The one apologetic argument against Christ that cannot be defended by certain believers


I was in talks with an atheist today who leads up one of the most vehement Anti-Christian organizations. We had some contact in the past previously, and whereas usually I could ward off his attacks about how Jesus’ story borrowed from Mithra or how Jesus’ father was actually roman centurion and other such nonsense, this time he unloaded upon me a novel, devastating apologetic critique against Christ and his nature. To be honest it caught me off guard, so much so that my throat seized in my chest and all I could think of was “That’s it. They got us.” They presented some facts to me about Jesus that are essentially irrefutable. The minute he proposed them to me I became keenly aware that this would forever change the face of Christian apologetics, and maybe Christianity as a whole.

I’m sorry everybody.  I wish there was a way to refute these claims about Jesus, but there just isn’t. This is the most successful assault on the integrity of Christ and his character, and even the history of the Word of God that we have ever faced, and we have been breached. What they tell me about the life of Jesus… it’s too compelling and irrefutable. It’s unassailable, indisputable and incontestable. In light of these new revelations my worldview has collapsed. My paradigms have all shifted. My mind has been blown with the staggering, relentless truths of these claims.

This is what the atheist told me about Jesus. Its not verbatim, but it is a very close approximation.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and then move to Greece when he was three.  He didn’t know anything about Hebrew culture at all until Joseph immigrated with his wives to Nazareth in A.D. 14. This is because He spent fourteen years living in majority Greek nations until he arrived in Israel when he was in his early teens. And know what? He hated the people there, and he thought they hated him. At the synagogue, which on his first day he attended wearing his full embroidered Greek tunic, he had difficulty fitting in. Furthermore, Jesus only spoke broken Aramaic which he had learned from watching traders and merchants in the streets of Delphi, which didn’t help matters. Thankfully though, after several years, and through the efforts of a friend named Judas Iscariot, Jesus adapted to the culture and eventually was converted to Judaism, and his desire to commit a Hellenized jihad came to an end.

You can imagine how this devastated me. Nothing in my behavior over the last few years would have equipped me refute this sort of attack on the character of Jesus, especially in light of my defense of Ergun caner. Their formulation of it is genius- diabolically so. Because I was so shook up, I even deigned to contact my frenemy James White to ask him about this, in one last ditch effort to grab unto a glimmer of hope. James told me was more than willing to help. He pulled out the scriptures and showed me in the Gospels where the writers gives explicit and clear textual evidence that this is not the case. He read me scriptures and pointed out how these claims are impossible, and how we have clear evidence that leads us to be confident in the true and unedited story of Jesus found in the Bible. He told me that the atheist’s story was just made up, and that we could easily prove he was lying if we just looked at the facts with an open mind.

But that doesn’t matter. Regardless of all the “evidence” against this that James and other people like him are more than willing to provide me, I can’t believe it. I must trust this atheist and take him at his word. I believe that the new account of Jesus’ life and his history growing up in Greece, and the ramifications it has on the gospels and the story of Jesus cannot be rebutted  merely by appealing to “vast quantities of easily verifiable data and documentation” that would state otherwise. No way. Thankfully, many Christians and other “top-men” have agreed and jumped ship in solidarity with me, supposing as I do that this is too irrefutable, too clever, and too believable to not be true.This is the new normal for us, and the quicker we accept it, the better.

Sincerely, your friend

Peter Lumpkins







Please note that Peter Lumpkins didn’t actually write this. This is a work of satire

Was the Apostle Bartholomew even Martyred?



There is a well known apologetic that is given as evidence regarding the resurrection of Christ. Preachers, teachers, theologians and laypeople point to the deaths of the Apostles as circumstantial evidence concerning that event. They say things like “People will die for a cause if they believe it to be true, but they won’t die for a lie. The 12 Apostles suffered horrendous deaths as martyrs for the cause- now why would they endure such profound suffering if they believed it a lie?

It seems to be a given that almost all the Apostles were martyred and that their gruesome, grotesque end is known. They say things like “Church tradition has it that……” or ” Church history tells us that….” and that seems to be the end of it, as if such matters are settled and secure. They have an assumed confidence in the historicity of these accounts, supposing we have sufficient certainty to know what actually happened, and in turn recount this to others  without impunity.

There are several problems with this though, the least of which is that even a cursory examination of the accounts of the deaths of the apostles show gaps, contradictions, conflicting testimony, unreliable witnesses, suspect testimonies and incredible uncertainty. The whole thing really is a complete mess, and it seems that if someone told me “Church tradition has it that they all died a martyr’s death” and I would ask them “What traditions? What church fathers” No one would even have a clue. Its a good line, but it harder to back up once you go deeper than surface-level sound clips.

To offer an example, the one I want to focus on is the supposed martyrdom of Bartholomew the Apostle. Finding primary sources for the Martyrdom of Bartholomew has been  a nightmare. What we typically see is “Some local traditions have him going to India. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia.  Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia”. In the NewAdvent entry on Bartholomew by John Fenlon, we read without sources or citations “Other traditions represent St. Bartholomew as preaching in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the Black Sea. One legend, it is interesting to note, identifies him with Nathanael. The manner of his death, said to have occurred at Albanopolis in Armenia, is equally uncertain; according to some, he was beheaded, according to others, flayed alive and crucified, head downward, by order of Astyages, for having converted his brother, Polymius, King of Armenia.” I find that incredibly unhelpful and have not been able to track down most of those so-called traditions. To that end after some careful research I’ve managed to dig up the most relevant and recent sources for the evidence of the Martyrdom of just one of the Apostles.

1. The Biblical Evidence. There is no biblical extant evidence of the fate of Bartholomew. The Scriptures are wholly silent on the matter.

2. Hippolytus of Rome [170-235] . Though in his own day he was considered to be a prolific writer, the details of his life and his writings were quickly forgotten and little is known about him.  He wrote that “Bartholomew, again, preached to the Indians, to whom he also gave the Gospel according to Matthew, and was crucified with his head downward, and was buried in Allanum, a town of the great Armenia. [Hippolytus. "On the Twelve Apostles of Christ." Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 5.] Hippolytus does not give us sources for this account, and likewise his authorship of said source is highly disputed. That is to say- we don’t even know if he actually wrote it. But if he did, it is also interesting to note that Hippolytus reports natural deaths for four of the twelve disciples [John, Matthew, Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot, which would contradict Eusebius and others regarding other apostolic deaths.

3. Eusebius of Caesarea, [AD 263 – 339] Recounts only that Bartholomew went off to India.  ” Pantænus was one of these, and is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, He found the Gospel, according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language, which they had preserved till that time.” [Eusebius.  Church History. Book V. Chapter 10.]

4. Jerome. [ 347 – 420] In his commentary on Matthew he mentions a number of no-longer-extant apocryphal gospels, including a document entitled The Gospel of Bartholomew [Sometimes called the Questions of Bartholomew]  This document is strongly Nestorian [The Nestorian heresy taught that Jesus existed simultaneously as two distinct entities: the human Jesus, mortal and finite; and the divine Logos or "Word of God," which had existed with God the Father throughout all time] and was condemned as heretical by the Gelasian decree.  The Questions of Bartholomew describes several conversations between Jesus and the Apostles, after the Crucifixion, Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, and the Resurrection. Jesus explicitly grants Bartholomew power and authority over the denizens of Hell, which gives him the ability to question Satan about his battle with Heaven. Written possibly as early as the 6th century, it does not cast light on his death

5. There is a non-Biblical document called the “Martyrdom of Bartholomew” written as early as the 5th century, which claims that Bartholomew was martyred by King Astyages in Armenia:   “Then the King rent the purple in which he was clothed, and ordered the holy apostle Bartholomew to be beaten with rods; and after having been thus scourged, to be beheaded.” Interestingly enough, in this book the demons are speaking amongst themselves about how to recognize him, and they are given this description “And the demon answered and said: He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling…His voice is like the sonnet of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation.”

6. Moses of Chorena, a writer who lived either in the late 5th century or sometime in the 7th century, wrote “There came then into Armenia the Apostle Bartholomew, who suffered martyrdom among us in the town of Arepan. As to Simon, who was sent unto Persia I cannot relate with certainty what he did, nor where he suffered martyrdom. It is said that one Simon, an apostle, was martyred at Veriospore. Is this true or why did the saint come to this place? I do not know I have only mentioned this circumstance that you may know I spare no pains to tell you all that is necessary.” [ History of Armenia .  Section IX]

7. The Acts of Phillip. A bizarre, mystical, Gnostic apocryphal late 4th century book. In a later addition to it we read “And the Saviour said: O Philip, since you have forsaken this commandment of mine, not to render evil for evil,  for this reason you shall be debarred in the next world for forty years from being in the place of my promise: besides, this is the end of your departure from the body in this place; and Bartholomew has his lot in Lycaonia, and shall be crucified there; and Mariamne shall lay down her body in the river Jordan. [Addition to the Acts of Phillip. Paragraph 52]

8. Allegedly there is an old Roman Breviary which states “In Great Armenia Bartholomew led the king, Poplymius, and his wife, in addition to twelve cities, to the Christian belief. These conversions very much enkindled the jealousy of the clergy there. The priests succeeded in stirring up the brother of King Polymius, Astyages, to such an anger that he gave the gruesome order to have Bartholomew skinned alive and then beheaded. In this martyrdom he gave his soul back to God.” I have not been able to locate any source for  it.

So here’s where we are; concerning the apostolic work of St. Bartholomew we have only unreliable and contradictory statements. The earliest accounts have been lost. The first that have been preserved originated between 450 and 550 in the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire with traces of Nestoriansim. His manner of deaths range from being beaten, beheaded, flayed, crucified, and a host of others ends. He is said to have died in dozens of different places and countries, and most of the information that supposedly sheds light on his death was written hundreds of years after his actual death, in unreliable, unbelievable, fantastical sources. I would suggest that during the first several centuries after Christ, stories about Him, the apostles, and their lives — not to mention writings on the meaning of Christ’s life, the duties of a Christian, and predictions about the end of the world — exploded into existence and the adventures of Bartholomew consists entirely of that- stories, traditions, myths and legends.

To that end, the title of this post is a bit misleading but it makes its point well. While we have stronger and more solid evidence for the martyrdom of other Apostles, the point I want to make stands; we don’t even know that Bartholomew was martyred. We don’t know how, why or where or even IF. We don’t with any certainty know a single detail about his death, other than that he indeed did die. Appeals to Church history and Church tradition are useless and confusing, and so because we want to speak the truth, we need to be precise. I think it’s fair to say something like “While we have a mess to sort our regarding which apostles died where how and why, its reasonable to conclude that many of them if not most of them probably were martyred for their faith” It doesn’t have the impact that “They were all martyred for their faith and suffered this specific gruesome fate..”, but the purpose is not maximum impact, but maximum truth so that God may be glorified.

When you can’t trust your Church bookstore


I recently had the opportunity to check out a local Church’s church bookstore. Perusing their selection got me thinking;

What is the purpose of a church bookstore? Apart from being a small source of revenue, which undoubtedly must be the secondary or even tertiary purpose, I would have imagined that it would be a place where you honor and glorify Christ by presenting to your congregation the best books that they can read to build their faith. This should represent what the pastor, elders and church leadership recommend as being the most thoughtful, engaging, edifying, provoking, and biblically faithful resources that they can give their members in order to build their sanctification and help them understand the purposes and character of God.

As a pastors job is to shepherd the flock and feed them God’s word, a bookstore [or even a church library- they have the exact same purpose] can serve as a small part of that. During the sermon you should be teaching doctrine that will more or less agree the theology being espouse in a bookstore, and likewise the books compliment the messages being preached from the pulpit. Simply put; the very act of stocking certain books and authors is a implicit and tacit endorsement of that authors theology. The books in the bookstore function like little sermons and teaching lessons that you are unable to deliver, but would like to. When you carry certain books, you are telling your flock “we want you to read this books, and we agree with what is being taught.” Not only that, but you are saying that the book is safe, that the theology can be trusted, and that you support what is being written about. Unlike a for-profit bookstore, the motivations are a little different.

Given this, every book should be vetted by either the pastor, elders, or a qualified layperson who understands law and gospel, sin and grace, and knows how to properly handle the scriptures so that they can, in the words of Chris Rosebrough “Compare what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God.” You don’t have to agree with everything that the author says, in this book or in others they have, however.  The purpose is not to nitpick every tiny minutia that the book relates, but rather to determine if they authors are being faithful to the scriptures in their exegesis, interpretation, extrapolation and application, so that you can feel confident that you have your due diligence in caring for people’s souls.

So why do so many Church bookstores or lending libraries have such rotten books? And not to put too fine a point on it, but why do so many churches sell books from authors who are either heretics, flaming heretics, false teachers, bible twisters, narcegetes [narcissistic eisegeters] and every other variety of bizarre purveyors of theological poison?  These are books where it can be demonstrably and objectively proven that the authors are misusing God’s word, and that they are teaching things that can’t either can’t be found in scripture, or that scripture condemns.

They should be places where you can let your guard down, not have to raise it up. They should be places where you can learn about biblical prayer without being exposed to gnostic witchcraft involving a mythical figures named Honi and circlemaking practices. They should be places where you can learn to see Jesus in the Old Testament and not be a breeding ground for teaching you how to make the Bible about you so that you can narcisistically insert yourself into the text. They should be places where you can read about the glories and mysteries of heaven, as revealed in scriptures, and not have some five year old boy regale you with delusions and lies about how “for real” he thinks heaven is.

The bookstore is where you learn about how to manage your finances well so that you can give sacrificially to the Church and to your neighbour.  Its not a place where you should find yourself exposed to the health and wealth/prosperity gospel- the theological abortion that would feed on your greed and  lust of the world as it chains you to the lie that is the “american dream”.  The bookstore should be a places where you get a clear articulation of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins that Christ has provided for you on the cross through his death and resurrection, not where you die on the altar of self-esteem. Its not supposed to be a place that leaves you embroiled in “moralistic therapeutic deism” by enslaving you to Christless Christianity by a man with big shiny teeth who will drag you to hell as he smiles and talks about “your best life now.” The bookstore ought to build your sanctification, not your self esteem. Promote the sure word of the faith delivered “once for all”, not mysticism and spiritual whimsicality.

From a personal standpoint, when I see that sort of thing, it demonstrates to me that the church leadership is not acting with wisdom and discernment. It show they are failing to be watchmen and good shepherds over their flocks. This is because they are allowing and encouraging into their midsts purveyors of scriptural strychnine . How then can I submit to them and trust them to feed my soul on a Sunday morning when they’re giving the enemy the knife to slit my throat the other six days of the week? I’m not saying they don’t love the Lord or love people, but in a way they are showing hatred towards their brothers and sisters by exposing them to the worst that Christianity has to offer. I instinctually question how committed they are to be sound teachers and exegetes of the Word when they tolerate the sloppy molestation of that very same Word by other preachers and teachers in their own homes.

What say you? Do you trust your Church bookstore?

Westboro, don’t let anyone tell you your feelings are invalid

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A few weeks ago a friend off mine posted this picture on facebook. I asked her what  “valid” means and she told me “ valid = real, noteworthy, substantial, precious.” Therefore to frame this another way, the feelings of every single person, no matter what they are, and regardless of their nature, are real, substantial and precious. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to see the deep flaws and perverse logic of such a statement. I jumped on MS paint and within a few minutes I had created these two beauties.


and then this one, which I posted to her facebook wall

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She promptly deleted my post, which I suppose demonstrates the hypocrisy and irrationality of such a proposition.  The people who promote this mindset don’t believe it themselves, nor do they practice it. It is enabling childishness and selfishness under the guise of love and tolerance. It enables emotional immaturity in such a way that those who cling to it are being hurt by their belief in it, even as they believe they are being helped. Put the lie to it. Don’t believe it. And don’t fall for it.

John MacArthur Answers His Critics


John MacArthur Answers His Critics

November 04, 2013
John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference has come and gone and the book will be shipping next week. Whatever you felt about the conference, there is little doubt that a lot of work and a lot of discussion remain as we, the church, consider the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the aftermath of the event, and with the book on its way, I think we all have questions we’d like to ask Dr. MacArthur. A week ago I asked for your questions and sent them through to him. Here are his answers to the first batch of questions. I anticipate adding a second part to this interview within the week.

TimWhat was the purpose of such a controversial conference like Strange Fire? Why did you choose not to invite one of the best of the reformed continuationists to speak at your event and to defend his position? Wouldn’t that have strengthened the cessationist arguments while also showing an earnest desire for unity?

MacArthurLet me begin by thanking you, Tim, for the opportunity to respond to these important questions about the Strange Fire conference and book. I would also like to thank your readers for their willingness to post these questions.

Sometimes you need to take a strong stand in order to get people’s attention

The goal of the Strange Fire Conference was to sound a trumpet blast in the midst of an evangelical world that has largely grown ambivalent about this vital issue. Sometimes you need to take a strong stand in order to get people’s attention  and we wanted the conference to make that kind of definitive statement. Because the honor of the Holy Spirit is at stake, we were convinced that we could not remain silent. 

Our decision not to host a debate at the Strange Fire Conference was intentional. Debates are rarely effective in truly helping people think carefully through the issues, since they can easily be reduced to sound bites and talking points. By contrast, a clear understanding of biblical truth comes from a faithful study of the Scriptures. Our hope is that the conference sparked a renewed desire for that kind diligent study on this important issue.

I also expect continuationists to respond in writing to the things I have written in the book. I welcome that kind of interchange. It allows people to think carefully, over a prolonged period of time, about the arguments on both sides of the issue. It has always been through the written word that theological disputes like this have been grappled with in church history. That requires the kind of devotion and effort that brings serious discussion to the fore. I have taken those pains in Strange Fire, and would hope that others would interact on that same level.

TimThere are some matters the Bible makes absolutely clear (e.g. You must trust in Christ alone for your salvation) and some things that continue to perplex us so that even genuine, Bible-loving Christians can disagree on them (e.g. baptism and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit). Why does God allow questions like these to remain unclear to us? Why are you taking such a strong stand on what is really just a secondary issue?

MacArthurThese questions remind me of an article Thabiti Anyabwile wrote during the Strange Fire Conference, in which he explained why this issue is so important. He wrote, “First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong… . Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t… . Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well.”

I agree with all of that. This is an issue of critical importance because it affects our view of God as well as our understanding of how to live out the Christian life, both individually and corporately.

I don’t think, however, that this issue is unclear in Scripture. The fact that Christians disagree on what the Bible teaches does not mean that there is a lack of clarity in Scripture, but rather in Christians. The Word of God is our authoritative rule for faith and practice—meaning that it is perfectly sufficient for teaching sound doctrine and governing right living. Certainly, an orthodox pneumatology fits under that umbrella.

On the one hand, I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a continuationist or a cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches.

On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperity gospel. Moreover, the global charismatic movement happily shelters other heretical movements—such as Catholic Charismatics and Oneness Pentecostals. Taken together, the number of charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of health and wealth or a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global charismatic movement. That is why we took such a strong stand both at the conference and in the book.

TimYou noted that you see this issue clearly resolved in Scripture. Can you explain, briefly, the biblical case for cessationism?

MacArthurThe full answer to this question would require a lengthy response; and I spend several chapters in the book making the case. But since you asked me to be brief, I’ll do my best to stay concise. I find it helpful to shape the case for cessationism around three questions: What?When?, and Why?.

First, what were the miraculous and revelatory gifts (like apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing) according to the Word of God? Scripture gives us a clear description. But when we compare that biblical description with the modern charismatic movement, we find that the latter falls far short. Though charismatics use biblical terminology to describe their contemporary experiences, nothing about the modern charismatic gifts matches the biblical reality.

For example, God’s Word explicitly says that true prophets must adhere to a standard of 100% accuracy (Deut. 18:20–22) and nothing in the New Testament exempts them from that standard. The book of Acts depicts the gift of tongues as producing real human languages (Acts 2:9–11), and nothing in 1 Corinthians redefines tongues as irrational babble. And the New Testament further describes the miraculous healings of Jesus and the Apostles (including the healing of organic diseases like paralysis, blindness, and leprosy) as being immediate, complete, and undeniable (cf. Mark 1:42; 10:52; etc.). These, and many other Scripture passages, demonstrate the truly extraordinary quality of the biblical gifts.

But here is the point. The modern gifts of the charismatic movement simply do not match up to their biblical counterparts. Modern prophecy is fallible and full of errors. Modern tongues consists of unintelligible speech that does not conform to any human language. Modern healings do not compare to the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles.

Amazingly, leading continuationists readily acknowledge this fact. Wayne Grudem, for example, agrees that apostleship has ceased. He further argues for a modern version of prophecy that is fallible and frequently characterized by mistakes. Sam Storms has a whole article attempting to justify the idea that modern tongues do not have to be real human languages. And in a recent interview, John Piper acknowledges that there was something unique and unrepeatable about the healing miracles of Christ.

Based on those admissions, I would challenge them to consider in what sense they should even be called ‘continuationists,’ because they essentially acknowledge that the biblical gifts have not continued. And if these aren’t the biblical gifts we’re talking about, what are they, and what Scriptural evidence is there for their operation in the church?

There is nothing extraordinary about fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, or failed healings.

So, I don’t deny that charismatics have lots of experiences. But I do deny the notion that those experiences match what the Bible describes as the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the New Testament. The modern experiences don’t even come close. There is nothing extraordinary about fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, or failed healings. While I recognize that sometimes God providentially chooses to heal people through answered prayer, those occurrences are not at all the same thing as the New Testament gift of healing. 

Second, when did the gifts cease? One important passage that helps answer that question is Ephesians 2:20, which explains that apostles and New Testament prophets were the “foundation” upon which the church was being built. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, that foundation was still being laid through the apostles and prophets, and through the miraculous and revelatory gifts that accompanied and authenticated their ministries. But once the foundation was laid, those offices and gifts passed away. To follow Paul’s metaphor, the foundation is not something that is rebuilt at every phase of construction. It is laid only once.

Many reformed continuationists (including Wayne Grudem) readily acknowledge that apostleship has ceased. So even they admit that one of the most significant elements listed in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 has passed away. So, at that level at least, they are cessationists.

Finally, we must look to the purpose of the gifts—why they were given. The New Testament explains that they functioned to authenticate God’s messengers, while the canon of Scripture—and thus the fullness of God’s revelation—was still incomplete. Jesus Himself was “attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22). Paul referred to “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). The author of Hebrews spoke of the Gospel being attested by God “both with signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:4).

After the apostolic age passed, with the foundation of the church laid and the canon of Scripture closed, such attestation was no longer required. The sufficiency of Scripture and the fullness of God’s completed revelation in His written Word is so glorious that it no longer needs miraculous confirmation. As Peter explains, the prophetic word is even more sure than the most extraordinary of eye-witness experiences (2 Pet 1:16–21). In the all-sufficient Scriptures, God’s truth is self-attesting and self-evident through the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 4:12).

Now, I realize there are disputes over some of those passages. But that is the very discussion I want to spark in the evangelical community. Let’s dig into the Scriptures and deal with the biblical and theological issues. I should add that we address these and other passages in much greater depth in the Strange Fire book. Not that anyone would want to count, but the Scripture index includes nearly 450 biblical references.

TimYou acknowledge, of course, that many godly, respected theologians are continuationists. How would you explain the continuationist theology of faithful men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem if the cessationist position is so clearly taught in the Bible?

MacArthurFirst, let me reiterate how much I do appreciate those men. As I explain in the book, I am truly grateful for the extensive contributions they have made to the truth and life of the church. I have personally benefited from my interactions with each of them, and from the many helpful books they have authored. I love these men as coworkers in the ministry of the gospel, and I thank the Lord for giving them as gifts to the church in this generation.

As I noted at the conference, I believe their openness to modern charismatic gifts is an anomaly.  Obviously, I cannot read minds nor do I desire to judge motives. But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture.

Wayne Grudem, as I mentioned earlier, openly acknowledges that there are no apostles in the church today. John Piper says that he does not speak in tongues. And I’m fairly confident that D. A. Carson does not personally practice any of the charismatic gifts. In that sense, then, I think they may be more cessationist (in terms of their personal practice) than their published positions would suggest.

My major concern is that their openness to the issue unwittingly gives the whole movement an aura of theological credibility that it does not deserve. That is why I titled the last chapter of Strange Fire, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends.” I want to appeal to them, on the basis of their theological acumen and exegetical expertise, to reexamine the issue. At the very least, I hope they will join with us in drawing a clear line in the sand and condemning the aberrations and excesses of the broader charismatic movement.

TimYou have been clear that charismatic theology damages Christ’s name and the gospel. Excluding the obviously and patently unbiblical, extreme charismatics such as Benny Hinn, what is the damage that may be done as a result of reformed, continuationist preaching and practice?

MacArthurThis is a question we directly address in chapter 12 of the book—identifying eight dangerous ramifications of holding to a continuationist position. I can’t go into detail on all eight of those concerns here, but perhaps I can briefly highlight two of them.

I am concerned that reformed continuationists provide theological cover for the broader movement

First, I am concerned that reformed continuationists provide theological cover for the broader movement—including those who are not nearly as careful as they are. Once you legitimize fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, and failed healings (as if those are true expressions of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit), you open Pandora’s Box to all sorts of theological error and disaster. In using biblical terminology to describe something other than the biblical phenomena, continuationists unwittingly provide cover for charlatans and deceivers who use their arguments to propagate falsehood and justify abuses. 

Let me give one quick example of that. I remember meeting with a charismatic prophet in my office several years ago—a man who has since been publicly discredited as a drunken, immoral fraud. But at the time, he was considered one of the foremost of the Kansas City Prophets. And he had come, along with another continuationist leader, in order to convince me that he was a true prophet. It was a strange meeting. His behavior was extremely bizarre. But the other leader defended him, insisting that this was how he acted when he was under the power of the Spirit.

So we asked this other continuationist leader why he believed this man to be a true prophet when he acted so strangely, and when so many of his so-called revelations were wrong and full of errors. I’ll never forget his response. He simply appealed to Wayne Grudem’s work on prophecy as his defense.

Examples like that illustrate the problem. Albeit unintentionally, reformed continuationists are providing a defense for people far less-noble or ethical than they are. In that sense, they are holding the gates open for the Trojan horse of aberrant theology and spiritual abuse that runs rampant in the broader charismatic world.

Second, on a related note, I am deeply concerned with the notion of ongoing revelation in the church today. Though my continuationist friends would never intentionally attack the sufficiency of Scripture, I believe their acceptance of modern prophecy actually undermines the sufficiency of Scripture in profoundly destructive ways.

As I write in Strange Fire, “The continuationist view actually defaults on the sole sufficiency of Scripture at the most practical levels—because it teaches believers to look for additional revelation from God outside the Bible. As a result, people are conditioned to expect impressions and words from God beyond what is recorded on the pages of Scripture. By using terms like prophecyrevelation, or a word from the Lord, the continuationist position has the real potential to harm people by binding their consciences to an erroneous message or manipulating them to make unwise decisions (because they think God is directing them to do so). Though continuationists insist that congregational prophecy is not authoritative (at least, not at the corporate level), it is not difficult to imagine countless ways it might be abused by unscrupulous church leaders” (pp. 242–3).

By definition, then, and contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Scripture alone cannot be said to make the man of God completethoroughly equipped for every good work. Some other extrabiblical revelation or experience is made necessary. That kind of theology is downright dangerous.

TimIn his review of your book, Thomas Schreiner says that you painted with too broad a brush and failed to acknowledge some of the good qualities of the reformed continuationist movement. He says, “The clarion call of warning should be modified with clearer and more forthright admissions that many charismatics adhere to the gospel and are faithful to God’s Word.” How would you respond?

MacArthurFirst, I’d like to thank Tom for his willingness to review the book. I have great respect for his work as a careful exegete and biblical commentator. Second, I was encouraged to see where he has landed on the issue. I hope more will follow his example—being willing to rethink their continuationist leanings and come to a cessationist conclusion in light of the biblical evidence.

Regarding his concerns about the broad brush, I would respectfully disagree. Certainly, I would affirm that there are charismatics who adhere to the true gospel, and I acknowledge that point in the book. Here are a couple examples:

Page 81 – “I do believe there are sincere people within the Charismatic Movement who, in spite of the systemic corruption and confusion, have come to understand the necessary truths of the gospel. They embrace substitutionary atonement, the true nature of Christ, the Trinitarian nature of God, biblical repentance, and the unique authority of the Bible. They recognize that salvation is not about health and wealth, and they genuinely desire to be rescued from sin, spiritual death, and everlasting hell.”

Page 231 – “I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I regard as brothers in Christ and friends in the ministry all who are faithful fellow workmen in the Word and the gospel, even if they give a place of legitimacy to the charismatic experience. I have good friends among them who label themselves as ‘reformed charismatics’ or ‘evangelical continuationists.’”

Error is still error, even if there are true believers who embrace and espouse it.

So of course I would agree that there are true believers within the charismatic movement. But that does not negate the seriousness of the corruption. The charismatic quest for extrabiblical revelation, subjective impressions, ecstatic experiences, and so on, represents a massive danger to the church. Error is still error, even if there are true believers who embrace and espouse it. And when the error threatens the church in such significant ways, it needs to be called out and directly confronted. 

After the conference, there were some who accused me of saying that nothing good has ever come from those who are part of the charismatic movement. But that is not what I said, nor is it what I believe. Regarding those who are genuine believers, I would readily acknowledge the positive contributions that various charismatic pastors, authors, and laypeople have made within the larger church. However, I’m convinced that those contributions have been made in spite of their heterodox pneumatology, not because of it.

Finally, I think those who accuse me of using too broad of a brush are being naïve about the actual composition of the global charismatic movement. We briefly mentioned this earlier, but it is worth reiterating. The fact of the matter is that the majority of charismatics around the world (including both classic Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals) embrace the prosperity gospel. John T. Allen, in his book The Future Church (Doubleday 2009) explains how pervasive the prosperity gospel really is:

“Perhaps the most controversial element of the Pentecostal outlook is the so-called ‘prosperity gospel,’ meaning the belief that God will reward those with sufficient faith with both material prosperity and physical health. Some analysts distinguish between ‘neo-Pentecostal,’ which they see as focused on the prosperity gospel, and classic Pentecostalism, oriented toward the gifts of the Spirit such as healings and tongues. Yet the Pew Forum data suggests that the prosperity gospel is actually a defining feature of all Pentecostalism; majorities of Pentecostals exceeding 90 percent in most countries hold to these beliefs” (pp. 382–83).

That is a frightening statement, and it reveals just how pervasive the false gospel of health and wealth is within the global charismatic movement. But the data from surveys and studies back up those numbers.

Now that may be shocking to many, especially in North America (and also in theUK). People have responded to the conference by saying that I need to turn off TBNand get out more. They say that they personally know many charismatics who affirm sola fide and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and who deny the excesses and heresies of prosperity theology. In point of fact, I know those kinds of people too. Some of them are my dear friends. But the makeup of the movement is not determined by any single individual’s personal experience—unless he or she has personal knowledge of more than a half billion people. In the book, the argument is made by documenting the relevant statistical data. And the numbers paint a very different picture than that imagined by most American evangelicals.

On a global level, the majority of charismatics are being seduced by the false gospel of prosperity theology.

On a global level, the majority of charismatics are being seduced by the false gospel of prosperity theology. Add to that the fact that the charismatic movement includes 120 million Catholic Charismatics and another 24 million Oneness Pentecostals, and you begin to realize just how widespread the problem is. 

I’m deeply concerned that most American evangelicals are blissfully ignorant of what is actually happening across the globe. The reality is that the gospel being proclaimed and believed by the majority of charismatics around the world is not the biblical gospel. That was why I wanted Conrad Mbewe to speak at the Strange Fire Conference—because he sees what the charismatic movement is actually doing in places like the African church.

So, coming back to your question, I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad. But I think the problem is a whole lot bigger than anyone realizes. And it breaks my heart to think that hundreds of millions of souls are being caught up into a movement where they are being seduced by false forms of the gospel.

That is why I wanted to sound such a strong warning. And I’m willing to be accused of broad-brushing in order to get that message out.