Authentic Fire (Michael L. Brown)

Brown, Michael L. Authentic Fire: A Response to John Macarthur’s Strange Fire.

The Strange Fire conference was fiery but not in a way people on both sides realize.  It had a high flash point and for that reason illustrated why cessationism is on the wane.

Michael Brown first addresses the common criticism of him: why doesn’t he rebuke x, y, and z?  (Phil Johnson makes this criticism).  For one, Brown has written several books condemning these wacky charismatic abuses. Does that not count?  Secondly, most charismatics don’t “bark in the Spirit,” so why call unnecessary attention to it?

As to the extreme emotionalism, is that always the case?  Brown quotes John Wimber where Wimber encourages people to “dial it down” (Wimber, Power Healing).  J. P. Moreland, a charismatic, wrote a book called Finding Quiet where he lists a number of calming practices.

One of Macarthur’s criticisms is that any good the charismatics have produced has been in spite of themselves, not because of it.  Not only is this is wrong, this is just bitter-spirited.  Let’s look at it:

Ben Witherington: leading New Testament scholar.  Can he separate his faith from his theology? Indeed, he mentions going to a healing and exorcism service.  

Craig Keener: written the leading (and largest) commentary on Acts.  Acts is about miracles.  Keener gives testimony in his own life of experiencing miracles.  Can he really separate his faith from his scholarship.

J. P. Moreland is an outspoken charismatic and leading philosopher.  He wrote a book specifically integrating a charismatic view on prophecy and healing with his epistemology.

Other criticisms include asking where the charismatic hospitals are, to which Brown documents numerous ministries that feed and care for thousands of starving people in the Global South.

Chapter 4 details all of Macarthur’s guilt-by-association fallacies.  This chapter should be in all rhetoric textbooks as an example of counter-arguments.  If x is guilty of a position because he had some degree of previous association with y, then that same argument can be used against you.  Look at it this way.  Macarthur is a dispensationalist.   John Gerstner said dispensationalism was borderline heresy and a deviation from orthodoxy, yet Macarthur had RC Sproul, Gerstner’s student, speak at Strange Fire.  Is not Macarthur endorsing Gerstner’s attacks on dispensationalism?

Let’s look at it another way.  Michael Brown said Cindy Jacobs was a friend.  Not endorsing her theology, just a friend.  Well, Brown has also spoken at Southern Evangelical Seminary of the late Norm Geisler.  Was Geisler then promoting Jacobs’ theology?  See how silly this is?

Chapters 5ff deal with some of the more problematic (and alleged) Pentecostal practices. This is in the context of Macarthur’s rhetorical question, “Does it oppose worldliness” (Implied answer no).  Don’t Pentecostals in the Global South hold to a prosperity gospel?  Not exactly.  Let’s take the question: “Does God want his people to have material prosperity?” In the jungle of Africa that means “Not starve to death tomorrow.”  And in some sense we can say, “Correct, God doesn’t want you to starve to death.”  These people aren’t thinking of buying a BMW.  They want a bicycle to be able to preach the Gospel in another village.

In other places like Brazil where Pentecostals did give more carnal answers, their answers really weren’t different from the non-charismatics.

Brown asks a rather pointed question: how is it right for members and preachers in a lavish megachurch, some having flown there on planes, in air-conditioning, no doubt well-fed, condemning starving believers in other parts of the world simply because the latter said God wants to meet their needs?

And as to theological worldliness–how is American Protestantism doing these days?  Many of the major conservative denominations are in an existential fight against Marxism and liberalism.  It’s not Pentecostalism that is lurching to the left.

Brown’s Positive Case

1. The NT states these gifts will continue until Christ returns (1 Cor. 1:7-8; 13:8ff).

2.  The NT encourages use of these gifts.
3. The NT never states these gifts will cease.

Were Jesus’s miracles confirmation miracles?  Some were but not all. Many healings happened because he had compassion, not because he had to prove he was God. Others proved the messianic age had begun (and the NT makes a correlation between the outpouring of the Spirit and the beginning of the Messianic age).

Raymond Brown goes so far to say that the miracle wasn’t the external confirmation of the message; rather, it was the vehicle of the message.

In any case, miracle isn’t even the word the NT uses.  It is dunamis or “working of powers.”  Galatians 3:5 says the Spirit works powers among us.  Therefore, if the same Spirit comes upon believers today, why shouldn’t we expect the working of powers?


I believe we should write more books explaining and integrating miracles and charismata in the church today.  We need to focus on positive cases.  This book should serve as the final nail in the cessationist coffin.  Even cessationists are backing away from their earlier claims.  


Carson: Showing the Spirit

Image result for carson showing the spirit

Carson, D. A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.

Carson steers a middle path between deistic cessationism and slappy clappy anything-goes charismania.  He endorses the substance behind Grudem’s thesis while calling particular details into account. This is the best, sane treatment of the charismatic movement.

While there are some nuances between “charismata” and “pneumatikon,” there isn’t enough to warrant a full doctrinal difference or application.

Notes and argument:

* The “perfect” in 1 Cor. 13 cannot refer to the completion of the canon, since that would have been anachronistic for Paul.

* Paul makes no distinction between regular gifts and super gifts (Carson 34).  12:7 links it all: each gift is for the manifestation of the Spirit. Each believer is given some manifestation and rather than divide it into super and regular, Paul’s argument does the exact opposite: don’t think one is better than the other.

* The ordering of the gifts doesn’t matter.  Paul changes the order every time (35ff).

*The chapter on tongues is interesting.  He leans towards their being actual languages, and hypothetically grants they continue today.  He hedges his bets by saying no one does it correctly. He draws upon an interesting article by Poythress and notes that the content of glossalia that tongue-speech is coded language (all languages have codes that repeat). So even if it is “gibberish,” if it has patterns then it still counts as a language.  Poythress gives the following example:

Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.

Remove the vowels to achieve

Prs th lrd fr hs mrc ndrs frvr

This isn’t so strange, since some Semitic languages don’t have vowels.

Now we are going to remove the spaces


This still counts as a language, since most early languages didn’t have spaces.

Now we are going to add an “a” between each consonant.  It might sound gibberish, but it has all the necessary conditions for a language.  You can play with it and it will sound gibberish, but it still fits as a “language.”


Does Grudem’s view mean that each new prophecy means new revelation?  No.

  1. a) It doesn’t seem like Philip’s daughters thought they were adding to the canon.
  2. b) The parallel with OT false prophets really doesn’t work.  In the OT if a prophet were proved true, then he was good to go.  Sort of like tenure. Not so with NT prophets. Their oracles are to be carefully weighed (presumably again and again).

Were Tongues a Covenantal Sign?

It is true that Paul is probably alluding to Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Cor. 14:22ff.  Does this mean that each act of tongue-speaking in the church was a covenantal judgment on Jews for their unbelief?  It’s hard to see how that could be the case. Carson shows some problems:

  1. a) The “unbeliever” for Paul is a Gentile, not a Jew.  There is no way that this can function as a covenantal sign against the Jewish unbeliever.

Carson ends the book with a rather pointed critique of charismatic excesses.  That’s understandable, since he spent the previous 150 pages debunking cessationist exegesis.

Gospel and Spirit (Gordon Fee)

See the source image

Fee, Gordon.  Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

The real battle over inerrancy doesn’t concern whether the autographa are (were?) inerrant.  The conservative has no access to them and the liberal can’t produce any arguments on why they would be errant.  The real problem, however, is hermeneutics.  Lacking any fear, Gordon Fee jumps into the fray.

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy

Since Scripture is a divine-human product, it creates tensions in the life of the church.  We have eternal truths applied to human particularities.  The temptation to get around this tension results in a “divine rule book” hermeneutics. Many conservatives (since liberals scorn Scripture, we don’t even need to address them) level all the imperatives in Scripture with the result that they can’t live by their own advice.  As Fee wryly notes, “One whole wing of evangelicalism, for example, argues vehemently for the eternal validity of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 on the silence of women, while rejecting every other imperative in the chapter, including the final one, not to forbid speaking in tongues” (Fee 45).

Even worse, but proving Fee’s case, Paul doesn’t always give the same imperative to the same situation. The guidelines for widows in 1 Cor. 7 is different from 1 Timothy 5. So how do we do ethics?  First, we realize that God’s gift precedes his obligation (good Augustinianism here).  We do not start with “law” but with God himself, who gives himself to us (good Wyclifite insight here).  As Fee notes, “All things are measured by the character of the Father; as his children we are privileged by the power of the Spirit to bear his likeness in the world” (46). To do otherwise is to make the medieval mistake: turning the gospel into a “New Law.”

While some of Fee’s comments decisively rebut the cessationist, he is on weaker ground when it comes to women in leadership.  He makes several important points, but none of them is logically overwhelming. Still, they are worth considering.  Should women be quiet in church (1 Tim. 2:8-15)? The question we should all ask is which part of 1 Timothy is particular and which eternal?  For example, no patriarchalist literally holds to 5:3-16 (which, interestingly enough, is opposite of Paul’s advice in 1 Cor. 7).  What grounds do we have for thinking that is particular to that situation and not eternal?

I don’t know.  Fee raises good points that few patriarchalist have thought about (or even are aware exist), but the structure of his argument resembles a tu quo que fallacy.  I’ll leave it at that.

His two most important chapters deal with distinctives in the Assembly of God and the larger pentecostal church.  Can we draw doctrine from narrative and is the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration?  The answer to both questions is “sort of.” While cessationists, Baptist and Reformed, oppose basing doctrine (or practice) on narrative in theory, they do so in practice.  Where is the didactic teaching that says we baptize infants (or believers after a credible profession)?  It’s not there.  They base the teaching (correctly, I believe) on the household baptisms in Acts.

Fee suggests that a better question is how can we draw doctrine from narrative. Which experience of the primitive church is normative for us?  The Jerusalem Church shared everything, yet we have no evidence the Antioch Church did, and we know for a fact the Corinthian (and probably Roman) churches did not.

Even more problematic, while the epistles have didactic elements, they are occasional letters not systematic theologies.  Even if we draw doctrine from them, and we should, we have no warrant to treat them as Pauline Summas.

This book is a fantastic intermediate level text on hermeneutics.  It presents a number of tough case-studies that will make everyone uncomfortable.

The Healing Reawakening (Francis MacNutt)

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Thesis: Jesus’s ministry illustrated deliverance on every level of our being.

Jesus’s basic mission is mapped out in Luke 4:18ff:
(1) Preach good news for the poor.
(2) give liberty to captives (exorcism)
(3) Give the blind new sight (spiritual and physical healing)
(4) Proclaim Jubilee

Jesus’s healings were not side issues but part of the teaching itself.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

While I probably agree with MacNutt that baptism with the Holy Spirit often happens subsequent to regeneration, I don’t think the example of Jesus is the best one to use. In Mark 1 John the Baptist says the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is something Jesus does. So–is Jesus baptizing himself with the Holy Spirit?  

MacNutt has a fascinating section on the historical development of the sacrament of unction.  Since sacraments are always effective in the Roman Church, then we have a problem: people aren’t always physically healed when we anoint with oil.  That’s okay. They are spiritually healed. In any case, this takes place on the deathbed.

Here is another issue with “spiritual healing.”  Both Protestants and Catholics say this takes place (instead of physical healing, which is what the text actually says).  How many people in your church today are spiritually healed?  How many abused people undergo spiritual healing that restores their fractured psyches.  Spiritual healing is great, but a) that isn’t what you are doing and b) that isn’t what the text says.

One factual mistake.  He said David Hume was a leading proponent of “Scottish Realism.”  This is wrong. The Scottish Realist school led by Thomas Reid opposed Hume.  Hume, by contrast, was an empiricist. The larger point stands, though. With a few exceptions today, no one in Protestantism, liberal or conservative, questions the undisputed dominance of David Hume.

The book ends with a neat history of the “Pentecostal Century” and how the 3rd Wave was formed.  The takeaway from the book is that the church let go of the healing ministry in various ways. Protestants simply said (without evidence or argument) that all this stuff stopped with the apostles.  Catholics accepted that healings take place today, only you probably have to go to a shrine to get it done. In both cases, though, the individual wasn’t encouraged to offer healing prayers for others.  

Parsing what a “sign-gift” is

This is the most common argument against continuationism: the miracles/super gifts were indexed to the apostles and they functioned to confirm the apostolic message.  It’s an impressive argument, but it fails completely. Consider (and I take my musings from Steve Hays).

See Steve’s larger discussions here.

1.  The gifts are always indexed to the Spirit, not to the Apostles.

2. A biblical miracle is not limited to simply confirming a message.

3. The miracles and confirmations referenced in Hebrews 1 were not to validate the apostles’ ministry.  It was to confirm the sufficiency of the New Covenant.  The readers never doubted that the Apostles were correct.

4. Acts 8:26ff; 10:9-13; 16:9-10; and 18:9-10 are prophetic revelations in a dream.  There is no understanding that this is a miracle confirming a message.  For whom are these signs?  They are private revelations, not public.

5. Acts 2:17ff explicitly says the signs are universal, not indexed to the Apostolate.

6. Miracles aren’t attributed to all the apostles nor are all who do miracles apostles.  The cessationist could respond that miracles are simply limited to the apostolic age.  But that’s ad hoc and arbitrary and precisely the thing that needs to be proven.  And without the “sign-gift” argument, which I am showing to be flawed, it can’t be proven.

7. James and Jude connect themselves with Jesus, not with the apostles (and I make no assumptions about their identity).

8. You can’t say the purpose of a sign-gift is to verify a prophecy or an apostle and simultaneously define prophecy and apostles as gifts.

8a.  If prophecy is a sign-gift, then it should be self-attesting.  Yet Paul commands us to evaluate a prophecy, which assumes it isn’t self-attesting.

9. If a Christian has a revelatory dream, is that a gift?  In what way?

9. If the cessationist view of sign-gifts is true, then they temporarily abandon the sufficiency of Scripture.  If the point of a gift is to confirm the apostolic message, then the message itself was inadequate.

10. Sign-gifts have to be public on anyone’s gloss.  This rules out dreams, visions, and most forms of prophecy (and much answered prayer), since those are usually private.

11. If the charismata aren’t limited to the apostles (as Warfield admits, Counterfeit Miracles 21), then it’s hard to see how they demarcate the apostolate.

12. We have no reason to think that Joel’s prophecy is temporary.  In biblical revelation, it is the old covenant that is temporary.  It doesn’t make sense to replace the temporary with the temporary.

13.  It isn’t true that the “power gifts” came from the laying on of hands (cf Acts 8).  Cornelius didn’t receive laying on of hands.  He simply heard the word.

Miracles Links Database

HT to Steve Hays for all of the hard work.

Cessationists tell me that if the gifts continued, we should see miracles today.  I point out miracles today.

“Those aren’t real, though.”

Lee Strobel Asks, ‘Are Miracles Real and Still Happening?’



Another PB debate on miracles

I don’t know if God gave me a word of knowledge saying “don’t get tangled up in cessationist debates.”  I think he did.  I did post some on Puritanboard pushing back against some pretty bad reasoning.  I’ll let it go, though.  Ye can judge of yourself.  I do think the little bit I did was okay, since it let me access Steve Hays’ stuff on miracles.

There is nothing new in these debates.  Nothing.  Cessationists simply say, “Oh yeah, if he can heal today then why isn’t he?”  That’s it.  That’s the argument.  Zero exegesis.  Zero discussion of why and how (and if) the canon closed. Nothing.

Me, in response to a criticism of John Wimber. Depends on what exactly he is doing. Power Evangelism is pretty broad. And even from a charismatic perspective, not every evangelistic encounter will be a power-encounter.

But to answer your question, any cessationist response to this is basically going to be the standard cessationist response to continuationism.

If he can work miracles, great. Even John Wimber says you can’t “force God” to work a miracle in you in a power encounter. Normally, though, power evangelism seeks to recognize that some people might have “demonic blocks” that prevent them from hearing the gospel. Not always, but sometimes. The early church recognized this (which is why all early church baptisms had exorcism rituals).

Me: Whenever I hear cessationists or charismatics talk about this stuff, I try to get them for the next 10 minutes to define their terms. Most scholarly charismatics don’t believe we got the Holy Ghost on tap and can heal at will (something the apostles couldn’t even do) And most cessationists believe that, yes, God still can do stuff if he wants to.

When I read Wimber I didn’t see Wimber saying every evangelistic encounter will call down lightning from heaven. Quite the opposite. He is noting that there are sometimes “blocks” in conversion that the apologist must remove. We do that all the time in normal apologetics. Wimber’s point is that some of these blocks are demonic. Like a Hollywood actress who sold her soul to Satan and does Eyes Wide Shut type rituals.

You are conflating two different issues. It’s one thing to say that miracles aren’t normative, if you mean that the Christian shouldn’t actively seek them. Fair enough. But to say that they do not happen today (something the Scripture never says, nor does it mention a completed canon of table of contents page of the bible) is simply to go beyond the evidence.

Me: Reformed blogger Steve Hays is the best resource on this. Some of these miracles deal with skeptic claims to the Bible, but others deal with modern miracles.

That’s really cheapening the work of Christ. Let’s say, ex hypothesi, that a miracle were performed. And it was done by a godly saint. He by definition wouldn’t claim the money.

Well I guess that wraps up all the scholarship on cessationism vs. continuationism. Conrad’s phone call.

Why is God obligated to do that? The same Paul who raised the dead couldn’t heal Trophimus.

Fallacy of False Alternative.

I note that no one has dealt with any of Steve Hays’ material. I don’t really expect anyone to. It is a lot easier to simply say strange fire talking points.

I am not saying we should believe early church miracle claims just because. I am saying there is rigorous scholarship that evaluates the nature of epistemological warrant, the epistemology of testimonies (and their defeaters and even the defeaters of defeaters), and the like. I’m not seeing any of that analysis here. I am seeing repeats of talking points, very little exegesis, very little discussion on which Bible verse talks about the closing of the canon (or even the contents of the NT canon).

And Strange Fire really wasn’t a good moment for cessationists. It got a lot of traction because everyone was high fiving each other, but NT scholarship (Carson, Keener, etc) really wasn’t impressed.

Some more analysis of Hays. (this one basically destroys the argument that all legitimate miracles were instantaneous zap juice)

Some thoughts on charismata

From the Facebook Group Reformed Charismatics.  On rejecting cessationism:

***the bible never calls the gifts “sign gifts”. Rather, it calls them “charismata”, or quite literally “grace gifts”. This alone shatters the cessationist position that the gifts were only meant to be temporary “signs” until the cannon was complete.

Also, the fact that the bible commands us to “eagerly desire” the charismata, and even goes so far the equate “despising prophecy” with quenching the spirit. The fact that the church in Corinth was abusing the gifts and yet Paul never rebukes them for practicing the gifts, or mentions them ceasing. Rather, he corrects their usage of the gifts and then encourages them to continue in the practice of them.

Also, the fact that there are multiple cases in the bible itself which gives examples of people prophecying and yet, none of the prophecies are written in scripture, thus detrying the “all prophecy is equal to scripture” fallacy. For cessationists to be consistent they would need to somehow dig up all the prophecies which are spoken of in the bible, but not recorded in the bible, and add them to the cannon.

*** Paul’s body dynamic argument in 1 Corinthians 12, that all the members of the body are necessary.

***The “perfect” never refers to the canon.

False Assumptions in Cessationism, part 1

I haven’t done a real blog post in a while, mainly book reviews.  And this post is from a book, but to include it in a formal review will make it unwieldy.  Note, in saying these are false assumptions in cessationist arguments I do not imply that cessationism is necessarily false.  I think it is, but that’s not the argument in question.

Deere’s most important chapter is “The Real Reason Christians Do not believe in the miraculous Gifts” and in it he undoes a number of cessationist non-arguments.

False Assumption 1: NT Healing was “Automatic,” meaning the NT Christian could heal anyone at anytime.  But the NT never claims this and makes statements that are quite odd if true: “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” (Luke 5.17, quoted in Deere, 59). If Jesus could heal “any place, any time,” then why did Scripture mention the power of the Lord being present?

Why at some places does Jesus heal all yet at Bethesda he only heals one person?  In fact, at Nazareth Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt. 13.58).

Finally, the answer is that the NT does not see spiritual power as “automatic.”  Jesus gave the apostles all authority over demons and sickness (Matt. 10.1; Luke 9.1), yet they could not heal a demonized boy (Matt 17.16).  What gives?  I thought healing power was automatic?  Obviously, the cessationist is wrong.