First off, let me share four blog posts, from across the spectrum, outlining differing views of the Strange Fire conference (some written before, during and after events):
- Adrian Warnock: ‘Why cessationists are wrong about prophecy’
- Thabiti Anyabwile: ‘Why you should care about the “Strange Fire” discussion’
- Tim Challies: ‘Strange Fire Conference: MacArthur’s appeal to his continuationist friends’
- Gary Benfold: ‘Strange Fire…’
Much has already been said beyond the views expressed in the above articles so I will limit myself to the following points:
- John MacArthur is absolutely entitled to hold a conference offering a reasoned defence of the cessationist position. Charismatic believers have run conferences promoting charismatic theology so promotion of the cessationist view represents no problem
- The issue for many is that Strange Fire, for them, appears to go beyond a legitimate defence of cessationism. Instead, it leans toward attacking all views that are not out and out cessationist and denounces as outside the faith those who are evidently brothers based on a secondary issue that is not a marker of orthodoxy.
- Interestingly, John MacArthur – in writing his recent book and taking this approach – now aligns himself with the ultra-separatism of Peter Masters and the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Not only is the “Charismatic Movement” one of Peter Masters’ favourite hobby-horses but he also seems to delight in denouncing as unbelievers those who adhere to gospel truth based on a matter of secondary import (significant though that issue may be in practice). MacArthur now appears to dismiss gospel-believing brethren in this same way.
- MacArthur has defended himself against the charges of being unloving, lacking care about offending people and of attacking brothers by reiterating his denunciation of many brethren, claiming that he cares more about offending God than offending people, and stating the most loving thing to do for someone is tell the them the truth. Frankly, this is the sort of rhetoric people usually employ when they are being both unnecessarily aggressive and unkind. Many is the person that claims they are “persecuted” for Christ’s sake when, in reality, they are facing difficulty because they themselves have been unnecessarily offensive!
- The conference clearly lacks nuance. The idea that cessationism can be pitted against continuationism in such stark terms is a false dichotomy. The range of views outside absolute, unerring cessationism are plethora (even more than the typically cited 4 broad positions outlined in Grudem’s book ‘Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?‘).
- Beyond merely lacking nuance, the conference lumps all continuationists together and argues the “more reasonable” end of the spectrum lends credence to the “extreme lunatic fringe”. It is wholly unreasonable to suggest, as MacArthur has done, that individuals such as John Piper and Don Carson lend an air of credibility to those who peddle a health and wealth gospel. These men have actively denounced such false teaching unequivocally and regularly (see here, for example). It is nothing short of slanderous to lump them in the same category as Roman Catholics and those who deny the Trinity.
- The conference singularly fails to accept that many out and out Charismatics, as well as those who would consider themselves continuationist without labeling themselves Charismatic, are as opposed to the excess and abuse of Charismata as MacArthur claims to be. MacArthur suggests it is only the cessationist who truly decries such abuse of scripture when, indeed, all those who are genuinely spiritual find such things equally repellent.