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A Response to The Naked Pastor
Steven Long 10/21/13

The Strange Fire conference has been all the buzz for the last several months. And even though it ended on Friday, it still is. Much critique has come out of the Charismatic camp, but even more surprising was the flack that Dr. McArthur caught from those in the Evangelical world. Men like Dr. Michael Brown, who has probably been the most vocal,  have been writing about this for quite sometime. Brown has pleaded with McArthur not to go ahead with the conference, citing that it would bring too much controversy and division to the body of Christ.

Others have also written accusing McArthur of being hateful, divisive, and condemning. With so many biased blogs and articles written about this one event it's hard to know exactly how to sort all the information so as to make any coherent decision about how one might actually feel about this conference.

But one particular blog caught my attention. It was a blog titled Patheos and the gentleman that wrote the post goes by the Handle of The Naked Pastor. Why did it catch my attention? you ask. For the shear simple reason of its tone, caricaturing, and misrepresentation of the commencement message  Dr. McArthur preached. You can watch the entire 1 1/2 hour video below:




There were a lot of things wrong with the NP's assessment of McArthur and the entire Strange Fire conference. It was strewn with emotionally charged words like "condemning tone," "angry," "spiteful speech," "mindless cruelty," etc. In short, it was an article that was grounded in raw emotion rather than being biblically rooted; which brings me to the second and biggest problem: there was NO SCRIPTURE quoted whatsoever to back up his charges of McArthur's wrong doing or his rightful critique.

Below, I am posting the entire article and my own commentary about it. This post will be much longer than usual but I certainly hope you will stick around for the entire thing; or at least come back to finish reading if you leave. Just for clarity's sake I will leave the author's original words completely intact, including his own emphasis on words. My commentary on his thoughts will be in  dark blue to distinguish my thoughts from his actual article. I hope to be as unbiased as possible in my own critique of the NP. And I hope you will be able to wade through all the posts and articles to come to your own decision about the conference. Soli Deo Gloria!


John MacArthur Sends 500,000,000 Charismatics to Hell















“God in Hell” (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

The first thing I noticed was this distasteful picture. Before even beginning his article he has already set the tone for his readers and left a bad taste in their mouths. notice how he accuses McArthur (with nothing to back the accusation) of being a 'judge' to send people to Hell. But even more, he makes it appear as if he has dethroned God in His role as judge. I see this as a simple ploy to detract, or rather draw, people to his side before they even read one word! The conference was already a hot-button issue and the NP used it to his advantage to win his reader's hearts and sympathy before writing word one. 
I noticed Tim Challies posted an article on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference the other day so I check it out. MacArthur’s church hosted the Strange Fire conference last weekend, a conference devoted to the critique of the charismatic movement. I read Challies’ post as well as watched  John MacArthur’s address that opened the event and set its condemning tone.

The first inflammatory word appears right at the offset. He states that he watched McArthur's opening address. His statement was that this sermon "set the condemning tone." I happened to watch the video myself and still yet to hear anything "condemning." The only thing I can imagine myself that would be construed as condemning would be McArthur's statement about much of the charismatic movement's so-called "worship" was an affront to a holy and righteous God. But even that set aside, there are still two major problems with NP's statement:

  1. He never gives a definition of what 'condemning tone' means. The words 'judge' and 'condemn' are thrown around way too loosely in our culture. Almost anytime a person gets their feelings hurt for being called out on false doctrine they instantly throw out the judgment card and cite Matthew 7:1 as being violated. Others begin to take up the other person's offense and immediately jump in to defend the accused. This is exactly what NP has done! Even before he watched the video, reading the notes of Tim Challies, he had already made up his mind that McArthur had condemned some of his friends to Hell. In truth, McArthur simply pleaded for discernment in the Charismatic movement and warned that much of what was being presented as "Spirit led" was actually demonic. 
  2. How do we know that NP's definition of 'condemning tone' is accurate? To briefly reiterate point 1, NP's definition is based upon his own perception rather than an accurate definition. Because he felt the entire conference was condemning and judgmental then it in his mind it truly was. Shouldn't all of us rather weigh carefully what is said and then come to a conclusion rather than writing an article out of knee-jerk reaction because on the surface we are offended? 


When I read Challies’ notes at first I didn’t believe them. Challies doesn’t interject his opinion, but neither does he criticize MacArthur’s. So I watched the video of MacArthur’s actual address. Sadly, Challies’ notes are an accurate representation of MacArthur’s argument.

Notice how he subtly accuses Challies of not condemning McArthur's actions. I guess that he assumes that if he is offended then everyone else should be, too. 
I am familiar with Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement including the Vineyard movement’s particular flavor of it. I spent many years in the charismatic movement, serving it in various capacities, even attending a Pentecostal Bible College. In seminary I studied under my mentor, Dr. Gordon Fee, a Pentecostal and one of the most respected text critics and biblical scholars in the world. In Charisma News you can read Michael Brown’s “final appeal” to MacArthur which I thought was direct, clear and fair.
I’m also familiar with the Reformed movement. During my religion and ministry program at Presbyterian College at McGill University in Montreal I joyously immersed myself in reformed studies. When I graduated I was surprised but pleased to receive the prize in Reformed Theology. It was no big deal but I appreciated the fact that my seriousness about reformed theology was recognized. Then I was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in Canada and spent many years serving reformed churches. Karl Barth is my favorite theologian and probably will remain so for the rest of my life, hands down.
I’m sharing this is to show that I’m not just talking from the sidelines as a bystander but as someone who has had a lot of experience and education in both traditions and still embraces a respect for each while feeling free to critique both.

Where do I even start with these couple of paragraphs? NP is attempting to ride the middle of the road, so to speak, in his appeal that "[he's] not just talking from the sidelines as a bystander..." While I don't doubt his own experiences or upbringing I do doubt his ability to unbiasly critique any thing about this conference. As was pointed out earlier, he had already made up his mind before even watching the video; not make mention that he references Dr. Browns article.  as a fair and balanced critique (i.e., Brown agrees with him.) Unfortunately, Brown offers more emotionalism and unfair critique himself. This is apparent with his opening words:
As I write these words, the Holy Spirit is moving mightily around the earth, saving lost sinners, bringing rebels to repentance, healing sick bodies, setting captives free and, above all, glorifying the name of Jesus. According to pastor John MacArthur, however, this is actually “a farce and a scam.”  
Brown's 5 rebuttal's against McArthur are only half true. As you watch the video above you will see that McArthur never condemns the entire Charismatic movement, but rather the oddities that greatly exist in the movement. Brown whines over and over that McArthur is wrong in his assessment and numbers, without offering or linking to any statistical information himself. For example, at one point Brown accuses of McArthur of saying that 90 percent of the Charismatic movement is steeped in weird and bizarre practices. He claims the the numbers are much lower and that these practices are not the norm within the movement. However, he offers no other explanation; no stats of his own or no links to back up his own assertions. 

In another place Brown insists that he has never, in his 42 years of ministry, seen any of the bizarre stuff that McArthur "claims" exists. What? Has Dr. Brown had his head in the sand for the last four decades, or is he just choosing to ignore these things? I am not, nor have I ever been a part of the Charismatic movement but I have seen the things McArthur spoke about. One simply needs to type a search query into Youtube to see hours of endless silliness present within many of these churches. Not to mention the fact that one of the speakers of the conference, Justin Peters, has well documented evidence of a lot of these practices. 

Unfortunately, NP picks up Brown's cloak of offense and chimes in his support of the Charismatic hating, judgmental, condemning, God-dethroning McArthur. 
As I watched the video I felt a growing anger as well as a disgust for what MacArthur was saying and how he was saying it. His speech is as lofty as his demeanor. His criticism of charismatics is as old as the charismatic movement itself. So it’s nothing new. It is a familiar flame. What I found dismaying is his complete dismissal of the movement and all its adherents in a single one hour dignified gesture. With one speech he purged the rolls of salvation of over 500 million believers.

Notice the tone of this paragraph: he has moved from being angry to being "disgusted." While he accuses McArthur of condemning Charismatics he himself engages in the very practice of that which he disdains. He accuses McArthur of being "lofty." He accuses him of condemning 1/2 billion believers to Hell and making judgment on their salvation. 

Naked Pastor, I personally challenge you to show me ANY place in the video where McArthur condemned ALL Charismatics to Hell. In fact, you show your own ignorance of the material as McArthur himself stated that there were many true believers within the movement; He specifically stated there were many Charismatic preachers that preached sound doctrine and theology while maintaining their belief in the gifts. In fact, you boasted of reading Challies' notes before you watched the video, yet somehow you managed to skip right over his words on this matter: 
He paused to state that he is not discrediting everyone in the movement. He knows there are charismatics who desire to worship God in a true way. Yet the movement itself has brought nothing that enriches true worship. It has made no contribution to biblical clarity, biblical interpretation or sound doctrine. The church had all of these things long before the charismatic movement happened. A Christian today can go back and read the apostles, the Reformers and the Puritans and find richness, understanding and clarity; the charismatics have not added anything but chaos, confusion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding. People have been saved in charismatic churches, but nothing coming from that movement has been the reason they were saved. Nothing within the movement has strengthened the gospel or preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion and error. (Note: I am adding a clarifying note (3:57 PM EST). I do not take MacArthur to mean “nothing good has ever come out of the charismatic movement” but “nothing good has come out of the charismatic movement that is attributable to charismatic theology.”) [source]
These notes are very clear that McArthur never condemned all Charismatic believers to Hell. 
Basically his argument is that charismatics dishonor God. Since they are therefore not in Christ, their theology is demonic. So since they are serving Satan and promoting him, there is a hotter hell reserved for them. He claims that the charismatic movement has done nothing to advance sound doctrine or biblical theology but in fact has caused more damage than anything else ever has because it has only delivered confusion, distortion and error to the church. He questions the church: You have always defended God. You have always defended Jesus Christ. Why do you not defend the Holy Spirit? Instead, the church opens the gates to the charismatics and they have taken over the city of God and set up an idol in its center. He doesn’t understand why God doesn’t just strike all these people down. He sadly supposes his ways aren’t our ways.

This is one of the only accurate representations of the conference. This indeed was McArthur's standing ground on the Charismatic movement. But he still twists the view to make it sound as if McArthur treats all Charismatics in a flippant manner, even insisting that McArthur is concerned that God doesn't strike dead every person in the movement in the manner that He struck down Aaron's sons. 
Here’s my response to MacArthur in defense of the charismatic movement and its adherents.
  1. I suggest that the charismatic movement is a subversion of the very theology MacArthur espouses. It possesses a socio-political power that is devastating to those who would control the church and her members. The spiritual gift at the center of the charismatic movement is speaking in tongues which is an act of defiance against the principalities and powers because it is a secret language, like a code, that cannot be controlled or censored. This is a frustration to the powers who would like to see tighter regulations upon the church in how it should think, speak and act. The more MacArthur talked the more defiant I became, sensing my own spirit crying out, “If I worship I will worship the way I want to worship!”

    His suggestive first point is just that: a suggestion! Much of what is going on in this movement doesn't even come close to biblical theology, let alone the theology that McArthur and the speakers of the conference hold to.
  2. The spiritual gifts level the playing field. I was disturbed by how smug and arrogant MacArthur came across, easily condemning 500,000,000 people to hell. And it was all done with such finesse, dignity and aplomb, padded by PhDs and suits and fine speech and a luxurious church full of violins and operatic voices. Along come the spiritual gifts that usurp all of this. Anybody can play! The charismatic movement is gaining speed, especially in developing nations, I think for this very reason. It is empowering and accessible and available to every single living person regardless of race, sex, status, economics, influence, education or power. It can’t be regulated, and this baffles the tightly run reformed ship that MacArthur pilots.

    Here, NP continues his barrage of assaults on McArthur's character by calling him "smug and arrogant." Does he himself know that Scripture condemns the backbiting and accusations of God's pastors? (1Timothy 5:19). It is interesting that in this passage the Greek word (παραδέχομα) for 'admit' ESV, means to not take up for oneself. In other words, when a person accuses an elder of something pastors are not take up the offense unless there is solid evidence against him. But NP accuses McArthur of somewhat being envious because he cannot explain how the Spirit works. Truly, no one can. But we can certainly look to God's Word and see the way in which God normally moved within His own Church and the lost world.
  3. Several times MacArthur used scripture against the charismatics that could be applied to him. For example, when Jesus cautioned his listeners to not dismiss what’s happening as not of the Spirit and that this is tantamount to blaspheming the Spirit, MacArthur turned it around to say that the charismatic do the opposite by claiming that what they are doing is of the Spirit. While he was saying this I thought, “John! Why not just leave the verse as it is and apply it to yourself? Aren’t you afraid of the possibility that you denying what is happening is of the Spirit is blaspheming the Spirit?” For someone with his level of intelligence, you’d think that he would realize that every scripture can be used like a bullet in anyone’s gun. A bullet is neutral, but he made it fatal by sliding it into his reformed gun’s chamber, firing away like a drive-by shooting of his charismatic brothers and sisters. He could turn the same bullet on himself. But for some reason he doesn’t see the scriptures as a corrective for himself or the reformed movement which he obviously elevates above all others.

    Again, his accusations hold no water. He claims that the same Scriptures that were used against many of the Charismatic practices could have been used and applied to McArthur and his band of speakers, as well. The problem? He never gives a context in how and where they should be applied. He calls it "drive-by shooting" but never offers any explanation as to why. According to the NP, McArthur won't address the problems within the Reformed movement. But again, his charges are simply charges with no solidifying verdict except his own emotions.
  4. He went on and on about how injurious the charismatic movement has been to the church. I agree there have been a lot of abuses and misuses within the charismatic church. I’ve seen it and experienced it first hand. I’ve also seen it and experienced it first hand in reformed churches. This is because it’s not rooted in theology but in the greed, ignorance and cruelty of our hearts. Theology only comes along to justify and vindicate our inhumanity. The response to MacArthur by the church is so overwhelming because, in fact, he is the one who is hurting his brothers and sisters. As a man with such clout in the theological and ecclesiastical world, how injurious was just this one hour of spiteful speech? In one fell swoop he not only disassociated himself from half a billion believers, but he called them “of Satan” and consigned them to a “hotter hell” reserved for such people who dishonor God. In all my life I’ve rarely been so assaulted with such blatant and mindless cruelty dressed up as theological astuteness.

    Oddly enough, I agree with the majority of this statement. The Reformed movement, as well as any other movement, will have its problems. And truthfully, many Reformed people I have encountered can be quite disingenuous about the problems within their own camp. However, I wholeheartedly disagree that his speech was "spiteful." True, he could have been a bit more clear in qualifying, even reiterating, that he did not condemn all Charismatic practices. I think this was one of the weaker points at the conference. But then again, I was not privy to the entire conference so I can only chime in on what I saw and heard myself.
  5. MacArthur wonders why God hasn’t struck down the movement and its adherents. He wonders why the church universal hasn’t condemned it. Speaking from a theological perspective, is it possible that what we are witnessing is actually the movement of the Spirit? Jesus said that the Spirit comes and goes as it wills, like the wind, beyond our control and understanding and even sometimes beyond our observation. Is it possible that this movement that MacArthur can’t control, can’t understand, and can’t even explain is the very wind of the Spirit he desires? Is it possible that this movement that he and his fellow theocrats can’t harness is the Spirit that won’t and can’t be contained? Is it possible that the maverick Spirit is acting in a very unreformed manner, thanks be to God?!

    Again, I agree somewhat with this last point. It is true that we cannot box the Holy Spirit in the way He works. But by no means is He "maverick" as NP suggests, unless he is using the word to simply convey his previous thought. But again, I do not see the Spirit genuinely moving in much of what the Charismatics are practicing. 
I’m not just angry. I’m not just disappointed. I’m sad. After watching MacArthur I was tempted to throw in the towel. Even though many people would distance themselves from MacArthur and his position on charismatics, it’s still a sign that the church and its leaders may use anything at their disposal to elevate themselves above their brothers and sisters, even if it means separating themselves from them forever.
I thought we were better than this.

My problem with this article was not that the Naked Pastor disagreed with the conference; lots of people did. My problem was the way he childishly dealt with it. Instead of allowing himself to carefully critique the entire conference he zeroed in on one session and began to throw his temper tantrum. This conference was already divisive and bound to cause damage somewhere to the body of Christ. But NP did exactly the opposite of what he had hoped to accomplish. He caused more divisiveness and did the very thing that he himself has accused McArthur of doing. 

Many others who disagreed with the conference were respectful in their critiques without the childish name-calling and finger pointing. For example, I found this article from the American Vision website one of the most tasteful critiques offered. Though I disagreed vehemently with some of the statements it was in no way degrading or accusing of McArthur's character or motives as was this article by NP.    
At most, the Naked Pastor was immature in his critique. And it showed greatly in the us-against-them mentality and constant doubt of McArthur's character and motives throughout the entire article. There were very few unbiased statements made, though I can certainly understand the main point he was trying to drive home.

 Had he simply taken the time to keep his own emotions in check this could, no doubt, have been an edifying piece and would have given all us non-charismatics something to chew on. 
  

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