John MacArthur’s *Strange Fire* Conference, Charismatics, & Christ

I really cannot think of any charge more severe to make toward other human beings than to say that they have blasphemed the Spirit of God.

I’m not normally the watchblogger type. I find many critical blogs and bloggers quarrelsome, and not to be in step with the characteristics of the godly. As the Apostle Paul put it, “…the Lord’s servant *must not* be quarrelsome” (2 Tim. 2:24, emphasis added).

Christian’s should be known much more by what and who they are for than by what and who they are against. Yes, Christians must distinguish between that which we are for and that which we are against, and this comes from naming what we are against, but this should not be our central mark. Nevertheless, what follows is all done with what began here in mind.

For some time now I have considered a blog post on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference that is coming up in October. After reading Reformed-Charismatic Adrian Warnock’s post today about John MacArthur essentially calling those in the charismatic movement blasphemers of the Spirit, I thought another one might be warranted.

Earlier this year I attended the Shepherd’s Conference and came away enriched by the ministry of John MacArthur (his deeply sobering sermon on Peter and Judas was dynamite) and others, but was quite disturbed by a promo vid for his future conference “Strange Fire”.

In it, MacArthur made, what I thought, was an extremely broad mischaracterization of an entire group of Christians, namely, the charismatic movement. He states,

It’s in the context of Leviticus 9 and 10 that I want to direct your attention towards “strange fire” that is being offered to God today. And it could well bring his judgment. What I’m talking about is the charismatic movement. It offers to God unacceptable worship. Distorted worship. It blasphemes the Holy Spirit. It attributes to the Holy Spirit, even the work of Satan.

When I heard this, I almost walked out of the conference. And this was not because I am unaware of aberrations and heresies within the charismatic movement. There are. Nor is it because I am unaware of MacArthur’s position on this. Years ago, I read most of Charismatic Chaos and his cessationist reading of Scripture is widely known. But it is irresponsible–to put it mildly–of him to lump an entire group of Christians as blasphemers of the Spirit. In fact, I believe, his sweeping generalization deeply grieves the Holy Spirit of God.

Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. And being or not being a charismatic is not the main thing. Jesus Christ, whom I know MacArthur and many charismatics love, is.

However, I don’t know that he even truly believes what he said here. It is my understanding that CJ Mahaney, a charismatic, preached in his pulpit and that he has relationships with other continuationist pastors like John Piper. Maybe it was intended to be alarmist to better “market” the conference? After all, in a later video, he seems to clean this up a touch, as he gives a “word of encouragement to faithful Pentecostals” and says that the conference is addressing the aberrations and extremes of the movement. (Would of been nice to hear that the first time). But this was *not* communicated in the first video, even if it was intended.

On a personal note, I too am charismatic. I was raised in an Assemblies of God church and love many in and am friends with some of the leaders of the movement itself. Though I am no longer a part of the Assemblies of God (even after attending one of there colleges) and disagree with certain doctrines and teachings of the charismatic movement, I also strongly believe that many of the desires and pursuits and experiences within the movement are because of the Scriptures not in spite of them. The zealous pursuit of spiritual gifts, the eager expectation for God himself to intervene and act tangibly in our midst, the passion for the “already” and the power (not just talk) of the kingdom of God, the pursuit of God’s healing and delivering power, the longing to be filled with the Spirit (not just once) but continually, are all biblically rooted desires and goals of the charismatic movement as a whole. We are brothers and sisters not enemies of the cross of Christ.

Blasphemy of the Spirit is a dead serious charge. I really cannot think of any charge more severe to make toward other human beings than to say that they have blasphemed the Spirit of God. The charismatic movement, as a whole, has not blasphemed the Spirit. Many affirm wholeheartedly the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Sure, some charismatics can elevate, at least in emphasis, secondary issues (healing, experience, signs and wonders, etc.) above primary ones. But isn’t this exactly what MacArthur is doing here and then he’s calling others blasphemers for possibly doing the same thing?

I don’t doubt I will agree with some of the critiques within parts of the charismatic movement that will be made by the speakers at the Strange Fire conference. But the irresponsibility of MacArthur’s sweeping generalization should be candidly addressed and critiqued by other Christian leaders (continuationist or not). These kind of remarks further divide the church and grieve the Spirit by whom we all have been sealed.

Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. And being or not being a charismatic is not the main thing. Jesus Christ, whom I know MacArthur and many charismatics love, is.

The Christian’s Relationship with God is Better than Sinless Adam.

Abraham Kuyper, in The Work of the Holy Spirit, shows how the position of a Christian now is far better than the position of Adam before he fell. He writes,

“Therefore, the ungodly, when justified by grace, has nothing to do with Adam’s state before the fall, but occupies the position of Jesus after the resurrection. He possesses a good that can not be lost. He works no more for wages, but the inheritance is his own. His works, zeal, love, and praise flow not from his own poverty, but from the overflowing fulness of life that was obtained for him…

The work of re-creation has this peculiarity, that it places the elect at once at the end of the road. They are not like the traveler still half way from home, but like one who has finished his journey; the long, dreary, and dangerous road is entirely behind him. Of course, he did not run that road; he could never have reached his goal. His Mediator and Daysman traveled it for him and in his stead. And by mystic union with his Savior it is as tho [sic] he had traveled the whole distance; not as we reckon, but as God reckons. (49, 50)

The relationship of the Christian with God is less like the relationship of sinless Adam with God in the garden, and more like the relationship of Jesus with God. By grace, we have been unified with Christ not with sinful or even sinless Adam.

Dr. Reza Aslan’s Jesus: Safe & Subjective

Dr. Reza Aslan’s version of Jesus of Nazareth has been getting a bit of press lately, and the viral Fox News interview with him discussing his recent book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth sure didn’t hurt the sales any. I haven’t read the book, but from the sounds of it (see paragraph 3 in the following interview) Dr. Aslan, like other scholars before him, are attempting to extract the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the four gospels. In another interview with The Atlantic author Joe Fassler, Dr. Aslan presents Jesus as a revolutionary who confronted the powerful religious establishment for the sake of the powerless and offered a salvation to people that comes from within:

In Dr. Aslan’s portrayal of Jesus you get to be your own Yahweh or at least make God whatever you want him to be, while in the gospels Jesus reserves the sacred divine name for himself.

I think that, obviously, is an enormous threat to the power-holders whose authority came from—precisely as Dostoevsky says—from their ability to appease a man’s conscience. Pay us your dues, your tithes, bring us your sacrifices, submit to our authority, and in return, we will give you salvation. And Jesus’ challenge to that idea was based on the notion that the power for salvation does not rest in any outsider’s hand: that it rests within the individual. I think that’s an idea that a lot of Christians need to remember. Those who state that salvation comes solely through the Church or belief in a set of doctrines that a bunch of men wrote many years ago are forgetting what Jesus himself said: that salvation is purely an internal matter. That you are the only one qualified to define what God is for you. No one else is qualified to make that decision for you.

This version of Jesus isn’t unique or new. In fact, he’s quite popular. He’s got a message of empowerment and self-salvation, which is eaten up by spiritual but not religious Americans. His Nazarene upsets the safety of the establishment through confrontation, while offering the safest of religious sensibilities. This Jesus grants justice for the weak and marginalized in the here-and-now and then basically gives us what we naturally want out of religion anyway–God and salvation on our own terms. He’s out to revolutionize the injustice of the world, but not to revolutionize the human hearts propensity to subjective idolatry.

The kind of radical revolution of religion that Jesus is promoting is not an internal, relativistic theism, but he’s calling the ones in power and the powerless to worship him and find salvation in him alone.

This is quite the opposite of Jesus, the Jewish man of the New Testament (I recognize that Aslan isn’t after that Jesus anyway), who was steeped in Israel’s identity and embodied Israel’s story in himself. According to this story, Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, had quite a different understanding of God than Dr. Aslan. In the book of Exodus Yahweh called himself rather simply and almost curtly, “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14). In other words, “I am and there is nothing you can do about it. I’m the definer. You are not. I exist independently of you, and you exist dependently upon me.” And the crazy-if-it-isn’t-true thing about the man Jesus of Nazareth is that he called Yahweh his Father, and not only that, he identified himself with Yahweh himself.

Dr. Aslan, as Fassler’s interview showed, doesn’t like this kind of Jesus. He’s distrustful of “anyone who presents themselves as a gatekeeper to truth, or a gatekeeper to salvation”. But this is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus, according to his own words, was the exclusive gatekeeper of the truth because he was the gate (Jn. 10:9) and the truth (Jn. 14:6).

In Dr. Aslan’s portrayal of Jesus you get to be your own Yahweh or at least make God whatever you want him to be, while in the gospels Jesus reserves the sacred divine name for himself. According to the gospel writer’s Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t put to death because he simply upset the religious establishment by breaking tradition and coming alongside the lowly, he upset the religious establishment most of all because he blasphemed by making himself out to be God.

These claims are found in many places in the gospels, yet there is one particular place in chapter five of John’s gospel that seems particularly revealing over against Dr. Aslan’s differing representation of Jesus. Here in a moment where Jesus is operating as a kind of revolutionary, doing good and overturning the religious establishment by healing on the Sabbath, at the same time, he is claiming to be God. Not only is he doing justice by restoring a paraplegic man to wholeness, in spite of the rules of the religious system, he is claiming to being doing the very “work” (a big no-no on the Sabbath) of his Father: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (5:17). In the next verse, the narrator of this gospel, fills out the results of Jesus’ words and actions,

“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18)

Jesus goes on to say this very same thing by identifying himself with his Father, Yahweh, and comes up with different claims than Dr. Aslan’s Jesus. John’s Jesus says,

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (5:22-24)

Key word here: honor. Key phrase: just as. Jesus is claiming to deserve the same honor–the same worship–as Yahweh. Furthermore, he is saying that eternal life, salvation, is found in him. The kind of radical revolution of religion that Jesus is promoting is not an internal, relativistic theism, but he’s calling the ones in power and the powerless to worship him and find salvation in him alone.

I’ll leave it to New Testament scholars like NT Wright (in places like this) and Richard Bauckham (see Michael Kruger’s recent post on the historicity of John’s gospel) to demonstrate the historicity of the Jesus of the gospels, but Dr. Aslan’s Jesus is not the Jesus of history or the gospels. The Jesus of the gospels is more like CS Lewis’s Jesus-figure, Aslan, the King of the mythic world Narnia who is a simultaneously unsafe, untamed and entirely good lion, while Dr. Aslan’s Jesus is more like a chameleon who changes the colors of the divine to whatever you want him/her/it to be.

The Father’s Extravagant and Compassionate Love

Michael Knowles, describing the father, who represents the Father, in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), writes,

“The extravagance of the father’s gestures is as outrageous as the scandalous selfishness of the son’s previous conduct.”

According to Jesus, God’s compassion amounts to an offer more profligate than any wayward child, for it is the longing of a parent who cannot forget the children to whom he or she has given life. Although the younger son has done everything in his power to break his father’s heart, in the end he fails to do so, for he discovers that his father is willing to bear more shame, sorrow, and loss than the son is able to inflict.

Michael P. Knowles. The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name: The God of Sinai in Our Midst (Kindle Locations 942-944). Kindle Edition.

Knowles gives seven ways the father of the parable shows how God’s grace is outrageously more abundant than our sin (Romans 5:20),

First, he runs to meet his wayward son. Second, the father embraces and, third, kisses him, public gestures not only of greeting but also (in this case) of forgiveness. Fourth, the father orders that his son be honored with the best garment in the house; fifth, he orders a ring for the son’s finger, and, sixth, he provides sandals for his feet. Seventh and finally, the father orders a celebratory feast. A “fattened calf” cannot remain in that state for long; it quickly grows to maturity, all the more so for having been fed so well. It can only be that for as long as his younger son has been absent the father has fattened each calf to which his cows have given birth, each time hoping against hope to make a joyful banquet of it.

The extravagance of the father’s gestures is as outrageous as the scandalous selfishness of the son’s previous conduct.

(Kindle Locations 933-938). Kindle Edition.

Jesus, the Glad

Theologian B.B. Warfield, in his wonderful article “The Emotional Life of our Lord”, makes the case that Jesus was not primarily a man of sorrows, but a man of joy. It is true that the gospels do not attribute any laughter to him, but you got to think he snickered as he snacked on broiled fish in his resurrected body to stun marveling disciples at his side.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising when we consider that the first miracle he did was increase the wine supply at a wedding party, and two of the last miracles he did on earth were raise from the dead and give depressed fishermen after a night without a catch a net full of fish. Furthermore, he made fun of and regularly rebuked serious Pharisees and made care-free children the models of the kingdom.

Warfield gives several other reasons that describe Christ’s emotional life as one of great joy.

We call our Lord “the Man of Sorrows,” and the designation is obviously appropriate for one who came into the world to bear the sins of men and to give his life a ransom for many. It is, however, not a designation which is applied to Christ in the New Testament, and even in the Prophet (Is. liii. 3) it may very well refer rather to the objective afflictions of the righteous servant than to his subjective distresses.76 In any event we must bear in mind that our Lord did not come into the world to be broken by the power of sin and death, but to break it. He came as a conqueror with the gladness of the imminent victory in his heart; for the joy set before him he was able to endure the cross, despising shame (Heb. xii. 2). And as he did not prosecute his work in doubt of the issue, neither did he prosecute it hesitantly as to its methods. He rather (so we are told, Lk. x. 21) “exulted in the Holy Spirit” as he contemplated the ways of God in bringing many sons to glory. The word is a strong one and conveys the idea of exuberant gladness, a gladness which fills the heart;77 and it is intimated that, on this occasion at least, this exultation was a product in Christ — and therefore in his human nature — of the operations of the Holy Spirit,78 whom we must suppose to have been always working in the human soul of Christ, sustaining and strengthening it. It cannot be supposed that, this particular occasion alone being excepted, Jesus prosecuted his work on earth in a state of mental depression. His advent into the world was announced as “good tidings of great joy” (Lk. ii. 10), and the tidings which he himself proclaimed were “the good tidings” by way of eminence. It is conceivable that he went about proclaiming them with a “sad countenance” (Mt. vi. 16)? It is misleading then to say merely, with Jeremy Taylor, “We never read that Jesus laughed and but once that he rejoiced in spirit.”79 We do read that, in contrast with John the Baptist, he came “eating and drinking,” and accordingly was malignantly called “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Mt. xi. 19; Lk. vii. 34) ; and this certainly does not encourage us to think of his demeanor at least as habitually sorrowful.

Jesus of Nazareth was and remains Jesus, the glad not Jesus, the sad. And if this is true, followers of Jesus have plenty of reasons to be glad too.

[Source: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/emotionallife.html]

The Evangelical Principle

The eminently quotable PT Forsyth, writes,

We cannot solve life by moral thought or effort but by trust, which unites us with the invincible, eternal, moral act of God in Christ. Christianity is not the sacrifice we make, but the sacrifice we trust; not the victory we win, but the victory we inherit. That is the evangelical principle. [Justification of God, 220. Accessed online: (July 1, 2013)]

So good.

Grace & The God-ness of God

Jonathan Edwards on grace,

There is no gift or benefit that is so much in God, that is so much of himself, of his nature, that is so much a communication of the Deity, as grace is.

There is no gift or benefit that is so much in God, that is so much of himself, of his nature, that is so much a communication of the Deity, as grace is; ’tis as much a communication of the Deity, as light [is] a communication of the sun…

As this may show us, why God will bestow this good more immediately and directly; so also, why he will especially exercise and manifest his sovereignty and free pleasure in bestowing of this gift. God’s grace is eminently his own. God’s creatures, the sun, moon and stars, etc., are his own to dispose of as he pleases; but with more eminent reason, that which is so nearly pertaining to the very nature of God, as his grace, the actings and influences of his own Spirit, the communications of his own beauty and his own happiness. God will therefore make his sovereign right here more eminently to appear, in the bestowment of this. [Miscellanies, #537. Accessed online: http://edwards.yale.edu/]

Read it again. Much to chew on here. And glory in. 

Grace is the Everest of God’s glory. Never stop climbing its heights.

Waiting to Feel Better: The Greatest Snare in the Christian Life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his typical hyperbolic preaching style, explains how important it is for Christians to know who they are:

“The whole matter of putting on the new man is in essence the application of truth to ourselves. It is the most important thing that one can ever discover in the Christian life. The real secret of Christian living is to discover the art of talking to yourself. We must talk to ourselves, we must preach to ourselves, and we must take truth and apply it to ourselves, and keep on doing so. That is the putting on of the new man. We have to hammer away at ourselves until we have really convinced ourselves. In other words, this is not something that you wait for passively. If you wait until you feel like the new man it will probably never happen. We must be active in this. There is no greater snare in the Christian life than to entertain the idea of waiting until we feel better, and of then putting on the new man. On the contrary, we have got to go on telling ourselves the new man is already in us. In his Epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul says, ‘Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God’ (6:11).” Darkness and Light, An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17, 191-192

How to Come to Jesus

Jonathan Edwards answers,

“If ever you truly come to Christ, you must see that there is enough in him for your pardon, though you be no better than you are. If you see not the sufficiency of Christ to pardon you, without any righteousness of your own to recommend you, you never will come so as to be accepted of him. The way to be accepted is to come–not on any such encouragement, that now you have made yourselves better, and more worthy, or not so unworthy, but–on the mere encouragement of Christ’s worthiness, and God’s mercy…You must come as a patient comes to his physician, with his diseases or wounds to be cured. Spread all your wickedness before him, and do not plead your goodness; but plead your badness, and your necessity on that account: and say, as the psalmist in the text, not Pardon mine iniquity, for it is not so great as it was, but, ‘Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.'” [“Great Guilt No Obstacle to the pardon of the Returning Sinner” in Hendrickson’s *The Works of Jonathan Edwards*, Vol. 2, 113]

Come to Jesus not when you get better, but as you are right now no matter how you are right now. Spread your sin before him, and let him spread his massive grace over you.

Abortion: President Obama’s Position, Dr. Gosnell’s Practice, & All of Us

Recently more and more of the press are picking up on the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his abortion practices, and many are being left horrified by them because of his treatment of both women and babies. But the parallels between this practice and that of late-term abortion (partial-birth abortion) should not be ignored.

The most stringent gate-keepers of pro-choice rights have defended late-term abortion because they know that if late-term abortion is banned more and more abortion practices could be banned and the “rights” of women to these medical procedures could be diminished. For instance, when President Obama was a senator he voted no on banning late-term abortion for the following reason: “…not because I don’t recognize that these are painful issues, but because [he] trusts woman to make these decisions.”

 

In a fundraising letter in 2004 Michelle Obama argued that her husband would fight for women’s rights and against the then rising conservatism in America, and used his denial of the partial-birth abortion ban to establish it.

So what’s the difference between “terminating” [medical procedure of late-term abortion] a fetus inside the womb and killing [crime of infanticide] a baby born outside of it? Tim Carney, of the Washington Examiner, shows that there is none:

…late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart, who operates in Germantown, Md., snips their spines with scissors.

In his first U.S. Senate race, Obama used Carhart’s procedure as a fundraising pitch. In a 2004 campaign mailing, Michelle Obama tried to rally the donor base by explaining how Republicans were trying to ban partial-birth abortion, “a legitimate medical procedure,” as Michelle put it.

The most substantive difference between the partial-birth abortions on which Obama fundraised and Gosnell’s abortions is this: Dr. Gosnell did the snipping outside of the mother’s birth canal, while Dr. Carhart reaches his scissors inside the woman’s vagina to snip the baby’s spine.

This fact points us to the most likely reason the mainstream media ignored the story as long as possible: The Gosnell story has an inherent pro-life bias, because the Gosnell story leads us to discussing abortion procedures.

When you discuss the act of aborting — even perfectly legal abortions — you have to discuss the blood, the scalpels, the scissors. You might use terms like “dilation and extraction” or “dilation and curettage.” Think through those terms (“curettage” is defined as “a surgical scraping or cleaning”) and recall that what is being extracted or scraped has a beating heart.

Discussing Gosnell threatens to start a discussion on abortion procedures — and that’s not good for anyone in the abortion industry.

The argument is often made that pro-choice candidates don’t like abortion and that they hope to see abortions dwindle. I am not arguing that President Obama or any other vigorous pro-choice defenders “like” abortion at any term during a woman’s pregnancy and a baby’s development in the womb, but I am noting, as Carney put it, that there is no “substantive difference” between Dr. Gosnell’s practice of “snipping” and the President and other advocates of late-term abortion rights positions.

When it comes to pro-life arguments, like the one I’m making, Dr. Gosnell is an easy target and late-term pro-choice politicians like the President and his wife are too. The particularly gruesome details of abortions under Dr. Gosnell’s practice and the similar though more, dare I say, conveniently hidden (via in the birth canal) practice of late-term abortion, puts on display the horror of all abortion in general. It’s easy to be sickened by the obvious violent killing of babies under Gosnell’s regime, but what is truly sickening is that all of us are not equally disgusted by the 50 million abortions that have taken place in the US during the last four decades at any term.

These are not just digits. These are babies. And Gosnell’s trial throws this up in our faces.