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

Another way MacArthur misconstrues his more scholarly sources, is to extrapolate their own critical exposés on Pentecostal and Charismatic moral failures towards defaming Pentecostal-Charismatic spirituality in its entirety. MacArthur thus translates these internal critiques into broad sweeping indictments, which in virtually every chapter, he then substantiates by drawing attention to some of the most well known controversial past and current figures within Pentecostal and Charismatic history. The individuals MacArthur thus focuses on are Parham, Kenyon, Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and Benny Hinn. Moreover, most of MacArthur’s research on these individuals comes from general readership-oriented, online news sites.[5]

Also noteworthy is MacArthur’s misconstrued use of Margaret Poloma’s research on the Toronto Blessing laughter phenomena, which he sourced from her book Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism. MacArthur called this a notable example of false worship and then charges that such mystical phenomena only produce a “counterfeit form of love” (pp. 76-79). The irony here is that as a well-respected sociologist, Poloma researched the Toronto Blessing to assess its capacity towards effecting behaviour change on participants. From her empirical research, Poloma demonstrates that the Toronto Revival generally provided participants profound experiences of God’s love, which resulted in desires for behavioural change and ministry or missionary involvement.[6] It is also pertinent to note that Poloma’s research at Toronto soon sparked off several other similar interdisciplinary research projects by her and many others elsewhere on Pentecostal and Charismatic renewal experiences.

Meanwhile, in 2007 similar studies (in which Poloma also participated) emerged known as “The Flame of Love: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition.” Researchers coined the term “godly love” as a conceptual premise to guide the project’s research, defining this as “the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence,” primarily focusing on how this interaction fosters in people, altruistic behaviour.[7] The hard research has broadly confirmed that within many localities representative of Pentecostal and Charismatic spirituality, that coinciding with experiences of spiritual renewal generally are encounters with “godly love” which subsequently causes movement towards altruistic behaviour. Particularly relevant is Candy Gunther Brown’s empirical study on healing practices within the varied networks that developed out of the Toronto Revival over the following decade or so. Brown discovered a close link between experiences of healing within the post Toronto Blessing albeit sprouted ministry networks, and movement towards altruistic concern and behaviour.[8]

MacArthur’s caricature of Pentecostals is theologically and intellectually defective

Poloma’s research and ongoing research such as demonstrated in the “Flame of Love” projects, not only undermines MacArthur’s allegation that Pentecostalism is loveless, but also his charge that it lacks an inherent nuance on personal holiness. From the beginnings of Pentecostalism to the present day, Holiness as a stressed nuance particularly towards concerns of personal purity and conduct, has remained doctrinally and culturally embedded within Pentecostal testimony and congregational ethos, though in varied manners. In fact, far too often Pentecostals have erred towards establishing legalistic construals of holiness evidenced by outward appearance and internal behavioural conformity through abiding by prohibitive norms, while too often ignoring the greater social-justice nuances of holiness towards manifesting an inclusive community in manners visible counter to prevailing social norms. Yet on the other hand—despite our failings and there are many, the missiological fruit of Pentecostal spirituality worldwide has testified to this innate Pentecostal social construal of holiness primarily evidenced through holistic ministry approaches and the planting of healing communities within the context of socially fragmented cultural norms.[9] By default, this ethos of personal holiness coupled with an innate vision towards holiness as a socially transforming witness—exists by virtue of Pentecostalism’s roots in the holiness tradition. Meanwhile, both past and an increasing pool of current Pentecostal scholarship has sought to re-appropriate to contemporary Pentecostal spirituality, these roots coupled with how they dovetail with the early Azusa Street theological stress on Spirit baptism as a baptism of love.[10] So to reiterate, MacArthur’s careless, irresponsible use of Pentecostal scholarship along with his refusal to engage the broader established and ecumenically recognized fields of Pentecostal theological, philosophical and biblical scholarship and their welcomed integration into the broader Christian theological traditions, indelibly demonstrates his theological and intellectual ignorance, and betrays his caricature of Pentecostals as being theologically and intellectually defective.

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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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