The Odd Approach of the Strange Fire Conference


by Scott

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.

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:


6 responses to “The Odd Approach of the Strange Fire Conference

  1. I’m assuming you have seen some of the lectures by now. Do you still think the same way? For one, it would be hard to say that JM (and any of the other speakers for that matter) are lumping together the teachers and pastors that you classify as “very biblically solid leaders” with the WoF teachers and other heretics which they have mentioned by name.

    It seems to me that if the strangefire speakers have much of anything to say to reformed charasmatics, it’s that they should be the first in line to speak out against the vast majority of false teaching going on within the movement. That seems fair doesn’t it? That’s not what has been happening though apparently…with Piper being hesitant to call out Todd Bentley until it was blatantly obvious apparently (shocking) and even Storms and Grudem supporting some weird ministries. I forget the details sadly. (it was Phil Johnson’s lecture from today).but it does seem right to speak out against such actions by these men whom we all respect and have learned from.

    • Paul –

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate the interaction – I truly do.

      Yes, as I also noted in my post above, MacArthur does identify some “good” within charismatic/Pentecostal church contexts. But when certain statement like this are made, then it really retracts anything. It’s like me telling my son – “Son, you’re good at math, but overall, you are a great failure.” I wonder what my son will take away?

      This is in line with the link I left to a short video interview with Phil Johnson where MacArthur blames the charismatic movement as the main reason for the church being in “the mess that it is in today”! Again, I must follow up with a, “Wow!”

      This is similar in the actions to say – We don’t lump them all together – and then to say: Charismatics do this terrible. Charismatics say this terrible. Charismatics act like this. At least caveat things with the word some.

      Secondly, I’m not reformed calvinist. Used to be, but have moved away from it. 🙂 So, while I think many of them have some great points – and I think Sam Storms probably tops them – there are others I appreciate. Ones that I walk with personally and aren’t on tv.

      Lastly, while I sometimes cringe at the things done and said by folk like Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Joel Osteen (is he charismatic, as I’ve never seen anything suggesting such?!), etc, I’m also much more relaxed in what is “acceptable” and “biblical”. When you’ve got prophets walking around naked, cooking bread over poop, marrying sexually unfaithful women, Jesus dining with prostitutes and the equivalent of pedophiles today, Jesus having a spitting ministry to mix with mud for healing, and handkerchiefs being used for healing people, then you recognize that things might not always happen in an order that white, western evangelicals wish.

      Thanks again and I’m happy to continue dialoging.

      • I’ve always assumed Joel is Charismatic, given that his daddy was a prominent Word-Faith guy back in the ’80s; he was definitely Charismatic. But I don’t watch Joel’s shows, so I don’t really know.

  2. Pingback: Recommended Reading (10.18.2013) | NEAR EMMAUS

  3. For me at least, I draw a distinction between the “charismatic movement” and people who are biblically sound (preaches the bible in it’s context in light of the analogy of faith). For all I know, the people “you walk with” are in the biblically sound group. For example, I don’t know that I would say Sam Storms is a by product of the charismatic movement. Sure, we have a different opinion on the sign gifts and prophecy but that’s different than fake glory clouds, fire tunnels or holy laughter. Also, you can have a different view of the gifts and not be a prosperity gospel preacher (obviously the prosperity gospel is no gospel at all). That’s an abuse of the role of the Spirit for sure (and why I think Osteen is lumped in with the group – sadly it would seem that he is too shallow to actually consider tough doctrines).

    You’re last paragraph though is tough for me to swallow. Nobody is questioning what God his prophets like Elijah or Isaiah or any of the prophets do in order to give the nation of Israel a message that pointed the remnant and in the future – all who would believe to Christ. That’s a lot different than the things that happen today. We all know now that Christ was the point of all the prophecies – there is no new revelation about Christ.

    Also – I’m not sure why I need to think that prostitutes back then = pedophiles today. I’m sure there were pedophiles then. It’s hard to take one text and then form a doctrine on it (Jesus’ spitting ministry…he didn’t need to spit on the mud to heal the blind, or the handkerchief). I’m a white westerner (not sure if i’m evangelical – such a broad brush) and I have no problem with those things in their context. But selling “holy handkerchiefs” or telling a person that the reason these things don’t work is because of the lack of their faith is plain wrong.

    • Paul –

      Thanks again for the interaction. A few points that come to mind.

      One thing I think cessationists typically miss is that “certain gifts” were not just functioning as “signs”. They were also there for edification of the body. I think these 2 aspects are still viable today and they actually work well together – attesting to the gospel of the kingdom while edifying/building up people.

      The people I walk with come out of the charismatic movement of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, though things move forward from there. I’ve “seen it all,” as they say. I’ve encountered things with very little bothering me. Most of it is the tv stuff, mainly because it’s so highly charged and manipulative. But I’ve seen healthy stuff, bad stuff and everything in between. But I’d relate to being charismatic.

      Now, I’d say spitting in the mud and walking around naked is not so “normative”. However, this is a point we, many times, fail to recognize as well. While things were channeled through a small group in that time, and so you don’t see instances upon instances of “outside the box” stuff, though you see a fair bit, we now have a church worldwide that is numbering well close to 2 billion. And one-quarter associate themselves as Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-charismatic. I’m thinking what might have been not so often moves into the more often category just with the substantial increase. Still, I’m not advocating ridiculous stuff. But I will always challenge our thinking that says things have to be so “ordered” within our construct of order. But, yes, selling handkerchiefs or holy water from Israel – it’s terrible, equivalent to money changers in the temple (though many non-charismatics are into making a buck off God these days).

      On a side note, when I said Jesus sat with prostitutes and pedophiles, I changed out “tax collectors” with pedophiles. Mainly, I wanted to point out that Jesus sat and ate with the most gruesome of folk in his time, the folk many pastors would say don’t spend time with. So “tax collectors” doesn’t mean much to us today, but “pedophiles” does (although, with the change towards a more socialist democracy, maybe it will be good to remember that Jesus eats with “tax collectors” 🙂 ).

      Thanks again.

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