John MacArthur's "Strange Book"

John MacArthur's latest book, Strange Fire, and the accompanying conference seems to be causing something of a poo storm.

It is hardly surprising. MacArthur, who has long opposed the charismatic movement, has now taken aim in his second anti-Charismatic book. Here is the cover blurb:
Dr. John MacArthur teaches about the Holy Spirit and reveals how some parts of the Charismatic movement dishonor God. When Nadab and Abihu offered a strange fire to the Lord (Lev 10:1 3), when the Pharisees attributed the Spirit s work to Satan (Matt 12:22 37), and when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1 6), each was an affront that brought severe consequences even unto death. The Bible is clear that affronting the Holy Spirit is no laughing matter. Yet millions do it every day. The Charismatic movement, with more than half a billion members worldwide, is the fastest growing religious movement in the world. It boldly plasters the Holy Spirit s name on unbiblical worship like barking, jumping, laughing, trance-like states, extra biblical revelation, incomprehensible speech, inaccurate prophecies and ineffective healings. To the misguided many, these are the works of the Holy Spirit, but they are not from God at all. Strange Fire offers a biblical message to make right what has been wrong, help believers discern true worship and free those who have been swept up in false worship. With thorough exegesis, historical context of the Charismatic movement and pastoral guidance, this book reclaims the true power and import of the Holy Spirit for evangelicals and rebuffs those in the Charismatic movement who tempt God s wrath with strange fire.
Of course, I have been around charismatic churches for long enough to know that there are some weird and silly things that go on. And there are some false teachings that have crept into parts of the movement via certain teachers (not least the prosperity gospel). Thankfully, there are a lot of charismatics that are able to offer intelligent critiques from within the movement. And that is as it should be.

Now I have not read this book but I'm sure that I'd agree with some of his criticisms of aspects of the charismatic movement. However, from the summaries of its content that I have seen MacArthur goes waaaaaay beyond offering constructive critique. To his mind the entire movement is inspired by Satan, led by false teachers, and populated mostly by false believers.

Really? Wow! That is bold. But it's not merely rude—it's also just plain wrong. I know he thinks he's speaking prophetic truth to an unfaithful church, but PLEASE!

At this point I am torn. I could wax lyrical about all the reasons this is wrong but it is so blooming obvious that it seems patronizing to even spell it out. And plenty of other bloggers have done it very eloquently. (And don't even get me started on cessationism—a view clearly lacking in biblical support.)

My only point in the post is this: it is a very sad thing that MacArthur's Christianity is so terribly narrow that it feels compelled to write off Christians who fall outside its boundaries as misguided and even pseudo-Christians. A criticism aimed at correcting warped aspects of the movement (which, as everyone knows, is by far the fastest-growing part of the church in the world) could have been a helpful contribution. But damning it to hell?

And here's the problem for a charismatic evaluating the book: MacArthur's accusations are exceptionally strong. He is, in effect, claiming that acts that charismatics take to be acts of God in the world are actually satanic. Now this makes MacArthur's book (in the eyes of the charismatic) an attack on God's gracious work. In other words, it makes MacArthur's text an unwitting agent of Satan. It is hard to respond to such books charitably! But messengers of Satan can, as Paul discovered, be seen as gifts of God. So perhaps the best way for charismatics to respond is to take the critiques seriously, learn from them, change things that need changing, and reject MacArthur's errors.


Terry Wright said…
Yes, there's something ironic about him aligning the charismatic movement with Satan if that movement truly is inspired by the Spirit!
I am wearied by the division in what we call American Christianity. It would make one wonder what Christianity even is.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Robin.

I was really expecting you to say that MacArthur is actually committing "the unforgivable sin" as the description fits perfectly!

Maybe we really could say that, as long as we add that "eternal sin" is a sin not forgiven "in this age or the next" -- meaning that it must go forward for "eternal punishment" -- and that "eternal" doesn't mean "never ending" but "belonging to the age to come" -- in which case MacArthur will still have hope beyond hell as he heals in the holy punishment of the age to come.
I stopped believing in Charismatic stuff years ago, but I've always thought it unwise for cessationists to play the 'Satan's behind it card.' Once you go down that road, you can't have a meaningful conversation with Charismatics about the genuineness of their experiences.

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