Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Strange Fire" Book Review by Tony Thomas


The “Strange Fire” conference, held recently in Los Angeles, has caused quite an uproar among evangelicals and charismatics in this country and abroad.  Sponsored by Grace Community Church and the Master’s Seminary, this conference featured speakers including John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steve Lawson, Phil Johnson and Conrad Mbewe.  

I had a chance to listen to many of the presentations from the conference and found the material to be both compelling and controversial.  The speakers attacked the very foundation of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Third Wave movements and their presentations were hard hitting and not at all nuanced.

As a result of what I had seen and heard, I decided to reach out to Thomas Nelson Publishers to see if I could get a pre-release copy of the book.  They were kind enough to honor my request and I read the book with a great deal of anticipation and interest as one who was actively involved in the movement nearly thirty years ago.

The complete title of the book is: “Strange Fire - The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship” by John MacArthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. The book title is a “in your face” precursor to the combustible material found inside.  The title is derived from the account recorded in Leviticus 10:1-3 in which the sons of Aaron were destroyed after they made an offering of “strange fire” to the Lord.  The premise is that “strange fire” is counterfeit worship of the true God in a way that violates His Word.  

The book is over 300 pages long with extensive (450 or so ) biblical references and quotes.  A helpful “notes” section at the end of the book gives detailed information on each reference for those who are inclined to check original sources.  It is a very scholarly work and is well researched with plenty of background information and history. As such, it should be taken very seriously.  

The three sections of the book are:

1. Confronting a Counterfeit Revival
2. Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts
3. Rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work.

MacArthur’s approach throughout the book is to examine each issue in “black and white” with no shades of gray.  He sees things as true/false, right/wrong and good/evil.  He is a total absolutist. This is in stark contrast with our culture which is unabashedly relativistic.  

He does an excellent job of contrasting the modern “gifts of the Spirit” with their biblical equivalents.  He exposes fallible prophets, phony tongues and failed healings.  He reveals theological distortions and scripture twisting.  In addition, he exposes the moral failures, scandals, inconsistencies and deceptions that have brought great shame to the movement and the name of Christ.  MacArthur sees the movement as a full-frontal attack on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and one that is infiltrating the evangelical church all over the world.  It is a sobering book that is likely to provoke much thought, prayer and hopefully, discussion and debate.

The torrent of shocking sound bites that emerged from the “Strange Fire” conference will likely cause many to pass on reading the book.  I think this is a grave mistake.  The book is thoughtful, analytical and well-reasoned.  It deserves to be read.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God With Us


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14 ESV)

For many, Christmas is nothing more than getting stuff and an excuse for unbridled revelry. Of course, this obscures its true meaning: the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Creator of the universe left eternity and entered time to take on a tent of human flesh and to live among us.  Not only that, He came on a rescue mission to save broken men and women from sin and death by living a sinless life and dying in our place on Calvary’s cross.   (Romans 5:10)

In addition, He triumphed over death by rising from the dead for our justification. (Romans 4:25, I Cor 15)

And He offers to us the gift of eternal life to us as a free gift.  (Romans 6:23) All we need to do to receive it is to repent from our sins and place our trust in Him as our Savior and Lord.  (Acts 3:19, Romans 10:9-10)

“Christ has not left going forth yet. And when he goes forth, recollect, he goes to Bethlehem. Have you a Bethlehem in your heart? Are you little? will go forth to you yet. Go home and seek him by earnest prayer. If you have been made to weep on account of sin, and think yourself too little to be noticed, go home, little one! Jesus comes to little ones; his goings forth were of old, and he is going forth now. He will come to your poor old house; he will come to your poor wretched heart; he will come, though you are in poverty, and clothed in rags, though you are destitute, tormented, and afflicted; he will come, for his goings forth have been of old from everlasting. Trust him, trust him, trust him; and he will go forth to abide in your heart for ever.” - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Keep Contending!


“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  Jude 3 ESV

We are living in difficult times.  There is war, strife and uncertainty.  The world is permeated with doubt.  Postmodern thought has ushered in an era that champions unbelief in the guise of modesty.  Subjectivity is utterly pervasive.  However, the Bible tells us to contend for the faith.  What faith?   The once, for all delivered, faith.

The Christian faith has a historical basis.  Thousands of years of history undergird it.  From Adam and Eve in the garden, through Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, the prophets and all the way to John the Baptist and culminating in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification, the Christian faith is based upon actual events. 

Our faith is, therefore, not subjective.  It is not only based upon historical facts and substantiated evidence, but that evidence has been documented in the Holy Bible.   The life of Jesus Christ is recorded in the four Gospels.  The history of the early church is recorded in the book of Acts, and the epistles lay down its doctrinal foundation.  Even though it was vilified, censored and destroyed, the Bible has miraculously survived through the centuries.  Based upon substantial documentary evidence, the Bible that we have today is over 99% intact and the other less than 1% has no bearing on any major doctrine.

Despite the ever-blowing “winds of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14), our faith is not amorphous and vacuous.  It is clearly defined and unchanging.  Despite those who “twist the Scriptures to their own destruction” (II Peter 3:16), Holy Scripture is our only standard for faith.  As the writer of Hebrews penned, "the Word of God is alive, powerful and sharper than any double-edged sword".  It penetrates all the way to our soul and spirit, the very essence of who we really are. (Hebrews 4:12)

As a result, we must “earnestly struggle for the system of religious truth that was conclusively transmitted to the believers in Christ”. (Jude 3, literal Greek translation)  We have to be ready and equipped to destroy every stronghold of doubt and every lofty human opinion that is in opposition to the true knowledge of God and bring it into conformity with His will and revelation. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts on the Gospel

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” --1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV

I have been reading a lot of Michael Horton lately. I highly recommend his books: “Christless Christianity” and “The Gospel Driven Life”.  

In them, he emphasizes that the substance of the true Gospel is not what we do, but what has been done for us. The Gospel is not a “to do list”. It is not a list of rules and regulations. That is the law. And, according to Paul, we have “died to the law through the body of Christ...” (Romans 7:4 ESV)

It is the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised from the dead. The fact that He lived the righteous life that we are unable to live. The fact that His righteousness is imputed to us.

A lot of people today are trying to “live the Gospel”. This is a concept foreign to the Bible.  

We can’t live the Gospel, we can only proclaim the Gospel. Of course, Jesus Christ is our example. However, the Gospel is not “What Would Jesus Do?”. It is what Jesus did for all of us if we will only trust in Him.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Christ Our Passover

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Co 5:7 ESV)


At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist makes a stunning announcement:  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:36 ESV).  


To those who heard the announcement, these words held a special meaning.  During the Passover (or Pesach), a lamb without spot or blemish was sacrificed and the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels so that the angel of death would “pass over” the Jewish households and all of the first borns would live.


Just as God accepted the sacrifice of the Israelites who sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, God sent Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, to the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  


Why did Jesus Christ have to die?  


According to Hebrews 9:22, without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin.  Romans 5:9 and Ephesians 1:7 say that we are redeemed and justified by the blood of Messiah.


Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the Roman cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of those who would put their faith in Him.  


God has imputed His perfect righteousness to all believers and has imputed our sin to Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (II Corinthians 5:21 ESV)


Not only that, He rose again from the dead to demonstrate His dominion over death and to assure us that we will also triumph over death:  “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22–26 ESV)


This should be enough to cause us to rejoice!  For Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!


"But courage, believer! your body shall rise again. Laid in the earth it may be, but kept in the earth it cannot be. The voice of nature bids you die, but the voice of the Omnipotent bids you live again."  C. H. Spurgeon


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Did We Miss Christmas?

The tree was beautifully decorated. Neatly-wrapped presents were placed underneath. Holly was in evidence and mistletoe hung over our heads. There was plenty of food on the table and merriment abounded. But, did we miss Christmas? Did we forget the real reason for the season?:

The fact that Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, was born of a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem and came to live a perfectly righteous life and to die on a cross for the sins of all those who would put their faith in Him.

Our crass commercialization of Christmas has all but extinguished the message of the glorious Gospel.

Many of the songs we sing are largely devoid of meaning. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, yule logs, wreaths, sleighs and reindeer serve to obfuscate the message.

Even the gifts we give are a poor substitute for the greatest gift ever given to mankind--the hope of eternal life with God and the accompanying joys of heaven. In a world filled with hopelessness, pain, war and suffering, this is good news indeed.

Let's take a few moments to thank God for the wonderful gift that He gave to us: the gift of His Son:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

(John 3:16-17 ESV)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Trust in the Lord



"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths."
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

Proverbs 3:5-6 have been my life verses for the last 32 years that I have been a Christian. They have provided me with strength and direction through some difficult times.

It is often difficult to trust in the Lord. We are constantly warring against our flesh, the world and the devil. These forces continually lead us away from the Lord.

However, the Bible clearly states that without faith it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

We must not depend on our fallible understanding and intellect, but keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.

"And when you trust God in spite of all outward appearances and surrounding circumstances, it is a comfortable proof to yourself that you are on good terms with God, that you are walking in sweet fellowship with him, and it is one of the most
blessed facts in your whole history." - Spurgeon