Strange Fire by John MacArthur is an unapologetic critique of the Charismatic Movement. MacArthur wrote a similar book, Charismatic Chaos, back in the early 90’s, but the movement has vastly grown in influence and acceptance since then, and called for a more contemporary response.
I am thrilled that MacArthur has written this book, and pray that many Christians will read it. It is not written softly, and will undoubtedly be offensive to many. You do not get all the way through the introduction before you read, “charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology…in reality it is a sham — a counterfeit form of spirituality that continually morphs as it spirals erratically from one error to the next.”
My prayer is that people, even if shocked by MacArthur’s strong wording, will read on to discover why it is that he uses such stern language. Because, as MacArthur demonstrates, many people’s lives are being moved off the foundation of God’s truth by the false teachings of the charismatic movement. And any time a person accepts false teaching instead of the truth of God’s Word, it will cause harm to his life.
In Part 1 of his book, MacArthur gives an account of the beginnings of the charismatic movement. It is very instructive to realize that throughout church history, the church has believed that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit passed away with the apostles. Only a few heretical splinter groups believed that those gifts were to continue, until 1901. It was in that year that a group of people at a small Bible school in Kansas in 1901 began what is now the charismatic movement. After giving this history, MacArthur offers some tests that should be applied to any movement that is claiming to be a work of the Holy Spirit, and shows that the charismatic movement fails these tests.
In Part 2 of his book, he examines each of the miraculous gifts: apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and miraculous healings. He compares the biblical descriptions of each of these gifts with the contemporary use of these gifts, and in each case finds that what is being practiced today is not at all what the Bible describes. Therefore, we should not identify these modern charismatic practices as the New Testament gifts, but instead as “counterfeit gifts.”
Part 3 is a biblical study of the true work of the Holy Spirit — how He works in salvation, sanctification, and through the Scriptures that He has inspired.
The issues that MacArthur addresses in this book are very important. MacArthur says that there are “half a billion charismatic adherants” worldwide. If God is truly behind the new teachings and practices of this movement, then all Christians should welcome and participate in this work of God. However, if these charismatic practices and teachings are not the true work of the Holy Spirit, then we could be in danger of “plastering His name on that which is not his work” (xiii), and actually bringing dishonor to His name.
Le Mars Bible Church holds the same position as John MacArthur on this issue — that the gifts of apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healings, and tongues were foundational and temporary, and are not being given by the Spirit today. I heartily commend MacArthur’s book for your reading. May it result in God’s people being united upon the pure and sufficient truth of the Word of God!