My friend Adrian Warnock pointed me to a pretty provocative response he’s written to John MacArthur’s upcoming Strange Fire conference. He’s frustrated by what he sees as MacArthur lumping the roughly 500 million Christians who believe the Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts1 continue today in with the more…”exuberant” folks you might see on certain TV stations.
MacArthur says the Holy Spirit has been under assault for decades and decades, and he wants to know, “Where are the people rising up against the abuse and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that’s going on?”2
The only reason for silence about these things, he suggests, is that evangelicals “have been literally backed up into a corner by intimidation that they need to be loving and accepting and tolerant and not divisive in the body of Christ…”
Anyone familiar with MacArthur knows he’s not exactly, shall we say, warm to the idea of charismatic gifts continuing today. But he’s not anti-faithful charismatics. He holds (or at least has held) particular men such as John Piper and C.J. Mahaney in high regard.3
More importantly, he is absolutely incensed by the blasphemous teaching that comes from within a segment of the Charismatic movement: that damnably devilish doctrine of “health, wealth and prosperity.”
And rightly so.
That wicked nonsense which truly does blaspheme our Lord Jesus is being exported around the world and must be countered with faithful, biblical teaching—and its adherents must be called to repentance or branded as the false teachers they are.
Now, let me just say I have an enormous amount of respect for MacArthur, even if I think he sometimes gets a bit too cranky, and winds up injuring faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in the process. And I really appreciate his call to faithful Christians in the Charismatic movement to speak out against those who are responsible for spreading false doctrine (as seen in the following video).
Personally, in reviewing some of MacArthur’s videos on the Strange Fire site, this is the most charitable I’ve seen him in ages.4 Nevertheless, I get where Adrian is coming from—he is concerned, and again I think rightly, that we not lump faithful charismatics in with the crazies.
So how do we avoid that?
1. Be as clear about who is being addressed. From everything I’m seeing, MacArthur isn’t talking about the Matt Chandlers and Adrian Warnocks of the world. He’s talking about prosperity preachers like T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer. He’s talking about the Christ-defaming foolishness of folks like Todd Bentley and the so-called Lakeland Revival.
Was MacArthur clear on this? More or less. Could he have been more explicit? Absolutely.
2. Proceed with charity. This, again, is something that I think MacArthur’s done pretty well in the video I shared above. But more can always be done. We do our brothers and sisters in Christ a disservice when we lump them in with those who hold to erroneous beliefs (that that goes for whatever side of the fence you sit on). Instead, we ought to celebrate those who are faithfully following and proclaiming Jesus in whatever movement they’re a part of, even as we challenge one another to dig more deeply into the so-called secondary issues, and be incredibly cautious about crying heresy. It may only be six letters, but it’s a big word, and one we don’t throw around flippantly.
3. Recognize that while many charismatics are evangelicals, not all charismatics are evangelicals. This is probably the biggest point of contention, and a topic deserving far more attention than I can give it in this post. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that many charismatics are faithful Christians who would fit into the category of “evangelical.”5 But not all charismatics, even those who claim to be evangelicals, are.
So, many charismatics believe that any modern prophecy given is subject to the authority of the written Word of God. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good,” Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 5:20-21. Whether it’s a public or private word from the Lord, it is only valid if it lines up with Scripture, in principle or precept. That, one could reasonably argue, is a valid evangelical position on modern prophecy.
However, there are some who treat their alleged private words from the Lord as being equally authoritative or higher in authority than Scripture. If Scripture is our highest authority, and all else is subject to it, then any view of private or public prophecy that diminishes the priority of the Word cannot be called “evangelical.”
And that, I suspect is the true problem: what is an evangelical?
So many of our conflicts boil down to talking past one another because we don’t know what we agree one. We don’t know who we are. If we don’t know what we are, then we don’t know what to defend.
That’s a huge problem.
Do we need to warn believers about the dangers of the excesses of one part of the Charismatic movement? Absolutely. But we also need to be prepared to do the painstaking work of trying to answer the big question of what it means to be an evangelical. Let’s get to that, shall we?
- Such as prophesy, healing, tongues, etc. ↩
- Source ↩
- Sidenote: Please don’t bother responding with diatribes about C.J. and the problems within Sovereign Grace. We are not talking about that today. Thanks! ↩
- Far more than when he’s declaring that all self-respecting Calvinists ought to be premillennial dispensationalists. ↩
- And yes, I realize that in itself is a whole ‘nother can of worms. ↩