Protecting Macarthurites from a bad inference

These are observations about claims Mac and Co. make.   They are not intended as a point-by-point analysis of Strange Fire.  That will come in due time, Lord willing.  My goal here is to protect John MacArthur’s admitted hero Martyn Lloyd-Jones from John Macarthur.

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.

  1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
  2. Does it oppose worldliness?
  3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
  4. Does it elevate the truth?
  5. Does it produce love for God and others?

It is a good list.  However, I would say with the apostle Paul, “I would that you all prophesy.”  But back to the points above.  The logical danger with rhetorical questions is that if the opposition can bite the bullet and the position is logically unchanged, your entire argument, such that it is, evaporates.

Case study:  Wayne Grudem.

No one can accuse Wayne Grudem of not exalting Christ.  I don’t know him personally, though we did exchange friendly emails some months ago, but I highly doubt he is worldly.  Does he point people to the Scriptures?  Seriously?  As an inerrantist, I am certain Grudem can affirm 3 and 4.  5 is a given.

How would a Word-Faither do?  That’s a fair question, but if you lump Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms in the same camp with Copeland and Hinn, you are sinning against your brothers and violating the 9th commandment.  Only a party spirit can remain untouched by such a rebuke.

The Missing Case of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A search engine on Strange Fire lists only seven appearances of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

p.44 lists MLJ saying that the Spirit exalts Christ.  Presumably this is a slam against much of charismatic worship.  Fair enough.  (I do wonder if the Spirit wants us to worship like Dutch-American amillennialists).

p.261 has MLJ saying the office of prophet has ceased.  Okay, he said that.  He also said other things, and in any case I don’t think that exegesis stands up to Grudem’s scholarship.

p.117-118 say basically the same thing.

p.312 lists MLJ’s Christian Unity.

p.319 is the index.

p.281 is an endnote for Great Doctrines of the Bible.

And that’s it for MLJ.  So what’s the big deal?  Well, here is what Macarthur has to say about Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

He influenced countless preachers (myself included), and he stood steadfastly against the superficial, entertainment-oriented approach to preaching that seemed to dominate the evangelical world then as it does now. Lloyd-Jones still desperately needs to be heard today.

Again, you might ask, “What’s the big deal?  Anybody should say that about MLJ.” Macarthur elsewhere says,

There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology that runs all the way back to the apostles.  It runs through Athanasius and Augustine…and runs through the pathway of Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it keeps running.

Well, here is the problem.  Macarthur does not allow (de facto) the distinction between continuationism (myself) and charismaticism (insert favorite bad guy).  He notes

Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers.  If you say the gift of healing is still around, and you say it whimsically, there’s no evidence it’s around, either experimentally or biblically, but if you say it’s still around, then you have just validated healers.

Who would want to do that?  Are they not the lowest of the low?  Are they not the worst of the worst?  They don’t go to hospitals.  They prey on the most desperate, the most severely ill, the most hopeless, the most destitute, very often the poorest, telling them lies and getting rich.  Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?

Said another way:

Premise 1: If continuationists assert “the miraculous,” then they validate faith healers.
Premise 2: They assert the miraculous.
(3)Conclusion: They validate faith healers (Modus Ponens)

Prem. (4): Faith healers are the lowest of the low (agreed)
Prem. (5): If anyone validates them, they, too are the lowest of the low [4, 1]

(6) If person A asserts the miraculous, then he, too, validates faith healers [2, 5]

Of course, I challenge premises 1 and 3.  Someone could still say, “Yeah, so.  You are the lowest of the low because you believe in the miraculous.”  Fair enough.  I will now lower the boom.

Lloyd-Jones states,

Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141).

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46.)

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then (Joy Unspeakable, p. 246.)

Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32.)

“To hold such a view,” he says, “is simply to quench the Spirit” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46)

Premise (7) Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts the miraculous.

Now the Strange Fire Brigade faces a painful difficulty:  reject (1)–(6) or accept Premise (8)

(8) Martyn Lloyd-Jones validates faith-healers.  [6, 7 MP]

Conclusion

Someone could still respond, “Well, MLJ is not God. He isn’t right on everything.”  No he isn’t.  He is an amillennialist, for one.  But let’s go back to Macarthur’s claim: “anyone holding these views gives credence to faith healers and is the lowest of the low.”  He must apply that to MLJ.  The logic is impeccable (up to a point, anyway).

In analytic philosophy we call this a “defeater.”  It shows his position is either counter to the evidence or it cannot be held simultaneously with the evidence. Either his view of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is wrong and it has to be abandoned (as the evidence makes abundantly clear), or he must give the defeater to his claim that continuationists validate faith healers.

He will do neither.

His position collapses.

Implications for not celebrating Halloween

If celebrating Halloween is evil because of its connotations with pagan deities (i.e., demons), then I have to ask:

  1. Does that mean that demonic warfare exists today?

If it does, then what does that make of the claim that “the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased?”  Surely we don’t want to say that the children and practitioners of Satan have more power than the children of the light?  I agree with the critic of Halloween:  we should not commune with evil.   But that begs the question: is evil really a danger today?  If it is, and we must say it is, then we need to rethink our views on warfare against the powers.

If it isn’t, then who cares?

Continuationism and proving Van Til right on evidence

Whenever I doubt the truth of presuppositional apologetics, I read discussions where TRs doubt that God’s power gifts continue today.  Now, I have no problem with someone coming up with a logical argument that the Spirit’s power isn’t active today.  Fair enough.  I just think a lot of the conversations are funny.

A note on prophesy:  this is one of the most debated terms in the Bible. The problem is that the NT really doesn’t give a neat usage of the term.  Older Puritan writers often equated it with Preaching, in which case the gift obviously continues today.   Most people, cessationist or otherwise, see that usage won’t stand up to five minutes of Scrutiny.  Even worse, some say it is the Spirit applying the truths (timeless, of course; not messy historical contingencies) to day-to-day situations.  In that case, everyone of God’s children should prophesy.  But that seems inadequate and ignores almost all of the NT texts.

A quick rejoinder:  But prophesy doesn’t always mean telling the future.  Sure.  But that did happen.

But God’s word meant the death penalty if your prophesy didn’t come true.   Okay, I’ll grant that for the moment (though I think you can find examples in the OT where godly men were less than 100% accurate and they didn’t die).  But even with that terrifying injunction, you really don’t see NT believers afraid to prophesy.  That’s just the plain truth of the matter.  In fact–and it’s funny that the most rabid anti-theonomists become theonomists on this point–Paul urges all to prophesy.   I doubt the conversation went like this:

Paul:  Pursue all gifts, especially that you may prophesy, but be careful because if you are less than 100% accurate I am going to kill you.

Anyway, to the conversation.

Cessationist:  Show me one example of a Reformed Christian believing continuation of gifts continue.

Continuationist:  (insert example of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill prophesying/speaking the truth)

Cessationist:  Yeah, well that doesn’t count.

Translation:  you have your facts and I have my theory.  Too bad for your facts.

Why continue the conversation?

The Covenanters Embarrass Modern Reformed

I do have some critical questions, not necessarily of the original Covenanters, but of those who take up the mantle today, but it is interesting to watch modern, respectable Reformed interact with claims by the Covenanters.   Normally, someone would post the Covenanters’ political theory, and a bourgeoisie Reformed would cry over Protestant Inquisitions or something.  There is a thread on Puritanboard on whether the fact that Rome’s miracle-claims negate the Reformed continuationist.  To put it in perspective, I am not really a continuationist.  I think the arguments for cessationism are horribly bad and fallacious, but beyond that I really don’t care.

Still, I posed the question, “What about the miracles of the Scottish Covenanters?”   The responses were hilarious.  Some them outright denied them.   That’s one option, I suppose, but those kind of moves began to build up massive levels of cognitive dissonance.  Others took a better route, “Yeah, well that might be true, but what about Rome?”  To which I replied, “Who cares?  Paul says Antichrist will work signs and wonders.”

See the problem with openly distancing and disagreeing with the Covenanters, at least for Anglo-American Presbyterians, is that you run the risk of theological bastardization.

Two good cessationist responses to Strange Fire

I cite Doug Wilson with caution.  Few men have done more mischief to the Reformed faith, but this is a good article.  The next one is by a Fundamentalist Baptist.   They are both perceptive.  Exactly on what grounds can 90% of the Conservative Evangelical world criticize these guys for “strange fire” when nobody in this discussion even pretends to have a biblical view of worship (e.g., what God commands)?

Proof that I am not a charismatic

I hope my recent posts didn’t give people the wrong idea.  The guy at Credo House has done a decent job in summarizing a lot of the issues.  Based on his criteria, I am nowhere close to being a charismatic.  He lists six criteria of what it means to be a charismatic by today’s standards.  I will interact with them.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

I don’t know what people mean by the word “Unusual.”  That I place a bigger emphasis on the Holy Spirit than, say, Bible Broadcasting Network, is true.

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

I simply don’t have this tendency (and I have reason to want to).  I believe miracles are quite possible today.  I strongly dispute that it died with the apostles, but I also know that in God’s providence he has not seen to act this way in some cases of my life.  So there.

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

Nope.  Not me.  I believe that the Scottish Reformers overwhelmingly did so (even Banner of Truth conceded this point), but that is not how I seek God.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones has testified to this a few times and draws upon some Puritan experiences, of which I will discuss in another post.

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

I do believe demons are active, more so than the typical bourgeoisie Presbyterian today.   That said, I don’t “pray the blood” over bush and tree to get the demon out.

5. Very  expressive worship

Again, these terms are very subjective.  In any case, I am moving more and more to psalm-singing, so I doubt I fit this profile.

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

I don’t necessarily hold this.  My position is that MacArthur’s position is painfully weak and can be easily debunked on biblical, historical, and logical lines. I say this with regard to the word of knowledge, prophecy, and miracles.   I don’t know what to think about tongues.

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.