Here is an excerpt:
Having read both Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire, I want to cut to the chase in this Introduction and tell you where I think MacArthur is dead-on and where I think his conclusions are flawed and even outrageous.
The rest of this critique will provide evidence and examples supporting each point:
1. The charismatic world is an easy target for any critic because there are a lot of problems within the camp.
There is no doubt that a number of high-profile charismatic leaders are guilty of outlandish teachings, absurd practices, stunts, gimmicks, exaggerations, and even fraud. And so are some of their followers. MacArthur is right about this and he articulates the problem well.
However, MacArthur is not the only person who has made this observation. Many charismatic leaders have as well. MacArthur even quotes some of them in Strange Fire.
Just as those charismatic leaders were not able to reel in the excesses that exist within the movement, I do not think MacArthur’s attempts will do so either. In fact, MacArthur’s latest book is his third attempt on this score (The Charismatics, 1978; Charismatic Chaos, 1992; Strange Fire, 2013).
2. I cut my teeth as a disciple of Jesus in the Pentecostal/charismatic world, and I know it well. It is true that many of the charismatics I have met put the Holy Spirit on the throne and make Jesus a footnote.
I have written extensively about this problem in my books Revise Us Again, Jesus Manifesto, and my blog series Rethinking the Holy Spirit. I have also addressed the plague of seeking the power of the Spirit (God’s hand) over pursuing Jesus Christ (God’s face).
However, charismatics are not alone in falling prey to this error. Many Reformed people and evangelicals have also put some THING (typically theology, evangelism, apologetics, eschatology, etc.) over and above Jesus Christ. So no Christian is immune to this problem.
In fact, in my early Christian life, I was guilty of this very thing on numerous counts without realizing it. See Deep Ecclesiology: One Man’s Journey Into Rediscovering Jesus where I tell my story.
3. MacArthur is wrong in that he paints the entire charismatic world–which would include all charismatics and all charismatic churches–with the same broad brush.
The fact is, I have met many charismatics who were not guilty of any of the problems that MacArthur benightedly lays at their feet.
For example, the late David Wilkerson was a tremendous help to me when I was in my 20s. He encouraged me to make Christ, not the Holy Spirit, preeminent in my life.
Wilkerson–a charismatic leader–wrote a classic article called A Christless Pentecost on this subject.
I would encourage anyone who buys MacArthur’s arguments to read The Cross and the Switchblade and ask yourself if it is possible that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are still operative today.
In addition, I wonder if MacArthur would admit that Teen Challenge, founded by Wilkerson, has been a blessing to many lost young people.
Throughout his books, MacArthur continually uses phrases like, “Charismatics believe … such and such.” “Charismatics think … such and such.” And then “the charismatic movement is guilty of . . . such and such.”
This is simply false. It would be accurate to say, “some charismatics believe” . . . or even “many charismatics believe . . .” or “some in the charismatic movement believe . . . ”
Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive, and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.
And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, et al. to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R.T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard, et al. to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles, et al. to characterize Fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr., et. al. to represent Reformed Baptists.
My point is that countless charismatic, Reformed, and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes.
Even so, the game of burning down Straw Man City with a torch is nothing new.
The people who MacArthur highlights as the poster boys for charismatics–Kenneth Copeland, Peter Popoff, Paula White, Bob Jones, E.W. Kenyon, Eddie Long, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson–simply do not represent the views or practices of the majority of charismatic Christians in the world today.
4. MacArthur misrepresents people. In Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur takes on the late Kathryn Kuhlman. But astonishingly, he relies on a critic who used outlandishly deceptive methods of research to accuse her of fraud.
When you get to that part of my critique, prepare to descend into grunts and sighs. It is profoundly disturbing.
At the end of Strange Fire, MacArthur says that charismatics acknowledge that the gifts of the Spirit ceased after the early church and were only recovered in the 20th century.
Well, I have never heard a charismatic teach this (though perhaps some have). In the following pages, you will see multiple quotes by the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers where they bear witness to miracles, healings, etc. in their day. And I just give a sampling.
In fact, MacArthur cherry picks comments from only three Church Fathers, and one of them does not even assert that the gifts of the Spirit passed away. So quoting two Church Fathers does not represent the mind of the post-apostolic church on this issue by any measure.
5. MacArthur makes statements that smell of elitism, sectarianism, and judgmentalism.
He says that charismatics do not have the “true gospel” and the “spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not all.
MacArthur bulbously claims that the charismatic movement “was a farce and a scam from the outset” and accuses it of being a “false church.” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. xix). He then rallies the troops saying, “this is the time for the true church to respond.”
MacArthur is part of the “true church” and all those poor charismatics are part of the “false church” which is driven by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit?
These vitriolic statements suggest that charismatic Christians are not true followers of Jesus.
In addition, MacArthur insinuates that the charismatic “movement is characterized by worldly priorities and fleshly pursuits” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. 57). Hmmm . . . so David Wilkerson, Dr. Michael Brown, Adrian Warnock, Francis Frangipane, Sam Storms, and Jack Hayford (and their followers) are/were worldly and fleshly?
MacArthur accuses charismatics of being “obsessed with the supposed gifts and power of the Holy Spirit” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. 53). By the same token, one could say that all Reformed people are obsessed with Calvin’s doctrine. But neither comment is fair nor accurate.
And then there is this tweet by MacArthur:
Huh? This statement seems to imply that charismatics are not part of the Body of Christ.
What other way can one interpret this?
Even if MacArthur nuances his comment to say that “most” charismatics are not saved, which a MacArthur fan recently told me, how on earth can he make such a judgment?
I have personally known countless charismatic Christians since I was 16 years old and the overwhelming majority were not only saved through the clear preaching of the gospel–repent and trust in Christ alone as absolute Lord and Savior–but they were remarkably devoted to Jesus.
In fact, they were more committed to Jesus than many Fundamentalists I have met who “asked Jesus to come into their heart,” but lived like hellions when they were not sitting in church on Sunday morning.
While I differ with many of my charismatic brethren on the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the importance of tongues, that does not make them non-Christians.
6. MacArthur’s argument that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased is not only biblically and historically untenable, but it is discounted by the best New Testament evangelical scholars in the world, both past and present.
I’m speaking of N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, Wayne Grudem, F.F. Bruce, and many others.
MacArthur is right to say that the Holy Spirit is dishonored when people engage in fleshly mayhem and attribute it to the Spirit of Christ. But I would argue that the Spirit is also grieved and dishonored when a genuine work of God’s Spirit is attributed to Satan.
The fact is, God sometimes comes to us in ways that make it easy to reject Him. (For biblical examples, see A Vanishing God.)
Elsewhere I have made the argument that the Pentecostal and charismatic movements were born with several birth defects from which they have never recovered. Frank Bartleman, an eye-witness to the Azusa Street revival, warned about this. See Azusa Street.
But that does not make the entire movement false or without spiritual value. The Reformation was also born with certain birth defects that remain today.
Note that I have no ill-will toward MacArthur. I do not know him and I dare not judge his motives (it is serious sin to impute evil intentions to another person’s heart).
Again, I am not a charismatic nor the son of a charismatic. And I agree with many of MacArthur’s criticisms (including his issues with the “New Apostolic Movement”). I also concur with his analysis of what accompanies the Holy Spirit’s work (exalting Jesus, confirmed by Scripture, loving others, etc.).
And I have articulated these points myself in public writings.
But . . . I believe MacArthur destroys his own effectiveness and impact by distorting an otherwise valid critique with misrepresentations, straw man arguments, uncharitable vitriol, and weak hermeneutics.
If MacArthur had written Strange Fire without the vitriol, elitism, sweeping denunciations, and misrepresentations it would have been a good book in my opinion and one that I could possibly recommend.
Let us now move onward and upward into the critique . . .