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.  

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