Reflections on the Strange Fire furor

Ideaeally, I would first listen to all of MacArthur and Co’s talks and then offer a response.  If they make it available for free and I find myself with a lot of downtime, I might do it.  Let it be said that I am not a card-carrying charismatic.   I simply do not identify with that group.  Truth be told, I am probably closer in sympathy with the Conference men than I am with charismatics of any stripe.

Most cessationists do not realize it, but there are multiple levels of this position.  The most common position is “I believe that was apostolic stuff and ended there, but hey, who knows what God can do today?”  They usually mean–and only mean–miraculous happenings.   Pace miracles, it’s a fair line.  However, they cannot logically extend that position to prophecy.  The other shade of cessationism says that such happenings are impossible.

Given that there are various shades of cessationism there are also various shades of continuationism.    For sake of ease, I am leaving out the Word-of-Faith movement.  They are false prophets and rarely offer any biblical rationale for their doings. I am dealing with the serious continuationists:  Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, John Piper, and to a much lesser degree, Mark Driscoll.

I see a problem in identification on the cessationist side.   Originally, Macarthur attacked the Word-of-Faith types (Charismatic Chaos) and we welcomed it.  This conference seems (I say seem because I feel like the goal post shifted) aimed at the recent “Young, Restless, and Reformed” Crowd.  So I need to ask the cessationists of Strange Fire, “Against whom are you arguing?”   You cannot say, “We are responding to a recent phenomena in Evangelical Calvinism” and then preach against witch-doctors.

(Tim Challies has done a fair job in summarizing the conference.  I will be relying on his posts.  I realize that cannot count for a refutation of the hard cessationist line.  Fair enough).

Macarthur begins by urging his continuationist friends that he is not being unloving.  Okay.  I can buy that.  Since I am actually dealing with specific arguments, I will by-pass much of it.  However, he writes,

There is error in this movement all the way through it. 90% of the movement believe in the prosperity gospel. 24 to 25 million of these people deny the Trinity. 100 million in the movement are Roman Catholic.

Again, against whom are we arguing?  It is manifestly unfair to lump Storms and Grudem into this group simply because they agree on a few points..  Cessationists need to do a better job on this point or many people will simply start ignoring them.   My underlying counter-thesis is this:  Refute Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy.   Sub-thesis:  Answer this question, “Would you include your hero, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones into the above group, since he was a continuationist?  Why or why not?”

MacArthur’s 8 Statements:

1.  When theologically conservative men give credibility to this movement the whole movement gains credibility

Answer:  Papists use the same line against the Reformers.

2.  God gave special revelatory gifts, signs and miracles to validate His revelation. Hebrews 2:3 expounds on this.

Answer:  Hebrews 2:3 says nothing about whether these gifts continue or not.  Grudem and Piper specifically admit that the gifts validated the word.   That says nothing about whether they should be permanent or temporary.

3.  Point (3) is purely anecdotal and borderline bizarre.

4.  Continuationists who insist that God gives special revelation today gives way to people being led by confusion and error.


Answer:  We are using the term “revelation” in different ways. Again, I have Grudem’s thesis in mind, none other.


5.  Continuationists tacitly deny the reformed tenet of Sola Scriptura.


Answer:  Again, see above.   Further, we need to be clear on what we mean by “canon.”  The Canon, as Bruce Metzger, Sproul, and others have pointed out, is a fallible collection of infallible books.  I do not believe the church canon should receive other books, but if we admit to the “fallibilist” definition, as we must, then technically the claim to extra revelation (which is not what Grudem is claiming) doesn’t contradict the canon.   If you don’t hold to the fallibilist definition, then there really isn’t any response you can offer to the Eastern Orthodox


6.  This point deals specifically with tongue-speaking, which is not my interest.


7.  Continuationists assert the gift of healing and in turn affirm the fraudulent ministry of healers.


Answer:  The consequent does not follow the antecedent.   The fraud healers should receive the death penalty in a godly society, but that doesn’t mean the gift of healing expired.  Notice that MacArthur is not using a biblical argument.


8.  Continuationists distract from the Holy Spirit’s true ministry by enticing people to buy into a false ministry

Answer: Again, it depends on whom he is speaking.



9 comments on “Reflections on the Strange Fire furor

  1. Angela Wittman says:

    As one who suffered much mentally and spiritually due to unsound charismatic teachings and practices as a young Christian, I am going to side with John MacArthur, the Westminster Confession and other cessationists. In fact, it was mostly MacArthur’s teaching and books that the good Lord used greatly to deliver me from it. The charismatic movement really is dangerous, especially for the naive and unlearned.

  2. From Tim Challies

    Lessons Learned at Strange Fire and more…

    Lessons Learned at Strange Fire

    When I began blogging through last week’s Strange Fire conference, I had no idea how big an impact the event would have. Even while attempting to transcribe John MacArthur’s opening address, I was not convinced I wanted to dedicate three days and eight or ten articles to it. But once I began to see and hear the reaction, I determined there would be benefit to listening in, writing it down, and in opening it up for conversation.

    I attempted to make my summaries as objective as possible—simply sharing what each speaker had said without offering my own opinions. Today I want to circle back one more time to share a few final reflections on the event. Here is what I am thinking several days later.

    A Worldwide Issue

    This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.

    There is a challenge here for myself as a Reformed, North American believer: I have a very narrow view of the Christian world—a too-narrow view. MacArthur made it clear that he did not host this conference in order to critique the Wayne Grudems and John Pipers of the world; if these men were representative charismatics, Strange Fire would have been a non-event or, at the least, a very different event. He hosted the event because there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who make the fraudulent practice of fraudulent gifts the heart of their expression of the Christian faith.

    This is the time to address that issue. There is a call here for all of us to build on and even improve what MacArthur began and much of the onus here falls on charismatics to do this from the inside. As Clint Archer concludes, “All true believers are on the same team, and we’re all against the abuses and excesses of masquerading unbelievers. Conservative Continuationists need to start their own version of the conference to police the excesses as best they can, or they should muster a cheer while the Cessationists do it.”

    A Polarizing Issue

    The charismatic/cessationist issue is polarizing. Before Strange Fire I did not know just how polarizing it could be, though I suppose others did know, and this is why we have been loathe to address it. Based on the reaction to the event and the discussions back-and-forth, it seems clear that this is an issue many of us feel as much as it is an issue we believe by reasoning it out from Scripture. It is one of those issues where we see our own position with utter clarity and look to the opposite position with shock that they can believe something so absurd. Those tend to be the most dangerous issues of all because they can turn sour so quickly and easily. In the face of such a polarizing issue, I need to consider how I can maintain unity in the faith while still holding fast to what I believe the Bible teaches.

    Confidence Is Not Arrogance

    I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.

    Trevin Wax goes into some detail on this and says, “If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.” And again, “let’s not judge the conference speakers as wrong simply for gathering together and taking a stand against doctrines they believe to be false. As Christians, we may be continualists or cessationists, but we are not relativists.”

    There Is Misunderstanding

    I have long believed that many of the issues related to charismatic and cessationist theology owe to misunderstandings between the two sides. The reaction to this conference—the many discussions through social media and elsewhere—reveal that we need to do a better job of understanding one another, of affirming common ground, and of determining the importance of our differences. As a convinced cessationist, I was troubled to hear caricatures from charismatics about quenching the Holy Spirit, about elevating Scripture above God, about excluding all possibility of miracles, and so on. All of these caricatures show an uncharitable and unhelpful misunderstanding of cessationism. I am sure many cessationists were equally unfair and that I, myself, do not understand the continuationist position as well as I should. The simple fact is, until we rightly understand one another, we are in a weak position to bring critiques. But I know I am prone to do it anyway, to argue out of ignorance. I have to challenge myself here to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and when I do speak, to speak through the Scriptures.

    What We Believe (Not Who)

    This is a late addition to the article (a half hour after posting it), but I wanted to express it. We always face the danger of making our theology about who we believe rather than what we believe. The last thing we want or need is “I am of MacArthur” and “I am of Grudem.” I am sure this is the very last thing those men want. So even while we take our cues from the men we admire and the men who may think better than we do, let’s be sure that we are all Bereans, that we are all going back to the Bible to determine what we believe. Let’s be known for what we believe far ahead of whom we believe.

    There Is More Work To Be Done

    Strange Fire was an event that primarily targeted the worst of the charismatic movement. As I said when I offered an early look at the book, it is more about Benny Hinn than Bob Kauflin. While the Reformed charismatics may be a valued and significant part of the New Calvinism, they represent only the smallest fringe of the wider charismatic movement. What still remains to be done is to interact with the best arguments of the best of the charismatics and to address this from within the Reformed resurgence. This would be a very different event with a very different purpose and I hope someone will sponsor it before long.


    Only time will tell of the long-term impact of Strange Fire, but as I think back to the past few days, I find myself grateful for it. I suppose that may be easier to say as a cessationist than a charismatic, but I believe the event and its aftermath will prove beneficial. I continue to pray that God would use it to to strengthen His church and to glorify His name.

  3. Terry says:

    So you believe that Sam Storms, John Piper, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Grudem should all be considered just as heretical and dangerous as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin?

    • Angela Wittman says:

      Hi Terry, Frankly, I stay away from Piper and Grudem – don’t know who Storms is and am surprised that Martyn Lloyd Jones is a continuationist (SP?). Just as there are various shades of belief in most things, there probably is in Charismatic teachings and circles as well. However, as one who has been “burnt” by false teaching, I would be an absolute fool to go back for more abuse and if I didn’t warn others, I would be negligent in my duty as a Christian. Charismatic theology is dangerous. Period. I don’t care who gives it their stamp of approval.

      • And I agree with what you are saying. I am *not* a charismatic by either the cessationist or charismatic definition. I just think some of the cessationist exegesis is faulty. That’s all.

      • Angela Wittman says:

        I agree and appreciate you blogging on this. I have many friends who are charismatic in different degrees and the good Lord knows I love them, but I have to be careful to not encourage or promote their belief in this area. I’m hoping that your blog posts on this will help me to express my concerns to them in a biblical manner.

  4. I agree that 90% of the charismatic movement is dangerous. My posts should be seen as an opportunity for cessationists to sharpen their minds and not use bad arguments. I have been physically attacked by charismatics before. I have no love for them. I am *NOT* a charismatic. I just think the cessationists have traditionally relied on very bad lines of reasoning.

    I’ll go further: I think John Piper has become wacky in his later years. I don’t think he is on the same plane as Grudem or even Storms (and I say that generaelly liking Piper).

  5. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    I’ve said this elsewhere but part of the problem in this debate is that what Samuel Rutherford meant by “prophecy” is not what John Piper means by “prophecy”. What someone pre-Azusa Street means by “speaking in tongues” (as the Lightfoot work I posted on twitter shows) is not what your average glossolaliaing Pentecostal means by “speaking in tongues”.

    This inability to understand, in context, what is going on in 1 Cor 14 (and this is similar to the arguments I have with pro-women’s ordination folks who point to the Joel 2 prophecy) has no reference point with what passes for “charismania” in our age.

    • That may be true pace Rutherford, and I am still looking into that matter, but there are numerous other accounts where MANY in the Scottish Reformation accurately foretold the future. John Knox writes of Wishart accurately predicting the future.

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