July 3, 2014

Authentic Fire Review: Chapter 9

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.

Before I get into things, I’d like to alert all the Cripplegate readers to a serious problem I’m currently facing and I’d like to ask for your prayer:  Please read this and this and this and definitely this and take a moment to praise the Lord with me before continuing.

Chapter 9 Summary

Michael Brown

1. A God to Be Experienced – Dr. Brown opens the chapter by talking about how God is a god who is not just known, but experienced.  He comments on how he encounters God through his written Word and gives the disclaimer “At the same time, God has not called us into a relationship with a Book but into a relationship with Himself, and, as a former cessationist once remarked, the Trinity is not composed of the Father, Son, and Holy Bible but of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Kindle Locations 4106-4108).  Dr. Brown  then asks the question “are you enjoying real fellowship with God?”

In order to illustrate the dangers of an exclusively intellectual encounter of God, Dr. Brown gives a few quotes from Dan Wallace who says things like “although charismatics have sometimes given a higher priority to experience than to relationship, rationalistic evangelicals have just as frequently given a higher priority to knowledge than to relationship. … This emphasis on knowledge over relationship can produce in us a bibliolatry.” (Kindle Locations 4122-4123).

Dr. Brown then insinuates that cessationists may be bibliolaters who are not experiencing real fellowship with God.

Little boy hugging an old book

2. The Meaning of Fellowship with God –  In the light of the previous quotes, Dr. Brown unpacks what real fellowship with God is via a word study on the Greek word koinonia.  He notes three usages of the term and comments that though it is used of human relations, God’s discussion about his love for his bride in the OT combined with Christ’s desire to share the passover with his disciples (Luke 22:15-16) suggest that our fellowship with one another should be modeled after the fellowship we have with the Lord which is marked by “sharing”.  After all that, Dr. Brown suggests that the idea behind “fellowship” is one of “mutual experience”, which he then suggests is what charismatics have that cessationists don’t; cessationists have an experience of the Bible but they don’t have an experience of God himself (as manifest by charismatic phenomena).

He proves how he certainly has that deep shared experience of God (that many cessationists lack) by quoting his own story of conversion where he had a vision of himself “clothed with beautiful white robes, only to go back and play in the mud” (Kindle Locations 4154-4155) and he realized he was mocking the blood of Jesus, but then “surrendered my life to the Lord” (Kindle Locations 4157-4158) and started enjoying hymns instead of rock music. Beyond that, he further recounts how he experienced the miraculous healing of recurring hives and how after his healing of hives, he began to express the “joy that is inexpressible” (1 Pet. 1:8) and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).  Clearly his experiences prove that he has close communion with God that cessationists don’t.


3. The Living God in Our Midst – Dr. Brown then goes on to comment on a church service he was in to demonstrate what intimate fellowship charismatics have with the Lord.  He writes how he saw people shouting the name of Jesus, and he lamented at how cessationists wouldn’t understand the passion and love they have for God (which I suspect is shorthand for “fellowship with God”, based on the previous line of argumentation).

He then demonstrates the reality of God in “our worship” by telling a story of how someone spontaneously anticipated the scripture of the sermon at two separate occasions, before the sermon, how he decided to preach a sermon on a topic that he later found the Lord laying on the people’s hearts, and another story about preaching somewhere and then calling out the mocker as a pickpocket, which must be what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 14:25 (Kindle Locations 4220-4221).  He comments that he’s still a normal fellow but also writes “I also know that He speaks supernaturally at different times and that His sheep hear His voice. (See John 10: 27, and note that there is nothing in the Bible that says that God will never speak to us outside of the Bible. If such a verse exists, please show it to me.)” (Kindle Locations 4224-4226).


4.  Encountering the Father’s Tender Love in India – Dr. Brown moves on to discuss the intimate relationship with God he witnessed in multiple charismatic folks in India.  He comments on how he prayed for a ministry leader and his wife to have a child (which they did) and then amazingly chose the name they wanted for the child (Dr. Brown named the child).  Then, to follow that up, Dr. Brown records even more acts of God: he preached on a verse that was the theme verse for the Indian pastors for the year, a woman had a dream of Dr. Brown preaching that verse and laying hands on people (which he did) and Dr. Brown then learned that the passage he read before the sermon was actually the theme verse for the Indian pastors for the upcoming year!  Then, to top it all off, Dr. Brown “prophesied” both the coming and name of the ministry leader’s third child.

Following those stories, Dr. Brown writes “I am absolutely not ‘Mr. Prophet,’ walking around knowing the secrets of everyone’s hearts. But sometimes, as part of our fellowship with the Lord, we enjoy life in the Spirit, and it includes special moments like these.” (Kindle Locations 4270-4271).


 5. Fellowship with God is both Rational and Relational – Dr. Brown acknowledges that cessationists (specifically John MacArthur) recognize the existence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of believers but yet writes “At the same time, Dr. MacArthur seems to approach biblical faith in an almost exclusively intellectual way…” (Kindle Locations 4278-4279).  Dr. Brown offers evidence for that rather bold insinuation by quoting John MacArthur as saying:

“Biblical faith . . . is rational. It is reasonable. It is intelligent. It makes good sense. And Spiritual truth is meant to be rationally contemplated, examined logically, studied, analyzed, and employed as the only reliable basis for making wise judgments. That process is precisely what Scripture calls discernment” (Kindle Locations 4279-4281).

Dr. Brown claims that he understands John MacArthur’s emphasis, but then quotes an interaction between Todd Friel and John MacArthur at Strange Fire that apparently reveals when John MacArthur sees “love for God” manifesting in charismatic phenomena in a worship service, he only is able to recognize it as hysteria.


6.  God Loves to Use Music – Continuing on the music argument, Dr. Brown suggests that John MacArthur likes worship that is “strangely lacking” and he is “projecting his personal perspective on others who are not of like temperament” (Kindle Location 4312).  Dr. Brown protests that John MacArthur is “failing to recognize how the Scriptures themselves often connect the presence of God with music and worship” (Kindle Locations 4323-4324), offering 2 Kings 3:11-15 as a proof that music somehow allowed Elisha to prophecy.  Dr. Brown suggests that the main difference between John MacArthur and himself boils down to personal taste and an ignorance of the scripture.

Hillsong_United_Feb_23_2008(This is Hillsong United.  That’s called crowd surfing.)

Dr. Brown comes back and asks if David was wrong to have “so much worship in the Tabernacle/Temple?”, quotes two passages of scripture (1 Chron. 15:19-23,28; Eph 5:18-19), suggests that maybe music engages the mind rather than disengaging it. Dr. Brown then quotes John MacArthur as saying that “You won’t find that music in a Reformed church. Why? That’s not who they are. They’re going back to all the great Reformed teachers. Their world is sound theology, Bible exposition, obedience, discipline, order. This is a completely different stream” (Kindle Locations 4355-4356) and responds by suggesting that John MacArthur is simply ignorant of the scriptures and an old fuddy duddy.

7.  Mind vs. Emotion – Dr. Brown then defends himself against accusations of “going to far” by referencing the lame man of Acts 3 who lept and praised God (Acts. 3:8) and says “here, remember that many believers, especially those with a childlike gratitude to the Lord for His goodness, can respond like the healed man did – and the Lord is certainly pleased with it” (Kindle Locations 4366-4367).

Going on from talking about music, Dr. Brown quotes Tom Pennington and John MacArthur’s response to one of the videos that was played where Tom Pennington saidYou know, you look at the New Testament and you see two groups of people, you know, those who are in Christ and those who aren’t.  And always what you find is that those who aren’t in Christ are driven by their feelings, their emotions, they’re driven by their body’s appetites.  And those in Christ are driven by their minds, by their understanding of the truth”.  Dr. Brown then replies:

“These comments are once again stunning to me. Pastor Pennington stated that ‘those in Christ are driven by their minds, by their understanding of the truth,’ which is somehow placed in total contrast with their emotions and feelings. Does not the truth affect our emotions and feelings? Do not love and fellowship include emotions and feelings?  Oh yes, we base our beliefs and our understanding of God on the truth of His Word, as stated at the outset, but to make the contrast between these two groups as starkly as Pastor Pennington does (while agreeing with him about the wrongness of being driven by emotions, bodily appetites, or feelings) is to grossly overstate the case and to make our relationship with God far too much a matter of the head and far too little a matter of the heart.” (Kindle Locations 4376-4383).


The point here again is clear; anyone who condemns charismatic worship probably is unfamiliar with the scriptures and the presence of God.

8. Hearts Aflame for the Lord – Dr. Brown continues along his line of argumentation with a quote from Jonathan Edwards remarking how true religion involves the affections and then asks the question “And what should we make of the fact that his wife, Sarah, sometimes fell into trances lasting hours at a time?” (Kindle Location 4413).  Apparently Jonathan Edwards and his wife were charismatics, in the modern sense of the term.

Dr. Brown continues on with various (interesting) quotes about the importance of the emotions from A.W. Tozer, D.A. Carson, Sam Storms, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Dr. Brown also cites Francis Shaeffer saying “Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true— not even that the right doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, ‘I believe the food exists; I believe it is real,’ and yet never eating it.” (Kindle Locations 4482-4484).


The inference is clear.  Cessationists may believe in the Holy Spirit but have no experience of him.

9. God’s Deep Desire to Fellowship with Us –  Dr. Brown closes off the chapter writing about how when he was in India, he met a young pastor who received a revelation from God.  God told him to care for orphans like George Mueller did (and God told him that precise name) even though he didn’t have a clue who George Mueller was.  That same pastor often apparently went into the jungle and prayed in front of a  glowing physical manifestation of God.  Apparently that pastor had serious fellowship with God and asks “Can you relate to God like that?”(Kindle Location 4540).

He then contrasts that with the relationship with God that many Christians endure and asks his readers if they have ever been so overwhelmed with the glory and presence of God that they fall on their faces like the elders of Revelation 4 saying ‘Holy, holy, holy…” and asks “Perhaps some charismatic repetition in worship is not as mindless and worthless as some think?” (Kindle Locations 4554-4555).  Dr. Brown closes off the chapter with an implied exhortation to embrace charismatic theology since God desires our fellowship too.

In case you were wondering, Dr. Brown doesn’t pull any punches against cessationists.

They are second tier Christians (at best) and need to either embrace the charismatic movement or entirely miss the bus.


Chapter 9 Comments


Let’s mow through that all, but before we start I wanted to point that throughout this chapter, Dr. Brown simple assumes that his charismatic experience is normal and assumes that the burden of proof is on others to show that he’s wrong.  He reads his own rather absurd experiences into people all throughout history who would utterly reject his corruption of principles that they taught (i.e. Jonathan Edwards) and he makes almost no effort to establish his charismatic ideas from the text of scripture.

1. A God to Be Experienced – Dr. Brown is totally right about a merely intellectual experience of God. Still, Dr. Brown cannot possibly think that any half-brained cessationists think that they have some sort of relationship with a Trinity made up of Father, Son and Holy Bible.  Both cessationists and charismatics loudly profess that they have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  I’d question whether it looks as absolutely machinated as what I see at the 101:40 mark of this video (for several minutes, including 104:29+ when Steve Hill starts talking to John Kilpatrick about what’s about to happen and forgets to turn off his microphone for a second…):

When reading Dr. Brown, one has to remember that he’s talking about that sort of stuff. Dr. Brown is good at covering himself up with soft-sounding rhetoric, but you need to remember to interpret his words with his glossary; in the context of who he is and with what he has associated himself.


2. The Meaning of Fellowship with God- I don’t know how to take that section seriously.

Dr. Brown is a textbook example of the complaint that I constantly wage against Charismatics: in practice, the Bible is simply not their ultimate authority.  Just looking at his word-study methodology, he quotes 3 relevant verses in 2 paragraphs (and 2 other passages where the word does not appear, which he seems to use as an “interpretive key” for some reason…) and then spends 14 paragraphs telling personal stories in an effort to define a biblical term.

It’s like Dr. Brown doesn’t know how to do a real word study, but in my original post I exhaustively explore the term.

Simply put, Dr. Brown’s nuanced argument based on the definition of koinonia falls apart because the necessary nuance he suggests isn’t really in the word, and biblical terms are not defined by my experience of what I think they mean.

House of cards

3.  The Living God in Our Midst – Someone guessed the sermon passage/topic and Dr. Brown named a person’s sin in public?  Well, I’m convinced!

No wait.  Haven’t I heard the pickpocket story before?

That was Spurgeon, and Spurgeon would have harsh words for Dr. Brown.

Guessing a sermon text isn’t tongues or prophecy.  Calling out a sinner, which happens in both the Old and New Testaments (2 Sam. 12:1-15; Acts 5:1-11), may certainly be the act of a prophet but rightly naming a person’s sin doesn’t automatically make one a prophet.  Remember that false prophets could possibly do things like that too (i.e. Deut. 13:1-3; Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9).  Even if a prophet performs a legitimate physical sign or wonder (something way more flashy than naming a person’s sin), that doesn’t meant they’re automatically a real prophet.

Also, did Dr. Brown pull out John 10:27 as a proof for contemporary divine revelation?

Jesus is not pleased at that shameful eisegesis.


4. Encountering the Father’s Tender Love in India – I’m sorry but none of that stuff comes close to even addressing cessationism.  There’s a rather large difference between the specific guidance of the Holy Spirit (i.e. Acts 15:28, 16:6-10; 2 Cor. 2:12-13) or the poetic providential orchestration of God in affairs (i.e. Ex. 1:15-2:10),and a person actually being a prophet; a mouthpiece for God who speaks his words in his place.

There’s a big difference between the guy who guesses a sermon text and the prophet Elijah.  I’ve had more amazing things occur in my life than the stuff that he mentions, but the standards for establishing charismatic theology (and modern prophecy) are a little higher than occasionally guessing accurately.

Shell game scam

5.  Fellowship with God is both Rational and Relational – Dr. Brown completely misrepresents John MacArthur with the “biblical faith…is rational” quote.  Go read the actual sermon here.  Ask yourself if MacArthur is talking about faith being “all mind and no heart” or something else…like “Faith is not the abandonment of reason“.  Dr. Brown seems to just cherry pick quotes from places, regardless of their context or subject matter, and string them together to suit his purposes.  What do you call it when people do that?

Regarding the MacArthur comment on mindlessness, the comment in the interview with Friel was in response to The Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey:

That is what they were talking about.  Go back and watch the video or read the transcript here.

6.  God Loves to Use Music – Dr. Brown apparently doesn’t know what styles of music occur in cessationist churches (specifically Grace Community Church).

Banjo Orchestra

Beyond that, the issue is not one about style.  It’s an issue of the utilization of music unto the end of directing the mind in the wrong direction; using music to dull the senses instead of direct them (i.e. the crowd surfing at Hillsongs…).  John MacArthur, in his comments, is not talking about the style of the music but rather the purpose of using any style of music.

Dr. Brown simply conflates “worship” with “church music”, assumes charismatic manifestations as legitimate, and then attempts to use the “what if you’re wrong?” line repeatedly.  Not exactly convincing.

7.  Mind vs. Emotion – Dr. Brown is certainly correct that emotional outbursts, even to the point of jumping and praising God, is  acceptable in worship…though he misses the obvious fact that the events of Acts 3 didn’t occur in the setting of church worship.

Dr. Brown doesn’t really understand what Tom Pennington was getting at thought.  The phrase “body’s appetiteswas used to clarify what Tom Pennington was meaning by “emotions”, and the New Testament often warns about the dangers of following sinful desires (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16-17; Eph. 2:3, 4:22, etc.).  Since Dr. Brown wrote “while agreeing with him about the wrongness of being driven by emotions, bodily appetites, or feelings…”, it appears that Dr. Brown was agreeing with Tom Pennington, albeit unwillingly.

8.  The Heart Aflame for the Lord – What about the claim that Sarah Edwards sometimes fell into trances lasting for hours?

Well,  I’ll refer my readers to the extended explanation of the Edwards’ experiences which I’ve written about here.

In short, there’s absolutely no parallel and I suspect that Dr. Brown hasn’t bothered to closely read Sarah Edwards’ own record of her experiences in The Life of President Edwards by Sereno Edwards Dwight.

comparing apples to oranges

9. God’s Deep Desire to Fellowship with Us –  Let me be clear: Brown is either a straight up liar or incredibly gullible for suggesting that “mature” believers pray before Vorlons.


Well, consider the following: whoever the Indian pastor prayed before, it wasn’t God the Father (he doesn’t ever physically manifest himself in the scriptures…ever.  Hold onto your knickers for two seconds!)  It wasn’t the Holy Spirit, since he never appears that way ever in the scriptures.  It might have been Jesus, since when God physically manifests himself, it’s always him (including in the Old Testament).  I can imagine all the dozens of examples that are running through your head, but they were all Christ.  The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was Christ.  The guy that Isaiah saw in his temple vision was Christ (John 12:41).  The manifestation of God that Abraham saw was actually Jesus (John 8:56-58).  Nobody has ever seen the Father (John 1:18).  The list goes on and on, but it’s not the point of this post to finish that list.  Either way, whoever the glowing figure that the fellow in India saw, it certainly wasn’t Christ in his glory…


…unless that guy would actually place himself on the same level of spiritual importance as the Peter, James, John and the apostle Paul (the only people in the scripture who actually saw that Jesus).  That leaves us with a miniscule number of options, all of which are bad (and joke ideas like “Vorlons/Space Aliens” are the best option).

And one last thing:

Perhaps Michael Brown isn’t as righteous or mindful of the Lord as the 24 elders who are physically standing around the throne?  Perhaps Michael Brown isn’t on the same spiritual level with as the 24 elders who stand before the throne of Yahweh?

I’d dare say that comparison of oneself to the elders in Revelation 4 (or the four previously mentioned apostles) is getting within inches of the pinnacle of Mt. Hubris…and, well, is nothing short of outlandishly delusional.

So that wraps up Chapter 9.

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.