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The Theological Pillow Fight from the Nosebleed Section

 

On this point some have responded to me that this is an unreasonable expectation or flat out preposterous. They cite a variety of reasons which certainly seem like practical obstacles to these kinds of conversations. But I have two questions in response. First, shouldn’t you at least try? Romans 12:16 commands us to “live in harmony.” Two verses later, Paul commands, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

While reading Michael’s book I had a disagreement about a couple of things. I thought he wasn’t properly representing John, and was almost making him out to be a hard cessationist, completely discounting the miraculous in anyway. I thought that wasn’t fair. And I also thought that the numbers he was using to represent the fractional minority of charismaniacs was also not really accurate. So the first thing that popped into my head was, “Hey Rob, you should probably talk to Michael to get him to clarify these things.” So I pursued it. The editor at Pneuma Review emailed Michael’s people, Michael’s people emailed them back providing Michael’s email address to me. I emailed Michael personally and asked to speak with him by phone, and we did on June 23 at 4:30 PM EST. It wasn’t that hard. I asked him my question first, which he answered, which gave me clarity, which then totally precluded me from having to disagree with him.

This leads me to my second point. If you cannot get a hold of the person for further comment or conversation, then do you even really need to say anything to rebuke or reprove them personally in public? No, you probably don’t.[15] Especially if they claim to be a brother or sister in Christ. It is possible to reference things that are not spiritually healthy or perhaps false teachings without slamming the person in public. I love that about Terry Virgo, the founder of Newfrontiers. He happily shares the pulpit with men who differ, even sometimes greatly. And in following them he often feels no need at all to correct them publicly. A friend of mine even asked him once why he didn’t correct what so-and-so said. Terry replied that he felt like his people were mature enough to see the problems and respond to them correctly and graciously.

I personally think R. T. Kendall does an extraordinary job at this, as well. I watched a Youtube interview from the Daystar channel a few weeks back, where R.T. was talking about his book, Holy Fire. Not once in thirty minutes did he mention the name of John MacArthur, even though his book is an attempt to answer Strange Fire with biblical truth. I love his spirit, his tone, his attitude. It’s all about peace in the kingdom. Terry Virgo, R. T. Kendall, and Michael Brown all show me that as saints we want to err on the side of being more gracious than more critical. If we are wrong, we have to answer to Jesus because we are erring against his brother or sister. And if you justify your public criticism by saying that this person isn’t really a brother or sister, then you’re probably in more serious trouble than you think.

 

Conclusion

I believe Michael’s book is a must read by members of Grace Community Church, The Master’s Seminary students, Grace To You followers, and all my reformed friends in general. Proverbs 18 has much to say about this subject. For those who have started rumors, “Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart” (v. 8). For those who choose a pathway of reaction instead of relationship-then-response, “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (v. 13).

The Bible says that wise people are the opposite: “Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge” (v. 15). And to everyone who just flat out refuses, for whatever reason, to even read Michael’s book to get the other side, “The first to speak in court sounds right—until the cross-examination begins” (v. 18). Overall, the atmosphere we should seek to engender is one that believes that, “Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars” (v. 19). In the end, friendship is marked by relationship instead of destruction: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother” (v. 24).

Is this level of friendship possible with the Strange Fire camp? I hold out hope because grace is powerful. I’m praying for a suitable response from my friends there to meet me halfway on the bridge I’ve tried to build between us. Meet me there. Let’s talk. Come let us reason together. We’ve been purchased by the same Jesus Christ. I am pursuing God’s mission for the church just like you are.

Michael concluded our phone call together with this awesome thought. Christianity is already an exclusivist religion that says to the Hindu, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, and Mormon that they are going to hell when they die if they don’t choose Jesus. That automatically makes us a minority in the world today, and inseparable partners in suffering for it. Do we have to divide that minority even more by expecting and even demanding that brothers and sisters believe every little thing we do, and say it all exactly as we do?

 

PR

 

[1] Per John, “I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad…And I’m willing to be accused of broad-brushing in order to get that message out.” http://blogs.christianpost.com/overflow/john-macarthur-answers-his-critics-18633/

[2] Per John, “There are others who criticized by saying, ‘You’re attacking brothers.’ I wish I could affirm that. We’ve said this one way or another this week: this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians…” http://thecripplegate.com/strange-fire-a-call-to-respond-john-macarthur/. This seems like a pronouncement of judgment, and is contrary to his words from Reckless Faith. “At the same time, we must acknowledge that some people are tempted to wield fundamental doctrines like a judge’s gavel and consign multitudes to eternal doom. It is not our prerogative to exercise such judgment. As Witsius sagely observed, ‘It does not become us to ascend into the tribunal of God, and to pronounce concerning our neighbour, for how small a defect of knowledge, or for how inconsiderable an error, he must be excluded from heaven. It is much safer to leave that to God’ [Witsius, 29]. Wise advice. We dare not set ourselves up as judges of other people’s eternal fate” (Reckless Faith). In fairness to John and the context of that quote, he doesn’t mention charismatics when he describes a “people whose religion is fundamentally in error.” But based on Strange Fire it seems safe to conclude such.

[3] Excel Publishers (Lake Mary, FL: 2014).

[4] Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1993).

[5] http://www.gty.org/Resources/Print/Blog/B091211

[6] Grace Community Church (GCC) where John MacArthur pastors hails from the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA), despite however much that fact is downplayed on campus. While GCC does not owe anything at all to the IFCA, nor does it seem to participate in that denomination as far as I could tell, John MacArthur’s approach to the Scriptures is fundamentally rooted in fundamentalism. On Friday, June 20, 2014 during a private phone conversation with Michael, he confirmed that while he was somewhat familiar with fundamentalism and its connection to J. Gresham Machen in the 20’s, he was not aware that John had a connection to fundamentalism.

[7] http://www.theopedia.com/Fundamentalism. The article states that fundamentalism included and attracted, “a growing breed of premillenial and dispensational independents such as D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and the independent Bible college and Bible church movement.” GCC and TMS’s views on premillenial, pretribulational, and dispensational theology are set in concrete.

[8] Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals writes, “Since the 1940s, the term fundamentalist has come to denote a particularly aggressive style related to the conviction that the separation from cultural decadence and apostate (read liberal) churches are telling marks of faithfulness to Christ…” For me personally, this seemed to be in the DNA of The Master’s Seminary where I studied. The article continues, “Concerns over doctrinal purity and issues of ‘first-degree separation’ (the refusal to associate with groups who endorse questionable doctrinal beliefs or moral practices) and ‘second-degree separation’ (refraining from association or identification with groups or individuals who do not practice first-degree separation) have meant that self-identified fundamentalism has been prone to constant disputes and splits” (http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/defining-evangelicalism/fundamentalism). This “separationism” is also in the DNA of the church and seminary, as sermons, journal articles, book reviews, papers, and talks abounded, while I was there, all of which usually seemed to have a tone of exclusivity about our version and grasp on the truth as contrasted with others. It was unfortunate to hear early on in my first year of seminary that Master’s grads were known for splitting churches and better known for what they were against.

[9] Neither TMS or GCC had any teachings or policies against certain styles of attire or haircuts. But my Jr. and High School upbringing in a fundamentalist independent Baptist christian school did, along with my eight-week tribulation period at Pensacola Christian College. The environment was ruled by a spirit or air of Pharisaism, as there seemed to be a Talmud of behavior for almost everything. It was there that I received demerits for borrowing my roommates sportcoat (because Proverbs says that the borrower is servant to the lender), which I was required to wear to dinner Monday through Thursday, in a cafeteria with assigned seating … for adults…who were treated like children. It was also there that I received a demerit for “eye intercourse” which I was evidently guilty of when I didn’t hand a girl a pencil properly at the dinner table one night. (I was coached that the proper way to hand a girl a pencil is to lay it down and let her pick it up, because otherwise we might lock eyes and have a moment of visual pleasure with each other. I kid you not.)

[10] I personally felt that unfolding John 4:24 in depth would have been more salient to Michael’s point on spirit and truth, as opposed to opening with the right-brain/left-brain scenario.

[11] See http://www.tms.edu/AlumniList.aspx?Filter=W. I just checked again to make sure it hadn’t changed. This really confuses me to be honest. I paid over $25K to go to school there, worked four years in the bookstore, a year on staff at the church, made awesome friends, made decent grades but get blacklisted in the end because I’m a charismatic?

[12] Recently, when I posted on Facebook about my phone call to Michael, one fellow seminary student mocked, “ I’m sure Benny Hinn would have loved to join the conversation. He and Dr. Brown seem to have a good relationship.” Later, when I clarified that Michael had been trying to reach out to John for discussion, my friend responded, “I’m not sure why John would take his time to meet with a guy who considers Benny Hinn a brother. If he doesn’t have enough discernment to see the errors of Hinn, then a conversation has no chance of changing his views on the matters under discussion.” It did not seem to matter what my responses were to my friend and others who replied disapprovingly. Instead, the responses were similar. “So Rob, no concern for his palling around with Benny Hinn? You don’t question his discernment on that? What about with Sid Roth? Not a problem either?” My point is that my friend, as representative of many in the Strange Fire camp, insists on an attitude of separationism from Benny Hinn (first degree separationism), as well as from Michael Brown (second degree separationism) because he associated with Benny Hinn. (Source: https://www.facebook.com/rfwilkerson/posts/10204117175799691)

[13] “The attempt to discredit a major movement by tracing it back to its alleged (and often disputed) roots is often misguided, especially when it is done with a critical spirit” (p. 90). Well said, Michael. On this point I humbly admit a susceptibility to the genetic fallacy by making a connection between John MacArthur and fundamentalism’s roots.

[14] Another friend and former fellow seminary student replied to me on this point one day: “ He [Michael] has attempted to get John in public debate, not just talk with him personally. He’s talked personally with a number of folks from GTY and TMS. We have also explained to him that John doesn’t want to do a radio interview or debate him because we don’t want him to get steamrolled like he did Phil. Plus debate is not John’s thing.” (Source: https://www.facebook.com/rfwilkerson/posts/10204117175799691)

[15] I realize I’m walking a thin line here in my accolades to Michael’s book as compared to what I just said. But my intended audience for my review are primarily pastors of less-than-mega-or-giga-church sized flocks who will probably be reading this review. As I once did, they may sometimes (or often) feel the need to follow in John’s footsteps by publicly saying critical things about authors or preachers they disagree with but have never met. To them I ask this question: Are the people in your churches really being affected by that stuff? Or are you just irked with it and you’re looking for a platform from which you can vent your irritations? Perhaps think of it this way: if the platform God has given you allows you to address a wide enough sector of people you normally influence who may be unduly influenced by bad teaching or theology, then use that influence wisely. But only use it if and when you have followed Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18 about the person you feel is in error. And if they don’t respond to your pleas, then proceed cautiously and graciously. I feel Michael has done this with his 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. www.robwilkerson.net. Google+ Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

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