It’s been several months after the Strange Fire conference, and there has been no shortage of protest, complaint, misrepresentation, rudeness, and downright malicious slander and false witness against people and perspectives on both sides of the charismatic divide.
It’s like the conference bombarded the evangelical world with gamma radiation (namely the “evangelical sin” of saying someone is wrong) and a whole lot of people underwent a change.
The first group changed into Incredible Hulks.
These folks emerged from Strange Fire and said or did things that were incredible, and often sinfully destructive. They made claims that were incredible; often based on rumors, speculations, misrepresentations or 3rd hand information gleaned from Twitter and Facebook. They did things that were incredible: they were quick to make baseless accusations. or condemn people to Hell, or perpetrate absurd rumors, or dismiss factual statements on the basis of assumed motives, or applaud the malicious slander of others (while still giving the disclaimer of “not meaning to be unloving”, which sanctifies everything). These folks were cessationists and non-cessationists, and I’m ashamed of many of the incredible responses that I saw from the self-professing cessationists on social media. The only thing Incredible Hulks do is smash, but it’s mostly smashing of feelings. For that reason, both cessationists and non-cessationists don’t like them when they’re angry.
But, the second group changed into Credible Hulks.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys were quite angry too. The difference is that these folks emerged from Strange Fire and said or did things that were credible, and often righteously constructive. They made claims that were credible: based on research, substantial amounts of primary work, and first hand information from original sources. They did things that were credible: they were quick to engage in serious dialogue. or affirm the brotherhood of some of the opposing side (though not all), or refute absurd rumors, or condemn the malicious slander of others as malicious slander, all disclaimers aside. Credible hulks smash too, but they tend to smash falsehoods. For that reason, either cessationists or non-cessationists don’t like them when they’re angry, but the other group likes them a lot. There are Credible Hulks in the Charismatic camp who justly get applauded by their camp, as there are in the Cessationist camp.
As Christians, God calls us to be Credible Hulks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being overturned in your heart, or angry, when you encounter lies, deceit, misinformation, or some other type of attack on matters of scripture and truth. Ephesians 4:25-27 comments on how Christians can be angry, but Christians should be people marked by truthfulness and not sinfulness, and that being mainly in their mouths (and thereby keyboards too). The one who is untruthful about his brother has lost the spiritual battle. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 instructs us that Christians are called to spiritual warfare; the smashing of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God”. Spiritual warfare is an ideological battle against the error, not the errant.
Now, after laying that brief foundation I come to the reason for this post.
Frank Viola is a name that is likely unfamiliar to the readers of this blog, and up until Strange Fire I hadn’t heard of him myself. He’s a blogger who apparently has 80,000+ readers and according to Worth of the Web he’s more widely read/followed than both ThePyromaniacs and the Cripplegate combined. His Alexa rank verifies that he gets more traffic than both The Pyromaniacs and the Cripplegate combined. All that to say that he’s not a small-time blogger like myself. He’s also a published author who has written 16 books with some recognizable names like George Barna, so he hangs around educated folks and apparently knows how to write and do research. During the Strange Fire conference, his name came up on my blog as someone who had written some blog responses to the Strange Fire conference, and at that time he mentioned that he had a book-length response coming out. He graciously invited me to read it and give my feedback, and over at my personal blog I have been reviewing his book Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire, which he made free for two weeks after it was initially completed back in early November.
I have reviewed his first three chapters on my personal blog, and then last week I posted my review of the fourth chapter in which Frank Viola deals with the New Testament teaching on cessationism, which is where the wheels fell off the car.
Here are two screenshots of the first page and a bit of chapter four. I’m posting screen shots in order to preempt accusations of misrepresentation or misquotation. Read it from the same document that I did, and make your own conclusions:
As you can see, after a page and a bit of comments regarding John MacArthur’s New Testament arguments for cessationism, he then jumps into his 5 reasons for why “the perfect” (in 1 Corinthians 13:10) is the second coming. Also, he explicitly names MacArthur as the proponent of the mentioned ideas and though he mentions 70 A.D. in passing (which he doesn’t explain at all), he focuses the chapter entirely on 1 Corinthians 13:10. Not only that, but he restates this idea on page 63 where he says “MacArthur, like most cessationists, believes that the apostles vanished with the closing of the biblical canon.”
In private conversation, Mr. Viola has denied saying that John MacArthur teaches that the cessation of the sign gifts occurred in conjunction with the completing of the canon, and has suggested that 70 A.D. is akin to saying “the closing of the apostolic age”. What does it look like to you? Would you read what he has written that way? What are you thinking?
Here’s what I’m thinking:
You have to remember that this chapter is the longest chapter in a book that claims that it’s a response to both Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire since Frank Viola explicitly says “This critique is a response to both Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos” (pg. 8 of the pdf) and “My primary intention in writing it is to help my non-charismatic brethren who have been influenced by MacArthur’s books to reconsider and re-examine their understanding of the present-day work of the Spirit” (page 12). Frank Viola isn’t addressing cessationism in general.
He’s clear that he’s addressing two specific books written by one specific author.
Frank Viola apparently thinks that the only relevant text to the question of cessationism is 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, so the extent of answering the question of chapter 4 (“Does the New Testament teach that the gifts of the Spirit ceased?”) is found in addressing the question regarding “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 (in all honesty, he does spend 1 sentence addressing Ephesians 2:20 by giving a link to an article by Sam Storms…comprehensive refutation, indeed. The rest of the nine pages addresses 1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Opinions on the identity of “the perfect” vary, but Frank Viola says explicitly that MacArthur teaches, presumably in Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire (you know, the two books that he’s written his book in response to), that “the perfect” is the completed canon of scripture.
It’s interesting that though Mr. Viola cites the book Strange Fire 3 times on pages 16 and 17, which reveals he did have a copy of the book, he doesn’t provide any documentation for any of his claims regarding what MacArthur apparently teaches in the rest of the entire book.
It’s also interesting that MacArthur has openly rebutted and argued against the position that Mr. Viola attributes to him, and that for well over 3 decades.
Allow me to back that claim up with some documentation:
In 1977, John MacArthur preached through the book of 1 Corinthians and explicitly rebutted the idea that “the perfect” is the completed canon, but rather argued that “the perfect” is the eternal state. Feel free to check the transcript from part 2 of MacArthur’s sermons on 1 Corinthians 13:8-11:
That sermon was from 1977, and in 1978 he wrote the book The Charismatics, which was based on that sermon series. In that book, MacArthur writes:
“Many suggestions have been made as to the identity of ‘the perfect thing.’ Some believe it is the canon; others say the maturing of the church; some hold out for the rapture and still more for the second coming. But it seems that ‘the perfect thing’ has to be the eternal state – the new heaven and new earth created after the kingdom as the following two points show…” ( page 165)
Then, in his book Charismatic Chaos (which Frank Viola is responding to) MacArthur said the same thing when he wrote
“The passage does not say when tongues were to cease. Some commentators believe that verse 10 sets the timing: “When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” Many suggestions have been made as to the meaning of “the perfect.” Some believe it is the complete new Testament; thus they conclude this passage is saying that tongues would cease when the canon was closed. Various others say that the perfect this is the maturing of the church, the rapture, or the second coming. But it seems that the perfect thing Paul has in mind must be the eternal state – “face to face” in verse 12 can best be explained as being with God in the new heavens and new earth. It is only in glory that we will know as we are known (v. 12).” (note 20 on page 230-231)
Back in 2010 he revisited 1 Corinthians and again explicitly rebutted the idea that “the perfect” is the completed canon, but rather argued that “the perfect” is the eternal state. Feel free to check his sermon on 13:9-11.
In the notes on 1 Corinthians 13:10 in The MacArthur Study Bible, it reads:
“The ‘perfect’ is not the completion of scripture, since there is still the operation of those two gifts and will be in the future kingdom (cf. Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; Rev. 11:3). The Scriptures do not allow us to see ‘face to face’ or have perfect knowledge as God does (v. 12). The ‘perfect’ is not the rapture of the church or the second coming of Christ, since the kingdom to follow those events will have an abundance of preachers and teachers (cf. Is 29:18; 32:3,4; Joel 2:28; Rev 11:3). The perfect must be the eternal state, when in glory we see God face to face (Rev. 22:4) and have full knowledge in the eternal new heavens and new earth. Just as a child grows to full understanding, believers will come to perfect knowledge and no such gifts will be necessary.” (2006 NASB printing, pg. 1719)
Then, in the book Strange Fire, (which Frank Viola is responding to) MacArthur writes:
“In 1 Corinthians 13:10, Paul noted that partial knowledge and partial prophecy would be done away with “when that which is perfect has come.” But what did Paul mean by the perfect? The Greek word (teleion) can mean “perfect,” “mature,” or “complete,” and commentators have widely disagreed as to its precise meaning – offering numerous possible interpretations. For example, F. F. Bruce suggests that the perfect is love itself’; B.B. Warfield contends it is the completed canon of Scripture (cf. James 1:25); Robert Thomas argues that it is the mature church (cf. Eph. 4:11-13); Richard Gaffin asserts it is the return of Christ; and Thomas Edgar concludes it is the individual believer’s entrance into heavenly glory (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8). Significantly, though these scholars disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect’, they all reach the same conclusion – namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.
Nonetheless, of the possible interpretations, the believer’s entrance into the Lord’s presence best fits Paul’s use of ‘perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 13:10. This makes sense of Paul’s later statement in verse 12 about believers seeing Christ ‘face to face’ and possessing full knowledge – descriptions that cannot be realized this side of glory.” (pg 148-149)
Check it out for yourself. No really. I provided links for you and quoted from the books so you can quickly check out the references for yourself. Don’t believe me. Go check the facts from the original sources.
And what about the 70 A.D. thing?
Well, the year 70 A.D. is known most of all for one thing: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, not the closing of the apostolic age (unless you’re a preterist). Frank Viola doesn’t even mention the apostolic age, but only mentions the year 70 A.D. John MacArthur has taught for at least 4 decades that the apostolic age ended with the death of the apostle John. Feel free to check out where he explicitly says discusses the apostolic age closing with the death of the apostle John around 96 A.D:
3. Page 231 & 232 of Charismatic Chaos (isn’t that the book that Viola apparently is reviewing?)
Also, Tom Pennington explicitly said discussed the length of the apostolic age at Strange Fire:
So, Frank Viola spends nine pages rebutting two positions that he ascribes to MacArthur, even though MacArthur doesn’t teach those positions anywhere.
So where then did they come from?
But am I being a bit pedantic and, well, a wiener?
Well, remember how I said that he makes other claims about what MacArthur believes/teaches? Here’s some more interesting claims:
Claim 1. “MacArthur is wrong in that he paints the entire charismatic world–which would include all charismatics and all charismatic churches–with the same broad brush” (pg. 15 pdf, cf. pg 28, 31, 34).
This is a misrepresentation that has been addressed in the book Strange Fire itself (the 2nd footnote in the introduction defines the phrase “Charismatic movement” up front, which entirely excludes Reformed Charismatics, but also the twelfth chapter explicitly addresses this with a 2 paragraph opening statement along the same lines…apparently Mr. Viola wasn’t reading Strange Fire too closely…). Not only that, but the idea has been corrected on this very blog, and more than once at that. For added measure, MacArthur has personally laid this one to rest at length. Watch the following video time mark 24:20 (in fact, watch the whole video as MacArthur addresses several of the most widely spread rumors).
How’s that for clarification from the horse’s mouth?
Claim 2. “The people whom MacArthur highlights as the poster boys for charismatics–Kenneth Copeland, Peter Popoff, Paula White, Bob Jones, E.W. Kenyon, Eddie Long, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson–simply do not represent the views or practices of the majority of charismatic Christians in the world today.” (16)
This is another myth that I have poured significant effort towards correcting. I have yet to have anyone even attempt an objective refutation of what I’ve written regarding this utterly blind assumption.
Claim 3. “MacArthur writes off anyone who is charismatic as erroneous and dangerous due to the abuses of their peers.” (pg.29)
No, he doesn’t. See point #1.
Claim 4. “Interestingly, MacArthur uses experiences to justify his argument. That is, his own experience of observing bedlam within “charismania” and his own inexperience of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.” (pg. 29, cf. pg. 37)
Again, this is simply demonstrably untrue. The Strange Fire book contains a 48 page index of references and all the refutation comes from the text of scripture, hence the book contains a six page index of scriptures. The very accusation is a total joke; if there’s one guy who’s known for going to the Bible to address things, it’s John MacArthur. What’s even more silly is that Frank Viola responds to MacArthur’s “argument from experience” with two stories of his own experience (pg. 30).
Claim 5. “MacArthur’s analysis of John Wimber and Jack Deere is largely inaccurate because it is based upon a heavily biased document called ‘the Briefing.’” (pg. 49).
This is again demonstrably untrue. In Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur cites April 24, 1990 issue of The Briefing 6 times. He cites Jack Deere 2 times, and in the chapter exploring John Wimber (chapter 6), he cites Peter Wagner 20 times and John Wimber’s own writing 30 times. In Strange Fire, MacArthur cites Jack Deere’s 3 times but there are no citations regarding Wimber and no references to The Briefing at all. That’s 6 total citations of The Briefing as a source, 20 citations of Peter Wagner as a source, and 35 citations of original sources. The Briefing is the source he uses least; it’s not as a base for anything.
What’s worse is that Mr. Viola says “Deere’s response is an eye-opening account of how “the Briefing” knowingly spread misinformation, rumors, and false reports about Wimber, Deere, and others, often misrepresenting them and quoting them out of context. Sadly, MacArthur has done the same in his treatment of The Third Wave.” (pg. 49)
“The same” as what? The Briefing? As in “knowingly spread misinformation, rumors, and false reports about Wimber, Deere, and others”? Yikes.
That’s a rhetorically roundabout way of accusing him of malicious lying. I don’t believe that Mr. Viola is very fond of accusations of lying or deceit.
Claim 6. “MacArthur tries to argue that healing declined in the early church and presents a list of Scriptures in an attempt to prove this. Upon careful scrutiny, however, his list contains little substance. It is solely built upon various conjectures. For instance, MacArthur assumes that Paul was sick when he talks about ‘a thorn in the flesh’ in 2 Corinthians. But Paul never said he was sick in that text.” (pg. 59)
Again, this is simply untrue. MacArthur makes reference to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 several times in Charismatic Chaos (pg. 125, 215, 256) but he never says what the “thorn” was at all (it’s not exactly a make-or-break point with cessationism). In Strange Fire, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is likewise mentioned addressed on page 70-71 but again, MacArthur never says what the “thorn” was at all.
But, when MacArthur has preached through the passage, he rebutted the position that Mr. Viola ascribed to him and MacArthur agreed with Frank Viola in suggesting that it was an actual “messenger from Satan”; a person who was demonically inspired. Funny how that is…
Was Frank Viola really paying attention to the book he was reading (for the purpose of review)?
Claim 7. “In describing the situation at Corinth, MacArthur adds much of his own thought and clearly goes beyond the text.
For example, in Charismatic Chaos he says that some of the Corinthians were speaking in demonic tongues! What? Where is that in the text?” (pg 67).
Well, MacArthur doesn’t say so in chapter 10 of Charismatic Chaos, which is the chapter devoted to the subject. On page 239 of the book, he states that some of the modern tongues may be demonic, but he also explicitly denies that all, or even most, are demonic.
Again, I have to wonder if Mr. Viola was paying attention to Charismatic Chaos?
Do you see a pattern in those seven examples?
It’s worth pointing out that none of these previously mentioned points (nor any points beyond page 16) had any sort of citation to either of the books that Mr. Viola is apparently critiquing, and it is probably clear why: citation was impossible because the books said the opposite. It appears that Frank Viola’s not critiquing the books nor is he drawing his accusations from them as much as simply ranting about John Macarthur and throwing red meat to his charismatic fans/readers.
What’s more, there’s also this choice quote from chapter 10:
“Before I get into a biblical discussion about healing, I want to explain who MacArthur uses to discount the ministry of Kathryn Kuhlman in Charismatic Chaos as it will throw all of MacArthur’s research into question.” (italics, mine)
So Mr. Viola says, in no uncertain terms and before he’s discussed the evidence at hand, that a single flaw in research will throw all MacArthur’s work into question? I do believe that in the list above, I’ve given my readers several reasons to be suspicious of Mr. Viola’s research as well. Mr. Viola lays a trap that ends up being fatally used against him.
And am I being too harsh with Mr. Viola? Well, I’ll give you two thoughts to chew on:
1. He’s written more than a dozen books. This isn’t his first time around the block and one would think that by now, he’d be able to do reliable research and accurately represent those whom he is critiquing. I hope that this post shows that I’m laboring to do the same in accurately understanding what he wrote (though apparently not what he intended) and documenting my claims. Mr. Viola does not accurately understand John MacArthur’s position as communicated in the books Charismatic Chaos or Strange Fire, and he doesn’t document anything outside of 3 claims on pages 16-17.
2. Frank Viola came out of the corner swinging at MacArthur. He wrote “I found Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire to be exegetically incorrect on a number of levels, full of misrepresentations and overgeneralizations, feeble in biblical and historical scholarship, and severely flawed in many of their conclusions. Overall, the two books lacked the qualities that reflect the mind of an objective theologian.” (10 – bold is mine)
He comes outright and says MacArthur is wrong, not that simply disagrees with MacArthur on matters.
He comes outright and says that both books are full of misrepresentations, not that there’s one or two worth noting.
He comes outright and says that both books were “feeble” in the biblical scholarship. Feeble isn’t soft language.
He’s a big boy and came out dressed to fight. He could have toned down the rhetoric, but he didn’t.
So what do we make of all this?
Is this some case of misunderstanding?
Is Mr. Viola attempting to curry favor with charismatics and sell books by joining the “Let’s get MacArthur” mob?
Is Mr. Viola simply confused?
Am I missing the boat entirely?
What in the world?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what’s going on here.
It seems fairly clear that the comments that Frank Viola tossed at MacArthur are more fitting for him:
Feeble scholarship? Well, I wouldn’t say “feeble”. I’d suggest “sophomoric” and “outgunned”.
Exegetical error? Yup.
Will Frank Viola be mad at me that I dare use the same language to describe him that he used to describe MacArthur? Most likely.
Did Mr. Viola’s critique provide “evidence and examples supporting each point”? (pg. 14) Well, testimonial evidence, but testimonial evidence is not evidence. It’s opinion. There was precious little documented evidence. That’s the difference between incredibility and credibility. That’s the difference between turning into the Incredible Hulk and the Credible Hulk.
It seems quite clear that when hit by the gamma radiation of the Strange Fire conference, Frank Viola became an Incredible Hulk.
Frank Viola simply saw an opportunity to write a book that he thought would be helpful, but he didn’t do his homework, ended up saying a whole bunch of incredible things and got in way over his head.
That’s not name-calling or me being mean either. I believe I’ve provided some actual concrete reasons to suggest so.
Did Mr. Viola think he wouldn’t get caught misrepresenting facts that are in print that anyone can check?
Well, I’d actually guess so since most people don’t go and check references, or read footnotes. People don’t generally take the time to do things like that…
…well, except for Credible Hulks.
Remember to glorify God when the gamma gets you green (Ephesians 4:25-26; Proverbs 12:17, 20:23, 26:24) and don’t write checks your research and your Bible cannot cash.