It has been a long week filled with in-fighting among Calvinist of various stripes. Lines are being drawn in the sand, but I’m not sure what color. There is much about this that disturbs me, and should disturb everyone involved.
Strange Fire is not John MacArthur’s book on Charismatic Theology. I have not read this particular go round. I did read his earlier book, Charismatic Chaos and some of his study materials on 1 Corinthians that touch on the issue. I was a young Christian who had both Charismatic and non-Charismatic friends (and still do).
At the time, I found some of what I learned in the 1 Corinthians study to be helpful. Some of that was undone with Charismatic Chaos. What I found in that book was disturbing to me. Among the things I read was the suggestion that my friends were being influenced by evil spirits. While I am still not convinced in what is normally called “speaking in tongues” is what happened in the Scripture or produced by the Spirit, I’m just not comfortable going there. That seems, to me, to be an unwarranted leap of logic.
The second thing that really put me off was the use of Straw Men in his argumentation. I doubt the average Charismatic would say that John MacArthur understands his position on this issue.
With his new book and conference, MacArthur has claimed that this book is not about most Charismatics. It does not apply to men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It might apply to Mark Driscoll, especially after his stunt. He says he’s going after the extremists, particularly the Word of Faith movement. But in his closing arguments, he said it really wasn’t about the extremists, and that he thinks most Charismatics are not Christians (and he’s not just talking about Oneness Pentecostals). Getting confused? Me too.
Part of the problem is that he confuses their continuationist theology with their prosperity gospel, Roman Catholicism or modalism. He fails to distinguish these theological errors from the continuationist theology they also hold. They are separate matters. In other words being charismatic does not mean that you hold to either the prosperity gospel, modalism, and Roman Catholicism. The prosperity gospel is found among some Charismatics. Neither modalism nor Roman Catholicism lead to being Charismatic. He is confusing correlation with causation as they say in statistics. He therefore does us a disservice.
Another problem is that he writes polemical theology. He tends to writing critical books instead of books that affirm positions. Not all of his books are that way, but many of them are. The problem with polemical theology is that you tend to move toward a more extreme position. As a result, the Charismatics I know get tossed under the Word of Faith and Oneness Pentecostal bus even though they don’t belong there. How he argues his points is part of the problem.
I have not heard the audio to the conference yet. Maybe I won’t. I do trust many of the speakers to be fair and balanced while arguing for their view of cessationism. Some are not known to me. MacArthur himself has a history of making outlandish statements (like this). So while I would generally call myself a cessationist, I don’t like how he goes about defending it and don’t agree with all of his conclusions.
I’ve appreciated much of Mark Driscoll’s ministry in the past. There have been things I haven’t appreciated and thought lacked wisdom. He is one of the Charismatic Calvinists that probably does drive John crazy with tales of visions and dreams. While Mark characterizes his views as “Charismatic with a seat belt” many people think he doesn’t use it often.
His newest book, Call to Resurgence, contains a chapter that could have been written by John MacArthur. I found it laden with Straw Man arguments from the beginning. I’m not sure what “Reformed” churches he’s thinking about, but the ones I’ve pastored and attended have talked about the Spirit often. Hard not to when you preach expositionally! I’m sure the references to the Spirit in our liturgy yesterday was in double digits. We have not replaced the Spirit with Scripture. Like Calvin I continually tell my people to keep Word and Spirit together. The Spirit speaks thru the Word, and we only understand the Word properly thru the illumination of the Spirit.
This is the book that Driscoll was trying to hand out to people outside the conference sight. It was a foolish stunt, in my book. It just seemed to toss some gas on the fire. Ironically he was in town for his Act Like Men conference. I don’t think this qualifies.
I think conservative continuationists and cessationists have a very hard talking to one another. We tend to talk past one another. This is obvious to me as I witness on line debates. Sometimes we used the same word in a different sense. There is some sloppy thinking and speaking in this whole thing.
One word that is problematic is revelation. For the cessationist there is Special and General Revelation. Both are for everyone. Anyone can see General Revelation as they gaze upon Creation. Anyone who picks up a Bible in a language they can read has access to Special Revelation.
Charismatics often talk about a 3rd category and greatly confuse the average cessationist. We see a type of revelation in Scripture that is person specific. God didn’t tell every Christian to go to Macedonia, just Paul and Silas’ ministry team. The Bible is not tossed into the trash, nor added to, if God conveys person specific information or instruction. We Presbyterians often talk about an inward call to ministry. What do we mean by that? We think God conveyed information to us about our particular calling. We hold to some type of personal revelation though we are uncomfortable with the term, and often the process.
Wayne Grudem, for instance, often tries but apparently fails, to use language most Calvinistic cessationists would get. Much of what he talks about is the Spirit bring Scripture to mind that is particularly suited for the need of the moment. In one of his debates, with Gaffin I think, he brings up material from people like Spurgeon, Rutherford and others to show that the Spirit is active revealing information to people. It would be nice if we could sit them down and talk about it. It seems to me that these experiences fit into that 3rd category I mentioned.
I also see people failing to recognize the difference between ordinary and extraordinary circumstances and means. Saving faith, for instance, is ordinarily produced by the Spirit thru the ministry of the Word. In ordinary circumstances that is what ordinarily happens. The Westminster Confession would appear to recognize extraordinary circumstances that prohibit the use of ordinary means. Some cessationists act like there is no such thing as an extraordinary set of circumstances. For instance, no access to the ministry of the Word because you are in a Communist or Islamic nation would be extraordinary. God is free to use extraordinary means to at least get a person to the ordinary means.
I’ve also seen a number of straw man arguments used by continuationist that reveal they don’t understand the cessationist position (or at least my understanding of it). Few cessationist say that God doesn’t heal people today. They just say it is usually thru ordinary means. He may use extraordinary means (aka miracles) but they are uncommon. While God may miraculously heal, no one has the “gift of healing” as the Apostles did. The sign gifts which authenticated the ministry and message of the Apostles no longer have Apostles to authenticate. Certain gifts have ceased. This does not rule out extraordinary experiences. It just says there are no Apostles, or anyone else, running around with the sign gifts.
I wish we would all slow down and breath deep. We would do well to heed the words of James 1.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
We need to carefully listen to the other side. What are they saying, and not saying. Stop putting words into their mouths. Stop trying to insert yourself with speech. Know that getting angry isn’t going to produce the kind of conversation that will accomplish God’s purposes. Identify where you actually agree and disagree. Leave your straw man arguments at the door and seek to truly understand the other position.
Then we might be able to lovingly discuss this between brothers. If you are talking with someone who denies basic, core doctrines (like the Trinity) you can discover that soon enough and address that particular issue. Remove that from the issue of continuation/cessation because they are not connected. Those are far more important then the issue of continuation/cessation.
Brothers, can we leave behind the inflammatory language, Straw Man arguments and stupid stunts? Please.