John MacArthur's book Strange Fire (and the Strange Fire conference hosted at his church last autumn) definitely lit a fire of controversy amongst evangelicals. One of today's leading advocates of cessationism (the belief that the miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles), the book and conference boldly challenged the biblicity of the modern charismatic movement.
I listened to most of the conference messages, and later Thomas Nelson gave me a free copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased blog review.
Before I begin the review I should probably tell you where I stand. I am not a cessationist, because I do not see clear evidence in the New Testament that the miraculous gifts were only for the apostolic age. Some passages seem to me to indicate that the miraculous gifts were intended for the entire church age. But I am unlike most continuationists because I believe that the gift of apostle has ceased, and that what is commonly seen in today's charismatic churches does not fit the Biblical description of the New Testament miraculous gifts. I cannot say that I know of anyone today who has the biblical gift of prophecy, tongues, or healing. But I do believe God still does miracles (so do cessationists; they just don't believe that specific believers are still entrusted with the ability (gift) to regularly do a specific kind of miracle). I will probably post another article later explaining my position in more detail.
So while I believe that MacArthur goes too far in trying to make the Bible teach cessationism, I appreciate what he's done in questioning the character of contemporary charismatic churches. When MacArthur and I look at the Bible's teaching about the continuance of miraculous gifts, we disagree. But when we look at modern things passed off as the miraculous gifts, we agree: these are not the miraculous gifts described in the New Testament.
Strange Fire is not destined to be a timeless book defending cessationism. The arguments for cessationism have been made more carefully in other books. Strange Fire's cessationist reasonings leave holes uncovered and questions unanswered.
Though weak on miraculous gifts, the book is definitely not weak on the Holy Spirit. MacArthur delivers with beauty and clarity the Bible's teaching about the nature and work of the third person of the trinity. It will stir you to cherish the Spirit more.
The book is also strong on horror stories. MacArthur sees today's charismatic movement as by far the largest danger facing the church, and so he speaks to the contemporary scene. He describes in detail the history of the pentecostal movement and the many aberrations and frauds and heresies and blemishes it has spawned.
Some continuationists say that MacArthur has just picked the weirdo "fringe" people to use as examples, and that mainstream Pentecostalism is sound. At first, that argument sounded plausible to me. I don't listen to the wacky TV evangelists or word-faith teachers, so surely most other professing Christians don't either, right?
Wrong. I had no idea how popular these guys (and women) are, or how far away from Scripture they have drifted. And it's much worse overseas than it is here in the US. Cessationism comes with its own set of dangers, but the church today is being poisoned far more by charismatic errors than by cessationist ones.
So while I hope that MacArthur doesn't succeed in making people cessationists, I do hope that he succeeds in making people discerning, and Biblical. If continuationists had policed their own movement, Strange Fire would not have been necessary.
I say kudos to MacArthur for taking such a bold stand against such a popular and largely unchallenged cancer in the church.