June 19, 2014

Authentic Fire Review Chapter 7

by Lyndon Unger

Authentic Fire is Dr. Michael Brown’s book-length response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. Because of the importance of this debate, TheCripplegate is using every Thursday to respond chapter-by-chapter to Authentic Fire. You can find an overview of this debate, as well as links to the reviews for each chapter by clicking here.

Chapter 7 Summary (I’ve numbered things to make responding easier to follow)

Michael Brown

1. Dr. Brown opens the chapter with a story about James Robison and how he used to be judgmental, until Billy Graham told him to “spend time with other believers you’ve been taught to avoid” (Kindle Location 3482), which transformed him and those whom he reached out to.  Dr. Brown makes the subtle insinuation that John MacArthur avoids other believers because he doesn’t think they are other believers.  Dr. Brown then quotes himself in saying that Heaven will be “a great eye-opener and a great mouth-closer. You will be surprised to see many people there, and many people will be surprised to see you there”  (Kindle Locations 3486-3487), and comments about how people like Bill Johnson and Mike Bickle get condemned by some and praised by others.

Dr. Brown proves that MacArthur doesn’t believe charismatics are believers by pointing to this now infamous tweet:

2. Dr. Brown continues on in the next section, pointing out how the “wholesale condemnation of several hundred millions Christians is totally unmerited” (Kindle Location 3504) and comments on how it’s not exactly the first time in Church history that such angry divisions have occurred, and then gives this post by Tom Chantry as an example of “how unpleasant the rhetoric can get once we start damning one another to hell” (Kindle Locations 3506-3507).  Dr. Brown quotes Chantry as saying:

“Well, if John MacArthur wants to train his fire on them [meaning, the charismatics], I say good for him. CAIR [the Counsel on American-Islamic Relationships] may not actually be terrorists , but I’m all for exposing their giving of aid and comfort to terrorists.” (Kindle Locations 3507-3509).

3. Jumping off Tom Chantry’s rhetoric, he looks at the bloody theological battles of the past and points to what happens when Christians toss out the word “heresy” against differences in the Body.  Dr. Brown points to the bloody aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon, pointing out how tens of thousands perished in the fighting between the Monophysites and Chalcedonians, and gives pages of bloody details involving “hands festering and dripping with blood and pus” (Kindle Location 3538) or of many were forced to “take the Eucharist kicking and screaming” (Kindle Locations 3548-3549).


He then states:

Now, to be perfectly clear, I am not comparing the Strange Fire movement to these murderous, dastardly acts. But I am saying that we need to step back in the midst of our self-confident divisions over “orthodoxy” and start listening to each other and making efforts to understand each other before we pronounce each other hell-bound heretics. (Kindle Locations 3557-3559).

4. He continues his argument about believers killing believers over doctrine and switches topics to the Anabaptists (like Felix Manz, Jacob Falk, and Bathasar Hubmaier), some of whom were imprisoned and others were killed by sword or drowning, both by Catholics and “their Protestant brothers and sisters” (Kindle Location 3627).  Dr. Brown closes off that section saying:

Obviously, I’m not claiming that all people on all sides of this dispute were believers – only God ultimately those who are His (2 Timothy 2: 19) – but it’s clear that these were all Protestants, and even within their own house, there were murderous divisions. (Kindle Locations 3628-3630).


5. Dr. Brown then moves on to comment about how, before the conference, he attempted a dialogue with John MacArthur to urge him to be more cautious with whom he condemned.  He then re-posts this article in it’s entirety, making five points:

a.  We really do need each other – He quote 1 Cor. 12:20-21 (insinuating John MacArthur is doing this) and insinuates that John MacArthur doesn’t want to learn from, or serve, his Charismatic brothers or sisters but rather embodies the attitude of the pharisee in Luke 18:11.

b.  Surgeons cut carefully – Dogmatism often paints with a broad brush and that doesn’t honor the Lord.

c. Don’t be hasty to call others false prophets or false teachers – Dr. Brown’s entire point is:

“Based on New Testament usage, a false prophet is a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing and therefore a hell-bound sinner (see Matthew 7: 15-20), while a false teacher is a non-believer (or backslider) who introduces damnable heresies to the church (see 2 Peter 2: 1, where it states that they “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction”).

Because of that, I refuse to call a brother or sister in the Lord a false prophet or a false teacher, even if they prophesy falsely (in which case they need correction and are falsely called a prophet) and even if they teach something false (does anyone dare claim to have perfect doctrine on all points)?

It is therefore unbiblical to use the “false prophet” or “false teacher” moniker for believers who are in error, and we can deal with their error effectively and strongly without damning them to hell. (Are you 100% sure they are not saved? Without a doubt? Remember: I’m not talking about a cult member here but about someone who claims to be born again through faith in Jesus.)

And while there are absolutely times when it is right to address people by name – I have sought to do that in a godly way in these columns over the months; God will be the Judge – in many cases it is possible to deal with issues without naming names, which also avoids unnecessary division and strife within the Body.”  (Kindle Locations 3658-3668).

d. Before we differ with each other we have to understand each other – Dr. Brown comments how some people mean something other than he does when they use the term “charismatic” or “prosperity gospel”.  He comments that people who pray for wealth aren’t necessarily sinning since they do so “to help spread the gospel”, but others pursue wealth in a carnal and “worldly-minded” way (due to being manipulated by preachers).

e.  Major on the majors – Dr. Brown comments that even people at Grace Community Church don’t agree with John MacArthur on everything, and people don’t agree with him on everything either, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not believers.  If we all focus on exalting Jesus, we’ll find that we have far more in common than not.


6.  Dr. Brown then comments on Numbers 11:26-29 and remarks that some people “people just do things differently than what we’re used to” (Kindle Location 3699) but we shouldn’t shut them down because of that.  He then makes the same point from Mark 9:38-40 and remarks how Joshua and John both wanted to stop those who were doing things differently than they were, but Moses and Jesus both told them to leave it be.  He quotes John MacArthur in saying “In matters in which Scripture is not explicit there is room for difference of opinion” (Kindle Location 3711) and comments that “we often pass judgment where Scripture does not give us the right to” (Kindle Locations 3712-3713). He then comments:

I’m very hesitant to label anyone a wolf, a false prophet, a charlatan, a fraud, or a false teacher unless I know for a fact that they either deny one or more of the fundamentals of the faith (such as salvation through Jesus alone; His divine nature; His atoning death and resurrection; etc.) or that they are lying in the claims they are making or that they are living an immoral, godless life. (Kindle Locations 3715-3717).

7.  He condemns cessationism as a false teaching but states that he wouldn’t label a cessationist a “false teacher”.  He says the same thing about the pre-trib rapture, dispensationalism, and Calvinism.  He comments how it’s sad that John MacArthur lumps in the good with the bad (due to his broad brush approach) and often exaggerates “the number and nature of the errors” (Kindle Location 3728) in the Charismatic movement.

False Teacher Test

8.  Going back to the broad brush accusation, Dr. Brown then comments on John MacArthur’s reaction to Tom Schreiner’s complaint about the broad brush.  Dr. Brown comments on how John MacArthur claimed that he affirmed some Charismatics as true believers and respected colleagues, and Dr. Brown protests that even in the sections where affirmations were made, there were still remarks about how they “remain confused about the ministry of the Holy Spirit” (Kindle Location 3742) and place themselves in spiritual jeopardy by continual exposure to false teaching and counterfeit spirituality.  Dr. Brown then comments on how John MacArthur recognizes that he may be condemned for his broad brush approach, but it’s worth the risk due to the magnitude of the problem of the Charismatic movement.  Dr. Brown writes “this strategy is tantamount to blowing up an apartment building filled with law-abiding civilians because there are terrorists inside” (Kindle Locations 3751-3752).

9.  Dr. Brown closes off his chapter by reminding his audience about James Robison, giving quotes from J.C. Ryle and John Wesley about unity, and finally a quote from Dr. George O. Wood where Dr. Wood longs for the day “when Dr. John MacArthur and those who share his perspective will acknowledge the great contribution that Pentecostals and charismatics are making in the evangelization of individuals without Christ” (Kindle Locations 3771-3773).

Chapter 7 Comments


All right.

1. Regarding the James Robison story, I don’t know the details there and cannot comment with regards to what were the actual issues in play with James Robison, but the idea that John MacArthur avoids charismatics because he doesn’t think they are other believers is simply laughable.  He has met with a ton of questionable charismatics (i.e. Paul Cain, Jack Hayford, etc.) over the years and continuationists regularly have spoken at Grace Church and all their associated conferences (i.e. C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, James MacDonald, etc.).

As for the line about Heaven being the “great eye-opener and a great mouth-closer”, I don’t think we’re going to be as wildly surprised as some people think.  It’s not like we’re going to get to heaven and be totally thrown off guard (assuming certain folks don’t repent):


Regarding the infamous tweet, the context was one of John MacArthur talking about the N.A.R.

2. Regarding the post by Tom Chantry, I’m beginning to wonder if Dr. Brown has a blind spot when it comes to grasping many criticisms of the Charismatic movement.

Is that too harsh?

Well, go read the article; it’s here.  Read the whole second point.  Ask yourself if Tom Chantry is talking about Charismatics in general or something more specific than that.  I’d dare say that Chantry is clearly talking about prosperity preachers.  Chantry has absolutely no part in”wholesale condemnation of several hundred millions Christians”; he’s condemning the prosperity preachers who preach a false gospel.


3 AND 4.  Regarding the Monophysite & Chalcedonian slaughter as well as the Anabaptist martyrdoms, I just could not believe that I was reading the writing of a serious theologian.

I have two responses here:

a.  To bring up historical slaughters like this and the say “…to be perfectly clear, I am not comparing the Strange Fire movement to these murderous, dastardly acts…” is to be disingenuous.  If Strange Fire is nothing like these horrible occurrences, why bring them up?  It’s a rhetorical trick to cultivate certain feelings (and not good ones) in your reader.

b.  It’s shamefully absurd that Dr. Brown stoops to the level of pulling out the “Christians killing Christians” line, as if a bunch of men webcasting sermons and writing a book is somehow on the same level, or even in the same category, as slaughtering hundreds, or thousands, of people and forcing people to “convert” to Christianity under threat of death.  It’s as if Dr. Brown is willfully confusing a retired news anchor with a retired blogger…Not exactly the same at all.

Spot the Difference

5.  Regarding Dr. Brown’s article, I have some simple responses:

a. I’d guess that making insinuations of pharisaism doesn’t make someone want to talk with you.

b.  Surgeons cut carefully?  Yup.  Who is the example of this that everyone should follow?  I listened to the interview that Dr. Brown had with the news anchor pictured above (or possibly the other guy) and noticed a rather astonishing lack of care used on that interview.

c. On this whole argument, which is one that I’ve heard repeatedly given by Dr. Brown, he’s simply wrong.  I’d point to my examinations of the concept of false teachers/prophets here.  When you call someone a false teacher, that’s not consigning them to hell.  That’s telling them that they’re on a path that God clearly states will result in damnation; a call to a false teacher should include a call to repentance (and intrinsically does).

d. Agreed, but we need the Bible to define the terms and we need to meet there.

e. Who exactly is majoring on the minors?  In 40+ years of ministry John MacArthur has one conference on a subject (and Grace Community Church has held 100+ conferences) and now, somehow, it’s the mark of his ministry?

6.  Regarding the differences, I’d dare say that there is some rather wild misunderstandings about the nature of debate.  It’s not a debate between people doing things differently.  It’s a debate where one group is claiming to be prophets/healers/apostles and a second group claiming that the first group is wrong or lying. It’s a debate where one group is claiming to be “very hesitant to label anyone a wolf” and a second group claiming that that hesitancy opens the door to the wolves.

Speaking of hesitancy, Dr. Brown can say that he’s hesitant to label anyone a false teacher unless he knows for sure that they’re teaching in violation of the fundamentals, are lying or immoral.  He can say that all he wants.  Given his track record, I’d dare suggest that Dr. Brown would need someone to be rather outlandishly explicit in order to call them a false teacher.


7.  Regarding Cessationism, Dispensationalism, PreTribulationism and Calvinism, it’s interesting that Dr. Brown seems to recognize that teaching that which is false is part of what provides a basis for the accusation that someone is a false teacher.  Sadly he doesn’t follow through and examine the teaching of those who are accused of being “false teachers” (that he defends).

8.  Regarding John MacArthur’s reaction to Tom Schreiner, it seems that Dr. Brown is willing to use a broad brush (and basically embrace everyone short of L Ron Hubbard) in a cautious effort to not shoot a few sheep where as John MacArthur is willing to use a broad brush of condemnation (and condemn some people unnecessarily…not that he has the power to actually condemn anyone to anywhere…) in an effort to root false teachers out of the Church.

I’m also continually wondering what exactly Dr. Brown thinks a person does with false teachers once they’re spotted?


How about when we spot the thousands of false teachers, we shine the light of God’s truth on them, call them to repentance and show love to both them and the millions that they’re deceiving through the whole process?

9.  Regarding unity, I too long for unity.  I don’t pursue unity at the expense of the truth of God’s glory, God’s word or God’s people.  If our unity that is based in our common salvation (Eph. 4:1-7) does not turn into unity that is cemented in common belief and experience of Christ (Eph. 4:8-13), then we’ll only be continual victims of false teachers (Eph. 4:14-16).

Finally, many of us cessationists (including MacArthur) openly admit that many Pentecostals and Charismatics have tremendous evangelistic zeal.  The problem isn’t with zeal, for zeal alone is not enough (i.e. Romans 10:2).  That zeal needs to be refined and magnified in it’s effectiveness with more biblical truth, not less.

And that wraps up chapter seven!

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • Good responses, but… maybe I’m just tired… but I don’t get the Ellen/Travolta picture

    • Lyndon Unger

      Sure Johnny. It was a fairly veiled joke:

      “As for the line about Heaven being the “great eye-opener and a great
      mouth-closer”, I don’t think we’re going to be as wildly surprised as
      some people think. It’s not like we’re going to get to heaven and be totally thrown off guard..”

      In other words, Heaven’s not going to be the “great eye-opener” in the sense that we’re not going to get to Heaven and see a whole bunch of Scientologists and unrepentant lesbians.

  • Shaun Little

    Great post. I think it’s sad to see Dr. Brown unwittingly go to such lengths to provide cover and firepower for enemies of the faith. I certainly do not ascribe every charismatic to eternal damnation (To my shame, I used to be one) but often I think it’s the more zealous one’s with the loudest voices and most influence that fit the bill as the wolf in sheeps clothing. Honestly, one thing I took away from the charismatic movement that I kept, is to not be ignorant of false spirits and their activity in our lives, though I don’t give them much credit because they are on a leash. But the reason I mention that is, that I consider the zeal many charismatics have, may not be inherent in Christ but the product of giving the devil a foothold by having created a stronghold via false doctrine (deception). Often I see that false teachers have an unnatural zeal to proclaim their heresies boldly and convincingly. If the false teacher has no zeal, whom will he/she lead astray? Charismatics are not drawn to the mudane but to excitement and experience therefore the zeal in their professors and followers is ESSENTIAL that they may draw people after them. I would like to mention that I had more fervent zeal as a pentecostal but it only took a couple years to see it was not a genuine zeal but one I whipped up myself. The zeal I feel now is different and less pushy lol. It a zeal bound up with patience and a desire to wait on God. It is a zeal for the truth and the willingness to faithfully yield to the sovereignty of God in all circumstances. Faith is not forceful, it is patient.

    On a side note I did not know Brown was not a dispensationalist. I thought nearly all charismatics were dispies.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Good thoughts Shaun. You might be interested in an article on the GTY blog that is about the penchant for certain charismatics to profess the sovereignty of God but practice the sovereignty of Satan. It has the phrase “sovereignty of Satan” in the title…I think. Definitely in the body.

      Also, I too was surprised that Dr. Brown isn’t a dispy. When I was in charismatic circles, everyone I met had definite dispensational tendencies…or at least a fascination with all things Jewish.

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  • Harry

    “We’re trying to identify the body of Christ.” JM

    According to Jesus “wheat and tares” Matthew 13:47-50 the separation is performed by angels.

    Is John MacArthur claiming to be an angel?

    Lyndon are you an angel?

    • Lyndon Unger

      Uh, do you honestly think that’s what was going on?

      Nobody is actually rounding up unbelievers and tossing them in the pit (which is what the angels do and we will never be able to do): we’re identifying wolves in the flock.

      Did the apostle Paul think he was an angel when he identified false teachers?

      Of course not. That assumption is simply ridiculous.

    • Frank Turk

      It’s a good thing the NT says that Elders ought to be out there making unverifiable prophecies, pretending to heal the sick, and speaking in gibberish for the sake of building up the church rather than, for example, being above reproach, not arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined, holding firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that they may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Because if the Bible said THAT, then the charge of being divisive and schismatic wouldn’t make any sense at all.

      • Lyndon Unger

        As is my regular practice, I agree with Frank Turk.

    • Franco

      1 John 3:9-10 “9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious:anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” The key word being obvious. You don’t have to be an angel to know of some people are the children of the devil and not of God.

      • Lyndon Unger

        Good thoughts Franco. Thanks for sharing!

    • Shaun Little

      In the parable of the wheat and the tares doesn’t the field represent the world and not the church? (Matt 13:38). I would think this changes the interpretation a bit and renders it irrelevant to your argument because this is an issue within the visible church and not one of the world. I’ve always understood it to mean something along the lines of: “You can’t tell the Jacobs from Esaus”, so don’t go around killing/excluding/damning people you think are the Esau’s because they might just be a Jacob.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Lyndon, do you believe we are seeing the fulfillment of 2 Thes. 2 with this deception in the church?

    • Lyndon Unger

      Actually, I don’t believe so since 2 Thess. 2:3-4 haven’t happened yet and 2:9-12 suggest that the “false signs and wonders” will be actually convincing…unlike the “sore knee” healings we see now.

      I actually think that the stuff described in 2 Thess. 2 will occur in the Tribulation and will make the stuff that we’re seeing now look like $0.02 parlor tricks.

      It’s going to be BAD when God sends the “strong delusion”…bad enough that Jesus says that even the elect would be deceived, if that were possible (Matt. 24:24).

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Thanks Lyndon, I agree.

        Unfortunately, I believe the parlor tricks and the diminished value placed on God’s Truth is setting the stage for the greater deception to come. Thanks for your insights!

        • Lyndon Unger


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