If you’re an Evangelical and you’ve been connected to the internet for the past few days you have no doubt heard about the “Strange Fire” conference hosted by Grace to You, the ministry of Dr. John MacArthur. The conference is largely a critique of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements that have steadily been growing in influence in world wide Christianity. John MacArthur’s position on the topic is really quite simple: The Charismatic movement with signs, wonders, “miraculous” spiritual gifts, prophecy etc. is a work of Satan and is being used to single-handedly destroy the Church of Jesus Christ.
As you may know, John MacArthur doesn’t mince words. This is literally the message that he and those speaking at the conference are promoting. What is more surprising is that this isn’t a small conference at all. This isn’t just John MacArthur off in a corner spouting of this craziness. Rather, this conference features many of the leading voices in conservative Evangelicalism, like R.C. Sproul (the grandfather of the neo-reformed movement), Conrad Mbewe (the “Billy Graham” of Zambia), Steve Lawson (prominent reformed preacher), and Joni Erickson Tada (prominent Evangelical woman minister). All of these leading “Evangelicals” have teamed up to attack and condemn the fastest growing movement in the global Church and perhaps the fastest growing theological orientation among conservative Christians.
What makes the Strange Fire conference so shocking to me is that some of the most prominent conservative Christian leaders today are charismatic- people like John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Joshua Harris, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and D.A. Carson. These men have historically been friends and fans of the ministry of John MacArthur. They swim in the same theological vicinity. And on top of his criticism of these individuals, MacArthur even extended further and criticized my alma mater and one of his publishers, Moody Bible Institute, for calling him out last year for anti-semetic statements he made at our annual Founders Week Conference and blasted our school for publishing an article in our newspaper following the election of Pope Francis. (I am not entirely sure what this even has to do with Charismatic Theology seeing as Moody is a Cessasitionist Institution?) Here’s what MacArthur said:
We know that the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, of judgment, to bear historical witness to the Gospel, to empower those who preach its saving message. The Holy Spirit is faithful to the Gospel and would never misrepresent the Gospel. So wherever the devaluing of Gospel truth is visible, we know that’s not the work of the Holy Spirit. And let me be blunt: Any movement that can fully embrace Roman Catholicism is not a movement of the Holy Spirit, because that’s a false gospel!…
I was criticized openly and publicly for what I said at Moody Bible Institute for what I said on Isaiah 53. The next week, there was an article from students at Moody hailing the arrival of Pope Francis as the new Pope. Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone in Evangelical historic Protestant history make a concession to Catholicism? It’s just become part of the contemporary fabric of Evangelicalism.”
All of these men were friends of John MacArthur. At least, until now. I am not sure how you could to continue to work with someone who publicly says that your theology and practice is “demonic” and has a legacy of “perverting the gospel and forsaking the truth of God’s Word.” MacArthur, in his closing message of the conference, acknowledged that the conference was divisive and offensive to many of his collegues. But he continued to say, according to Tim Challies, that “he does care about offending [peoples feelings].Just not nearly as much as he cares about not offending God.” And that most people in the [Charismatic] movement are “not Christians” anyways. It’s obvious that John MacArthur is not too worried about severing these long held ties. He’s got his own theological crew, he has a mega church, he has his publishers, and so he doesn’t really need anyone anymore.
But this major division that is forming among Evangelical Christianity’s most important and influential leaders is, I believe, the beginning of the end of “royal era” of right-winged Evangelical Christianity. In other words, the right-winged version of Evangelical Christendom seems to be quickly dying.
Not only are the leaders in the upper echelon of Evangelicalism clearly going senile, but it seems that these divisions being caused by their overly-dogmatic theology cannot be undone. Or rather, they will not be undone. This long standing manifestation of Evangelicalism values theological rightness over relationship. If John Piper is seen as demonic by John MacArthur, then all of John MacArthur’s faithful followers will see John Piper as demonic and vice versa. The divides that this new (or not so new) kind of rhetoric are causing seem to be irreversible. This seems to be a sign that the tectonic plates are shifting beneath the ground of Evangelicalsm. The foundations are shaking. It’s times like these that highlight our need for reformation. For revival.
Looking at these events unfolding, I feel a growing sense of embarassment. The Church of Jesus Christ in the West cannot seem to get it’s act together. We spend more time and money forming conferences that blast those who differ from us theologically, create billboards that are meant to piss non-believers off, and to write books about how the Church is heading for immanent death because of the legalization of gay marriage and abortion while millions are dying of aids, poverty rates are sky-rocketing, and the world around us is falling into despair. We, the body of Christ, should be spending our time spreading love, building the Kingdom, providing for those in need, and preaching the Gospel. Not arguing about whether John Piper is demonic because he believes in the gift of tongues. How absurd. How blasphemous.
But even in light of all of this, I have hope. I believe that it is these sort of events that shine the spotlight on the profound need for God to do a new thing in our midst. It’s these situations that cause substantial reformation to begin to bubble to the surface and make waves within the Church. It’s these situations that I desperately hope provoke the Church to once again heed the Gospel’s call and rise up to create a brighter future for the Church and the world through rethinking, reforming, and renewing the way we live and believe our faith.
May it be so.
Note: Post updated by author on October 21, 2013 at 5:45pm.