John MacArthur is one of the most well-known American evangelical pastors. He heads up the ministry Grace to You and pastors Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Many evangelicals in America will attest to the helpful teaching and influence of MacArthur over the past decades to a wide stream of Christians.
But many will also attest that he can easily cross the lines with an excessive polemical and divisive approach to his teaching. Such seems the case with his upcoming Strange Fire Conference, which is to be hosted over the next few days, October 16-18, 2013.
The video below gives a taster of the theme of the conference.
You can also watch many short 2-3 minute videos describing the conference here. The conference will include other noted speakers, such as R.C. Sproul (of Ligonier Ministries) and Phil Johnson (a close ministry partner-pastor with MacArthur).
Now, what I am pleased to hear/watch from MacArthur (as in pre-video 2 promoting the conference) is that he recognizes that there are positives in the charismatic church, mainly that the gospel is being preached and, subsequently, people are responding and being saved.
But the sense one gets when viewing the overall combined message is that he attempts to discount the Pentecostal and charismatic (and “Third Wave”) movements with a very broad brushstroke – mainly identifying the whole group by a particularly extreme branch. I’m not sure if he is aware (no, he must be aware!) that there are very biblically solid leaders, churches and movements that do not embrace the extremes such as the word of faith movement.
Not to mention that I think much of the biblical exegesis presented by MacArthur is found wanting. And note, from this link, how he even blames the charismatic movement as the main reason for the church being in “the mess that it is in today”! Wow!
Rather than make this article too lengthy, I’ll point you to 3 articles I’ve written in the past that will be of good help with regards to biblical and theological points.
- Four Scripture passages cessationists usually mis-exegete: 1 Cor 13:8-12; 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 1:1-2; and Heb 2:3-4 (there are others that could be looked at).
- Four Scripture passages that highlight that all gifts would continue: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 13:8-12; and Eph 4:11-16 (there are also others that could be looked at).
- Seven reasons why all gifts of the Spirit continue today
- Charismata in church history following the first century – with quotes from church fathers
Still, the biggest and most interesting(?), or fallacious approach, of MacArthur is that he seems to continually point to the extremists as normative and representative of the whole. That’s about as silly as stating all Calvinists are fatalists who don’t believe in proclaiming the gospel to people. Or that all dispensationalists are raving date-setters for the last events of human history. Or identifying all complementarians as oppressive patriarchalists. Or even claiming that all Muslims are terrorists.
It doesn’t work – at all.
I’ve approached things this way in the past on issues and I can tell you from experience this gets us nowhere. Again, it leads to no dialogue and understanding at all.
So, we can discuss Scripture and other points as we dialogue. But to continue to define a group of well over 500 million Christians by the extremists, well that’s just silly child’s play.
I am very much convinced in the active, powerful work of the Holy Spirit today – both through the study of Scripture and in the working of all his gifts in my life and the lives of those with whom I closely walk. Still, I can accept when people disagree on particular biblical and theological grounds.
However, the strong thrust to MacArthur’s approach, alongside the biblical-theological discussion, leads us nowhere. It’s very distasteful.
To end, I encourage you to read 3 very gracious and kind blog posts that I’ve come across today:
- Michael Brown in Charisma News: A Final Appeal to Pastor John MacArthur on the Eve of His ‘Strange Fire’ Conference
- Michael Patton of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries (he being a cessationist): Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice
- Adrian Warnock of Jubilee Church, London: Why cessationists are wrong about prophecy
- Added article by Adrian Warnock as he listened to the first session of the Strange Fire Conference: Strange Fire: John MacArthur claims no good has come out of the Charismatic Movement
- Luke Geraty of Think Theology: Strange Fire Turns Toward Strained Polemics
- Marc Cortez, Theology Professor at Wheaton College: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in John MacArthur’s Opening Address