Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire (Review)

Viola, Frank.  Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire.  e-book.

Key points (and rebuttals that obtain)

Opening Salvo

*True, Charismatics sometimes put the Holy Spirit on the throne, but do not Reformed have their own pet doctrines (covenant theology, amillennialism, “THE” Christian view of apologetics, etc; Viola 13).

**Viola notes Macarthur paints the entire Charismatic world with one brush.  This makes any sort of dialogue (which anticipates correction) impossible.  But no one would accept reducing the entirety of the Reformed faith to Rushdoony, North, James Jordan, and Doug Phillips.

***Macarthur does cherry pick from the church fathers. (I noticed this when I read Strange Fire. I didn’t mention it because it only entailed bad historical scholarship, not a counter-refutation).  He notes where Chrysostom seems to say the gifts ceased, but he failed to quote Martin of Tours biography NPNPF 2 volume 11).

****Macarthur advanced the bizarre claim that charismatics teach the gifts ceased at the 1st century to be rediscovered in the 20th.  Yet, as Viola points out, he never tells us which charismatics taught this.  And Jack Deere specifically contradicted this (Surprised by the Voice of God).

*****In other words, Macarthur’s book is one large fallacy of composition.

Did the Gifts Cease?

Viola begins with what is probably the continuationist’s strongest position:   there is no verse in the New Testament that suggests that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased or will pass away before Christ's second coming” (Viola 18).  He points out that the clause “when the perfect comes” means the Bible simply negates all the other gifts as well.

Concerning the post-apostolic witness, Viola backs the truck up and buries the Strange Fire narrative (23).

Viola has an excellent section on Ephesians 2:20, which I beleive is the only real proof text the cessationist has.  Quoting Storms, we see that the prophets and apostles form the foundation, yes, but vv. 21-22 note the superstructure of the church is still under construction.  Let’s not push the metaphor beyond what Paul intended.  Further, we have no evidence that all prophetic activity (say, Phillip’s daughters) is necessarily laying the foundation of the church.  

Scriptures and the Spirit

Are Charismatics weak on the Scriptures?  Well, it depends of whom you are speaking?  Given Macarthur’s pattern of selective sources, it would appear so.  But notice he never references (with a few exceptions, like to Grudem and Piper) those who are might in the Scriptures.  Viola lists some names:  

N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, Sam Storms, Gordon Fee, Jack Deere, Bernard Ramm, John Piper, Michael Green, James D.G. Dunn, Howard Snyder, Wayne Grudem, Russell P. Spittler, J. Rodman Williams” (Viola 27).  I can only add my late uncle to the list, an Assembly of God minister who read the Bible cover-to-cover at least four times every year (multiply by 30 years as a conservative estimate, and you get a 120 readings--JBA).  

Viola again:  Point: Bizarre, exaggerated, misguided claims about spiritual gifts, failed healings, and trickery under the guise of the Holy Spirit's power do not disprove the reality of spiritual gifts” (31).  But according to Macarthur’s logic, that’s exactly what happens.

Revelation Misunderstood

Prophetic utterances are equal in truth (the Same Spirit) but not equal in authority to Scripture.


Using MacArthur's reasoning, there is no need to use judgment or spiritual discernment in testing revelation. If the gift of prophecy has ceased, then one can simply dismiss all claims of prophetic revelation, healing, or miracles without investigation or critical analysis. Simple enough. But is it accurate? Is it biblical? Paul says we prophesy in part, but he also says we know in part (1 Cor. 13:9). So teaching, like prophecy, must be evaluated. Using MacArthur’s reasoning, we should reject all teaching, since so much modern teaching is inaccurate (40).

Third Wave:

Some good points here.  Viola notes that Wimber simply “put wheels on” George Ladd’s kingdom theology (48).  I don’t think this explosive point has yet been truly explored.  With the exception of dispensationalists, every school of eschatology holds to already/not yet.  This means the kingdom has been fulfilled (if not consummated).  Therefore, we cast out demons. Any takers?

I also appreciated his links to Deere’s response to the Briefing.  I thought Macarthur was rather hamhanded in his criticism of Deere.  

Further, the Bible must be spiritually discerned.  Yet the Bible itself is not the spiritual discernment.  So if we say the “Bible is sufficient” (which I believe it is), we need to qualify what we mean by that.

Criticisms of Viola:

~This is more of an article length critique, not a book.  It’s not worth the $5.99.  Granted, Strange Fire isn’t that good, either, but I do fear Viola met Macarthur on Macarthur’s (non)scholarly level.
~Each paragraph is one or two sentences long.  This isn’t the worst criticism in the world, but it’s worth noting.


I don’t this is a full-orbed rebuttal to strange fire.  It can serve as suppressing fire until heavier resources (Grudem, Storms) are deployed.

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