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John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology, by William De Arteaga

In MacArthur’s zeal to discredit Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, he resorts to arguments and historical citations that are naive and ignorant. For instance, MacArthur attempts to discredit the movement by pointing out its early errors (Chapter 2 “The New Work of the Spirit?”). MacArthur is correct in asserting that there was initial confusion and error over the understanding of tongues. Further, MacArthur points out that Charles Parham (1873-1929), the father of Pentecostalism, had several moral flaws, and thus, in his view, the movement was ungodly from its inception.

Let me deal with the last issue first. MacArthur makes an issue that Charles Parham was a racist (26 ff). That is true, and in fact when he finally visited the Azusa Street revival in 1906, which was headed by the African American Holiness preacher William Seymour, he was shocked by the race mixing he found there, and tried to put things in “right order,” i.e. segregated. He was rightly tossed out by the elders of the Azusa St. Church.

Racism is a serious charge. But it does not take into account the times and the culture of the era. Most American Christians were racists at the time (1900s) and Parham was a man of his times and culture—a Southerner and Texan. It would have taken an extraordinary motion of grace to have changed him on the issue and make him into a prophet of racial equality. His calling was rather to birth Pentecostalism. But MacArthur’s coupling of Parham’s racism to “spoiled” Pentecostal origins is both historically ignorant and biblically erroneous.

For example, Martin Luther (1483-1546) who birthed the Protestant Reformation was a man of his times and culture too. That included some very negative elements. From working class origins, he was often vulgar in speech—his recorded “table talk” would shock many Evangelicals. More importantly, as a medieval German, Luther inherited a deep and illogical anti-Semitism. This did not change in spite of the fact that as his theology developed he began to appreciate the Old Testament to a much greater degree than his contemporaries.

Luther believed that his recovery of the Biblical understanding of salvation by faith alone would make it easy to convert Jews to the new Protestant Christianity. He tried to, but they did not. His frustration turned to bitter anger. In a violently worded pamphlet, On the Jews and their Lies (1543), he calls them every foul name he could think of, and recommended that their property be seized, their libraries burned, and that they be forced to become agricultural indentured servants.26 This was an astounding, and un-Christian proposal, but consistent with the anti-Semitism of the times. Worse, centuries later, the Nazi’s were able to cite Luther to German Christians to justify their anti-Semitism. In fact, many German Christians went along with the Nazi harassment and persecution of the Jews because it seemed “German Christian.” Luther had laid the groundwork for it.27

Using the MacArthur origins analysis and critique of Charles Parham, one could argue that the whole Reformation was wrong and illegitimate because Luther was bitterly anti-Semitic, and how this led to profoundly tragic consequences. Following his own logic, MacArthur should repent of his Protestantism and convert to Catholicism.

Another accusation that MacArthur brings to discredit Pentecostalism at its origins is the possibility that Parham had a homosexual encounter and was a closet homosexual (25). Parham always claimed he was not, and that he was framed by his enemies into a compromising incident. The evidence is unclear. But even if he was guilty, there is a theological error in this coupling too. Personal sin does not invalidate the spiritual calling or achievements of a person. For instance, it is probably true (but unproven) that John Knox, the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, had an affair with his mother-in-law. In contemporary times, it has been revealed that Martin Luther King Jr. both cheated on his wife and plagiarized his Ph.D. dissertation. None of those things invalidated either person’s calling or spiritual work, although it would certainly be better if all Christian leaders were like the Wesley brothers or Billy Graham.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2014

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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