By: John MacArthur
When I became a believer, I was like most other new followers of Christ, ignorant when attempting to understand much of the Bible. Even though I was a part of a local Southern Baptist church, I still was never taken in by mature men in Christ to be discipled and taught good biblical theology. The first few years as a Christian I was “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” Ephesians 4:14. I eventually ended up with charismatic waves crashing all around me yet blinded to the hazards surrounding me. To switch metaphors, the charismatic movement can be an addicting drug. I read Mary. K. Baxter’s A Divine Revelation Of Heaven, A Divine Revelation of The Spirit Realm, and A Divine Revelation of Hell; Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life; and Choo Thomas’s Heaven Is So Real. Other authors, some whose names I don’t remember, talked about visits from angels. I remember lying in bed at night hoping and even trying to psych myself up for a visitation from some celestial being, scary, I know. There was even one New Age book I read that taught one to contact angels by letting them take over one’s body; some of this charismatic stuff is really just outright paganism! MacArthur mentions in Strange Fire, “their [charismatics’] teaching is not substantially different from the New Age poison popularized by the 2006 international best seller The Secret, in which author Rhonda Byrne suggests, ‘You are the Master of the universe, and the Genie is there to serve you.’ Charismatic televangelist and celebrity pastors typically teach a similar message” (8).
Truth be known, I was never alone; God’s providential love was guiding me out of the waves and wind to calm waters. Eventually, I found the Parable Christian store, which was full of authors who possessed sound doctrine. John MacArthur was one of those. I still know very little, but I know enough now to stay away from anyone claiming a new divine message.
MacArthur, taking the error of the Charismatic Movement head on, is dead serious when he says, “I am convinced that the broader Charismatic Movement opened the door to more theological error than perhaps any other doctrinal aberration in the twentieth century (including liberalism, psychology, and ecumenism)(247).” I know some may find that an extreme overstatement, but I can understand MacArthur’s concern. Biblical-thinking Christians all around should be concerned on some level with this movement because there are staggering numbers of people being deceived by its deplorable teaching, specifically health, wealth, and prosperity of which MacArthur notes, “this branch of the Charismatic Movement is by far the largest, most visible, most influential, and fast-growing category of charismatics” (9).
The book is divided into three parts. In part 1 “Confronting a Counterfeit Revival,” MacArthur gives an introduction to the Charismatic Movement and its history. Later he uses Jonathan Edward’s fivefold test in discerning a true revival from a counterfeit revival, based on 1 John 4. In part 2 “Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts,” he exposes modern day tongues, prophets, so called healings, and apostles for what they are: a sham. Finally, in part 3, he teaches what the true work of the Holy Spirit is and also pleads lovingly yet with a firm resolve with his continuationist friends, specifically John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson, while realizing that they are not in the same category as the teachers in the larger charismatic movement since he considers them sound on other areas. I have not had a chance to watch any of the Strange Fire conference, but if it resembles this book in content, then I do not feel MacArthur has broad-brushed all charismatic believers as belonging to the larger charismatic movement.
Overall, this is a fascinating book, and Christians would benefit to read it in its entirety or, if nothing else, at least part 3. The only critiques I have of this book are the repetition and the lack of any clear definition of exactly what cessationism means or does not mean. This needed clarity would alleviate much of the confusion concerning the cessationists’ position.
Review by Jamie Byrd