John MacArthur. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nelson Books, 2013. 333 pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-1400205172. $18.49.

This book could be considered by some to be outdated since it was written in 2013, but the Charismatic Movement remains a prevalent false theology that permeates society today. Renowned theologian, John MacArthur, has such concern for the unbiblical views of this movement that he decided to both confront the theology and leaders within this theological camp, and provide his readers with a biblical explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work. The author’s thesis reads:

“My prayer for you as you read this book is that the Spirit Himself will give you a clear understanding of His true ministry in your own life, that you will embrace a biblical perspective on the Spirit and His gifts, and that you will refuse to be duped by the many spiritual counterfeits, false doctrines, and phony miracles that vie for our attention today.”

MacArthur, page xviii

MacArthur’s main concern from leaders and teachings in the Charismatic Movement is that they “elevate religious experience over biblical truth” (p. 16). The author walks through the history of this movement, and evaluates the Charismatic Movement’s teachings with Scripture.

In the second part of this book, MacArthur explains the differences between the Charismatic Movement’s understanding of apostleship and the biblical qualifications for apostleship (p. 92). Additionally, the author helps the reader understand the difference between newly formed prophetic messages from leaders within this movement, and his position of Sola Scriptura. MacArthur’s focus throughout the book is summed up well when he writes, “[2 Timothy 3:15-17] teaches that Scripture is utterly sufficient, ‘able to make you wise for salvation,’ and able to make you ‘complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work'” (p. 117). To put it another way, the Holy Spirit’s illuminates the text of Scripture for believers, but the Holy Spirit no longer gives new revelation to believers apart from the Word of God (cf. 117).

Next, MacArthur explains the gifts of tongues and healings that promote Charismatic theology. One should note that the author fits into the theological category of being a cessationist– “the miracles of Christ, and by extension, His apostles were unique and unrepeatable” (p. 233). While MacArthur treats teachers within the Charismatic Movement with proverbial harshness due to his belief that they are false teachers, he treats Christians in the continuationist theological camp with respect and dignity in his chapter titled, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends” (pp. 231-248). However, his argument that Charismatic leaders use tongues and healings as false ploys to gain power and profit over their followers remains valid.

The author does not leave his readers with only criticisms of the theology that Charismatics employ for their practice, but also explains the biblical work of the Holy Spirit today. This argument encompasses all of Part Three. He breaks the Holy Spirit’s role into three parts: salvation, sanctification, and illumination of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture will be MacArthur’s ultimate purpose for combatting the Charismatic Movement’s view of experience over biblical truth (cf. 16).

One area of concern for this work is the ability for its impact to sway the followers of Charismatic leaders like Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and others that MacArthur calls out in this book. MacArthur criticizes their theological views with truth and conviction, but at times, seems to turn his attention to their followers in his attack on these Charismatic leaders. For example, MacArthur comments on Hinn, “It is ludicrous to think Holy God would authenticate such egregious error by giving a false teacher like Benny Hinn miracle power” (p. 175). While he is correct in his assessment of Hinn, if he is trying to convince Hinn’s followers of Hinn’s horrendous theology, this type of statement could lead followers to reject MacArthur’s argument because they may think he is personally attacking them–i.e., they are ludicrous in their thinking for believing Hinn. One could argue that this is not MacArthur’s motivation, but the harshness of his criticism against Charismatic leaders might have a negative effect on persuading their followers.

Perhaps if Macarthur would have shown more grace to those who have fallen into these false teaching his work might be able to persuade followers of these false teachers to abandon the Charismatic Movement and pursue a biblical understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture and the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit’s role. At any rate, this book does an excellent job of diving into the theological depths of the Charismatic Movement and presenting how their theological pillars stand in stark contrast to the Bible. I would highly recommend this read to those who follow this blog. The length of this book should not deter any reader because the content will keep your attention and you will be done with it in a relatively short amount of time.

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