Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Interview With Tim Challies: John MacArthur Responds to Critics of the Strange Fire Conference

Posted by Christine Pack

In the aftermath of the Strange Fire Conference hosted by John MacArthur last month, a conference meant to expose and address wildly unbiblical excesses in the Charismatic movement at large (angel feathers, gold dust, glory clouds,"grave sucking," getting "drunk" in the spirit, etc.), Tim Challies, a non-Charismatic who is nonetheless well-regarded in the Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) movement (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, etc., many of whom are Charismatics), conducted a brief interview with Dr. MacArthur about some lingering questions that remain in the minds of some Charismatics.

Some examples of "grave sucking," for those unfamiliar with this new Charismatic practice:

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church

(HT: Beyond Grace)

It would be an understatement to say that this practice of "grave sucking" is obviously well outside of Christian orthodoxy. But above and beyond these practices being taught by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, and other TBN excesses, there is a Reformed Charismatic movement (Driscoll, Piper, Grudem, et al, mentioned above) that has long positioned itself as the Charismatics who "get it right," and as the ones who are theologically buttoned up (which they are). But as Dr. MacArthur labored to explain during the conference itself, and again reinforced in his interview with Tim Challies, he does not state or even imply that all Charismatics are lost or that they engage in these unbiblical practices (though while the conference was ongoing, I saw many online claims that the speakers of the conference were"painting with a broad brush," something Phil Johnson of GTY has addressed here).

Also, something that makes this interview all the more interesting to me is that Tim Challies (himself a "convinced cessationist who points to John MacArthur's groundbreaking 1993 book Charismatic Chaos as being instrumental in shaping his thinking in this area) is extremely well-regarded and influential in the Reformed Charismatic camp. One can only hope that his balanced view on Continuationism vs. Charismaticism will help to reform some of the thinking on this matter in the YRR movement.

With respect to the dangers of charismatic thought, Dr. MacArthur states that some of the secondary issues of Charismatic belief and practice could possibly confuse how a person understands the gospel message, which of course is not a secondary issue, but a primary one. From the interview:
Tim Challies: There are some matters the Bible makes absolutely clear (e.g. You must trust in Christ alone for your salvation) and some things that continue to perplex us so that even genuine, Bible-loving Christians can disagree on them (e.g. baptism and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit). Why does God allow questions like these to remain unclear to us? Why are you taking such a strong stand on what is really just a secondary issue? 
John MacArthur: "I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a continuationist or a cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches......On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue."
The entire interview can be read here.

 Additional Resources 

Strange Fire, Mark Driscoll and a Few Thoughts

Strange Fire Conference

Strange Fire Audio Now Available

The Broad Brush

Lessons Learned At Strange Fire

"Grave Sucking"?

Charismatic Chaos - entire sermon series

Charismatic Chaos

Strange Fire - Amazon

Former IHOP Member Explains Why IHOP (International House of Prayer) Is A Cult

Clouds Without Water (formerly known as A Call For Discernment) - Justin Peters

Clouds Without Water, video preview