It Was a LIE!

Any Christian with basic knowledge of the Bible knew it was a false tale – a lie – from the very Heaven

beginning. But how many professing Christians were taken in? We who claim Christ should not be such easy targets for deceptive tales that rail against the Word of God given to us.

Now, the publisher, author, his parents, and who all else who was involved in allowing this take the country by storm admit is was a lie! Of course, the Washington Post has the story – when has that paper not delighted in trying to bring disgrace to the body and name of Christ.

Read it before they take it down – click this sentence to open the story on the Washington Post web site.

Here’s how it opens:

Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The best-selling book, first published in 2010, purports to describe what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir – with its assuring description of “miracles, angels, and life beyond This World” – became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism.”

Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

Beth Moore – A False Teacher

I believe this speaks volumes about the truth of where Beth Moore has gone. I have a great deal of respect for Justin Peters and appreciate his willingness to address the false teaching that Beth Moore has accepted and has been teaching for a long time.

http://www.worldviewweekend.com/tv/video/has-beth-moore-become-false-teacher

What Does God say about Bioethics?

Christian Bioethics 517UykgR7dL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

A review by Stuart Brogden

This book, subtitled A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professional, and Families, is part of a series on Christian ethics published by B&H Publishing Group. I dare say anyone within each of those groups would be challenged to think more biblically about the relevant issues as well as being better informed by reading this book. In the preface, the series editor tells us the thesis of this book by asking this question: “How do we move from an ancient text like the Bible to twenty-first-century questions about organ transplants, stem-cell research, and human cloning?” This book, written by an ordained minister of the gospel (C. Ben Mitchell) and a physician (D. Joy Riley), gives solid counsel and these emotionally charged issues in 9 chapters, and is broken up into four parts: Christian Bioethics, Taking Life, Making Life, and Remaking/Faking Life. The format of each chapter is a look into a real life situation immersed in the subject, followed by questions for reflection, and Q & A between the authors. Other than a too frequent quoting of Roman Catholics as though that Church is Christian institution, this team provides solid insight from God’s Word on each of these topics.

Chapter 1 gives the reader an overview of the Hippocratic Oath which opened my eyes to the ancient context and false gods the oath was originally made to and the awareness that most doctors today do not subscribe to this oath, which we mostly know as the pledge to, First, do no harm. This was spelled out in explicit language that forbid euthanasia and abortion. The absence of a doctor’s oath to “do no harm” may cause a patient to wonder how much he can trust his doctor. In summing up this topic our physician author observes (page 22, italics in original) “Doctors should work hard to be trust-worthy and humble.” A few pages later (page 28), as they address stem-cell research, our minister reminds us, after quoting 2 Peter 1:3, “God has not left his people without guidance in every area of life. Although the Bible is not a science textbook, its message speaks to the deep underlying values that can guide decisions about scientific matters. Although the Bible is not manual of medicine, its truths may be applied to medical decision making.” This is a key perspective for every child of God to properly understand how to walk in the light of God’s Word. Much of the rest of chapter 2 is good advice for properly reading and understanding the Scriptures, taking into account literary, historical, and cultural context as well the genre of what is being read.

The chapter addressing abortion is sobering and probably eye-opening for most. The authors make a full-court press to establish the humanity of every life, starting from conception. Mitchell makes the essential connection between our view of Jesus and our view of humanity, developing the humanity of our Lord to show how every mortal is given value by the Creator – above all other life forms – from the time the egg is joined with a sperm. At the end of chapter 3, the authors exhort Christians to be active in opposing abortion and supporting life, but they draw no lines of getting involved with pro-life Roman Catholics. Christians must be deliberate and biblically thoughtful in deciding who to get cozy with in the public arena. The next chapter covers death and dying, providing thought-provoking observations about the details of pain and suffering and how one’s Christian world view informs us. A key element in handling the death of any person, they tell us, is to remember the patient (perhaps a close relative) is a human being, not merely a patient to be treated. “Much of the suffering of dying persons comes from being subtly treated as nonpersons.” (page 85) There is discussion of the efforts to extend life, even at the expense of that life being human. It is a long-held desire of fleshly human beings to grasp eternal life in our present form, without submitting to God’s revealed plan of redemption – which includes our death and resurrection. Being a faithful child of God includes how we approach death – do we trust our heavenly Father in our dying as did our Savior? Again, we get faithful advice (pages 100 & 101): “Through the resurrection of Christ, God has given us grounds to hope that death, however awful, will not have the last word.” Amen!

As they move from taking life to making life, the reader is presented with a biology lesson on how babies come into the world. They take this opportunity to reinforce the Christians view of anthropology (page 113): “Knowing that pregnancy occurs at fertilization rather than at implantation will help us make several important distinctions later.” They then cover several options medicine has provided for artificial this or that, discussing the line we cross regarding family integrity and God’s authority, observing (page 123), “When a third party intrudes on the procreative relationship, the divinely instituted structure of the family is altered. Trouble is bound to follow.” This may be unwelcome by some, who have such a great desire for a child that their love for the Word of God is overshadowed. All of us fall into this pit on one issue or another from time-to-time, so let us not rush to judgment.

The last part of this fine book covers the definition of death and the forces behind the changes we’ve seen in the last 50 years; organ donation and transplants; cloning and human/animal hybrids; and life extension practices. In this last category, we are introduced to trans-humanists, a group that wants to extent life in the human body and beyond. This was the topic of recent movie, Transcendence, which traced the consequences of a computer scientist whose “essence” was transferred into a powerful computer he had built. It gets very ugly before it ends. In summing up how we who profess Christ ought to look at aging, Mitchell provides a contrast between Christians and Trans-humanists (page 181): “Interestingly, the trans-humanists and Christians seem to have some common concerns. We share:

  • The quest for the good life.
  • Longing for immortality
  • Pursuit of the relief of human suffering
  • Appreciation for technology’s benefits.

Where we differ is in the mean to achieve these aims. For Christians the good life and the goods of life are found in God and his presence in our lives. The good life is not defined by the number of years one lives but the reality of God’s presence in however many years one lives. While we, like the apostle Paul, long for immortality, Christians understand that they already possess it. … Another place we differ with the trans-humanist is in loathing every human limitation. Because we are creatures and nor creators, we accept most limitations as gifts from the One who made us.”

And while there is much more in this book that will do the reader much good, I think that is a wonderful point on which to end this review. Christian – are you content with our God’s provision in your life? Do we think we deserve better than YHWH has given us? To quote the Apostle, “Who are you, oh man, to answer back to the One who made you thus?” Let us, as did the Lord Jesus, trust ourselves to the One who judges justly. Trust God, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. In living and dying – and all that comes between those two finite points.

This is Discipleship

 

This is Discipleship discipleship

Many techniques, programs and systems in the modern church are mistaken as discipleship. While those techniques may contain elements of discipleship, they are not the authentic thing. (See Part 1: “This is not Discipleship.”) This obviously begs the question: what is discipleship and what did Jesus mean when He gave us the Great Commission?

 

In spite of the King James’ use of the word “teach” for mathēteúō, all other translations, commentaries, and dictionaries are agreed that the word means more than simply teaching intellectual facts:

mathēteúō.Intransitively this word means “to be or become a pupil.” One reading of Mt. 27:57 has it with reference to Joseph of Arimathea; he is said to be a disciple of Jesus. In a distinctive transitive use (Mt. 13:52; 28:19; Acts 14:21) the NT also uses the term for “to make disciples.” Behind this sense possibly stands the NT belief that a call is the basis of discipleship of Jesus[1]

μαθητεύωb: to cause someone to become a disciple or follower of—‘to make disciples, to cause people to become followers.’ πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη go then, to all peoples and make them (my) disciples’ Mt 28:19.[2]

 

Learners and Followers

Implicit in the word mathēteúō are the concepts of learners and followers.

The word “disciple” means above all “learner” or “pupil.” The emphasis in the commission thus falls not on the initial proclamation of the gospel but more on the arduous task of nurturing into the experience of discipleship, an emphasis that is strengthened and explained by the instruction “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded” in v 20a.[3]

 

These three words—learners, pupils and teaching—sound synonymous, but they are not. Pupils do not necessarily learn, and teaching someone does not mean that that person has actually learned anything. Paul speaks of those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Such are neither disciples, learners, nor followers.

Besides the Twelve, Jesus also had other disciples during His earthly ministry (Matt 27:57; John 6:66; 7:3; Acts 1:15). Before Jesus, John had disciples. Disciples were simply people who followed a teacher and learned from the teacher. One can speak of the disciples of other rabbis or even of Greek philosophers. In all of these cases the purpose was for the disciple to learn both theory (theology) and practice (character and behavior) from the teacher. Disciples would later gather other disciples around them and so perpetuate the teaching. It is really quite simple and yet, as we have shown, very few practice true discipleship today. So let’s look at what true discipleship really should be.

 

A Relationship

The first thing that strikes me about Jesus’ disciples is that they had a personal relationship with their Master. Based on this personal relationship, the Master knew each of His disciples personally. As a result, He deals with and teaches each of the disciples based on their unique needs, personality and characteristics. Jesus related to Peter, John and Thomas in very different ways reflecting their unique relationship to Him. Although the Bible does not use the term disciple(s) after the book of Acts, it is clear that Paul had the same kind of relationship with Timothy, Silas, Titus and a number of others. Once again, the relationship was very personal. Both Paul and Jesus lived with their followers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea of a disciple who does not have a relationship with the teacher, and who is a stranger to the teacher, is a contradiction in terms.

 

The same therefore holds true today. We cannot make disciples of those with whom we are not in a personal relationship. This automatically limits the number of people one teacher/leader can shepherd. It also excludes the idea of professional councilors or absentee pastors, or disciples that shy away from personal relationships, as well as those who attend church for an hour a week. How can a pastor of a church of a thousand know, and have a relationship with, each of the members? Several years ago I went to see the pastor of a neighboring church about folk who had left our church for his. He did not even know about their existence until he looked them up on his computer, only to discover they had been attending his church for three months!

The reason for this personal relationship is that part of discipling is teaching each one according to their individual needs, background and potential. A one-size-fits-all discipling package simply does not exist, and therefore discredits all off-the-rack discipleship manuals and programs as bogus.

 

Many multiplication systems have been based on discipleship. The theory is that each believer should have 12 disciples, and each disciple should have 12, etc. This is purely a multi-level marketing/pyramid scheme. Discipleship can never be forced and controlled by statistics because it is relational. And because discipleship is a relational and dynamic process, it can never be forced to comply with a statistical model. At times Paul had only one “disciple” travelling with him and at other times there were several. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught a numerical model, and it is evident that none of the Apostles attempted to recreate Jesus’ “model” of twelve disciples.

 

Submission to the Teacher

A vital aspect of the relationship between teacher and disciple is the willingness of the disciple to submit to the teacher. This is one of the main reasons very little discipling happens in the Free World these days. Modern Christians are just not willing to submit to leaders. Modern believers consider themselves above correction and on a par with everyone else. Generally, “submission” only occurs as long as things go well and the relationship is affirming. The moment admonition, rebuke or discipline is needed the believer tends to leave the relationship, and the church, and withdraws from the relationship.

 

But without this submission there is no basis for a learner/teacher, follower/leader relationship. The whole purpose of discipleship is for the teacher to train the disciple. This includes not just the transmission of ideas and knowledge but actually having a hand in the shaping of the character and behavior of the learner. Paul’s epistles are replete with instructions to rebuke, warn, correct, command, charge and admonish (2Tim 4:2; 1Thes 2:11; Col 1:28; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; etc.).

 

It goes without saying that the teacher may never overstep the bounds between legitimate and godly discipleship and heavy shepherding or abuse.

 

The first ingredient in the discipleship process then are disciples who want to learn and who want to follow.

 

Teachers With Dirty Hands

Just as you need those who are willing to learn, you need those who are willing to teach. But teaching is not just from the relative safety of the pulpit. True teachers are willing to get their hands soiled with the dirty diapers of babes in Christ. While there are many who want to preach, there are not many who want the hassle of discipling people.

 

Discipling is hard work. It means getting involved with people at a personal level, listening to their ideas, risking their anger when correcting them, repeating the same things over and over until the penny eventually drops. (Just think of how many times Jesus said the same things to His disciples and they still did not understand.) Discipling means feeling the pain of failure when those to whom you have become close end up falling, sometimes in the most terrible waysthink of Peter denying the Lord! Discipling means flying blind without the help of a carefully prepared script or manual. Preaching is relatively easy since the preacher is on his own turf, controls the situation and is not interrupted. Discipling provides none of those safeguards. The teacher has to think on his feet and respond to the questions, arguments and reactions of the disciple over whom he has no direct control. There is just no way of knowing ahead of time what the disciple is going to come up with, say or do, next. It is this lack of a controlled environment that scares many leaders and prevents them from descending from the pulpit and engaging on a personal level with learners. Discipling does not have regular hours because people live life 24 hours a day. The pastor who wants to work to a carefully prepared schedule does not qualify, nor will he survive in the rough and tumble unpredictable world of real discipling.

 

And it is this unwillingness to accept the discomfort and pain of being a spiritual parent to spiritual (often wayward) children that has resulted in so few true teachers being available to disciple true believers. Thus without learners who are willing to learn, and without teachers who are willing to teach, no discipleship can take place.

 

The Cross

In addition to willing and capable teachers, and disciples that are eager to learn, there is a third vital ingredient without which no discipleship can take place and that is the cross.

 

Jesus Himself made this an entry requirement for disciples: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27). In all three the Synoptics Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

 

This is not an optional extra for some disciples, it is essential for all disciples. Without the willingness of the follower to deny his own ideas, personality, desires, yea even his very self, he just cannot be a disciple. This is not because the Lord set an arbitrary standard, but because the essence of discipleship means the laying aside of self and being transformed into the likeness and image of Christ. This is not behavior modelling (see part 1), it is death (to self) and resurrection (in His image) on a daily basis.

 

No wonder Jesus had very few disciples. We expect it to be different for us, but it cannot be. In most cases where numbers of people are flocking to follow leaders the vital ingredient of the cross is missing. Hence the many things that are used as cheap substitutes for the cross.

 

Teaching How and What

Most teaching in modern churches is about the “what” of the faith, but discipleship is as much about the “how” as the “what.” This is just where the problem often lies. Seminaries teach the “what” and those who come out of those seminaries only understand the “what.” The “how” is learned at the feet of a true teacher and in the school of hard knocks. Obviously we do need to understand the “what” but without the “how” the “what” is of no value.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gives explicit instructions as to what needs to be taught in the process of making disciples: “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).

 

Note that the command is to teach “to observe….” This is in contrast with “teaching to know….” The word “observe” literally means to do. The true disciple does what he was taught, thus head knowledge has to be translated into lifestyle and theory has to become practice. Very few Christians seem to know how to behave as Christians because they were never taught, neither in word nor by example. But that is what discipleship is really about. It is about becoming like Jesus (Romans 8:29) and becoming like Him is not about knowledge but it is about essencewho we are as evidenced through our lifestyle, values and actions.

 

Paul says: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;” (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and to Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God…”(1Tim 3:15). Behavior and conduct are simply not taught any longer, yet that is the very essence of Christianity. The world is constantly telling believers how they ought to act, but the church does not. It is no wonder then, that believers act more like the world than like Christ.

 

The art of casting an artificial fly on the end of a fly rod is not rocket science, yet one can read a dozen books about it without ever being able to master the simple skill. It is only when an experienced teacher demonstrates how to do it, and then allows you to practice while correcting your mistakes, that you will ever learn how to present an artificial fly to a fish. Christianity is the same. It was never intended to be learned only from reading, preaching or talking. Jesus showed His disciples how to live and to die, and then expected them to put into practice what He had taught through His example and by His words.

 

As a result, Luke writes his Gospel concerning “…all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”(Acts 1:1)

 

Word Based

Unless the personal involvement, setting an example, or active teaching is based on the Scriptures, it is simply some humanistic effort, management technique or philosophy. Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The purpose of the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction is to equip people for “every good work.” It is not merely for the sake of knowledge and, at the same time, is not good works based on some human philosophy. True discipleship is based on Scriptural principles that result in Godly living.

 

Discipleship at Home

Discipleship begins in the home. Parents are to disciple their children, teaching them by word and deed to be followers of Jesus Christ. But instead they choose to hire substitutes in the form of school teachers, Sunday school teachers, psychologists and an array of other hirelings. Meanwhile the parents are absent as they pursue their own selfish desires. These same absentee parents then turn around and blame everyone else when (not if) the child ends being more like the devil than Jesus.

 

Yet these same failed parents often want to be leaders in the church. Paul is emphatic that an elder must have proven his discipling skills at home (1Timothy 3:5). It is in the home that parents learn and develop discipling skills which are later used in the church. And it is in the home that children learn to be good followers and learners. It is not coincidental that the New Testament uses babes, children, and the process of growing to maturity as an analogy of the life of a Christian. There are therefore very real parallels between raising children and discipling believers. Both require the same skills, prayer, patience, observing, teaching, wisdom, correcting, encouraging, rebuking etc. Failure at home almost guarantees failure in the church.

 

Jesus and the Twelve

After three years with Jesus, His disciples had heard His teaching on every important subject. The fact that they did not understand much is irrelevant because, in time, the Holy Spirit would remind them of what they had learned (John 14:26). Not only had they heard His words but they had seen His life. They saw His relationship with His Father, how He reacted, how He handled different situations and people, how He dealt with weariness, frustration, temptation, anger and every other human experience.

 

When Jesus called them, they were a motley bunch of losers, but at the end of that time He was able to send them out as His Apostles (sent ones) to lay the foundation of the church. That was successful discipling. They knew what to do, how to act and how to react. Yes, they were still fallible men, but they had been discipled by Jesus and even their enemies could not deny that: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

 

Paul and Timothy

Paul had several disciples but the best of those was undoubtedly Timothy to whom Paul wrote, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions….” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Notice again the juxtaposition of “doctrine” and “manner of life.” Paul taught Timothy not only doctrine, but how to live. He taught him to live a life with a godly purpose, how to have faith in trials, how to endure pain, suffering and persecution, and how to fulfill his ministry.

 

Near the very end of Paul’s life he wrote to Timothy “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Thus the pattern is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

 

We are not Jesus

But there is a vital difference between Jesus and usJesus made disciples of Himself but we do not make disciples of ourselves. Cult and other false leaders make people followers of themselves but true discipleship makes people followers of Jesus. Thirty times the book of Acts refers to “the disciples.” But never does it speak of disciples of Peter, John or Paul. “Disciples” was always understood to mean disciples of Jesus. A true teacher will always point men to Jesus and call men to follow Himnever to follow the teacher, his church, or some other human organization.

We are not called to clone or make copies of ourselves. We are to help people become like Jesus and to follow Him, and to ultimately learn from Him. The more those we teach resemble Him, the more successful they will be at making disciples.

 

Conclusion

Discipleship is not a technique or system. It is a lifestyle and is the essence of our faith. In its absence believers and churches become more worldly and less Christ-like. In spite of the proliferation of theological books and knowledge, we have abandoned our roots and failed to obey the command to make disciples. For this reason, more than any other, the church in the West has simply become an organization and has lost its life and light.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

 

 

Anton Bosch

9070 Sunland Blvd

Sun Valley, CA, 91352

www.antonbosch.org

www.sunvalleycommunity.net

 

 


[1]Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[2]Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

[3]Hagner, Donald A. Word Biblical Commentary. Matthew 14-28. Thomas Nelson.1995. p887.

 

 

Family Renewal – An Introduction

It is my privilege to introduce a fairly new ministry to the faithful readers here at Defending Contending. In 1999, our family first met Sis. Skeet Savage and her family which includes her daughter, Sony Elise and her son, Israel Wayne. Sis. Skeet is responsible for the writing ministries under the umbrella of Wisdom’s Gate Ministries. Down through the years, the ministry of Wisdom’s Gate has been a personal blessing to our family in so many ways.

In late 2013, the Lord graciously allowed the combined years of experience of writing, editing, and speaking to flourish into a new outreach entitled Family Renewal. Family Renewal is a ministry co-founded by Israel Wayne, his wife Brook, and Israel’s oldest sister, Sony Elise. The ministry is dedicated to family discipleship, teaching others how to defend their faith, and teaching the importance of a Biblical worldview.

Israel, Brook, and Sony Elise are all prolific writers and have been been a blessing to many down through their years of writing. In addition, Israel speaks throughout the year at various evangelical churches, homeschool conferences, and apologetics seminars.

questions-god-asks-promo
Recently, Israel had the privilege of seeing a new book published. This book, Questions God Asks: Unlocking The Wisdom of Eternity, would be a welcome addition to the library of every Christian home.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in having Israel speak at your church, men’s retreat, family camp, or for a Biblical Worldview or Apologetics conference, please contact Sis. Sony at (269) 282-6058 for further details or you may email them at Family Renewal Ministries.

The Road to Emmaus

The biblical passage in Luke 24 known as the Road to Emmaus is – like many passages – twisted and misused, Emmaussometimes innocently, many times intentionally. There is a mystical three-day retreat called The Walk to Emmaus (also known as Chrysalis) that was modeled after the Roman Catholic retreat known as Cursillo, which started in Spain in 1949. These two retreats are like identical twins – not the same, but very much alike. And both are embraced by a wide range of churches – including Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutherans, Presbyterian, and Baptist.

You can read about The Walk to Emmaus here: http://emmaus.upperroom.org/ Their FAQ are most informative, and all copyrighted. Here’s another web site where a Baptist who attended one of these retreats discusses the event and explains why evangelicals should not participate.

All that background to bring your this – a wonderful sermon from the text of Luke 24:13-35, wherein we are reminded that the Lord opens eyes to see truth, that seeing is not believing, and that those who are given sight and hearing will respond to the Savior. Pull up your chair and give a listen – you will be glad you did.

Strange Fire

Strange Fire by John MacArthur  strange-fire-the-danger-of-offending-the-holy-spirit-with-counterfeit-worship

a review

One area many – dare I say most – current day evangelicals have gone astray from orthodox Christianity is the topic of MacArthur’s latest book. From Southern Baptists to contemporary “Christian” radio, slogans and anecdotes fill space and airways with the message that it’s normal to hear from God. This is not the biblical message of “hearing” from God as you read and study His Word – it’s the dangerous practice of believing inferences and confirmations from myriad sources are God’s way of “speaking to your heart”. It is this claim of extra-biblical revelation that MacArthur addresses in Strange Fire. If your blood isn’t stirred up by the thought of reading and entire book detailing the train wreck of uninhibited charismania, it’s important, maybe more so – that this book also provides the child of God very good counsel on the identity, mission, and work of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur’s book is comprised of 12 chapters on topics covering new apostles and prophets, gifts of healing and tongues, the work of the Spirit in salvation, sanctification, and the Scripture; the last chapter is an open letter to his continuationist friends. And he provides a handy appendix with several pages of quotes from the past on the topic of the continuation of spiritual gifts, in support of his claim that the current craze is not part of historic, orthodox Christianity. I’ve heard from some who think MacArthur has lumped all continuationists into one bucket of heresy – drawing equivalence between some respected theologians and the likes of Benny Hinn. But MacArthur’s letter to his friends is very clear that he sees much good in the work of these friends, as well as much thin theological ice that their “open canon” represents. He considers them dear brothers who need to be awakened to the danger they pose by sharing some views with flaming heretics – sometimes endorsing and appearing with them.

I will leave it to you to read the chapters detailing the train wreck of the strange fire doctrines, and focus some attention on the last third of the book. Citing an observation from A.W. Tozer, MacArthur says our “view of God is the foundational reality in our thinking, and it encompasses all that we believe about the Holy Spirit.” He points out the truth that while many miracle seekers flock after Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley, a true miracle takes place every time a spiritually dead sinner is raised to new life in Christ. This is too mundane for experience-based Christians, but is glorious to behold by those who inhabit the heavens – and ought to be recognized as such by us. The Holy Spirit works in the birth of new saints by a.) convicting the unredeemed of their sins, b.) convicting unbelievers of righteousness, and c.) convicts sinners that divine judgments are real and necessary. The Spirit of the living God then regenerates the elect – removes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh by granting faith to believe the gospel. This is work man cannot do, any more than man can bring about his own natural birth. Salvation is of the Lord, as Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, and the triune God does not share His glory with anyone.

Still in this vein, the Holy Spirit also brings repentance to those He regenerates, liberating us from the power of sin and death and producing love for His righteousness. He enables fellowship with God and makes sweet the fellowship of the saints. We are heirs of the kingdom, free from the dread of God and drawn to Him as our Father, enabled to joyfully sing praises to Him. And here, then, is one biblical truth that cannot be reconciled with the “second baptism” doctrine: the Holy Spirit indwells every man, woman, and child He raises to new life in Christ. He is our Comforter and Helper; protecting, empowering, and encouraging us.

MacArthur delineates the difference between being filled with the Spirit of God and the heretical notion of being drunk on the Spirit. Drunkenness is irrational, out-of-control behavior, while filled with the Spirit is joyful, self-controlled submission to God. Being filled with the Spirit of God is an ongoing experience in the life of every Christian – not an occasional orgy with John Crowder. “Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost.”

His last chapter on the true work of the Holy Spirit focuses on the Spirit’s role and identity in the Scriptures. MacArthur gives us a very quick run through history, highlighting a few of the faithful men used by God and several of those who fell or jumped into heresy and have misled countless simple folk. “By departing from the sole authority of Scripture, bot Roman Catholicism and theological liberalism became enemies of true Christianity, fraudulent versions of the very thing they claimed to represent. … Because He is the God of truth, His Word is infallible. Because He cannot lie, His Word is inerrant. Because He is the King of kings, His Word is absolute and supreme.” The Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture, provides illumination for the minds of Christians, and the Spirit gives power to the reading and preaching of Scripture. To reject the Scriptures is to reject the Spirit of God – and the entire trinity.

In his “open letter”, the last chapter, MacArthur observes that, “rather than confronting charismatic errors head-on, continuationists leaders find themselves flirting with aspects of a movement that is full of serious error and corrupt leadership.” These otherwise solid theologians allow the charismatics to set the vocabulary, changing the meaning of words and phrases from what the Bible and history show them to be, in order to justify the nonsensical babbling that passes for tongues in modern churches. “The continuationist position invites any personal impression or subjective feeling as a potential revelation from God. Moreover, it removes any authoritative, objective standard for questioning the legitimacy of someone’s supposed revelation from God.”

All in all, this should be a welcomed book in any Christian’s home. We do need to be provoked to think biblically – about gifts and the One Who gives them.