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]


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.

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?

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.


Is Iain Murray a Revivalist?

(In what follows I am not endorsing any one revival.  I largely agree with Clark’s analysis.  I think the 2nd Great Awakening sowed dangerous seeds and the 1st Great Awakening had wacky moments that its supporters do not account for.  Of other revivals such as the 1859 Ulster one, I simply do not have the expertise to comment on that).

Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s antagonist is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).

Clark takes issue with Iain Murray’s distinction between “revival” and “revivalism.” In the first category would be Reformed evangelists like Edwards and Whitefield. In the latter category we have the horror of today’s evangelicalism. Clark accuses Murray of using providence to justify revivals he likes but ignoring providence on revivals he doesn’t like (81-82). Clark concludes his critique of Murray by asserting on Murray’s gloss what unites true Christianity is “experience, not doctrine” (82).

Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be easily dismissed. There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark’s analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray’s account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray’s distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as “whooping and hollering” until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.

I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.

While Clark is correct that MLJ probably doesn’t represent good Reformed ecclesiology, MLJ’s exegesis is not so easily dismissed. Perhaps MLJ’s understanding of the 1859 revival doesn’t rest on exegesis (with that I agree with Clark), but MLJ’s understanding of the nature of revival and even the continuation of spiritual gifts (and I know this is uncomfortable with many) does rest upon carefully-reasoned exegesis (cf. MLJ, Prove all Things, 32-33; Joy Unspeakable, p. 21, 23; The Sovereign Spirit, p. 26, 120, pp. 31-32). In any case, MLJ does encourage his congregation to delight in the day of small things and to be careful in seeking “phenomena.” That at least must be granted. I agree with Clark that MLJ was perhaps a bit too dismissive of anyone who disagreed with him. That was not helpful on the latter’s part.


I have some questions about Clark’s analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark’s analysis really can’t account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn’t sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, “No God, this isn’t how you work.” (Of course, I don’t think Clark is saying that).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Clean Power

The following  is from John Piper’s talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though I had read the works in question long before I had heard the talk.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Personal Experiences of Unusual Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do.

Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit-medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion:

The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power“.
Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Piper’s website lists the reference as being in volume 2, The Fight of Faith, p. 221, but that is incorrect.  It is in volume 1, page 221.)