spiritual death of Jesus, etc.). That’s the mainstream. I mean, doesn’t the fact that Michael Brown wanted to reach Benny Hinn’s giant audience (and not vice versa) suggest something rather obvious?
Is the charismatic movement more dangerous than a cult? Well, Even if there’s only 50 million prosperity gospel folk in the 500 million strong charismatic movement (giving them only 10% of the movement and not including the Oneness Pentecostals or charismatic Catholics), they’re a numerically significant form of pseudo-Christianity equal to Mormonism (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 15 million) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 19.2 million) and Seventh Day Adventists (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 17.5 million) combined. Not only that, but the prosperity preachers they run around in charismatic circles mostly unhindered and definitely unchallenged. The prosperity gospel is not only one of the numerically largest forms of pseudo-Christianity, it’s also the only one with a cloaking device.
Does not that make it more dangerous than the three previously mentioned cults combined?
Has the charismatic movement ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation? Well, consider the question. The question is not “has any one academic charismatic ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation?” People love tossing out Grudem or Fee or Keener and thinking the case is closed. The question is talking about the movement as a movement. What doctrine/interpretation has come from the distinctives of any stream of the charismatic movement that did not precede it? Another way of asking this is “what new doctrine or interpretation has been introduced, specifically from charismatic circles as emerging from their distinctives, in the last 110 years?”
Honestly think about that for a moment.
I cannot help but agree with Pastor MacArthur on this one.
Finally, are a majority of charismatics unsaved? Well, I’d suggest that a majority of the people in prosperity gospel/N.A.R. & Oneness & Catholic churches are likely unsaved…simply because they haven’t ever heard the gospel and therefore cannot believe the gospel (and that accounts for tons of charismatics, including all the biggest charismatic churches in almost every country on earth…).
The Catholic Church proclaims a gospel that cannot save.
Oneness Pentecostals proclaim a gospel that cannot save.
Prosperity gospel churches proclaims a gospel that cannot save.
Many of the other big denominations have the gospel correct on paper, but it’s my uniform experience that rarely is the gospel proclaimed coherently in the various churches themselves.
Call me crazy, but “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14)
I suspect that this reason is why the Reformed charismatics are growing so quickly; Reformed charismatics offer the gospel to many who are the Almost Christian. There surely are many believing charismatics who aren’t Reformed charismatics, but I’ve only met a few that have stayed in the non-reformed churches for any serious length of time. Most of the people I knew back in my charismatic days have either abandoned the faith or gone to reformed charismatic/cessationist churches. Few have remained in churches void of the gospel for more than a decade.
3. As for the evangelicals of clout who disagree, I basically say “so what”? I don’t really care about Mark Galli’s sympathy; I don’t go to Christianity Today for opinions on anything. Regarding Timothy George (who quotes none other than yours truly in his article – and I’m flattered that the folks at Beeson read my blog instead of watching Scooby Doo), here’s a micoscopic summary of his points:
– There’s godly men on both sides.
– “Some folks are “not prepared to declare spiritual gifts obsolete tout court.”
– A few crazies don’t ruin the whole movement.
– John MacArthur has declared that only non-charismatics are true Christians.
– George O. Wood and J.I. Packer disagree with John MacArthur.
– In 1978 John MacArthur recognized the good in the charismatic movement and was way nicer.
Here’s my responses:
– John MacArthur isn’t tossing out spiritual gifts in general.
– The crazies are the mainstream.
– John MacArthur has never suggested that every charismatic is an unbeliever.
– Disagreement doesn’t dictate truth.
– The charismatic movement has slightly changed since 1978.
Dr. Schreiner and the “broad brush” complaint are common, but that’s to be expected when addressing a global movement of half a billion. As for Ron Phillips, anyone who does conferences with prosperity preachers and Benny Hinn hucksters has about as much theological credibility as your average North Korean journalist. Finally, Facebook and a confused blogger? I’d respond to that, but really? 4. The argument is, and will be, settled on an exegetical level. Now I’ve said more than enough, so that’s a wrap.