The Odd Approach of the Strange Fire Conference


John MacArthur is one of the most well-known American evangelical pastors. He heads up the ministry Grace to You and pastors Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Many evangelicals in America will attest to the helpful teaching and influence of MacArthur over the past decades to a wide stream of Christians.

But many will also attest that he can easily cross the lines with an excessive polemical and divisive approach to his teaching. Such seems the case with his upcoming Strange Fire Conference, which is to be hosted over the next few days, October 16-18, 2013.

The video below gives a taster of the theme of the conference.

You can also watch many short 2-3 minute videos describing the conference here. The conference will include other noted speakers, such as R.C. Sproul (of Ligonier Ministries) and Phil Johnson (a close ministry partner-pastor with MacArthur).

Now, what I am pleased to hear/watch from MacArthur (as in pre-video 2 promoting the conference) is that he recognizes that there are positives in the charismatic church, mainly that the gospel is being preached and, subsequently, people are responding and being saved.

But the sense one gets when viewing the overall combined message is that he attempts to discount the Pentecostal and charismatic (and “Third Wave”) movements with a very broad brushstroke – mainly identifying the whole group by a particularly extreme branch. I’m not sure if he is aware (no, he must be aware!) that there are very biblically solid leaders, churches and movements that do not embrace the extremes such as the word of faith movement.

Not to mention that I think much of the biblical exegesis presented by MacArthur is found wanting. And note, from this link, how he even blames the charismatic movement as the main reason for the church being in “the mess that it is in today”! Wow!

Rather than make this article too lengthy, I’ll point you to 3 articles I’ve written in the past that will be of good help with regards to biblical and theological points.

Still, the biggest and most interesting(?), or fallacious approach, of MacArthur is that he seems to continually point to the extremists as normative and representative of the whole. That’s about as silly as stating all Calvinists are fatalists who don’t believe in proclaiming the gospel to people. Or that all dispensationalists are raving date-setters for the last events of human history. Or identifying all complementarians as oppressive patriarchalists. Or even claiming that all Muslims are terrorists.

It doesn’t work – at all.

I’ve approached things this way in the past on issues and I can tell you from experience this gets us nowhere. Again, it leads to no dialogue and understanding at all.

So, we can discuss Scripture and other points as we dialogue. But to continue to define a group of well over 500 million Christians by the extremists, well that’s just silly child’s play.

I am very much convinced in the active, powerful work of the Holy Spirit today – both through the study of Scripture and in the working of all his gifts in my life and the lives of those with whom I closely walk. Still, I can accept when people disagree on particular biblical and theological grounds.

However, the strong thrust to MacArthur’s approach, alongside the biblical-theological discussion, leads us nowhere. It’s very distasteful.

To end, I encourage you to read 3 very gracious and kind blog posts that I’ve come across today:

17 thoughts on “The Odd Approach of the Strange Fire Conference

    • At the risk of sounding the wrong way, I was in the late 80’s a specialist in the Word of Faith cult with Copeland, Hagan and Capps as my poster children. I might have been the foremost expert in this country for sure on that movement. I was 24 years old and Dr. James White before he was Dr. was then 26 when he had me on 2 weeks in a row on his dividing line program discussing this topic. When it was still a weekly radio show. I really don’t say that to name drop, but only to lend credibility to my claim.

      They have utterly false doctrines of God, creation, man, the fall, Satan, the covenants, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, salvation, regeneration and the Christian life. The whole name it n claim it thing is only an outworking of a horrifically heretical systematic (yes systematic) theology.

      Point? MacArthur is wrong in his cessationism. I love the guy, but I just know better. I’m sure very MUCH truth will be proclaimed at this conference and I DO agree that much and maybe even most of what is called “charismatic” Christianity is undiluted jack assery to be sure. HOWEVER, the belief that biblical miracles answering to every scriptural standard do NOT occur today, is exegetically and expositionally faulty AND I have firsthand knowledge of such miracles.

      I mean for example as in born with kneecaps facing each other instead of forward. Unable to walk and a man lays his hands on a nine year old boy who answers the preacher that yes, he DOES believe Jesus can make him whole and instantly before everyone’s eyes his knees move around to the front of his legs. He’s been normal ever since. One of the very VERY few miracle stories I absolutely would swear in court happened in an Assembly of God church in Minnesota in 1979. (No it wasn’t me).

    • Mark –

      I’m not really sure that this article you’ve pointed to does anything. I am aware of the somewhat “emotional” appeal of Michael Brown’s article. But I was interested to read he tried to connect with MacArthur, though it was denied. I can only say that I am convinced of the continuing powerful work of the Holy Spirit in all his gifts & activities (including compassion, mercy, hospitality, encouragement, teaching, etc) because of Scripture, personally encountering this work of God’s Spirit, walking closely with those who have encountered the same, the testimony of such work in church history, etc. Not to mention that, though I am aware some of the stuff taking place is manipulative and over the top, I have a much more wide acceptance of what is “biblical” due to the fact that prophets walked around naked, married sexually unfaithful women, Jesus had a spitting ministry of mixing with mud to heal, handkerchiefs were used in healing, etc, etc. I’m not sure I’d say some of these practices are “normal”, however, they are not outside the work of God (though still recognizing some are, at times, not of God’s Spirit).

      I’ve written plenty of articles here or you can see most of them at in engaging with this work.

      In the end, I find it greatly concerning that MacArthur blames the majority of problems in the church on the charismatic movement (I left a link in my article to a video interview with Phil Johnson). That is way out there. And I find it interesting that one an argument people continue to use against continuationism is that the major well-known leaders are all extreme whackos. On that point, I suppose non-Christians have a point in saying that Christianity is not true, since a majority of the world is non-Christian and many will view us as whackos.

      There’s nothing solid in the article you’ve linked to that says a) continuationism is not actually of God and b) MacArthur or anyone pointing to certain extreme leaders as false means that continuationism is false.


  1. Pingback: Strange Fire Turns Toward Strained Polemics | Think Theology

  2. I hope I don’t have to be delivered now because we agree on something Scott. HAHA! Feel free to call me “Trib”, that’s what everybody else calls me. (or Greg) There are a few corners of the web where that name is actually fairly well known. It is T I R I B U L U S, not to be confused with “tribulus” the allegedly testosterone boosting nutritional supplement derived from the plant root of the same name. I took that name in 1999 from here:

    It was originally a handle I used for online gaming for UT and Q3A. I thought it sounded strong, aggressive and cool. It stuck. I have had exactly ONE person recognize it from the cartoon. Somehow I think you were actually interested in that story.

  3. Pingback: Adding Fuel to the Strange Fire | Thinking Out Loud

  4. I’m sorry, but anyone (no matter how “famous” they are in the Christian world) who claims they KNOW how God “is to be worshiped” immediately gets side-lined in my views. In my experience, God is bigger and more diverse than we can even imagine. No matter what you DO for worship, it’s the HEART that God looks upon. And it’s that that makes the worship “acceptable” or not. Following some step-by-step formula for sacrifice and worship was a requirement of the Jewish LAW, not something we are to follow to try and gain God’s favor. This sounds like classic legalism.

    • No, this sounds like a classic “false dichotomy”. Here’s a clue. It IS possible that God actually DOES have requirements (GAAAAASP!) for His own worship AND, hang on now, you’re actually NOT allowed to do WHATEVER YOU want (GASSSSP AGAIN!). However (I hope you’re back up off the floor now) there IS VERY significant freedom in how various people groups worship AND it IS possible for one group to worship with their heart in a delivery system that is NOT possible for others. Now did ya see that? The choice is NOT Levitical stringency OR “No matter what you DO”. Stop that please.

      That was my best shot at “nuance” ya’ll. How’d I do?

      • Nuance? What’s that? 😛

        OK, I’ll concede a bit of dogmatism on my part, there. Your more measured probably closer to the truth. I like what you said about freedom and variety of worship in different people groups.

        However, in my experience man thinks they want freedom, but really PREFERS rules and structure. Also, God historically, especially in the OT, gives man what he wants. Laws, kings, etc.. We prefer the “safety” of rules and hierarchy to the uncertainty inherent in personal freedom. Isn’t it possible that God gave Israel their complex worship rituals because He knew they would LIKE that, rather than because He has any real preference for these things? Allow me to explain.

        I’ve been reading through Leviticus lately and I was struck by the myriad details that God gave to them in regards to building and maintaining the tabernacle and everything associated with it. Immediately I thought WHY? Now, I know many things pointed to prophecies regarding the Messiah, and others kept them safe from diseases, but there are some things that just seem like so much “busy work”.

        (This is something I’ve been mulling about, but haven’t actually communicated to anyone before. You’ve given me the opportunity to share – bwahaha)

        Remember when Moses left the people to go get the Ten Commandments, the people got bored. They wanted to DO something to show their love of God. Aaron didn’t have anything for them to do, so they came up with the golden calf. At first, I don’t think they intended it to be a “false god” They wanted a representation of God to show worship to,. But they had no structure, no rules for how or what to do. Chaos ensued and things got WAY out of hand. They had total freedom of worship, and they couldn’t handle it.

        So, God wanted to make sure THAT didn’t happen again. I think that’s why He gave them such complex instructions for worshiping Him. Not because HE needed or even wanted it that way, but because it would help keep THEM out of trouble and give them something to DO to make them feel like they were pleasing Him – a sense of accomplishment. We know it’s not rituals and ceremonies that please God, but a loving heart bowing in faith before Him. But the structure helped THEM, so He obliged them.

        That doesn’t mean that all structure and ritual is worthless or superfluous. We are still humans and we THRIVE on those things. They help us focus our personal and collective “energies” into the worship experience. As long as we don’t forget what God really WANTS: a humble, loving heart bowing in faith before Him. The rest is just gravy. And whatever flavor of gravy you prefer is fine with Him. There’s also no need to dis someone else’s gravy just because you like your own so much. Only God sees everyone’s true heart of worship anyway, so judging others based on their worship practices is pointless.

        That’s a much clearer idea of what I was trying to say in my original comment. So, what do you think? Could I be on to something here or am I coming off even crazier than before?

  5. It is a good thing that Mr. MacArthur was not around on the day of Pentecost – we would have had a Strange Fire Conference the day after the disciples left the upper room!

  6. Ken Nichols asks: That’s a much clearer idea of what I was trying to say in my original comment. So, what do you think? Could I be on to something here or am I coming off even crazier than before?
    I think you’re a standup guy. That’s what I think. I honestly have not and still do not have time to fully respond, but you’re a man of Character. I respect that. I don’t think I could characterize the golden calf episode exactly the way you did, but the rest is good in my very short humble opinion.

    • Thanks for the affirmation. Seems like I’m always coming up with these “left field” ideas lately. It’s good to be able to bounce one of someone and see if any of it “sticks”. I know I don’t have any kind of lock on theological matters. My own ideas are constantly in flux as I don’t think we ever really “arrive” at complete truth on some subjects. The only truth we can REALLY know is Christ Himself, living through us. But it’s very freeing to no longer tow the party line in theological truth.

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