Okay, so I'm a little late with this review. By now, everyone and his brother has read or at least heard about John MacArthur's Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship book. The debate raged and waned over the course of the months following its release and the companion conference held in October of 2013. It made a lot of people angry, especially those mentioned by name in the book, but also sparked some soul searching among those to whom the truth matters.
I pretty well already knew what I believed about the doctrine and gifts of the Spirit when I began reading, but it was good to get some solid biblical teaching on the matter from someone so well respected in the church at large. Whatever you might say about John MacArthur, you can't say he doesn't do his homework. This study, written in partnership with Prof. Nathan Busenitz, professor of theology and church history at The Master's Seminary, is well documented with about 50 pages of end notes. I know because I not only read the body text, I kept going right through the end notes! It was that interesting.
However, when the title page of Part 1 of a book includes the words "confronting" and "counterfeit," you know it isn't going to be pleasant. This is where I take issue with not what is written but the order in which it is presented. I would have to question the wisdom of beginning by confronting anything, whether counterfeit or not. I am not surprised that some folks were immediately put off by Dr. MacArthur's expose concerning key players in the modern Charismatic movement.
You see, it doesn't matter to many today what the cold truth is; they are led more by their hearts. To attack the sweethearts of the Charismatic movement only endears them that much more to their followers. They may even know what their leaders have done and are embarrassed by the conduct of those he mentions, but they are like family. Their followers forgive and forget easily because the leaders in this movement have won their hearts. Though it may be a co-dependent relationship harmful to both parties, for many of the adherents, it is a relationship built on adoration and unquestioning loyalty.
It would have probably been better to expound the truth of the Scriptures and the testimonies of godly leaders first, then to address how the leaders of the modern Charismatic movement have erred from the Bible and from historic Christianity. (Even Dr. MacArthur's heart-felt appeal to his continuationist friends doesn't happen until Chapter 12!) To try and rationalize with believers who possibly build nearly their whole Christian experience on emotions is to lose the argument from the outset. You do not begin a discussion this way; you only stir up negative feelings and end up in a war instead. No one hears you after his emotions are riled up. That is my only disagreement with the book itself.
In my opinion, how the doctrine of the Holy Spirit himself is expounded is excellent. In fact, Chapter 9, "The Holy Spirit and Salvation," could stand alone as a pamphlet on this doctrine and be distributed with great benefit, clearing up many misconceptions even among more orthodox denominations who think they know what the Bible says about this subject.
Truly, interest in this much neglected member of the Trinity is the only hope of revival in the day in which we live. Yet, how can we pray for what we do not understand? How can we expect His blessing on us if we are hindering His work by our mishandling of His person? What Dr. MacArthur teaches in this book is needed right now! If you haven't read Strange Fire, I encourage you to get a copy and let it bless you in the study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
And, by all means, let us pray fervently for a genuine work of the Holy Spirit among us before it's too late.