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Michael Brown’s Authentic Fire, reviewed by John King

Chapter three is Brown’s cloud of witnesses and includes a registry of well-known and well-accepted Spirit-filled believers who embraced Pentecost, including A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright. Brown rebuts MacArthur’s claim that charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical interpretation or that Pentecostal preaching is a deviant mutation of truth. A.W. Tozer, as Brown notes, called the Baptism in the Spirit our true Christian heritage. Brown addresses a number of MacArthur’s concerns: Where is the Pentecostal outreach to the sick and poor? How have Pentecostals enriched true worship? Are there any Christlike Pentecostal leaders?

Chapter four deals with the historical roots of Pentecostalism and speaking in tongues as its peculiarity. MacArthur focuses on the acts of a few leaders in the Pentecostal movement to discredit anything charismatic. Brown calls this a genetic fallacy. MacArthur’s claim is that from the beginning the entire movement was misleading and inaccurate. Brown points out that the Pentecostal movement has a far greater and older history of holy living and evangelism, thus exposing MacArthur’s fallacy.

Brown also points out the fallacy of guilt by association. The fact that any of us may only be a few degrees from heresy doesn’t make us a heretic. Brown uses MacArthur’s dispensational eschatology—something which Pentecostals also believe—to show that MacArthur criticizes himself. R.C. Sproul, also a dispensationalist, was mentored by Dr. John Gerstner who called dispensationalism a heresy. Brown calls this a ridiculous mess.

Brown went on to point out that Martin Luther, the great reformation leader, called peasants dogs and pigs and claimed responsibility for killing 100,000 of them. He called Jews devils and called for setting their synagogues on fire. Does this association discredit the Lutheran faith today? In John Calvin’s Geneva, where he administered justice, children who called their mother a devil were put to death. Church attendance was obligatory under threat of fines and floggings. In no short time could any Roman Catholic be found living in Geneva. What does this say about Presbyterians or Baptists who consider themselves Calvinists? Brown contends that it should say nothing, no more than Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism reflects on today’s Lutheran church or for Protestants in general.

MacArthur uses, according to Brown, unequal weights and measures when he discredits charismatics but embraces Calvinism. The principle to put to memory is don’t compare the best things about your religion to the worse things of someone else’s.

MacArthur attempts to enlist Jonathan Edwards’ nine signs to distinguish the work of the Spirit from other causes, human and demonic. However, Brown maintains these are negative positives or merely signs to exclude what was not from God. Edwards was more concerned with what contradicts Scripture rather than calling on the Word to confirm what is—freedom within limits. Brown correctly observes that “the Bible does not give us the right to …judge…based on … physical responses.” The heart of the matter for MacArthur is that displays of Pentecostalism appear recklessly out of order. But Brown correctly points out that crying, weeping, shouting, and the like are not outside the move of the Spirit.

What about sin in Pentecostal circles? Brown draws attention to the Corinthian church as an example of what Edwards refers to as “irregularities … in conduct.” Even disgraceful behavior does not mean the Spirit isn’t there. One clergyman’s indiscretions cannot discredit an entire work of God. Judas Iscariot’s betrayal does not make Jesus’ mission less Spirit-led. Brown quotes Edwards in saying: “This is not any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit.”

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: John H. King, M.Th., retired from the pastorate after serving congregations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts for over 24 years and now develops software for the financial services industry. He is the author of Challenged: Living Our Faith in a Post Modern Age.

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