Monday, October 21, 2013

Three Take-Aways from John MacArthur's Strange Fire Conference

Usually I write two columns a week.  The third one is on Friday and by Thomas Ross.  I wrote three last week, however, because what I saw in the live stream of the Strange Fire Conference in Southern California.  I was very interested in the conference and wish I could have watched more, but I saw most of the q and a on Thursday and Friday, and little of both of Phil Johnson's sessions in the afternoon.  Morning and evening didn't work for me, so that's all I saw.  I needed to let you know how much I saw, relating to what I write next.

When I read John MacArthur's Charismatic Chaos two decades ago, it was a very helpful book on the Charismatic movement.  There was nothing better on the subject.  I look forward to reading Strange Fire.  So my first take-away is the overall positive of teaching and preaching against the Charismatic movement, against continuationism, and for cessationism.  It would aid many in its uncovering of the Charismatic movement.  I don't think MacArthur was too tough on Charismatics.  It's as bad as he says.  It's worse, but at least as bad as he says, and he says it is very, very bad.  That's a positive take-away.

My next two take-aways are negative.  It's not personal against anyone.  As I've said many times before, I like John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.  I'm not making that up.  I don't say these things because I've even got it out against them.  I write this because I do love them and want them to change.  MacArthur said toward the end of his Q and A that he knows that he's wrong on something, and he wants to change.  I hope that's true.  I hope it wasn't said as his excuse for John Piper.

Even though a short term effect of Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire is against Charismaticism, the long term effect of John MacArthur is to send people that direction.  I believe that I can defend that accusation or assertion by things that MacArthur himself said in the conference.  Jesus warned about causing the little ones to stumble, about putting a heavy weight, a millstone, around your neck and throwing yourself into deep water rather than causing one of them to stumble.  MacArthur is causing people to stumble by these two negative take-aways.

I'm going to take these in what I consider reverse order of priority, the least first.  The first is the harm MacArthur causes with his treatment toward John Piper.  There are three parts to this harm.  First, he harms love, second, he harms the nature of truth, and, third, he harms the casualties of his not separating.

About love, MacArthur's dealing with these men is nothing more than sentimentalism.  He is in fact not loving John Piper with his treatment of him.  MacArthur says:

This is where love comes in to embrace faithful men. I know I’m wrong somewhere, and if you can show me where please show me, because I would change. I know somewhere I’m wrong, because none of us has a complete control of all truth. And I hope to have the same charity from them, that I would eagerly extend to them.

Piper advocates for Charismatics with his teaching, against what MacArthur says.  Piper would speak in tongues if God would allow him and he believes and teaches that God does give men this gift today, and he, Piper, pastors them.  Piper spoke with the Jesus Culture group, one of the main streams of Pentecostalism today at Passion 2013.  One one hand, MacArthur talks about immense destructive damage that Charismaticism does (and that MacArthur crushes here), but it's charity to embrace Piper anyway, says MacArthur.  He hopes for the same charity in the areas where surely he is wrong.  In other words, if you separate from them, that wouldn't be loving.  Is church discipline loving?  Is that separation not charitable?  This just turns love to mushy sentimentalism.

What MacArthur does with Piper, Mahaney, and Grudem, and especially Piper here, says "we're all going to be wrong about things" so you get a pass on some things, as long as you're faithful on enough.  Why should any Charismatics be expected to change if Piper doesn't have to change?  Shouldn't they just be embraced out of charity too?  You can either know the truth, or you can't, and if we're going to do a whole conference, then it is clear.  If it is clear, then we don't embrace Piper, because he's not in fact being faithful.

If MacArthur lets Piper go, then Piper can let so-and-so go, and those to the left of MacArthur can let someone to the left of Piper go, and then next generation just takes it a little bit further.  That's how we got to where we're at with the Charismatic movement in the first place.  Non-charismatic churches began accepting Charismatics as legitimate.  MacArthur still does too.  If it is as destructive as MacArthur says, and it is, even more so, then we've got to put out those enabling the destruction.  If not, then you are causing many, many to stumble.  That isn't charitable.  It isn't a biblical way to treat the truth, as if it's so many loose tomatoes on the back of a produce truck.

The second negative take-away is the music issue.  I agree with most of what they said.  MacArthur said this:

The contemporary evangelical church has very little interest in theology and doctrine, so you’re going to have a tough sell. It’s about style. And style is the Trojan Horse that lets Charismatics in the church. Because once you let the music in, the movement follows. It all of a sudden becomes common. We sound like the Charismatics, sing like they do, have the same emotional feelings that they have. It’s a small step from doing the same music to buying into the movement. So the tough thing is you’re going back to a church that is thinking like that. It’s hard to make sound doctrine the issue when style is much more the interest of the leaders of the church.

MacArthur said the following in the first Q and A:

I don’t think it has to do with what the teachers are saying. I think it’s the music. It’s like getting drunk so you don’t have to think about the issues of life. If you shut down the music, turn on the lights, and have someone get up there and try to sell that with just words, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have some way to manipulate their minds.

Justin Peters later says, same session:

The music is just an avenue to get them into their teaching. The music is popular and they’re wanting to draw people in.

John MacArthur follows:

I would go so far as to say that evangelical noncharismatic churches are using music that is unacceptable to draw people in. They’re using the music of the world to suck people in as if somehow people would get saved through the music. The two have no connection. This is so close to what’s in a normal evangelical environment that it’s a very small step to getting sucked in, because the style is the same.

Mike Riccardi, staff there, put together a quick transcript of the sessions, which was good, and he quoted from one of MacArthur's last sermons of the conference on Sunday:

I’m convinced that the contemporary style of charismatic music is the entry point for Charismatic theology into churches. If you buy the music, the theology follows. Because all of a sudden you’re listening to the same songs/artists, experiencing the same emotions. The church may be non-Charismatic, but all the style is exactly the same. That’s the entry point. Show me a church that has a strong doctrinal statement, and I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace even the music. Show me a church that loves great hymns and theology put to music, I’ll show you a church reluctant to embrace the charismatic movement. And because the music doesn’t come in, the theology doesn’t either. That’s the seductive entry point.

I’m not talking about specific things, because there is contemporary music that’s beautiful and we can and should sing that. But when it its uncritical and not about the mind, but about the flesh, when it’s not about truth understood but emotion felt, it induces the same kind of feelings that are consistent with the Charismatic movement and opens the door. If we’re all singing the same music, how can we divide each other? I think the Charismatic movement has significantly diminished worship. It’s taken out of the arena of truth, out of the mind, and reduced it to feelings of the flesh.

All of these say that the entry point to the Charismatic movement is the music.  They say it is the style of music.  The style of music of the Charismatic is popular in evangelicalism.  It is popular and rampant with those of John MacArthur.  We've talked about this already.  MacArthur's church promotes the entry point to the Charismatic movement.

Why is it the entry point is a good question.  They nibble around the edges of this, but MacArthur especially gets into it, when he talks about the ecstasy, things we've talked about a lot here (it makes me wonder if MacArthur is reading What Is Truth).  It wouldn't surprise me, and if you are, keep reading John MacArthur, and welcome.  What especially had me wondering if John was reading something I've written (read it here) was this paragraph:

But you have to understand, this other stream of evangelicalism goes back to about 1966, when the hippies came out of San Francisco, joined Calvary Chapel, and we had the launch of an informal, barefoot, beach, drug-induced kind of young people that told the church how we should act. Hymns went out. Suits went out. For the first time in the history of the church, the conduct of the church was conformed in a subculture that was formed on LSD in San Francisco and migrated to Southern California.

That launches the self-focused church that winds up in the seeker-friendly church, that splinters in the Vineyard movement, which develops into the charismatic stream. I don’t go back to Lonnie Frisbee, who led the Jesus movement and died of AIDS as a homosexual. That’s not my stream. But that’s the stream that has produced the culturally-bound, seeker-driven church movement. And while there are good and bad and better and worse elements of it, that’s where it comes from. We are very different.

That's not his stream, he says now.  John MacArthur says it's his stream (quotes found at this link, which I had included above) and that it was a genuine revival.  Now he says it isn't.  Which is true?  Is he correcting the former few times he said this.  To critique MacArthur, however, the stream of which he writes is one that can be traced back further than the Jesus Movement, but back to Charles Finney and revivalism.  Iain Murray's book, Revival and Revivalism, is helpful here.  Out of the river of revivalism came various streams, a major one in the Charismatic movement, but also many other potently devastating, pragmatic ones.

Strange fire is false worship.  The music is the worship.  Half or more of MacArthur's music comes out of the stream he decries.  It justifies all of the music that is the professed entry point and Trojan horse for the poison and destruction all over the world.  Why should they change if MacArthur and the graduates of Master's College and Seminary are going to use the same stuff?  And believe me, it's all over and bad and worse.  All of this comes out of the earlier revivalistic stream and the Lonnie Frisbee and Calvary Chapel stream.  The strange fire is right there!!

For the Apostle Paul to change, he had to count his past as dung.  As it relates to these two take-aways, I pray that MacArthur and those he influences, will count his own strange fire as dung.


Matt Postiff said...

Kent--the last two block quotes in your post are mistakenly attributed to Mike Riccardi. I heard MacArthur say those words on the livestream on Friday night. Mike is transcribing.

Based partially upon this wrong attribution, you then write, "John MacArthur says it's his stream and that it was a genuine revival." When actually MacArthur said it is NOT his stream. I saw and heard it myself. Please double-check your work and let me know if I've missed something. Thanks, --Matt Postiff

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Matt.


I changed my post. I was confused because it was attributed to Mike and it read like he was writing a conclusion to the conference. It is MacArthur giving a conclusion. The way he speaks, it sounds like he has read the criticism about the music. But what is he going to do about it?

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing Matt. When I say that John MacArthur says it is his stream is in the article that I wrote in 2009. MacArthur has twice said that what happened at GCC was out of the Jesus Movement and that this was a true revival that lead to explosive growth at GCC. Read my article that I had linked. That's where I get that point and I'll make it clearer in the article too. I thought Mike was contradicting MacArthur, but MacArthur was contradicting himself. Usually when I contradict myself, and every time that I know of, I make it clear that what I said in the past was wrong. Then, with discernment, I show how that we're going to change. What MacArthur is describing is at his church and getting worse.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I have a relative whose church is a MacArthur Masters graduate and he has this music in his conference too, with the hand raising, and the soft rock band, just like the Charismatic worship. It is spreading everywhere by means of the entry point.

Joshua said...

Wow. I just read that statement MacArthur made about Charismaticism you linked to. I'll admit to being very impressed. He just called it like it was. Crushing.

I think you've well documented the inconsistencies here.

I remember you saying that rather than where a chap was currently, that what you looked for was directionality - where he is heading. I see the inconsistencies and hypocrisies clear as day, but it does look like he's thinking along lines I'd like to see more evangelicals think along. And I'm happy for that.

Don Johnson said...

On the direction... Yes, one can always hope. But we've seen signs like this from MacA before, no?

To borrow a Chuck Swindoll title, is this just three steps forward, two steps back? One never knows.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jones III commended
("Wouldn't it be loverly".)

Anonymous said...

Never forget.