Strange Fires – A discussion starter or an entrenchment of positions?

In the last few days (16th – 18th October 2013)  John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference has been taking place in Southern California at Grace Community Church. It has caused much discussion and debate around the internet on various blogs, twitter and Facebook.

Today I saw a post on twitter linking to an article on the Christian Post website regarding Mark Driscoll’s attendance at the conference, during which he was giving out free copies of his forth coming book. In this article Pastor Rich Gregory, John MacArthur’s assistant said the following:

It was great to have him here, I just wish that the focus of the discussion with Mark would have been more on the content of the conference itself, the real biblical issues, that’s what we are trying to accomplish here. We are really wanting to see a biblical discussion take place about these issues. That’s a thing you don’t see taking place in evangelicalism in general, which is why the conference is necessary. We’re having the conference in order to have that discussion and I wish that in coming here he would have been willing to have that discussion and stay for the sessions and hear the content of what we are doing and been willing to dialogue about that.

I have to say that if this was indeed the intended goal of the conference, and I am not in a position to know for sure if it was or wasn’t, then this is to be commended. However given the comments coming out of the conference, especially by John MacArthur himself, I am failing to see how in fact this conference has in any way helped to start a ‘biblical discussion take place about these issues.’

During one of the sessions John MacArthur said that

the movement itself has brought nothing that enriches true worship. It has made no contribution to biblical clarity, biblical interpretation or sound doctrine.

Adrian Warnock has a blog post in which he addresses this, asking if songs such as ‘In Christ Alone’, music from Hillsong, Jesus Culture, are really to be rejected as not ‘enriching true worship’. Adrian also asks the question as to whether work by Wayne Grudem is to be rejected as not adding to biblical clarity, and whether the ministries of men such as Gordon Fee, Sam Storms, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll and Terry Virgo should be rejected as not adding to biblical interpretation or sound doctrine?

In his final address John MacArthur also said:

“We have also been accused of being divisive. I would agree with that. Truth by its very nature is divisive. It’s why Jesus said I came to bring a sword, to divide people, families. Truth by its very nature is separated from error. And it is far more important to be divided by the truth than united by error . . .

There are others who criticized by saying, “You’re attacking brothers.” I wish I could affirm that. We’ve said this one way or another this week: this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians .  . .

I’m convinced that the broader charismatic movement has opened the door to more theological error than any other theological aberration in this day. Liberalism, psychology, ecumenism, pragmatism, mysticism, are all bad. Nothing is as bad as Charismaticism because of its extensive impact. And once that kind of experientialism gets a foothold, there’s no brand of heresy that won’t ride it into the church.

Charismatic theology becomes the strange fire of our generation and we have no business flirting with it at any level.”

Again Adrian Warnock has a response to this that is worthy of reading. I do agree with MacArthur that truth is divisive, and that when it comes to error we need to speak out, and that it is better by far to united around truth and not error. Where I disagree with MacArthur is the excessive claims that he follows up with. To throw out a whole ‘movement’, position of biblical understanding because of extremes is ridiculous. To say that ‘this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians is anything but graceful, and does nothing to open the door for discussion, but helps to draw the battle lines and load the cannons of disunity and division.

It is true that there are excesses, extremes, and things that are over the top within the Charismatic movement, but focussing on those, and tarring everyone else with the same brush doesn’t help to come to the table for discussion.

Andrew Wilson has written an article on ThinkTheology in response to Tom Pennington’s session on the cessationist position which is also worthy of a read.

Has the Strange Fire conference been a discussion starter? Time will tell on that. My fear is that the conference has done more damage, and done more to entrench than it has to provoke discussion.

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