21 November 2013

Strange Fire Conference #9: concluding thoughts

by Dan Phillips

Since this is an issue that hasn't yet gone away, and since I've been writing on it for decades, these are far from my final thoughts on "continumaticism." But as to the conference, I mean this to be the sum-up.

I gave a verbal sum-up to my church which, to my bafflement, became our most-downloaded recording so far. I would pick other messages I'd much rather see spread all around — like this onethis one, or this one — but what happens, happens, and only God can explain.

It did elicit one comment, and since it's a funny one, I share it:

Well... yeah...

So here we go:

FIRST: the GCC people were amazing. The 700 volunteers, the security — amazing. Very gracious provisions for everybody. They really treated us as guests.

SECOND: the music was amazing.

THIRD: the food was amazing.

What? Too shallow? Oh, sorry. Okay, here goes...

FOURTH: I am more impressed than ever with John MacArthur and the ministry he's headlined there.

That won't strike most of you the way it should, because a startling number of readers still (A) think I work for GCC; well, in fact, actually (B) think I'm Phil Johnson, who does work for GTY; and (C) assume all of us here are lockstep MacArthur fanboys.

Except I'm none of those things. Anyone who's ever heard me on the subject knows that I'm very critical of the whole concept of megachurches. Plus, in my entire 40+ years of Christian life, though I respect him, I probably have only heard a dozen MacArthur sermons all the way through (if that) and read maybe roughly a half-dozen books, give or take. "What would MacArthur do?" is not a question I ask myself, ever.

I say that to say this: I was immensely impressed that MacArthur even did this. At this point in his ministry, the man has ZERO to prove. He could retire today to a desert island, or to Cowlick, South Dakota and end his days in obscurity, and his entry in church history would remain secure and notable. And yet he did this.

Plus, he's not a stupid man. MacArthur knew he'd get grief, lies, slander, culpable misrepresentations, and vile bile — all of which began the moment he announced conference. He was sticking his finger in the fan, and he knew it. Why? What would possibly move MacArthur to put himself, his name, out there for this?

It can only be love for Christ, love for Christ's church, love for Christ's saints. That, and concern born of the abject failure of his younger peers to step up and sound this desperately needed cry, this trumpet-blast, themselves.

So MacArthur  asked the best people he could think of, he corralled his church, he put himself out there, and he gave it all he's got. My respect — and affection — for him has increased exponentially.

Plus talking with some of the folks there made me rethink GCC as a whole. I still have issues with the whole concept of a megachurch, any megachurch. But I am compelled to say this: if you're going to do it, that's the way to do it. GCC invests everything it has, as far as I can tell, into ministry that serves people in Christ's name. They are pedal-to-the-metal for getting the Gospel and the Word out. They've got tremendous resources, and instead of rushing them off to some fancy neighborhood in the hills, they stay right there and give it all they've got.

This conference — which my dear little church in Texas couldn't have pulled off in that way — is an example. GCC hosted the conference and treated all comers as beloved guests. Plus they gave them all a copy of the book. Plus they put the whole conference online, translated it into a bunch of languages, broadcast it all over the world... for free! And now it's all online. Give, give, give. Amazing.

(That's right: so all of the people spouting off "responses" to MacArthur who haven't listened to the conference do so in spite of the fact that it's been provided to everyone gratis.)

A cynical person might say the conference was a book-promotion. Seriously? It isn't as if MacArthur is — oh, I don't know — some obscure writer who did a book on the Gospel and needs all the help he can get just getting the word out so people know it exists. He's John MacArthur. He's a living brand-name. He's the Stephen King of evangelicals. He could publish pictures of his golf clubs, and plenty of people would pre-order copies.

That MacArthur would do this conference said a lot to me about his heart, and what it said was all good.

FIFTH and finally: I'm disappointed, but not surprised, at the aftermath.

All these folks who mouth great swelling words of respect for MacArthur (and Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones and Owen and Calvin and the Bible) were explaining why MacArthur was dead-wrong and off-base before he'd even said a word. And they still are, great big surprise.

And what of Joni, Justin Peters, Conrad Mbewe? Ignored or treated ridiculously. That is, even the absolutely indisputable specifics regarding abusive false doctrine are largely brushed aside for the sake of saving Charismaticism's facade of respectability.

And what of MacArthur's dear esteemed colleagues? They launch "responses," in which they confess they haven't even listened to or read the conference or the book. That's what their swelling words of respect for MacArthur actually amount to.

In the process, unintentionally, they bear out every syllable of concern MacArthur and the other speakers voiced. It's almost a template:

  1. Profess great love, respect, admiration for MacArthur.
  2. Admit to not having listened or read.
  3. "Respond."
  4. Prove MacArthur right.

So in conclusion: it was a good conference. It was a desperately-needed conference. MacArthur is right about every central concern he sounded. Specifically, he's right to give out this note: with all the conferences and organizations setup to protect the Gospel and Christology, why so little to protect the truth about and dignity of the Holy Spirit?

I think they need to do another conference.

If they don't, I very well might. For whatever it's worth.

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post
Fifth post
Sixth post
Seventh post
Eighth post

Dan Phillips's signature


Thomas Louw said...

With you all the way.
I also don't like the mega church model, I also liked that he was giving everything for free.
And I love Mac's preaching...a lot.

I also agree that there is much better stuff out there to listen than that summary (which I listened)
Above all that sermon you preached last Sunday.http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=1117131112401

trogdor said...

You mean people seeking to support or enable Charismaticism would make bold proclamations out of willful ignorance? It boggles the mind. My mind is boggled.

Tim said...

I wish I had been there, but did watch a few of the sessions live online and a few after the fact. I too was amazed that they did that for those of us who could not go. It was done with such quality, too, and free! I too was impressed with the concern and boldness expressed by MacArthur, Johnson and all who made this conference happen. Hats off to GCC.

φίλιππος said...

I was watching the live stream as much as possible and following the #StrangeFire feed on Twitter. The comments from charismatics were sadly what I expected: failure to engage on the specific issues MacArthur and others brought up; experience, experience, experience; and emotionalism. I was particularly saddened during MacArthur's closing session when his conviction and pastoral heart were so clearly on display, yet so many continued to make personal attacks.

I am grateful for MacArthur's courage in holding the conference and writing the book knowing the backlash he would receive. My previous ministry was with young adults in an international church that leaned mildly charismatic, though many were full-blown charismatic. I saw firsthand the damage that even mild charismatic theology does in the life of the individual believer and the church.

Thank you also to Pyromaniacs for boldly, and Biblically, addressing charismaticism head-on.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"So MacArthur asked the best people he could think of, he corralled his church, he put himself out there, and he gave it all he's got. My respect — and affection — for him has increased exponentially."

Glad to read this. What a refreshing contrast to the comments out there that go something like this: "I've read and respected MacArthur for years. But with this Strange Fire conference, I don't respect him anymore."

Lanny Faulkner said...

Thank you for these helpful posts!
I already agreed with about 99.9% of
everything stated at this conference; but, I can now explain it much more articulately. God bless John MacArthur and GCC for doing this conference.

juks said...

The man is in a different league. absolute machine. so many good qualities in one person. never hits snooze button, "never seen him angry". not a seeker of the praise of men. Father to many he has sent out. in short a legend. from south africa where yout influence has been felt. Thank You Doc we salute you Sir!

Tom Chantry said...

It boggles the mind. My mind is boggled.

I've always loved that phrase. I'm not actually certain what it means, but I think it means that your mind is placed on a small plastic grid, covered with a translucent plastic cover, and shaken vigorously.

Rob said...

The entirety of the conference was of tremendous value, and I'm very grateful to MacArthur and to all those who were there to teach. The mp3s are excellent resources.

Eric said...


Thanks for this summary. Thank you also for again highlighting that MacArthur has had a steady stream of attention (understandably, as the conference sponsor), but that many of his chose speakers and their topics have had little to no attention or response.

When Frank mentioned sub-Saharan Africa (in an obvious nod to Conrad Mbewe's talk and concerns), Adrian Warnock simply responded that he and many other charismatics "simply do not want to become watchbloggers" (even as he "watchblogs" Dr. MacArthur - feel the irony). Could there have been a more transparent dodge of the issue? Are we really to believe that the only way to rebuke rampant false teaching that is wreaking world-wide havoc is to become a watchblogger? And since that option is so unsavory, Warnock is off the hook for whatever evolves from the movement he so emotionally defends?

Since Warnock is so demanding of some further appearance by MacArthur to debate, perhaps he should look in a different direction and challenge Conrad Mbewe to a debate about the effects of charismatic teaching in Africa. Surely if sound charismatics are in the majority there, Warnock will be able to prove his point up against the testimony of Conrad Mbewe. If he can't prove his point, perhaps he'd begin to form a level of common concern and start from a place of agreement and work toward some defined areas of disagreement. That would be much more profitable than the constant complaints of unfair characterization, or broad brushes, or unkind tone, or some other reason to be offended. Much better to take offense and join with MacArthur in being offended for the sake of Christ and his Church.

Morris Brooks said...

If you want to do a conference like this in Texas, in Houston, count me in. Maybe you could get Joel to do a cameo :).


DJP said...

Yes! ONE attender! We are ON OUR WAY!!!


Anonymous said...

We were there and I remember him opening with the reason why he did this by quoting Ps 69:9 "For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me."

Our kids are members there and everyone in the church family of (how many thousand?) were given free copies of the book. Everyone on the GTY mailing list is getting a free copy of it upon request. They have stayed in that humble location in Sun Valley for over 4 decades and for as many people as attend, it is not is still modest facility by comparison to the mega churches I've visited. There are also no ginormous screens all over the place in the sanctuary.

I thank God for that man's faithful ministry and for all those who stood with him.

threegirldad said...

[MacArthur] could publish pictures of his golf clubs, and plenty of people would pre-order copies.

Don't get me wrong--I did (do) appreciate every serious part of the post. But this was a beverage-spewing moment, and for that you have my thanks. :-)

Eric said...

Even Adrian Warnock's attempt at sounding an alarm is woefully inadequate and confused/confusing. He concludes (with no Biblical warrant) that Paul is saying "Don’t get too worried about the bad [prophecies]" when he says "but test everything, holding fast to the good".


One of his main concerns expressed in the article about damage caused by false prophecies is that you might tell someone they are going to have a baby (a "hatch" prophecy), which he characterizes as "not wise". Well, what if God really did reveal that to someone? Isn't Warnock despising that prophecy when he advises people not to prophecy in such a manner? Who is he to put God in a box and say God can't or won't give such revelations? Given his theology, he has no basis on which to give such advice - none whatsoever. He gives no biblical basis for rejecting such categories of prophecy that he mentions (hatch, match, and dispatch). In fact, he is being entirely arbitrary, which of course is intrinsic to charismaticism. That, I believe is why so many surrounding Strange Fire have pointed out that charismaticism naturally and necessarily leads to heresy and error - it opens the door and ushers it in while flippantly taking warrant from the apostle Paul to not "get too worried about the bad".

Eric said...

Not to belabor the point, as I am commenting somewhat tangential to the original post, but my previous comment on prophecies about births got me thinking a bit more.

Isn't it ironic that Warnock simultaneously seeks to dissuade such prophecies and says not to despise prophecies, especially given the Biblical history of such prophecies? Prophecies of births are arguably the most central and well known prophecies in the entire Bible, starting with the many prophecies of the birth of Jesus.

There are also several instances where these prophecies were actually despised. Sarah was rebuked for laughing about the prophecy that she would bear a son. Zacharias could be said to have despised the prophecy that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son (by asking for a sign and listing the impediments to the prophecy coming true), and was made mute until the coming of John the Baptist.

Given these accounts in Scripture, I wonder what Biblical basis Warnock has for advising against such prophecy. Surely his feeling that it is "not wise" is not convincing. Given his advice later in the article, he should rather be encouraging others to let the prophecies fly, hold on to what is good, and don't get too worried about the bad.

Marla said...

I have been listening to the conference sessions -- it is great that they provided them for free download.

Exactly right in your template. Sad. It is impossible to reason with someone who just doesn't want to hear the truth of scripture.

I admire Dr. MacArthur too -- all the grief he has been getting, and he just keeps holding steady to the scriptures.

Mark Hanson said...

Eric -

I think "not wise" means "have gone horribly wrong in the past."

Christina said...

I would just like to say "thank you" to Team Pyro for all of the posts on the SF Conference. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that these posts take time. You've not only taken a stand but you've also opened yourself up for challenge. In doing so, you have helped many people sort through these issues biblically. I don't know why other Reformed websites haven't stepped up to do the same. I'm disappointed in that. BUT, I'm grateful that I could come here and get straight answers and not some "wishy washy" theology. I'm sure you all have lives and responsibilities outside of the blog. Just know your work is not in vain.