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

Assessing probable impact in non-western Majority World

I shall now briefly assess the relevancy, impact MacArthur’s book may have and evoke from within the non-western Majority World. Knowledgeable observers may quickly deduce that MacArthur’s message would largely fail to resonate with the interests of Southern Hemisphere and non-Western Pentecostal and Charismatics as well as with the non-Pentecostal/Charismatic world. This probable disinterest would arise from how MacArthur’s Western Enlightenment-steeped fundamentalist worldview, incongruously contrasts with Southern Hemisphere/Majority World religious supernaturalism—which takes for granted efficacious links between religious practices and miraculous occurrences, both within and outside the Christian faith.

A good illustration that demonstrates this incongruence is West Malaysian Methodist Bishop Hwa Yung’s attempts to reinterpret the impact of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in Asia, in manners that take more seriously affirm the indigenous nature of these movements within the Asian continent. He thus faults the “three-wave” theory (e.g., Pentecostalism → Charismatic Renewal → Third Wave) for its biased western and particularly North American historiography, “which see everything flowing out of American Pentecostalism.”[11] Yung thus contends that the Asian Pentecostal/Charismatic movements primarily emerged because of the sacralistic Asian worldview, and that these movements are thus wholly indigenous without dependence upon the “three wave” historical development of Charismatic movements in the Western world.[12] Hence, Yung believes that “a truly indigenous Christianity in Asia,” will always be “supernaturalistic, and therefore Pentecostal-Charismatic!”[13] While I differ from Yung’s strict contention that Asian Pentecostal/Charismatic historiography is wholly independent of Western connections, I believe his analysis points to a definitive epistemological incongruence between MacArthur’s message and Southern hemisphere Christianity.

Yet notwithstanding the incorrigible quality I have described between MacArthur’s underlying epistemology and Majority World sacralistic sensibilities, I am concerned his inflammatory rhetoric against Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement can negatively influence Southern Hemisphere non-Pentecostal/Charismatic believers at the grassroots level, away from healthy ecumenical appreciation towards and with Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality, practices, and theological scholarship. I say this contending that popular caricatures of Pentecostal and Charismatic spiritualities and practices as devoid of biblical authority and mature theological reflection, do substantially exists within more mainline and Reformed albeit conservative Evangelical communities in the Southern as well as Northern hemispheres. Hence, I would caution that MacArthur’s broad sweeping tactics and ideological caricaturizing is detrimental at the grassroots level, because it is there that its rhetorical power demonstrates its influential effectiveness.

Conclusion

I shall therefore conclude by suggesting that Reformed networks indeed reflect on the viable impact MacArthur’s message may pose towards impeding healthy ecumenical fruit at the grass-roots level within both Reformed and non-Reformed communities. Relevant here is Assemblies of God theologian Frank Macchia’s reflection on his participation involvement in an international dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Pentecostals. In that dialogue, Reformed and Pentecostal participants issued a formal statement granting theological and hence legitimate space to one another’s differing views on spiritual gifts, the ongoing reality of gifts from the Holy Spirit, and need for expanding one another’s horizons on our understandings of the Holy Spirit and gifts, through ecumenical dialogue.[14] Perhaps for the sake of fostering the ongoing fruit of worldwide ecumenical sharing between the Reformed and Pentecostal theological traditions, a formal censure may be order—by Reformed bodies against MacArthur’s defamation campaign.

Reviewed by Monte Lee Rice


[1] Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire,” Book Review, The Pneuma Review: Journal of Ministry Resources and Theology for Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministries & Leaders (November 15, 2013). http://pneumareview.com/john-macarthurs-strange-fire-reviewed-by-craig-s-keener [Accessed December 12, 2013].
[2] Allan H. Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 1-15, 144f. See also idem, “Signs and Blunders: Pentecostal Mission Issues at ‘Home and Abroad’ in the Twentieth Century.” Journal of Asian Mission 2. No. 2 (2000): pp. 193-210.
[3] Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism, pp. 170-183. See also idem, “The Origins of Pentecostalism and its Global Spread in the Early Twentieth Century,” Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 22, no. 3 (2005): 175-185 (183-184); idem, “Revising Pentecost History in Global Perspective,” in Asian and Pentecostal: The Charismatic Face of Christianity in Asia, eds. Allan Anderson and Edmond Tang (Oxford, UK: Regnum; Baguio City, Philippines: Asia Pacific Theological Seminary Pres, 2005), 153.
[4] Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism, pp. 170-172.
[5] MacArthur does provide a sobering survey of both confirmed and alleged scandals that genuinely comprise a dark shadow over the history of North American Pentecostal and Charismatic ministry (pp. 59-66). While these allegations provide cause for alarm, internal historiographies over the past three decades do address them, though MacArthur misconstrues their analysis for his broad sweeping indictments.
[6] Margaret M. Poloma, Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003), pp. 26-27, 30-31, 51-54, 90-96, 138-141, 149, 217-218).
[7] Margaret M. Poloma and Ralph W. Hood, Blood and Fire: Godly Love in a Pentecostal Emerging Church (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2008), 4; quoted in Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma, “Editorial: Special Issue on Godly Love,” PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 11, no. 1 (2012): 5-8.
[8] Candy Gunther Brown, “Studying Divine Healing Practices: Empirical and Theological Lenses, and the Theory of Godly Love,” PentecoStudies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Research on the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements 11, no. 1 (2012): pp. 48-66 (pp. 56, 61, 64-65).
[9] For another empirical research based study focused on global examples of Pentecost socially transforming ministries, see Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2007), note pp. 126-128.
[10] Also reflecting these themes and research on Pentecostalism and “godly love,” is Amos Yong’s Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco TX: Baylor University Press, 2012); note especially pp. 59-74.
[11] Hwa Yung, “Endued With Power: The Pentecostal-Charismatic Renewal and the Asian Church in the 21st Century,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 6, no. 1 (January 2003): 63-82 (p. 68).
[12] Yung, “Endued With Power,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 63, 65, 71. Yung does not use the term “sacral,” but rather he identifies the western Enlightenment worldview as “anti-supernaturalistic” and the Asian worldview as “supernaturalistic” (p. 63). However, I think the term “sacral perception,” is a better description. See also Yung’s book, Hwa Yung, Mangoes or Bananas? The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology, Regnum Studies in Mission (Oxford, UK: Regnum Books International, 1997).
[13] Yung, “Endued With Power,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 64.
[14] Frank Macchia, “Pentecostals and Reformed Affirming the Value of All of the New Testament Gifts,” The Pneuma Review: Journal of Ministry Resources and Theology for Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministries & Leaders (November 6, 2013). http://pneumareview.com/frank-macchia-on-the-gifts-of-god-to-the-church [Accessed December 12, 2013].

 

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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: MonteLeeRice.wordpress.com. LinkedIn Twitter: @MonteLeeRice.

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