Back in 1994, I wrote a lengthy critique of John MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos.
I wrote it for one person.
Update: When I wrote this post this morning, I couldn’t find the critique. But a friend of mine had it and just sent it to me. So in the coming days, I’ll be publishing excerpts from it. And at the end, I’ll make the entire critique available.
In 1988, I found myself involved in a spontaneous burst of organic church life. That experience lasted 8 years. And the lessons I learned from it were invaluable and left a lasting imprint on my life and ministry.
During that body life experience, a man in the church read MacArthur’s book and left the group. Since we practiced spiritual gifts and believed that God still heals today, the man felt he couldn’t continue with us given what he had read in Chaos.
I then bought the book, read it, and wrote a lengthy response.
After giving my friend the response, he was convinced that Chaos was focusing on the fringe elements of the Charismatic movement and MacArthur’s theology on spiritual gifts was untenable.
The man then returned to our fellowship.
(By the way, the Charismatic movement is an easy target to hit as there are many excesses, exaggerations, and bizarre behavior within it. But that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate in supernatural ways in our day. Consider that whatever is real and spiritual impacting, the enemy is going to do his best to counterfeit so people write it all off.)
Recently, MacArthur has written a new (?) book called Strange Fire. The publisher is sending it to me, but I’m wondering if it’s simply a revised edition of Chaos.
If you have both books, let me know.
That said, here’s an excerpt from Revise Us Again where I talk about what I call “the Charismatic Spiritual Conversational Style.”
Genuine theological differences aside, this piece underscores a lot of the problem. It’s often more a matter of semantics than it is substance.
Those who use the Charismatic Spiritual Conversation style (SCS) are often associated with the Charismatic/Pentecostal subculture of the Christian world. In conversation, the Charismatic SCS appeals to personal revelation of the Bible as an authority for interpretation and application.
Some advocates of the Charismatic SCS despise biblical scholarship, paying little attention to the principles of hermeneutics and sound exegesis, deeming them “human” and “man-made.” Statements like “the Lord showed me” or “God revealed this to me” or “the Spirit told me” are peppered throughout their conversations.
Those who do not use this particular SCS usually feel quite uncomfortable with such phrases. While they may experience spiritual illumination from the Holy Spirit, they believe it’s unbefitting to wield it as a basis of authority. They also find such claims to divine authority difficult to analyze and inadequate to settle disputes. Not to mention that they believe these declarations often convey the clear impression of “boasting in the flesh.” In short, those who do not employ the Charismatic SCS feel that the mere appeal to personal revelation makes the playing field unlevel in the arena of theological discussion.
Here’s an example. Suppose that Bill and Chris are discussing a theological issue. Chris uses the Charismatic SCS, while Bill doesn’t. After Bill shares an interpretation of a biblical passage with Chris, Chris responds, saying, “The passage does not mean what you say. God showed me that it means thus and so.” In Bill’s mind, any attempt at biblical discourse now becomes inadequate, for “God has shown” Chris otherwise. When Bill challenges Chris’s position using the principles of exegesis (appealing to historical context, the original meaning of Greek words, etc.), Chris accuses Bill of being “unspiritual,” unable to comprehend the language of the Holy Spirit.
Now Bill believes that Chris cannot explain or defend his position academically. He can only appeal to personal revelation. Therefore, Bill feels that Chris has fallen into the subjective soup of mysticism and is lost in the sauce. From Bill’s vantage point, there’s no common ground for communication. The source of authority is neither equal nor mutual. While Chris verbally affirms that Scripture is the measure of all truth and may even push the envelope of biblical authority, in Bill’s mind, Chris’s appeal to personal revelation demonstrates otherwise. To Chris, Bill is not a spiritual person because he cannot understand or accept the divine inspiration that he (Chris) has received.
In addition, because Bill does not use the mystical jargon that fills Chris’s vocabulary, Chris concludes that Bill’s relationship with the Holy Spirit is subnormal. Worse still, Chris may judge Bill to not have the Holy Spirit at all, for if he did (he muses to himself), Bill would agree with him.
In effect, Chris is frustrated because he fails to convince Bill of his revelatory encounters (and he may even go so far as to accuse Bill of having a “religious spirit”). Chris doesn’t understand why Bill would question his experience, because he is convinced that God speaks to him.
Bill is equally frustrated. He feels that he can’t communicate on the same level as Chris. To Bill, Chris’s subjective appeals cloud the issue and make the source of authority ambiguous. For Bill, Chris’s revelations by no means secure the theological terrain. Chris’s discourse, which is cluttered with verbal cues of mystical experiences (“God showed me”), is both unimpressive and unconvincing to Bill.
Chris, on the other hand, is troubled with Bill’s “unspirituality” simply because he doesn’t share these explicit verbal signals. So in the end, the person using the Charismatic SCS ends up feeling frustrated and hurt because of his failure to convince those who embrace a different SCS. Likewise, those who disagree with the Charismatic SCS find themselves up against similar frustrations.