Brief Book: Swirling Fire

October 2013 saw the Strange Fire conference—and some ensuing controversy—take certain portions of the online evangelical world by storm.

Taking its name from the unauthorized offering to the Lord by Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron (Leviticus 10), John Macarthur of California held the conference to address what he sees as similar abuses of worship of God in pentecostal and charismatic Christianity.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Lev 10:1-2)

Several related issues are swirling around here, all related to the question of what is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit today. Much of the debate around the conference was over ‘cessationism’ vs. ‘continuationism’: were the gifts that resulted from the outpouring of the Spirit throughout Acts limited to that apostolic age (i.e. they ceased, thus ‘cessationism’); or are they available to believers today (i.e. they continued through history; ‘continuationism’)? Macarthur is himself a cessationist, and is against the pentecostal/charismatic movement.

Swirling Fire

This question of whether these extraordinary gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, healing, tongues, and so on) exist in the church today was the background to the polemic end of the conference: calling out directly some of the more extreme claims of those in the ’Word-Faith’ movement.1 Macarthur and others suggested that those who appear to be the extreme end of this movement—Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen and others—are actually fairly representative of mainstream charismaticism.

There have been plenty of responses to the Strange Fire conference, from reflections and summaries of the conference sessions, to John Piper addressing the situation, to a Pentecostal pastor reflecting on his own movement, to Macarthur responding to some of his critics. You could certainly spend a long time wading through the virtual reams written about it across the internet.

We’ve put together a Brief Book 2 that deals tangentially with this issue. We don’t engage directly with the particulars of this case as such; instead the articles we’ve collected address some of the issues raised by this ongoing discussion. The Briefing has engaged with the charismatic movement in a number of ways over the years, and so in this Brief Book we’ve collected a number of articles from the recent and not-so-recent archives on cessationism/continuationism, the Hillsong movement,3 how to have theological disagreements, music, and other topics.




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I pray this will be a beneficial recap of some of the important issues. We offer this collection of articles not because we want to sit back and point our fingers at others, but because we earnestly believe that worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit matters, and is a key part of being a disciple of Christ.

  1.  The Word-Faith movement claims miraculous works of God in everyday life through the power of speaking.
  2.  Brief Books are our short-ish-form digital publication line, available on the Matthias Media store, Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle store, and through our own Briefing app.
  3.  Despite what some of our critics would claim, we don’t have a simple knee-jerk staid-Sydney-Anglican-churchmen reaction against Hillsong, nor does our view of charismaticism come through only a single lens. However, Hillsong is a major charismatic influence for those of us here in Sydney and increasingly around the world. And to the particular controversy mentined above: many of the ‘extreme’ representatives of charismaticism, such as Joel Osteen and TD Jakes, are regular and recent preachers on the Hillsong platform.

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