I haven't read the entirety of Strange Fire yet. I plan on it. But since most of the uproar dealt not with the book but with the Conference (and with Driscoll's crashing the conference. LOL!), I will go off conference notes.
Let it be said that I am not a card-carrying charismatic. I simply do not identify with that group. Truth be told, I am probably closer in sympathy with the Conference men than I am with charismatics of any stripe.
Most cessationists do not realize it, but there are multiple levels of this position. The most common position is “I believe that was apostolic stuff and ended there, but hey, who knows what God can do today?” They usually mean–and only mean–miraculous happenings. With respect to miracles, it’s a fair line. However, they cannot logically extend that position to prophecy. The other shade of cessationism says that such happenings are impossible.
Given that there are various shades of cessationism there are also various shades of continuationism. For sake of ease, I am leaving out the Word-of-Faith movement. They are false prophets and rarely offer any biblical rationale for their doings. I am dealing with the serious continuationists: Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, John Piper, and to a much lesser degree, Mark Driscoll.
I see a problem in identification on the cessationist side. Originally, Macarthur attacked the Word-of-Faith types (Charismatic Chaos) and we welcomed it. This conference seems (I say seem because I feel like the goal post shifted) aimed at the recent “Young, Restless, and Reformed” Crowd. So I need to ask the cessationists of Strange Fire, “Against whom are you arguing?” You cannot say, “We are responding to a recent phenomena in Evangelical Calvinism” and then preach against witch-doctors.
(Tim Challies has done a fair job in summarizing the conference. I will be relying on his posts. I realize that cannot count for a refutation of the hard cessationist line. Fair enough).
Macarthur begins by urging his continuationist friends that he is not being unloving. Okay. I can buy that. Since I am actually dealing with specific arguments, I will by-pass much of it. However, he writes,
There is error in this movement all the way through it. 90% of the movement believe in the prosperity gospel. 24 to 25 million of these people deny the Trinity. 100 million in the movement are Roman Catholic.
Again, against whom are we arguing? It is manifestly unfair to lump Storms and Grudem into this group simply because they agree on a few points.. Cessationists need to do a better job on this point or many people will simply start ignoring them. My underlying counter-thesis is this: Refute Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy. Sub-thesis: Answer this question, “Would you include your hero, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones into the above group, since he was a continuationist? Why or why not?”
MacArthur’s 8 Statements:
1. When theologically conservative men give credibility to this movement the whole movement gains credibility
Answer: Papists use the same line against the Reformers.
2. God gave special revelatory gifts, signs and miracles to validate His revelation. Hebrews 2:3 expounds on this.
Answer: Hebrews 2:3 says nothing about whether these gifts continue or not. Grudem and Piper specifically admit that the gifts validated the word. That says nothing about whether they should be permanent or temporary.
3. Point (3) is purely anecdotal and borderline bizarre.
4. Continuationists who insist that God gives special revelation today gives way to people being led by confusion and error.
Answer: We are using the term “revelation” in different ways. Again, I have Grudem’s thesis in mind, none other.
5. Continuationists tacitly deny the reformed tenet of Sola Scriptura.
Answer: Again, see above. Further, we need to be clear on what we mean by “canon.” The Canon, as Bruce Metzger, Sproul, and others have pointed out, is a fallible collection of infallible books. I do not believe the church canon should receive other books, but if we admit to the “fallibilist” definition, as we must, then technically the claim to extra revelation (which is not what Grudem is claiming) doesn’t contradict the canon. If you don’t hold to the fallibilist definition, then there really isn’t any response you can offer to the Eastern Orthodox. In fact, they will eat you alive.
And while we're at it, let's define sola scriptura: Scripture is the norm that norms our norms. This is the classical definition. It acknowledges Scripture as the highest authority but also subordinate authorities. So how does a "Word of wisdom" contradict this? We are given no argument.
6. This point deals specifically with tongue-speaking, which is not my interest.
7. Continuationists assert the gift of healing and in turn affirm the fraudulent ministry of healers.
Answer: The consequent does not follow the antecedent. The fraud healers should receive the death penalty in a godly society, but that doesn’t mean the gift of healing expired. Notice that MacArthur is not using a biblical argument.
8. Continuationists distract from the Holy Spirit’s true ministry by enticing people to buy into a false ministry
Answer: Again, it depends on whom he is speaking.