October 25, 2013

Myths about the Strange Fire Conference

by Mike Riccardi

As the smoke continues to clear from the Strange Fire Conference, the internet has continued to blaze with various responses from digital evangelicalism. There have been many helpful responses, including Clint’s and Eric’s right here at The Cripplegate, as well as exceptional reflections from Tim Challies, Tim Raymond, and Fred Butler, outside the gate. You don’t want to miss Grace To You’s “Where do we go from here?” post over at their place. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point our readers back to the work that has been done on this issue here at The Cripplegate, well in advance of this conference. That’s especially the case because I continue to see objections being made that have long been answered. The post on What Cessationism Is Not is probably the most beneficial for many critics at the moment.

Strange Fire

There have also been numerous responses from the Charismatic side of the aisle. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of their responses has produced way more heat than light (though there have been some notable exceptions, which has been encouraging; it’s nice to know that there are some who have understood the purpose of the conference). Rather than engaging the substance and the merits of the biblical arguments offered in the conference, they’ve sought to isolate what were admittedly strong statements from the conference, literally taking them out of their context, and to sensationalize them by interpreting them in the worst possible way. For all the criticisms of how the conference painted with too broad a brush, they’ve picked up a few broad brushes of their own, as the substance of the biblical argumentation is being ignored while the entire conference is dismissed as unloving and divisive.

This is how they’ve chosen to advance the narrative of the conference. And it’s an ingenious strategy, because it shields people from having to deal honestly with the substance of the theological arguments that were presented. Unfortunately, the result of that less-than-accurate narrative has been that several myths about the Strange Fire Conference have been floating and flourishing around the interwebs. I thought I’d take a post to address just a few of them.

Myth One: John MacArthur Believes that Charismatics Have Committed the Unpardonable Sin

The first myth that I want to dispel is that John MacArthur believes that all Charismatics have committed the unpardonable sin. Now, before the conference, I might have been able to sympathize with those who were wondering about this. But if those complaining about this issue really took the time to listen to the presentations at the conference, they would see that such an accusation amounts to nothing but a myth.

Unpardonable SinFor a while MacArthur has been explaining that he sees the goings-on of what has characterized so-called Charismatic “worship” as nothing less than a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. A sentence from the forthcoming book reads, “To attribute works of the flesh or works of the devil to the Holy Spirit actually denigrates the Spirit of God rather than exalting Him, and that is obviously a kind of blasphemy.” To suggest that it is the Holy Spirit of God who causes people to fall down, roll around on the ground in a frenzy, babble on in gibberish, and even grunt and wail and scream and chant in ways that mirror pagan religious ceremonies—all of that is to fail to treat the Holy Spirit with the reverence He deserves, makes light of Him and His ministry, and is therefore a blasphemy.

Of course, Jesus speaks of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as the only sin that would never be forgiven (Matt 12:31). And so when people hear MacArthur suggesting that Charismatics are blaspheming the Spirit, their reaction is to say that he is saying—not only that they’re not saved—but that they can never be saved. Michael Brown wrote: “So Pastor MacArthur, in writing and obviously with much forethought, is accusing hundreds of millions of believers of blaspheming the Spirit, thereby pronouncing them to be sinners damned to hell, since blasphemy of the Spirit is an unforgivable sin.”

However, in his first breakout session at the conference, Phil Johnson addressed this issue directly.  He says:

That, of course, is not what John MacArthur says, and it’s not what we believe. Matthew 12:31 says, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” The definite article there is significant. We don’t believe that every careless, ignorant, or accidental sin against the third member of the Trinity is automatically unforgivable. Jesus was responding to one specific kind of blasphemy so deliberate and hard-hearted that no one would ever repent from it anyway. Notice what our Lord actually says: “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people”—except this one very specific sin. That’s a lavish promise of full pardon and cleansing to anyone and everyone who repents. The singular exception is just one category of hard-hearted haters of Christ.

So MacArthur distinguishes between (a) the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which we see from the Pharisees in Matthew 12, and which is alone unforgiveable; and (b) blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in general, which, though a grievous and serious sin, is nevertheless forgivable.

Therefore, those in the blogosphere who are accusing MacArthur of having said that Charismatics have committed the unpardonable sin and cannot be won to repentance are simply misrepresenting him, not having paid due attention to what has been said on the subject. They are perpetuating a myth.

Myth Two: John MacArthur Believes All Charismatics are Unsaved

Another myth being perpetuated is that MacArthur has asserted that everyone who associates themselves with Charismatic theology is, by necessity of that association, unsaved. In an article fraught with a staggering number of misrepresentations, J. Lee Grady accuses MacArthur of “declar[ing] in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.”

But this is simply false. No speaker throughout the entire conference has insisted that everyone who associates themselves with Charismatic theology is necessarily unsaved. Now certainly the claim was made that many—and perhaps even the majority—of those who identify themselves as Charismatic or Pentecostal worldwide are not true believers. Such a fact seems inescapable in light of the data that were cited both in the book and during the conference. For example:

“In the Two-Thirds World of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—where the Charismatic Movement is growing at an unprecedented rate—experts estimate well over half of Pentecostal and charismatic adherents hold to the prosperity gospel” (MacArthur, Strange Fire, 14).

“Some analysts distinguish between ‘neo-Pentecostal,’ which they see as focused on the prosperity gospel, and classic Pentecostalism, oriented toward the gifts of the Spirit such as healings and tongues. Yet the Pew Forum data suggests that the prosperity gospel is actually a defining feature of all Pentecostalism; majorities of Pentecostals exceeding 90 percent in most countries hold to these beliefs” (John T. Allen, The Future Church, 382–83; citing this).

Over 90 percent of Pentecostals and Charismatics in Nigeria, South Africa, India, and the Philippines believe that ‘God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith’” (Paul Alexander, Signs and Wonders, 63–64).

Aside from this, the conference also labored to show that there are over 100 million Charismatics who self-identify as Roman Catholics, those who not only deny but anathematize the cardinal salvation doctrine of justification by faith alone (cf. The Council of Trent, Canon XXIV). And even further, another 24 to 25 million Pentecostals include those who self-identify as Oneness Pentecostals, modalists who deny the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity—i.e., that God has eternally existed as one Being in three co-equal, consubstantial, co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Given all this, it is not at all inaccurate to speak of great numbers in the Charismatic movement as being devoid of a saving knowledge of Christ. MythIf indeed the Charismatic movement reaches to the staggering number of 500 million adherents worldwide, and if 25 to 30 percent of them either deny sola fide or an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and if well over half in the Two-Thirds world espouse prosperity/Word-Faith theology, it cannot be a controversial statement to speak of the movement as largely made up of non-Christians.

Sure, that offends our North American sensibilities, because the classic Pentecostals and conservative continuationists that we know don’t fit the above labels. But what Western evangelicalism needs to recognize is that the John Pipers, Wayne Grudems, Sam Storms, D. A. Carsons, and Gordon Fees of evangelicalism are not the mainstream of the Charismatic movement. No matter how limited our experience of worldwide Charismaticism may be, we cannot ignore the facts that these dear brothers are the minority of this movement.

Nevertheless, there were clear instances in this conference in which MacArthur and the other speakers explicitly affirmed some of these very men as brothers. MacArthur addresses such men as his “continuationist friends,” saying, “[These are] people who are my friends—real friends of mine whom I respect, who’ve made great contributions to the church, who’ve taught me, ministered alongside me, with whom I’ve prayed sometimes for hours and hours, with whom I’ve spoken and talked, hammered out convictions.” Later in that message, he calls these men his “good, godly friends [who] could make a massive difference in what this young generation and next generation believes about this movement.”

In another session, after speaking of Wayne Grudem and John Piper as brothers in the Lord, MacArthur went on to say this about Piper:

I do know the great body of work that John Piper has done is true to the faith. John is a friend not only whom I admire but whom I love. I don’t know why on this front he has that open idea, but it’s not an advocacy position for the movement and he would join us in decrying the excesses of that movement for sure, and even the theology of it. […] I have no fear that John would ever tamper with anything that is essential to the Christian faith, starting from theology proper all the way through to the return of Christ. He’s going to be faithful to the word as he understands it.

Therefore, while no one would back away from the statement that even the majority of the Charismatic movement worldwide consists of unbelievers who need to be evangelized, such statements do not at all mean that MacArthur or the other speakers at the conference believe that good men like Grudem and Piper are outside of orthodoxy, or that no one espousing any form of Charismatic theology are true believers. To insist otherwise is to perpetuate a myth and to grossly misrepresent what was said during the conference.

Myth Three: John MacArthur Believes that Absolutely Nothing Good Has Come Out of the Charismatic Movement

This final myth (i.e., the final myth that I’ll address; unfortunately not the final myth that is floating around through the internet) has specific reference to MacArthur’s comments in the opening session at Strange Fire. In response to this session, Adrian Warnock accuses MacArthur of “wholeheartedly reject[ing]” (a) great worship songs like “In Christ Alone,” (b) outstanding theological labors as are represented in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, (c) and the blessed preaching of John Piper.

But such an accusation is entirely baseless, and seems to willfully ignore what MacArthur actually said in that session. Here’s the relevant portion:

Am I discrediting everyone in the movement?  No. I think there are people to desire to worship God in a true way. … But the movement itself offers nothing to enrich true worship. The Charismatic movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity, interpretation, or sound doctrine. … Do some in the movement believe the truth? Yes. Do some hold to sound theology on some issues? Yes. But none of those true understandings have come to them through that movement. The true understandings have always been there in the long line of preachers and teachers that God has used to keep the church and truth on track. The movement adds nothing to that. It detracts and confuses. It’s not a source for any advancement of our understanding of Scripture or sound doctrine.

It’s plain that MacArthur has not claimed that absolutely nothing good exists throughout the entire Charismatic movement. Rather, he is saying that the good that does exist—which would include the fact that he believes that people have been truly saved through the evangelistic efforts of the movement, among other things like Grudem’s Systematic Theology and Piper’s preaching—all that good that has come from the movement has come in spite of it, and not because of it. He goes on to say just that just a bit later:

Have people truly been saved in Charismatic churches? Yes. But nothing coming from that movement has been the reason they were saved. … Yes, there are people in the movement who know and love the truth, have an orthodox Gospel, but are heterodox on the Holy Spirit. Not all of them are heretics. But I say again the contribution of truth from the people in the movement doesn’t come from the movement, but in spite of it.

So, the point is not that there can be no good found within any circle that is remotely associated with Charismatic theology. Rather, the point is that Charismatic theology as such has not been responsible for the good within the movement. The good has come in spite of Charismatic theology, and not because of it. That is worlds apart from claiming that nothing good at all exists in the movement. To insist otherwise would be to perpetuate a myth.

An Appeal to My Continuationist Friends

So with that in mind, I’d like to make an appeal to my Charismatic and Continuationist friends. Gentlemen, if you want to be taken seriously by cessationists in your response to the Strange Fire Conference—and more than that: if you want to do your due diligence in “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” would you please cease perpetuating these and other myths about John MacArthur and the Strange Fire Conference?

I know things were said that were very strong. I can even fully understand why some would think our critique too strong—especially our Reformed and conservative evangelical charismatic brethren. They are our allies on many fronts, and perhaps they expected that we would totally exempt them from our negative appraisal of charismatic doctrine. I know that by declining to treat the issues that way, we hurt some feelings. We take no pleasure in that. Indeed, I can empathize with my charismatic friends’ disappointment. I wish we could be completely affirming. But we are compelled by conscience and Scripture not to minimize errors that we believe are very serious and are built into the continuationist perspective. We want to focus on that issue, and not matters of style or personalities. Would you do your part in advancing an honest narrative by tackling the substance of the biblical argumentation set forth at the Strange Fire Conference, rather than sensationalizing out-of-context sound bites and seeking to poison the well?

Let’s put the myths to rest.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • This was not a really good rebutal in my opinion. Firstly, you, MacArthur and the others at Strange Fire seem to assume that if you believe in the prosperity Gospel you are not a Christian. This is ridicilous. I do not agree with the prosperity Gospel but of course I recognize all who believe that Jesus is God and that He rose from the dead as Christians, no matter what they think about prosperity,because that is not a salvation issue. Furthermore, there are so many different interpretations of what prosperity means. When I was in South Africa, the term was often used in all churches I visited (they even got people who were named Prosperity), but not in the luxury and gluttony sense à Benny Hinn, but in the sense of getting a job and food on the table. To say that these are non-Christians is ridiculous.

    Furthermore, to say that everything good that has ever happened in the charismatic movement is inspite of it and not because of it is just as rude to say that nothing good has ever happened. If I get you right, most cessationists don’t believe that miracles and healing cannot occure, on the contrary, you believe that God still can do that, but not “through” human agents. And that’s logical, because why wouldn’t He? People are still sick and suffering and He still has compassion. Now, I know countless people that have been supernaturally healed – I’ve seen with my own eyes amazing healings that science cannot explain. Was this really in spite of charismatic theology? How many people are healed in cessationist churches? Even if you deny the existance of spiritual gifts, I think humility would be well needed in admitting that charismatic theology has contributed a lot in welcoming God’s healing power in the church.

    There’s a lot more to say but I’ll refer to my video about this: http://youtu.be/vqPf1TRbfvY


    • Fred Butler

      Michael, I saw you video earlier this week.

      A couple of things. First, the prosperity gospel is a false gospel. Essentially ancient near eastern cultism in new garb. If participants who attend prosperity churches are trusting the false gospel that comes from that cult, then the people are not saved and are trusting a false gospel. You may want to affirm such nominalism as “trusting Jesus,” but if it is the wrong Jesus, the person is not in a relationship with Christ.

      Secondly, if the “miracles” you claim are happening are like the one you present with the guy who had the injured finger who is now able to bend it with full motion, I am not impressed. That begs a question: If you heard the testimony of Joni Tada, why didn’t she and the 35 or so other people wheel chair bound not receive her healing from Kathryn Khulman? IF you are familiar with Justin Peters, why didn’t he receive his healing when he was a teenager? Lack of faith?

      The problem with the examples you provide is that never are they anywhere on the level of those miracles recorded for us in the Bible. Are you telling me you’ve seen quadriplegics with atrophied legs arise out of their motorized chairs fully functional? Or Iraqi war veterans who had lost limbs have them fully restored to normal? Those were the kinds of miracles Jesus and the apostles did and as a person committed to scripture, they are the kind I expect. If that is the case, then why don’t I know about the person who healed these individuals? Jesus could not contain the fact that he was a legitimate healer, because His ability was spread far and wide across Judea. The same would be happening today if NT level miracles were happening. Look: I’m glad folks are getting their headaches healed, maybe they are supernatural, maybe they are not, but at this point, I am not convinced.

      • Hello Fred!

        I think the term “prosperity gospel” may confuse a lot of people. In many European language, including Swedish which I speak, we call it “prosperity theology” instead of “gospel”. To say that God wants to heal you and make you rich is, even if I don’t agree with the latter, not necessarily conflicting with the thesis that if you believe that jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead you will be saved (Rom 10:9). On the contrary, I would argue that it is an extremely small minority of people that believe in prosperity teaching that doesn’t agree with the evangelical definition of salvation, and thus they are Christians.

        Wow, God is doing amazing Biblical miracles all around the planet. If you read the Gospels you will notice that Jesus like to heal the blind, deaf and lame. There’s a lot of those things happening today. Here’s how a blind lady called Theresa Jebiwot received sight although being born blind, which was verified by an eye specialist: http://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/all-of-pentecost/ Here’s a scientific paper about how hearing was improved when Iris missionaries in Mozambique prayed for people with hearing loss: http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/14990.html On my youtube channel, I have made a playlist that covers these sorts of biblical miracles on the missions field: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL025E3C421743A924

        And what’s the problem with that? Again, don’t cessationists believe that miracles can occour? That’s what they claimed at Strange Fire. If that’s not true, then cessationism really has moved away from the Biblical worldview. ‘Cause in case you missed, miracles are pretty important stuff in the Scriptures.


        • “To say that God wants to heal you and make you rich is, even if I don’t agree with the latter, not necessarily conflicting with the thesis that if you believe that jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead you will be saved ”

          To make a completely false statement about who God is contradicts the necessity of knowing Him unto salvation. That is why you cannot simultaneously continue in the sin of believing and propagating the prosperity gospel AND be considered born again.

          It would be like a practicing homosexual saying he believes God is OK with homosexuality but ALSO believes Christ is Lord and that He rose from the dead. That person is dead in their sin because their belief is false.

          The same is true of those who hold to and continue to hold to the prosperity theology.

      • There’s one woman in our church who suffered from ME, fibromyagia and Meuniere’s for 8 years. She was wheelchair bound for most of a year and was facing a possible further diagnosis of MS because her relapses were so severe. She came into a meeting we were holding (a worship, prayer and prophetic/healing ministry meeting) on her mobility scooter, was prayed for and walked out of the building, leaving her wheelchair behind. That was a year and a half ago, and she is still well, has sold her wheelchair and there’s no sign of her illness at all.

        One of my best friends who had severe back pain for nearly 2 years due to a slipped disk during labour to the point that she could not hold her baby, was completely healed. Her (non-Christian) osteopath commented on the fact that her back was better than before she’d damaged it.

        I’m as skeptic as anyone when it comes to healings if they can’t be confirmed, but I know these two people well and it legitimises the continuationist view for me. The guy who prayed does not at all say that he has a gift of healing, he would say that sometimes he prays for people and God heals them.

      • Daniel

        Fred, have you read Craig Keener’s two-volume set called Miracles? In light of that book – and several others by Deere and Storms that address your questions in light of the sovereignty of God, your points here under “secondly” carry almost no weight. If you’re honestly willing to consider all the evidence regarding your questions, I strongly urge you towards these books.

        • Fred Butler

          Yes, I have read Keener’s two volumes and though he makes a good case for the idea of supernaturalism (something I don’t deny), he does not make a solid case as to why I should accept without question every instance of so-called miracles and healings he documents in his books.

          Just because someone testified about supernatural healings, doesn’t mean it was from God. Along with all of the examples of modern day healings, he affirms those recorded among Roman Catholics, TV evangelists, and even those currently said to be happening at the Bethel Redding cult. In fact, there never seemed to be any miracles that he doubted, even when they were reported among clearly unChristian sources that promote a false gospel. That makes me wonder why he thinks God would affirm pseudo Christian cults and purveyors of a false Gospel by performing acts of the supernatural among them.

          • Daniel

            Then we interpret the evidence on that differently.

            Regarding your other statement: “If you heard the testimony of Joni Tada, why didn’t she and the 35 or so other people wheel chair bound not receive her healing from Kathryn Khulman? IF you are familiar with Justin Peters, why didn’t he receive his healing when he was a teenager? Lack of faith?”
            No. I’m a charismatic and I don’t believe it was necessarily lack of faith (and I repudiate the Word of Faith doctrine). Read Acts 12… Why did God let James be victimized by the world and its broken system unto death, but supernaturally free Peter — *even in the apostolic era*? Should we say Peter had more faith than James? No. But should we say that Peter’s supernatural delivery was of Satan? No! God had sovereign purposes that we don’t get to fully explain, just as he does today.

          • Fred

            That’s a convenient dodge. Joni and Justin are just two examples of thousands of others. Are you telling me God, if he still heals in the fashion as recorded in the NT that you claim he does, leaves hundreds of others with spinal cord injuries and amputations in their condition? Doesn’t heal a one?

          • Daniel

            Yes, only I believe he does heal many. You sound indignant, but you’re saying the exact same thing — only you’re the one claiming he *could,* but he “doesn’t heal a one.”

            Why do I believe he would heal some and pass over others? My final authority, God through Scripture, teaches it. Acts 12 is argument enought. But consider Paul. Acts 19:11 says he’s doing miracles all over the place, but when he prays, God chooses sovereignly to leave him with “thorn in the flesh,” *a messenger of Satan* (probably a physical ailment, 2 Cor 12:7). This is exactly what Scripture teaches. So if your argument is that if everyone isn’t healed everytime we pray, then God doesn’t heal — then I’m sorry, your argument is not biblical.

  • Matthew Manchester

    I do wish that this site would post a balanced article on this conference, that is fair to *both* sides. I see that Mike is a pastor at the church that the conference was held at (as far as I can tell), so maybe he is unable to do that because of his closeness to the issue. But I would heartily recommend these articles of people trying to speak balance:

    Sam Storms thoughts about Strange Fire’s comments on worship:

    And a link about J.I. Packer:

    Mark Cortez’s “Good, Bad, & Ugly” (which I think is dead on….both parties have serious issues that need addressed):

    “Stop the myths” has a ring of “he said nothing wrong during this conference”. If you feel that is true, then there is no discussion to be had and I refer you to the above links. If you think he (or other speakers at the conference) may of said something wrong (since he is human after all), then what was it? Talk about it. Please.

    • Dan Phillips

      “I do wish that this site would post a balanced article” — you misspelled “I am grateful to this site for posting yet another balanced article.”

      • Matthew Manchester

        *sigh* — and this is why we don’t have a loving, balanced discussion on matters like this.

        • minimay7

          Although the delivery is a bit sarcastic… I think Dan is pointing out that recent articles popping up speaking against Charismatic movement IS balancing out massively one sided view that has been dominating the recent christian history.

          • Matthew Manchester

            I don’t remember any charismatic conferences telling people that the majority of cessationists are deceived and that many were going to hell. I don’t have a problem with cessationism (though I am charismatic myself). I have an issue with making it a primary doctrine for salvation. What’s to stop him from holding a “Strange Marriage” conference next year and saying that all egalitarians are deceived and many are going to hell? I understand that he thinks this part (charismatic vs cessationists) of the Holy Spirit is a big deal, so why wouldn’t modeling the relationship between the Christ and His bride (aka “marriage”) be too.

            What truly qualifies as a primary and a secondary doctrine? I think THAT is where most charismatics have a problem with the conference. We don’t hold conferences making damning blanket statements of cessationists since we see cessationism negating much scripture in the Bible (we we, in our hearts, feel is a serious issue). I’m just saying that’s how we see it, but we also believe it’s not a doctrine hinging on salvation so we just pray and love our cessationist brothers/sisters. I think charismatics were shocked that that love wasn’t reciprocated.

            Again, what truly qualifies as a primary and a secondary doctrine?

          • But Matthew, you treat this as if it’s just disagreeing with a particular point of theology and then foolishly escalating it to a primary, first-level, salvation doctrine. But there aren’t words to describe how naïve that is. The babbling, and rolling around on the floor, and the grunting, and the wailing, and the uncontrolled, disorderly nonsense, and the prosperity theology — all of that is not simply correlational with Charismatic theology. There is an organic link between those kinds of excesses and heresies and one’s understanding of the nature and use of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

            There’s no conference where Charismatics are telling cessationists that they’re not saved because there’s not a worldwide, 500 million-member movement that is defined by the cessation of the gifts and whose “defining feature” in many countries (cf. Allen’s data above) is a false gospel! To suggest that the worldwide damage of egalitarianism is in the same solar system as the worldwide damage of Charismaticism demonstrates a stupefying ignorance of the issues at hand.

            If that’s the way the “conservative Charismatics” are interpreting what the conference has done, they certainly haven’t apprehended the severity and the ubiquity of what even they would call the excesses of their movement. And it’s precisely this sort of conference that is necessary to shake them out of that slumber.

    • “Balance” is a matter of perspective, I guess. Sam Storms’s claim that cessationists’ criticism is driven by a “fear [of] excessive familiarity with God” is so far off target as to make me wonder if he ever truly did understand cessationists, even when he professed to be one.

      And go ahead and count me imbalanced if “balance” is epitomized by Storms’s wholesale endorsement of Mike Bickle, who confesses without shame or regret that 80 percent of the charismatic phenomena in meetings he has personally witnessed have been false, but he is willing to “allow the false for the sake of the real.”

      • Matthew Manchester

        That’s a better response. Thanks! 🙂

  • John Caldwell

    Thanks for highlighting these ‘myths’ Mike. I’m also glad you linked to that pentecostal pastor’s response who endorsed many of the concerns raised by Strange Fire. I think you need to tackle the myths about SF because even the more balanced charismatic leaders are spreading myths about SF. Lee Grady is a case in point, here’s my response to his article: http://jjcaldwell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/strange-fire-continues-to-blaze-lee.html

  • Scott Welch

    I don’t understand why there is such a strong reaction to MacArthur. It’s not as if he hasn’t been saying these things for years. The only difference is that these things are being spoken in a venue that focus on charismaticism.

    I really really don’t understand why none of the critics of Strange Fire have focused Conrad Mbewe. Granted I haven’t read all of them, so I could be mistaken. But an African pastor, who grew up in Africa, has pastored in Africa, reveals what is the vast majority of the fruit of charismaticism in Africa, the criticism fall on MacArthur?

    • Jerry W

      Heard crickets on that one, Scott. The fact is: JM gets all the ire because many conservative charismatics like to imagine that they most often (if not, always) present their own views with far more amiability than MacArthur does his. Yet many seem unaware that they declare their views with the same strong, definitive and unbending resolution (just read Sam Storms on any of these issues!). I’ve interacted with a few very dear charismatic friends on these things for over 25 years, and none of us would dare claim to have stood our ground with far superior love and grace than our opponents. We’ve always tried to acknowledge each other’s points of argument and have never been threatened by another’s strength of conviction. We may vehemently disagree with an opponent’s particular point, but we know that manifest attitudes of contempt and self-righteousness come from pride, not a sincere desire to learn what Scripture teaches. And let me add that strong convictions and boldly stated disagreement with opposing views are not automatically a sign of self-righteousness or lack of Christlike love. If they were, the “faith once for all delivered to the Saints” could never be proclaimed at all, let alone with conviction.
      I get it: it’s hard not to be defensive when our views are disputed with assertive language, but a true love for and desire to know the truth never ends in a prideful, angry defense that excuses biblical illiteracy, hides spiritual laziness, or exalts personal experience as the ultimate authority. We either search the Scriptures together while holding tightly to our convictions, or we must admit that we’re simply too immature to engage the matter without being personally embittered against others. If the latter, then we should humbly bow out of the discussion and learn from more mature, perhaps very strong, astute voices who can help us by their proven godliness and exemplary work in these weighty matters.

      • We either search the Scriptures together while holding tightly to our convictions, or we must admit that we’re simply too immature to engage the matter without being personally embittered against others. If the latter, then we should humbly bow out of the discussion and learn from more mature, perhaps very strong, astute voices who can help us by their proven godliness and exemplary work in these weighty matters.

        This is gold, Jerry. Thank you for your insights here.

  • Dan Phillips

    Yeah, Michael Brown’s really, really upset at MacArthur for saying that many Charismatics blaspheme the Spirit.

    But about the Charismatics actually blaspheming the Spirit? Not so much.

    • Daniel

      Dan, this comment (and sentiments like this expressed throughout the conference) are precisely the reason so many theologically informed charismatics are grieved and frustrated at the way we’ve been represented, and why we feel SF folks used a chainsaw instead of scalpel. I follow Brown’s ministry. You’re wrong; he *is* upset that some calling themselves “charismatics” blaspheme the Holy Spirit. As he pointed out on his program the other day, he’s written published more books on the topic that MacArthur has.
      The problem is that you and Brown have different definitions of what it means to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” Why? Because in all of this, the starting point has NOT been a discussion of exegesis regarding the validity of the gifts today! You and MacArthur look at tongues and say, “blasphemy!” — forgivable, but blasphemy. Brown, Fee, Storms, Grudem, Keener, etc… They read Paul and speak and tongues, and see God beautifully edifying his people and receiving glory. Meanwhile you *and* they would very likely agree that Benny Hinn putting God “on hold” or claiming that Jesus will appear on stage with him is blasphemy.
      This conference would’ve been far more edifying if different views were represented, exegesis were discussed from the different viewpoints, and a mutual effort was made to distinguish between “primary,” “secondary,” and “blasphemy.” It saddens me that this wasn’t done because this nuance is *essential* for peace, truth, unity, respect, and true understanding. So I appeal to you as Mike Riccardi does in this article — Please stop the one-liners and generalizations.

      • Fred

        Im sorry, Daniel, but tongues is not ecstatic gibberish or private prayer language. The exegesis of all the relevant passages tell us that NT tongues were known human languages. Even the originators of modern tongues believed they were speaking Chinese or some known human language. All the pained eisogesis that DA Carson can bring to the discussion just will not help your case here.

        You need to face the stark reality, Daniel, that the so-called theologically informed charismatics you keep bringing up are the fringe element within the larger group. It equally saddens me that the folks on the theologically informed side of the movement lack the discernment to see such things and in all honesty, it should have been those theologically informed continuationists holding a conference renouncing the bad stuff rather than the cessationists.

        • Daniel

          Rather than argue, I’ll leave you and any other readers with the evidence, which I think speaks for itself.

          First, Scripture: 1 Cor 14:2,16-17

          Second, one of these theologically informed charismatics: http://tinyurl.com/n5gcg8k

          • I’d like not to spiral this into a full-scale discussion of tongues either. But for the sake of the record, I want to respond as briefly as possible to your citation of 1 Corinthians 14.

            First, note that no one disputes that the gift of tongues (and the rest of the miraculous gifts) were in operation in Corinth and other churches in the first century. Some people seem to shallowly appeal to 1 Cor 14, say, “It’s in the Bible!” and then pat themselves on the back, without recognizing the uniqueness of the first century church. I don’t think that’s what you were doing, but because of the absence of any elaboration I wanted to make sure.

            Secondly, the entire context of the discussion on tongues in 1 Cor 14 concerns the exercise of the gift in the local assembly (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-18; 14:26). The very text you cite, 1 Cor 14:16-17 make this plain, speaking of “the place of the ungifted” in corporate worship. That rules out the “private prayer language” angle, unless you insist that the only time people pray in tongues is when they’re silent in the local church. Implement that throughout the Charismatic movement, and I’d be a much happier with what we see now.

            Thirdly, you ought to notice the conditional statements in 1 Cor 14:14 and 16. Paul is not saying that he does those things, but, for the sake of argument he considers the case if he were to do those things. In fact, he says if he were to do those things, his mind would be “unfruitful.” He doesn’t regard that as a good thing.

            Finally, consider that Paul is not celebrating this concept of speaking with the spirit only, or having his mind being unfruitful. He views that negatively. He is contrasting it to the benefit of prophecy and telling them to ensure that there is intelligibility. He says he actually does go on speaking with both spirit and mind.

          • Daniel

            Thanks for your take, Mike. There are good answers and Scriptures to all of your points but I don’t want this combox to explode either, so I’ll be limited. First, I was merely responding to what Fred argued; he argued that tongues were only human known languages. The biblical evidence I cited proves they were not only human languages. 1 Cor 13:1 could bolster that even more.

            Secondly, I’m sad to say you’re demonstrate the same lack of nuance I’ve witnesses in the conference. That’s not a personal attack; I’ve liked reading your posts here. It just baffles me that you can say what you just said and ignore Paul’s words: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor 14:18)! Do you realize that you’re completely omitting important evidence to our exegesis? Paul didn’t see tongues and prophecy as “bad” and “good” respectively. He saw them as “good” and “better.” That’s a huge difference. If they were *ever* active – and you say they were – God does not give bad gifts.

          • Hey Daniel. I’m sorry I led you to misunderstand me. I was trying to be brief, and I guess that’s a consequence.

            I wasn’t disputing that Paul spoke in tongues, or that tongues practiced biblically were “bad” versus prophecy being “good.” I was saying that when Paul describes speaking in tongues without an interpreter, that’s an unbiblical use of tongues, an abuse. And so he says things like, “If I do that, my mind is unfruitful. So what will I do? I’ll either wait for an interpreter or pray that I may interpret before I speak.” That’s the “bad” thing I’m talking about. Paul is saying, “Don’t speak in tongues without an interpreter, because that wouldn’t edify anyone, and these gifts are about the edification of the body.”

            I hope that clears that up.

            Also, no biblical evidence you cited supports that tongues were anything other than human languages. Since the tongues-speaker by definition didn’t know the human language he was speaking, though, his mind would be unfruitful if he prayed in that tongue (cf. 1 Cor 14:14-17). Without an interpreter, no one else would understand either. He would be speaking mysteries (1 Cor 14:2). And, for good measure, it’s super clear that 1 Cor 13:1 is hyperbole. Note the next verses speak of “knowing all mysteries” and “having all faith so as to move mountains.”

          • Daniel

            Thanks for the clarification, Mike. On your second point, I still respectfully disagree, but I don’t think this is the place. Maybe another time. Grace and peace to you.

      • kiwi4Jesus

        I am grateful beyond description that God uses well informed, Bible based men like John MacArthur. 35 years in the Charismatic/Pente circles was such a wasted life. We need more men like him to preach the Truth. AND so called tongues today IS blasphemy. What better way for the devil to deceive. People spend hours in babble, just like I used to….. and think they are praying to God. Poor things….I know, been there and done that. Devil must be laughing, hes not called an angel of light for nothing. Also continually adding foundations (Apostles and Prophets) onto a building!!!!! Jesus is the Cornerstone, the Apostles and Prophets the foundation of the building and we are the building blocks.(Ephesians 2.20) Cry out to God for His Truth instead of following the crowds.

    • Jerry W


  • kevin2184

    Thanks Mike for standing up for the truth as you always, and so eloquently, do.

  • Daniel

    Myth #2 refutation is based on faulty metrics: an assumed belief in prosperity Gospel extrapolated to Word of Faith based on the research question: “God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.” http://www.pewforum.org/files/2006/10/pentecostals-08.pdf
    That’s like asking a Calvinist about freewill/predestination and saying “your only answer can be agree/disagree or strongly agree/disagree — no explanation.”
    Also the claim of “most” and “many” charismatics (which is as broad as using the label “Christian” to define every American) does not draw distinction between even the groups the Pew Research forum divided: Pentacostals and charismatics have separate entries, and those numbers include all nominals as well as actual cults, and are not broken down into actual denominations. I would also like to see the research cited/linked to that backs up the statements of denying the Trinity.
    Also, by sheer numbers, attributing the beliefs of the televangelists to even the majority of charismatics is like saying Dennis Rodman represents the views of all of North America when it comes to North Korea. This is not good logic.

    • Daniel,

      I disagree with your assessment of the helpfulness of the question, as well as with your analogies to predestination and Dennis Rodman (congrats, though, on working all that into one comment). I think the statement, “God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith” discriminates someone who believes in the “prosperity theology” propounded in the Word of Faith Movement from someone who doesn’t.

      But if you want to dispute the validity of the data, you can do that, and take it up with Pew Forum. What you can’t do is accuse MacArthur of claiming that all Charismatics are unsaved. Neither can you fault him for following what he finds to be reputable data and reasoning according to it, unless you can conclusively prove that the data is invalid. You haven’t yet made that case.

  • Paul Abeyta

    Thanks Mike. The conference was very helpful/needed and done in grace and love by all the speakers. This has been a fair and needed afterthought as well.

  • J.J.

    Myth??? #2

    • J. J., I wrote “Myth Two” precisely in response to someone posting this very video — an isolated segment, plucked from its context, and sensationalized just as you’re doing. Thanks for providing an example of exactly what I’m talking about.

      Everything under the second heading of this post addresses your objection. For emphasis:

      Given all this, it is not at all inaccurate to speak of great numbers in the Charismatic movement as being devoid of a saving knowledge of Christ. If indeed the Charismatic movement reaches to the staggering number of 500 million adherents worldwide, and if 25 to 30 percent of them either deny sola fide or an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and if well over half in the Two-Thirds world espouse prosperity/Word-Faith theology, it cannot be a controversial statement to speak of the movement as largely made up of non-Christians.

      Understanding that, MacArthur’s statements in that video are not at all inaccurate. Neither are they saying that all Charismatics are unsaved.

      • J.J.

        Dr MacArthur will carve out Piper and a few others, but on whole, he seems to believe continuists are destined for hell. I’m not sure a wrong belief in the prosperity message is a salvation issue. Certainly the extremes of the WOF movement are a salvation issues as well as the relatively small Oneness crowd. All these issues need to be addressed and MacArthur is right to do so. But he turns off many in the movement that would agree with him about the excesses and bad doctrine by painting those in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement with such a broad brush.

        • I’m sorry, J. J., but it seems like you’re intentionally trying not to understand. It’s not painting with a broad brush to say that the majority of those who identify themselves with the Charismatic movement are not saved if the majority of those who identify themselves with the Charismatic movement believe in a false gospel or deny the Trinity.

          The comment that “a wrong belief in the prosperity message” may not be “a salvation issue” is staggering to me. People who “come to Jesus” or “trust Jesus” because they’ve been taught that He exists to save them from poverty and sickness, and not from eternal punishment in hell through repentance from sin and faith in Christ for righteousness, do not know the Jesus of the Scriptures. Yes, they may be deceived, and we grieve over that and encourage people to take them the Gospel. But that isn’t helped by Charismatics insisting that they’re true believers because they’ve been taught by charlatans to “confess Jesus.” That you and others have to resort to defending the orthodoxy of the prosperity gospel is just dizzying.

          • J.J.

            ” they’ve been taught that He exists to save them from poverty and
            sickness, and not from eternal punishment in hell through repentance
            from sin and faith in Christ for righteousness,”
            I don’t think they would say that Christ died so they can be rich and not for their sins.

            However, I wish people like you and your boss knew there were millions of Charismatics and Pentecostals that do denounce “health and wealth”, “name it and claim it”, “hyper-grace”, “easy believism”, rolling on the floor barking like a dog and the various other objections made in the conference.

            Some of the broad statements made in the conference turned off many Charismatics that would have been allies in rebuking the TV preachers and denouncing much of what is being exported to the third world.

            Thanks for your responses above. All the best to you and your ministry.

          • J. J., we do know that there are millions of people that don’t believe in those things, and maybe even that many who denounce those things. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are more millions of people who do those things. And that’s where MacArthur, Mbewe, and the other speakers were coming from at the conference.

            And while we definitely know that there are those who denounce the excesses of this movement, we also know, sadly, that there are many others who do not denounce those excesses anywhere near as strongly or as frequently or as prominently as they should. And that’s been our concern. I refer to you to the final paragraph of the original post.

          • Brad

            Hey Mike!

            I have quiet a few acquaintances who attend churches that teach BOTH the prosperity gospel and that Jesus saves them from their sins and punishment in hell through faith in Jesus. They preach BOTH that God wants to deliver people from poverty and illness and that God delivers people from their sins and His wrath through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When I think about it, these two things are not necessarily contradictory. What you think of churches like that? At this point, I accept them as true Christians.

          • Michael, I’m not as quick as you are to dismiss them as contradictory. The prosperity gospel exalts gift above Giver. It makes an idol out of health, wealth, and prosperity, and subjugates Jesus to be the ticket to get people what they really worship. He’s merely a means to an end. That is not who Jesus is. That is not the Gospel. That is not Christianity.

            The Judaizers taught that Christians needed to believe in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God. They just also taught that our good works must contribute as well. The distinction was so fine as to be the difference between “ground” and “evidence,” between “root” and “fruit” regarding salvation and the role of good works. And Paul called them dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh.

            Inserting idolatry into the heart of your “gospel” is not compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And while I can’t say that there aren’t some individuals trapped in the vice grip of that damning error who have managed to see through the muck and mire to the true Gospel and are saved by it, all manner of sanity and discernment prevent me from believing that that number is too great.

            May our desire for what we believe to be “unity” not dupe us into complacency while millions of people go to hell because charlatans are telling them they’re on their way to heaven without the true church speaking out against them.

  • Matt Mumma

    Thanks Mike. Very helpful article. I think that one thing I have noticed (and I think someone may have already stated this) is that GCC and MacArthur are being attacked for what was said and for the stand for the truth, yet no one (from what I have read) has given sound exegetical reasons for the continuation of the sign gifts, or for the way they are supposedly manifested today. MacArthur even said that he wants people to search and see if what he is saying is true. It is very hard to refute the arguments that were given at the conference. Thanks again.

    • Daniel

      Matt, people who would have given sound exegetical reason for the continuation of the sign gifts were not invited to this conference. You can find great well-reasoned, exegetical material to consider on that exact topic by D.A. Carson, Sam Storms, Gordon Fee, Jack Deere and many more. There’s plenty in print, but here’s one place to start: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/ephesians-2:20—the-cessationists–go-to–text–an-on-going-response-to-strange-fire-

      • Matt Mumma

        I was not suggesting that they should have been invited to the conference (which I don’t think should have happened) or even that there are exegetical arguments out there (which are not convincing unless you go way out your way to make the Bible say something it does not say). But rather most of the feedback (attacking) has been at a person or a view, not from the Bible.

        • Daniel

          I can’t comment on “most” feedback, but I understand what you mean. I agree that it’s helpful to discuss and the issues themselves (as I’ve done in several other threads on this page). That’s actually why I wish other views had been represented. D.A. Carson is much closer to John MacArthur theologically than with Benny Hinn. And David Wilkerson (a Pentecostal) has born vastly more worldwide gospel-fruit that a cessationist in a dead church hasn’t. So why in the world was “they believe in the ‘sign gifts'” the grouping theme to this conference rather than “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity Gospel” or “money-grubbers who call themselves preachers”?

          • Matt Mumma

            I cannot speak for the conference as to why, but something that Conrad said in one of his session is helpful on the issue. What he sees in the majority of charismatic churches in Africa is the logical result of charismatic theology (which includes and starts with believing in the sign gifts). That is not always the case here in America, but the belief that the gift of tongues or prophecy is still for today has led many churches to the extreme that was presented at the conference. I was involved in a church were this happened. Not to say that all who hold to that belief will end up wacky, but as was shown, many have been. Holding to sign gifts is where it starts.

          • Daniel

            I understand what you’re saying, but disagree with the analysis. What you’re saying is like realizing there’s a ton of smut on the internet and concluding, “Using computers is where it starts.” From a certain angle that could be argued, but is that the wisest way to look at it? Clearly you and I don’t hold that interpretation because we’re writing this on computers, but that’s the argument the SF conference made. In reality, “Depravity that corrupts what God designed for good is where is starts.” There are plenty of biblical scholars with astute biblical insights that abhor the gospel. Should I conclude that thinking too much leads people to hate Jesus, or even that it’s a slippery slope? Of course not! The issue is the human heart, not the sign gifts, or the internet, or seeking understanding.

          • Matt Mumma

            Agreed that the extreme form of charismatic practices starts with the sinfulness of the human heart, as does all sin. You and I seem to agree on a lot, yet will probably continue to disagree on this issue. Thanks for the discussion.

          • elainebitt

            Well, let me add this. The bible says that the ignorant and the unstable distort the difficult things to understand. And we are warned to not be carried away by those errors.

            Depravity certainly plays its part, but not all of us are ignorant and unstable.

  • BrendtWayneWaters

    The firestorm over “Myth” One started months before the conference. Why was the clarification delayed so long, and then not even addressed by the man who was allegedly misinterpreted, but was (apparently) deferred to someone else?

    While some folks’ approach to the situation was combative, the issue itself — if truly just a misunderstanding — was not. So for MacArthur to address it himself wouldn’t come off as tackily “defending” himself, but as a “come, let us reason together” moment.

    • BrendtWayneWaters

      I’d be interested in knowing what “earned” me the (anonymous) down-vote. Of course, I’d also be interested in knowing why my other comment was deleted. Not that I’ll be holding my breath on either.

      • Juraikken

        You deserve my upvote. Very good point.

  • michael henry

    All I can say is, thank you Pastor Mike. Your treatment of the subject is sound, even as the combox comments leave my head spinning. I thank God there are young men like you to lead the present generations. I sometimes fear the remnant will be in this generation and it’s reassuring to know that after the MacArthur generation passes into history there are other capable men to follow in the long line of faithful teachers.

  • Thanks Mike for all of your work to bring the conference to those who could not stream it, and for clarifying so many points, and answering so many of the criticisms.

    I was speaking with an former TMS now SBTS student yesterday and he said that this issue is probably the defining controversy and theological fight for orthodoxy in our ministry generation, and I think he is right. Just as the previous generation fought for the recovery of inerrancy, we need to fight this fight that I think is not so much about the gifts, but of broadening the term evangelical to include syncretism and rank heresy.

    Be encouraged, you are doing important work here.

  • bobbygrow

    For a solid and critical understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work I suggest–for all–to read Anthony Thistleton’s new book: The Holy Spirit — In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries and Today. It actually provides the kind of critical coverage Christians need to engage with when dealing with a third article theology.

  • Andrew Kelly

    Brethren I am afraid that you are banging your heads together for no good reason. Who established the truth? It was Christ in His own body. No man has the authority to tell several hundred million people that they are perishing because they believe a lie. It is not the lies which men believe which concerns the Father it is the truth of Christ crucified for sin and raised for our justification which carries the weight of eternity in its folds. Ought men to believe lies? No! Yet some do and yet they live. Ought men to believe the truth? Yes! Yet some do not and they are perishing. Brethren do you know who is perishing and who is purchased by faith in the finished work of Christ? Then why do you contend over mere words?

    • No man has the authority to tell several hundred million people that they are perishing because they believe a lie.

      While no man has such authority inherent within himself, every child of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, has the authority of God’s written Word. And if the written Word of God clearly states that a certain lie undermines the Gospel of grace by which men are saved, then those followers of Christ who have access to that authoritative Word are indeed authorized by Christ to announce that message.

      It is not the lies which men believe which concerns the Father it is the truth of Christ crucified for sin and raised for our justification which carries the weight of eternity in its folds.

      There is some truth to this, i.e., that men must believe something positive in order to inherit eternal life — namely, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was raised on the third day. But it’s disingenuous to position that as if there are not also things which we must deny if we truly put our trust in Jesus. Like I said above, the Judaizers believed “the truth of Christ crucified for sin and raised for our justification.” But they also believed that one had to keep elements of the Mosaic Law, especially circumcision. And Paul does not take the attitude with them that you argue for here, Andrew. He calls them unclean dogs, workers of evil rather than workers for good, and mutilators of the flesh who, more seriously, mutilate the souls of men by insisting that they add to the ground of Christ’s finished work for their righteousness (Phil 3:2).

      Ought men to believe lies? No! Yet some do and yet they live. Ought men to believe the truth? Yes! Yet some do not and they are perishing.

      Again, this is true as far as it goes. But some men believe the truth with some lies mixed in, and are perishing, just as the Judaizers were.

      Brethren do you know who is perishing and who is purchased by faith in the finished work of Christ?

      Of course we don’t infallibly know each individual’s heart, as to what they believe and whom they are worshiping. But we do know what they plainly say they believe. And we see what they practice. We also know what the Word of God says, and upon that foundation we are called to be discerning.

      Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. – 2 John 1:9

  • Note: Our good friend Elaine has translated this post into Portuguese.

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