As a pastor, I am often asked a question similar to this one, “Why are there different denominations of churches today?” Most simply put, the interpretation of Scripture often draws denominational and tribal lines. For a person to say they are Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian means they subscribe to a particular interpretation of the Bible. Denominational lines are drawn around topics such as Bible translations, infant baptism, loss of salvation, election, priesthood of the believer, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is this last area that John MacArthur deals with in his newest book, “Strange Fire; The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship”. Strange Fire serves as a theology proper study of Pneumatology, or study of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Although MacArthur’s book has three parts, there are two major divisions within. First, MacArthur demonstrates how the Holy Spirit is falsely presented and maligned in the church today through fake healings, speaking in tongues, and false prophecy. Secondly, he sets out to give the reader an accurate picture of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit according to the Bible itself. A setting of the record straight, if you will.
In Section One, Confronting a Counterfeit Revival, MacArthur places before the reader what he believes “the heart of the problem is”. MacArthur leans on John Ankerberg and John Weldon here “Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it.” It is here that we are introduced to the father of modern Pentecostalism, Charles Parham. Mac Arthur gives an in-depth history of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, providing the place and personalities in which the movement was founded. Due to the rise in popularity and growth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, designations such as New Reformation, the Third Great Awakening, and New Pentecost have been assigned. MacArthur deals with and exposes the Word of Faith movement which is deeply embedded within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. It is also in this section that MacArthur deals with testing the spirits, an admonition from 1 John 4:1-8. In this passage, an outline is given for “assessing the true nature of any teaching”. Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth century preacher and theologian, placed this outline against revivals in his day. Edwards formed five questions related to the testing of spirits. MacArthur uses these five questions to test the legitimacy and truthfulness of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement today. The five questions are: 1) Does the work exalt the true Christ? 2) Does it oppose worldliness? 3) Does it point people to the Scripture? 4) Does it elevate the truth? 5) Does it produce love for God and others? To put it lightly, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement fails the test miserably.
In Section Two, Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts, MacArthur devotes individual chapters to each of the sign gifts of the early church (tongues, healing, miracles, prophecy, and the apostolic office). MacArthur writes from a cessationist viewpoint, believing these gifts have ceased. In his chapter on apostles, he argues that there can be no modern day apostles because the biblical criteria cannot be met. The criteria: an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ, an apostle had to be personally appointed by Christ, and an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs. His chapter on tongues is especially strong and helpful. Many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement use the speaking in tongues as an evidence of salvation. MacArthur exposes this teaching for the lie that it is. He provides a thorough teaching of the tongue gift of Acts 2. He shows that the disciples were speaking in known languages that they did not know for the purpose of gospel advancement. He writes, “In short, the glossolalia practiced by today’s charismatics is a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament. Today’s tongue-speakers claim to have received the biblical gift, but ultimately they have no acknowledgement that the gibberish they are speaking has none of the characteristics of real language.” Finally, MacArthur deals with “healings”. He introduces the reader to the modern-day father of faith-healing, Oral Roberts and his protégé’ Benny Hinn. As MacArthur deals with Hinn’s “healing ministry”, he concludes these “healings” are not biblical. In his section, “Benny Hinn Versus the Bible”, MacArthur places Hinn’s “healings” alongside the six differences between New Testament healing and the counterfeit “healings” of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
In Section Three, rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work, MacArthur, after dealing with the false and counterfeit views put forward by Pentecostals and Charismatics, gives a solid biblical teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, sanctification, and the Scriptures. He deals solidly with subjects such as regeneration, fellowship, conviction, repentance, illumination, and inspiration. MacArthur concludes with an open letter to his Continuationist friends who believe the sign gifts of the early church must still be present today. He shares, in his own words, eight “dangerous manifestations of the continuationist position. MacArthur then challenges the New Testament church to guard against the strange fire of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
“Strange Fire” is a hard-hitting; no holds barred, honest, not for the weak of heart, “call it for what it is” type of book. He pulls no punches. I am glad that he didn’t. In his own words, he describes the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with such terms such “fraud”, “hoax”, “counterfeit”, “sham”, and “con-artists”. Although this may sound harsh, unfair, bigoted, and cruel, MacArthur takes a balanced approach to his writing. He utilizes some of the leading voices, authorities, and historians of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in order to be fair to both sides. This book will encourage some and anger others. It will strike a chord of truthfulness with some and strike a nerve of disapproval with others. This is a much-needed work on the subject on the danger of offending the Holy Spirit with counterfeit worship.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”