(Disclaimer – I wrote this in a hurry and it’s a first draft. Typos will be corrected tomorrow)
Well, tomorrow marks the beginning of the Strange Fire Conference, and the beginning of the internet doubling in size. Why do I say that? I anticipate that there will be no shortage of blog rants, flame posts, and outright slander and malice in response to what’s going to be said at the conference. There’s been a bunch of back an forth between the Charismatic and Cessationist crowds, but that all is nothing compared to what’s going to flood the internet in about 24 hours (and just to make myself more sympathetic in this post, I’m currently listening to this while I write.)
So Dr. Michael Brown is doing preemptive damage control, again. He’s written a “final call” post on the Charisma website, calling MacArthur to change his tune on the Charismatic issue.
(For those of you that don’t understand big church politics, let’s just say that issuing a call for dialogue or repentance on the eve of a conference is simply posturing, not an authentic appeal. I’m not part of big churches anymore, but when I was on staff at Grace Community Church, I saw it multiple times. The day before a conference where some large evangelical leader was scared of having his name associated with something negative, they’d dish out an emergency call for dialogue, or repentance, or whatever…that way, they could point back at it and say “well, I tried”. I’m just laughing. It’s not like MacArthur hasn’t been outspoken on this issue since at least the 2012 Shepherd’s conference, and he’s been in print on the issue since a few years after Dr. Michael Brown got saved in the 1970’s. It’s not like Dr. Brown hasn’t had any opportunity to pursue this issue before.)
Anyway, I’m going to respond to Dr. Brown, and after interacting with him at length several times both on this blog and in direct personal correspondence, I’m actually surprised at how rhetorically irresponsible the article is. Let’s look at the article and as always, I’ll post my comments in italics and with indentation.
1. Dr. Michael Brown opens the article with this: “As I write these words, the Holy Spirit is moving mightily around the earth, saving lost sinners, bringing rebels to repentance, healing sick bodies, setting captives free and, above all, glorifying the name of Jesus. According to pastor John MacArthur, however, this is actually ‘a farce and a scam.’”
Wait a minute. He said that the Spirit is (1) saving sinners, (2) bringing rebels to repentance, (3) healing sick bodies, (4) setting captives free, and (5) glorifying the name of Jesus. Apparently MacArthur things that none of these things are happening?
Give me a break.
Does anyone think that MacArthur would deny that the Holy Spirit saves sinners, even in the fringe Charismatic churches?
Does anyone think that MacArthur would deny that the Holy Spirit is glorifying the name of Jesus, even in the fringe Charismatic churches?
Does anyone think that MacArthur would deny that the Holy Spirit is healing sick bodies, even in the fringe Charismatic churches?
Dr. Michael Brown tosses in the quote “a farce and a scam” as if MacArthur would deny those things. MacArthur would agree with every point, but he would certainly define those phrases far differently that Brown. This is called “rhetorically stacking the deck”.
2. Dr. Michael Brown then continues with the following paragraph: “In his new book Strange Fire, he claims that this work of the Spirit actually represents ‘the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity,’ and he calls for a ‘collective war’ against these alleged ‘pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God.'”
So he continues on, referring to his previous paragraph, saying “this work of the Spirit”. Remember that he said that “this work of the Spirit” was (1) saving sinners, (2) bringing rebels to repentance, (3) healing sick bodies, (4) setting captives free, and (5) glorifying the name of Jesus. So Dr. Michael Brown says that those five things represent the explosive growth of a false church?
Again, it’s clearly and obviously evident that Dr. Brown is attempting to manipulate his readers into agreeing with him by basically making the Charismatic movement synonymous with “mere Christianity” and placing MacArthur in opposition to things as basic as people getting saved.
Notice how Dr. Brown, not MacArthur, defines MacArthur’s terms in his quotes. Why doesn’t Dr. Brown not quote MacArthur in providing his own definitions of what he’s calling “false”?
I’d expect a whole lot more from such a deservingly celebrated and competent scholar.
3. Dr. Brown then goes on and comments on what a tragic error MacArthur is making, how he’s spent months trying to get a face-to-face meeting with MacArthur (to no avail), and then comments on the book Strange Fire and gives a couple of quotes from the book about how “The ‘Holy Spirit’ found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practice bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture” and how some leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagat[ing] his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.” Dr. Brown then says “I have worked side by side with some of these fine men and women myself, precious saints who have risked their lives for the name of Jesus, giving themselves sacrificially to touch a hurting and dying world with the gospel, literally shedding their blood rather than compromise their testimonies—yet an internationally recognized pastor calls many of them ‘Satan’s false teachers … spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.’”
Well, yeah. The Holy Spirit that is manifesting in a rather large majority of the Charismatic Movement doesn’t sound anything like the Holy Spirit as he’s described in the Bible, doesn’t act anything like the Holy Spirit as he’s described in the Bible and doesn’t promote the same things that are promoted by the Holy Spirit as he’s described in the Bible.
The examples of this whole thing are absolutely legion, one of the most striking ones is the Brownsville Revival…which I think Dr. Brown is familiar with. It lasted 5 years, produced a bunch of documented false prophecies, ended up in Steve Hill and John Kilpatrick taking off for greener pastures, Michael Brown getting fired, the church being left in $11 million of debt, thousands of people abandoning the church, Tommy Tenney (you know, Mr. “I hate the Bible”?) taking over their school of ministry and a bunch of the staff (you know, the people on the inside who saw the inner workings) abandoning the church altogether. I’d suggest reading this and this, and asking yourself “where in the New Testament is the authenticating fruit of a work of the Spirit simply people ‘getting saved’?” (Hint: read Mark 4:1-20 to see where I’m heading with this).
Also, many of the leaders in the charismatic movement are total charlatans. They’re not even wolves in sheep’s clothing; they’re wolves in goats clothing since they don’t even look like sheep in the first place. I’m thinking of all the word faith heretics, all the prosperity preachers, all the fraudulent faith healers, and all the false prophets (like Steve Hill of Brownsville Revival fame – I address him on this post at point 50c).
4. Dr. Brown then quotes MacArthur in saying that the movement ignores the truth of the Spirit, replaces him with a false replica/idol, and blasphemes him, which Dr. Brown then turns into an accusation that every Charismatic is damned to Hell.
I don’t even know where to start with this rhetorical slight of hand.
The movement isn’t represented, or even directed, by 99.8% of the people in the movement. The movement is represented and directed by the horde of goats who have infiltrated the flock; namely the large and influential leaders. People like Cindy Jacobs, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Jesse Duplaintis, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Rodney Howard Browne, C. Peter Wagner, Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Creflo Dollar, Steve Munsey, Joel Osteen, Tommy and Luke Barnett, Robert Morris, Jim Cobrae, Brian Houston, Al Furey, TD Jakes, Jentezen Franklin, Guillermo Maldonado, Glen Berteau, David T. Demola, Charles Nieman, Rick Joyner, Jack Hayford, Ricky Temple, John Crowder, Tommy Tenney, Ray McCauley, At Boshoff, David Oyedepo, Phil Pringle, Patricia King, Matt Ford, Todd Bentley, etc.
If every bad charismatic leader got together at Lakewood Church in Houston, they would maybe fill the 16,000 seat sanctuary. There’s a whole lot more people in the charismatic movement than that.
5. Dr. Brown then quotes MacArthur in saying “charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation; rather, it represents a deviant mutation of truth.” and then Dr. Brown writes “Aside from the sweeping inaccuracy of these charges—just a reading of one book, like Dr. Gordon Fee’s 992-page volume God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, demolishes his position”
I’ve been a pastor in Charismatic circles and I can count, on one hand, the number of charismatic pastors who knew who Gordon Fee was or had read anything he had written. What’s even more ironic is that I live in a suburb of Vancouver, BC, and Fee is a local! Fee isn’t exactly representative of the normal manifestation of the charismatic movement, seeing that he writes books like this. Beyond that, where exactly is Gordon Fee in the charismatic scene? I have a sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t exactly any “healing revival” at any of the conferences he regularly has spoken at in the last few years, like this one. He doesn’t speak at any charismatic events, and he’s mainly a scholar read by Pentellectuals like Dr. Brown. Beyond that, he’s written an article called “Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence” (Pneuma: 7:2, Fall 1985) where he attacks the doctrine of subsequence, something that his own denomination, the Assemblies of God, has as a distinctive belief. Fee is anything but a typical representative of the Charismatic movement (what, with his opposition to the beliefs of his own denomination with regards to speaking in tongues…which brings up a few other select questions as well…)
6. Dr. Brown then makes five rebuttals, the first of which is this:
“Pastor MacArthur draws attention to bizarre practices like “toking the Ghost” (as in “getting high on the Holy Ghost”) or barking like dogs, things I have never seen in 42 years in charismatic-Pentecostal circles around the world and, in reality, practices that are no more representative of charismatics than Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and his “God Hates Fags” signs are representative of Baptists.
Those reading MacArthur’s book, however, would come to the completely erroneous conclusion that such bizarre, virtually unheard-of practices were the norm.”
Well, I’d dare suggest that Dr. Brown is out of touch with his own movement (but seeing the sheer size of it, I can understand). The guy behind the “Toking the Ghost” movement (John Crowder) is coming to my home town, Abbotsford BC, on February 21st, 2014. As you can see from his calendar, he makes the rounds on planet earth. I’m actually thinking about going and videoing some of the toking that happens there. Coincidentally, apparently Dan Phillips has been aware of John Crowder for at least three years as well, and Brian Welch (ex-guitarist from Korn and one of the newer celebrity converts) sure seems to know who he is.
Also, I’m surprised that Dr. Brown has never apparently witnessed the barking and laughing stuff (like this or like this) since his own pastor at Brownsville spent some time in Toronto at Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (now called Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship). I also wonder if Dr. Brown was apparently never in the services at Brownsville? Watch this clip of Brownsville starting at 2:15 and see if that looks like a “bizarre practice” to you? I wonder if Dr. Brown would consider that a bizarre practice?
I don’t know about you, but I never thought of this as a manifestation of the Spirit.
7. Dr. Brown then makes his second of five rebuttals, which is this:
“Pastor MacArthur points to some of the shameful, inexcusable scandals that have taken place among charismatic leaders, using this as proof that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our midst. Aside from the fact that Paul knew better than to do with this the Corinthians—he recognized what the Spirit was doing while correcting their errors and fleshly sins—Pastor MacArthur fails to realize these scandals are connected to celebrity and pride more than charismatic doctrines and practices.
He also fails to realize that charismatic and Pentecostal leaders have addressed these issues for decades (until this day)—he wrongly claims that virtually no one dares to correct these abuses—and, more importantly, he downplays the many scandals that have plagued cessationist leaders as well. (There is even a website devoted to exposing Southern Baptist sexual predators.)”
Having not read the book and having no idea what the examples are, I would say that I hypothetically agree with Dr. Brown. Scandals aren’t proof that an entire movement is fraudulent, yes. When a majority of the leaders of a movement are embroiled in scandals, that makes one ask some serious questions (namely, “who exactly in this movement is authentic?” and “if a majority of the leaders are false teachers/frauds, what are the chances of the movement itself being fraudulent?”). Still, Brown is correct to point out that cessationist churches have scandals galore.
8. Dr. Brown then makes his third of five rebuttals, which is this:
“While attributing gross doctrinal error to charismatics—in a pre-conference video, pastor Steve Lawson claims the fundamental problem with charismatics is their lack of serious engagement with the Word—Pastor MacArthur himself is guilty of poor exegesis of the scriptural passages that point to the ongoing, miraculous work of the Spirit today.
He also ignores the fact that the great majority of those opposing his message on ‘lordship salvation’ are cessationists, many of them preaching a very loose ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine that Pastor MacArthur himself opposes.”
First, Dr. Brown gives no examples of the apparent “poor exegesis”, so that’s more or less a “yo mama” comment.
Secondly, I’ve read a whole lot of charismatic scholars, and popular authors, and they are by far the most consistent scripture twisters when it comes to exegetically supporting their position on tongues, healing, and prophecy (Case in point: Cindy Jacobs. Dr. Brown has defended her in the past, but would you defend her exegetical practices as evidenced in her Leviathan Spirit video?). I’m sure that after the conference, there will be no shortage of examples of one side twisting scripture and one side attempting consistent exegesis.
Third, the whole fact that many of those those who oppose lordship salvation are cessationists means absolutely nothing with regards to the truth of cessationism (and the relevance of stating that MacArthur “ignores” that fact escapes my entirely). At best, it suggests that cessationists can be inconsistent in their exegesis too.
9. Dr. Brown then makes his fourth of five rebuttals, which is this:
“In his own pre-conference video, Pastor MacArthur makes the absolutely false claim that 90 percent of charismatics worldwide are Word of Faith—it is actually a fairly small percentage, one which includes almost none of the major Pentecostal denominations. And so he mistakenly attributes an extreme prosperity doctrine to the vast majority of charismatics worldwide (meaning, the false belief that Jesus died to make us rich, as opposed to the true belief that God meets the needs of His people and blesses us to be a blessing to others).
Pastor MacArthur also takes the poorly chosen (or downright erroneous) words of a few Word of Faith leaders regarding the deity of Jesus and claims that this represents most (or all) charismatics. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Well, Dr. Brown apparently doesn’t understand the subject being addressed.
The word faith movement is the public face of Christianity, and Brown reveals his ignorance of the subject matter by conflating “word faith” with the “prosperity gospel”. The word faith movement (otherwise known as “positive confession” theology) is the teaching that words have creative power that are vessels to contain the substance called “faith”, and it’s categorically separate from the prosperity gospel, which is the teaching that the gospel includes the provision of prosperity which leads to financial abundance and/or physical health.
Joel Osteen is a word faith preacher, and a prosperity gospel preacher (something that I’ve documented here).
Steve Munsey is a word faith preacher and a prosperity gospel preacher (documented here).
Jentezen Franklin is a word faith preacher but not a prosperity preacher (documented here).
Glen Berteau and Denny Duron are word faith preachers and prosperity preachers (documented here).
Jack Hayford and Ricky Temple are word faith preachers but not prosperity gospel preachers (documented here).
David T. Demola and Charles Nieman are word faith preachers and prosperity preachers (documented here).
Paul & Jan Crouch (the guys who run TBN) are both, as are a whole bunch of the TBN stars. Most of the largest churches in Africa are one or both. Most of the largest churches in Asia are one or both.
The word faith/positive confession crowd is the global public face of Christianity. The only way Dr. Brown gets around that fact is by playing with definitions.
10. Dr. Brown then makes his fifth of five rebuttals, which is this:
“The subtitle of Pastor MacArthur’s book is “The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship,” yet it is the charismatic movement worldwide that is frequently the most devoted to worship, producing a steady flow of powerful new hymns and songs and hosting gatherings that last for hours or days, just devoted to worship and adoration of the Lord.
But because these gatherings are marked by biblically based displays of emotion and joy and passion, Pastor MacArthur writes them off as aberrant.”
“Counterfeit” is the key word. Dr. Brown rightly suggests that there are a whole lot of worship songs, worship bands and worship music coming out of the charismatic movement.
I doubt that MacArthur is talking about congregational singing, and the sheer presence of worship music doesn’t automatically mean it’s biblically authentic worship.
Even so, the music coming out of the charismatic movement is mostly tripe. Sure, the bands are skillful players and the production is first rate, but the content is often shallow and the theology is often sub-biblical or even theologically absurd. Consider this example; it sounds like 3/4 of the song is actually missing and the verse and chorus seem to be a cobbled-together collection of Christian cliches.
11. Dr. Brown then insinuates that since MacArthur doesn’t recognize what the Spirit is doing and since he isn’t joining the Spirit, we’ll likely lose the next generation and MacArthur will lose his voice to rebuke error and deception because he’ll offend his audience. Dr. Brown closes off by asking MacArthur to once again examine the scriptures, travel and see what the Lord is doing, talk to charismatic leaders, and then humble himself under God’s mighty hand.
Ah, the old scare tactics. If you don’t change your ways, you’ll destroy the work of God and we’ll lose the youth (*shudder* If I had a dime…). I wonder if Dr. Brown is familiar with The Resolved Conference? Nothing like 10,000 young people driving to California for a weekend of preaching and sound biblical teaching. That kinda stuff apparently lost the youth.
And MacArthur will lose his voice to rebuke error and deception? Well, not if he does what he’s always done and preaches and teaches the scriptures. He was instrumental in my escaping the theological bondage of the charismatic movement, and there’s a few dozen people at my church that have the same story. I’ve met hundreds of people who have similar stories as well, from multiple countries.
I would dare suggest that MacArthur has a lot more frequent flier miles that Dr. Brown (I remember when I was on staff at Grace Community Church, John MacArthur was speaking in 3 different countries in one week). He’s seen more than a little bit of what’s going on overseas.
Also, I’m well aware that he’s personally met and talked with a whole lot of charismatic leaders and personalities. I’ve heard some of the stories of him meeting people like some of the Kansas City Prophets, or Jack Hayford, and many other people. They didn’t exactly convince him of his “error”. He lives in Los Angeles where these guys actually are within a driving distance of him (as well as a few dozen other notorious heretics like this guy); he’s not exactly sheltered.
All that being said, I doubt that MacArthur and Dr. Brown will see eye to eye on this all.
With that, I’m off to bed.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “This took me around 2 hours longer than I intended” Unger