Frank Viola: 6 Points Commending and Criticizing MacArthur’s Charismatic Blasting

by | Nov 1, 2013 | Church & Ministry

Having read both Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire, I want to cut to the chase in this introduction and tell you where I think John MacArthur is dead-on and where I think his conclusions are flawed and even outrageous.

Then I’d like to offer you the full version of my critique, which you can request at the end of this article. The full version of my critique provides evidence and examples supporting each point.

1. The charismatic world is an easy target for any critic because there are a lot of problems within the camp.

There’s no doubting that a number of high-profile charismatic leaders are guilty of outlandish teachings, absurd practices, stunts, gimmicks, exaggerations and even fraud. And so are many of their followers.

But MacArthur isn’t the only person who has made this observation. Many charismatic leaders have as well. MacArthur even quotes some of them in Strange Fire.

Just as those charismatic leaders weren’t able to reel in the excesses that exist within the movement, neither will MacArthur’s attempts to do so be fruitful toward that end. In fact, MacArthur’s latest book is his third attempt on this score (The Charismatics, 1978; Charismatic Chaos, 1992; Strange Fire, 2013).

2. I cut my teeth as a disciple of Jesus in the Pentecostal/charismatic world, and I know it well. It is true that many of the charismatics I’ve met put the Holy Spirit on the throne and make Jesus a footnote.

I’ve written extensively about this problem in my books Revise Us Again, Jesus Manifesto and my blog series “Rethinking the Holy Spirit.” I’ve also addressed the plague of seeking the power of the Spirit (God’s hand) over pursuing Jesus Christ (God’s face).

However, charismatics aren’t alone in falling prey to this error. Many Reformed people and evangelicals have also put some thing (typically theology, evangelism, apologetics, eschatology, etc.) over and above Jesus Christ. No Christian is immune to this problem.

In fact, in my early Christian life, I was guilty of this very thing on numerous counts without realizing it. See Deep Ecclesiology: One Man’s Journey Into Rediscovering Jesus, where I tell the story.

3. MacArthur is wrong in that he paints the entire charismatic world—which would include all charismatics and all charismatic churches—with the same broad brush.

The fact is, I’ve met many charismatics who were not guilty of any of the problems that MacArthur benightedly lays at their feet.

For example, the late David Wilkerson was a tremendous help to me personally when I was in my 20s. He encouraged me to make Christ, not the Holy Spirit, preeminent in my life. Wilkerson—a charismatic leader—wrote a classic article called “A Christless Pentecost” on this subject.

I’d encourage anyone who buys MacArthur’s arguments to read The Cross and the Switchblade and ask yourself if it’s possible that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are still operative today.

In addition, I wonder if MacArthur would admit that Teen Challenge, founded by Wilkerson, has been a blessing to many lost young people.

Throughout his books, MacArthur continually says things like, “Charismatics believe” such and such, “Charismatics think” such and such, and then, “The charismatic movement is guilty of … “

This is simply false. It would be accurate to say, “Some charismatics believe,” or even, “Many charismatics believe,” or, “Some in the charismatic movement believe … “

Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.

And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson and others to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd Patrick Edouard and others to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles to characterize fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R. Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr. to represent Reformed Baptists.

My point is that charismatic, Reformed and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes, as each of them have strong critics within their own movements.

Even so, the game of burning down Straw Man City with a torch is nothing new.

The people MacArthur highlights as the poster people for charismatics—Kenneth Copeland, Peter Popoff, Paula White, Bob Jones, E.W. Kenyon, Eddie Long, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson—simply do not represent the views or practices of the majority of charismatic Christians.

4. MacArthur misrepresents people.

In Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur takes on the late Kathryn Kuhlman. But astonishingly, he relies on a critic who used outlandishly deceptive methods of research to accuse her of fraud. When you get to that part of my critique, prepare to descend into grunts and sighs. It’s disturbing.

At the end of Strange Fire, MacArthur says charismatics acknowledge the gifts of the Spirit ceased after the early church and were only recovered in the 20th century. Well, I’ve never heard a charismatic teach this, and it’s just not accurate. In the critique, you will see multiple quotes by Ante-Nicene and Nicene church fathers, where they bear witness to miracles, healings and the like in their day. There are many more; I just give a sampling.

MacArthur cherry-picks comments from only three church fathers, and one of them doesn’t even assert the gifts of the Spirit passed away. So quoting two church fathers doesn’t represent the mind of the post-apostolic early church on this issue by any stretch.

5. MacArthur makes statements that smell of elitism, sectarianism and judgmentalism.

He says charismatics do not have the “true gospel” and that the “spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not all. MacArthur bulbously claims the charismatic movement “was a farce and a scam from the outset” and accuses it of being a “false church” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. xix). He then rallies the troops saying, “This is the time for the true church to respond.”

Really? MacArthur is part of the “true church,” and those poor charismatics are part of the “false church,” which is driven by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit?

These vitriolic statements suggest that charismatic Christians are not true followers of Jesus.

In addition, MacArthur insinuates the charismatic “movement is characterized by worldly priorities and fleshly pursuits” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. 57). Hmmm … so David Wilkerson, Dr. Michael Brown, Adrian Warnock, Francis Frangipane and Jack Hayford (and their followers) are/were worldly and fleshly?

Really?

MacArthur accuses charismatics of being “obsessed with the supposed gifts and power of the Holy Spirit” (Strange Fire, Advanced Reader Copy, p. 53). By the same token, one could say that all Reformed people are obsessed with Calvin’s doctrine. But neither comment is fair nor accurate.

6. MacArthur’s argument that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased is not only biblically and historically untenable, but it is discounted by the best New Testament evangelical scholars in the world, both past and present.

I’m speaking of N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener and many others.

MacArthur is right to say the Holy Spirit is indeed dishonored when people engage in fleshly mayhem and attribute it to the Spirit of Christ. But I’d argue the Spirit is also grieved and dishonored when a genuine work of God’s Spirit is attributed to Satan.

The fact is, God sometimes comes in ways that make it easy for us to reject Him. (For biblical examples, see “A Vanishing God.”)

Elsewhere, I’ve made the argument that the Pentecostal and charismatic movements were born with several birth defects from which they have never recovered. Frank Bartleman, an eyewitness to the Azusa Street revival, warned about this (see Azusa Street).

But that doesn’t make the entire movement false or without spiritual value. The Reformation was also born with certain birth defects that remain today.

Note that I have no ill will toward MacArthur. I don’t know him, and I dare not judge his motives. (It is serious sin to impute bad intentions to another person’s heart.)

Again, I am not a charismatic nor the son of a charismatic. And I agree with many of MacArthur’s criticisms (including his issues with the “New Apostolic Movement”). I also concur with his analysis of what accompanies the Holy Spirit’s work (exalting Jesus, confirmed by Scripture, loving others, etc.).

And I’ve articulated these points myself in public writings.

But … I believe MacArthur destroys his own effectiveness and impact by distorting an otherwise valid critique with misrepresentations, straw man arguments, uncharitable vitriol and weak hermeneutics.

If MacArthur had written Strange Fire without the misrepresentations, vitriol, elitism and broad-brushed associations, it would have been a good book in my opinion and one that I could possibly recommend.

To get Frank Viola’s entire critique, fill out this form. It will be sent to you by email before November 1.

Frank Viola has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. He has written many books on these themes, including God’s Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

It’s Time to Rebuild Love and Unity in the Church—Part 2

It’s Time to Rebuild Love and Unity in the Church—Part 2

Note: As we move towards Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, Grant Berry, a Messianic believer, speaks about the deeper repentance needed in the Messianic part of the family. As you have read part one of this article during the month of Av and are now reading part two in the...

Will Many of the Elect Really Be Deceived by the Antichrist?

Will Many of the Elect Really Be Deceived by the Antichrist?

The most sobering and troubling statement in the Olivet Discourse is where Jesus says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). This statement cries out for an...

Prophetic Lessons in the Hurricane-Force Storms of Life

Prophetic Lessons in the Hurricane-Force Storms of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe34pxhddd4 With Hurricane Ian slamming Florida, it's a time to reflect on the storms of life. As I was preparing for the hurricane, I documented some thoughts about standing strong in the storms of life. Whether you're dealing with a...

Why God Cares About Your Physical Health

Why God Cares About Your Physical Health

God doesn’t care if I am fat. He wants me to enjoy my life. He wants me to live, love and be happy. Food makes me happy so I’m just doing what He wants me to do. That was just an excuse and at its core it is untrue. God really doesn’t care about our outward...

Mario Murillo Sends Special Urgent Message to Kingdom Leaders

Mario Murillo Sends Special Urgent Message to Kingdom Leaders

Attention. Several hundred leaders are registered for our special brunch on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. Seats are filling up and we must give our host a final number of meals to prepare. Please do not wait. Make your reservation now for this free brunch. I have a very...

How to Position Yourself to Receive the Issachar Anointing

How to Position Yourself to Receive the Issachar Anointing

The key to being positioned to receive the Issachar anointing has to do with timing and seasons. Those who carry the Issachar anointing understand the times and seasons we are in. They have discernment and knowledge, enabling them to lead well. They seek the wisdom of...

RECENT ARTICLES

An Unborn Baby’s Heart Is Beating—Stop Denying It

Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams turned heads last week in Atlanta when she defiantly announced during a political event that an unborn baby doesn’t have a heartbeat at six weeks...
Prophecy: We Are in a Season of Blessings

Prophecy: We Are in a Season of Blessings

We are kingdom citizens, and not of this world. We don’t abide by this world’s economy and the natural things that happen. Repeatedly, over the last four weeks, I’ve been hearing not to look at the circumstances of this world. We are not of this world. Get your eyes...

What Praises of Thanksgiving Mean for Your Soul

What Praises of Thanksgiving Mean for Your Soul

We tend to think of gratitude as an obligation as opposed to a weapon of warfare. A nicety, not a ferocious force for transformation. We are wrong. From our earliest days we are trained that polite people say “thank you.” Certainly, this is true and proper. Those of...

Why God is Laughing at Their World Domination Plans

Why God is Laughing at Their World Domination Plans

They will make the greatest bid for world domination in history. It is no longer just armies that threaten freedom—it is corporations and corrupt politicians. I believe that evil in all of its vile colors is even now rising to try to crush our freedom and our...

The Power of a Generational Vision for Your Family

The Power of a Generational Vision for Your Family

Have you noticed that no matter how good you’re doing, trouble always seems to come? Trouble is not an “if” in life. It’s a “when.” Trouble may come in finances, a diagnosis, a family problem or even a season of hardship. But understand this: there is more than one...

Pin It on Pinterest