Review of Strange Fire

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a chapter on basic logic in this book.

For the review

Chapter 1 is simply a string of recycled sermon notes on how silly and evil various brands of charismania are. Okay, but anyone can play this game. I agree there are hucksters and there is a special place in hell for them, but this is not an argument. Macarthur does actually get to something like an argument:

Thesis: “It is the elevation of experience over the authority of Scripture that grieves and demeans the Holy Spirit most of all” (Macarthur 17).

I have several observations: 1) it is dangerous to elevate experience over theology, but where is the proof that it grieves the Holy Spirit most of all? How does Macarthur know this? The Scriptures he cites are about the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the Word and the Spirit’s testifying to Christ. Great, but that is immaterial to this thesis. Indeed, is this not Macarthur’s own experience?

2) If this is Macarthur’s thesis, and if he is successful in proving it (I don’t think he can be), then we should note that the truth of continuationism stands or falls independent of this thesis.

Chapter 2

This is a history of the modern Pentecostal movement and most of it, while interesting, is irrelevant to his thesis. Except for one part:

But here is the point to all of this history: if the Holy Spirit intended to recreate the day of Pentecost, is this really how he would do it? (27)

I really don’t know what to say. I suppose some early Pentecostals said something like this.

“Why focus on these two men [Charles Parham and E. W. Kenyon]? The answer is simple. These two men are responsible for the theological foundations upon which the entire charismatic system is built (31)”

At this point I have no idea if this historiography is true. I am not persuaded that one can make a 1:1 connection between the early Pentecostals and Wayne Grudem. Genealogical arguments are always dangerous to make and they rarely deliver on their promises.

Chapter 3

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 really is a good chapter. He notes (rightly) that the Spirit testifies of Christ, so those who are filled with the Spirit will testify of Christ. Sadly, this is absent from a large part of the Charismatic world.

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.”

Real quick side note: I wish quasi-Reformed people would stop referencing Augustine. Let’s be honest. You don’t know what he teaches. He isn’t an easy writer and his work isn’t systematic. You have to spend about half a decade working through different treatises to get an idea of what he is saying. And to make matters worse, he believed that miracles happen today. Read City of God, Book 22, chapter 8. This is embarrassing.

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

“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

I do find it interesting, though, that Macarthur didn’t clinch his argument with Revelation 19:10, “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.” In fact, the book doesn’t mention this verse at all.

Chapter 4, same contd.

Most of this chapter reads like the tabloids. Interesting, mind you, but not really germane to the thesis, except where noted above.

Chapter 5: Apostles Among Us

Macarthur has a twofold argument: the apostolic office has expired, and if the apostolic office expired, then other gifts may have expired (MacArthur 91). He further argues, “The Charismatic movement operates on the premise that everything that happened in the early church ought to be expected and experienced in the church today” (91). I agree with Macarthur’s definition of apostleship, but I dispute the conclusions he draws from it.

Quoting Sam Storms, he says, “But even he [Storms] acknowledges that ‘since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today’” (93). If Storms is correct, and I think he is, and if Macarthur thinks Storms is correct, and I think he does think that, then Macarthur has just contradicted his earlier statement on page 91 that the Charismatic Movement operates on the premise that everything” is in effect today (emphasis original).

We can leave that contradiction aside for the moment. Macarthur’s real target is Peter Wagner. I don’t feel a need to defend Wagner, so I’ll move on.

Macarthur argues that “The New Testament apostles were recognized as the revelatory agents of God, and as such they possessed an unsurpassed level of authority in church history” (94). This is a good statement and I think it lends evidence to the claim that prophetic words of wisdom are not in the same category as Scriptural revelations.

Can Prophecy be fallible?

This is the toughest objection and where Macarthur is initially on stronger ground. Mind you, this objection, if it carries, presents a huge difficulty for continuationism but it does not prove the book’s thesis. Before we answer the question whether prophecy can be fallible, let’s ask if it is always authoritative? Presumably, the cessationist would answer “yes.” We’ll come back to that.

I think both sides are confusing an issue. Divine prophecy itself is always infallible because it comes from God, but does that mean that the prophet is always giving divine prophecy? Could he just be mistaken? Macarthur is quick to respond that false prophets in the Old Testament should die. Well, yes, because their false prophecy almost always involved going after other gods.

Still, the cessationist will urge that the Bible said fallible prophets should die. Okay, let’s reread some of Paul’s statements, like in 1 Corinthians 14: “Earnestly desire to prophecy but if you get it wrong I will kill you.” The text just doesn’t read that way. I think something else is going on.

One more point: if we should always expect prophets to be 100% accurate and if prophets are giving forth potential-Scripture, then why does Paul tell us to test the prophecies (1 Cor. 5:21)? If it is a divinely binding Revelation, you should not test it but obey!

Formal Criticisms

The first and most obvious criticism is Macarthur’s oscillating thesis. From earlier in the book he appeared to attack the elevation of experience over theology, which thesis is independent of whether the gifts continue today. So even if his thesis is successful, he has not disproven continuing gifts. Much of the book, however, is either a running catalogue of charismatic abuses or it is a comparison of all forms of Charismatic theology with cults like Mormonism.

Misleading Statements and Inaccuracies

Macarthur’s account suffers from a number of either misleading statements or theological inaccuracies. These errors aren’t serious enough to refute the whole book, but they are worth pointing out. I think at best they show that Macarthur’s arguments aren’t serious enough to fully take down the continuationist thesis.

The Canon

What makes a book canonical? Or rather, what gives it apostolic authority? Macarthur answers, “If a book or epistle claiming to speak with prophetic authority was written by an apostles or under apostolic oversight, it was recognized as inspired and authoritative” (95). Please note that Macarthur gives at least two necessary conditions for canonicity: 1) prophetic authority AND 2) apostolic connection. (1) is the issue under question, which makes (2) the clincher. Here is the problem: who wrote Hebrews? This is where Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have a field day with us, and who can fault them?

On another point, if the canon is “closed” today, then how do you know it is closed? Mind you, I think the canon is closed for all functional purposes, but I don’t see how you can have fully epistemic confidence it is closed. Which book of the Bible says it is closed? Revelation 22 doesn’t count, because it’s just talking about Revelation (and this is a bigger problem if you accept an early date for Revelation). If you can’t prove the canon is closed from Scripture alone, which is impossible to prove, then you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that people are adding to the canon.

Theological inaccuracies

Macarthur defines sola scriptura as “the only divinely revealed word and therefore the believer’s true authority for sound doctrine and righteous living” (214). This is a half-truth. For the Reformers, Scripture was first of all the norm that normed lesser norms. It is not the only source of truth, but the final source of truth.

Leaps in Logic

Speaking of the charismatic movement, he writes, “The entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers” (113). Yikes. The entire movement? How do you get from cases like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn and then derive a universal statement from them? This would fell a freshman logic class.

And then we have basic, old-fashioned “begging the question.” He writes, “It is also important to remember that Paul wrote these words [1 Thess. 5:20-22] at a time when the revelatory gift of prophecy was still active” (126). He is using this to explain away Paul’s command not to despise prophetic utterances, but he is assuming the very thing he is trying to prove.

Factual Inaccuracies

Speaking of miracles and healings, Macarthur asserts (not argues!) “Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today” (175). So what of sane, sober accounts where people were healed? Macarthur, like David Hume, would simply say that’s not possible. Don’t let facts get in the way of theory.  Remember, this was Hume’s specific argument.

Scriptural Contradictions

Macarthur: “There is no warrant anywhere in Scripture for Christians to listen to fresh revelations from God beyond what he has already given us in his written word” (115).
The Apostle Paul: “especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1); “desire earnestly to prophesy” (v. 39).

Cessationism and the missing premise:

Cessationists use “revelation” in an equivocal sense. This is a problem when we examine practices in the 1st century church. Paul tells the church to prophesy (and one can find numerous other examples). How does the cessationist respond?

First, let’s look at the argument:

1: God’s speaking is what constitutes revelation, and revelation was eventually codified in the canon.
This seems to entail the following:

2: The canon is closed (let’s leave aside messy issues like who had the authority to close the canon and how do you know).

I think Ephesians 2:20 affords the cessationist another premise:

3. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Assuming apostles means those associated in one way or another with Jesus’s ministry, I think we can safely affirm (and this would be the position of many continuationists) that apostles aren’t around today. Therefore,

3.1. Prophets aren’t around, either.

The Continuationist Responds,

Is (P1) true? I agree with the first half if it is phrased like this: God reveals himself and this usually happens by speech or in words (whether internal or external). The second half of P1 is unproven.

What about P2? Practically, we have to assume that the canon is closed, but we have no evidence from God that it is. Honestly, how do you know the canon is closed? I think wiser Protestants were right to say that the Canon is “a fallible collection of infallible books” and leave it at that.

As to P3, my question is: are all acts of “prophesying” in the New Testament establishing the foundation of the church? Are Phillip’s daughters part of that foundation? When Paul acknowledges different men are prophesying is that, too, part of the foundation? Maybe, but we have no evidence that such is what Paul meant.

The only way the cessationist can salvage this position is to add another premise:

P4: Paul’s command to prophesy only functioned until the canon was closed.

The main problem with that statement is there isn’t a single verse that says


Not all of the book is bad. The sections on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification were quite good. Unfortunately, Macarthur engages in huge leaps of logic, misleading statements, and unfocused arguments. I think this is the end of cessationism.