October 23, 2013

#StrangeFire

by Jesse Johnson

The Strange Fire conference ended last week, and it was widely covered and blogged—so much so that I thought it would be helpful to have one link with the notes from all the sessions as well as a summary for what was covered by each speaker

chain links.

For each session there is the Challies summary of it, and then at Cripplegate we ran something closer to the manuscript of each message. If you want the concise version, go to the Challies link, and if you want the more detailed version, check out our link. Challies writes summarizing the content as a listener, while the Cripplegate link is more like a manuscript used by the speaker. When the audio/video is up at GTY, we’ll link that here too.  

  1. The conference began with John MacArthur preaching on Leviticus 9-10, and on the strange fire from Aaron’s sons.  He connected that sin with the modern Charismatic movement (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  2. Joni Erickson Tada told the story of how she ended up losing the use of her legs, and how she has grown spiritually as a result. She talked about how charismatics have wanted to pray for her healing, while she has wanted prayer for her sanctification (Challies summary).
  3. R. C. Sproul then preached on the unique role of Pentecost in redemptive history, and explained how he sees the Charismatic movement has having a “low view” of Pentecost (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  4. The fourth session featured Steve Lawson describing how John Calvin responded to those who claimed that the miraculous gifts were ongoing back in the 1500’s. Using Calvin’s writings, he showed that Calvin would be opposed to those who today call themselves charismatic Calvinists (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  5. Conrad Mbewe (who pastors a church in Zambia) described how the charismatic movement has devastated Africa. Ushered in by North American missionaries and media influence, the result of the movement has not been conversions but the normalization of the practices of witch doctors, and that the movement has almost chased the gospel out of Africa (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  6. The second day began with MacArthur preaching on 1 John 4:1, which says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God…” His main point was that the charismatic movement has turned this backwards, and accuses those who obey 1 John 4:1 as sinning and being divisive (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  7. Tom Pennington then laid out a positive case for cessationism. He compared the four main arguments charismatics use with his own seven reasons he sees the sign gifts as having ceased (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  8. Phil Johnson then preached a message that exposed some of the worst in the charismatic movement (a la Todd Bently). His point was not so much that those extremes represent the movement, as much as that by rejecting any criticism of the movement, charismatics are accumulating filth in their bathtub (the Cripplegate notes).
  9. In the first of two Question and Answer sessions, videos of mainstream charismatic leaders doing and saying outrageous things were played, while the moderator (Todd Friel) got the panelists take. This was helpful to see that the conference was not simply critiquing events of the bygone TBN era, but was focused on some of the movement’s recent growth (the Cripplegate notes here, but no video).
  10. Steve Lawson returned to show how the modern charismatic movement is opposed to the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture, a doctrine which he developed at length from the writings of the puritans (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  11. Conrad Mbewe contrasted Paul’s mandate to train up Timothy-type leaders with the leaders that the modern charismatic movement is producing. One of the most memorable lines of the week was when Mbewe pointed out that the average African church leader has more in common with the witch doctor than with 2 Timothy 3 (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).
  12. Phil Johnson made the case that much of what is attributed to miracles by those in charismatic circles is better understood through the neglected doctrine of providence. He showed how the doctrine of providence is presented in scripture, and explained that a low view of providence leads to a low view of what qualifies as a miracle (the Cripplegate notes).
  13. The final Question and Answer session featured some practical questions about some Christian music groups that are popular with students, but the highlight for me was a question about John Piper. MacArthur pointed out that he respects and admires Piper, and is thankful for his contributions to theology, and that even Piper holds the his view of the charismatic gifts more loosely and with more doubt than the rest of his theology (the Cripplegate notes).
  14. The conference closed with MacArthur responding to common reasons people say that you should not critique the charismatic movement. But he then went on to make an appeal to his “continuationist friends,” and gave them eight reasons they should reconsider their position (Challies summary and the Cripplegate notes).

After the conference, Clint Archer (who blogs here and pastors a church in Africa) gave his thoughts on the conference, and then Eric Davis—a TMS grad who pastors in Jackson, WY—listed six observations on the tone and direction of Strange Fire.  Challies listed his take away points here.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.