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The Theological Pillow Fight from the Nosebleed Section

The knot on my head has a thought bubble right above it. The caption inside is, “Where the heck is grace?” There’s my primary rub with the Strange Fire book and conference. Grace feels largely absent. When I use the skills John and his friends at the seminary taught me about hermeneutics and exegesis, especially as applied to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Colossians and Galatians, I find something scandalously fascinating. Regardless of the false doctrine, lawsuits, immorality, prostitution, greed, favoritism, abuse of the poor, cliques, divisions, and outright stupidity, Paul still calls them saints. Then he commends them for the abundant outpouring of grace they experienced and exercised.

You know why he talked to them this way? Because we live by grace. I never see Paul taking the tone with the saints in Ephesus, Colosse, Phillipi, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc. that John does with charismatics. Galatia is arguably the exception, of course, and for obvious reasons. True, Paul was tough and firm when he needed to be. But there is fatherly and motherly tender love and compassion and graciousness oozing from his heart, through his pen, and onto his papyrus. The grace of God was abundant toward these churches who believed outrageously erroneous things.

Grace is mysterious and glorious, and yet somehow completely disagreeable to human nature. It is that love which covers a multitude of sins. It does not somehow lessen the extent to which God abhors sin. It merely takes the blood of Jesus and applies it once-and-for-all to the sins of His people. Then, in the name of Jesus, it abundantly pours out wisdom, blessing, gifting, love, and miracle without regard for a person’s performance or even obedience.

The fact of the matter is that God’s grace abounds even in the midst of a group of saints who believe false doctrine and are theologically aberrant. This was too radical for me fifteen years ago. Today, it is at home in my heart. It definitely makes me squirm, especially when I see certain TV preachers who make my stomach hurt. Such persons would have made Paul’s stomach hurt.

Do you want to know what I felt like after listening to hours of the Strange Fire conference talks? I felt like grace had been suddenly made a reward for sound doctrine and good behavior. That can seem harsh, especially if I’m saying it to a reformed friend. But it’s true, and here’s why. Ask any biblical-charismatic if they felt like John was gracious to them at Strange Fire and they’ll all say the same thing. “Absolutely not!” Grace is not communicated through broad-brushed, abrasive, scornful statements about brothers and sisters for whom Jesus shed his blood.[1] Nor is grace displayed when one questions their salvation.[2] Even Paul didn’t go that far with the Corinthians. He simply asked them to examine themselves, in the last chapter of 2 Corinthians. He didn’t examine them himself and then say they weren’t saved.

God’s grace was not a tone I found in the Strange Fire book and conference, unfortunately. Instead, they seemed focused on the heresies and aberrations of charismaniacs (a minority, at best, among half a billion charismatics worldwide), and called for a stand against it all. In comparison, look how Paul handled the Corinthians in all their mess. He stood against their mess. But he stood with the Corinthians. One cannot read the last chapter of the 2 Corinthians without coming to that clear conclusion. Let me say that again. Paul stood against false doctrine, heresy, and aberration while simultaneously loving those people and calling them a people of grace and treating them like it. That’s because the Holy Spirit does not withhold His grace-gifts when His people sin or believe dumb doctrines. That’s because His gifts are based on grace, and not on performance. Disorderly, weirdo, chaotic, disobedient, divisive Christians were given the most abundant outpouring and display of spiritual gifts in the entire New Testament. How’s that for grace?

With my first-degree Strange Fire burns healing, interacting with Michael Brown’s book, Authentic Fire[3] was a salve to my soul. Readers of my review will probably remark that it’s really more like a semi-review. There’s a good reason. My deep respect, love and indebtedness for John MacArthur has intersected with my journey with Jesus in a unique way. Writing a review about one book by a guy I have just gotten to know, which reproves and rebuts a book by a guy I know a lot better, is really tough. It’s especially tough when the subject matter is what it is.

As a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, I was taught the historical-grammatical method of hermeneutics, the critical nature of exegesis, and the tools to faithfully exposit the Bible. But four years after graduating from seminary I found myself using those tools in preparation to preach on Romans 1. Facing “the power of God” (Rom 1:16). I set out to discover afresh, as I was taught, the meaning behind Paul’s language. Six weeks later I then faced the fact that I had to become a biblical charismatic. I’ll never forget falling out of my chair to my knees asking God to forgive me of all the messages and teachings I’d given over the years in which I had vehemently criticized and even maligned my charismatic brothers and sisters. Ten years later I’ve given myself to the discovery and practice of spiritual gifts in the local church and find myself growing in my own experience.


Authentic Fire is a Gracious Response

As a recovering and repenting fundamentalist of sorts, Michael’s book hit a soft spot inside of me, one which reminded me of the ungracious and oftentimes unloving attitude I used to have toward charismatics. I felt the old me while listening to Strange Fire talks and reading the book. After reading Authentic Fire, I felt a welcomed, gracious, loving response of the Father to the old me, as well as to the Strange Fire camp. I read Michael’s work finding gracious overtones throughout the book.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2014

About the Author: Rob Wilkerson, M.Div. (The Master's Seminary, 2000), B.S. (Luther Seminary, 1994), is a follower of Jesus in Woodstock, GA, where he works in the tech industry as an analyst and consultant. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 21 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, love one another, and make disciples. Google+ Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

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