November 22, 2017

An open letter to John MacArthur

The following is an open letter to Dr. John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California as well as of the Grace to You radio program. Recently Dr. MacArthur hosted a conference exposing the many errors of Charismatism. I appreciate the work done in the conference and recommend the book and conference as a resource on Charismatism.

However, the conference leaves me with questions, some of which were raised in the discussion forums of the conference itself, and some that rise from the ongoing relationship between Dr. MacArthur and some who support the Charismatic Movement. Specifically, I wonder about the continuing cooperation with men like John Piper in ministry partnership, as seen in the speakers list for the upcoming Together for the Gospel conference.

While the letter that follows is my own work, many brethren in our Fellowship share these concerns. I do not speak for all, but I am sure that many would like clear answers to the questions I raise.

An attempt has been made to contact Dr. MacArthur through some of his representatives prior to publication, but no response has been forthcoming

— Don Johnson, editor, Proclaim & Defend

Dear Dr. MacArthur

Thank you for holding the Strange Fire Conference and for your book of the same name. I reviewed your book here. Though we are many miles from you and across an international border, the ministry of your book and conference is having its impact here among our church people. The work done through them have been positive, a help in educating Christians about the dangers of the Charismatic movement and the reasons for taking a strong stand of opposition to it. This stance is not without cost. I have witnessed families with Charismatic relatives feeling the pressure to conform to the very errors you exposed.

While I am generally positive and pleased with your ministry in this area, some questions remain that you haven’t answered fully as far as I can see. Some of these questions were raised in the conference, especially in the second panel discussion. You responded in a way that doesn’t seem consistent with the strong words you and others used in exposing the Charismatic error. The questions have to do with how we can have a fruitful ministry relationship with men who promote heretical Charismatic views and what we should do about relationships with otherwise conservative Christians who persist in embracing heretical Charismatic views.

In order to make my questions clear, I should perhaps lay out some specific examples. You have carefully laid out the fraudulent beginnings of the Charismatic movement from its beginnings in Kansas under Charles Parham (pp. 19ff. in your book). These enthusiasts thought they had the gift of tongues – that is, the ability to speak foreign languages they had never studied or even been exposed to. They were sadly disappointed when they attempted to do missionary work with this alleged ability, but rather than admit error, they were compelled to “rethink their original view of speaking in tongues” (Robert Mapes Anderson, quoted in your book, p. 23). From the very beginning, as you know, the so-called gift of tongues has been accompanied by presumptuous enthusiasm, heretical leadership, and unbiblical doctrine. Yet, as you cite on p. 237, John Piper is one who thinks tongues are legitimate and testifies to regularly praying “A lot of my brothers and sisters have this toy, have this gift. Can I have it too?” It is astonishing that someone like Piper who seems orthodox in so many ways can be taken in by this kind of fraudulent teaching. What confuses me about him is that he is one who has stood stoutly for the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture in so many other ways. Following your conference, he is quoted as responding, “I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31, ‘earnestly desire the higher gifts.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1, ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might prophesy.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39, ‘earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.’ I want Christians today to obey those texts.” The same article states that he has consistently urged others to pursue the gifts. In a message from 1981, he said of the prophecy of Joel in Joel 2:

Joel is not trying to get us excited that we will all one day be able to know the future before it happens (there is nothing especially holy about that). He is looking to a day when men and women everywhere will be so filled with God that they catch visions of him in the daytime, dream about him at night, and speak of him continually with their mouths. The best evidence for this is that when in fact the Spirit was poured out like this at Pentecost, the result was that those filled with the Spirit “spoke the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). The miracle of “tongues” enabled all to understand, but the important thing is what they said. Tongues is just one variety of prophetic speech. This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: your sons and daughters will prophesy.

Resources from 1990, 1991, 2004, and 2013 are also referenced in the article. It is quite obvious that Dr. Piper intends to stand by his long standing error on this doctrine.

You close your book with this quote (p. 248):

My prayer is that my continuationist friends (and all who are willing to join this cause) would see the dangers in charismatic theology, that they would boldly reject that which the Bible condemns as error, and that together we would apply the mandate of Jude 23, rescuing souls from the strange fire of false spirituality.

You state on the previous page (247), “Whoever compromises with the error and subjectivism of charismatic theology allows the enemy into the camp.”

But in spite of your charges of the abuses of sound doctrine by charismatics, Dr. Piper chooses to respond this way:

“we really need to keep in mind that every charismatic abuse has its mirror image in non-charismatic abuses. Nothing I am going to say is unique to charismatics. In some of these cases, the non-charismatic church is more guilty than the charismatic.”

“There are emotional abuses in the non-charismatic church, namely the absence of emotion, which is probably more deadly than the excesses.”

“We tend to think of charismatics when we think of people abusing finances in this way. All you have to do is listen to the Twittersphere to know that is not the case. There are just as many non-charismatic leaders who are using their status as an effective spiritual leader to make a lot of money, and accumulate a lot of money, and look like they have a lot of money. And I want to say that there are a lot of simple, honest, humble charismatic pastors living on modest salaries who are less guilty than many non-charismatics when it comes to financial abuses.”

Dr. MacArthur, is this really an acceptable response? It seems that you have laid down a line in the sand with your book and conference. It also seems that Dr. Piper has clearly indicated that he intends to ignore that line. How can we as orthodox Bible believers support Dr. Piper and his persistent errors in this critical issue?

Your answer to a similar question during the conference (2nd panel discussion) was this (about the 51:25 mark):

With someone like John Piper, that is a complete anomaly. That is just so … off everything else about him. … It’s not that he speaks in tongues, it’s not that he prophesies, he’s admitted that. It’s just that there is this anomaly in his mind that is open to that. That’s the way he’s always stated that, that he’s open to that, he’s open to that. He’s even made statements like, ‘I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t know exactly what to think about all of this.’ That’s a far cry from the propagation side of it and so I look at this with him and even with Wayne Grudem who has made such immense contributions in so many ways, as an anomaly, and I don’t know, and I don’t need to know, where the impulse for this comes from, where the influence comes from. Sometimes it comes from family, sometimes it comes from a spouse, you know we see that, we understand that, I don’t know where these influences come from. But I do know the great body of work that John Piper has done is true to the faith. And John is a friend whom I not only admire but whom I love. And I don’t know why on this front he has that open idea but it is … it is not an advocacy position for the movement and he would and he would join us in decrying the excesses of that movement for sure and even the theology of it. So I think if we start shutting everybody down who has got one thing they are not clear on or … you know, we’re going to really find ourselves alone and uh, that’s going too far. I have no fear that John would ever tamper with anything that is essential to the Christian faith, starting from theology proper all the way through to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s going to be faithful to the word of God as he understands it in a historical sense. Uh, how to explain anomalies like this… I think at this point this is where love comes in to embrace faithful men …

Dr. MacArthur, given the response of John Piper (I do hope you have read his whole piece in response to your conference, linked above), given his long history of advocacy for the charismatic gifts, as he himself demonstrates, can you stand by your own answer to the question of association? In your response, you said his position was an anomaly, as if it was something he was just open to mentally, but not actively involved in. In his piece he said, “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” In his 1981 message, also cited above, he said that tongues were a form of prophecy. Is this just an anomaly? Is this a non-advocacy view?

Dr. MacArthur, when the question of association is raised, I don’t think those asking the question are asking it out of a spirit of hatred, or a desire to brand such men as enemies of the faith in the sense that a false teacher (a Charles Parham, say) is an enemy of the faith. It seems to me that the association question is raised because we have valued so much many of the things that men like this have done. Their compromise on the charismatic issue is an allegiance to a doctrine of ongoing revelation as you forcefully proved in your book and conference. It attacks the sufficiency of Scripture (and in my mind undermines its inerrancy as well). The association question flows from a bewilderment. How is it consistent to cooperate with men like John Piper on the one hand and at the same time so strenuously attack a key plank in his theological understanding and ministry as you have done with the book and conference?

Observing this inconsistency makes me wonder how seriously you take this issue. You have made very strong and helpful statements about it. But… if the charismatic error is so serious, how can we work with men who are so intimately connected with it?

I don’t want this letter to focus solely on John Piper. He is one of many who are considered in one way or another “charismatic conservative evangelicals.” I use his example extensively because he is probably the most conservative of all of them and he has publicly responded to your recent and very public exposé of Charismatism. I could also refer to Wayne Grudem, who you mention above, whose work on prophecy has provided a form of theological cover to those you so strongly criticize. Or I could refer to Bob Kauflin, whose music is often used in many conservative circles – music he claims he receives from God by prophecy. I could refer to his close friend and associate, C. J. Mahaney, who not so long ago was title an “apostle” in the Sovereign Grace Churches.

How can Bible believing Christians enable the Charismatic movement in any way? In your answer to the association question, you said “that’s going too far.” Well, what should we do about these men? When you claim to prophesy, or to be an apostle, that is a pretty serious error, isn’t it?

Should we give them space, see if they will come around in time? How much time should we give them?

And if they won’t repent, what should we do then?

I want to assure you that I very much appreciate what you have done with this conference and the book. I am promoting it among the people of our church and our people are finding it very helpful. I am not writing this to you as an enemy! I am writing very much appreciative of all you have done so far in opposing charismatism. I am just hoping that you won’t stagger at the finish line and fail to keep your stand uncompromised in the end. I think the Charismatic error is that serious – it is not something we can trifle with.

Don Johnson
Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC

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