Well, the “Strange Fire” conference is underway. The twittersphere is lit up like a Christmas tree and the partisan battle lines are drawn deeply in the theological sand. As far as I can tell, you’re likely to fall into one of four positions:

1. Cessationist

2. Continuationist

3. Saddened

4. Could care less

I understand the first three categories. If you’re in group 1 or 2, you likely have biblical reasons for why you are. Hopefully you’ve wrestled with the biblical text, the well-formed thoughts of others–both pro and con, and you’ve landed as best you can on what you think is biblical ground.

I understand the third group, too. You may be in either group, but you’re mainly dejected at the sight of Christian leaders you respect “going at each other” over a vitally important but secondary issue. You’re wondering why it has to be this way. You’re feeling more and more like Rodney King. It’s not that you think Christians can’t or shouldn’t disagree. You perhaps feel Christians shouldn’t disagree this way. Not your heroes.

It seems to me the last group has the weakest position. “I could care less” and “let’s move on already” can’t really be justified by any of the Bible’s teaching. After all, what’s really being debated is how we walk with God. If we could care less about that, then we couldn’t care less about God himself. So this post is really a simple plea to folks tempted toward category 4 to care more. Think more. Feel more. Listen more. Give attention to this debate because in doing so you’ll be giving attention to the ways of God, how you might know Him better, how you might keep in step with His Spirit, and how you might discover the joy of fellowship with Him. I can’t think of a more important topic.

But as we give attention to these presentations and responses of various sorts, it seems we really must keep a few things in mind. Things that, to me at least, indicate that this is no light or laughing matter. An honest discussion on this topic entails a number of uncomfortable admissions. And, perhaps it’s our inability or unwillingness to admit these things that hinder our discussion as much as anything else. We feel the stakes but we don’t want to face the stakes. For some people, this conference forces some difficult admissions, admissions we’d be happier not to concede. But, that, too, is reason to care about the issue and engage prayerfully. Consider what’s at stake.

First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. The outcomes are non-correspondent. The thing can’t be “A” and “not A” at the same time in the same way. Those who are wrong are teaching error. That error impacts the next two things we need to admit.

Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t. Someone walks with God in a way that pleases Him, someone doesn’t. Our view of these things informs our  personal communion with God.

Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well. If we want to apply what we think the Bible teaches regarding gifts, it’s going to have a material impact on who we can actually worship with. It’s like baptism. We will either limit it to professing believers or we will include covenant children. But we can’t do both. Our decision about practicing or not practicing some secondary-but-important issues affects who can belong to our churches and what we’ll do when we gather. We may continue personal friendships (and we should), but we’ll find it difficult to continue corporate fellowship.

Fourth, we have to admit the Bible does not answer the issue compellingly. Or, better, in our fallen reading of the Bible someone–perhaps everyone–is not understanding and applying what we ought. From what I can tell, everyone in this discussion believes the Bible is sufficient for matters of doctrine and devotion. I see people of varying perspectives affirming that. But if the Bible were as clear to everyone as we’d like, we wouldn’t be having the conversation. So, it seems we’ve got to interrogate ourselves about (a) whether we’re reading the Bible with a squint, such that things that ought to be seen lose focus, and/or (b) whether the Bible really intends to tell us all the things we desire on this topic. I believe the Bible is sufficient in all that it says, but perhaps people across the spectrum are tempted to make it say more than it does say.

I read one tweet where a brother called for more “epistemic humility.” That’s a good phrase, I think. We might also call for some more “exegetical humility.” But “epistemic” or “exegetical humility” ought not be confused with “I could care less.” The two are miles apart. One receives God’s revelation as it really is, the word of God; the other waves an unconcerned hand in the face of God’s word and the godly men attempting to hold forth the truth. One takes God’s word seriously; the other tends toward a practical atheism that shuts His voice out. Always better to seek the truth of God’s word, even if we see dimly, than to swear off God’s word and debates about it.

So, whether you’ve watched the live feeds or not, whether you’ve read multiple volumes on the debate or not, I hope you care about these things. I hope you’re following with careful concern to know the truth rather than to vindicate your party. I hope you’re listening with rapt attention because you’re eager to hear God’s voice more clearly and to walk with your Savior more closely. Even the thoughts of folks who get some things wrong can help us to do that if we’re discerning and humble beneath God’s word.

May the Lord bless His Church.

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Comments:


156 thoughts on “Why You Should Care about the “Strange Fire” Discussion”

  1. David Reimer says:

    [Trivia (sort of) alert!]

    I certainly concur with your final paragraph’s statement, “I hope you care about these things”. Ironically, anyone who “could care less” DOES care at least somewhat about these things. What is meant, of course, is that Category 4 includes those who could NOT care less, thus showing no care whatsoever.

    Just saying.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      hi David :-)

      You’re absolutely correct about the phrase. I have a wonderful British brother on staff who loves to correct this American on this very thing :-).

      T-

  2. hans Maja says:

    David, don,t rib me, because I care! Anyways, the strange fire is a good discussion to have. Conrad’s presentation to me was very illustrative of the practical implications of the charismatic influence, and therefore why we all should care. Thanks T.

  3. Timothy F Reynolds says:

    Hi, brother T. – thank you for this balanced and thoughtful post. I wish we could have a conversation about it face to face!
    I did wonder by the end, however, whether your post was too balanced! That is to say, that like the BBC you felt you had to take up a position in the middle or include both opposing arguments.
    I don’t think it is necessarily true that because good men of God disagree on an issue therefore Scripture cannot be clear on it. I am a Baptist and I think the Scriptures are compellingly clear on that issue. However, far better men than I am take a different view of baptism. I think they’re wrong.
    I also think the Scriptures are compellingly clear on the errors of charismatic teaching – and again there are far better men than I who disagree with me. I think they’re wrong. I will still listen to the preaching of some of them, read their books and get benefit from them. But I still think they’re wrong on this issue – and that the errors of charismatic teaching seem to be doing more harm in the church today than the ‘baptising’ of children has ever done.
    I don’t think we can sit on the fence on this one. It’s not just a secondary issue that affects how we worship and organise ourselves – basic doctrines are either added to or ridden roughshod over because of charismatic teaching so that in effect it becomes a primary issue.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey brother,

      It’s good to hear from you! Next time you’re in Cayman, let’s plan on doing it face-to-face over your sons BBQ ribs! :-)

      As to your third paragraph, I could not agree more (see, David, I’m listening :-)). I don’t think good men disagreeing equals a weakness in the clarity of scripture. But I don’t think this particular issue admits all the scrupulous detail different “camps” sometimes press on the others.

      And, I agree: we can’t sit on the fence on this issue. Hence my four admissions–which are another way of saying, “There is no fence.” Even so, I’m not sure it’s fair to say “basic doctrines are either added to or ridden roughshod over because of charismatic teaching.” Here’s where we need more precision than simply the label “charismatic.” I’m sure we could both name charismatics who are every bit as orthodox as anyone else on basic doctrines (of the sort in a historical statement of faith). So, it seems to me we need to be more precise in naming the groups with which we disagree and we need to press our noses deeper into the scripture for our arguments in the disagreement.

      T-

      1. Adam says:

        Hey Pastor Thabiti,

        As always very helpful.
        That is a good point that both you and Timothy are making. Certainly disagreement on an issue between godly thoughtful people does not mean that there is not a clear biblical answer. There are many reasons why we believe things, not all of them careful exegesis. Humility should be given where difficulty in interpretation exists. But like you said, we should all be wrestling with this important secondary issue.

        Also in this debate we should understand the varieties of each side of the argument. Cessationists are not one argument or emphasis. Continuationists/charasmatics are far from a unified beliefs/emphasis. Bill Johnson and Wayne Grudem show these distinctions within a “theological camp” well. This is far from an either/or debate.
        Let us know who we are reacting against before we react. Lord willing this debate will be civil and result in a greater understanding of these distinctions. In fact, Thabiti, a good future post might be adding a few more positions in your list of four.

        blessings and love,
        -Adam

      2. Daniel S says:

        Very helpful thoughts of yours, Pastor Anyabwile. I think the main goal of the conference though is not to demonize “type-R” charismatics (reformed ones), but to show the blatant errors and shockingly heretical teachings of large parts of this movement, mainly in word-faith, pentecostal etc. Circles. And I think this is a good and important thing. Growing up in a pentecostal church, I know all the weirdness and dangers firsthand (even though it was not as extreme as in many other churches). But still, I can’t rid myself of the feeling that the tone in which brother MacArthur (whom I have deep respect for) conveys these things is a tad too harsh. I mean seriously, what charismatic will watch a conference where he constantly feels deeply insulted? Things like labelling the whole movement as a false church is pretty heavy stuff and goes imho too far. (Although I certainly don’t believe that it is a movement of the Holy Spirit)…Pastor, may we know what is your opinion on the issue?

        1. Rich Starnes says:

          If Tim Challies’s summaries of the conference are correct (an there’s no reason to think they are not), I think MacArthurs’s final session puts to rest the claim that he’s not also castigating “reformed charismatics” and continuationists. While referring to “friends,” he calls them aiders and abetters of the word of faith/Pentecostals and refers to himself as correcting false teachers. He tells them to stop calling themselves Calvinists. He certainly seems to reject Thabiti’s point 4, as he thinks the biblical case against continuationism is compelling, and, by repeatedly referring to passages about confronting false teachers, appears to believe that those who believe and/or practice continuationism are in sin. So please, let’s stop claiming he’s not talking about “our” reformed, orthodox continuationists and instead try to figure out what it means for the church that he is talking about them, too.

          1. DAK says:

            MacArthur’s cult-like pronouncements which induce a fanatic rush among his followers to clothe him with infallibility is very disturbing and very papal-minded indeed. This, too, is disturbing.

            Beyond that and by his own argument, John MacArthur should stop calling himself a Calvinist as he, unlike Calvin, is a Baptist and a premillenialist, two positions Calvin abhorred.

            Ironically, one of the speakers at “Stramge Fire,” Steven Lawson, points out in his book, “The Expository Genius of Calvin,” that Calvin himself changed his plans to continue to Strasbourg after his last return to France and instead remained in Geneva when the Protestant leader there, William Farel, issued this word of prophecy: “If you do not assist me in this work of the Lord, the Lord will punish you.” Lawson adds, “the young theologian agreed to stay, acknowledging that this was the direction of God for his life” (p.11). That Calvin heeded Farel’s prophetic pronouncement should put to rest any claim that Calvin was a cessationist as the term is being applied by MacArthur.

          2. Duane says:

            While Tim Challies has excellent summaries, there are many clarifying statements that are missed. If you can catch the last Q & A when it is posted, it will be helpful to see Pastor MacArthur respond first hand. The Strange Fire book is thorough, with an entire chapter addressed to his reformed friends. The compelling issue that clarifies it for me is comparing what are being called today’s continuing gifts with the originals we see in the Bible. Why bother making a connection when the gap is so massive? The miraculous events that people witness today are unique to His purposes…why force them into an apostolic pattern? I think that is the Biblical detail that sheds abundant light.

    2. J Gordon says:

      I feel the same way about MacArthur. I really enjoy his teaching, though he’s Biblically wrong on eschatology and cessationism. I do agree, though, with the conference’s condemnation of heretical doctrines and bizarre practices being done in the name of the Holy Spirit, and that this stuff has been tolerated way too much.

      1. M. Lamas says:

        He is dangerously wrong on his eschatology and pneumatology.

  4. Melody says:

    You’re ability to communicate truth in love may look too balanced to some but I appreciate your gift. The fact that I’m attracted to your’s and Trevin Wax’s style of communication gives me hope that the harsh voice of black and white in my own head will not always be. Though I didn’t agree with you completely :) I am less stressed thinking about it. Thank you.

  5. John F says:

    I’m actually number 4, but I think you need another category:

    5. Couldn’t Care Less

    1. Michael O'Connor says:

      Why debate theology when you can more easily debate grammar? “People say they could care less when, logically, they mean they couldn’t care less.

      The phrase “I couldn’t care less” originated in Britain and made its way to the United States in the 1950s. The phrase “I could care less” appeared in the US about a decade later.

      In the early 1990s, the well-known Harvard professor and language writer Stephen Pinker argued that the way most people say could care less—the way they emphasize the words—implies they are being ironic or sarcastic.

      Other linguists have argued that the type of sound at the end of “couldn’t” is naturally dropped by sloppy or slurring speakers.

      Regardless of the reason people say they could care less, it is one of the more common language peeves because of its illogical nature. To say you could care less means you have a bit of caring left, which is not what the speakers seem to intend. The proper “couldn’t care less” is still the dominant form in print, but “could care less” has been steadily gaining ground since its appearance in the 1960s.

      What Should You Do?

      Stick with “couldn’t care less.” -from Grammar Girl.

    2. Brian W says:

      You beat me to it, but I couldn’t care less.

  6. Alan says:

    Just a thought here – shouldn’t the saddened group turn glad that men of prominence are hashing things out for the sake of clarity? What’s at stake is pretty significant when one considers the scope of the charismatic movement as a whole. I think the sad thing is the general lack of critique on the abuses of the movement from those who cautiously espouse it.

  7. Remo says:

    Is there a title for someone who is part cessationist and part continuationist?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Remo,

      Thanks for commenting, bro. One good friend jokingly calls it “cowardly” :-). Depending on what you mean, some label it “open but cautious.” And depending on the gifts you have in mind, it’s probably a variety of cessationism. But praise God there are no divinely inspired labels for this. You’re free to live without one!

      T-

      1. Remo says:

        Thanks for the reply Thabiti! I’m a cessationist when it comes to the “gift” of healing, but not in miracles through pray and foremost God’s sovereignty. I don’t believe in modern day prophets/words of knowledge. I also don’t believe in modern day apostleship. I think “overall” or broadly speaking, the charismatic movement is a loose canon of bad theology. I don’t agree with the word faith movement or the prosperity gospel either. However, I do believe that tongues can function today (literal languages though – not a personal prayer language). While I do believe in miracles (but not through a spiritual gift), I don’t believe they are necessary and normative as they were in the early church simply because of the context of the early church and because we have the scriptures. While John MacArthur has been the most influential theologian in my life, and I agree with 95% of his views (although I am not a complete cessationist as he is), I am troubled by the way he presents his views at times and the fact that he is even calling out men like Piper & Driscoll. You can disagree with the fact that Driscoll claims to have inner visions or that Piper believes in tongues (although he doesn’t speak in them), but to call them out in the same conference as calling out Hinn, Osteen, and Dollar just makes MacArthur look like a grumpy old man:-) I have only “heard” 2nd hand that he has called out others in the Reformed/Calvinist camp, but I see nothing to prophet by calling out men under his own umbrella of theology (except they differ on eschatology)

        1. Steve says:

          Good points Remo! Enjoyed your post.

          I’m not really a “cessationist”, but I’m (as Thabiti put it) “open but (very) cautious”. I love John MacArthur’s teaching and am thankful for him, but I too was a little concerned about calling out some of the men. I believe giving example of what Driscoll & Piper have said is one thing, but there was surely an arrogance when I heard the speaker (not McArthur) call out piper. The speaker was however complimentary to PIper and did overall show respect.

          I’ve not been able to listen to a lot of the Strange Fire conference, but am interested in listening to the archives. This issue overall needs to be handled tactfully and biblically.

        2. Chris Schwenk says:

          Good comments man. You’re thoughts mirror mine almost exactly!

        3. John says:

          Hi Remo,
          I was reading your blog post and I just wanted to clarify what you said. I’ve been attending MacArthur’s church (GCC) for a year now. I’ve asked a lot of questions regarding these issues, and I hope that my findings help you.

          A cessationist does not believe in the ceasing of miracles but rather they believe in the ceasing of gifts. They believe that God can heal, but they don’t believe that anyone has the GIFT of healing. They believe God can do miracles, but they don’t believe any PERSON has the actual gift to heal people consistently and completely (same idea for other gifts…)

          Hope that clears things out in terms of what John MacArthur believes and which position you stand on.

          1. John says:

            quick footnote: scratch my parenthetical comment on what I said about same idea for other gifts… just realized that it might be confusing on some issues

          2. John says:

            another quick footnote: I just loosed used the word “miracle”, but I would be more accurate by saying providence. Sorry about my carelessness.

  8. Arthur Sido says:

    I would likely be best described as falling into the third category. This whole thing has been ugly and worse it didn’t have to be.

    As others have pointed out there are plenty of issues out there that Christians for ages have disagreed about, like baptism, soteriology, ecclesiology, while by and large still maintaining a spirit of love and unity amidst our disagreement. This sordid event, and especially in my opinion the smug and snarky attempts at being clever by certain followers of MacArthur via social media, has done nothing to advance the Gospel or foster unity in the church and in fact has done the opposite.

    I hope that those who hold a continualist position will take the time to humbly and thoroughly respond to MacArthur and demonstrate the grace that was lacking. I likewise am cheered by the good and proper tone you set in this post Thabiti, it is like a breath of fresh air after the fetid last few days.

    1. Alan says:

      Arthur – you’re right that a number have been smug and snarky in defense of MacArthur, yet a greater number have been worse in attack. But that, of course, does not legitimize it.

      But to say it’s been sordid? I know a few of the speakers personally and the last thing they want is to selfishly gain something for themselves as a result of putting this event on. Their careful and extended study of Scripture drives them to speak out in defense of the Spirit, and we would all do well to hear them out.

      1. Arthur Sido says:

        Alan

        Perhaps it is merely the social media circles I run in but I have not seen much in the way of attack directed at MacArthur but plenty the other way. Neither those who are perhaps overreacting to MacArthur (and not to go all playground but “he hit me first” has some impact here) nor those who are patting each other on the back for how clever they are have done much to advance the discussion.

        I am not sure what MacArthur’s intent was in having this conference. Certainly it coincides with the release of a new book. But in terms of advancing a discussion where a great many Christians, legitimate brothers in Christ not crackpots, have a difference of opinion, it did very little. One can have a conference on why infant baptism is wrong and invite a who’s who of Baptist speakers but that is not going to do much to foster unity in the church or generate decent discussion.

  9. Thabiti,
    Thanks my brother.
    My continued view of Macarthur and his “followers” consistently falls to me seeing him say “There is a specific ‘stripe’ of Christianity…and if it’s not my ‘exact stripe’ it isn’t real Christianity”.
    I think we all agree that the ‘strange’ manifestations of the ‘Spirit’ aren’t Biblical (at least I think all of the folks who check out TGC)
    but are we as a whole (meaning Reformed Believers) ready to say to the entire Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Denominations of Christians across the world- “Hey you’re false teachers, not true Believers and an abomination to God?”
    I’m not.
    Like you said, the Bible does not give an airtight case either way…and Macarthur would rather condemn than act in humility and say “there is evidence on both sides.”

    1. Steve says:

      Paul -

      Great Post! I have good friends who are in the Church of God and Assemblies of God movement. They love Jesus, serve their community, support and go to missions, and serve Jesus. While I do not agree with all of their theology and practices, I can not lump them all in a “Heretic” category.

      I don’t think Strange Fire is trying to say that, but again its toting a thin line.

      1. Steve,
        Amen, sir, that about sums it up for me as well!

  10. Chris says:

    I really hate that continuationists seem to automatically get lumped into the charismania crowd. I haven’t listened to all the messages but from what I’m seeing in the blogosphere and twitter feeds this seems to be the case. I hope it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

    1. Eric Davis says:

      Chris-

      I could imagine you would not like that. I ran into a few people crying wolf and attacking the conference w/ that very accusation. I asked them where they got that information and if they’d listened to the sessions. Sadly, they had not. They admitted that they were responding to other tweets and comments they saw which were attacking the conference (thankful for their honesty!). Despite many of the quick-to-speak blogs and tweets, I’d encourage you to check out the messages. The speakers are men of integrity, and as such, have been careful to distinguish.

      1. Chris says:

        Thanks Eric – I have a great deal of respect for all the speakers at this conference and listen to most regularly.

        Much of my concern was coming from my participation in some FB groups (which lean more towards cessationist by and large) who were making comments in regards to what Phil Johnson and Todd Friel had said. Again, it’s still hearsay and I intend to listen when the MP3s are up.

  11. taco says:

    Can one be in the “don’t care” column when it seems those at the conference throw the Carson, Grudem, and Piper crowd in with the Hagin, Dollar, and Jakes crowd by merely saying that the former people are nice but ultimately are the same as the later? And then proceed to dismiss the exegetical work done by Carson and Grudem and argue against the whole by arguing against the Hagins, Dollars, and Jakes with what appears to be little if any distinction?

    Arguing against presbyterian paedobaptism as though it is lutheran paedobaptistm or roman catholic paedobaptism is a terrible failure at really dealing with any of the positions. It is as though the thought process is that being right about catholic paedobpatism means presbyterian paedobaptism has also been refuted.

    1. taco says:

      The paedobaptism thing was meant as an analogous failure in theological debate about making distinctions.

    2. Paul Abeyta says:

      Taco – I’m not sure you have been listening to the conference. Every speaker that has mentioned “reformed charismatics” has taken the time to promote them, to applaud them and to separate them from heretics. If anything, they have just called them to a greater accountability to speak out against those who are clearly abusing Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit rather than taking a milk toast position on them. Phil Johnson’s talk did that yesterday. Then you have Lawson you has in both of his sessions simply labored to show the view continuationism as held by the Puritans and Calvin.

      1. taco says:

        Even more convinced of the wild-eyed broad brushing after having read transcripts. After reading Poythress on cessationism and some of the discussion of Milne I’m starting to question the position of the MacArthur and company as being new.

  12. Eric Davis says:

    Brother Thabiti-

    Thanks for this, I appreciate it. I may have overlooked it, but what is your position on this important issue?

  13. Jon says:

    I appreciate your ministry, Brother Thabiti. Question about this statement: “Our decision about practicing or not practicing some secondary-but-important issues affects who can belong to our churches and what we’ll do when we gather. We may continue personal friendships (and we should), but we’ll find it difficult to continue corporate fellowship.”

    Is that an affirmation of what some people call “separation”?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for dropping in and joining the convo.

      No, not necessarily. It’s simply acknowledging that some issues, even secondary issues, are of the sort that you can’t do both things without confusion or contradiction. Other things that come to mind: ordaining women pastors, baptizing infants. They’re the kind of things that are yes/no in nature. So we have different communions based, in part, on these matters (Preby or Baptist, for ex.).

      T-

  14. Jonathan Hamilton says:

    I’ve only joined the actively reading blogosphere over the past few months at the behest of a new, but good pastor friend.

    I greatly appreciate the attitude and tone you’ve taken this week, and have followed with keen attention. I tend to tune out once I sense sarcasm or an un-Christlike spirit in a man’s words, and I’ve done anything but tune you out this week. Praise the Lord for that work in your heart and Lord-willing, those who read you.

    Thank you.

  15. Little Sheep says:

    I’m in categories 2 & 3 …but mostly 3 as I am deeply grieved that this conference is doing little to heal the divide between brethren. Wouldn’t it have been much more helpful to invite Reformed brethren to speak who share the view contrary to theirs in order to discuss the differences in brotherly love? That would have been more persuasive to everyone on both sides of the debate in terms of communicating a sincerity to let the scriptures speak. I’m open to being shown I’m wrong but this format doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything more than deepening the rift. As brother Thabiti pointed out, this conversation wouldn’t even be happening if the bible was so crystal clear in answering this definitively. What’s really disappointing is all the straw man arguments I’ve heard being made by men I consider powerful & biblically sound expositors. No Continuationist I know is defending things like ‘scripture is incomplete, or the canon is still open, or there is another way to salvation?’
    How did we ever get to this place where to be a Continuationist is synonymous with being a Pentecostal/Charismatic heretic?

    1. taco says:

      How did we ever get to this place where to be a Continuationist is synonymous with being a Pentecostal/Charismatic heretic?

      You’ve never read MacArthur’s apologetics group Pyromaniacs have you…

  16. The main problem in this debate is that the “continuationist” school radically misunderstands the phrase “speaking in tongues” and its context in the early church, especially as it is used in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    Dr. John Lightfoot has an excellent exposition of this in his words on 1 Corinthians 14. Here is a link to the relevant pages:

    https://app.box.com/s/n1plrf3acvy6o6unq84z

  17. David says:

    Hi, could the author or another informed reader explain the basics. As a layperson who is interested/invested in but not in the “know” with all the vocabulary or controversies that may be in the church, it would be helpful to lay out (1) what is the “strange fire” conference and what the controversy the author is alluding to. the article presumes too much knowledge on part of the reader/general public. Thanks.

    1. Chris Hunt says:

      I agree. I just came across it today. I think I infer what it is about, but background would help.

  18. Philip Thomas says:

    Thanks Thabiti for this post, I will have to do my homework to understand this debate. I wouldn’t say that I don’t have a position, I do. That being said right now, I don’t know what the lines are because of the variation in both the cessationist and charismatic positions, I don’t want to misrepresent either side. It makes it a little hard to take in a debate when you fully don’t have the positions.

  19. Thank you, Thabiti, for these wise words. They are very much needed at this time.

    If you think it appropriate, I’d like to provide a link to transcriptions (as close as possible, anyway) to each of the sessions at the Strange Fire Conference. You can read those here:

    http://thecripplegate.com/tag/strange-fire/

    Thanks again brother.

  20. Justin Smith says:

    I’m in the somewhat annoyed category. If everyone in the audience are all from the same camp, and everyone posting about this on Facebook has nothing but friends from the same camp, it’s annoying. Obviously this issue is important and obviously some of what they are aiming at with this conference needs to be aimed at and shot down. However, what progress does it really make if everyone already agrees in the audience? I know there are some exceptions, but I’m sure the majority of the audience is just shaking their heads and saying amen.

  21. t says:

    Appreciate your balance, clarity, and charity. Great points about how this is an important issue and that there is a correct position and it matters. I tracked with you with enthusiasm until point 4 though. Now there are tricky questions and key passages that can’t be answered by straw men and proof texts, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is not clear. I think you would agree that the Bible is sufficiently clear on important issues, and as you so convincingly explained, this is an important issue. To say this is important yet not compellingly clear in scripture seems to almost negate the thrust of your post, namely that this matters and we should care.

    I understand that in an effort to not stir up the hornets nest, maybe you don’t want to show your cards. But I think it would be neat to see you tackle this issue in your characteristically balanced, humble, clear, and biblically faithful manner.

  22. Josh N. says:

    I think the pervasiveness of this discussion is far more reaching than perhaps many may think. I’m sure it’s possible that someone could say that “I don’t care” version of the whole debate, but I would suppose that any individual actually DOES believe something about this topic. It may not be developed or fully orbed, but it’s there.

    But there is also the logical issue here. Continuationists (other than the crazy kind) claim to have adherence to scripture… but logically this can’t be possible. It’s inconsistent: should someone believe that the God continues the gifts, which by the testimony of scripture were to confirm apostleship and divine ordinance, then the canon is not closed. That is the logical clue. Following that, it would be more consistent to believe that the canon is not closed, and that divine revelation is still happening.

    All I ever ask of people who believe they are Continuationist admit that they theologically, according to their views, cannot believe that the Bible is the final rule of authority. You cannot have it both ways.

    1. Lawrence Mason says:

      Josh, where does it say the gifts were a confirmation of apostleship? What does Paul mean in 1 Cor 14: 5? I think you misunderstand Continuationist arguments. It’s not inconsistent at all.

      God bless!

    2. taco says:

      All I ever ask of people who believe they are Continuationist admit that they theologically, according to their views, cannot believe that the Bible is the final rule of authority.

      http://www.frame-poythress.org/modern-spiritual-gifts-as-analogous-to-apostolic-gifts-affirming-extraordinary-works-of-the-spirit-within-cessationist-theology/

      See section 12. It might be helpful to rethink that argument.

    3. Kent says:

      Josh, that would assume that the sole, or even primary, purpose of the Holy Spirit (and of apostles) was to complete and close the canon of Scripture, and, that having been done, the Holy Spirit is now withdrawn to some extent, so that the real power of God, the Book, can take it’s foreordained place. Therefore, to argue that continuationists believe that the Scriptures are still “open” and take a back seat is to presume that continuationists hold the same view that you do about the purpose of gifts and signs and wonders.

      1 Corinthians seems to deny such a limited view of the purpose of gifts. Rather than existing for the sole purpose of completing the canon (I submit that the apostles didn’t view their task as such – to them the “canon” was already closed!), the gifts served as additional means of building up the body of Christ, hence why they had to be exercised properly. So, no, there isn’t a necessary contradiction between the two.

      If you believe that the sole avenue through which God reveals His will and works in the life of the believer is through the written words, then yes, that is a contradiction. As someone who grew up in a Pentecostal/Apostolic church, and now attends a cessationist Southern Baptist church, I can tell you that the Spirit is viewed as the primary agent by which God reveals truth and works in the life of the believer. Such revelation must of course be in line with the Word of God, but it was not as though the Spirit ONLY revealed the truths of God and specifically of Jesus when someone had the Bible open. What was believed, however, is that the Spirit is active presently, not just in the words of Scripture, but also in the lives of those who have been filled with the Spirit (those who believe), apart from their reading of Scripture.

      Where that church goes wrong, and where many Pentecostal churches go wrong, I believe, is that they elevate the more miraculous gifts of the Spirit to the primary place. And when the life of the Church is characterized by these rather than the gospel and godliness through Christlikeness, the Church becomes open to doctrinal error through a lack of attentiveness to the Scriptures. So it’s not that one leads to the other. It’s when gifts are made the primary markers of being a Christian, rather than faith working through love, that the trade-off occurs.

  23. jeremiah says:

    I listened last night, it is sad broad brushing. People on either side of the spectrum can grieve the Spirit. The word of God says to correct someone gently, I don’t see this happening.

    1. Josh N. says:

      Is it broad brushing to rebuke the “evangelicals” that destroy the word of God through sensationalism and the wallets of its people? Does that require gentleness? http://www.openbible.info/topics/rebuking

      1. jeremiah says:

        It is careless to use TBN ‘minister’s’ quotes as canon fodder and not distinguish other Charismatics as not being of the same clothe. It is destructive and careless and I would expect more from those who speak
        so highly of discernment.

  24. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. The outcomes are non-correspondent. The thing can’t be “A” and “not A” at the same time in the same way. Those who are wrong are teaching error.”

    (Pretend you’re hearing a whiny emerger liberal voice)

    “But why, Pastor Thabiti? Somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt if it’s one or the other. You’re making it a zero-sum. A winner and a loser. That’s bad. You bad.

    Make it a Both/And. Both sides are a little bit right, and a little bit wrong. Both get praised. Both get scolded. Nobody gets the whole baby.

    Today’s liberal, let’s all-get-along Solomon unity is the way to go.”

  25. Tait Sougstad says:

    This one went way over my head. Maybe a little more reporting would be helpful (for me, or redundant for others!), since I have never heard of this conference. I understand the debate over points A and B, but I don’t know what is new here. Maybe in the time it took to write this comment, I could have done a search and made the comment unnecessary, but I imagine I am not the only confused one.

  26. Joe Wisnieski says:

    Twenty-five plus years ago I was neck deep in the Charismatic movement. More specifically, the worst errors of the Charismatic movement. I thank God for the men who spoke boldly on these issues. (Men like Walter Martin for example.) I thank God for the “Priscillas” and “Aquilas” along the way who risked offending me (and they did offend me) to show me a more excellent way.

    This is not just a theoretical issue for me, as I have friends and family who are still heavily influenced by the prosperity gospel. Some of the largest churches in my area have their roots deep in the word faith movement. One of the largest churches in my area has close ties with Kenneth Hagin’s Rhema Bible College. The damage wrought by these false teachings are real and tangible. Having said all of that, I just want to offer three observations:

    1. It has been repeatedly stated at the SF conference that there are respectable and godly men in the Charismatic camp.
    2. The purpose of the SF conference is to deal with the gross error in the Charismatic movement. I don’t understand why that’s a problem when you consider the vast influence of TBN and the prosperity gospel in the visible church.
    3. It seems that whenever someone dare speak on these issues they are called divisive and unloving.
    4. I find it curious that so much fire has been aimed at the SF conference while the gross error in the Charismatic camp is routinely ignored and God’s name is blasphemed before an unbelieving world. False teachers SHOULD be denounced in no uncertain terms.
    5. If you are a Charismatic, I would hope that you are more offended by the gross error in your own camp than by the men who would seek to confront it.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Joe,

      You count like a preacher! I often tell the congregation I have “three observations” only to give them five! :-)

      Thanks for joining the conversation, brother.

      T-

  27. David says:

    Doug Wilson interacted with Driscoll on the topic a couple years ago and while they disagreed, they did so in a way I hope could serve as a model for this discussion.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vEiqqfvsh0

  28. jvdds says:

    Let’s start with the misuse of grammar: “I could care less.” It’s “I couldn’t care less!”

  29. Sherwin L. says:

    There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what this conference is all about. MacArthur and company are always referring to false “spiritual gifts” that are prevalent in the Charismatic movements, which should even be denounced by continuationists. Speaking in “tongues,” holy laughter, glory clouds, convulsing on the floor are false and not at all remotely close to the gifts that were described in Acts. I believe there can be healthy disagreement between cessionationists and continuationists over true spiritual gifts, but the main thrust of Strange Fire is speaking out against the crazy nonsense that is the hallmark of many Charismatic congregations.

  30. Bobby Scott says:

    Brother, I really thank God for you, your wisdom, frankness, love for the truth, the church and our Lord. And I thank you for this post and pray that it is read widely and heeded by all.

  31. SuzanneT says:

    Thank you for your wise, thoughtful and needed words, Pastor Anyabwile.

    I think the real “strange” in all of this (aside from the biblical ‘Strange’) is that (lets say) 2 people can both be looking out the same window at the same time and one declare “it is day!” while the other “no, indeed it is night!” I saw this with the Grudem/Hamilton video: ‘Grudem clearly had a stronger biblical case” and others a completely different observation (as I did). I see this same sort of phenomena in the ensuing comments over this conference.

    Being a fully convinced “cease-sationist” (as the inimitable Steve Lawson refers it) I still have to wonder, as I’ve perused many articles and discussions on this subject both prior to this conference and in leu of it, that as lay-people with an internet connection and time on our hands (likely stolen from some other more worthy endeavor at that–> *guilty*) as we type-away in the comment places in front of a watching world, our objections, insistencies and incredulities (oft times in snarkified language) ..that it seems there are some important things many of us have forgotten, long ago left by the wayside of humilty. I find a couple of them in these passages:

    For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor. 4:7)

    No matter our stance: not one of us has any knowledge apart from the the grace of God Whom imparts it to us–as He wills, and for His own glory.

    For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)

    Blessings, all ~

  32. Nic says:

    Everyone should just come back to the Church, the Catholic Church! We need you guys!

    1. Thabiti says:

      Nic, I really am lol on that one. Show us the Catholic Church in the Bible! Lol
      T

      1. Nic says:

        Hey T! Peter, our first Pope, the rock that Christ built his Church on and whose authority is seen throughout the book of Acts. The Church is apostolic, continuing since the time of Christ with an unbroken lineage since its founding, and though men have denied the Church throughout history, the powers of death will not prevail against it (as Jesus said himself).

        1. Sherwin L. says:

          Nic, the rock that Christ built His Church on was Himself, not Peter. There is no basis for papal authority through apostolic succession in the Bible, made even more evident by the fact that the Pope can change his mind about doctrine.

          1. Nic says:

            Hey Sherwin, I think that you may have some misconceptions about what exactly papal authority is, how it originates from the Bible, and what the Pope is actually able to change (dogma versus doctrine etc.). I agree with you wholeheartedly that Jesus is the head of the Church, the cornerstone. In Scripture, however, we can see the role of Peter as a leader/shepherd/Pope and that role is confirmed by the writings of the early Christians (Origen, Cyprian, Tertullian, Clement, Jerome, Augustine and more). The Pope, is entitled to opinions, interview answers, books, conversations, etc. that need not be infallible as he is not perfect or sinless by any means, and indeed there are very few proclamations which are truly made infallible.

          2. Kent says:

            That Rock was more accurately Peter’s confession, which no power can prevail against. Peter May have held a preeminent place among the apostles, but there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that he was somehow a proto-pontiff, or even a bishop. He was an apostle, as were the rest, and they like he held authority over the churches. It’s telling that Paul did not consider any of the other apostles to have preeminence over another. Furthermore, it is telling that in Acts 15, Peter did not exercise authority in the council’s decision. And despite the fact that “early Christians” came to consider Peter as holding a de facto preeminence of position over the rest doesn’t make it so. Nor does it follow that the bishop of Rome inherits this supposed authority.

            But this is tangential to the discussion at hand.

  33. caron123 says:

    Jesus wasn’t condescending or arrogant. He wept. John 11.

  34. SuzanneT says:

    Great panel discussion going on now..(if I may):
    https://www.tmstrangefire.org/

  35. Michael O'Connor says:

    For these issues and all issues, the search for truth must begin with a love and fear of God that maintains a right attitude to him and to all others. Otherwise in our search for “truth” we may end up with with a pyrrhic victory: a victory that comes at a devastating cost. God’s blessing to all who struggle with the word and will of God.

  36. Zach says:

    Thank you for this post Pastor T.

    I am attending the conference, though I’m no MacArthurite (I’m a nice little conservative Presbyterian), but I do believe that this will be a watershed moment in “evangelical” history. And I hope that beloved men like Carson and Keller will take this opportunity to state very clearly where they stand on this issue. US “Christianity” is exporting a lot of spiritual garbage abroad, and it’s time we start taking account of our own house.

    Peace and grace,
    Zach

  37. Heath Whiley says:

    I would love to hear more from Joni Erikson-Tada on this as someone who is an obvious friend of both Piper and Macarthur … and who has been a keynote speaker at both Desiring God and Grace to You Conferences. Just saying that she appears to be able to hold her own in Scriptural convictions and in the diversity of Christian fellowship.

  38. Hugh McCann says:

    Dear Pastor Anyabwile,
    You mean #4 is “Couldn’t care less,” not “could care less,” don’t you?
    Thank you,
    Hugh

  39. Hugh McCann says:

    I for one am optimistic hearing what little I have been able to from Thursday’s sessions.

    So I am a very hopeful #1, and anti-#3! :)

    Quite joyful, actually, that this is happening. I agree with Zachm that this is huge. Piper was challenged by P. Johnson yesterday. Other names have been named. I’m sure MacArthur’s done with Mahaney. MacDad’s thrown down the gauntlet and it will hopefully force us all to humbly & carefully (re)consider our positions, and emphatically PREACH GOD’S TRUE GOSPEL OF SOVEREIGN GRACE!

    Plug: I appreciate TGC’s discussion from two years ago between W. Grudem and I. Hamilton and commend to everyone who’s not seen it.

  40. I like the way you have put your point across. I wish everyone who wrote on line were as gracious.
    As a leaky cessasionist reformed baptist. I deem all the speakers at the conference highly. But then I also like Dr. Michael Brown, who is sad about this conference, and that makes me sad. I wish it did not have to be this way.
    I have not had the time to listen in much, but intend to. I would like to close my comment the way you have your post: May the Lord bless His Church.

  41. Joshua Carvalho says:

    This conference would be much more edifying if it actually were an open debate between leaders in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, it’s just leaders from one side of the debate eloquently condemning all the other leaders from the other side of the debate as belonging to “the Kingdom of Darkness…who will experience the greater hellfire”
    That is not a loving debate. That is sin. It is sin to condemn the Bride of Christ to Hell.

    1. Andrew says:

      I don’t believe Charismatics are the bride of Christ :-(

      1. Andrew: Point #3. Point #3. Point #3.
        Brokened hearted.

  42. Simon says:

    MacArthur is fast becoming a caricature of himself. He can hardly go two words without picking a fight with someone.

  43. Curt Day says:

    Thabiti,
    What if we changed the last category from “could care less” to Regardless? Regardless of whether one believes in continued special revelation, we still have some commonalities regarding how we live as disciples of Christ. And when we can, we will peaceably discuss our differences. But we don’t let those differences make us forget what we have in common.

    1. Timothy F Reynolds says:

      It has gone quiet there, hasn’t it? But there is a very helpful one by Kevin DeYoung on ‘Three surprising Ways to Grieve the Holy Spirit’.

  44. Timothy F Reynolds says:

    This was John MacArthur’s response last night to the criticism that the issues of charismatic error are not clear in Scripture (from a transcription at ‘The Cripplegate’):

    “A third criticism has come: that the issue is not clear in the Bible. And that a conference like this, and disagreement from some well-known folks and even well-known Bible scholars, demonstrates that the Scripture is not clear on this issue. In response, I want to say that if the issue is unclear, as some are claiming, it has only become unclear under the influence of false teachers. It was clear to the Apostles. It was clear to the early church fathers. It was clear to the Reformers. It was clear to the Puritans. It is clearly delineated in creeds like the Westminster Confession. It is has been clear to erudite, noble, Reformed theologians who have been quoted, like B. B. Warfield. It was clear to Spurgeon. It was clear to Jim Boice, to R. C. Sproul. Has it now become unclear because of Aimee Semple McPherson, Katherine Kuhlman, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Kenneth Copeland? That’s a ludicrous idea. In the true and historic stream of sound doctrine this issue has always been crystal clear.”

    I find myself in agreement with him there. Joni Eareckson Tada’s testimony of Katherine Kuhlman not coming anywhere near the wheelchair section at one of her so-called healing meetings was a devastating indictment of the charismatic movement’s healing claims. She did not even have the Christian charity to come to them and pray for them!

    Conrad Mbewe yesterday spoke of being on a live radio show in Zambia where large so-called healing meetings happen every week in the capital city – for an hour of live radio he put the challenge out for people to ring in with a testimony of being healed. In all that time there was only one call – claiming a healing eight years previously of a girl whose legs were unequal length having them made equal! That’s it!

    Attending an event in the premises of a charismatic church belonging to a large and generally respected group of ‘reformed charismatic’ churches a few years ago, I had to wait for some time in the vestibule. It gave me time to read all the testimonies on the notice board and in the magazines on display. Not one was about the saving power of Christ. Each and every one was about some claim to healing, with one being the unequal leg length scenario, and a number on a par with that.

    I had a charismatic colleague in the school I taught at some 20 years ago. We used to pray together. One day I appeared with hay fever. He told me, “I used to get hay fever but then the Lord healed me. Now I only get it now and again.”!!! If even those who claim miraculous powers say it is not as it was in the NT – if the prophecy is not as in the NT, if the healing is not as in the NT, if the tongue speaking is not as in the NT – then continuationism is just cessationism by another name. They are agreeing that the NT gift is no longer given.

    My point is this. It is not just the clear evidence of Scripture that miraculous gifts were for the foundational period of the NT Church only – it is also the plain evidence of history and of the present day. There is quite clearly no-one in the world today with the gift of healing as it was in the NT or the evidence would be all over YouTube and the world would be beating a path to that person’s door. Every airport would be crowded with people having spent their life savings on a ticket to get there.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Good morning dear brother (or afternoon where you are, I suppose),

      I pray you’re doing well and are rejoicing in the salvation already purchased for us by the blood and righteousness of Christ our Savior, who loved us and gave himself for us. To be loved by Christ is to inhabit a world of inexpressible glory and joy!

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

      I think your quote from JMac and argumentation actually illustrate my point. My beloved brother, John, sees everything as clear in the scripture. Is there anything that seems unclear to him? I’ve only ever heard him speak with great authority and certainty about every topic he addresses. I admire him for that. But not everyone has such confidence at every point.

      And here’s the question we must ask: If the issue were so exegetically clear in the Bible then why didn’t he take 30 seconds to give us chapter and verse to settle the issue? (perhaps he did and you’re just quoting a section you found compelling?) Instead, he makes a “stream of history” argument, an extra-biblical argument. Now, I place myself in that very same theological stream–and certainly not in the stream of the Kuhlmans and MacPhersons of the world! If it’s unclear to me it has nothing to do with those folks who I’ve never heard, read or consulted for any interpretation of scripture.

      I rank John MacArthur a far, far superior exegete to myself. I also rank Don Carson a far, far, superior exegete to myself. The fact that the two men may disagree at points is surely no grounds to say the scripture is unclear, but it is grounds for a little neophyte like myself to say, Hold on; I’d better listen and think pretty hard here. Differences of opinion do not make the matter unclear, but they do clearly make the matter one requiring care and caution.

      Now, as I listen to the debates and read things from time to time, I think every party in this discussion makes a lot of inferences from the scripture that are not themselves the explicit teaching of the scripture. So, just by way of example, cessationists will point to prophets and apostles as “foundation” and conclude from the foundation simile that this means those offices and gifts closed with the apostolic era. On the other hand, continuationists will point to 1 Cor. 14 and ask, “Why did God inspire Paul to give regulations for the gifts of prophecies and tongues if they were not to continue and be used in the church?” Both make inferences. Neither side can point to a text that says “These gifts have ceased” or “These gifts continue.” Both sides think their positions follow logically and necessarily from some other biblical statements. This impasse at least means the interpreters see through a darkly stained glass.

      But I think we might be forced to say more if we’re not too interested in defending our position. And that more is this: The Bible doesn’t solve the issue as neatly as we would like. It just doesn’t. And that’s why my fourth point was that the Bible isn’t as compellingly clear on this point as we would hope. For example, the NT list of gifts include gifts for which we have no definition beyond the words themselves and no NT example or illustration of how they functioned in the church. I hear people all the time say, “Oh, that means….” When I ask them how they know and show me in the scripture how they got there, they have to sit in silence or ramble on about the meaning of the gift’s name. So here you have the scripture naming a gift but doing nothing else with it while people fill in the blank. Personally, I don’t find that compelling.

      That doesn’t mean the Bible is insufficient. It means, like some other things important to us, the Bible is unconcerned with our questions or our debates, as if our questions and debates set the agenda. It means God said what He wanted to say about the matter, all that He deemed important to say about the matter, and that’s enough on the matter even if we’re left at some point scratching our heads.

      The historical and experiential arguments have their place. But for me, that place is vastly secondary to the biblical discussion. Once you settle what the Bible teaches then you’ll know how to interpret those experiences and history. The danger, of course, is we may all lock ourselves into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, an interpretive confirmation bias that only tells us what we decided a priori must already be there. I think I see a lot of people do that, all the while failing to say this is an inference and insisting “the Bible says.”

      Personally, I have my view. I’m comfortable with my view. It’s defensible, but it’s not invincible at points. The more things I nail down, the more places I have questions. The Lord will settle it all when He comes. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

      T-

      1. Timothy F Reynolds says:

        Brother, you’re right – my comments (JMac’s too) omitted Scriptural argument and focused on anecdote and history. In my case I was letting off some steam of frustration, but I think JMac was assuming that the arguments Biblical were well-known and had been much rehearsed elsewhere in the conference, so he was not rehashing them. I will come back with a more Biblical answer but not until after the weekend, as I am in the thick of final preparation for two sermons tomorrow. (Interestingly in the evening I am preaching on Exodus 15:22-27, where we find the words, “I am the Lord who heals you”!) ‘Cessationist’ is as good a description as any of where I am on this. What about you? I’m still wondering!

        1. Timothy F Reynolds says:

          Having had a chance to look at the transcripts of the conference at thecripplegate.com I see that the exegetical case for cessationism was very thoroughly and clearly put by Tom Pennington in this session http://thecripplegate.com/strange-fire-a-case-for-cessationism-tom-pennington/ Though some will disagree I think that a clear, Biblical case was made and I think it was made with a genuine recognition of and graciousness towards those in the charismatic movement (or those open to it) who are seeking to base all they do and believe on Scripture. There’s nothing I could helpfully add to that. It would be good to hear such a clear Biblical case presented by the other side at a higher level than, “Don’t you have the Book of Acts in your Bible?”

      2. Wayne Foil says:

        MacArthur’s response to the charge that cessationism is unclear was not exegetical, but historical. Yet it seems that the charge is that the relevant exegesis is unclear. My impression is that the conference speakers desired not to address exegesis directly. Even Pennington, in his 7 reasons in support of cessationism, didn’t give exegesis as one of the reasons. He asserted that there is such cessationist exegesis, but that the case for cessationism hangs on more than exegesis. He is right. And he makes a good case for cessationism even without exegesis. My guess is that one reason for this avoidance is that their exegesis varies among them, even though they come to the same conclusion (even as the exegesis among continuationists varies). The exegesis is complicated and difficult; perhaps they determined that a popular conference like this was not the place to get into these difficult details; to have really done justice to the many exegetical points to be made, the entire conference would have needed to be devoted to this one agenda.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Wayne,

          Thanks for joining the conversation!

          We’re all “Bible people,” right? MacArthur probably more than most of us. Given that, I think it would have strengthened the conference considerably to have at least one plenary constructively make the case on exegetical grounds alone. We can make all kinds of historical cases and point to our favorite exemplars. But at the end of the day, that’s an important but insufficient exercise.

          For example, there are plenty of continuationists who argue the periods of inactivity point to a faithless and unbelieving church. Now, how do you evaluate that? Most likely you dig down deeper into histories and counter-histories. But that’s not authoritative in any manner and it won’t be enough to answer the question, “What does the Bible teach?” That, after all, is what everyone needs to know. It’s a real mistake to make a case for what the Bible teaches on extra-biblical grounds alone.

          I didn’t see all the sessions. Perhaps a constructive biblical case was presented somewhere along the way. Given these men’s love for the word of God, I’d assume/hope that’s the case. In which case this comment is void. But if it didn’t, then a friendly critique would be to say that’s an important omission.

          If the exegesis is complicated and difficult, that argues all the more for some “exegetical humility” and probably for a conference devoted to it. And it should probably be done in a popular level conference because (a) “If you can’t explain a thing simply, you don’t understand it well enough” (Einstein) and (b) the hundreds of millions of rank-and-file adherents to Pentecostal/Charismatic/continuationist theology and the millions of cessationists need this practical knowledge. As I said, much is at stake. So we need to bring it out in the open.

          T-

          1. Wayne Foil says:

            Agreed. I was surprised by the omission. But I am trying to understand it from the conference planners’ perspective. It did seem to be intentional, didn’t it? I know that this omission is not due to a lack of such an exegetical argument.

          2. Wayne Foil says:

            It seems, perhaps, the conference was designed to expose and confront the extreme (though apparently all-too-common) expressions of charismaticism. For that group, the first question is not about exegesis. Furthermore, the appeal at the conference was made for “continuationist friends” to join in the denunciation of the word of faith, prosperity “gospel” elements of this movement. Perhaps if the intended target of the conference were the “continuationist friends,” the conference would have been more exegetically driven.

          3. taco says:

            I think it would have strengthened the conference considerably to have at least one plenary constructively make the case on exegetical grounds alone.

            Couldn’t agree more.

            The problem is those at the conference would have to deal with Carson’s book Showing the Spirit as well as Poythress’s work and have the Puritan’s exposed and cut down by their neo-cessationism.

      3. Ryan says:

        Thank you SO much, Thabiti, for your humility, fairness, and charity in the above paragraphs. It’s SO refreshing – like a cool cup of theological water. I only wish someone like you had been given a platform at Strange Fire. I am thankful for you. I look forward to hearing you preach at T4G, brother.
        In Christ,
        Ryan

  45. Scott C says:

    I think there are 2 issues here and it is easily being overlooked. First, is the debate between continuationism and cessationism. That is a secondary issue in my mind and allows the so-called R-continuationists and the R-cessationists to be on the same page with regard to first order issues like the gospel. I think Thabiti you would agree.

    However, the primary thrust of this conference has been to expose the gross errors of Charismaticism (i.e. word of faith, prosperity, strange manifestations of the ‘Spirit’ like barking, et. al., false prophecy, fraudulent claims of healing, and rank heresy that flows from a rejection of Sola Scriptura, etc.). This ought to be a first order concern for both R-continuationists and R-cessationists. As has been pointed out numerous times the gross error of this movement IS the mainstream, not those in the camp of R-continuationism. I think a strong distinction needs to be made between R-continuationists and those who represent the mainstream of Charismaticism that promote things the former group never would. However, the R-continuationists can’t get past the idea they are being attacked. Perhaps this distinction has not been clear enough in the conference, but my perception is that the main thrust has been misrepresented in which R-continuationists are being lumped together with Charismaticists like Binny Hinn, Creflo Dollar or even Paul Cain. In either case, I think one of MacArthur’s biggest concerns is that few if any R-continuationists (or even R-cessationists for that matter) are pointing out the gross errors of mainstream Charismaticism. To me that is the much bigger issue than the debate between continuationism and cessationism but everybody seems to want to make the latter the big issue.

  46. Hugh McCann says:

    Scott C said:
    …to expose the gross errors of Charismaticism
    …ought to be a first order concern for both R-continuationists and R-cessationists.
    …few if any R-continuationists (or even R-cessationists for that matter) are pointing out the gross errors of mainstream Charismaticism.

    Hear, hear! Now is the time for all good R-continuationists to come to the aid of TGC.

    I agree with those who’d like a debate. It’d be good. Of course, MacDaddy don’t debate. That’s his prerogative.

    Hopefully the conference will incite Piper, Carson, Keller & Co. to own up to the challenges from Phil Johnson, MacArthur, & others.

    1. Little Sheep says:

      I actually hope Piper/Carson don’t respond at all & just ignore it all. Answering will only stir up more chaos.

  47. Carmen S. says:

    Are the majority of the leaders in The Gospel Coalition and the YRR continuationists?

  48. Peter O'Halloran says:

    Andrew Wilson (who has featured on the TGC website) has responded to Tom Pennington’s argument for cessationism here: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/cessationism_and_strange_fire

  49. Riley says:

    I think you mean, “you couldn’t care less.”

    If you could care less, that means you must care.

  50. Mike says:

    I spent many years learning and listing MacArthur and have much respect for him. But wish he had a little more exegetical humility. Every time I have heard him preach on a topic, he is so emphatic wth his position that you think he has solved every exegetic problem that has ever existed. We can stand for truth all day, but we can also deliver it with more meekness. It’s things like this that make me see why the non-Christian world scoffs at us.

    1. Amen and Amen, thank you Mike

  51. W says:

    I would suggest emotion determines both sides of the issue. Just like the charismatics are driven by the emotion of the moment, so too are those on the other side of the spectrum and they so desperately want their position to be true that they over look things such as exegesis, context and even checking the facts. Here are two examples.

    If and when you get the Strange Fire book you will notice a quote in the back from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur even mentioned him in a couple of his talks including his last address as a cessationist holding to his view. The sheer fact no one is calling foul shows the fact that most of those who are backing this line of reasoning have done no or little research on their behalf. Given Lloyd-Jones’ last book he ever wrote “Joy Unspeakable” one has to wonder what Lloyd-Jones would have thought about the Strange Fire Conference, considering he believed in a second blessing of the Holy Spirit.

    In MacArthur’s last address he pushed the problems of the modern charismatic movement on to Calvary Chapel but in the last update to Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur praises Chuck Smith for standing up against heretical charismatic pastors. As a matter of fact this is why there was a Vineyard movement because Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith kicked them out. If a person were to listen to Chuck Smith’s sermons, which you can for free on Blue Letter Bible, you will hear all throughout his ministry calling false teachers out for how they really were.

    I agree with you T, we all need to be listening with our listening ears and then act like the Bereans and actually dig into the Word, into history and make our assessment from there, unfortunately both sides have allowed emotion to get the best of them.

    1. Hugh McCann says:

      W,

      Good points about MLJ & MacDaddy. The former would prolly not be impressed with the latter’s bull-in-a-china shop approach to these issues. I too was sorry that @ S.F., MacArthur was not more specific and careful. But often in his at-home conferences, he lacks some nuance, tact, and precision.

      Also, Mac was included in a Chuck Smith bio-doc about 20 years ago and therein lauded the late ex-Four Square minister.

      Piper as late as 2009, and as late as last fall, even Mahaney were at his “Resolved” youth conferences. In 2007, Mahaney filled in for Piper @ the Shepherds Conference when Piper had to bow out of his only invite there. Piper has not appeared at the Shep-Con. Since then, only cessationist Baptists have appeared at the conference. (& R.C. Sproul via video these days.)

      Mac’s tired of the loony fringe extremists, and wants the moderate R-continuationists to step out and speak up. Hopefully, some productive writing and dialogue with ensue.

    2. Daniel Kleven says:

      W,

      I haven’t had a chance to listen to the messages – as soon as they are available for download I definitely will. If Martyn Lloyd Jones is represented as a cessationist, then that is completely false. Joy Unspeakable has a companion book The Sovereign Spirit (also titled Prove All Things). The two were originally part of one series and have been published together, in original chronological order, in The
      Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit. Here’s a quote:

      “And so they come to a final conclusion, which they state with the utmost confidence and dogmatism, that after the coming of the New Testament canon all these gifts were entirely withdrawn… Let me begin to answer it by giving you just one thought at this point. It is this: the Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary – never!” (159, BaGotS)

      What would he think about this conference? Don’t have to wonder, here’s what he said:

      “If there is anybody who says at this point, ‘I am not interested in the gift of tongues, or in 1 Corinthians 12-14′, then I have to say to you that what I want to discuss with you is not the gift of tongues but your whole view of the Scriptures. Anyone who cuts out portions of Scripture is guilty of a very grievous sin. It is the business of all of us as Christians to understand the whole of the Bible, and unless we are making an effort to do so we are very poor Christians; quite apart from the fact that we are at the same time probably quenching the Spirit and are just desirous of going along in our undisturbed, self-satisfied, smug kind of formal Christianity.” (268)

      Ever heard the phrase “Cautious but Open”?

      “We start then by saying that it is always possible that the Holy Spirit may give this gift [tongues] to certain individuals. So that when we hear of any reported case, we do not dismiss it, nor do we condemn it. We must examine it. In the sovereignty of the Spirit he can give any one of these gifts at any time; we must therefore be open. But for reasons we have already adduced we must also always be cautious and careful, we must ‘prove all things’, and only ‘hold fast to that which is good.’”(270-271)

      Lloyd Jones was highly influential in John Piper coming to his conclusions in the early 90′s. How anyone could claim Lloyd Jones as a cessationist seems dishonest and very misrepresenting.

  52. Nigel Poulton says:

    MacArthur is guilty of judging the hearts and motives of hundreds of thousands, Matt 7:1-5 and 1 Sam 16:7. At best this is analogous to declaring he cannot really be reformed as he believes the error of dispensationalism. At worst it is akin to the Pharisees declaring Jesus did miracles by Satanic power. In either case he is setting himself up in pride as some evangelical Pope speaking Ex Cathedra on the matter. Pride goes before a fall.

  53. Gene says:

    There are over 500 million charismatics/pentecostals in the world. How many do you think have the right gospel? How many rightly understand/emphasize the main role and purpose of the Holy Spirit, and thus how many worship grossly in the name of Christ?
    I read amazing testimonies of how God used JMac to rescue many dead/blind/manipulated people out of these dangerous movements because he chose to speak. Quite frankly I’m surprised that others don’t use their platform to sound the trumpet against these false teachers leading people to hell.

  54. scott says:

    While discussing the power of God in manifested gifts of the Spirit is important, Paul makes clear that a lack of love is THE big issue. The church today and of old has spent a great deal of time debating many important issues, but I find them to be distractions until we preach that lovelessness is lawlessness and stop preaching that we can obey God without love in our hearts which is rampant across all denominational and doctrinal divides. “The goal of all our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Give everything away, die a martyr, possess all knowledge and it is nothing apart from God’s love flowing out of our hearts like a river. When we stop knowing Jesus, our minds will run to whatever debate it can to avoid the true knowledge of God. John MacArthur, others and myself, at times, run from this issue to pursue a lot of other important issues that really only have relevance if they lead to love. What I find in this debate is exactly what was going on in Corinth.

  55. Gene says:

    Scott, I was at the conference and I think Macarthur made his appeal in love. I think nowadays people create a false dichotomy when one speaks clearly and strongly about their convictions. As Macarthur said it is part of love to tell one the truth, what’s not loving about that? It is not loving to judge motives considering he clearly communicated his intentions in the last session.

    1. Hugh McCann says:

      Amen, Gene.
      We can disagree with whomever and we not need judge their motives.
      Is WHAT they’re doing a loving act?
      How are we to judge?
      Sola Scriptura, I believe.

      1. Hugh McCann says:

        …need not judge their motives, rather…

    2. Gene, this is the problem with Macarthurites…you think holding an enormous conference with the bent on talking about why another set of Believers is wrong is somehow “loving”. It’s not loving but rather arrogant. Macarthur’s M/O is “There is a right and wrong ‘strain’ of Christianity…and if it’s not “mine” then it’s not in fact ‘true’ Christianity.”

      Take the “Truth War” for instance…let’s all be thankful that he called out Rob Bell, but he also called out Mark Driscoll and John Armstrong as being heretics as well.
      The man who throws that term around as much as he does, is a man who has not read John 17.

      1. Hugh McCann says:

        John Armstrong is NOT a heretic?
        Is he not a false teacher, being a blind ecumenist?
        I’m not begin flippant or saracastic – I am dead serious, Paul.
        Thank you,
        Hugh

        1. Hugh, since John Armstrong is actually a personal friend of mine and I know him well…I’ll refrain from draggin him into it…but you couldn’t be more wrongly condemning.
          Like I said…it’s divisive and unloving in Christ to write a book and hold a conference, damning all people of a certain “stripe” in Christianity because it’s different from yours in a non-essential way.

          1. Hugh McCann says:

            Paul,

            No thanks for the useless non-answer, sir. You already “dragged” Armstrong into this thread on Oct. 21.

            BTW, I am not defending MacArthur’s comment[s] regarding J.A., as I have not yet heard them.

            You insinuate that Armstrong is not a false teacher, a blind ecumenist leading the blind (he DOES have a nice smile, twinkling eyes, and an engaging wit, though!). But if he’s your friend, then he must be OK? What is THAT?

            It’s pretty simple:
            Rome is the enemy of Christ.
            Any friend to Rome is befriending Christ’s enemies.
            Whomever you are, Paul, your being “a personal friend” of Armstrong’s is more an indictment on your discernment than it is a vindication of his purported orthodoxy.

            A friend of Rome is a friend of Christ’s enemies. You ought to rebuke your friend, not blindly stand by him (your only defense of him being that he’s your friend?).

            It’d laughable if it weren’t so serious a matter.

            For those interested, Armstrong’s outfit is called the Act3 Network. Their website includes a blasphemous icon of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, with grotesque & brazen anti-gospel dialogue with papists. See video, “A Conversation on Unity,” or his mere Christianity à la the Apostles’ Creed on Youtube. He’s just another ECT-Colson-type.

            1. spoken like a true Macarthurite…

              The self appointed police of evangelicalism.

            2. Hugh McCann says:

              Well, Paul, I am obviously no match for you.
              Your incisive comments and brilliant logic carry the day!
              You win.
              MacArthur is just a meanie.
              John Armstrong is today’s Calvin.
              UNCLE!

      2. Gene says:

        Hi Paul, if Macarthur is wrong God will deal with him. There is no need to be sensitive when one takes a position. From what he said, he is concerned with the false conversions, phony worship, and literally millions of people being deceived and exploited by “Apostles” who supposedly have the power and giftedness to heal. And yes there are many charismatic folk who love the Lord and sound doctrine and preach the gospel, but alot/most of what goes on is a sham.

  56. Hamish Denmead says:

    “Strange Fire” refers to Nadab and Abihu in Lev ch 10. They were killed by the Lord for offering it. God judged them, not man.Judge not, lest you be judged. Jesus said, “by their fruits you shall know them”. Discussion, yes, judgement, no.

  57. Hamish Denmead says:

    Here is a good scripture for those who are cessationists. After a whole chapter of speaking about the operation of tongues and prophecy and women speaking in church meetings, Paul says in 1 Cor 14:36-38 “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant”.
    Enough said.

  58. The methodology and venue of the debate tells me the Church of Jesus Christ has so abandoned biblical ecclesiology that we as God’s covenant people no longer walk in the integrity of purpose that enabled our forefathers to conduct Nicea. Yes let’s wrestle down pnuematology. First let’s make some strides to rediscover that catholicity not only is about doctrine but has something to do with functional, accountable unity.
    We are simply not helped by the Strange Fire conference when it so quickly disavows our Biblically defined brotherhood.

    1. Kent says:

      I think that is what the conference is designed to do. Except from the perspective of John MacArthur, there is no unity that exists between Charismatics and cessationists because Biblical unity is doctrinal unity. And doctrinal unity has everything to do with whether or not we are worshipping God correctly. What sort of functional, accountable unity could exist, though? Who is to be held accountable, and by whom? You could argue that this is why the schisms between East and West and then within the West have been detrimental, but there are clear ecclesiological differences. Case in point, whether or not the Church was intended to be hierarchical as it is in the Roman Catholic Church. What is a biblical ecclesiology?

  59. Gene says:

    Just a side question, how many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches practice Mark Dever’s 9 marks. I ask not to divert from the topic of gifts, but to point out that much of the movement emphasizes experience over sound doctrine. The bigger issue is not so much the gifts, but rather the emphasis on the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture. When one diverts here, there is false worship, false view of the Holy Spirit, false view of salvation and ecclesiology and hence the slippery slope.

    1. Kent says:

      This really is the heart of the problem. It’s not so much that many believe that the more supernatural gifts still operate in the Church, but it’s the elevation of the experience that comes with these gifts that is the issue. And let’s take a step back. This isn’t just a charismatic issue. When worship becomes about experience, then any experience that seems spiritual is suddenly valid (provided it doesn’t appear to be demonic). Scripture becomes secondary, and the primary means of evaluating the good and the evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22) is no longer cherished. Again, this isn’t just a charismatic issue, though it is quite common (I’ve had these same discussions with some of my own relatives). And to be even more specific, what is at stake is not so much demonic activity (those who genuinely believe, as my relatives do, are not captive to such). Rather, godliness is at stake. Because of experience is central, then spiritual experiences become the measuring line for godliness and holiness, rather than maturity in love and faith. And that is quite dangerous.

  60. Tracy Kowald says:

    Do Not Quench the Spirit; do not despise the prophetic utterances
    17 October 2013 at 09:10
    Five years ago, I would be completely in agreement with John MacArthur and Dr. Sproul. I have seen the teachers in the churches that MacArthur speaks of committing atrocities towards the Gospel and the Church, and was told at one time, that my faith was not real because I had not received tongues. I cut my reformed teaching teeth on the teachings of Dr. Sproul and regard his teachings as true, biblical and godly. I have listened to John MacArthur’s sermons on the radio often bobbing my head in agreement with an occasional and audible amen. But in this book and especially a conference, I am saddened and disagree with an apparent broad brush approach.

    In the past few years, my family joined an Anglican church where the gifts of the Spirit complement the ministry, no they empower the ministry. It has empowered our lives and other lives in our church, in ways that are indescribable, the Word of God being opened and understood, the veils being dropped, and hearts being turned from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Our church’s authority is out of the Church of Nigeria, our own Bishop being Nigerian himself. He was trained and Educated by J.I. Packer at Regent College, not really known for being a word of faith institution. He speaks, prophesies and teaches with power and authority, not flashy, not man centered, but the power of God. I have seen people healed, truly healed. But most importantly, I have seen people go from nominal to deep faith and walking out that faith in Christ. Our own rector preaches with a passion for the Gospel, he loves his flock openly and he engages in our life. He prophesies when given by God, he speaks in tongues when given utterance. It is not for him to look good but given for, us the church, that has been given to him, to oversee. It is done in order as Paul speaks about in his epistles. And that same power is in our Mass. It is no strange fire. The only fire is from the smell of frankincense being burnt in the thurible. It makes the visual come alive in a way that is unexplainable. All has purposed to bring us to the throne to worship. In his words, the Holy Spirit is the energizer bunny for this walk we walk. Life is hard, life with Christ in an attempt to obey is impossible without the Spirit enabling us. As Dr. Sproul says it is the power to do our ministry. For me as a mother of five children, I need the power of the Spirit to enable me to do that which my flesh screams against, my ministry to my family.
    To speak of where I am, I am a 1 and 3. I do believe the gifts are in use and no where in the Bible does it say they will cease. In the words of a Nigerian brother in Christ. “does your Holy Bible not have the book of Acts” ? Are there misuses of these gifts, yes because mankind still struggles with flesh, and puts themselves above God. But that doesn’t negate the reality of the biblical uses as such seen in the book of Acts today. Why must we divide the Church even more. It is one thing to say there are abuses and teach the Word so that the body can examine for themselves. But to so broadly brush any form of Charismatic expression as “strange fire” is not helpful or right.

    1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
    19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic [a]utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every [b]form of evil.

    As long as this book and conference don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, then fine, but as in the past, that doesn’t seem to be the result. It comes across as any whiff of charismatic expression in worship is “strange fire” and to me that is quenching the Spirit.

  61. Chris M says:

    What I fear is happening here is that some, on both sides, are using these secondary issues to differentiate themselves from each other. McArthur,Johnson dont want to seem to agree on anything with guys like Driscoll and Piper, and vica versa. Trying to distance themselves from each other. If I thought it was to create a better understanding with each other, it would be constructive. But it seems to be destructive.
    Like you said, “you’re mainly dejected at the sight of Christian leaders you respect “going at each other” over a vitally important but secondary. issue. You’re wondering why it has to be this way”

  62. Kent says:

    When viewed next to the gospel, it is definitely a secondary issue, but it is no less important. This pertains to what it looks like to be led by the Spirit, which is the heartbeat of the Church. However, by focusing on the extremes, on those who preach damnable heresies about God, about faith, and about the gospel, Dr. MacArthur has actually avoided the real conversation that should be discussed: why does the church exist, and what means has God given her to fulfill her purpose in Christ? The issue of gifts has everything to do with ecclesiology, not just the structures but also the substance of our gatherings; while it certainly is an in-house issue (that is, between those who genuinely believe), this affects how we view Christian maturity and growth, which occur within the context of the church.

    As far as the issue of Scripture and divine revelation go, it would be far more helpful if cessationists didn’t impose their own view of the purpose of gifts on to Continuationist perspectives.

  63. Alexey says:

    why should i really care??? this madness going on for 2000 years ,

  64. Johnny says:

    I fall into a different camp, of “Wayne Grudem rocks, but a vast majority of continuationalists are just so flakey that I think I fall more into the cessasionist camp”

  65. Dan McGregor says:

    May I point out the mistaken sentence, “I could care less.” Think. What you mean to say is that you could not care less. If you could care less, then you still care somewhat—and, in other words, are not completely indifferent.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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