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John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, A Brief Biblical Response by Jon Ruthven

Yet, this paragraph 1 of the WCF is the principal grounds for John MacArthur’s rejection of continuing revelation—except as it appears in “non-propositional” expression in the revealing scriptures and in the Calvinist ordo salutis (Latin, “order of salvation”) : Predestination, Election, Calling, Regeneration, Faith, Repentance, Justification, Sanctification, Perseverance, Glorification (MacArthur, Strange Fire, 179-230). Despite the concession that “revelation” occurs normatively today in these Calvinist stages of salvation, MacArthur insists the gifts of “continuing revelation” such as prophecy and words of knowledge have ceased.

It is against MacArthur’s amazing claim that I produced What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology: Traditions vs. Biblical Emphasis (Tulsa: Word & Spirit, 2013). In this book, I argue on a transparent “hermeneutic of emphasis.” Such a hermeneutic is not about what the Bible saysyou can make it “say” anything—but about what it emphasizes. What I found was that the Bible not only does not teach cessation of prophecy, but that the revealed, prophetic word is the central, normative experience of the Bible.

Proof of this is:

  • Denial of the direct, immediate voice of God is the central temptation for mankind. In Genesis 3 this is Eve and Adam—mankind; in Exodus 20 the Israelites; in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus; and in Hebrews 12 all the rest of us. We are commanded, “Do not refuse the One who speaks [present tense]” (Heb 12:25). Hebrews emphasizes: “Today, if you hear his voice” (Ps 97:5; Heb 3:7; 3:15; 4:7).
  • The central plot line of all of God’s role models—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac-Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles—is that they hear the voice of God and obey it under great resistance. This is, likewise, to be the normative pattern for the reader.
  • The goal of the Bible is the New Covenant. What’s Wrong shows that the essence of this New Covenant is the Spirit of prophecy and revelation. The punch line of the Pentecost sermon is to cite a totally neglected (for dogmatic reasons) programmatic prophecy, Isaiah 59:21 (See Appendix IV in the second edition of Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Miracles [Tulsa: Word & Spirit Press, 2011]). This parallels the more often quoted New Covenant passage about the revealed Law “in the heart” (compare Jer 31:33 to 2 Cor 3 and Heb 8-12).
  • The mission of Jesus was not simply to “die on the cross for our sins”—this focus is based on the Reformation need to answer the great question of that time: “How much does it cost to go to heaven?” Romanist priests were charging money for indulgences to get sprung from Purgatory (Read What’s Wrong for a more complete explanation). However, the biblical mission of Jesus is explicit: “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” and this meant to receive the New Covenant Spirit of revelation and utterance. Jesus’ death on the cross was not the New Covenant itself: it crucially ratified and mediated the New Covenant, which is the Spirit (Heb 8-10). No cross, no New Covenant Spirit.
  • The content of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples must not be ignored (as Protestants do). What did Jesus teach his disciples to do? What is the content of the “mid-term exams” in Matthew 10; Mark 6; Luke 9&10, repeated in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8? It’s all about expressing the Spirit in power. Traditional Protestants dismiss these early commissions as only for the “apostles,” showing that they understand NT apostles as 16th century popes, not as role models for the reader. However, Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1Cor 11:1; cf. Heb 6:12).
  • The Eucharist of 1 Corinthians 11 must be tied to its context, 1 Corinthians 12. “Discerning the body” means to discern the “New Covenant in my blood,” which is the “body” of charismatic believers whom the Corinthian elitists were rejecting. By breaking Jesus’ covenant of the Spirit and gifts, “many of you are weak, sick, and have fallen asleep”—a situation that could have been avoided had they allowed these members of Jesus’ body to function in healing, prophecy, etc.
  • Countless verses of scripture teach the continuing gift of prophecy and other charismata. For example, “the charismata and calling of God are not withdrawn” (Rom 11:29). God ideally “energizes all of the gifts in everyone” (1Cor12:5). “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2:28. To see we are in the last days, refer to 2 Tm 3:1; Heb 1:1-2; 2 Pt 3:3). For more on this, see On the Cessation of the Charismata, especially the fourth chapter for a summary.

Here is the bottom line. Contrary to the far away Protestant tradition that denies the New Covenant Spirit of prophecy and power, the Bible itself makes the reality of the prophetic Spirit of Jesus the central experience of the Christian message.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2014

About the Author: Jon M. Ruthven, Ph.D., passed away April 11, 2022. He spent his entire adult life in ministry, starting with David Wilkerson in Boston and New York City in the mid-60s. After spending a dozen years pastoring, a couple a years as a missionary in Africa as President and Dean of Pan Africa Christian College in Nairobi, Kenya, he ended up teaching theology in seminary for 18 years. Always interested in training and discipleship, Jon sought to develop a radically biblical approach to ministry training that seeks to replicate the discipling mission of Jesus in both content and method. Jon wrote numerous scholarly papers and books including On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (1993 and 2009) and What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis (2013). He emphasized the biblical grounding for a practical ministry of healing, signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit. Facebook.

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