Good Things From Strange Fire


John MacArthur recently held a conference called “Strange Fire” to tell as many people as would listen that the Charismatic movement is bad–very, very, very bad (but in a LOT more words than that).

I googled “strange fire” images for this post. Interestingly, I only found images of normal fire. So now the only thing I can ponder is what exactly “strange fire” might look like. Perhaps it looks like little drops of rain? That would certainly be strange. Or maybe it looks like duck-billed platypuses. No, that wouldn’t be strange; that would just be cute. So I’m left all verklempt!

Thanks MacArthur. You’ve ruined my day.

Not only do I think his title is kinda crazy, but I also think his conclusions are significantly flawed. After reading through many of the transcripts from the conference, I completely disagree with MacArthur’s broad, lumping generalizations. They lumped all of us together in sweeping generalizations and demonized the entire Pentecostal and Charismatic movements—literally.

But with that said, in hopes of not adding to the negativity of this whole thing, I pulled a few positive notes from what I’ve read. Here are three observations from MacArthur’s Strange-Fire-whatever-that-looks-like-conference that I think are worthwhile:

1) The Prosperity Gospel is a Sham

I am a Pentecostal. I believe in the gifts at work today. I’ve seen and experienced them for myself many times. But I also believe the Word of Faith movement to be false. I agree with the idea that this is a belief that should be addressed and squelched.

In my first leadership role in a church, I encountered this belief head on. It’s a manipulation of faith, and it turns God’s Word into a magic wand controlled by just the right formula of action and speech. It distorts true faith and focuses too much on “me” and “money.” It undoubtedly has the capability of leading people astray and should be addressed more often.

2) Factions of the Charismatic Movement Have Gone Too Far

I made the statement lightly; MacArthur did not. While I didn’t appreciate that MacArthur seemed to lump all Pentecostals/Charismatics into this category, I did appreciate that he brought attention to the fact that some have taken these ideas too far.

I’m not comfortable with much on the fringe of the Charismatic movement. I don’t want to be “taught” how to prophesy. I don’t believe that every thought I have should possibly be construed as a word from God. I’m not comfortable with people dubbing themselves “Prophet” or “Prophetess.” I think the gift of Prophet is an undesirable one that comes with a hugely heavy burden (as seen in the OT time and time again) so no one should desire to claim such a gifting.

Bringing practices to light that are extra-biblical–or worse, anti-biblical–should be occurring in any movement on a regular basis.

3) The Bible Must Be Our Foundation

While I disagree with the Reformed take on doctrine, I appreciate their high regard for the Word of God. Conrad Mbewe spoke at the conference and made the following comments on the Charismatic movement in Africa:

“Thirty years ago you could attend a Pentecostal church in Africa and a pastor would stand in the pulpit and give you some kind of biblical exposition. You might disagree, but there would be some attempt to teach what the Bible is saying. There would be a mid-week Bible study. That is now almost completely absent. You cannot have spiritual life when the Bible is closed! The gospel has been lost and what has replaced it is twenty minutes of motivational speaking followed by an opportunity to bring your problems to Jesus so Jesus can help you get over your problems. Unfortunately, this is drawing people so that droves of them are responding to this message. They want their problems to be handled. The result is that churches are full of goats, not sheep. Where the word of God is closed, the Gospel has been lost and the way of life becomes sinful and self-centered.”

And while Mbewe is couching it in his African-Charismatic context, I see this to be true throughout much of Christianity.

I think history has proven that when the Bible is neglected, Christianity will nosedive. When the Bible was available only to the most educated priests in the Dark Ages, the Gospel message was greatly distorted. When it was once again available to the masses, reformation ensued.  Every major Christian revival has included a call to return to the Word—including the Pentecostal movement that stemmed from Azusa.

The Bible MUST be our foundation. Otherwise, our beliefs will be shaky at best and heresy at worst.


So, while I greatly dislike much of what was said and the approach taken by MacArthur, I think I dislike his title the most, mainly because Google can’t seem to identify exactly what strange fire looks like. Maybe Bing can help…

Does it look like a bear?

Perhaps a Fraggle?

Maybe strange fire resembles Wayne Newton?

Ugh. Where’s Jeeves when you need him.

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7 Replies to “Good Things From Strange Fire”

      • Your response is great. I admire that you weren’t defensive. I know Pastor Jack has had him guest speak at COTW and has made a genuine effort to relate to him from what I understand. Pastor MacArthur comes off as pretty antagonistic to me. The idea of setting up, advertising, charging registration fees, and all that goes with having a conference solely to challenge what has driven the most significant awakening in recent history… He’s kicking against the pricks, in my opinion.

        • I definitely agree. Interestingly, I have a good friend who left a Pentecostal church for a Presbyterian church. I asked him what the biggest difference was. He said “you guys are A LOT more loving than us.”

  1. The CM does need more accountability. As a pastor I have to deal with the fall-out from religious broadcasting. It is a full-time affair. Perhaps if we were better equipped to self-critique, the MacArthur’s of the world…well…no, they would be just the same. Thanks for your thoughts.

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