Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: Strange Fire by John MacArthur

Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship is the latest book by
Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur.  MacArthur pulls no punches from his opening chapter, taking shots at T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and others.  Throughout the book, he exposes the scandals and false teachings of many of these leaders.  He also seeks to set out principles of discernment and teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit.

I have a deep respect for Dr. MacArthur and his ministry.  I do not always agree with him on every point, but I love his desire to be faithful to the Word of God.  I came into reading Strange Fire knowing what to expect.  Already knowing his bent against anything charismatic related, as well as listening to the sessions of his recent Strange Fire Conference, I knew this would be a book on the attack.

This book has three different angles, as I see it.  One, is the angle of seeking to expose much of the chaos and abuse that is happening under the umbrella of the Charismatic umbrella.  The second angle is that of seeking to warn Christians who are being exposed to these dangers and teachers.  Third, is that of preaching to the choir - that is, getting people who already agree with him to get further worked up.  I know it sounds strange, but I have witnessed this firsthand - Christians who all agree on a certain issue rallying together to just vent about the problems they see.  I am not sure which objective Dr. MacArthur is seeking to fulfill with this book.

If the objective to is make people aware of the dangers taking place, I feel he goes about it the wrong way.  At times his complaints are petty.  Early in the book, he addresses a New Year's Eve prayer meeting that went past midnight, leading up to a participant speaking in tongues.  One account later says the tongues took place on New Year's Eve, while another account states it was New Year's Day.  If it happened after midnight, I can understand the conflict as to what day to call it.  However, this is used as evidence as to why the entire account cannot be trusted.

For these reasons, and for his harsh and critical tone throughout the book, I do not see this as being a book to help people currently exposed to dangerous teachers see the truth.  I even found myself defensive for people I oppose.  MacArthur condemns the Charismatic Movement because of the scandals and luxurious living associated with it.  However, it doesn't take long online to find people calling into question Dr. MacArthur's own income.  There are legitimate issues to address in Christianity, but I feel this book overshadows the serious issues for the sake of petty attacks.

I can't help but see this as a book that will serve no other purpose than to fire up MacArthur's base.  His fans will love the book and his opponents will hate it.  I am personally mixed about it.  There is a great deal of truth in the book and he confronts many issues in need of confronting.  However, I feel he slides into error by condemning anything under the Charismatic umbrella.  He is a cessationist and I am fine with that.  However, Dr. MacArthur seems to feel that one cannot be a Biblical Christian AND a continuationist.  What he does is the same as atheists who cite how many wars have been fought over religion, the use of the Bible to condone slavery and child abuse, and the spiritual abuse of legalism as reasons to reject Christianity.  Or Christians who dismiss the Bible because of people who abuse it.

The way to correct abuse is not misuse.  Dr. MacArthur seems to be calling us to misuse rather than proper use.  He seems to dismiss so much good that is happening under what he paints as a very broad Charismatic umbrella.  According to his definition, Charismatics would include groups like The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Calvary Chapel.  These are both groups which, while not perfect, seek to establish Biblical balance while keeping their focus on Jesus at all times.

He can say that "throwing the baby out with the bath water" is not an appropriate analogy, but that doesn't change the reality.  I see to many of MacArthur's followers living out a Christianity that say, "Either you are a cessationist Calvinist, or you are a heretic."

At times, it seemed to me that the Reformers were the real authority rather than the Bible.  MacArthur condemns a group for reading the book of Acts and praying for the same manifestation of the Spirit that they read about.  I can see someone reading Strange Fire and saying, :I can't be trusted to read the Bible on my own, or I might do something dangerous."  On several points, Dr. MacArthur would declare a practice like speaking in tongues to be nothing but a work of the flesh, then load up on Scriptures about the dangers of the flesh.  He assumes the Bible is clear on tongues - or at least how he sees it, even though his own commentary notes on the subject are less than solid.

To me, this book was not really about exposing the dangers associated with the Charismatic movement, but an all out call to cessationism.  He warns against the blasphemy of attributing to the Holy Spirit what are actually the works of Satan.  OK, but the Bible actually warns against attributing to Satan the works of the Holy Spirit.  Is there a difference?  Yes.  A very poor example would be giving my wife credit for wonderful cookies she didn't make as opposed to unknowingly expressing disgust for the cookies that she actually did make.

I don't like giving a bad review of a book by a man that I hold with deep respect.  However, when all is said and done, this book grieved my heart.

1 comment: