In this review essay by Rob Wilkerson, he reflects on his background as a disciple of John MacArthur, his becoming a continuationist anyway, and his look at Michael Brown’s book, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire (Excel Publishers, 2013).
I loved pillow fights when I was younger. I haven’t enjoyed one in a while, which is remarkable seeing as how three of my four children are boys. Given my dear wife’s deep dislike for our boyish antics like spontaneous, combustible wrestling in the house (or in public), I can’t imagine she would like pillow fighting either.
The last time I remember a good pillow fight was the time I cheated. I was fighting my high school friend Charles Hardman. He was a black belt in Karate and always won when we wrestled, which is kind of like him cheating. So I figured I’d even the playing field at that night’s sleepover…by putting a phone book in my pillow! Yellow Pages, to be exact. I won. No surprise there, of course. It was easy. I did it in one hit. And he was still my friend. But my tender conscience made me feel like a putz for it later.
Friendship makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? This is especially true when some topics of conversation feel like a pillow fight between friends. How much more is this true when friends are Christians, rooted in the grace of God in the love of Jesus Christ! Christian friends can do life together, hang out, talk, argue, discuss…and even horseplay! Christian friends also rub each other the wrong way, and even sin against each other at times. But in the end, the grace of God seems to be a supernatural oil that lubricates an otherwise very unstable and unhealthy relationship.
I’m Privileged to be a John MacArthur Disciple
The secret to a great friendship is really no secret at all. It’s just plain, old-fashioned, biblical grace. And that’s what I found missing in John MacArthur’s recent Strange Fire Conference and accompanying Strange Fire book. I met John MacArthur when I was eighteen years old. He stayed a couple of days at my house. I almost wet my pants when my dad introduced me to him. I’d had the privilege of being assigned The Gospel According to Jesus as a required text my last year I of high school (Yeah, I was homeschooled. My parents pulled out my senior year. But this isn’t an article about teenage therapy). At that age I thought John was just one-half level below Jesus.
I went on to spend more time with John and some staff members a couple of years later when he came back to my dad’s church, where an East Coast Shepherd’s Conference was held a few times back in the early 90’s. I went through my theological puberty with John, and I’m very thankful for it! I consumed hundreds of hours of John’s preaching for years and loved his approach to Scripture. A few years later when the elders of the church I attended discussed seminary with me, there was only one that they would commit to pay half my tuition and books. It was a no-brainer for me to attend The Master’s Seminary because of my deep respect for John and his ministry. I wanted to learn the Word and learn how to preach and teach the Word just like John did, and still does.
The Master’s Seminary and John MacArthur’s ministry may be well known for their stances on dispensationalism and against the charismatic. But they are also even more renown for equipping men to discover God’s Word and lead the flock with it. I can’t say enough about the equipping I got while enrolled there. God was with me and my family during some difficult and dark days, including the loss of our second son after completing my first year, and my wife’s conversion to Christ during my fourth and final year. Thinking back on those formative years, I can’t help but recall the gracious love and care, in particular, from Dr. Irv Busenitz (V.P. for Academic Administration, and OT Professor), and his wife, Karen, who were like bookends during our time at The Master’s Seminary. I think of Dr. David Farnell who condescended to our level with humor only a friend knows. And I can’t forget the trials and tribulations of New Testament Introduction with the famed Dr. Robert Thomas, with whom I shared too many breakfasts to count. Finally, my few months working on staff with guys like Steve Camp, Tom Pennington, Jerry Wragg were invaluable in terms of shepherding the flock. And then there’s my old friend, Lance Quinn, who talked my wife and I into coming to The Master’s Seminary to begin with. I am privileged to be considered partners in the same gospel with these men.
I Feel Like I Got Burned with Strange Fire
But here’s the rub. I feel like John loaded his pillow with his Strange Fire book and conference, and hit me over the head last Fall. To be sure, John probably has no idea that I am one of a handful of graduates from The Master’s Seminary who went to the dark side and am now a charismatic. While doing my due diligence about ten years ago in preparation to preach through Romans 1, I used what I learned at seminary and ended up embracing what I would call a biblical-charismatic theology. Combined with my reformed(ish) theological foundation, my experience in the charismatic is grounded and guided by sola scriptura.
There are many other charismatic friends out there who are also just as biblically grounded. I think we all felt a pretty big knot rising on the top of our head, dizzy with stars, when John hit us all with the Strange Fire phonebook inside his expositional pillow. And it still hurts. But love doesn’t keep a record of other people’s offenses, so forgiveness has won the day. He’s my grandfather in the faith, after all. I mean, how can a guy be mad at grandpa? Even if he does floor you with a knock-out swing.