Dr. Michael Brown,
I have been a follower of you for several years now, ever since my wife worked at a Jewish High School in California while I was in seminary and I got several volumes of your fantastic books on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Those were extremely helpful volumes for dealing with Jewish apologetics, and I have yet to acquire (though I look forward to reading) your book A Queer Thing Happened to America. You’ve been an exemplary and outspoken defender of Christianity against the absolute onslaught against Christianity by the pro-homosexual movement, and I applaud you for your vast and possibly unmatched efforts in that field.
Beyond that, I’ve admired your interactions with James White when you two have debated the issue of Calvinism/Arminianism and though I would definitely disagree with you on an exegetical level, I find you to be one of the most gracious and articulate defenders of Arminianism today. In the world in which I travel, most repulsion to Calvinism comes from knee jerk and vitriolic reactions stemming from foundational misunderstandings that offer little beyond blind repetition of John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, with insinuations that Calvinists are blind to (or mentally incompetent to grasp) the plain and obvious teaching of scripture. I find it highly encouraging that you are such a good example of “brotherly disagreement” with White; displaying how passionate and deep disagreement can exist in a spirit of honest respect and affectionate camaraderie in the Lord.
It is in the context of only knowing you as a competent scholar, thinker and gracious gentleman that I find your article on Charisma news so utterly confusing. It seems that you’re either really misunderstanding MacArthur, or have a personal stake in his response to the excesses of the Charismatic movement that is generating a blind spot in your thinking. I’d like to interact with your article in an orderly fashion if I may (my interactions are indented in italics):
1. In your first two paragraphs, you address a quote made at the Shepherd’s conference where MacArthur said that the charismatic movement “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan” and then you make the logical assumption that MacArthur then is insinuating that many of the leaders in the charismatic movement are unregenerate. You close off saying that if these charges aren’t true, “Pastor MacArthur has seriously overstepped his bounds and misused the Word of God”.
Now I clearly don’t speak for MacArthur, but I’d suggest several things. I’d suggest that being wrong and being unregenerate aren’t the same (there’s a confusion about legitimate works of the Spirit, but not necessarily intentional deceit). I’d suggest that MacArthur is aiming his charge at the leaders of the charismatic movement who are seen as influential due to the roles and influence given them by charismatic media outlets like TBN or Charisma magazine (and the influential leaders are around 0.1% of the movement). I’d suggest that the people MacArthur is going after would be those associated with biblically unfounded theology and behaviour like Paul & Jan Crouch, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Mike Bickle, Cindy Jacobs, C. Peter Wagner, Brian Houston, Ken & Gloria Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, John Whimber, John Arnott, Fredrick Price, Rick Joyner, Todd Bentley, Joyce Meyer, Rodney Howard-Browne, Bill Johnson, Rienhard Bonke, Jack Deere, Juanita Bynum, etc. I’d suggest that MacArthur is clearly not going after generally level-headed Charismatics (people that he openly associates with) like John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Josh Harris, Wayne Grudem, Matt Chandler, Don Carson, John Neufeld, etc. The former list is far longer than the latter for the simple reason; there is an excessive amount of people running around in the charismatic movement acting bizarre and making unbiblical claims (hence the Strange Fire conference).
2. You followed that by asking if John, in his efforts to rightly condemn the “strange fire” is missing out on the “true fire” around the world, and claiming that “tens of millions of souls” have been saved by people in the charismatic movement, thereby somehow providing authentication to the theology of the movement on the whole.
I’d suggest that MacArthur, as much as anyone on the planet, is highly informed as to what’s going on around the world. Grace Community Church has their own missions agency with dozens of people in dozens of countries, and The Masters Academy International runs seminaries in 18 countries, having trained thousands of foreign nationals to be competent local pastors. The question isn’t whether the Holy Spirit is doing something around the world; the question is “what does a move of the Holy Spirit look like?”, and most in the charismatic movement simply assume that all claims regarding a movement of the Spirit are legitimate. I dare suggest that one does not “prove” that the Holy Spirit is doing something via a personal claim of authenticity or unverified rumors regarding claims of mass numbers of people responding to a gospel message; neither of those is a reliable or biblical test of authenticity. I’m sure you’ll agree that we would both celebrate the salvation of souls, but “proof” involves a little more than finding out if people are claiming to make decisions for the Lord.
3. You then complimented Macarthur and moved on to suggest that MacArthur is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. You said “The fact is that there has never been a true outpouring of the Spirit that has not been controversial, be it in the ministry of Jesus, at Pentecost in Acts 2 or throughout church history, right up to our day. Yet all too often, sincere leaders like Pastor MacArthur have failed to discern what God was doing in the midst of the human emotion and response.”
Interesting how you do the very thing you condemn MacArthur of doing. It seems to me that you’re highly offended that MacArthur makes insinuations that many leaders in the charismatic movement are unregenerate and then you make that very same insinuation about MacArthur. I mean honestly, were the people who doubted the unquestionable ministry of Jesus or the apostles/early church believers? Not for a second. It was the Pharisees, Sadducees, and unregenerate religious leaders/elite who were the main opponents of Jesus and the apostles/early church. They opposed the unquestionable ministry of Jesus and the apostle/early church because they were unregenerate and hated the work of God (i.e. John 9 or Acts 5). So why does MacArthur oppose it? Are you making some sort of parallel between MacArthur and the unregenerate Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day? Isn’t that a fairly straightforward insinuation that MacArthur is unregenerate, like all those Pharisees who opposed (and persecuted/murdered) Christ and his apostles?
4. You then make the strange parallel between Charles Chauncey and Jonathan Edwards, suggesting that “Edwards focused on the wheat while Chauncey focused on the chaff” and ask if MacArthur is doing the same thing.
Dr. Brown, let me get this straight. Are you honestly suggesting that in a comparison to Edwards and Chauncey, Cindy Jacobs (or any of the other aforementioned questionable charismatics) would be Jonathan Edwards, the careful scholar of scripture, who is focusing on all the positive coming from the charismatic movement and John MacArthur would be Charles Chauncey, the liberal universalist father of American Unitarianism who is simply focusing on the negative coming from the charismatic movement? Call me crazy, but I’d suggest that your illustration is highly questionable, if not downright outrageous.
5. You then asked “if a pastor is shepherding his flock and feeding them God’s Word and his people are not guilty of these abuses or watching these TV preachers, why is it his responsibility to address these errors?”
Well, no. I don’t believe for a second that MacArthur is calling on the level-headed charismatics to become the “heresy police” of every self-labelled charismatic in the country. I’d suggest that he’s calling on those influential people in the movement who are silent to speak up, separate themselves from the religious circus in their midst, and no longer provide a safe haven for false teachers within their circles. I’m guessing that he’s calling on influential and level-headed charismatics to openly distance themselves from charismatic false teachers instead of going to their conferences to somehow try to redeem them. I’m guessing that he’s calling on influential and level-headed charismatic leaders to stop assuming that there’s always a baby in the bathwater and to stop giving false teachers a safe haven to spread the delusions from their own warped imaginations.
And as for why MacArthur is the one speaking up about it, I’d simply suggest that he gets a tsunami of questions on the issue from around the world and tens of thousands of people have asked him to address the issue. After all, his church is within easy driving distance from several gigantic charismatic churches that provide a steady stream of discouraged ex-charismatics out searching for a church of theological substance. This is an ever present question for him; Grace Community Church has hundred of local ex-Charismatics that attend there who have thousands of friends still attending many local charismatic churches.
6. You followed that up with this astonishing comment: ” And which is worse? To preach a carnal prosperity message or to give people false assurance that, once they are saved, no matter how they live, no matter what they do, even if they renounce Jesus, they are still saved?”
Honestly, I was shocked to read this. Are you so consumed with your hatred of Calvinism that you are compelled to take a cheap shot at MacArthur like this? Dr Brown, which is worse? The prosperity gospel is a false gospel; the prosperity gospel is worse; far worse…unless you’d dare suggest that Calvinism an equally false Gospel too? You’re not possibly placing someone like John MacArthur on the false teacher scale at the same level of Benny Hinn, are you?
MacArthur doesn’t teach anything as absurd as “once saved always saved…so don’t worry about sin!”. In fact, I challenge you to demonstrate where MacArthur has ever suggested that true believers can live in sin, or that true believers should take any sort of soft approach to sin. I challenge you to show where MacArthur has ever suggested that any true believer could renounce Christ. For having a book on homosexuality with so many footnotes, I’d sure appreciate some citations to back up this unfathomable insinuation. For having spent so much time talking with James White and debating these issues, it sure appears that you weren’t paying much attention when he was speaking.
7. You ask why MacArthur rejects the prosperity gospel and embraces Calvinism, insinuating some sort of double standard.
That’s easy. MacArthur is convinced by his comprehensive teaching through the entire New Testament (and writing commentaries on almost every NT book) that the prosperity gospel isn’t in the New Testament and Calvinism is. Like everything he says, he gets there because the Bible drags him there. Most of us Calvinists get there the same way; exegesis and the illumination of the Spirit (which would be part of that “true fire” you’re asking about).
8. You also included this rather confusing series of statements:
” And he is quite wrong when he states, ‘Its theology is bad. It is unbiblical. It is bad. It is aberrant. It is destructive to people because it promises what it can’t deliver, and then God gets blamed when it doesn’t come. It is a very destructive movement.’
In reality, more people have been saved—wonderfully saved—as a result of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement worldwide than through any other movement in church history…”
Maybe I’m not following your argument, but it sure seems like you’re suggesting that the validation of biblical theology is whether or not people “get saved” in response to it. I thought that the validation of biblical theology is whether or not it comes from, and corresponds to, the text of the Bible? You know as well as I do that a public profession of faith means very little with regards to whether or not someone is an authentic follower of Christ, and public professions of faith don’t validate the truth of any movement.
Secondly, how in the world do you know how many people have made authentic professions of faith in response to charismatic theology/gospel proclamation in the first place? I was once on staff at a charismatic church and I was part of a ministry where hundreds of people “got saved”. Now, a decade and a bit later, when I look at the church and follow those people on Facebook, I can maybe count a handful that actually have any sort of lasting spiritual fruit in their lives, and some of the pastors that I worked with aren’t in the church, let alone ministry, anymore. Beyond that, I thought that Arminians don’t know who the elect are, so how do you seem to know who are the true believers?
9. You close off suggesting that MacArthur is denying the “true fire”.
What exactly are we talking about? What movement? Reinhard Bonke’s so-called evangelism where he claims to have lead 2.7% of the continent of Africa to the Lord…uh, via the prosperity gospel? Or David Yonggi Cho’s million member church in Korea that’s also a prosperity gospel church? Or Rolland and Heidi Baker who was part of the absurd Toronto Blessing (more prosperity gospel) and now is working in Mozambique and claims to have lead 4% of the entire country to the Lord (and raised 400+ people from the dead)? What are we talking about? What “true fire”?
As I’ve said, I’m no more a spokesman for MacArthur than I am for you, but I’d defend both of you gladly if you were being attacked unjustly and consider both of you instrumental in my spiritual development. As I said, in reading your article on the Charisma website, I was actually shocked and dismayed that someone I respect and have recommended openly to many friends came out with a piece of writing so uncharacteristic of what I’ve come to expect of him.
I mean no disrespect, but I honestly think you’re guilty of many of the charges you lay against MacArthur and hope only to urge you to offer a little more grace and a little less heinous insinuation against a person who is following the binding of conscience informed by the careful exegesis of scripture. I’d suggest that you have overstepped your bounds here and possibly might want to either provide a little support to your accusations or maybe turn down the rhetoric in the future. I know that toes have been stepped on, but sore toes aren’t an excuse for wild tongues, correct?
Longing for the day that all debate ceases in the presence of the Lord,