The Strange Fire Conference was held last week at Grace Community Church in Southern California. The conference was put on by none other than Dr. John MacArthur who is the Senior Pastor of GCC. The purpose of the conference was an attempt to promote the cessationist view of the gifts of the Spirit especially in light of the growing movement in places all over the world. The official Strange Fire website describes it as followed:
Strange Fire is a conference that will set forth what the Bible really says about the Holy Spirit, and how that squares with the charismatic movement. We’re going to address in a biblical, straightforward manner what many today see as a peripheral issue. On the contrary, your view of the Holy Spirit influences your relationship with God, your personal holiness, and your commitment to the church and evangelism.
Guest speakers at the conference included Dr. MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, Conrad Mbewe, Justin Peters, Todd Friel and several others. The conference was a three day event that attracted a large audience (approximately 3000 people) not to mention those who were able to watch via live stream. The conference is a predecessor to a new book by Dr. MacArthur that is going to be made available this November.
Needless to say this conference didn’t sit well with many individuals among the charismatic community who are arguing that MacArthur is being divisive. What has especially seemed to have drawn some criticism is that MacArthur has been accused of lumping all charismatics into the same pot and attacking godly men who hold to continuationalism. Still, others seem to think that MacArthur is just plain wrong about his cessationist view. Michael Brown, a well known continuationist wrote:
For a man of his stature, a man who has done so much good for the Body of Christ, this is a tragic error, a decided step in the wrong direction, and a rejection of both the testimony of the written Word and the work of the Spirit today. (Source)
Names such as John Piper, Sam Storms, Wayne Grudem and many others were said to be included in the same category as Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. There have been several accusations of failing to differentiate godly Christian teachers from heretics.
Reading about the conference (I didn’t actually attend), all I’m honestly seeing at this point is just how truly sad people have been reacting on both sides. Aside from Mark Driscoll’s publicity stunt in showing up at the conference to deliver free books that support his charismatic view and him stating that he was asked to leave, all I’m seeing is a group of hot heads who seem to have issues talking to each other. I could be wrong but I’m not convinced that MacArthur thinks that people like Dr. Piper or Dr. Storms are in the same class as these individuals. MacArthur even stated that but for him most of the people in the charismatic movement (not all) are non-believers. For those who’ve told MacArthur that he’s attacking his brothers in Christ, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” In his opinion, he and his fellow speakers noted throughout the conference that the Charismatic movement is made-up largely of non-Christians (Source). On Phil Johnson’s website, Pyromaniacs, the following statement was made:
I would not for a moment deny that there are some relatively sane and sensible charismatics who love Scripture and generally teach sound doctrine while avoiding most of their movement’s worst errors. I think they represent a fairly small minority of the worldwide charismatic community, but they do exist. A few of them are good friends—even longtime friends—of mine. I have friends (for example) in the Calvary Chapel movement, which is mildly charismatic in doctrine but whose worship is generally more Bible-centered than even the typical non-Charismatic seeker-sensitive church. As a matter of fact, my chief concern about the Calvary Chapel movement would not even be their advocacy of charismatic views, but their increasingly aggressive campaign against Calvinism.
That’s not all. I have warm affection and heartfelt respect for most of the best-known Reformed charismatic leaders, including C. J. Mahaney, Wayne Grudem, and Sam Storms. I’ve greatly benefited from major aspects of their ministries, and I regularly recommend resources from them that I have found helpful. (Source)
At the same time, MacArthur failed to open a dialogue with individuals who hold to a continuationist view that are still within the realm of biblical orthodoxy. If the issues are not necessarily about the teacher’s themselves as much as their disagreement in theology then I believe that a much better way to address this issue would have been either a panel discussion between charismatics and cessationists or even better yet, set up a debate between both parties and allow both views to be heard. I have heard that Phil Johnson will be on Michael Brown’s radio show tomorrow and I feel this might be a start at mending things between these groups. The point I’m trying to make is that there seriously needs to be some dialogue and clarification on each others positions. I’m not diminishing the debate but when you have so much in common with each other, would it not be worthwhile to sit down and discuss these items as brethren? Are we left hiding behind pulpits in closed settings or on Twitter rather than entering into a loving discussion without dividing? All this coming from a Cessationist!