In Part 1 of my co-review of Authentic Fire, I gave a short introduction to the history of Dr. Michael Brown and the Strange Fire shenanigans, and I took a look at the preface and tossed out some general thoughts in response. Today, I’m going to take look at the first chapter and offer some more response. Let’s get going…but first:
Cute little lamb?
Okay. Now we’re ready to speak the truth in unquestionable love!
Chapter 1 Summary
1. The chapter opens with Dr. Brown paying respects to John MacArthur, commenting on his extensive contributions to the church, his gospel proclamation and his integrity in both public and private spheres. He then shifts gears into and writes several sweeping statements:
1a. “Pastor MacArthur’s criticisms of the Charismatic Movement are inaccurate, unhelpful, often harshly judgmental, sometimes without scriptural support, and frequently divisive in the negative sense of the word.” (Kindle Locations 193-195)
1b. “Where he rightly points out some of the most glaring and serious faults in the Charismatic Movement, I add my ‘Amen,’ having addressed these same abuses for many years myself.” (Kindle Locations 195-196)
1c. “But when he damns millions of godly believers, demeans the real work of the Spirit, accuses true worshipers of blaspheming the Spirit, and calls for an all-out war against the Charismatic Movement, a strong corrective is needed, along with a positive statement of the truth of the matter. That is the purpose of this book.” (Kindle Locations 196-198)
2. Dr. Brown then presents John MacArthur’s indictments against the Charismatic Movement.
2a. Dr. Brown quotes John Macarthur in an interview with Phil Johnson from 2011 where Pastor MacArthur blames the Charismatic movement for “virtually every area where church life is unbiblical…” (Kindle Location 201), “bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation” (Kindle Location 202).
2b. Dr. Brown then quotes a sermon from John MacArthur saying that the movement has theology that is “bad, it is unbiblical, it is aberrant, it is destructive to people because it promises them what it can’t deliver” (Kindle Locations 203-204). Dr. Brown further refers to Pastor MacArthur’s statement about how the charismatics attribute the work of Satan to the Holy Spirit and how charismatics have “stolen the Holy Spirit and created a golden calf and they are dancing around the golden calf as if it is the Holy Spirit. . . The charismatic version of the Holy Spirit is that golden calf . . . around which they dance with their dishonoring exercises” (Kindle Locations 206-208).
2c. Dr. Brown then quotes the Strange Fire book saying that the Charismatic Movement was a ““a farce and a scam ”since the beginning and that it “has not changed into something good” (Kindle Locations 210-211) and Dr. Brown quotes the book as saying that the Charismatic movement represents “the explosive growth of a false church , as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity” (Kindle Locations 211-212), against which Pastor MacArthur calls for a “‘collective war’ against these alleged pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God'” (Kindle Location 212). Dr. Brown spends three more paragraphs quoting Strange Fire on how the Holy Spirit in much of the Charismatic Movement/teaching is unlike the Holy Spirit in the Bible, how the Charismatic Movement has done more damage to the gospel, truth and sound doctrine, how the Charismatic Movement has”has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation” (Kindle Location 219), how Satan’s false teachers gladly propagate errors, and how “By inventing a Holy Spirit of idolatrous imaginations, the modern Charismatic Movement offers strange fire that has done incalculable harm to the body of Christ. Claiming to focus on the third member of the Trinity, it has in fact profaned His name and denigrated His true work.” (Kindle Locations 222-224). Dr. Brown presents all these comments as “just a representative sampling” (Kindle Location 225) and writes “when Pastor MacArthur has called for a collective war against charismatics, he means just what he says, believing that the vast majority of charismatics are not truly saved, while those who are saved are involved in serious error and some level of deception” (Kindle Locations 226-227).
3. Dr. Brown shifts gears to comment on how various evangelical leaders find Pastor MacArthurs’ statements to be errant and grossly overstated. Dr. Brown references Mark Galli (of Christianity Today) as “finding great sympathy” with Dr. Brown’s article written on the eve of Strange Fire, Dr. Timothy George (of Beeson Divinity School) and his article on First Things where he lambasted Pastor MacArthur as “myopic and irresponsible”, Dr. Tom Schreiner’s (professor at SBTS) review of the book Strange Fire where he accuses Pastor MacArthur of using a broad brush, Ron Phillips (of Abba’s House Church) in an article he wrote saying that John MacArthur’s “stance on the gifts of the Spirit, support of cessationism, and his related and unrelenting attacks upon his brothers and sisters who believe and walk in the fullness of the Spirit are – quite simply – wrong” (Kindle Locations 266-268), a cessationist commenter from Facebook, and an unkind blogger who compares some in John MacArthur’s circle of being akin to the followers of Richard Dawkins due to their “unbridled contempt for charismatic theology” and takes particular issue with Dan Phillips’ “smug, back-patting tweets” (Kindle Location 285).
4. Dr. Brown closes off the chapter asking “What then is the truth about the charismatic movement? Where has Pastor MacArthur spoken accurately and where has he misspoken? And what do the Scriptures have to say about these critically important issues? We’ll take these questions up in the rest of the book” (Kindle Locations 287-289).
Chapter 1 Comments
1. It’s good to see at least some recognition of the fact that John MacArthur isn’t the outright enemy.
1a. Remains to be proven (at this point in the book/response), so no further comment.
1b. Michael Brown has suggested previously that he has addressed the same abuses (and mentions them at length in chapter two), but those he addresses aren’t even really on the radar for John MacArthur (or other cessationists like myself). Seeing that chapter two will be addressed by the honorable Fred Butler, I won’t steal any of his thunder here but only say that the doctrinal issues that Pastor MacArthur is talking about aren’t considered “issues” by Dr. Brown (i.e. the claimed manifestations of the Holy Spirit of the Brownsville revival, which Michael Brown proudly defends to this day and John MacArthur personally contests). Just watch this for a few minutes to know what the debate is about:
1c. Dr. Brown has to admit that he doesn’t know how many believers there are in the Charismatic Movement anymore than Pastor MacArthur knows how many unbelievers there are, at least on the basis of their profession of faith. The only way one can give any sort of evaluation of someone’s profession is by evaluating the gospel they profess as well as their reaction to that gospel. “Come to Christ and get what you most want (money, health, prosperity, etc.)” or “there’s a God-shaped hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill” are not the biblical gospel…but even if millions do hear a biblical gospel and still end up coming to Christ to get what they want (money, health, prosperity, etc.) or fill their “God-shaped hole”, they’re not coming to the Christ of the Bible. Surely this is part of the very point being argued; namely the authenticity of the claims of millions upon millions of converts. Dr. Brown assumes that he’s the one with the inside knowledge of who’s actually a Christian and which works of the Spirit are “real”. It strongly appears that Dr. Brown is not arguing on the basis of any sort of objective standard, but rather is assuming his position and judging Strange Fire with his understanding and experience as the standard of measure. Most of his complaints are only legitimate if charismatic theology is biblically defensible, but that itself is the debate at hand.
2. The accusations:
2a. Looking at the interview with Phil Johnson, one should realize that Pastor MacArthur was talking about the impact of the Charismatic movement after 1960, when the charismatic movement entered the liberal mainline protestant churches (and a few years later, the Roman Catholic church), but that doesn’t really change the thrust of his comment…except that it looks relatively true in that contextual light. Was bad charismatic theology found outside Charismatic circles before the 1960’s? How about superficial worship, at least in the sense of biblical content and philosophy? What about the celebration of ego? The prosperity gospel? Personality elevation and Christian celebrity culture?
I cannot answer that from my personal experience, but my understanding of 21st century church history suggests that such may actually be the reasonable case… I just consider:
…led to Calvary Chapel’s founding….
…which lead to the Vineyard Church’s founding…
…and the entire Christian rock/rap scene….
…and Christian celebrities…
…but not the Prosperity Gospel…that was around somewhat before, but exclusively in Charismatic circles.
I’d suggest that one read the interview with John MacArthur. He actually makes a reasonable case to back up what look like amazing claims; I’d recommend reading the section in question. Then, do some further research and check out the claims on your own. I did, but I trimmed it all out in order to shave 2,000+ words off this post…I got kinda carried away…but I’ll give a tiny sample:
The Jesus movement was an almost exclusively charismatic movement involved with the worst false teachers from the beginning (that’s Chuck Smith on the right in the blue suit, Ted Wise [i think] introducing the segment, Kathryn Kulhman and Lonnie Frisbee – faith healer, power-evangelist and unrepentant homosexual who also helped start the Vineyard movement – read pages 132 to 135 of this). Chuck Smith’s parents were disciples of foursquare charlatan Amiee Semple McPherson, and he spent years managing a faith-healer but left the “too extreme” Foursquare church and founded Calvary Chapel in 1965 (read this). He started evangelizing hippies with (yet-to-be-revealed homosexual) Lonnie Frisbee in 1968 and founded the first Christian Rock label (Maranatha! Music) in 1971. There a pinch of documentation to chase down to help establish 4 out of those 6 points.
The Jesus movement was known for several things, including superficial worship (watch from around 2:27 of this video and ask yourself what kind of worship music these guys wrote…at least once their lead guitarist got out of prison for a “marijuana rap”…). I survived the 1980’s and the era of Scripture in Song with a mild theological lobotomy (“bind us together” is a song that still causes twitching). I remember, quite vividly, the “hymns vs choruses” wars that waged in my church when all the Maranatha! music came north to Canada. The elders in the church didn’t like it because it was repetitive, shallow and needlessly emotional (which it was), but the young folks liked it because it was new, cool, and from the far off and mystical land of California: the land from which all good things come!
2b. Does the Charismatic movement have theology that is unbiblical? Well, if tongues was earthly languages, if there are no more apostles, if nobody heals in the same manner as Jesus and the Apostles, if being “Spirit filled” doesn’t come with any immediately visible signs like falling over or laughing, etc., then yeah. Speaking broadly about a global movement, charismatic theology is generally unbiblical.
If charismatics, again generally speaking about a global movement, suggest that certain things are manifestations of the Spirit that are not, then they are attributing the work of the Holy Spirit (indirectly) to either the flesh or Satan. That’s one of the points of debate, but it seems inescapable if the claims about manifestations are incorrect.
Michael Brown blusters a whole bunch, but if he’s wrong about the nature and definitions of Spiritual gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, then John MacArthur’s extreme sounding language is possibly overblown, but also possible quite accurate. Dr. Brown hasn’t yet presented his exegetical case in the book. Don’t worry, we’ll get there. This is only chapter one.
2c. The same can be said at this point too. Was the Charismatic Movement a farce and a scam from the beginning? If the Charismatic was started by scamming charlatans who got their ideas from hucksters, new-thought cranks, eschatological quacks or farcical misunderstandings of scripture, then it actually was a farce and a scam (at least in the beginning).
Has it changed into something good? Well, depends on where you look. I’ve previously documented, at some length, how the Foursquare church (one of the larger Charismatic denominations) was started by Aimee Semple McPherson, a complete and utter hack, and they still proudly embrace her teaching today. Now I wouldn’t say the Charismatic movement is all bad, and the bad beginnings can be redeemed with a return to biblical fidelity, but why has the Foursquare church not recognized the biblical deficit of their foundations, left that behind, and matured? Where’s the Charismatic denomination that openly rejects their founders as quacks and has gone full circle in returning to biblical fidelity? I’d dare say that there has been growth in some denominations/streams: the Calvary Chapel movement is far more respectable than the Foursquare movement from which it emerged (though far from perfect), and the Sovereign Grace movement is a significant cut above the Calvary Chapel movement (though their charismatic distinctives have proved to be their downfall). In other areas, it hasn’t changed much and has many of the same old hacks peddling hundred-year-old old theological trash (i.e. Benny Hinn is using the same pseudo-healing schtick as Kathryn Kuhlman, and Kuhlman was seen as a spiritual successor to none other than Semple McPherson herself).
I’d dare say that the various denominations/streams of the Charismatic Movement are mixed bags where some churches within a denomination are good, but no denomination on the whole has cleaned up it’s act beyond the theological fumbling of the founders. There are churches in my town where there are both reformed charismatics and prosperity preachers in the same church, but the denominations are in far more danger of becoming the latter rather than the former.
Does the charismatic movement equate the explosive growth of a false church? Well, globally speaking, arguably yes. Globally speaking, a statistical majority of the Charismatic Movement is represented by the prosperity gospel (and other more even more prevalent heresies – generational curses, positive confession, the idea of physical healing being provided in the atonement, the spiritual death of Jesus, etc.). That’s the mainstream. I mean, did anyone catch Michael Brown stating that one of the reasons why he went on Benny Hinn’s show was the possibility of reaching Benny Hinn’s audience of millions? Doesn’t the fact that Michael Brown wanted to reach Benny Hinn’s giant audience (and not vice versa) suggest something rather obvious?
Also, if the prosperity gospel is the mainstream (globally speaking), and the Charismatic Movement is the largest “Christian” movement, then the Charismatic Movement is home to the largest “gospel inoculation” force (namely the prosperity preachers) around today. If millions of people are going in the front door because of the prosperity gospel and running out the back door when the promises prove false, they’re all leaving with the false assumption that they’ve been a part of Christianity. They’ve neither been there nor done that.
Is the Charismatic Movement more dangerous than a cult? Well, Even if there’s only 50 million prosperity gospel folk in the 500 million strong Charismatic Movement (giving them only 10% of the movement, though they’re arguably more), they’re a numerically significant form of pseudo-Christianity equal to Mormonism (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 15 million) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 19.2 million) and Seventh Day Adventists (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 17.5 million) combined. Not only that, but the prosperity preachers they run around in charismatic circles mostly unhindered and definitely unchallenged. The prosperity gospel is not only one of the numerically largest forms of pseudo-Christianity, it’s also the only one with a cloaking device.
Does that make it more dangerous than the three previously mentioned cults?
Also, I’d suggest that also makes it very adept at doing “incalculable harm to the body of Christ”.
Has the Charismatic Movement ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation? Well, consider the question. The question is not “has any academic charismatic ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation?” People love tossing out Grudem or Fee or Keener and thinking the case is closed. The question is talking about the movement as a movement. What doctrine has come from the distinctives of any stream of the Charismatic Movement that did not precede it? What biblical interpretation has come from the Charismatic movement that did not precede it? Another way of asking this is “what new biblical doctrine or biblical understanding has been introduced, specifically from charismatic circles as emerging from their distinctives, in the last 110 years?”
Honestly think about that…
E.W. Kenyon’s concept of Blood covenant? (exegetical fail)
Wayne Grudem’s concept of fallible prophecy? (exegetical fail)
Positive Confession? (both exegetical and historical fail)
The Spiritual death of Jesus? (exegetical fail)
The concept of seed faith? (exegetical fail)
The contemporary 5-fold ministry? (exegetical fail)
The biblical office of intercessor? (exegetical fail)
The doctrine of subsequence? (exegetical fail)
The concept of tongues as ecstatic speech (both exegetical and historical fail)
The concept of healing in the atonement? (exegetical fail)
Worship evangelism? (exegetical fail)
Power evangelism? (exegetical fail)
Generational Curses? (both exegetical and historical fail)
The prosperity gospel? (exegetical fail)
New worship instruments? (well, kinda…)
The list goes on and on, but the results stay the same.
If you think of something, please let me know.
I know, I’d have to write a book to actually establish that all of those are exegetical/historical fails. Still, as of right now I cannot help but agree with Pastor MacArthur on this one.
Finally, are a majority of Charismatics unsaved? Well, I’d suggest that a statistical majority of them certainly may be unsaved…simply because they haven’t ever heard the gospel and therefore cannot believe the gospel.
Health isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Wealth isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Experiencing the “Holy Spirit” isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Experiencing amazing worship isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Finding out Jesus loves me isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Speaking in tongues isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Experiencing a “healing” isn’t good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
Finding out Jesus can and has provided a way for me to avert God’s wrath and remove the debt of my sin and sanctify me is good news regarding God’s wrath against my sin.
I never heard the last one in Charismatic circles, or at least had it explained to any depth. I suspect that this reason is why the Reformed Charismatics are growing so quickly; Reformed Charismatics offer the gospel to many who are the Almost Christian. There surely are many believers who aren’t Reformed Charismatics, but in my decade in the Charismatic Movement, I’m not sure how many I met since most people I used to know in that movement have left to either atheism or non-Charismatic churches where they’ve found both the gospel and depth they sought.
3. As for the evangelicals of clout who disagree, I basically say “so what”? I don’t really care about Mark Galli’s sympathy; I don’t go to Christianity Today for opinions on anything. Regarding Timothy George (who quotes none other than yours truly in his article – and I’m flattered that the folks at Beeson read my blog instead of watch Scooby-Doo/listen to talk radio), here’s his points:
– “Careful biblical scholars can be found on both sides of the cessationist/continuationist interpretive divide.”
– “Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Sam Storms are just three of the many highly esteemed ministers who are not prepared to declare spiritual gifts obsolete tout court.”
– “Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible.”
– “When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus —except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.”
– George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and J.I. Packer disagree with John MacArthur.
– “Back in 1978, John MacArthur himself was singing a somewhat similar tune. His first anti-charismatic book was an exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and the views he held on spiritual gifts back then are the same as those he espouses today. But in his first book, MacArthur was willing to allow that “charismatics truly love Jesus and the Scriptures . . . . I thank God for much that is happening in the charismatic movement. The Gospel is being proclaimed and many people are being saved. I also believe that through this movement some Christians are recognizing a certain new reality in Christ and making commitments that they have never made before.” What this debate needs is a fresh dose of the early MacArthur.”
Here’s my responses:
– The “godly men disagree” line isn’t an argument. Biblical exegesis is the only argument that matters.
– Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Sam Storms are, globally speaking, relative nobodies in the movement. Only Piper has any semblance of a following. Honestly, who is quoting Martyn Lloyd Jones, Grudem, Storms, Piper, etc. as any sort of theological defender at Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea, C3 and Hillsong and PlanetShakers in Australia, or at Living Faith Church and Deeper Life Christian Ministry in Nigeria, or at Rhema Bible Church and Christian Revival Centre and Doxa Deo in South Africa or at United Family International Church in Zimbabwe, or at Jesus Celebration Center in Kenya, or at Victory Metro Manila in the Philippines, or at Casa De Dios in Guatemala, or at Assembleia de Deus Vitória em Cristo in Brazil? There’s myopia around here somewhere…
– I don’t think Dr. Timothy George really grasps the influence of TBN. It’s the world’s largest Christian Broadcaster, and TBN is a prosperity gospel haven. For example, Enlace is TBN’s Spanish affiliate station. It has millions of viewers, a following of over a million people on Facebook, and almost exclusively broadcasts prosperity gospel nutbars. When it comes to TBN and Enlace, we’re simply not talking about “instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena”. We’re talking about a false gospel that does not save.
– John MacArthur does not suggest that every Charismatic in the movement is an unbeliever. He hasn’t added a caveat every time he uses the phrase Charismatic Movement, but he has clarified on this point innumerable times.
– Pastor MacArthur said, in his appeal to charismatic friends, “There are others who criticize by saying, and this came pretty early in this conference, you’re attacking brothers…you’re attacking brothers. I wish I could affirm that. We said this one way or another already this week, this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians…non-Christians.” The individual people he attacked were people he did not consider as brothers. He also made it clear at other times that he was, in the same conference, attacking a global movement, not individual believers. I’ll concede that, as far as I’ve heard the conference and read the book, there should have definitely been more clarity here. Still, Pastor MacArthur should be allowed to clarify his own comments, right?
– Disagreement doesn’t dictate truth.
– The issue has changed and become far more serious since 1992, hence his posture has also become harder. That’s only a guess.
Dr. Schreiner and the “broad brush” complaint are common, but that’s to be expected when addressing a global movement of half a billion. How exactly does a person accurately summarize such a diverse movement without stepping back to uselessly general statements (i.e. they’re all supernaturalists)? As for Ron Phillips, pontificating is meaningless and I simply don’t take Ron Phillips seriously as any sort of authority on biblical/theological matters. Anyone who does conferences with prosperity preachers and Benny Hinn hucksters has no theological credibility. Finally, Facebook and a confused blogger? I’d respond to that, but really?
4. The argument is, and will be, settled on an exegetical level.
Now I’ve said more than enough, so I’ll just drop it like it’s hot.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Why did you just punch your monitor?” Unger
One last note – My 9 month old and my 2 year old are both sicker than dogs, hence this post was around a day late and probably has many spelling mistakes that I’ll fix tomorrow sometime…