Thoughtful Review of MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Book

Posted By on November 20, 2013

Thanks to Nijay Gupta’s note on Twitter that directed me to this review by Craig Keener.

I’ve not followed the controversy over John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference (a pugnacious criticism of the charismatic movement), which I presume was in part arranged to promote his book. (I didn’t even know there was a book until today – I don’t follow popular preachers at all). But I read the review. Keener is a charismatic scholar I met a couple of years ago at the Pastorum Conference where we were both speakers. I really enjoyed his session and chatting with him. He’s a committed NT scholar with a long history in the charismatic tradition, so the review caught my interest. It’s very good – thoughtful and attentive to detail, offering both positive and negative commentary. If you’re interested in this subject area, this would be something you’ll want to read.

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12 Responses to “Thoughtful Review of MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Book”

  1. Stu Klemm says:

    MIke!! Thanks for the link to Dr. Keener’s article. I watched all of the “Strange Fire” sessions which were posted on YouTube. I put here only two general thoughts: First, Dr. MacArthur decided for some reason to lump charismatics of charismatics in with the Sons of Korah in Numbers 16. That is a stretch at least. Of course, if I may, it allows Dr. MacArthur to label charismatics as “blasphemers against the Holy Spirit,” and to have the passage in Matthew 12 stand on its head and do a dance. The “strange fire” the Sons of Korah brought first had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, and secondly was a violation of the clear instructions regarding Tabernacle ritual which were all shadow Christology. I was decidedly unimpressed that Dr. MacArthur decided to use such a prejorative and clearly unsupportable comparison.

    Secondly, I wish both Dr. Keener and Dr. MacArthur and his other speakers had done more scholarly work with I Corinthians 14:22 and Isaiah 28:11-12. This forum is not for in depth essays, so that is all I will say.

  2. Stu Klemm says:

    Mike, I meant “reason to lump characteristics of charismatics…” sorry…. Stu

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  4. Dax Swanson says:

    Thanks for pointing to this review, Mike. I also found it really helpful in tone and content!

  5. Patrick says:

    I don’t know if this is accurate or not, I’ve been told this by my preacher. He says the “charasmatic/tongues” thing isn’t part of church history past the first century until it popped up in the USA in the late 19th century again.

    I doubt he could really know that with certainty, but, I wonder if there is any evidence of it in other eras?

  6. Starkman says:

    It is sad that it is often times the sharp and academic folk who can’t seem to find the balance in common sense and Scripture. Clearly, if MacArthur, whom I do admire, were in, say, a hospital visiting a sick friend and found himself praying for a terminally ill person, and that person was suddenly healed, MacArthur would hardly say, “Well, I’m sorry, there just aren’t miracles like this today; get back in bed.”

    So the question is, what is it, therefore, that can possibly prohibit God from using someone to speak an inspired word to someone else, or heal someone, or discern something going on in someone’s life? The answer is nothing. There is nothing to prohibit God from doing such…common sense (and Scripture doesn’t contradict this).

    I presume that when MacArthur preaches he is trusting that it is God inspiring him, that the message has come from the Holy Spirit. Yet he does not claim that such inspired words should become canon. And so it is that God can inspire words (and many other events), that aren’t to become canon but are no less inspired; these works come from the Holy Spirit, thus they are inspiried no less than when God inspired Paul or James or Peter. Common sense. It’s that simple.

    I think one of the problems is that there is so little of God’s moving in the arena of “miracles” that many Christians are prone to write off even what few miracles are taking place. This becomes the great opportunity to forfeit common sense and throw the baby out with the bathwater: if there aren’t as many miracles as there were in Jesus’ time, then there aren’t any at all. The logic (and common sense) is distorted.

    Oh well. What’s new. I mean, I think MacArthur is about thirty years too late with his book. This stuff’s been going on for decades. Why now does he write about it?)


    • MSH says:

      MacArthur wrote two previous books on the charismatic movement (The Charismatics, 1978; Charismatic Chaos, 1993). I’m not sure what prompted the latest iteration.

  7. mdoc7 says:

    The “Strange Fire” book is itself strange fire that doesn’t jive with Scripture. I’m that so-called “continuationist” that your pastor warned you about. You won’t find any support anywhere in the Bible supporting the so-called cessationist theory. Instead, you’ll find this in both the NT and OT:

    In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. (1Co 14:21)

    For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. (Isa 28:11)
    To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. (Isa 28:12)

    Moreover, the church fathers in the early church period were “continuationists”. So were apparently this author: Eddie L. Hyatt:

    And the best of all: my own testimony. 9 days ago, I visited a brother in his pain (a combination of kidney stones and some type of hernia). I laid hands on him (and his son laid his hands as well) and used the name of Jesus for his healing. This was at night. Next morning, he was healed, and he’s still talking about it at church.

    God’s spiritual gifts never ceased.

    Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Act 2:38)
    For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Act 2:39)

    Again, God’s spiritual gifts… NEVER… ceased.

  8. mdoc7 says:

    Let’s try that URL again in my previous post…

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