Evaluating Holy Water Part 1 – Chapters 1 & 2

(For those who have been directed here from GTY, this post is part of a series.  You’re reading part 1.  Here is part 2, part 3, a modified part 3 on the Cripplegate, and part 4: an announcement of changes made to the book.)

Now shortly after the StrangeFire conference was over, the blogosphere was ablaze with writing by charismatic defenders, attackers, and all the confused/undecided but interested masses.  I wrote a bit of stuff, but actually couldn’t even come close to keeping up with all that has being written and said (the internet is big).  Through all the kerfuffle, there were some book announcements and one book in particular came out very quickly:  Frank Viola (who is one of the bigger charismatic bloggers on the web) threw a 70+ page response together in record time and made it freely available for a few weeks. The book was called “Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire: A Critique of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos”.


So, I’m back at doing what I have found myself doing over the last 6 months: needlessly in-depth interactions with charismatic defenders.  I believe the link is still active if anyone wants to get it.   Frank had personally and graciously reached out to me and invited me to interact with his book, and I announced that I would interact with his blog posting and his book, but once I got the book and realized that it contained a bunch from his blog posts (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5) in an e-book format, I decided to simply address the book and ignore the blog posts.  So, I’m going to basically do what I normally do and go through Viola’s arguments in regular font (chapter headings in bold) and place my interactions indented and in italics. So for today, I’m going to tackle the first four chapters, and the page numbers will be of the .pdf, not the numbers on the bottom of the page of the book text.

Chapter 1. Why I’m Making This Critique Available.

Frank Viola opens the book by stating how infrequently he writes negative reviews/critiques of others, but he did with both Charismatic Chaos (in 1994) and now is doing so again with Strange Fire.  He says that he is doing the review of both books since “the arguments in MacArthur’s earlier book are simply rehashed in the newer volume (8).  Viola writes “Strange Fire simply adds more contemporary examples and ratchets up the vitriolic rhetoric” and calls the book “the same dance with a newer tune” (8).

Mr. Viola offers his readers a standard disclaimer of how much respect he has for John MacArthur and how he feels that John MacArthur is a brother in Christ.  He follows that with a quote from a friend telling how helpful Mr. Viola’s 1994 review of Charismatic Chaos was and how it helped him find a middle ground to acknowledge the good and reject the bad in the Charismatic movement.  Mr. Viola then signs off.

That’s honestly it.  The first chapter is maybe 1.3 pages long.  Not much to say in response since there’s really nothing to respond to.

Chapter 2. Broken Fellowship Over a Peripheral Doctrine.

Frank Viola opens the second chapter commenting on how different he found The Gospel According to Jesus and Charismatic Chaos/Strange Fire; how he found the first book to be “refreshing” and the second two books to be “exegetically incorrect on a number of levels, full of misrepresentations and overgeneralizations, feeble in biblical and historical scholarship, and severely flawed in many of their conclusions.” (10)

He then buttresses his opinions with a quote from Christianity Today by someone who feels the same.

Exegetically incorrect?  Feeble in biblical scholarship?  Wow.  For a guy that has no formal biblical training, those are some rather, uh, aggressive words.  Frank Viola didn’t say that he disagreed with MacArthur’s books (which he doesn’t actually engage much at all, but rather goes after cessationism in general).  He said that they’re “exegetically incorrect on a number of levels” and “feeble in biblical and historical scholarship”.  Feeble?  Okie Dokie. 

I tend to have an unwritten and unofficial rule when reviewing books; I tend to come at the author with the same level of aggression that they write.  In Canadian parlance, we would say that Frank Viola has “dropped the gloves”.

Hockey Fight

And the quote comes with no reference or bibliographical information.  If you’re going to take the flamethrower to someone for their incompetence, forgetting to reference a quote doesn’t make you look like much of a reliable scholar.  Don’t worry though, there are references elsewhere in the book, but it looks like he took the same class in citation procedure as Ergun Caner.  Mr. Viola doesn’t cite “Hadith 9.57”, but he quotes MacArthur( and others) without as much as a page number (and this is a review of two separate books) and yet also cites other authors with standard bibliographic references.  Whenever I see a quote without a proper reference, I’m immediately suspicious and want to check things out.


Frank Viola then writes how he was more or less compelled to write his critique of Charismatic Chaos because “a brother with whom I held close fellowship decided to no longer associate with me and my church after reading MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos…”  That original critique was meant for one person, but eventually was made widely available (11).

Mr. Viola sees MacArthur as the source of this division and comments that one cannot break fellowship with someone on the ground of doctrinal differences, for this is against Romans 14:3 and 15:7 (11).

Romans 14:3 is talking about matters of conscience, not matters of biblically objective doctrine.  Romans 15:7 is the closing off of the pericope begun in Romans 14:1 and reads “ Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God”.  The topic doesn’t change between Romans 14 and 15.  Frank Viola strikes out with his first two supporting biblical texts.  The gloves are off and I’m putting on the foil…okay no.  I’ll do my best to be nice, and not mix baseball and hockey metaphors.

Frank Viola claims that he’s not a charismatic, but rather a “post-charismatic” and writes that he has “had wide experience in various charismatic circles in the past” but does not currently belong to a charismatic church, yet he believes in the “perpetuity (continuation) of spiritual gifts as described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and I exercise them.  But my theological views cannot be understood within the pale of what is generally regarded as ‘charismatic theology'” (11).

Apparently Mr. Viola goes to a non-charismatic church that has  prophets and speaks in tongues…?!?  Yup.  I’m not sure how that works.  You neither?  My “theology radar” also goes nuts when someone calls themselves “post-Charismatic”, let alone “post” anything…but I won’t get into that here.  Doesn’t Post make Grape-Nuts, that cereal that contains neither grapes nor nuts?


Mr. Viola then makes a glossing comment at the argument from history, saying “Spiritual giants of the past like A.B. Simpson, Andrew Murray, R.A. Torrey, John Wesley, Jessie-Penn Lewis, Watchman Nee, Martin Lloyd Jones, A.W. Tozer, et al., have all believed in the operation of the miraculous gifts in their day” (11).

Frank Viola then shifts to listing modern continuationists like Piper, Warnock, Chandler, etc. and as well as several Southern Baptists like Peter Lord and Jack Taylor, and claims that “In fact, most evangelicals today are “continuationists,” though they may not call themselves ‘charismatics'” (12).  He makes the suggestion that MacArthur must be insinuating that Piper et. al. are “false teachers” and “charlatans” and “heretics” (12).

Mr. Viola suggests that there is too much variety among charismatic churches to even refer to Charismaticism as a “movement” and says “The excesses, errors, and weaknesses present in charismatic circles do not discount the reality of spiritual gifts. Nor do they leave the “movement” without any value to the church as a whole” while claiming that it’s beyond the scope of his current book to critique all the abuses within the charismatic movement (12).

He states that “The central focus of this critique is simply to show that both Scripture and church history yield strong evidence that spiritual gifts are still extant in the church today” (12).  He then closes off by commenting on how the book is a preliminary response and has a conversational tone, and yet “Nevertheless, due to the extreme position that Chaos and Strange Fire take and the harm they have already caused in the Body of Christ, I felt at liberty to set forth this critique, with all its limitations” (13).

And that’s it again.  The second chapter is only four pages and he basically says “I think MacArthur is divisive and that’s bad, I don’t speak for anyone in the charismatic movement (which shouldn’t even be called a movement) and I know this isn’t scholarly writing.”  Nothing like a bunch of blanket statements to warm up the audience to the tour de force that is imminent.

tourdefrance-2011(I said “de force”…oh never mind!)


And that’s the first two chapters.

I’ll toss up the rest, one at a time, over the next while…but I’ve gotta finish the reviews as well as do some rather significant editing.  My review of chapter 3-4 is currently around 5,000 words long.  Time for hacking and slashing.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “5,000 words? I hope I didn’t scare anyone there…” Unger


18 thoughts on “Evaluating Holy Water Part 1 – Chapters 1 & 2

  1. There are only about 10K U.S. Navy SeAL’s walking this planet. Millions of pretenders. Such pretenders are fools to believe they imitate men of valor.

    No man on this planet has faithfully preached verse by verse, the enduring truths of God’s Holy Word for the past 40 years as MacArthur has for this generation and fought the enemy with such intrepid courage. He is to this generation what Spurgeon and Calvin were to theirs.

    Men like Viola, Brown, and the millions of others pretending to be faithful men of God are far worse than the spineless fools treading over the blood of men of valor; they tread over the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, claiming to belong to His elite few.

    • Well, the next installment won’t be that long…I hope.

      The post-charismatic is someone who basically is “kinda” charismatic but has moved on from being part of charismatic circles…I think Frank Viola is part of the emergent church movement, so they’re all “post” everything. Post-conservative, post-evangelical, etc.

  2. Thx. for mentioning my little book. To answer the questions, “post-charismatic” means we believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, but we’re not part of a charismatic church, the charismatic movement, and we disagree with the wacky practices and misguided emphases prominent in the charismatic world.

    Also, I’m not part of the emerging church or emergent church. In fact, I’m a known critique of it. My books “Jesus Manifesto” and “Beyond Evangelical” take dead aim at the emerging church movement, which has basically dwindled down to nothing these days. I reject the liberal theology that it embraces and hold strongly to the orthodox tenants of the faith as outlined in the creeds.

    Most of my critics are people in the emerging church and have issues with my believe in the authority, reliability, and inspiration of Scripture and that Jesus of Nazareth is the ONLY way to salvation.

    My blog posts go into more detail on all of these points should anyone be interested in exploring more: http://frankviola.org/archives

    I, of course, could be wrong on the issue of spiritual gifts and other matters (I hope we all can admit this). I’m still “in school” so to speak and always will be as we all “know in part.” But I love Jesus and want to see Him glorified and I passionately desire to see God’s people love each other and think the best of one another as Jesus taught us to do (Matt. 7:12) despite our differences.

    A person can be right in their doctrine, but sin in their attitude toward others when they violate Matthew 7:12, the text that fulfills the Law and the Prophets according to our Lord.

    Happy new year!


    Psalm 115:1

    • Glad to be corrected Mr. Viola!

      I’m not so convinced that you’re open to being wrong on the matters of spiritual gifts. I’ve read your book, and poured over it at length. You appear to believe that your position is biblically and historically, well, almost obvious…and you more or less say so. I have a sneaking suspicion that you don’t run in circles like those that I’m a part of though, and I imagine that your encounters with cessationism have mostly been with people who are not exactly competent defenders of cessationism.

      I definitely don’t doubt your passion; I would profess to share it.

      I don’t feign to judge your attitude though. All I’ve got is your words, and I’m engaging the propositional statements you make.

    • Still curious about the name ” postcharismatic”. It seems to imply a time period of not being charismatic after having been charismatic, as in, “my post charismatic years”. I don’t find the term particularly helpful. Could you possibly clarify a bit more?

  3. I do believe my views and experiences of spiritual gifts are authentic, biblical, and rooted in the history of the church, But I’m certainly open to being convinced I’m wrong on anything . . . including gifts . . . as I’ve corrected my views on many things since I’ve been a believer in my teens.

    I hope that you are also open. 🙂

    “For we know in part . . . ”


    Psalm 115:1

  4. Singing ” And I would read 5,000 words and I would read 5,000 more just to be the one who reads 10,000 words to understand this more”

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself there.

    Great, interesting review and dialogue, thanks for taking the time to put it all together!

  5. Pingback: Evaluating Holy Water Part 2 – Chapter 3 | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

  6. Pingback: Evaluating Holy Water Part 3 – Chapter 4 | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

  7. Pingback: Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire 1.2 is now out! | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

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