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John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Monte Lee Rice

MacArthur therefore ardently stresses the Wesleyan roots of Pentecostalism, while I suspect deliberately, refraining from engaging any recognition of the Reformed influence on early Pentecostalism (chapter 2). I find it important therefore to recall the Reformed influences on the broader 19th and early 20th century holiness movements, such as early 19th century Oberlin second work theology (e.g., Charles G. Finney, Asa Mahan), and later 19th century Keswick “higher life” teaching. All of this is well known, but MacArthur conveniently sidesteps established historiography obviously detrimental to his project. This trajectory accounts for why MacArthur dismisses any credence or relevancy to how the Pentecostal-Charismatic movements have substantially fostered ecumenical bridges with Roman Catholicism or to the spiritual renewal evidenced by Roman Catholic Charismatics. For in MacArthur’s mind, the Pentecostal-Charismatic movements, together with Roman Catholicism altogether represent false forms of Christianity, which he also lumps together with all other identified aberrant groups such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals (pp. 48-47, 52, 72-73, 102, 217, 244).

Another important area where I believe MacArthur intentionally misleads readers towards a grossly inaccurate portrayal of global Pentecostal-Charismatic history, is his subsuming of all observed varieties, families, streams, traditions, definitions and historiographies of Pentecostal and Charismatics worldwide under his chosen umbrella term, “Charismatic Movement” (pp. xii, see footnote 2 [p. 263]). By doing so, MacArthur evidently seeks to affirm attempts by Reformed “Continuationists” to distance themselves from the Charismatic movement (chapter 12). Yet on the other hand, he does so to undermine legitimacy to their positions by arguing that their “continuationist position” still endorses the “Charismatic Movement” in its entirety (pp. 234-248).

I must also point out that MacArthur’s skewered use of the few scholarly sources utilised, demonstrates an intentional refusal towards responsibly engaging Pentecostal and Charismatic theological and historiographical scholarship. I have discerned this irresponsibility by skimming through his endnotes, categorizing his sources, and then noting how he appropriates this information towards sweeping condemnatory indictments and generalisations on the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in their entirety. A rough breakdown of MacArthur’s sources shows about 25 scholarly books representative of Pentecostal (not Charismatic) tradition, with nine of these works written by scholars sympathetic to Pentecostalism. However, most of these works are introductions and readers, or focused on historiographical issues. Besides these, I noted about 20 more popularly written books, primarily representative of Charismatic literature, particularly third-wave type literature. Authors of these books are people such as C. Peter Wagner, Jack Deere, and Wayne Grudem, or people associated with the Toronto Revival. Then there are about seven more popular books representative of Classical Pentecostalism, albeit mostly written by controversial individuals such as Kenneth Hagin or Benny Hinn.

At this point, I will provide some specific examples on how MacArthur misrepresents data, largely from his more scholarly sources. One of MacArthur’s most relied on sources is Allan Anderson’s An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2004). To some extent, MacArthur may have found Anderson’s title helpful towards his vast umbrella term “Charismatic.” However, he obviously ignored Anderson’s analysis and intention towards the relevant terminology, whereby he maintains a distinction between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, stresses Classical Pentecostalism as one branch of this broader global block.[2] MacArthur also ignored another crucial theme to Anderson’s work, which was to correct past uni-linear, “Americo-European” centered historiographies of world Pentecostalism, alongside with the Americo-centric construing of the Azusa Street Revival as the original “Jerusalem” fountain for world Pentecostalism. Hence, Anderson stressed the polycentric Majority World origins of world Pentecostalism emerging from countless and spontaneous 20th century Pentecostal outpourings of the Spirit worldwide, quite often independent of Azusa Street.[3] Anderson thus reiterated the consensus in Pentecostal scholarship that in many ways it is more appropriate to speak of many “Pentecostalisms” rather than Pentecostalism per say.[4]

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2014

About the Author: Monte Lee Rice is a Pentecostal minister based in Singapore who served in churches and Bible colleges as a pastor, church planting director, and theological educator. He has ministered within some 15 nations in Southeast Asia and Africa, and graduated from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary with a M.Div. in theology (summa cum laude, 2002). He is an independent scholar in Pentecostal theology, co-administers the Pentecostal Theology Worldwide Facebook group, and is impassioned towards the global renewing of Pentecostal spirituality, its theological tradition, and its ecumenical promise for the Church worldwide. Visit his blog at: LinkedIn Twitter: @MonteLeeRice.

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