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Michael Brown’s Authentic Fire, reviewed by Daniel Snape

 

Are Pentecostals offering Strange Fire? (Panel Discussion)

Authentic FireMichael L. Brown, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire (Excel Publishers, Dec 12, 2013), 418 pages.

Authentic Fire is Dr. Michael Brown’s response to John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire. MacArthur’s Strange Fire launches a scathing attack on the Christian Charismatic Movement and so it comes as no surprise that champions of the charismatic community should launch a defense to MacArthur’s assertions. Dr. Brown leads the charge with a book just shy of 420 pages that seeks to address MacArthur’s main contentions.

Brown’s tone is always respectful towards MacArthur and even conciliatory at times. It is clear that Brown has ample respect for MacArthur, both as a Bible scholar and brother in Christ. His approach is refreshing when contrasted with MacArthur’s blanket criticisms. Beginning by acknowledging that the charismatic church has made mistakes and has its share of controversy, Brown never shies away from the reality that the charismatic movement is far from perfect. Nonetheless, within the first few pages, Brown make his position clear when he writes, “Pastor MacArthur’s criticisms of the Charismatic Movement are inaccurate, unhelpful, often harshly judgmental, sometimes without scriptural support, and frequently divisive in the negative sense of the word … a strong corrective is needed, along with a positive statement of the truth of the matter.” (p2). And thus the agenda is set and Brown’s mission is clear.

Brown begins by addressing a number of sweeping statements that can be found in Strange Fire. To counteract MacArthur’s claim that the Charismatic Movement ”has made no contribution to biblical clarity … interpretation … sound doctrine”, Brown cites many well-known and respected authors and scholars in the Christian world that blatantly contradict MacArthur’s bold claim. Among these are, A.W Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Craig S. Keener, Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, Wayne Grudem and many others. Brown addresses MacArthur’s claim to guilt by association (the idea that if one is part of a movement that has involved scandal then one is guilty by association), and rightly points out that the pendulum can swing both ways, observing Luther’s anti-Semitism and Calvin’s draconian rules that led to men and women being burnt at the stake. Both Luther and Calvin are darlings of the theological world that John MacArthur walks in, and so Brown fairly asks if we should also associate MacArthur with such doctrinal errors.

Perhaps one of the real gems of Authentic Fire is chapter 6 in which Dr Brown addresses the theological debate regarding cessationism versus continuationism. Documenting his own journey into cessationism and back out into continuationism, Brown observes, “The more I read the Word wanting to prove cessationism true, the more I became convinced that it was exegetically impossible. The scriptures did not teach cessationism” (p165). Brown proceeds to do a convincing job of highlighting the major flaws of cessationism, insightfully noting that often this theological viewpoint is arrived at via subjective experience rather than biblical objectivity. The true value of this chapter, though, is the exegetical work Brown does in examining the miracles of Jesus and New Testament evidence to support the biblical argument for continuationism. No matter one’s position on this theological issue, Dr Brown’s treatment of the subject is worthy of attention to anyone serious about an honest biblical treatment.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Daniel P. Snape, D.Min (Boston University School of Theology), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), is worship pastor at Antioch Community Church of Waltham, MA. He also works and ministers as a chaplain in the Boston area. Facebook.

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