Weighing in on the “Strange Fire” Controversy

As if one more voice needed to be added to the discussion surrounding the “Strange Fire” conference put on by John MacArthur and others, I’ll nevertheless go ahead and weigh in on the matter anyway.  In some sense this matter is quite personal to me because I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church, my wife was born and raised a Pentecostal, and my in-laws are Pentecostal.  It’s hard to see how this could get more personal!

In addition, like many others, I have learned a great deal from John MacArthur.  I learned about his ministry while taking my first college-level Bible course at Wayland Baptist University.  My professor, Dale Robbins, was a graduate of The Master’s Seminary—the seminary of which MacArthur is the president.

Professor Robbins recommended that we purchase The MacArthur Study Bible and I did so.  I remember being very impressed with MacArthur’s study notes and his seemingly voluminous knowledge of Scripture.  Once I began to listen to MacArthur’s radio broadcast Grace to You, I became convinced that a pastor’s ministry should be made up of sequential biblical exposition.  As I began to browse MacArthur’s writings, I noticed a book entitled Charismatic ChaosI purchased the book and devoured it—reading it through quickly.  I remember finding his view of the charismatic gifts compelling—a view known as cessationism.  The view states that the charismatic gifts of healing, miracles, and tongues, etc. were confined to the apostolic period.

Whereas at one time I found the view compelling, I can no longer say that I do.  MacArthur and others who are cessationists base their views mainly off of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.  Paul writes:          

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Since this is not intended to be a through exegetical study of this passage and an engagement with all the relevant literature pertaining to this complex discussion, suffice to say that the “perfect” spoken of in V. 10 seems to be heaven, not the closing of the canon.  As Wayne Grudem argues, Paul is comparing this age with the age to come.[1]  For one to insist that the “perfect” is the closing of the canon is eisegesis, pure and simple.  Not once does Paul mention anything about the completion of Scripture.

One final comment: The most talked about statement made by MacArthur that caused the most uproar (that I’m aware of at least) was when he said that Pentecostals haven’t made any contribution to theology.  (That’s a paraphrase.)  I can understand why Pentecostals would be upset, hurt, and offended by these comments.  All I can say is I disagree with MacArthur on this one.  It would seem to me that Pentecostal scholar Gordon Fee is a standing example of the inaccuracy of such a statement.  Enough said.  Let’s move on.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 1038.

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