Monday, October 28, 2013

John MacArthur's Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards' Theology


The thesis of John MacArthur’s new book, Strange Fire is that Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, are heretical movements that must be rebuked and eliminated from the church.[1] Everything to do with these movements is fraudulent, inauthentic or a misrepresentation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Strange Fire continues his was on the Pentecostals and charismatics begun with his book published twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos.[2]

In the public launch to Strange Fire, MacArthur made clear his utter disdain for the Charismatic Movement in particular:

Nothing coming from the Charismatic movement has provided recovery or strengthening of the biblical Gospel. Nothing has preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion, and error.  Yes, there are people in the movement who know and love the truth, have an orthodox Gospel, but are heterodox on the Holy Spirit. Not all of them are heretics. But I say again the contribution of truth from to the people in the movement doesn’t come from the movement, but in spite of it… [3]

In the introduction to Strange Fire we find this accusation about the Charismatic Movement:

In recent history, no other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel, to distort truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine. Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers.(pxvii)

The Rev. MacArthur bases these judgments on his close adherence to Reformed and Calvinist theology, and especially the doctrine of “cessationism.” This doctrine holds that the gifts of the Spirit, as described in Epistles and the Book of Acts, disappeared with the death of the Apostles or shortly after. Thus, in MacArthur’s mind, any manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the present must be of a fraudulent nature.

Strange Fire, is divided into three parts. Part One critiques both the origins and the workings of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements as counterfeit revivals. Part Two focuses on four areas of Pentecostal/charismatic ministry that MacArthur feels are especially fraudulent: the contemporary ministry of prophecy, the healing ministry, the act of speaking in tongues, and the recovered “apostolic” office. In Part Three MacArthur presents what he deems to be the proper work of the Holy Spirit as salvation, sanctification, and illumination of the scriptures - the traditional Reformed understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work. This part ends with an “open letter” to Pentecostal/charismatics, which he calls “continuationists,” urging them to repent of their folly and return to the authentic, i.e., his Reformed and cessationist, form of Christianity.

I wish to make clear in this critique of Strange Fire is that I consider that MacArthur’s biblical analysis is often excellent.  His methodology of interpreting scripture with scripture can often be very insightful.  His analysis of the Old Testament seems to be consistently of a high quality, and his radio program “Grace to You” has blessed millions.

But now I must say that Strange Fire is a deeply flawed book. It is an unintended and woeful parody of Jonathan Edwards’ standards of discernment which MacArthur cites, but fails to apply. Strange Fire, like his previous work of twenty years ago, Charismatic Chaos, is deeply Pharisaic in content, theology and tone. I use the term Pharisaic in its biblical meaning.  That is, it is a religious perspective that is orthodox in essential doctrines, but flawed in discerning the present activity of the Holy Spirit.

Biblical Definition of Phariseeism:

On the Pharisees, recall that this faction in the New Testament had their theology right. They believed in the truthfulness of scriptures, in angels, and in the resurrection of the dead, etc., all things that were passed on and affirmed in Christianity. This was in contrast to the other Jewish faction at the times, the Sadducees, who disdained those beliefs.  Jesus took sides on this and affirmed the Pharisees’ theology:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. (NIV Matt. 23:1-3)

Their great error was not in scriptural understanding or interpretation, but in discerning the motions of the Holy Spirit in the present. They did not expect or understand that the Holy Spirit could function outside of their group, or in a manner they were not accustomed to. Specifically, they interpreted Jesus’ “signs and wonders” as originating with the power of Beelzebul (Matt. 3:22).  The Pharisaical perspective is one that is strong on issues that are clear in scripture and covered by tradition, but almost paralyzed when an issue arises that is not discussed in traditional theology – or threatens their perceived monopoly as “religious experts.” 

Phariseeism has a long history in the Church Age, as practically every revival movement has had opposition from orthodox churchmen who have said, “This can’t be of God because it is too rowdy and different from what is normal.”[4] For instance, The Wesleyan revival (1740-1800) is considered to have been among the most effective and transformative in Church history. Yet at the time it was bitterly opposed by churchmen of all sorts. One, Bishop George Lavington (1683-1762) was the most influential and constant "opposer" (Pharisee) against Methodism.  Lavington was offended by the Methodists hymns, (now considered classics) outdoor preaching (now routine), and especially the "exercises" and “enthusiasm” demonstrated at Methodist services.  He attributed these to psychological disturbances and demonic intervention - a sign that he was a true Pharisee who could not discern the move of the Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan movement.[5] 

Pride in their theological traditions and opinions was a major characteristic of the New Testament Pharisees (Matt 15:2). This has unfortunately also passed into Christianity with various denominations posturing that their theology is ultimately correct, and deviations from which are damnable. I grew up in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church which had this fault - we thought all Protestants, or almost all, were destined to hell. MacArthur’s brand of fundamentalist Reformed theology (young earth creationism, etc.) is quite similar in its sectarian prejudices. For instance, he believes a mark of the “heresy” of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal is there willingness to fellowship with and accept Catholic Charismatics, whom MacArthur disdains as pure heretics (p .48, ff).

(In full disclosure, this critical essay is written from the perspective of a charismatic Anglican priest with a Wesleyan perspective. As historian of church revivals I believe that the past revivals of the Church, such as the Great Awakening, and the Wesleyan revival, the Second Great Awakening, etc., greatly strengthened and enriched the Church .[6])

Now let me turn to the work of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) probably the greatest theologian American has ever produced. He was a man like MacArthur who loved Reformation theology, but, unlike MacArthur, had a grasp of Church history and a true understanding of the process of discernment.

Jonathan Edwards discerns the Great Awakening:

To understand Jonathan Edwards’ great achievement in establishing a discernment theology of revival we need to know something about his role in the First Great Awakening. A revival began in his Church in Northampton in 1734, which was triggered by a sermon series about damnation and salvation.  The sermons led many to awaken from their nominalism to become truly born again and “professing Christians.” He wrote a letter to a colleague in Boston describing how it happened. This was then expanded into his first public piece on revival A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundreds of Souls in Northampton. (1736) - now often called simply “Faithful Narrative.”  

In this pamphlet Edwards described the process of conversion from nominalism into professing Christianity of several persons.  This was a process of conviction of sin, despair at self-remedy through works such as prayer, good deeds, etc., and finally rest and release in receiving the salvation of Christ. The process at times involved outbursts of emotions:

Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts as it were to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter, tears often at the same time issuing like a flood, and intermingling a loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forbear crying out with a loud voice, expressing their great admiration. In some, even the view of the glory of God’s sovereignty, in the exercises of his grace, has surprised the soul with such sweetness, as to produce the same effects. (sect. ii, P.354) .[7]

Edwards describes also how conversion and the presence of God affected the body in strange ways. Abigail Hutchinson, a person profoundly converted and sanctified by the revival, would at times faint away while talking of her experience with God.

 When the exercise was ended [a “home group” meeting], some asked her concerning what she had experienced; and she began to give an account, but as she was relating it, it revived such a sense of the same things, that her strength failed; and they were obliged to take her and lay her upon the bed.(sec iii, p. 360)

The revival subsided by 1735, although the people touched by it remained fully converted. In 1739 George Whitefield, the great English revivalist, came to the colonies, and under his anointed preaching revival became widespread over the colonies (now called the 1st Great Awakening) with many of the bodily agitations, and emotional outcries now becoming common.

This caused some concern and criticism among the clergy, and Edwards wrote Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741) to answer some of these concerns. In that important short work he affirmed that the “exercises,” bodily manifestations, often accompany revival, and often bear good fruit, but they can also be counterfeited, or merely self-induced. Thus exercises themselves are not proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Rather one has to judge the exercises by the fruit in the spiritual change and progress of the persons and congregations affected by revival

He developed the criteria based on the scripture to assess the “fruit” of revival and see if it was truly from God, regardless of intensity, or lack of intensity in the exercises.

These were five general criteria for discerning if revival and its accompanying exercises were truly from the Holy Spirit:

I When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.

II. When the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men’s worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit.

III. The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God.

IV. Another rule to judge of spirits may be drawn from those compellations given to the opposite spirits… “The spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” These words exhibit the two opposite characters of the Spirit of God, and other spirits that counterfeit his operations. And therefore, if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit.

V. If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God. [8]

By this time there was considerable excess among other and often intemperate revival preaches. One revivalist believed he could discern the spiritual state of a church pastor, as to whether he was truly converted or a false believer. His negative judgment would prompt the congregation to remove that pastor from the pulpit. This caused much resentment among the clergy towards the revival.

In Edwards’ next work, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1743), he aimed at allaying the fears and resentments of the clergy by informing them of the overall benefits of revival in spite of its faults and indiscreet preachers.  In this work he urged that revival must be judged as a whole and not by its extremes, as in some lay preacher excess, etc.

Another foundation-error of those who reject this work, is, their not duly distinguishing the good from the bad, and very unjustly judging of the whole by a part; and so rejecting the work in general, or in the main substance of it, for the sake of some accidental evil in it.(Sec. iii, 371)

Edwards again pointed out how often and how many churches had truly experience good fruit in revival worship and enthusiasm for the Christian life. He affirmed that revival exercises, although strange, such as Abigail Hutchinson’s faintings, often bore much good fruit in the long run. He also pointed out that exercises such as the fallings had occurred before, as in the Scottish Presbyterian Revival of the 1600s - and which were continuing in his time.

Yea, such extraordinary external effects of inward impressions have not been found merely in here and there a single person, but there have been times wherein many have been thus affected, in some particular parts of the church of God; and such effects have appeared in congregations, in many at once. So it was in the year 1625, in the west of Scotland, on a time of great outpouring of the Spirit of God. It was then a frequent thing for many to be so extraordinarily seized with terror in hearing the word, by the Spirit of God convincing them of sin, that they fell down, and were carried out of the church, and they afterwards proved most solid and lively Christians; (Sect. ii, 370)

Edwards repeated and expanded this message, in his last and now classic work on revival A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1742) By the time it came out revival was on the wane and under sever attack, principally by the writings of the Boston pastor, Charles Chauncy - the great Pharisee of the Great Awakening.[9]

The Rev. Chauncy did precisely what Edwards warned not to do. Chauncy collected letters only from clergy antagonistic to the revival. He made an arduous horseback circuit of New England where he gathered every story of exaggerated exercises, imprudent sermons, and tactless act of extremism and clobbered them together as a picture of the revival. That work, called Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England. (1743) greatly pleased the now frightened clergy.  It outsold all of Edward’s works and effectively put an end to the Great Awakening.[10]

We should note that a significant minority of clergy understood what Edwards had said, and recognized the good fruit that revival had brought to their churches. This faction was called the “New Lights.” They passed on Edwards, writings to the next generation, so that when the Second Great Awakening occurred (1801-1830) the revival preachers understood the “exercises” in the Edwards’ sense and were not disturbed by them, neither were they stopped by the inevitable Pharisees of the time. The Second Great Awakening succeeded marvelously in transforming American from a deist country (as its president Thomas Jefferson had become) to a majority evangelical nation.

The opposite happened with the Pentecostal Revival of the 1900s. By that time Edward’s writings were passé and not read by the clergy or taught in seminary. Thus, when the Pentecostals began manifesting body agitations, fallings etc., it was incomprehensible to its critics and the new Pentecostals were derided as “holy rollers,” a disparaging moniker that stuck.[11]

MacArthur’s Misunderstanding and Parody of Edwards:

MacArthur’s understanding and critique of the Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement is an empty shell of Edwards’ classic insights, and ultimately a parody of it. MacArthur takes Edwards five criteria from Distinguishing Marks to assume the cloak of Edward’s wisdom and discernment (Chapter 4: Testing the Spirits: Part 2). But that is the only element of Edward’s discernment system he incorporates. He violates every other element. Unlike Edwards, MacArthur begins with the assumption that all the “exercises” are inauthentic, fraudulent or perhaps demonic.

Unbiblical practices – like speaking in gibberish, falling backward to the floor, laughing uncontrollably, or withering on the ground – are seen as necessary evidence that the Spirit is moving. (p. 6)

This is the very opposite of Edwards starting point. It is not discernment which asks what the general fruit of this is, but a prejudice and a priori judgment based on cessationist theology. Consistently, MacArthur cites only the extremes of Pentecostal and Charismatic incidents, sermons and personalities without citing other, more mature elements that should enter into the discussion. Edwards warned against this. It is not accidental that MacArthur endorses Chauncey’s critique of the Great Awakening (p.32)!

Parodying Edwards’ criteria for discerning revival.

Let me now give several specific examples of how MacArthur used Chauncy’s “discernment by extremes” (Phariseeism) rather than Edwards’ true methodology of discernment.

In two chapters in Strange Fire, “Testing the Spirits” (Parts 1 & 2) MacArthur takes the five discernment criteria developed in Edwards’ Distinguishing Marks and applies them to the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. In every case he highlights examples of extreme preachers, imprudent remarks, and unbalanced ministers, and draws a picture based on these extremes. Thus these movements apparently fail the Edwards’ test for a true revival of God.  An essay of this size does not permit me to examine how he uses each one of Edward’s five criteria to bash Pentecostals and Charismatics, but let me highlight just one.

In chapter 4 MacArthur explains Edwards’ criteria 3, that a true revival is marked by an increased study, and appreciation of the Scriptures as the Word of God and true.

MacArthur claims that both Pentecostals and Charismatics, demean the role of the scriptures and or render it less important than their own prophecies and experiences.

Yet the modern Charismatic Movement drives a wedge between the Bible and its divine Author by endorsing unbiblical experiences and espousing extrabiblical revelations – as if the Holy Spirit speaks in his own initiative or operates in the church today in a way contrary to the truth of the Word (p67-68)

This is the very opposite of the truth. I have been in the charismatic Movement from the 1970s, and every teaching I heard on prophecy stressed that all prophetic utterances must align with the word of God or be considered false.

MacArthur’s cites several extreme examples to the contrary:

“Churches that appeal to new revelations that are often valued over the Bible include the Church of the Living Word, founded by John Robert Stevens, and the United House of Prayer for All People. Steven teaches that the Bible is outdated and needs to be supplemented by prophecies inspired by the Spirit for our time.”[12]

Why doesn’t MacArthur bring into the discussion the doctrine of prophecy from some established Pentecostal denomination such as the Assemblies of God? Using extreme examples one can smear any large group. For instance, MacArthur is a Baptist and fundamentalist Calvinist. If one searched out among the millions who adhere to that mix of Protestantism, one could pick out The Westborough Baptist Church in Kansas, and its pastor Fred Philips. These folks pickets soldiers’ funeral on the bizarre notion that their deaths express the wrath of God on our nation for accepting homosexuality. They are self-described as Baptist’ and Calvinist, so I could throw in some innuendo to suggest John MacArthur is “like them” in his theology, especially in view of the fact of  MacArthur’s concern and writings of the wrath of God.[13]

Let me share a bit of the history of the Charismatic Movement to demonstrate that the Charismatic Movement in fact affirms and cherish the scriptures in a way that Edwards would admire. The Charismatic Movement first broke out among Episcopalians in 1960, and then spread to other mainline denominations such as the Lutheran, Presbyterians and Methodists. All of those denominations had suffered from decades from “liberal creep.” That is, the seminaries had been slowly captivated by non-believers who taught a “de-mythologizing” theology. This asserted that the miracles of the Bible did not really happen, and that Paul exaggerated the lordship of Jesus, etc. This had a poisonous result as increasingly liberal pastors replaced their more orthodox predecessors who died or retired. This process dampened and destroyed the faith of their congregations in the veracity of the Bible.

What the Charismatic Movement did was to sharply reverse that trend. That is, the demonstration of real healings, exorcism and other miracles destroyed the foundations of liberal de-mythologizing. If I just saw a miracle of healing, why should I believe the seminary professor who said the miraculous is “unscientific” and never happened in the Bible?

The end result was that those congregations and pastors which became charismatic also became much more orthodox in traditional doctrine and affirming in the veracity of scripture.[14] Those pastors and churches that rejected or disregarded the Charismatic movement (a majority of the mainline churches – the seminary poison was too deep) drifted into further liberalism led to all sorts of theological distortions such as “liberation theology” and the drive to normalize homosexuality as a “good” to be affirmed.

In my home denomination, the Episcopal Church, the disregard of the scriptures on this issue and others led many of us to leave the Episcopal Church and form orthodox, and predominantly charismatic congregations as “Anglicans.” [15] We felt a need to separate from the poisonous Episcopalian hierarchy, reaffirm the truth of the scriptures on every issue, and get away from the liberal seminaries. That has cost many orthodox congregations their beautiful buildings and forced the divisions of many churches. The process is in the news practically every day. MacArthur’s assertion that charismatics lose esteem for the scriptures and exult prophecy over scripture is strange and not true. It comes out of his Pharisaic spirit and from not following Edwards’ warning of viewing a revival as a whole, and not on its extreme parts.

“Fake healings and False Hopes”

MacArthur’s critique of the modern Christian healing movement is perhaps the most exaggerated and offensive piece of the entire work. It is obviously written from the perspective of a person who has no experience with the healing ministry, except perhaps in turning on his remote and viewing some of the more flamboyant TV evangelists.

MacArthur begins his assault by criticizing the ministry of Oral Roberts and affirming that Roberts  has no proven track record of authenticated healings. Actually, Oral Roberts University has good records and videos of many of his miraculous healings. But it seems that affirming a cessationist assumption makes it true.

The thrust of his attack on Roberts is that he invented the “seed-faith” concept of coupling a donation to ministry with a biblical promise of a multiplied return.  Now that is a separate issue.  And yes, it is annoying and has been abused by many Televangelists.  MacArthur then turns to Bennie Hinn and essentially does the same thing. He also asserts:  “At best, Hinn’s supposed healings are the result of a euphoric placebo effect – in which the body temporarily responds to a trick played on the mind and the emotions.” (P161) How does he know that? Again, an assertion takes the place of proof.

He does not examine or mention any of the less flamboyant and highly effective ministers that dot the country, and other parts of the world. He could easily find healing minsters that don’t couple their ministry to seed faith doctrine and act with great effectiveness and integrity.[16]  Dr. Francis MacNutt’s Christian Healing Ministries out of Jacksonville, Florida , or Canon Mark Pearson’s Institute for Christian Renewal in Vermont, for example, represent ministries of great integrity and effectiveness.[17] Christianity Today ran a cover story about the amazing and sacrificial healing/evangelistic ministry of Hiedi Baker in Africa.[18] Bakers have an astoundingly anointed ministry with many miracles, and a medical journal’s verification of their effectiveness.[19] MacArthur makes no mention of these or other similar and effective ministries.

At the heart of MacArthur’s cessations dismissal of the modern Christian healing movement are two huge errors in interpreting the biblical evidence. The first is the incredible assertion that that “New Testament healings did not depend on the Faith of the recipient”[20] Wow! I am not making this up!

In incredibly inept exegesis to prove this, MacArthur points to the incident of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus (Luke 17: 11-19). MacArthur claims all were healed, but only one had faith - the one who returned (p163). This is really dumb. The scripture describes that all had the faith to believe that Jesus would heal them, and all had the faith to obey Jesus command to show themselves to the Temple priests - as commanded by Mosaic Law. What nine lepers did not have was the virtue of gratitude, the point of the incident.
Typing in the site, with keywords “faith made,” I came up with six instances in the Gospels where the recipients faith is affirmed by Jesus as a key to healing. For instance, Matt. 9, the incident of the woman with internal bleeding;

...For she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”  But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well. (Vs. 21-22)

See also, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Luke 18:4.

MacArthur’s’ woeful misinterpretation of scripture seems to be based on the Calvinist interpretation of miracles. That is, that they are all entirely due to the sovereign act of God, with no human input.  That this is contrary to the biblical evidence is especially clear in the miracle of Peter walking on the water.  Jesus called him, and at first he could walk on water, but when saw the wind and the waves his faith faltered, and he began to sink. God did not change, but Peter’s faith level did, which means it was a factor in the miraculous event.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me! (Matt. 14:29-30)

I believe another reason that motivates MacArthur’s “strange” exegesis is his animus towards the Word-Faith preachers such as Kenneth Copeland who make much of the need for faith in healing and the miraculous. Bur anger is not the best basis for theological reflection, and as MacArthur has demonstrated, leads to foolishness.

The second major interpretive error that MacArthur makes on the healing ministry is his claim that modern healing ministries cannot be authentically New Testament because modern healing minsters often fail in their results. MacArthur claims that Jesus and the Apostles never failed (p167 ff). The biblical evidence is to the contrary, as described when Jesus ministered in his home town:

And they took offense at Him.  Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”  And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He wondered at their unbelief. (Mark 6: 3a-6 NASB)

Herein lays a hint at why the healing ministers in the United States and Europe are not as effective as most of the New Testament accounts of healing. (And why healing evangelists are so effective in Africa). Centuries of cessationist theology and liberal de-mythologizing in the West have sapped the faith-expectancy of the general public, reducing it to the levels even below that of Nazareth. Many people who go to a healing ministry have in the back of their minds that “this is not possible,” etc. Like Peter’s fear of the waves, this diminishes their faith. This is not to blame the recipient of healing prayer for not being healed, as there are many and subtle impediments to receiving the grace of healing.[21]

 Another factor could be that the healing modern healing ministry is still relatively new, and new discoveries are still being made to improve it. For instance in the 1980s the Pentecostal couple Charles and Francis hunter discovered that there is no example in the New Testament of a petitioner prayer for healing, it is always a command based on the authority of Jesus’ name. That change in prayer technique, which remains controversial and is far from universally accepted, seems to increase the effectiveness of the healing ministry.[22]

MacArthur’s Historical ignorance vs. Edwards’ command of church history:

In MacArthur’s zeal to discredit Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement he resorts  to arguments and historical citations that are naïve and ignorant.  For instance, MacArthur attempts to discredit the movement by pointing out its early errors (Chapter 2 “The New Work of the Spirit?”) MacArthur is correct in asserting that there was initial confusion and error over the understanding of tongues.  Further, MacArthur points out that Charles Parham (1873-1929), the father of Pentecostalism, had several moral flaws, and thus, in his view, the movement was ungodly from its inception.

Let me deal with the last issue first. MacArthur makes an issue that Charles Parham was a racist (p.26 ff.). That is true, and in fact when he finally visited the Azusa Street revival in 1906, which was headed by the African American Holiness preacher William Seymour, he was shocked by the race mixing he found there, and tried to put things in “right order,” i.e. segregated. He was rightly tossed out by the elders of the Azusa St. Church.

Racism is a serious charge. But it does not take into account the times and the culture of the era. Most American Christians were racists at the time (1900s) and Parham was a man of his times and culture - a Southerner and Texan. It would have taken an extraordinary motion of grace to have changed him on the issue and make him into a prophet of racial equality. His calling was rather to birth Pentecostalism. But MacArthur’s coupling of Parham’s racism to “spoiled” Pentecostal origins is both historically ignorant and biblically erroneous.

For example, Martin Luther (1483-1546) who birthed the Protestant Reformation was a man of his times and culture too. That included some very negative elements.  From working class origins, he was often vulgar in speech - his recorded “table talk” would shock many Evangelicals.  More importantly, as a medieval German, Luther inherited a deep and illogical anti-Semitism. This did not change in spite of the fact that as his theology developed he began to appreciate the Old Testament to a much greater degree than his contemporaries.

Luther believed that his recovery of the Biblical understanding of salvation by faith alone would make it easy to convert Jews to the new Protestant Christianity. He tried to, but they did not. His frustration turned to bitter anger. In a violently worded pamphlet, On the Jews and their Lies (1543), he calls them every foul name he could think of, and recommended that their property be seized, their libraries burned, and that they be forced to become agricultural indentured servants.[23] This was an astounding, and un-Christian program, but consistent with the anti-Semitism of the times.  Worse, centuries later, the Nazi’s were able to cite Luther to German Christians to justify their anti-Semitism. In fact, many German Christians went along with the Nazi harassment and persecution of the Jews because it seemed “German Christian.”  Luther had laid the groundwork for it.[24]

Now, using the MacArthur “origins” analysis and critique of Charles Parham, one could say that the whole Reformation was wrong and illegitimate because Luther was bitterly anti-Semitic, and this had profoundly tragic consequences. Following his own logic, MacArthur should repent of his Protestantism and convert to Catholicism!

Another accusation that MacArthur brings to discredit Pentecostalism at its origins is the possibility that Parham had a homosexual encounter and was a closet homosexual (p.25). Parham always claimed he was not, and that he was “framed” by his enemies into a compromising incident. The evidence is unclear. But even if he was guilty, there is a theological error in this coupling too. Personal sin does not invalidate the spiritual calling of/and achievements of a person. For instance, it is also probably true (but unproven) John Knox, the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, had an affair with his mother-in-law. In contemporary times it has been revealed that Martin Luther King both cheated on his wife and plagiarized his PhD. dissertation. None of those things invalidated either person’s calling or spiritual work. (It would certainly be better if all Christian leaders were like the Wesley brothers or Billy Graham).

That God often uses imperfect and sinful persons for great things is clear in the Bible. Most readers would immediately think of David’s murder and adultery. Or Peter’s denial of Christ, and his later attempt to please the Judaizing faction of the Church (Gal. 2:11) There is an infrequently cited and seldom preached passage in Hebrews that makes this doubly plain. In chapter 11 the writer of Hebrews praises the faithful men of the Bible such as Moses and Abraham, and ends in a flourish:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (vs.32-34)

All of these men were heroes of the faith, but most had serious moral failings and weakness. Samson had an uncontrolled eye for the girls, and Jephthah was a judge of Israel who executed his own daughter because of an impetuous oath. Yet their faith and achievements were celebrated.[25]

As a biblical commentator, and one who has spent years in doing a line by line commentary of the Bible, this should have been obvious to MacArthur.  But his intemperate animus towards Pentecostals and charismatics blinds him to this biblical point.  Further on, MacArthur cites the moral lapses of Amie Simpson McPherson (p.60) and others, as proof of the corruption and heresy of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Certainly he is correct in noting that in recent the plague of scandals among some of the Tele-Evangelists there is something seriously wrong. (Yes, lack of accountability and oversight, and the temptations of big money and influence, exaggerated prosperity doctrines, etc.). But evangelical and Reformed pastors have also fallen into sin and ruined their ministries. It happens in all denominations.  

Other unhistorical conclusions:

MacArthur makes a major issue of Parham’s error in understanding the tongues gift.  Parham believed that when his students began speaking in tongues at the Topeka Bible College on New Year’s 1901, they were doing what Peter had done in Acts 2. That is, their tongues were real human languages unintelligible to themselves, but could be understood by foreign listeners.  Christian scholars call this “xenolalia” and it is a very rare gift, but not completely unknown in modern times.[26] Parham concluded that with this gift of tongues he could send missionaries to the farthest reaches of the world without language training. There they would be able to communicate the Gospel just as Peter did on the day of Pentecost. In fact, Parham and other early Pentecostal teachers sent young men and women as missionaries with that premise, and they failed miserably. This was indeed a big mistake.

But quickly, such persons as William Seymour, the African-American leader of the Azusa St. Revival, realized that the tongues at the Azusa St. revival were of the nature described by Paul in 1 Cor. 12. and 14. They were for worship, edification, prophecy, etc. and not the same as tongues in Acts 2. The theology of tongues was corrected and Pentecostalism matured and went on.

Further, MacArthur attempts to smear Pentecostalism by pointing out that the early Pentecostal movement birthed a faction called the “Oneness Pentecostal” which was an aberration and negation of Trinitarian theology. A further error, according to MacArthur, was that later, Charismatics and Pentecostals adopted into fellowship the Catholic Charismatics. MacArthur concludes that a movement that birthed or succored such heresies could not be of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 3 “Testing the Spirits, part 1”). The latter point merely demonstrates his sectarianism and anti-Catholic fundamentalism, but it is true that the initial Pentecostal movement had a minority split into Oneness Pentecostalism.

But again this is criticism based on historical ignorance.  MacArthur seems to be comparing the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement with a flawless Reformed movement that never happened, or a mythical understanding of the Early Church without factions or divisions.  In fact, the Apostolic Church (first generation) split into Hellenistic Christians and Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christian faction, who believed that the Law of Moses had to be followed for salvation, became known as “Ebonites” and survived as a minority faction into the 5th Century.[27] Similarly, the Reformation quickly broke into major and minor denominations (to the glee of its Catholic adversaries).  It immediately birthed the “Radical Reformers,” including the Ana-Baptists who formed a communist commune in Munster, Germany. Reformation historians are clear that radical fringe groups of the Reformation do not either typify the movement as a whole or discredit it as a whole (a Jonathan Edwards perspective). But rather the Reformation needed time to mature, and to “shake down and settle in.”  MacArthur’s attempt to make Pentecostalism ridiculous reminds one of Catholic apologists critiquing Protestantism, “Heresy! Too many divisions, and too much chaos!”

In summary MacArthur’s attacks on Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement is a work of Phariseeism. It will stand in unison with other classic works of Phariseeism such as Charles Chauncy Seasonable Thoughts, Lavington’s, The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Considered, Dave Hunt’s Seduction of Christianity and others of this Holy Spirit “opposers” genre.

Appendix 1: Criticism is not phariseesim:

After I published Quenching the Spirit, I received some negative comments to the effect that I was bashing anyone who criticized any revival, any Pentecostals or any charismatics as “Pharisees.” No. In fact, in that book I highlighted several of the classics of balanced criticism and biblical reproof. 

I dedicated an entire chapter to discussing the fine work of Prof. Charles Farah, and his classic work, From the Pinnacle of the Temple.[28] Farah, a charismatic himself, criticized the excesses of the Word-Faith movement. But it also recognized that there was some good in the movement, as in increasing the faith and desire to act in faith of many Christians. Similarly, I wrote about one of the early leaders of the Faith-Cure Movement, Kelso Carter, who criticized that movement for taking an anti-medicine stand. That is, that many of the Faith Cure advocates claimed that taking medication during an illness was tantamount to rejecting faith for healing.  This idea was passed on, unfortunately to the early Pentecostals, and occasionally one hears tragic reports of this error played out among some “primitive” Pentecostals. Carter did a masterful job in critiquing that position in his work: “Faith Healing” Reviewed after Twenty Years.[29]

In our  current decade Lee Grady, charismatic writer and editor of Charisma Magazine, the banner charismatic publication in the United States, has played a similar role of “prophetic reproof” which criticizes the distortions but does not broad brush whole categories of ministries. His columns have consistently urged Charismatics away from the extremes of the prosperity gospel and to return to the old Pentecostal tradition of seeking personal holiness.

Herein lies the difference between Pharisees’ condemnation and godly, prophetic reproof that is necessary for the Church’ development and maturity. A Pharisee dislikes a movement or revival and sees no good in it at all, and seeks out one example after another to prove the point. A “prophetic reproofer” sees that movements, like the Great Awakening, or the Pentecostal movement, or the Word-Faith movement, have elements that are “flesh” and exaggerated, but also have truthful insights.

Appendix 2: A Gap in Traditional Theology:

With regard to MacArthur’s work, I wish to first show that his pride in theological correctness in his Reformed theology, from which he judges other Christian denominations and movements, is misplaced. Every denomination in Christendom has its particular perspective that gives specific insights, but it also invariably creates errors and gaps in at least some issues.

This is demonstrated in MacArthur’s treatment of a revival phenomenon that Pentecostals call “falling under the power,” the fallings.  In this phenomenon a person faints away during a revival program or while at worship.[30]  As cited above, MacArthur disregards this phenomenon as “unbiblical” and deceptive. To the contrary we showed that Jonathan Edwards recognized this revival phenomenon and noted that often people showed “good fruit” from this exercise.

Contrary to what MacArthur affirms, the Bible has an example of this in the Old Testament of this in 2 Chronicles 5: 13-14 when the priest offered sacrifice at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. 

In unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His loving kindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (NASB)

Observers have recorded the “fallings” practically every major revival. Like Edwards, they also have recorded that a person who “falls” often comes up healed or transformed. The Rev. John Lyle, a Presbyterian minister and participant in the famous Cane Ridge revival of 1801, (the start of the Second Great Awakening) wrote in his diary:

...we began to talk and pray for those that were fallen down and -------- a deist fell, son to widow ------.  ... He had said just before he would not fall so for a thousand dollars and that he did not believe in heaven, hell of the devil.  Shortly after two of his cousins fell.  He lay speechless for an hour or two then spoke and said he had been ridiculing the work before he fell and said he wanted to seek Christ.[31]

In the current world wide Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, millions of persons have experienced such fallings. Millions could also testify to having experienced healings, or graces of spiritual comfort and growth in that experience. It is also true that many have fallen with little or no noticeable change. Perhaps a grace was present that did a work that was interior and not obvious. Also, some fall because others in a healing line have fallen and it is expected of them (a “courtesy drop”). In any case, as Jonathan Edwards pointed out, the faking of a phenomenon in one person does disprove its real manifestation in other persons.

MacArthur’s creates a distorted picture of the fallings in Strange Fire. Instead taking a large sample of persons who have fallen in current decades, he seeks only any current example that might be used to discredit the fallings. He has found in his search several cases where people have been injured in falling, and one case in which a frail woman at a Bennie Hinn even died when another person fell on her.[32]

 MacArthur thus concludes that falling phenomenon could not be from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit would certainly not cause harm (p.4).  This seems quite logical.

MacArthur errs in this conclusion because Reformed theology does not distinguish the Holy Spirit from the energies of God. In this regard he also mocks the often reported experience of tingling sensations in the hands or body during healing prayer, an often cited experience. (p.6)

To understand this confusion and gap, we need to know something of Early Church history. The overwhelming majority of Early Church theologians (the “Church Fathers”) followed and adhered to the philosophical system of Plato. This is especially true of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), whose theology much inspired John Calvin and his Reformed Protestantism. Plato understood things that were permanent, as in his famous “forms,” but paid little attention to temporary things such as energy, which comes and goes. Thus, classical Western theology, based on the Fathers, never gave sufficient attention to the “energies of God,” either in their scriptural examples, or their theological implications. [33]  

We need to go to a salient scripture which point to this lack in Western theological development. The passage comes from a scene described by the prophet Ezekiel of the reformed Temple service, at the moment when the priests come out of the sanctuary from offering sacrifice.

When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. (NIV, Ezk. 44:19-20)

The issue here is that the priests’ clothing were radiant and full of the energies of God, as in Jesus’ garment which was touched by the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8: 43-48). The Gospel account is particularly clear in that “power,” dynamin, left Jesus’ garment to do the healing work.  That is energy at work. The Western theological tradition has been so deficient on this that the King James Bible translated this passage with the word “virtue” for dynamin - a translation atrocity.

Now, back to the Ezekiel scripture. Note the warning: the energies on the clothing are ready to discharge, and can alight on person who wanders in and is not ready to receive them. We are not given the “why?” for this. Perhaps that means that the person may not be ready because, unlike the priests, he is unclean, ritually and spiritually. By analogy, I can think of a half dozen charismatics who received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit before they were really ready for it, and made fools of themselves in their immaturity. Recall also Paul warned Timothy, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”(1 Tim. 5:22, NASB) In summary the Bible shows that the energies of God act semi-mechanically, and are capable of doing something inappropriate, or not for the best, if they are not channeled properly.

Now back to MacArthur’s critique. He does not have a clue as to what is going on in the fallings, or in the tingling sensation of the energies of God as there is no Reformed theology on this. He does not understand that the fallings happen because of an infilling of the energies of God – not the person of the Holy Spirit.[34]  The energies of God have to be understood and respected – as Ezekiel warned. For instance, in practically every revival line where a healing evangelist is blessing persons and people are falling, there is a “catcher” that goes along to catch the person and bring him/her to the floor in a soft landing.  That is a working understanding of being careful with the energies of God.[35] If someone falls without a catcher doing their job, that is a human error, not God’s.


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

[1] John MacArthur, Strange Fire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).
[2] Glop! John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 992).
[3] From MacArthur’s keynote speech at the “Strange Fire Conference,” Oct 16, 2013. Available at
[4]William De Arteaga, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1992). In my forthcoming work, “The Fall and Rise of Pauline and Hebraic Christianity,” I locate Phariseeism among two other “discernment heresies” that deface the work of the Church: Sadduceeism and Gnosticism. All have a distorted understanding of spiritual phenomenon and reality. In Quenching the Spirit I already identified MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos as pharisaic in nature.  He in turn identified me as a deluded charismatic with “reckless faith.” See, John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 160-169.
[5][George] Lavington, The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Considered (London: G. and B. Whitaker, Sherwood & Co. 1820), 2nd ed., with introduction by the Rev. R. Polwhele.  
[6] My most important contributions to the history of revivals are: Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1992), and Forgotten Power: The significance of the Lord’s Supper in revival (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). Although an enthusiastic Weslyan, I have much respect for the Reformed tradition. See: Forgotten Power, especially Part Two: “Revival and the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed Tradition.”
[7] All citations of Edwards’ work are taken from the very fine website Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The link is      
[8]Cited from: Jonathan Edwards, The distinguishing marks, In: Goen, C.C. ed., The Great Awakening(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 253
[9] See my discussion of Chauncy in Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996), Chapter 3,” The Great Awakening Quenched.”
[10]Note: my summary and analysis of Edwards’ theology of revival can be easily verified, as Edward’s major writing are now hosted on several excellent websites. I would especially recommend the reading of his Some Thoughts by everyone who is following the Strange Fire controversy. It is concise. Pastors and teachers might want to take the extra time needed to read his classic, Religious Affections.
[11] On this point see: Gerald R. McDermott, “The Great Divider: Jonathan Edwards and American Culture,” Books and Culture (Jan./Feb, 2010.
[12] Strange Fire, 69, citing a work by Donald Bloesch, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000).
[13] John MacArthur,The Wrath of God (Moody Press, 1986). Actually, an excellent work, on a topic often ignored.
[14] See my description of this process in St. Michael’s of Gainesville, Florida in Forgotten Power (chapter 14).
[15]From the Anglican Church of North America’s statement of beliefs: “To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a "Mere Christian," at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.” Website is:
[16]My wife and I have labored in the healing ministry for decades, seeing many miraculous healing - and some disappointing failures. We understand that no healing minister or ministry is perfectly gifted, but many have indeed anointed and powerful ministries. As chaplain of the OSL (Order of St. Luke) I have witnessed many healing events at churches which were wonderfully effective and had holy and humble ministers. The Order of St. Luke mission is to spread knowledge of the healing ministry to all Christian churches. It began in the 1930s when cessationism was in full sway. For a brief history of the OSL see my blog posting at:
[17]CMI’s webpage is:, at which are offered the best and most mature works of the Christian healing movement. The ICR web is
[19]Brown, Candy Gunther; Mory, Stephen C.; Williams, Rebecca; McClymond, Michael J. (2010). "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique". Southern Medical Journal 103 (9): 864–869
[20] SF, 162
[21] See Francis MacNutt, Healing (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1974), Chapter 18 “Eleven Reasons Why People are not Healed.”
[22] On the amazing history of the ministry of Charles and Francis Hunter and its potential to further expand the reach and power of the healing ministry see my blog posting: The Hunter’s Revolution in Healing Ministry.”
[23] The pamphlet was widely distributed and deeply influential. It can be accessed in translation in several internet sites.
[24] A good review article on Luther’s anti-Semitism is; Robert Michael’s, “Luther, Luther scholars and the Jews,” Encounter 64 #4 (Autumn,1985),339-356.
[25]See the magnificent article on this by Lee Roy Martin “Judging the Judges: searching for Value in these Problematic Characters,” Pneuma Review (13 34 Fall 2010),54-75.
[26] See H. Hunter, “Spirit baptism in the 1896 Revival in Cherokee County, north Carolina,” Pneuma, 5 #2 (1983), p. 13, note #3.
[27]In this case I am not ashamed to affirm that the “Wiki” article on them is quite good.
[28] Charles Farah Jr, From the Pinnacle of the Temple (Plainsfield: Logos International, 1979) My discussion of his work in Quenching the Spirit is chapter 19: “Reproof of the Charismatic Renewal: Charles Farah, Jr.” pp225-232.
[29] Kelso Carter, “Faith Healing” Reviewed after Twenty Years. (Boston: The Christian Witness Co. 1897)
7 Dr. Francis MacNutt, the major theologian of the modern charismatic healing/deliverance ministry, has more politely called this activity “overcome the in spirit.” See his: Overcome by the Spirit (Terrytown: Fleming H. Revell, 1990).
[31] Catherine C. Cleveland, The Great Revival in the West, 1797-1805 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1916), 187. This works includes many eyewitness accounts of revival phenomenon, including the fallings. The best single work on the great revival at Cane Ridge is, Paul K. Conkin's, Cane Ridge: America's Pentecost (Madison: University  of Wisconsin Press, 1990). Again, I summarize the literature in chapter seven of Forgotten Power, Chapter 6: The Second Great Awakening (1797-1805).
[32] Strange Fire, p.7, note #8
[33] Eastern Orthodoxy has some understanding of this issue and calls the energies of God “uncreated energy.” See the theology of St. Symon the New Theologian, unfortunately the theology is restricted itself to contemplative prayer phenomenon and the experiences of monks. Agnes Sanford, the pioneer of healing prayer was perhaps the first writer in Western Christendom to write about the energies of God in her work, The Healing Light (St. Paul: MacAlester Park, 1947). 
[34] In my understanding, what happens in a falling is that a person’s neurological system is “reset,” like a computer reset, so that the Holy Spirit can do spiritual work that will manifest in new neurological pathways in the brain.
[35] I discuss the whole concept of the energies of God more fully in my blog posting at “The Anglican Pentecostal,” The Energies of God: A forgotten item of Western theology” (to be posted soon) and my forthcoming book “Fall and Rise of Pauline and Hebraic Theology.” I believe that if the Early Church would have paid more attention to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and less to Plato, a theology of the energies of God might well have developed early on.

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