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STRANGE FIRE = STRANGE CHRISTIANITY

A PLEA FOR EVANGELICALS TO MAJOR ON THE MAJOR’S

yea nea

By David P. Craig

The recent John MacArthur “Strange Fire” Conference compelled me to write this article. I don’t want to address Cessationism vs. Non-Cessationism so much, as to wrestle with why major on issues of disagreement in the Body of Christ when we have larger fish to fry? What would happen if evangelicals were known more for our love, cooperation, and unity than for our disagreements? What would happen if we worked more on understanding one another than attacking each other? What would be the results of a Church that is known by our love rather than our animosity towards those who believe differently than we do? What if we were characterized by civility and humility rather than pride and arrogance?

It’s been awhile since I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity – but its basic thesis is something I long for in the Evangelical Community around the globe today. Lewis was trying to get at the core or essence of Christianity. To this day perhaps few thinkers or writers have built as many bridges as Lewis in pointing people to Christ for both believers and non-believers.

In my own journey I have been a follower and lover of Jesus Christ since I was six years old. I have three degrees in theology and have been involved in church ministry since I was seventeen: in Brethren Churches, Baptist Churches, Evangelical Free Churches, Reformed Churches, Charismatic Churches, and various non-denominational churches. I have wrestled mightily, agonizingly, emotionally, subjectively, and objectively with issues of theology and methodology. Here are some of the positions I’ve wrestled with over the years:

Theology Proper – Process Theology? Open Theism? Augustinian-Calvinist? Modified Calvinist? Simple-Foreknowledge? Classical Free Will? Middle-Knowledge? Molinism?

Creation – 7 Literal Days? Young Earth? Old Earth? Day-Age View? Theistic Evolution? Framework Hypothesis? Gap Theory? Restoration View?

Bibliology – Infallibilist? Inerrantist?

Anthropology – Monism? Dichotomy? Trichotomy?

Soteriolgy – Pelagianism? Semi-Pelagianism? Augustinianism? Arminianism? Calvinism?

Predestination and Free Will – God Limits His Power? God Limits His Knowledge? God Ordains All Things? God Knows All Things?

Atonement – Christus Victor? Moral Government? Penal Substitution? Healing? Kaleidoscopic?

Justification – Deification? Traditional Reformed? Progressive Reformed? New Perspective?

Eternal Security – Classical Calvinist? Moderate Calvinist? Reformed Arminian? Wesleyan Arminian?

Sanctification – Wesleyan? Reformed? Pentecostal? Keswick? Augustinian-Dispensational?

Christology – Classical View? Kenotic View?

Eschatology – Amillennialism? Postmillennialism? Dispensational Premilillennialsm? Historic Premillennialism?

Hell – Annihilationism? Purgatory? Metaphorical? Conditional? Literal?

Pneumatology – Reformed? Dimensional Charismatic? Wesleyan? Catholic? Pentecostal?

Baptism – Symbol of Christ’s Saving Work? Sacrament of the Covenant? God’s Baptismal Act as Regenerative? Believer’s Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation?

Lord’s Supper – Christ’s True, Real, and Substantial Presence? Spiritual Presence of Christ? Christ’s Presence as Memorial?

Apologetics – Classical? Evidential? Cumulative Case? Presuppositional? Reformed Epistemology?

Law and Gospel – Non-Theonomic? Theonomic Reformed? God’s Gracious Guidance? Dispensational? Modified Lutheran?

Biblical Theology – Principalizing? Redemptive-Historical? Drama of Redemption? Redemptive-Movement?

Systematic Theology – Charismatic? Pentecostal? Dispensational? Progressive Dispensationalism? Covenant? Epangelical?

Destiny of the Unevangelized – Pluralism? Inclusivism? Particularism?

Women in Ministry – Egalitarian? Complementarian? Plural Ministry? Male Leadership?

Church Government – Episcopalianism? Presbyterianism? Single-Elder Congregationalism? Plural-Elder Congregationalism?

Counseling – Levels of Explanation? Integration? Christian Psychology? Transformational Psychology? Biblical?

Charismatic Gifts – Cessationism? Open but Cautious? Charismatic? Pentecostal? Third Wave?

I actually have 75 books in my library that have 2-5 views held by professing Christians on these and many more issues. What troubles me about the Strange Fire Conference and forthcoming book by John MacArthur is the time and effort into issues that divide rather than unite the body of Christ. This is a time for bridge building among Christians, not blowing them up! With the onslaught of immorality, relativism, and persecution on Christians around the world it’s more important than perhaps any other time in history that Christians unite and major on the majors and learn to minor on the minors.

The reality is no two theologians will agree on everything. I have a Jewish friend that jokingly says, “If you get three Rabbi’s in a room to debate an issue there will be four opinions.” I think the same can be said among any three random Protestant Pastors. The reality is that when we all get to Heaven we will find out we erred in many of our views. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek the truth and give up on finding the truth, but it does mean that we should humbly pursue truth and be patient with those who disagree with us. It’s a good thing the thief on the cross didn’t have to pass a theological exam to get into Heaven. He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner, deserved to be punished for his sin, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to save him – and we’ll see that guy in Heaven one day!

We need to rally around “Mere Christianity” and work towards being united with those who love Christ, His Word, and pursue His truth in humble and prayerful discussion together. Let’s not shoot our own wounded, but take care of one another’s wounds. Let’s patiently and lovingly pursue the truth together and agree to disagree on minor issues. Let’s unite on the greatness of God, and the glorious gospel, and the return of His Son. Let’s be more concerned about our own sins than the sins of others. Let’s become grace bound, grace oriented, and err on the side of grace. Let’s exalt Jesus and make Him our King, Lord, Savior, and find our satisfaction, joy, and delight in Him.

There’s only one man who had it all down perfectly and that was Jesus. He is and ever will be the lone perfect theologian who has perfect theology. Until He returns or takes us home we need to learn to submit to Him, point others to Him, seek Him, pursue His truth, and learn to get along by majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors. Let’s pursue the big ideas and big doctrines in the Bible and unite around those. There’s too much against us in the world for us to turn on one another.

As a Dodger fan, when I go to the baseball games I don’t focus on the guys political shirt next to me – I don’t argue with him over our differences. There’s simply one goal – cheer for our team to win. When Puig hits a home run – I high-five the guy next to me and we are full of joy because we are focused on what we agree on. Let’s stop arguing about what we’re wearing, how we’re worshipping, what style of music we’re listening to, and work together to win! We have one great commission; one great Book; one great Savior; one great King; one powerful Spirit; one powerful message; and one calling to bring glory to God; and as Paul said, “This one thing I do!” Let’s get out there and do it…together!

The strangest thing about the Strange Fire conference is that it represents a strange Christianity. Christians according to Jesus Himself are to be known by their love, not by burning each other down, but by building each other up. I am grateful for the fellowship, friendships, and learning that I have received from continuationists and non-continuationists. I know that we can’t all be right about everything, but I do know that we can do more together for the sake of Christ and His glory than we can apart. I also know that the fruit of the Spirit never burns but soothes – He is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. As believers, let’s build each other up, not burn each other, let’s be controlled by the Spirit not grieve the Spirit, and let’s proclaim the glory of Christ by the power of the Spirit for our own good and God’s glory. Ironically the closer we get to the Son – the less likely we are to get burned, or burn others.

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Book Review: The Mystery of the Holy Spirit by R. C. Sproul

 How To Know The Holy Spirit Personally and Intimately

 Many times as a pastor I have heard Christians refer to the Holy Spirit as an “it,” or a “power/force,” or the like. I have also heard many times that the most abstract member of the trinity to many Christians is the Holy Spirit. It has been my own experience that I have had to work harder to understand and know the Holy Spirit more than any other Person in the Trinity. In this book Dr. Sproul writes with profound insight, biblical acumen, and exegetical precision and gradually peels away the mysteries surrounding the third Person in the Trinity.

There are ten good reasons to read this book and its because each chapter handles a distinct important aspect of the character or attributes of the Holy Spirit and Sproul then cogently and articulately explains the ramifications for us theologically and then practically.

In chapter one Dr. Sproul asks and answers the question “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by using various Scriptures demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is a “person;” that we are called to a have a “personal relationship with him;” and that he performs “personal tasks.”

In chapter two the author gives a plethora of Scriptures and some very good logical arguments like this one: “Were the Holy Spirit not God, it is extremely unlikely that blasphemy against Him would be regarded as unpardonable,” to show very clearly that the Bible teaches the deity of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments.

In chapter three Dr. Sproul tackles and dismantles the most common objections raised against the Trinity and deals with them historically, biblically, and philosophically. He answers the following objections with great erudition, concise simplicity, and with immense sagacity:

Objection #1: The Word “Trinity” is not a biblical word and represents the invasion of foreign philosophy into biblical revelation.

Objection #2: The doctrine of the Trinity is contradictory and therefore irrational.

He demonstrates clearly in this chapter that the Trinitarian formula is neither contradictory nor irrational—rather it is biblical and logical.

Chapter four is vintage Sproul. Dr. Sproul is known for his outstanding vocabulary and for making things clear by explaining the meaning of words with reference to his subject of discussion. Dr. Sproul takes the time in this chapter to define the meanings and distinctions of the Holy Spirit as “essence” and “person.” He explains this by elaborating on three concepts: contradiction, paradox, and mystery with reference to our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s character and attributes.

Chapter five is a wonderful explanation of God the Holy Spirit’s work in physical and spiritual creation. He summarizes the chapter in this manner: “It is the Holy Spirit who supplies the dynamic for the created world. By His power the universe has life and motion…there is a parallel between the Spirit’s work in creation and redemption. As He is the generating power of biological life, so is He the source and generating power of spiritual life. His work in redemption mirrors and supplements His work in creation. He works both in creation and re-creation of a fallen world.”

In Chapter six Dr. Sproul gives a masterful presentation on what it means to be “born-again” or “regenerated” by the Holy Spirit. He demonstrates from John 3 and Ephesians 2 how we are “dead” spiritually and must be “made alive” by the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. He gives an outstanding presentation of why regeneration must precede faith and obliterates the much believed idea that faith + rebirth = justification.

Chapter seven is a wonderful articulation of the eternal security of those who are indeed regenerate. Sproul gives a very good presentation on the biblical distinctions of justification (monergistically – God alone working to save us); and sanctification (synergistically – the cooperation between the Holy Spirit and us).

I think chapter 8 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is perhaps the best in the book. The baptism of the Spirit may be one of the least understood issues in theology today. Dr. Sproul brings great clarity and synthesis to a better understanding of this doctrine and its immense importance. The thesis he defends is summed up at the end of the chapter in this manner:

“I am not saying that everyone who is a member of a Christian church has the Holy Spirit. Membership in the visible church no more guarantees the baptism of the Holy Spirit than it guarantees salvation. We know that there are unbelievers who are church members. No unbeliever has the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but every believer, every regenerate person, does have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian from Pentecost to the present is both regenerate of the Spirit and baptized in the Spirit. That is the essence of the meaning of Pentecost. Anything less casts a shadow over the sacred importance of Pentecost in the history of redemption. Any person who is regenerate is also sealed by the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, and has the earnest of the Spirit.”

In chapter nine we have a great exposition of Galatians 5 contrasting the works of the flesh and the work of the Spirit, and lastly in chapter ten Dr. Sproul shows how the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Vicar on earth to empower, comfort, and use us for the glory of Christ.

Honestly, I’m surprised this book has not been a BIG seller. As far as I’m concerned it is the best book bridging great scholarship in laymen’s terms on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit in the English language. I have read over twenty books on the Holy Spirit – and this is my third time through Sproul’s work, and it is still the one I would recommend most if you are going to read one book on the Holy Spirit.

*Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder, chairman and president of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.

 

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