Challies’ final thoughts on the “Strange Fire” conference

In case you missed it, Tim Challies posted his final reflections on John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but he concludes this way:

Strange Fire was an event that primarily targeted the worst of the charismatic movement. As I said when I offered an early look at the book, it is more about Benny Hinn than Bob Kauflin. While the Reformed charismatics may be a valued and significant part of the New Calvinism, they represent only the smallest fringe of the wider charismatic movement. What still remains to be done is to interact with the best arguments of the best of the charismatics and to address this from within the Reformed resurgence. This would be a very different event with a very different purpose and I hope someone will sponsor it before long.

I couldn’t agree more with this, and there are efforts underway to do just that. Read the rest here.


  • Scott Christensen

    I think it would be profitable to have a conference in which you have a team of reputable continuationists and cessationists present their views on various topics related to the issue. Not so much a formal debate type format, but a pro and con presentation not unlike the informal debate Sproul and MacArthur did a number of years ago on baptism.

  • Ian Shaw

    Haven’t read the book yet, but from many people I know that have gone through it including some pastors, they are claiming that MacArthur is beasically saying that any and all charismatics aren’t Christian. Is that what it states in a nutshell?

    • Scott Christensen

      MacArthur has never made such a statement. People need to check their facts. The conference and the book takes pains to distinguish between men like Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, et. al. whom MacArthur admires and stands together with on many issues from the dangerous and even heretical stuff he sees in the mainstream of the Charismatic movement.

      • greghahn4

        MacArthur clearly did make such a statement. Here is video:

        And here is an excerpt from a pre-release copy of the book:

        “Put simply, charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation; rather, it represents a deviant mutation of the truth. Like a deadly virus, it gains access into the church by maintaining a superficial connection to certain characteristics of biblical Christianity, but in the end it always corrupts and distorts sound teaching. The resulting degradation, like a doctrinal version of Frankenstein’s monster, is a hideous hybrid of heresy, ecstasy, and blasphemy awkwardly dressed in the tattered remnants of evangelical language. It calls itself “Christian,” but in reality it is a sham—a counterfeit form of spirituality that continually morphs as it spirals erratically from one error to the next. . ”


        • Scott Christensen

          He is saying charismatic theology is corrupted, unsound and heretical. He did not say all charismatics are not Christians. When 499 out 500 of the professing Christians who are continuationists but imbibe the teaching of mainstream charismatic theology that goes beyond the continuationist positions of Piper, Grudem, et. al. you are certain to find that most of those 499 are not true believers, but certainly not all of them. MacArthur has made no such claim in this quote or elsewhere.

          Consider what this Charismatic pastor had to say about the conference (who I think MacArthur would agree is a true Christian):

          • Chris Ryan

            99.8% of Pentecostals/Charismatics are heretics going to hell? That’s how the 1 out of 500 math works. Having read the link you provided I wouldn’t characterize the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement by what I see on TBN anymore than I would characterize the SBC by what Jerry Falwell said. Even in Kansas City, Bickell doesn’t represent the majority of Pentecostals but just a faction.

            Its ironic. I was raised Pentecostal, right there in Kansas City. My father often said that anyone who wasn’t Pentecostal was going to hell. I found that arrogant and off putting and needlessly divisive, not to mention without scriptural support. Likewise, I think the contention that 99.8% of Pentecostals are “corrupted, unsound, and heretical” is disappointing language. Most Pentecostals don’t believe in Prosperity Gospel, Snake Handling, etc. I remember my first day of college when a Baptist prof of mine asked if I thought I could walk on water. He was sincere & I took his question in good humor, but I’d like to think that over 25yrs later we’re past this kind of mutual suspicion. God bless y’all, have a good weekend.

        • Lynn Burgess

          Gregg, your video clip is convenient and without of context. MacArthur DID NOT say that all Charismatics are lost; he did say it is damnable doctrine (my words).

          He praised John Piper at length and said his disagreement with him was not more than his with R.C. Sproul over baptizing babies (believing it replaces O.T. circumcision and not that it is for salvation). You may know that R.C. spoke at Strange Fire. He also spoke with appreciation for Grudem.

          Adrian Warnock was the last person to hear the conference objectively or to represent it fairly. I am not personally familiar with Warnock, but my impression is that those who are doctrinally sound with a Charismatic caveat in their doctrine said nothing and those that are seriously in error in their own thinking attacked MacArthur.

          John MacArthur’s sermon on Sunday was about whom in the Last Day will say, “Lord, Lord…” and hear, “Depart from me…” In other words, who is genuinely saved?

          An Appeal to Charismatic Pretenders

          • greghahn4

            One can engage in apologetics for MacArthur if desired, but this is different from debating theology or Bible passages. Because in this case, it doesn’t matter what MacArthur meant by what he said, nor who he meant to address. What matters in this case is the perception. And the preception among Pentecostals and Charismatics, myself included, is that MacArthur called us a cult comparable to Mormonism, and that we are unsaved.

            Perhaps that’s not what he really said/ meant. But that is the perception. And that is the problem.

            • Lynn Burgess

              Greg: We are not explaining what MacArthur “meant” by what he said, we are stating what was actually said. If some did not listen or did not listen carefully, that is on them not on MacArthur. The audio recordings of the entire conference, including the breakout sessions not live broadcasted, are now online at and the link is posted elsewhere in this blog.

              Some sessions included video clips and my understanding is that GTY will also be posting video of the conference at some point so you will be able to view them also.

              • greghahn4

                Lynn: I think I kinda disagree. John MacArthur is a pastor of Christian people. If he has a conference, with the result that literally millions of Christian people misunderstand him to that degree, he cannot blow them all off and say, “Well that’s not what he said, so it’s on them”. You can. He cannot.

                His office is to communicate. If the message was “misheard” that badly, he has to communicate it once again.

                MacArthur needs to make a statement saying that his comments were directed at the excesses of Charismatic teaching and practice, and that there are millions of legitimate Christian believers who are Charismatic or Pentecostal who are his brothers in Christ.

                I don’t expect that to happen, because I don’t really think he was heard incorrectly.

                • Lynn Burgess

                  Greg: I’ve been actively engaged in the debate since mid-last week and I’ve yet to speak to a single person who is offended who listened to the conference in full.

                  The book will be out soon and then you will have it in black and white. GTY is also going to answer and post online every question asked by those in attendance.

                • Lynn Burgess

                  I posted for you below an excerpt from:
                  Strange Fire: What Now?

                  This blog column is getting a bit narrow for something of that length (smile).


  • Michael Henry

    “Strange Fire was an event that primarily targeted the worst of the charismatic movement….”
    Couldn’t disagree more. It was about the CM as a whole, complete with history, biblical backing for all positions taken, and most of all done in a manner true to the primacy of the written word over personal experience.

    “What still remains to be done is to interact with the best arguments of the best of the charismatics and to address this from within the Reformed resurgence…”
    Coming from the cheap seats, from one who isn’t educated beyond rudimentary college level, this sounds like intellectual nonsense. It says nothing. Reformed resurgence? Is that a book in the bible? did I miss it?

    The blow back from Strange fire in all directions is pretty much addressing any issue other than the material presented, meaning the Bible. In a postmodern age, the criticisms, instead of being ad hoiminem, could be more likely labelled ad twiiter-em.

  • Ken Temple

    Indeed, Samuel Storms is probably the most forceful exegete of the continualist position by a Reformed Calvinistic person. The problem comes when the continualist, such as Storms, takes it to the next step, like Wimber, and say things like, “you must then take risks and have body life, etc. and do things as if God is doing miracles” As I recall, Storms said it was not enough to be “open”; but to actually take risks.

    But even he needs to explain the goofiness stuff of the Kansas City Prophets, Bob Jones, Jack Deere, Bob Bickel, Rich Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, C. Peter Wagner, International House of Prayer, etc. All the goofy things and claims discredit the whole movement.

    Wayne Grudem’s take on prophesy is weird – “the reporting of something that God truly reveals; but reporting it wrong” – using Agabus in Acts 21 as basis.

    John Piper is the only one I have seen, who affirms continualism, and yet doesn’t do any goofy stuff, thus discrediting it.

  • Ken Temple

    Samuel Storms chapter in the Five Views book – Are miraculous gifts for today? (Zondervan, edited by Wayne Grudem, is the most exegetical and forceful argument I have seen for the continualist position.

  • Lynn Burgess

    An excerpt from:
    Strange Fire: What Now?
    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    On the other side of the debate, there are undoubtedly charismatics and continuationists who were unswayed—and possibly even angered—by Strange Fire. If you are one of those people, we would still plead with you to consider and apply three important points raised during the conference that will benefit you and your church.

    First, please don’t judge the conference based on sound bites. The temptation is to pull out the punchiest, spiciest few seconds of teaching, regardless of context. That’s neither a productive way nor an honest way to deal with the content of the conference. This isn’t a trivial debate—it’s an important discussion about the sufficiency of Scripture and the way God’s Spirit works in His people.

    Second, please carefully evaluate your view of Scripture. Is the Bible the ultimate arbiter in interpreting the experiential aspect of your Christian life? How tolerant are you of extrabiblical revelation, and are you careful to submit it to the Word of God? The same goes for your church—your congregation probably affirms the Bible’s inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency, but does its practice line up with that affirmation?

    Third, please consider how you can benefit the charismatic movement from the inside. No one can honestly deny there are rank heretics and charlatans roaming the charismatic landscape. Ask yourself if you or your church has a doctrinal dividing line that, when crossed, demands denunciation and separation. And if that line exists, where and how is it drawn? If you are in a charismatic church that faithfully preaches the gospel but simply ignores false teachers who are charismatic, your silence legitimizes their ministries and expands their influence. For months, John MacArthur has been encouraging faithful charismatics to be the loudest voices of critique regarding charismatic excesses and abuses. We echo that encouragement and want to support your stand for the truth.

  • James Bradshaw

    Lynn quotes: “Is the Bible the ultimate arbiter in interpreting the experiential aspect of your Christian life?”

    I would think that both continuationists and cessationists agree on this. They simply come to different conclusions about what the Bible is saying.

    “How tolerant are you of extrabiblical revelation, and are you careful to submit it to the Word of God?”

    Therein lies the problem. To interpret Scripture (as MacArthur does every week), one must expound on the given passages and, in essence, “add to” it using words that aren’t there. When preaching, MacArthur does more than simply paraphrase the text. If you listen carefully, you’ll find him speculating about the context of a given passage and the intent of the author. Of course, he won’t call it that … MacArthur seems to regard his own interpretation as being somehow unblemished by subjectivity.

    • Diane Woerner

      James, yes!

      I’ve long held that a balanced Christian life holds with equal regard the role of both Scripture and Spirit in our lives. The Spirit illuminates the Scriptures, while the Scriptures give us guidance as to which spirit is truly God.

      The actual issue isn’t what we have (or haven’t) experienced, but a) what does the Bible say the Spirit can and will do? and b) what does the Spirit lead us to see in the full counsel of the Scripture?

      For years I’ve watched folks on both sides head for their respective ditches, not realizing that the “other side” folks can actually help keep them on course. As I see it, the church sorely needs a return to a humble, deep, comprehensive embracing of the full Bible (not just the charismatic happy verses), but we also desperately need to understand and embrace the supernatural power available to us to walk with wisdom and influence and spiritual security in a world being fast overrun by all sorts of nasty imps.

      While I doubt there can be an easy rapprochement between the stronger proponents of the two persuasions, I think it is quite possible to draw from both of their wells to great advantage.

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