Brendt Waters continues his excellent review of the error of John MacArthur ...
FailsSafe, Thy Name is MacArthur
Because Challies submitted all the questions at once (and then MacArthur answered them), some of the material (that was distinguishable in the questions alone) gets covered multiple times or otherwise overlaps in the answers. I will attempt to be as non-repetitious as possible, but if ancillary issues come up, I may cover the same ground more than once. This next point is an example of that.
Challies asked about teachers who largely agreed with MacArthur on non-pneumatological issues:
How would you explain the continuationist theology of faithful men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem if the cessationist position is so clearly taught in the Bible?
After spending a paragraph praising them, MacArthur then goes on:
Obviously, I cannot read minds nor do I desire to judge motives.
Very true, even if other statements contradict this. But then here’s the kicker:
But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture.
This is something that MacArthur seems to do a lot. He lays down a ground cover of “I don’t know what’s going on here,” but then he immediately follows that with his theories. This is the equivalent of a courtroom lawyer starting to say something that he shouldn’t, being shouted down with “Objection” by the opposing attorney, and the judge sustaining and telling the jury to disregard what was said. The thing is, they can’t disregard it – it’s out there. All it cost the lawyer to plant in the minds of the jurors something that he ought not to have said is a stern look from the judge. All it costs MacArthur to do the same thing is a little sheepish (and entirely disingenuous) ground cover.
MacArthur is right; he can’t read minds. But if he was truly interested in understanding how his ideological opponents came to the conclusions that they reached, there’s this thing that’s been around for over 130 years called the “telephone” – perhaps you’ve heard of it.
He then returns to the issue of a “discussion” (that for some reason is always one-way in his world):
My major concern is that their openness to the issue unwittingly gives the whole movement an aura of theological credibility that it does not deserve. That is why I titled the last chapter of Strange Fire, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends.” I want to appeal to them, on the basis of their theological acumen and exegetical expertise, to reexamine the issue.
How many times, in how many ways, do you get to say that you’re interested in others’ views, but refuse to hear them, before you start sounding ridiculous?
OK, Now You're Just Being Silly
Immediately after that quote, MacArthur states:
At the very least, I hope they will join with us in drawing a clear line in the sand and condemning the aberrations and excesses of the broader charismatic movement.
I am not very familiar with Grudem and Carson, but I would be utterly shocked if they did not condemn the “aberrations and excesses of the broader charismatic movement.” And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Piper does so – and rather famously, at that. There are few topics that get him more riled up than when he preaches against prosperity theology. I still am bemused every time I hear someone as staid and proper as Piper say the word “crap” from the pulpit. To imply lack of clarity from these men on such issues is nothing short of asinine.
If I may take a page from MacArthur’s playbook (and posit theories on reasoning and motives), it doesn’t seem so much that he wants what he says he hopes, as that he wants to define exactly where the line in the sand is drawn. If it’s anywhere other than where he has drawn his, he will deny its very existence.
Blaming the Wrong Guy
Challies’ next question:
Excluding the obviously and patently unbiblical, extreme charismatics such as Benny Hinn, what is the damage that may be done as a result of reformed, continuationist preaching and practice?
After plugging his book again, MacArthur responds:
First, I am concerned that reformed continuationists provide theological cover for the broader movement – including those who are not nearly as careful as they are. Once you legitimize fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, and failed healings (as if those are true expressions of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit), you open Pandora’s Box to all sorts of theological error and disaster.
To say that they are legitimizing those things is an overstatement, but I am willing to leave that claim alone, as even if it’s true, what follows is patently false.
MacArthur goes on to recount an illustrative anecdote of a charismatic prophet who was later shown to be a “drunken, immoral fraud.”
Sidebar: Why must he be identified as “drunken” and “immoral”? Even the staunchest continuationist who had any intellectual integrity would say that someone who was a “fraud” should not be heeded. If continuationism is so bad, why does it need other sins attached to it?
This is not the only time that MacArthur shows the weakness of his argument by adding other sins to the “error” of continuationism. During the conference, he basically stated that drug-induced hippies were not simply being reached by the Calvary Chapel movement, but were actually running the show. Such a statement is so ridiculous (warranting no response that doesn’t include convulsive laughter and a great deal of derision), that I wrestled with even mentioning it here. But I digress …
The reasoning given in support of the man who, at the time, was not known to be a fraud (or drunken and immoral) was an appeal to Wayne Grudem’s work on prophecy. This, in MacArthur’s view, is Grudem’s fault.
But if the fault lies with the author when a reader misunderstands, misinterprets, or misrepresents what he has written, then God really messed up with that whole Bible thing. Or does MacArthur honestly believe that the “error” of continuationism is not merely a misinterpretation of Scripture, but that it actually has nothing at all to do with Scripture?