Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fire Wars: Fighting Strange Fire with Authentic Fire

Three months on from the Strange Fire Conference, and rather than cooling down to a smoking ember, it seems that the fire of debate is simply spreading and burning even more intensely. Since MacArthur's Strange Fire book was released, several others have responded with their own books. At the time of the conference, I was rather disappointed with the charismatic response, so I compiled my own blog articles into an eBooklet and published it on Amazon as 'From Strange Fire to Purifying Fire: Reflections of a Reforming Charismatic'. Since then, Michael Brown has released his own book Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur's Strange FireFrank Viola has also weighed in and more recently RT Kendall has published Holy Fire. In regards to the responses to Strange Fire, only Viola's book has received any in depth treatment. Lyndon Unger delivers a devastating critique over at the Cripplegate. Unger really exposes the fact that Viola's book does not really respond to Strange Fire at all. There is something to be learned here, quickly published responses can never really deal with the issue effectively.

I've been hoping to get through MacArthur's book (my own booklet focused only on the conference) and Brown's book -- but time is not on my side. From what I have read so far, I still think that MacArthur's work is the more careful treatment and is raising some very important issues. However, Brown also raises some good responses and critiques of some of MacArthur's statements. Another thing about Brown's work is the tone, there is no mistaking the fact that he is incredibly gracious and courteous.

If there is any doubt about the impact of Strange Fire, all we have to do is visit Brown's Facebook page and we will discover that the charismatic movement of the sixties did not put an end to the Pentecostal division. The division is alive and well. There is a lot of attacking going on, and it is getting quite ugly at points. This cannot be helpful.

As I read Brown and MacArthur, and reflect on the debates (fights?) online, I do still wonder if there is a lot of misunderstanding going on. It seems as if people are too busy shouting past each other rather than engaging with the issues which are being raised. We are all sinful and flawed. Very often it is easy to see the weakness and error of 'the other' and at the same time be blind to our own weakness and error.

From what I can see at this point, MacArthur does a good job of pointing out some real (and widespread) issues within the contemporary charismatic scene, Brown does not do a great job of responding to these central issues. However, MacArthur perhaps fails to see the good within pentecostal and charismatic movements, and Brown has been quick to expose some of MacArthur's weaker (and more inflammatory) statements.

Perhaps both sides need to listen more carefully to what the other is saying. Viola's response is a case in point, he clearly spent time arguing against a position that MacArthur does not even hold. Likewise, MacArthur and co need to be careful that they do not stamp upon the true fire as they seek to extinguish Strange Fire.

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