Strange Fire: Beyond the Hype and the Hysteria (Part 2)

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Critics of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire feel that he focused on the dot instead of the paper. (When there’s a dot in the center of a white paper, people tend to see the former instead of the latter.) 

They claim that the Word Faith movement that he lambasted does not in any way represent the mainline pentecostals. They question him for citing an extreme example and make it represent the entire charismatic movement. 

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MacArthur explained why he believes there is really a link between the two.
Some might argue, however, that such heretical elements represent only the lunatic fringe of an otherwise orthodox movement. More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teacher—with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos—constitute the public face of Christianity. And they propagate their lies in the Holy Spirit’s name. [1]
What is suspect has become the staple. As far as the viewing public is concerned, there is no dot. There is only the paper.

One of the memes regarding televangelists. "For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teacher—with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos—constitute the public face of Christianity." (Strange Fire, 13.) Image credit

Plus, according to Strange Fire, the pentecostals opened the floodgates for the prosperity gospel because they interpreted Scriptures with their experiences.
But how has such blatant heresy managed to not survive bur flourish in charismatic circles? The answer points to a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes it home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it. [2]
Even Dr. Gordon Fee, “one of the foremost Bible scholars today” [3] and a Pentecostal himself, admitted that “[i]n a sense, the Pentecostal tends to exegete his or her experience.” Fee added,
[T]he Pentecostals did not look to the text for the origination of a theology, but for the biblical/theological verification of their experience”. [4] 
They were in search of something, and found it. This is not quite the same thing as simply reading texts and coming to the conclusion that it clearly teaches that this is the norm of Christian experience. [5]
Simply put, they experienced something and then they sought to find support for it in the Scripture. It’s more of reading the experience into the Bible (eisegesis) rather than drawing the meaning out of it (exegesis). But, instead of interpreting the Bible with their experiences, they should have interpreted their experience with the Bible.

Are you reading your experience into the Bible (eisegesis) or out of it (exegesis)? Interpret your experience with the Scriptures. Don't interpret Scriptures with your experience. Image credit

Whenever I challenge a charismatic person to check whether his experience is taught in the Bible or not, one of the retorts I usually get was, “Basta kami naranasan namin.” (“We experienced it!”) In short, one must first experience something before questioning it. But arguing from experience is dangerous. In medical journals as well as TV commercials, though testimonials get our attention, they are not that reliable. One person’s experience may not necessarily be another person’s experience.

We can't interpret the Bible the way we want it to be interpreted. We have to let the Bible speak for itself. Image credit

In the Bible, other than failed prophecies, a prophet was labeled false when what he taught went against the Word of God even if his prophecy came to pass or he did signs and wonders.
Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, “Come, let us worship other gods”—gods you have not known before—do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-4, NLT)
Remember, “maaaring totoo ngang naranasan mo. Pero hindi nangangahulugang totoo ang naranasan mo.” (“It may be true that you experienced it. But it does not mean that what you experienced is true.”) It is wrong to assume that a religious experience validates itself or gives credence to an argument. In other words, experience is neither a valid test of truth nor a basis for faith. The Bible is. And having those experiences does not warrant twisting verses out of context to accommodate them.

If your experience does not measure up to—or worst, clashes with—the Word of God, it is not of God.

Experience is neither a valid test of truth nor a basis for faith. The Bible is. Image credit

Read Part 1 | Part 3

[1] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 12-13. Italics his. 

[2] Ibid, 16. Italics his.

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

[4] Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 86. Italics his. 

[5] Ibid, 86-87, note 11.


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