Thoughts on ‘Strange Fire’: The God of Law & Grinch

I was just thinking, is all the hoopla surrounding John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference much to do grinchabout the formal, material, or both? I think it is probably both, since MacArthur & co. have engaged what can really only be noted as a sweeping generalization in regard to the charismatic movement; indeed also engaging in what can only be labeled as the argument of the beard, failing to make distinctions upon a continuum of belief—the continuum known as charismatic. They have made some legitimate critiques of what is called Word of Faith theology, but then unfortunately  have sloppily conflated WoF with the broader movement known as charismatic. But beyond some of these more material shortcomings—and to be clear, I would not be considered a charismatic Christian by most, and I am not really a continuationist either, but I am not cessationist; so you can try to figure me out on this at a later date—I would like to focus on what I see more of a formal problem which, indeed, implicates some of MacArthur’s & co.’s material conclusions. So to this we turn.

As I just mentioned above, I think that the theology, and more pointedly, the prolegomena or theological methodology that underwrites MacArthur’s & co.’s hermeneutic and subsequent exegetical conclusions springs from a view of God that allows him, indeed, requires him to bash other Christians over the head in general. My concern with MacArthur, over the years, has been more to do with issues surrounding who he thinks God is, and thus, subsequently, what he thinks salvation is (i.e. his book The Gospel According To Jesus). The problem with providing a critique of John MacArthur is actually pretty parallel with trying to provide critique of Calvary Chapel theology (which I attend a Calvary Chapel—and not all Calvary Chapel’s are equal, but in general, Calvary Chapel’s eschew anything to do with formal theological thinking and categories, which leads to and from an uncritical engagement with formal theological categories unbeknownst to most of its leadership—I digress, in good bloggy style!); John MacArthur and buddies represent, in fact, not in principle, an extreme form of what has been called solo scriptura (scripture all by itself, in contrast to the more common Protestant sola scriptura). Which means, that trying to get behind the Bible, and trying to access what is informing MacArthur’s hermeneutic and theological commitments becomes a very tenuous, indeed, “anathemaous” endeavor. But being someone who rarely shies away from being considered anathema by the Fundamentalist Evangelicals (MacArthur & co.), I will try to make a couple inferences about MacArthur’s & co.’s informing theology by reflecting upon the fruit (MacArthur is big on fruit inspecting, just check his The Gospel According To Jesus); and so I will employ MacArthur’s own mode back at him and his kind of pathos (not really his exegetical conclusions).

1.) MacArthur & co. claim that all they were really doing with the Strange Fire conference was applying some ‘tough love’ on wayward brethren (and non-brethren); and so to speak the truth, is synonymous with speaking love for them.

a. If they were really interested in speaking the truth in love and as love, they would not have constructed a conference based upon non-starting premises as I have noted previously. They would have thought up a conference that would have engaged in collegial dialogue; they would have had invited the best and the brightest that charismatic scholarship and pastorship has to offer to a collegial and open forum discussion; and they would have, before even taking this step, been attempting, in good faith, to have ongoing dialogue with these same kinds of charismatic behind closed doors.

b. If they were really interested in administering tough Christian love, they would presume that the people they were exhorting were Christians; but they, by and large, did not do this. MacArthur & co. presumed that charismatic theology, of necessity, produces unbelievers. But if MacArthur & co. believe this, then why would they exhort non-Christians to act Christianly? This makes no sense.

Conclusion: The conference itself was ill-conceived, because it was based on ill-faith and fallacious premises; and it sought to address who they, by and large, labeled as non-Christians to begin with. If they were really interested in being loving they would have simply proclaimed the gospel to charismatics, and called them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And further, they would not have conflated Word of Faith theology, in particular, with Charismatic theology in general; this is just sloppy and thus not to be taken seriously.

2.) The more important inference that I have drawn, is that MacArthur’s and co.’s view of God is not that God is someone who loves everyone, but that he only loves people, in a special saving way, who agree with MacArthur’s & co.’s interpretation of the God disclosed in Scripture. And for MacArthur & co. the God that he and they claim to find in scripture relates to people in rather cold, harsh, ungracious, and law-like fashion; the God, that MacArthur & co. think from is not a God for us, but MacArthur’s God is against us until his God gets appeased through properly dotting all of our iotas and crossing our taus.  And so grace cannot be shown to those who are non-elect, and we know the charismatics, by and large, are non-elect because they bark like dogs and meow like cats.

General Conclusion: MacArthur’s & co.’s God is not Love & Grace; MacArthur’s & co.’s God is Law & Grinch. And if we are created in the image of God—as MacArthur & co. would affirm—then it is only natural to take an Law & Grinch approach towards those we consider infidel.

So the moral of the story is: Whichever view of God you take (whether that be the Love & Grace one, or the Law & Grinch one) will end up getting reflected in your spirituality and daily practice; and in the way you treat others within the body of Christ.

caveat: Yes, I can agree that Word of Faith theology is outside the bounds of historic orthodox Christian teaching; but it is wrong to sloppily conflate this with charismatic theology in general. And Strange Fire did just that; they conflated, equivocated, and thus non-started themselves before they ever got started. And in the end, they felt justified in taking the tact they did because their view of God allows them to be this sloppy toward the non-elect world out there (including the charismatics).

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12 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Strange Fire’: The God of Law & Grinch

  1. Thanks for this great post. I looked over the speaker bios for the conference and I noticed something that struck me as highly odd. Two of the speakers’ bios touted them as being saved/converted when they were already preachers or theology students. The bios conveyed the idea that these guys, in preaching the Bible or studying the Bible, came to the realization that they were not Christians. Now, I’m all about conversion, but this just stood out to me as examples of a certain type of Calvinist narrative. I assume if we dug deeper we’d find that what these guys realized is that they did not previously realize that their salvation was entirely due to the sovereign hand of God and not their own willing. In other words, they realized that they weren’t Christians when they realized that they weren’t a certain type of Calvinist. I think this type of thinking is the root of the arrogance these people show to others who call upon the name of Christ.

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  2. I can see that you have invested a lot of time studying the Bible. Still, if anything is arrogant is the fact that you can slam pastor John MacArthur for his efforts to serve God and further His kingdom. How about turning your energy & thinking to reaching the lost since you love Jesus more than anything?! I find this blog entry sad indeed. There is not a perfect teacher on this planet (especially in Calvary Chapel where men are not trained at all for the most part, they just ‘simple men’ who love the Lord). I think there is a huge line of men from your own denomination could do with theological help. And how many fell in to sin while in a pastorate? John MacArthur’s book are a real ‘spiritual life saver’ to me personally over in England, perhaps I’m being biased. (I don’t agree with him either on everything – especially end times) , but I’m grateful for his ministry!

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  3. @Matt,

    Thanks, exactly that is the point I was really trying to highlight; ie the MacArthurite Calvinist narrative.

    @Angela,

    As far as Calvary Chapel; I attend one, I wouldn’t really say that my theological approach actually reflects Calvary Chapel’s, per se. Which is why I offered a mild kind of critique of CC in the post itself.

    As far as being arrogant; I never used the language of arrogant, but in reality, that is exactly how MacArthur and co. usually operate towards those who disagree with them. I have years and years of experience with this, both at a personal in face level, as well as through online correspondence with MacArthur bloggers over at the Pyromaniacs’ blog. It is not arrogant to identify something, or someone as wrong; if in fact the critique is based upon sound theological principles. So I would argue that Mac’s critique is not based on sound, but fallacious premises, and thus needs to be identified as such. He has labeled a whole group of Christians as non-Christians, simply because they disagree with his interpretation of scripture. Unless you want to claim that Mac speaks in magisterium or ex cathedra as a Protestant pope, then he too is open to rejoinder and critique as well. Indeed, the fact that he and crew have just lobbed bombs out at their opponents w/o opening up a Christian and collegial dialogue only illustrates my point. I am sorry, MacArthur is clearly wrong in regard to his doctrine of God; he has built an edifice upon a hybrid appropriation of an Aristotelian conception of God who is more philosophical monad than Triune lover.

    I hope that you will be able to better and more critically engage with MacArthur in the future, Angela. And actually I can do both; i.e. proclaim the gospel and offer critiques of Mac’s theology when called for. If I made this a common practice of mine, maybe what you have written about my time spent here on Mac might have some warrant; but I haven’t offered critique of Mac by post for years, so your critique of me, in regard to the aforementioned reasons, and what I just noted really is rather empty.

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  4. Pingback: John MacArthur’s #StrangeFire is burning | Unsettled Christianity

  5. thanks for bashing johnny mac over the head. Thanks for being specific. The next time I bash the Torrances over the head, I will specifically take to task their assumption that all of who us teach definite atonement also must (to be consistent) teach the “practical syllogism”. Many of have not, and do not.

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  6. what you ought to take specific next time you bash the Torrances over their heads is that they offer a devastating critique, Thomas in particular, of how you particular atonement types end up dislocating and rupturing God’s life, the Father from the Son, and relegate the Son’s life to the absultum decretum making him a predicate of creation and an instrument of the atonement. forget the practical syllogism, that’s child’s play.

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  7. Thank you for this. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head. The responses and comments on blogs and various articles, including an exchange I had on Twitter, from those who agree with MacArthur is best described as “Law and Grinch”. You have done an excellent job of pointing out the reason!

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  8. Hi Patti,

    Yeah, I have had the kind of unfortunate experience you have had (it sounds like) over the years that I have been blogging; with the MacArthurites. The live from Fundy fear, and they are holding on as tight as they can; which means the tighter they clinch their fists the less they are able to hold in common with other Christians. Thanks for the good word.

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  9. It all comes down to what your view of God is, doesn’t it? It’s foundational.
    Where is God coming from – Law or Love? I really appreciate what God reveals about himself in Jeremiah 31:20 –

    “Is not Israel still my son,
    my darling child?” says the LORD.
    “I often have to punish him,
    but I still love him.
    That’s why I long for him
    and surely will have mercy on him.”

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  10. Watched it Angela. I can appreciate what Shane is communicating. I still have issues with trying to read stuff through Azusa presuppositions and categories, and I think Shane is reacting through this lens still. But he is definitely is of an admirable spirit, and offers a better more fruitful way forward for his parishioners. Thanks.

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