Why the Strange Fire Conference Matters
- Monday, October 21, 2013
When I began blogging through last week’s Strange Fire conference, I had no idea how big an impact the event would have. Even while attempting to transcribe John MacArthur’s opening address, I was not convinced I wanted to dedicate three days and eight or ten articles to it. But once I began to see and hear the reaction, I determined there would be benefit to listening in, writing it down, and in opening it up for conversation.
I attempted to make my summaries as objective as possible—simply sharing what each speaker had said without offering my own opinions. Today I want to circle back one more time to share a few final reflections on the event. Here is what I am thinking several days later.
A WORLDWIDE ISSUE
This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.
There is a challenge here for myself as a Reformed, North American believer: I have a very narrow view of the Christian world—a too-narrow view. MacArthur made it clear that he did not host this conference in order to critique the Wayne Grudems and John Pipers of the world; if these men were representative charismatics, Strange Fire would have been a non-event or, at the least, a very different event. He hosted the event because there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who make the fraudulent practice of fraudulent gifts the heart of their expression of the Christian faith.
This is the time to address that issue. There is a call here for all of us to build on and even improve what MacArthur began and much of the onus here falls on charismatics to do this from the inside. As Clint Archer concludes, “All true believers are on the same team, and we’re all against the abuses and excesses of masquerading unbelievers. Conservative Continuationists need to start their own version of the conference to police the excesses as best they can, or they should muster a cheer while the Cessationists do it.”
A POLARIZING ISSUE
The charismatic/cessationist issue is polarizing. Before Strange Fire I did not know just how polarizing it could be, though I suppose others did know, and this is why we have been loathe to address it. Based on the reaction to the event and the discussions back-and-forth, it seems clear that this is an issue many of us feel as much as it is an issue we believe by reasoning it out from Scripture. It is one of those issues where we see our own position with utter clarity and look to the opposite position with shock that they can believe something so absurd. Those tend to be the most dangerous issues of all because they can turn sour so quickly and easily. In the face of such a polarizing issue, I need to consider how I can maintain unity in the faith while still holding fast to what I believe the Bible teaches.
CONFIDENCE IS NOT ARROGANCE
I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.
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