In case you missed it, the Strange Fire Conference, hosted by John MacArthur and featuring R. C. Sproul and Joni Eareckson Tada, kicked up a lot of dust in the evangelical world. American Protestants endured a veritable soap opera when cessationist, continuationist, and charismatic forces clashed over the role of the Holy Spirit in churches and Christian life today.
MacArthur might not have been helping the one hundred year old debate over spiritual gifts by attributing such things as speaking in tongues to satanic forces or various kinds of deception. A bit of a fundamentalist, MacArthur did not offer his criticism with gentleness or a tone of reconciliation.
Chest-thumping reached an all-time high when hyper-macho Neo-Reformed celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll showed up to “give away” free copies of his pro-charismatic book without permission. This ended with a rather nasty showdown between conference organizers and Driscoll, analyses of which can be found here and here.
All kinds of classy hit the internet when the open letters started getting published while the story was still hot. Notable examples include publically-aired epistles from Driscoll and one of MacArthur’s fans. The internet equivalent of talking heads blogged about what we should learn from the whole brouhaha here, here, and here (and a million other places).
Several trends caught my own attention. First, many charismatics appeared to be offended that people would gather together to criticize their entire movement. With their popularity and coexistence with other traditions, charismatic Christians seemed to have thought that they should now receive mainstream acceptance as a perfectly normal expression of the Church. However, since it’s been roughly a hundred years since the Azusa Street Revival, maybe they should not make such assumptions. On the other hand, maybe this points to the fact that continuationists have been readily incorporated into the norm of what evangelicaldom considers Christianity. Nevertheless, it might be good for continuationists to realize that cessationism isn’t a preference of taste, but a serious doctrinal position.
For cessationists, it is telling that the more rigid MacArthur is the one who’s leading the barn-burning talk of “false worship.” If the worship methods of, say, Pentecostals is illegitimate, what else can one call the phenomenon besides “false worship?” If cessationists (or evangelicals in cessationist churches) feel uncomfortable saying such things about charismaticism or continuationism, a re-evaluation might be in order. Similarly, MacArthur misconstrues most Pentecostalism as prosperity gospel; this is slanderous. Are there other more important things that tie us together? How do we know what pleasing worship order looks like, anyway? It seems to be telling that, in North America, the liturgical, sacramental, and apostolic ways of Anglicanism and Catholicism contain both positions in peace.
Finally, giving out books and passive-aggressively saying you didn’t know what you were doing was a problem? Really, Pastor Driscoll? Really?
It’s apparent that there’s some old-buck/young-buck drama going on between MacArthur and Driscoll. May cooler heads prevail.