Strange Fire: Beyond the Hype and the Hysteria (Part 1)

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17, ESV)

That verse talked about “dealing with a dispute (a lawsuit) [wherein] a judge needs to hear both sides of a case before answering… or making a decision.” [1] However, I think it’s a good reminder to all of us not to jump to conclusion without hearing all the facts.

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We heard that, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, in the case of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, [2] I fear that since Dr. John MacArthur is an outspoken critic of pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, people might have already judged the book by its author. After all, the book is typical MacArthur. Hard-hitting. Pulled no punches. Asked the hard questions. And… not surprisingly... [drum roll]  anti-charismatic theology. Thus, because of that, it appears there are those who chose not to read it at all. There are others who decided against reading the book based on negative reviews about it. 

Yet, I believe people from both cessationist and continuationist camps should read it. [3] It may not fully convince a person who speaks in tongues that the gift has ceased already, for example. But, I pray that after reading it, that person would see that he cannot afford to support or even just stay neutral regarding the Word Faith movement. That movement is known as the “health and wealth” or the prosperity gospel.

MacArthur devoted a chapter on prosperity preacher Toufik Benedictus "Benny" Hinn. MacArthur wrote, "[A] simple comparison between the biblical gift and Benny Hinn's elaborate production exposes the latter for what it really is: a scam." (Strange Fire, 161) Image credit
One oft-repeated accusation lodged against Strange Fire is that MacArthur gave a blanket condemnation not only against prosperity preachers but also pentecostals and charismatics. That reportedly he called them unbelievers. (Now, I haven’t seen the Strange Fire conference videos. Instead, I only read the book and, if I may add, I read it from cover to cover.) What MacArthur actually wrote is this: “I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I regard as brothers in Christ and friends in the ministry all who are faithful fellow workmen in the Word and the gospel, even if they give a place of legitimacy to the charismatic experience.” [4] He even noted that “many evangelical continuationists have courageously condemned certain aspects of that movement they recognize to be in direct contradiction to the Word of God, including the outrageous claims of the prosperity gospel.” [5] However, he felt it’s not enough. “I believe the continuationist position exposes the evangelical church to continuous danger from the charismatic mutation.” [6] 

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Thus, while maintaining that there are pentecostal and charismatic believers, MacArthur practically blamed them for the Word Faith movement. 
In recent history, no other movement has done more to damage the cause of the gospel, to distort the truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine. Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers. It has warped genuine worship through unbridled emotionalism, polluted prayer with private gibberish, contaminated true spirituality with unbiblical mysticism, and corrupted faith by turning it into a creative force for speaking worldly desires into existence. By elevating the authority of experience over the authority of Scripture, the Charismatic Movement has destroyed the church’s immune system—uncritically granting free access to every imaginable form of heretical teaching and practice. [7]
Obviously, that did not sit well with the pentecostals and the charismatics. Therefore, I see that this seeming “guilt by association” have turned people who really need to read the book off and, as a result, they trained their guns towards MacArthur instead of aiming them towards the prosperity preachers. I believe that instead of rejecting Strange Fire altogether, it would be much better if those who feel burned by it would weigh its arguments instead and see if there’s any merit to it at all. 

Weight and see. Image credit

Not all who criticize the Word Faith movement agree with MacArthur. They don’t see the connection that MacArthur saw between that movement and pentecostalism. In his “Christianity in Crisis 21st Century,” Hank Hanegraaff wrote, “It would be a grave error to equate the Faith movement with the charismatic movement.” [8] However, like MacArthur, he also sounded the alarm against the prosperity preachers. “It is indeed a travesty that the Faith teachers have been able to cleverly disguise themselves as charismatics, thereby tarnishing the reputation of a legitimate movement within Christianity.” [9] Like MacArthur, Hanegraaff hopes that what he wrote would “forever [settle] whatever questions you may have about the true nature of the movement and where it fits on the Christian spectrum. The answer is: it doesn’t.” [10] He added in the same breath
The Faith movement is every bit as cultic as the teachings of the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Science. And as such, it is not worthy of Christian support. … I want to cogently communicate that the Faith movement does not represent the historic Christian faith. [11]
It appears that the cessationists and the continuationists have a common enemy. And instead of fighting against each other, we are to fight together. 

MacArthur might be accused of throwing the baby with the bathwater. However, I encourage pentecostals and charismatics to still read Strange Fire and decide for themselves. For if they won’t do so just because of what others wrote against the book, they might be equally in danger of drowning the baby in the bathwater.

Read Part 2 | Part 3

[1] Sid S. Buzzell, “Proverbs” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, Ed. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, 1985), 945.

[2] MacArthur, John. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013. 

[3] Cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts such as tongues, prophecies, miracles have already ceased when the apostles died or when the Bible was already completed. Continuationists, on the other hand, believe that they still in operation until today.

[4] MacArthur, 231.

[5] Ibid, 232. 

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, xv-xvi. 

[8] Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 13.

[9] Ibid, 13.

[10] Ibid, xix. 

[11] Ibid, xix-xx.


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