So Adrian Warnock has weighed in on the whole Strange Fire issue, but I’ve been repeatedly asked to respond to a Canadian continuationist/charismatic blogger who has weighed in on the issue. Aaron Armstrong, over at Blogging Theologically, has written this post. Feel free to read the post and then the thoughts that I’ve shared with those who have requested a response are below:
1. He’s one of the select few Charismatics that I’ve seen willing to call the prosperity gospel peddlers false teachers. That’s good to see, and I’m constantly wondering why so many are unwilling to cross that line. I definitely applaud him for having a theological spine.
2. Aaron Armstrong wants MacArthur to “Be as clear about who is being addressed.” I’d suggest that he’s doing that, but not in the way that most people want. Most people want MacArthur to say “now I’m only talking about…” and try as hard as possible to be charitable to Charismatics and not label them, while resorting to only naming the most outlandish examples of what he’s talking about.
I know MacArthur well enough to know that’s not at all how he approaches things like this.
His approach is “here’s what the scripture says and here’s the categories of the Bible; where do you fit in there?“.
MacArthur, as always, wants to do his best to let the scriptures frame the nature and scope of the issue and then allow people, hopefully by an accurate representation of their positions, to be placed in biblical categories (by themselves if at all possible). The Bible establishes the categories, not us, and whether a person crosses the categorical lines by an inch or a mile, the biblical standards don’t change.
3. Aaron Armstrong is simply wrong in his second point about charity. He wrote “We do our brothers and sisters in Christ a disservice when we lump them in with those who hold to erroneous beliefs (that that goes for whatever side of the fence you sit on). Instead, we ought to celebrate those who are faithfully following and proclaiming Jesus in whatever movement they’re a part of, even as we challenge one another to dig more deeply into the so-called secondary issues, and be incredibly cautious about crying heresy. ”
– We don’t assume that anyone is a brother or sister in the Lord until proven otherwise.
– We don’t celebrate someone’s faithfulness on one hand and faithlessness on another.
– We don’t allow for horrid heresy in one hand as long as there’s some orthodoxy in the other hand.
– We don’t simply expect leaders and pastors to proclaim Jesus. That’s theological reductio ad absurdum.
– We don’t separate the bible into primary and secondary issues (None of the apostle or Jesus did.)
We proclaim the gospel and the word of God, as best as we know, and call people to come into conformity with the word of God.
We call erring brothers to repent and change.
We call people who peddle falsehood to repent and change.
We have biblical expectations for people who hold biblical offices, and the whole “just focus on Jesus” movement is just a cover for lazy “theologians” having no biblical understanding of whatever issue it is that they’re unclear about (and don’t want to bother hammering through until they actually arrive at a conviction). If we really focused on Jesus, then in following his example we should focus on what he focused on, right? What did he speak about the most? The Kingdom, finances, sin & judgment, and eschatology. Those five topics compose around 4/5 of his teaching. How many guys who “just focus on Jesus” ever talk about any of those things, let alone make them a majority component of their teaching ministry?
The whole primary and secondary doctrine idea is equally lazy. Instead of primary and secondary, why don’t we just learn and add to our convictions as we become clear about what we were previously ignorant about? We need to teach and proclaim the whole Bible, and as we learn about the topics of which we were previously ignorant, our doctrinal statements grow and we change our thinking and framework to embrace the teaching of the Scripture. The older you get and the more you teach, the longer your personal statement of faith should become. A majority of the “Let’s focus on Jesus” crowd seem to be doing the opposite; the older guys seem to have standing convictions about fewer and fewer things. Now we have evangelical celebrity pastors calling something a “secondary doctrine” where a few centuries ago, people were dying for it.
That’s absolutely shameful.
4. He suspects that the true problem is a lack of definition of “evangelical”?
Talk about barking up the wrong tree. The whole evangelical movement is over as the term has lost all meaning. Let’s simply abandon the term (since it’s 1 word with 100 definitions) and read on…
5. He closes up with writing “So many of our conflicts boil down to talking past one another because we don’t know what we agree on.“
Really? We don’t agree on the Bible being the word of God? I think we can all agree there. That seems like a solid starting point. We all believe that the Bible is God’s word, right?
Good. Case closed, right?
The real problem is that none of us agree with what the Bible says about the issue, and that’s a very basic problem of interpretation. The fount of the Charismatic issue has always been a question of the authority of scripture and it’s proper interpretation….and a foundational disbelief in the inspiration of scripture.
Ever heard someone say “you have your verses and I have mine” on an issue of debate?
Ever heard someone toss up their hands and say “well, Godly men disagree” on an issue of debate?
Those two lines betray a disbelief (in practice) in the inspiration of scripture.
That whole line of argumentation assumes that the Bible actually presents two legitimate and equal opinions on a given topic, which makes the subtle insinuation that God has revealed opposite and contrary things about a topic. The Bible cannot rightly reveal mutually exclusive truths (i.e. certain spiritual gifts continue vs. certain spiritual gifts do not continue) without God speaking in contradiction of himself in the scripture.
If the scripture is inspired, the scripture has a single author who is completely unified with himself on all things that he reveals.
If the scripture is inspired, the scripture has a single message that is completely unified within itself on all topics and content therein.
That means that all questions of debate boil down to the errors of the debater, and all questions of interpretation boil down to the errors of the interpreter. The cessationist can be wrong and/or the charismatic can be wrong, but they cannot both be right; one of them (or both) is misinterpreting scripture…and I’d suggest rather strongly that it’s the folks who tend to downplay the scriptures in the first place…like this Charismatic fellow who has sold a few million books (read the 3 page introduction on the reader and look at how he describes the Bible. Do you think a guy like that lets the scripture interpret his experience or the other way around?).
Just some quick thoughts.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Real God Chaser” Unger