(For those who have stumbled upon this post, this post is part of a series. Here is part 1. you are reading part 2, here is part 3, a modified part 3 on the Cripplegate, and part 4: an announcement of changes made to the book.)
So in my last installment in the series, I looked at Chapters 1 and 2 from Frank Viola’s book Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire. Now, let’s work through chapter 3 (be warned, this is where things get meatier). As always, my summary of Mr. Viola is in regular font and my responses are indented and in italics.
Chapter 3. Commending & Criticizing MacArthur’s Charismatic Blasting.
Frank Viola opens the third chapter by stating that he wants to let his readers know where MacArthur is dead-on and where his conclusions are “flawed and even outrageous”. He makes six points:
Point 1. The charismatic world is an easy target for any critic because there are a lot of problems within the camp.
Mr. Viola admits that there are outlandish teachings and people, absurd practices, etc. in some charismatic churches and he admits that MacArthur is right about the problems in this area, but other Charismatic leaders had recognized the problems first and “Just as those charismatic leaders were not able to reel in the excesses that exist within the movement, I do not think MacArthur’s attempts will do so either” (14).
– And there’s the old “I agree with you; that’s stupid but you’re not much better” line; the comment that’s actually a veiled insult. Also, there’s the standard “excesses” talk that we see so much of. We’re not talking about theological hiccups, or someone saying something stupid in a pulpit. To most charismatics, the idea that there’s deep and foundational biblical problem with the charismatic movement doesn’t seem to be in the realm of possibilities.
Speaking on behalf of a whole bunch of cessationists, we don’t really care that much about barking in the Spirit or most of the other stuff that many charismatics think we’re so worked up about; those things are the symptom and not the sickness. The real divide is that cessationists believe that Charismatics are wrong about what is and is not a manifestation of the Spirit. They’re wrong about the Spirit speaking by fallible prophets. They’re wrong about ecstatic speech being the New Testament gift of tongues. They’re wrong about the manifestation of God’s presence & direction in a believer’s life. If some of their beliefs are pushed to their logical conclusions they even go wrong about the gospel (if you come to Jesus in order to get healed, you never “came to Jesus” at all). Arguing about the stupidity of barking, repetitive music, etc. is ultimately as pointless as putting a nice new porch on a burned down house.
Point 2. I cut my teeth as a disciple of Jesus in the Pentecostal/charismatic world, and I know it well. It is true that many of the charismatics I have met put the Holy Spirit on the throne and make Jesus a footnote.
Mr. Viola then links to 2 books that he’s written about this problem and then says “charismatics are not alone in falling prey to this error. Many Reformed people and evangelicals have also put some THING (typically theology, evangelism, apologetics, eschatology, etc.) over and above Jesus Christ” (14).
– Well, having “idols of the heart” isn’t in the same category as believing and proclaiming heretical or heterodox doctrine.
Point 3. MacArthur is wrong in that he paints the entire charismatic world–which would include all charismatics and all charismatic churches–with the same broad brush.
Mr. Viola lists one upstanding charismatic person who is not like the example that John MacArthur gives in his book: David Wilkerson. He lists some of the stuff that Wilkerson has done and states that MacArthur writes “Charismatics believe…” when MacArthur should have said “some charismatics believe…” (15).
– Ah. The ever-present “broad brush” complaint. Well, if we use Viola’s logic and there’s a few believing Catholics in the world, the Catholic Church is partially Protestant. Finding exceptions to the patterns of a gigantic group doesn’t change the patterns of the group.
He then lists several non-representative Charismatics: “Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson” and suggests that they’re not a representative sample of the charismatic world anymore than “R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R.T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard” are a representative sample of reformed Christians (15).
He closes off that point saying “The people whom MacArthur highlights as the poster boys for charismatics–Kenneth Copeland, Peter Popoff, Paula White, Bob Jones, E.W. Kenyon, Eddie Long, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson–simply do not represent the views or practices of the majority of charismatic Christians in the world today.”
– And I’d dare suggest that a majority of the Charismatic Christians in the world today don’t have a clue who Frank Viola is and wouldn’t have a sniff who any of Viola’s “representative” Charismatics are. I’ve done a fair amount of work to show objectively that the Benny Hinns and Ca$h Luna’s are actually representative of the mainstream of the global charismatic movement. Also, Benny Hinn is in the list? I wonder if Frank Viola regards Dr. Michael Brown as a representative of the majority opinion of Charismatic Christians in the world today? I wonder if Dr. Michael Brown considers Frank Viola as a representative of the majority opinion of Charismatic Christians in the world today?
Point 4. MacArthur misrepresents people.
Frank Viola opens that point with this sentence: “In Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur takes on the late Kathryn Kuhlman. But astonishingly, he relies on a critic who used outlandishly deceptive methods of research to accuse her of fraud” (16).
– So does MacArthur misrepresent people or does he rely on the scholarship of others who misrepresent people? If a critic uses deceptive methods of research, that doesn’t mean that MacArthur also uses deceptive methods of research when he references that critic. At best, it means that MacArthur used an unreliable source that he didn’t verify. At worst, it means that MacArthur is a lousy researcher. I don’t think Frank Viola realizes that he undercuts his own point with the very first sentence.
He then comments on how MacArthur “says that charismatics acknowledge that the gifts of the Spirit ceased after the early church and were only recovered in the 20th century” (16) and Viola responds by claiming that both Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers “bear witness to miracles, healings, etc. in their day” and also ” MacArthur cherry picks comments from only three Church Fathers, and one of them does not even assert that the gifts of the Spirit passed away”(16).
– And wonder of wonders, Mr. Viola plays the “church history contains miracle accounts therefore the sign gifts existed throughout church history” argument. No matter how many thousand times the cessationists attempt to clarify that the discussion is about specific gifts (tongues, apostolic healing, and the office of prophet), charismatic defenders appeal to general discussions about revival from Jonathan Edwards, or the account of Spurgeon and the store owner who opened on Sunday, or general miracle accounts and say “See? It’s obvious you’re wrong! The gifts never ceased! Spiritual gifts have been around since the beginning (and abracadabra, ecstatic speech is tongues!)”
Charismatic defenders, please get a tattoo gun and write the following on your arm:
Cessationism is about sign gifts, not spiritual gifts/miracles in general.
Finding accounts of miracles throughout Church history does absolutely nothing to refute cessationism. Cessationists are supernaturalists who believe in miracles.
Finding accounts of B.U.M.P.s (bizarre and unusual manifestations of providence) throughout Church history does absolutely nothing to refute cessationism. Cessationists are supernaturalists who believe in a God who can B.U.M.P. (bizarrely and unusually manifest his providence) in the night from time to time.
Also, the people at the beginning of the Pentecostal revival thought they were witnessing the re-giving of tongues to the church, and they said so themselves in no uncertain terms. On this matter, Frank Viola is rather amazingly uninformed. I have heard/read of Agnes N. Ozman referred to as the “first person in modern times who has spoke in tongues” several times, and Charles Parham himself referred the time and events surrounding her baptism of the Spirit as “the restoration of Pentecostal power” or “restoration of the apostolic faith” since Parham thought that he was living in the end times and connected the “restoration” of the faith & practices of the apostles (including speaking in tongues) to the imminent second coming of Christ, escaping the tribulation and salvation itself (chapter 2 of this book, which is available to read online, discusses this all at length…and several more of Parham’s rather alarming heresies). It seems that talk of “restoration” insinuates that something is previously absent, right? Well, Parham thought that the mainline churches were bereft of the Spirit and attempted not just to restore the Holy Spirit to the church, but also to restore the one true church itself (complete with 144,000 tongues-speaking members), in order to usher in the second coming. It’s not a coincidence that he was saying things like that when the Russellites were loudly saying similar-sounding things in his era.
In December 1900, Charles Parham spent a bunch of time studying the scriptures with the students at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. They came to an understanding that would be later known as the “doctrine of subsequence”; the idea that the manifestation of the baptism of the Spirit was speaking in new tongues. On December 31, 1900, Parham laid his hands on Agnes N. Ozman and she received the gift of tongues…and guess what? She didn’t speak in ecstatic speech and they didn’t even expect to. She, and everyone else there, thought she was speaking and writing Chinese. (since they were convinced from Acts 2 that “tongues” were earthly languages). There are even existing images of the “Chinese” writing she produced:
For some reason, Chinese folks who checked her writing were not convinced…probably because it looks like something that was written with something other than a pen.
Not only that, but Ozman was apparently unable to speak English for three days and the students at that revival claimed to have received speaking/writing abilities in 20 other languages. That revival spread to Asuza Street, and the rest is history. These facts are fairly widely known among Pentecostal scholars, so MacArthur isn’t exactly making stuff up when he makes allusions to Parham and the whole “restoration” movement of 1900. Rather, Mr. Viola reveals his lack of familiarity with Pentecostal history when he challenges MacArthur’s comment about the historical belief in the cessation of tongues prior to the 20th century.
Point 5. MacArthur makes statements that smell of elitism, sectarianism, and judgmentalism.
Frank Viola states that MacArthur claims that Charismatics do not have the true gospel, that the Holy Spirit is not behind them and that the movement was a farce from the outset (16)
– Well, I’m wondering if Frank Viola believes even half of what Charles Parham believed and taught for decades (i.e. tongues are earthly languages, or when 144,000 people have spoken in tongues the second coming will occur, or that white people are the lost tribes of Israel, or speaking in tongues is the exclusive evidence of being part of the Bride of Christ…otherwise known as being “a Christian”), or would he possibly think that those beliefs were a farce?
He then quotes MacArthur calling for the “true church to respond” and suggests that such “vitriolic statements suggest that charismatic Christians are not true followers of Jesus”. He goes on to quote MacArthur in saying that the Charismatic “movement is characterized by worldly priorities and fleshly pursuits” and Mr. Viola asks “so David Wilkerson, Dr. Michael Brown, Adrian Warnock, Francis Frangipane, Sam Storms, and Jack Hayford (and their followers) are/were worldly and fleshly?” (16)
– I have a feeling I’m going to be repeating myself a lot in this review. MacArthur, in addressing a movement, is talking in broad categories and saying that a movement which is not motivated by the Holy Spirit does not rule out the reality that the Holy Spirit can be involved in individual lives of persons within that movement. That whole line of thinking is as fallacious as arguing:
A. Hollywood exclusively produces non-Christian films.
B. Lots of people who work in Hollywood claim to be Christians.
C. Anyone involved in the production of non-Christian films in Hollywood and claims to be a Christian is a liar.
It’s just an obvious non sequitur and confusion of categories. Ten exceptions do not override the pattern of 10,000.
He then picks a bunch of quotes from MacArthur, like his now infamous “We’re not trying to divide the body of Christ with this conference. We’re trying to identify the body of Christ” and Mr. Viola responds “Huh? This statement seems to imply that charismatics are not part of the Body of Christ. What other way can one interpret this?” (17)
– Simple. Another way one can read it is to read that it is suggesting that the conference was trying to identify the true believers within a mixed movement and separate those true believers from the heretical aspects/persons in a mixed movement. See how easy that was?
He continues “Even if MacArthur nuances his comment to say that ‘most’ charismatics are not saved, which a MacArthur fan recently told me, how on earth can he make such a judgment? I have personally known countless charismatic Christians since I was 16 years old and the overwhelming majority were not only saved through the clear preaching of the gospel–repent and trust in Christ alone as absolute Lord and Savior–but they were remarkably devoted to Jesus.” (17)
– And there’s another Charismatic argument that has become a standard boiler-plate argument. Any Cessationist who makes a negative judgment about someone’s salvation (saying they are not saved) is, by default, judgmental (and automatically a horrible person) but any Charismatic who makes a positive judgment about someone’s salvation (saying someone is saved) is, by default, not judgmental.
If MacArthur cannot judge who is not saved, why does Mr. Viola think he can judge who is saved? The whole objection just implodes in on itself.
Point 6. MacArthur’s argument that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased is not only biblically and historically untenable, but it is discounted by the best New Testament evangelical scholars in the world, both past and present.
Mr. Viola then lists off “N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, Wayne Grudem, F.F. Bruce, and many others” as people who discount MacArthur’s position. (17)
– Saying “You’re wrong because (insert list) disagree with you” is an invalid argument. All I need to do is produce a larger list in response, and now I’m “right”. The only place to settle this is in the pages of scripture, not a bibliography.
He makes the comment that “MacArthur is right to say that the Holy Spirit is dishonored when people engage in fleshly mayhem and attribute it to the Spirit of Christ. But I would argue that the Spirit is also grieved and dishonored when a genuine work of God’s Spirit is attributed to Satan”. (18)
– I agree. Now the question remains as to what is “a genuine work of God’s Spirit”.
He then restates that he doesn’t have ill-will towards MacArthur and doesn’t feign to judge his motives. He closes off the chapter saying “MacArthur destroys his own effectiveness and impact by distorting an otherwise valid critique with misrepresentations, straw man arguments, uncharitable vitriol, and weak hermeneutics” (18).
– Where are these misrepresentations, straw man arguments, uncharitable vitriol, and weak hermeneutics exactly? I’m really looking forward to when Frank Viola actually pounds through the scripture and we get to see exactly how strong his hermeneutics and exegesis are. I look forward to evaluating his kung fu in the next chapter.
And that’s the third chapter.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “still hacking and slashing my own verbose writing” Unger