Tuesday, June 18, 2013

John MacArthur Misses the Point in "Providing Cover to Charismatics" Video

The video above was posted earlier today at the Grace To You blog. In it John MacArthur seeks to answer the question "What's wrong with taking an open-but-cautious approach to the charismatic movement?" Sadly, however, his answer is troubling because of the way that it misrepresents many who take such a view, especially many who hold to solidly Reformed theology in many respects.

For example, MacArthur wonders why many "prominent, faithful, blessed preachers and theologians" would say that they are open to charismatic phenomena such as tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. He wonders what motivates them, and he suggests a couple of possibilities in response to his own rhetorical question. After he states, "I don't know what the heart motive is," he nevertheless suggests a couple of possible motives. First he suggests that "maybe it's love and acceptance," but with a tone and in a context that leaves one thinking that he means "maybe it's love and acceptance devoid of a proper concern for the truth of God's Word." Then he suggests that "maybe it's kind of a personal longing for something more in their spiritual life," again with a tone and in a context that leaves one thinking that he means "maybe it's a desire for subjective experiences divorced from a proper concern for the truth of God's Word."

But some readers may be wondering at this point why I think MacArthur implies such accusations when he doesn't actually state them. The answer is found in what he doesn't say. For MacArthur doesn't even once consider the possibility that they could be motivated by what they believe is a proper exegesis of Scripture. And thus he leaves the false impression that faithfulness to Scripture isn't -- and couldn't possibly be -- what motivates them. Yet, men such as Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson have written entire books offering an exegetical defense for their respective Continuationist positions, and many who consider themselves open-but-cautious have been so persuaded by Scripture as well. MacArthur must know -- whether he agrees with the exegesis offered by such men or not -- that they are motivated by faithfulness to Scripture as they understand it, just as I would presume that MacArthur himself is so motivated. But I guess I am trying to be more fair to MacArthur on this point than he has been to some of the men he is criticizing in this video, despite the fact that he avoided mentioning any names.

I also take exception to the way that MacArthur says that such men "provide a certain cover" for the charismatic movement, as though these men haven't been explicit in their criticisms of the various extremes that often accompany the movement. In fact, the "GTY Staff" member who posted the blog entry in which this video was posted makes this misrepresentation even more egregious when he writes, "Being reluctant to criticize charismatic theology may seem like a safe, middle-ground approach for noncharismatic leaders. But as John pointed out, their silence has given cover to false teachers." But who is being referred to here? I suppose there are some men like this out there, but I frankly have never met an open-but-cautious man who cares at all about Scripture or doctrine who hasn't been quite vocal in decrying the many problems and extremes -- both doctrinal and practical -- in much of the charismatic movement.

So both MacArthur's video and the blog entry itself make it sound as though being open-but-cautious -- and thus also being more vocally Continuationist as well -- automatically places one is a situation where he gives cover to false teaching or aberrant practices, and this due to a lack of concern for fidelity to Scripture on their own part.

I would appeal to this blog's readers, however, to be more fair minded in their assessment of the matter. Whether you are a Cessationist or a Continuationist, surely you can see that there are men on both sides of this issue who care deeply about being faithful to Scriptural teaching, even if they disagree about what Scripture actually teaches on this issue.


  1. Keith,

    Oddly enough I just posted on my blog my thoughts on this very topic. I've never agreed with MacArthur on his interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-13 while at the same time I have appreciated his work on exposing the heresies that have proliferated from some involved in the Charismatic Movement. I'm surprised and a bit disappointed that Mac resorted to a strawman argument in his "providing a cover" remark.

    1. I am also disappointed in Macarthur's comments, but I cannot say I am all that surprised. Although there have been few prominent pastors that I respect more than MacArthur, on this subject he seems to lose objectivity pretty easily. In fact, when I read his book Charismatic Chaos years ago, it struck me as essentially one long straw man argument.

  2. Keith,

    I've attempted to make a case for cessationism. I think the overall weight of the evidence leans in that direction. However, I've studied the issue thoroughly enough to see that it's just not as exegetically and biblically "cut-and-dry" as some cessationists make it out to be. Personally, I think many "open-but-cautious" brothers are simply trying to be true to Scripture and their conscience. They haven't found the cessationist argument adequately convincing to prompt them to close the door on the possibility that God may still do something extra-ordinary in certain unique situations. Even John Calvin was somewhat open-but-cautious in this sense.

    Keep up the good work.
    Bob Gonzales

  3. Thanks for the encouraging word, Bob. I have read with profit your previous articles on the subject.

    For those who might be interested, several years ago Bob wrote at least an eight part series of articles laying out his case and responding to arguments form Continuationsists, most notably Wayne Grudem. Here are the links for all eight parts:









    Bob has also posted a two part audio teaching on his new blog here:


  4. http://www.gty.org/Blog/B130618#18

    1. Thanks for the input, Phil.

      I encourage the blog's readers to follow the link and read what you have written there by way of clarification. It is an excellent example in support of the point John was making, even if I still question whether it was fair for John to generalize the way he did, especially since he himself offered no examples.

    2. You know, the more I think about it, Phil, the more I wonder about the example you gave. I am not sure, for example, whether Grudem, Storms, or Piper would call themselves "open-but-cautious," and so I wonder whether or not they would actually be good examples of what John was talking about. But I guess there may be some confusion here about terminology. Those I typically meet who would describe themselves as "open-but-cautious" do so precisely because they are more reserved and careful than these three men are about the issues involved. So, whereas Grudem, Storms, and Piper might have failed to denounce certain extremes, those who I have met in Reformed circles who would describe themselves as "open-but-cautious" would not fail to do so. They call themselves "open-but-cautious" for a reason.

      However, I readily admit that I am just going by my own experience with such men as I have met them over the past 20 years or more, whether at Covenant Seminary or in my experience as a pastor. But such experience has left me certain that most of them would definitely not fit into the picture painted by John in the video. I know I certainly don't.

  5. Thanks for the post especially in light of the spread of the word of faith movement which has frequently embraces a "new apostolic age" perspective. There are so many wolves out there a synopsis of third perspective would be "cautious, really cautious". The scriptures declare the Lord can do whatever he pleases for his glory. It also warns that but for the grace of God regenerating and restraining, man is so deceived and deceiving.

  6. Keith,

    Forgive this cheap shot, promoting my blog, but it fits in with the Brewer Family comment. It's my recent review of Joel Osteen's book, "I Declare." It also fits in with Mac's upcoming conference.


  7. Keith,

    I just watched Mac's latest video clip about his up coming conference on "Strange Fire." It disturbed me. He limits the Person and work of the Holy Spirit to those who interpret Scripture as he does, to be frank. I don't see this in Scripture either in examples/illustrations or in the plain teaching on the Holy Spirit.

  8. I agree with you. The "open-but-cautious" folks that I know are cautious for a reason. In fact, due to much of the charismatic craziness out there, many of them that I personally know would find it easier to be a cessationist, but remain "open-but-cautious" only because they do not find the Biblical or Theological grounds to support cessationism. On my part, I am a cessationist, but I know I need to be careful not to give cover to the rationalist, materialist, and the deist. I know that in my past I have overly de-emphasized the subjective and supernatural element of the Christian faith. Thank you for your post.

  9. I actually agree with MacArthur on this. If you are "open-but-cautious"(OBC), what are you open to, prophesy? dreams? healing? fortune telling? A little leaven, leavens the whole lump. The London Confession says clearly " _The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men". Unfortunately, dispensationalists are sounding the alarm a lot louder than us Reformed and maybe especially us Reformed Baptists.

    As to whether sound theologians have scriptural interpretations that lead them to believe in OBC, I have no doubt. But their interpretations are wrong. How many times have I come across a person under the cloak of "Biblicism" used scriptural interpretations to prove arminianism. I see the OBC view as a stealth way of saying I believe in continuationism. I wish Johnny Macs conference well!

    1. Really Scott? You honestly think that open-but-cautious men are open to "fortune telling"? And that is on the list of spiritual gifts where?

      It seems to me that your agreement with MacArthur may be based on the same tendency to flatten out the various views and treat them all the same way, despite the differences between them, such as differences in the way gifts like prophecy or healing might be understood. Not everyone would define all the gifts the same way, you know, or see them as functioning the same way.

      As for your argument that sound theologians can be wrong, I don't doubt it, especially since I think you are wrong in your assessment of this issue and your presentation of an opposing view. But does that mean that I should say that you are asserting your view "under the cloak of 'Biblicism,'" as though you have some underhanded motivation or something?

      As for whether or not the open-but-cautious view is a "stealth way of saying I believe in Continuationism," I can only say that there is nothing "stealth" about it. I know of no one who holds the view that would deny for a second that it is a form of Continuationism. They just don't agree with many of the more extreme positions taken by many Continuationists, especially those who would call themselves Charismatics, and they wouldn't want to be lumped together with them. So, for example, given that the Apostle Paul doesn't get into any detailed explanation of gifts such as prophecy or healing and how such gifts worked in the New Testament churches, open-but-cautious people don't think it wise to act as though we can have certainty about such matters. They are very reticent, therefore, to accept most -- if any -- of what is claimed to be genuine these days as being such. And they definitely would not and do not "provide cover" for the more extreme claims of the charismatic movement.

      Many of them would also question whether such gifts were as widespread even in the first century as many seem to think they were, so they definitely would question the vast majority of what they hear about today, some of them making more allowances for places where the Gospel is going for the first time but being very suspicious of even of most of the claims they hear from such places.

      So I hope you can see that there is a pretty big difference between those who are open to the continuation of such things because Scripture seems to require it, yet are at the same time extremely cautious about such things, also because Scripture seems to require it, and those who make up the Charismatic movement and who show very little Scriptural understanding about such matters in the first place.

      Anyway, your opinion has been heard here, even if it seems to me that you are being unfair to most of the open-but-cautious men I have ever met, just as Macarthur is being unfair to them. For there really is a difference between them and most other Continuationists in the way they approach the matter.