May 1, 2014

Reviewing Authentic Fire

by Fred Butler

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 here.

afIf you haven’t been paying attention the last few months, you may have missed a conference Grace to You put on last October called Strange Fire. Maybe you heard about it?

Of course I’m messing with you. Nearly everyone who participates on social media and runs in my circles heard about it and are well aware of the big stink it stirred up with charismatics and Pentecostals.

Anyhow, I would imagine the most vocal, popular-level critic of the Strange Fire conference was Michael Brown. As early as June of last year, four months before Strange Fire was to take place, Dr. Brown was rebuking John MacArthur for even thinking about holding a conference to address charismatic issues. He wrote two articles that we responded to, and then offered a rejoinder. Folks went back and forth with each other leading up to the conference until the night before the conference began, when Dr. Brown wrote one final article pleading for us to stop everything, send everyone home, and cancel the sessions.

Of course, that never happened. But just a month and a half after the conference ended, Dr. Brown managed to write and publish a 418-page book entitled, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire.  

To date, it is probably the most substantive response available.  I say “the most substantive” because there really aren’t any others. Sure, Frank Viola thinks he published a slam dunk of his own against John, but as Lyndon pointed out in his review of that book, it only takes a few pages of reading for his entire rebuttal to come unraveled. So that leaves us with Michael Brown.

Seeing that Authentic Fire will be the one book most individuals encounter Lyndon and I are going to offer an extended review.  He will take all the odd numbered chapters and I will take the even numbered chapters. There are also four appendices written by other men that we’ll address.

For those who don’t have the book, the table of contents breaks down like this:

1. A “collective war” against charismatics
2. Rejecting the strange fire, embracing the authentic fire
3. A great big blind spot
4. The genetic fallacy and the error of guilt by association
5. Testing the spirits: another look at the evidence
6. Sola Scriptura and therefore charismatic
7. Shall we burn one another at the stake?
8. Spirit and truth, right brain and left brain
9. A God to be experienced
10. Moving forward after Strange Fire

And then four appendices:

A. The ongoing evidence of miracles, and thoughts on African charismatic Christianity by Craig Keener
B. Why NT prophecy does NOT result in “scripture-quality” revelatory words (a response to the most frequently cited cessationist argument against the contemporary validity of spiritual gifts) by Sam Storms
C. Did the authentic fire cease in the first century? A response to Tom Pennington’s, “A case for cessationism.” by Steven Alt
D. A missions perspective on charismatic and cessationists by David Shibley

I do want to thank Dr. Brown, who on his own initiative, kindly sent me a signed copy of his book. So I appreciate that he at least wants to have some interaction with his material even if I so profoundly disagree with his main arguments.

Nonetheless, by the looks of the table of contents, there is a lot of good material to work through. And, just so that everyone knows, it is all easily answerable. In fact, having spent some concentrated effort in reading through and reviewing the book, I can confidently say that the arguments put forth are, for the lack of a better word, facile. Frank Viola’s gushing praise upon the book claiming Michael Brown shreds John MacArthur is greatly exaggerated to say the least.

Go here to read the first part of our review: The Preface.

Fred Butler

Posts Twitter

Fred is a graduate of The Master's Seminary, and currently serves as a coordinator at Grace To You, the media ministry of John MacArthur.
  • Pingback: Authentic Fire Review: The Preface | the Cripplegate()

  • Jerry Wragg

    Thank you, Fred, for this invaluable service to so many who might otherwise be vulnerable. My prayer is that this combined review will be a strong benediction to the “Strange Fire” volume, and perhaps finally awaken our conservative charismatic brothers and sisters to the infinite and unrivaled genius of the Spirit’s written revelation. May they begin to realize the faithlessness, presumption, and danger of desperately wanting God’s guidance through wholly unverifiable inner-notions rather than fully trusting in the objective, all-sufficient Scriptures of the living God.

  • Biggest thing I’d like to see him answer (or any charismatic for that matter) is why would new revelation (tongues, prophecy, etc) not be added to the back of the Bible with the same weight as the rest of Scripture, since it’s just as much inspired by the Holy Spirit as anything already in the canon?

    I’ve yet to find a good answer to this one.

    • Fred Butler

      They typically take the Wayne Grudem view that the prophecy is not on the same level with the divine Scripture and redefine it as “fallible.”

    • Jerry Wragg

      What I’d like to hear them answer, Johnny, is why any of us should believe and follow—with all our heart and humble submission—a ‘prophetic word’ that is always only possibly and unverifiably from God?! In fact, if it’s highly probable that over 80% of modern ‘words from the Lord’ are merely human notions bubbling up into charismatic minds, how could any true believer risk someone else’s spiritual life by speaking them in the name of Christ? Talk about playing roulette with another believer’s spiritual needs!
      I’ve not only not heard a “good” answer to this one, I’ve heard no attempt at all…only crickets.

    • brad

      I think you are missing the heart of the discussion. Most believers I know are concerned with God’s direction for their lives today, which the Bible doesn’t answer in detail.

      The expositional preacher can give principles and past historic facts, but they often fail to help real people in real circumstances.

      The Bible, Spirit and the community of faith are our guide today, not just the Bible. And yes, this does make me uncomfortable! I would much rather our faith be based simply on a logical debate about what the Scriptures mean!

      • “The expositional preacher can give principles and past historic facts,
        but they often fail to help real people in real circumstances.” Well, speak for yourself, friend, as it’s expository teaching that’s given me the greatest direction and the most revelatory understanding of God’s glory and holiness and of Christ’s perfect work on behalf of a sinner like me.

        It’s actually the charismatic-bent silliness I’ve been exposed to in the past (including one pentacostal lady who had the amazing revelation power to locate a lost cat once(???)) that has left me with the least sense of genuine direction and that I frankly find disturbing and a tad frightening (I mean, how does a charismatic know for sure exactly what that voice is in the head that tells them to start babbling nonsense and roll on the floor while the guitars and drums rumble?)

        • brad

          That’s awesome! Thanks Johnny! I would love to hear the details of how expositional preaching has brought you tangible direction and clarity!

          In my ministry, I have noticed that preaching expositionally is pretty easy. It wasn’t until I was on mission and living with people in real life that I realized that there tends to be a pretty massive disconnect between the Sunday morning message and the heart issues of life from Monday through Saturday.

          • brad

            Oh, and I agree that the “charismatic-bent silliness” is confusing as well! I have found that living on mission with a community of believers to be the best biblical balance. It keeps you dependent on the Spirit, the community, and God’s Word; and at the same time doesn’t allow you to escape the realities of life, which both the charistmatic and expositional preaching ministries tend to be more susceptible to. Yes, that is a super broad stereotype!

      • Lyndon Unger

        Wait a minute. You said that “the Bible, Spirit and the community of faith are our guide today, not just the Bible.”

        Two questions:

        1. Where did you learn that? (i.e. does the Bible teach that somewhere or did you pick that up somewhere else?)

        2. What does that actually look like? (I’m sure that you’d suggest that all 3 have to agree, but what happens when the community is misinformed or even dumb? What happens when the Spirit is confused with someone’s own desires? How are there objective checks and balances?)

  • Looking forward to the reviews!

  • Pingback: Authentic Fire Review | the Cripplegate()