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.

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.


Were the fathers in limbo?

Were the fathers (Old Testament saints) admitted into eternal joy upon death, or did they rest in some limbonic waiting place? The former we affirm; the latter we deny.  Following Turretin (vol. 2: 257) we note: It should be borne in mind that limbo is actually a dimension of hell, not heaven.

  1. The covenant of grace under which the fathers lived does not allow for a limbo.  God promised to be their God eternally, not temporally.
  2. Christ says all live unto him (Luke 20:38)
  3. Christ does say that the ancients went immediately to the bosom of Abraham.  While I agree, since Christ is using this as a parable, I am cautious against putting too much weight on it literally.  Be that as it may, it cannot be argued that the bosom of Abraham is limbo, for Christ says that Lazarus received good things there.
  4. The prison in 1 Peter 3:19 cannot be limbo, for the grammar and syntax of the passage insist that it is the spirit of Christ preaching through Noah, indicating that it is during Noah’s time before the flood (cf Wayne Grudem’s exegesis, which I find convincing).

These arguments do not equally apply to the Eastern Orthodox as they do to Rome.  Orthodoxy does not have the same concept of limbo.  However, there are some similarities.  Orthodoxy does hold to a form of “spirits in prison,” which fits in with their Christus Victor motif (as evidenced in the icon of Christ leading Adam out of hades or prison or whatever).   Further, it seems to be a warrantable inference (on their gloss) that what is true of Adam, mutatis mutandus, is true of other Old Testament saints.  Yet, we have established that this cannot be true of other Old Testament saints; therefore, it is not true of Adam (if p, then q.  ~q; therefore, ~P).

An interesting project would be to apply the above reasoning to arguments about purgatory.