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J. Lee Grady: To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too


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Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur is a gifted preacher, author and lover of Scripture. His Grace to You radio program points countless people to the Bible, and his Master’s Seminary trains hundreds of ministry leaders. He’s a staunch Calvinist, but that doesn’t make him any less my brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, MacArthur can’t say the same about me—and that’s sad. In his new book Strange Fire, he declares in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.

My brother in Christ has written me off.

In John MacArthur’s rigid world, anybody who has sought prayer for healing, claimed a miracle, received a prayer language, prophesied, sensed God speaking to them, felt God’s presence in an emotional way or fallen down on the floor after receiving prayer has already stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy.

MacArthur says charismatics think they worship God but that actually we are worshipping a golden calf. “Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the  Holy Spirit,” MacArthur says early in the book. “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.”

He doesn’t just write off fringe elements of our movement; he skewers the original founders of Pentecostalism and even goes after Baptist author Henry Blackaby for teaching that God can speak to people today.

MacArthur, who is 74, urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement, which he describes as a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” and a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity. MacArthur writes, “Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers.”

No one familiar with MacArthur is surprised by Strange Fire, since it is really a rehashed version of his 1993 book Charismatic Chaos. Unfortunately, some charismatics have given MacArthur plenty of new ammunition to support his case that we are all a bunch of sleazy con artists and spiritual bimbos. Our movement is new and fraught with problems, so MacArthur doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of troublesome doctrine. But instead of offering fatherly correction, he pulls out his sword and hacks away.

I’m no five-point Calvinist, but I will make five points here in response to MacArthur’s book:

1. Not all charismatics and Pentecostals have embraced errors or excesses. To MacArthur’s credit, he quotes charismatic leaders who have addressed legitimate abuses and errors in our movement. But then he writes us off with a broad brush. Actually, the majority of our movement is not in error, even though we all know of doctrines and practices that need correction. There are millions of healthy charismatic and Pentecostal churches around the world that are winning the lost, launching missionary endeavors and helping the poor. And charismatics and Pentecostals are fueling the global growth of Christianity—even with our flaws.

2. We must leave room for the present-day power of God. MacArthur believes God’s miracle-working power stopped around 100 A.D. He says healing, tongues, prophecy, visions and other supernatural manifestations described in the New Testament don’t work today. MacArthur is particularly irked that charismatics emphasize speaking in tongues (which he calls “gibberish”); he also complains that we have a “perverse obsession with physical health” (in other words, if you get sick, just accept it because God doesn’t heal anymore). But the New Testament doesn’t tell us that heaven flipped a switch and turned off the Spirit’s power. That is MacArthur’s opinion, not a biblical doctrine.

3. The church needs a fresh emphasis on the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says charismatics are guilty of an unhealthy focus on the Holy Spirit. He claims that the Spirit points only to Jesus and that we shouldn’t seek the Spirit’s power or presence because He likes to stay in the background. My question: If that is true, why did Jesus teach so much about the Holy Spirit? And why is the Spirit’s powerful work so clearly highlighted in the book of Acts and the epistles? It’s true that the Spirit wants all the credit to go to Jesus, but we are making a huge mistake if we ignore the Spirit or limit His power. The church today needs God’s power like never before.

4. There is a difference between biblical correction and judgmentalism. Anyone who reads this column knows I speak out regularly about whacky practices in our movement—from prosperity doctrines to necromancy to adulterous pastors who say God told them to divorce one wife so they could marry another. I believe we must address sin in the camp. But there is a difference between confronting specific sins and condemning a whole movement to hell. John MacArthur’s book has crossed that line.

5. We should love MacArthur anyway. Strange Fire lists numerous ways charismatics are misusing or abusing the Holy Spirit, in MacArthur’s view. But he forgets to mention that one of the important works of the Holy Spirit is to unify and connect the Christian community in deep fellowship. The New Testament urges us to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NASB), and we are also told that love is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But Strange Fire was not written out of a heart of love.

Still, there is no need to retaliate against MacArthur. He is our brother because we all believe in and worship the same Savior. The best thing we can do in response to this extremely unkind book is to love our brother in spite of his unfortunate bias against us.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma and the director of the Mordecai Project (themordecaiproject.org). You can follow him on Twitter at @leegrady. He is the author of The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale and other books.

4 comments on “J. Lee Grady: To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too

  1. Always did like that guy. J. Lee Grady is a wise one.

  2. Well I speak in tongues and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

    I have seen the dead raised and instead of unite the islanders where that event occurred it divided these islanders in that region and in fact a few hours later I was pelted with rocks, yelled act and threatened and had to be removed from the area with the assistance of a number of people who acted as a human shield! Thanks Jesus, oh so nice of You to raise the dead and then some were incited to kill me!

    I was at the Baltimore Washington airport waiting with a friend for an older couple to join us. We were picking them up and getting them to the hotel we all were staying at attending a business conference. As the couple came into view, they were the last to get off the plane, the woman was straining walking and being helped by her husband. She was in miserable pain. Once we got them to the hotel and checked into their room I prayed for this woman who had that morning twisted her leg dislocating it at her hip. She wanted to come to this prepaid conference thinking she could endure the pain. God answered my simple prayer and she yelled out loud jumped up and started praising God. Startled my senses right out of me! Within a couple hours she called me back to her room to share with some folks who heard about what had happened and wanted to have me share my faith. When I got to the room it was standing room only! By the end of the week long conference about hundred people rededicated their lives to The Lord with a few accepting the Gospel for the first time.

    Another time at a Jewish synagogue I prayed for woman who was paralyzed and could only get around in a wheelchair. As I prayed she said her entire back was on fire and she felt movement in her spine. She didn’t jump out of the chair but did ask for my phone number. About six months later she calls inviting me to visit her at home in the San Francisco Bay Area to have dinner with her because she wanted to bless me for praying for her. I was already scheduled to be in the area so I agreed to pay her a visit. To my surprise when a co worker and I arrived at her house she came to the door herself fully restored walking full of joy!

    One time in Grants Pass Oregon while out walking and praying to The Lord a little girl was struck by a car. Where I was wasn’t far away from a hospital and I heard the sound of an ambulance go by a couple blocks away siren blaring by. The siren stopped just a couple blocks away from where I first heard it so I walked in that direction. As I came around the corner I saw a crowd of people standing around looking in the same direction and place. There were two policemen standing there too. I walked up to them asking about what happened. They told me so I asked if it would be ok to pray for the little girl. They said I could so I moved myself through the crowd to see her being attended to by the paramedic first responders. I knelt down and said to them the cops said I could pray for the little girl stopping them from what they were doing. I prayed and she jump straight up and began praising The Lord!

    While in Sierra Leone I was being introduced to a chieftain of a tribe when a woman came out of the woods yelling horribly going to each hut saying something. I asked my guide what was all the commotion and after listening to her said her dad was just bitten by a black mumba snake. He said it was sad because no one he knew ever bitten survived. I asked him to go ask her if I could pray for her dad. They took me to him deep into the bush. As we came down a foot path I could hear him thrashing on the ground then I saw him foaming at the mouth. As I stepped close to him putting my hand on his head I felt something leave my hand and before I could say one word this guy jerks back and sits up and says his head is spinning! Then he just sat there calm and peaceful. I then prayed a prayer of blessing and we left. The next morning this man and a very large group came to where I was with a goat to offer a sacrifice to their god and me! Of course I protested and was unwilling to allow that. I just shared the Gospel and the Holy Spirit did the rest!

    Now I’ve been in church ministry for about forty years but never did these sorts of things happen in a canned way. They happened spontaneously and without me initiating it out in public places or by request. It seems to me these promotions to pay big bucks for entry fees plus food and lodging to get your healing is overshadowing what God is really doing with His people. I don’t believe I have the gift of healing! I can’t just willy nilly go and lay hands on sick, crippled and demon possessed people when I want to. What I’ve experienced was a God initiated set up situation where I was caught off guard or led into a situation to pray. That seems to be what the Holy Spirit teaches and the way His sign gifts work.

    I’m always thrilled when chooses me. I take no credit for how God does His miracles, signs and wonders just I’m glad He still does them today!

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!

    • Wonderful testimony Michael–just wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing a few of the wondrous things you’ve been witness to God doing!

      Well I speak in tongues and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

      Me too. I’m so thankful the Holy Spirit is here to step-in when words fail me brother Michael.

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