There has been much discussion about John MacArthur’s recent Strange Fire conference. I must confess that I have not read MacArthur’s speeches from this conference and so I can not respond in detail. I have read elsewhere that MacArthur compared Pentecostals to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But since I don’t have those resources in front of me, I will not respond to MacArthur’s view specifically. Instead, I would like to respond to the view held by some that the charismatic movement is a heresy.
The first thing that must be done is define the charismatic movement. Charismatics can include classical Pentecostals, prosperity gospel, Vineyard, Toronto blessing, charismatic Catholics/Anglicans/Baptists, etc. Each of these groups are very different and one group should not be judged by the other. I define charismatics as those who not only believe that spiritual gifts are for today but those who emphasize them in regular use. I don’t see anything particularly controversial with this. To teach healing or speaking in tongues cannot be heretical as those were parts of the early church as described in Acts and Paul’s letters.
The question of course is whether or not such gifts are still active today. That is a valid question. While I believe they are, I respect those who disagree. What I would argue is that such questions are not in the area of heresy but belong with discussions about modes of baptism and of church government. There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that ongoing beliefs in charismatic gifts should be considered heresy.
For some, the dangers of the charismatic movement go beyond the practice of charismatic gifts. There are other theological issues at stake as well. This is where we have to be careful about what type of charismatic group we are talking about. I attended the Toronto blessing years ago when it was at its height and I sometimes (but not always) saw things that concerned me. But if you visited the Pentecostal church where I was baptized, not only would you not be concerned about theological error, you likely would not even know it was Pentecostal. Many Pentecostal churches today are little different from generic evangelical churches. I am very concerned about the prosperity gospel, and find that it is rife with theological error. But many Pentecostal/Vineyard churches are just as concerned about the prosperity gospel.
A heretical movement is not a group that does things in a different way or has a style you are uncomfortable with. You must go deeper. What do they say about the Trinity? What do they say about the incarnation? What do they say about the nature of salvation (grace vs works)? Use of charismatic gifts is not an issue of orthodoxy or heresy.
Are there dangers in the charismatic movement? Sure. I saw people attempt to manufacture charismatic gifts. I saw faith healers with really bad theology. I saw some very sloppy biblical interpretation. But I have seen dangerous things in other groups as well. A Baptist can slide into error just as easily as a Pentecostal can. It is not a charismatic problem, it is a human problem.
One of the figures in current evangelicalism that is very controversial is Rick Warren. Many evangelicals love Rick Warren and many evangelicals have major problems with Rick Warren. Some people see Rick Warren as the arch-heretic. While technically his theology is orthodox (he affirms the Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace, etc.), that does not mean that he can’t be a heretic. I am going to share three reasons why Rick Warren is a heretic.
1) Rick Warren is known for his role in helping the poor, hungry and sick. This of course is a liberal heresy. Christians should only preach spiritual salvation. Once there is assurance of heaven, our job is done. There is no biblical support for Christians helping those who are suffering (Leviticus 19:9-10, Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 2:10).
2) Rick Warren is known for being too respectful to people of other religions, especially Muslims. Although Rick Warren does affirm salvation by Jesus alone, he is willing to work with Muslims on certain projects and is respectful towards them when he talks to them. This of course is unacceptable. Christians should blast people of other faiths and use every opportunity to destroy their false beliefs. Our job is not to connect with other people, our job is to argue how correct we are and how foolish everyone else is. The fact that Muslims keep coming back to Rick Warren and are willing to hear what he says tells us that he is not being harsh enough. There is no biblical support for being respectful toward people of other faiths and of building bridges where we have things in common (Acts 17:22-34).
3) Rick Warren is far too popular and respected by non-Christians. He is often found on secular talk shows and news programs. Non-Christians, instead of hating him, seem to respect him. This is a clear indication that something is wrong. A person’s orthodox theology can be measured directly by how much they are hated by non-Christians. If non-Christians like you, you must be a heretic. True preachers of the gospel are despised by non-Christians and are continually mocked. There is no biblical support for Christians being respected by non-Christians (Acts 2:46-47, 5:13).
This proves that Rick Warren is a heretic. If you are confused by my arguments, please look up the Bible quotations.
I have decided to jump on the Rob bell bandwagon. There is a lot of buzz about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. You can watch the promo here.
Despite being someone who appreciates Rob Bell’s ministry, especially his Nooma videos, I will admit some alarm bells went off. However, I will withhold judgment until I read the book and the comments in their full context. Still, I will say that Rob Bell is talented at challenging people and saying things in a way that make them rethink why they believe what they believe.
Some people have already jumped to the conclusion that Rob Bell is now a universalist and a heretic. Challenging thoughts on hell does not make that necessarily true. Many still think of hell as an eternal torture chamber run by sadistic demons, an idea that is completely unbiblical.
One of the things that really is getting people upset is the questioning of whether Gandhi is in hell. Is this universalism or salvation by being good or is it questioning people’s confidence that they have a comprehensive list of who is in heaven and who is in hell? Do any of us know if Gandhi called out to Jesus in his last moments?
Finally, Rob Bell is not the only person who has suggested that heaven will be bigger than many of us assume. Dallas Willard in his book Knowing Christ Today, advocated the wideness in God’s mercy idea that there are people who are saved without consciously being Christians.
Do not get me wrong, Rob Bell might be a total heretic. But I suspect that he is trying to do two things: 1) create the current buzz and interest in his book, and 2) get people to actually think through these ideas. I will read and review the book when it comes out and I will not hesitate to call Bell on any unbiblical assertions. But I would also like to encourage people to withhold accusations of heresy until the book comes out and we can read what he says in full context. Finally, I will leave you with this thought. If they had blogs in the first century, I wonder how many would condemn the Apostle Paul for never speaking of hell.
I saw this link to Norman Geisler’s review of the Shack over at Apologetics 315. Geisler gives a pretty negative review of the Shack and seems to point at being heretical in many ways. I have to make two confessions: 1) I really enjoyed the Shack, it was funny, it was sad, it was moving and it was thought provoking and 2) I have recommended the book to many people and have even given out copies.
Does that mean that I disagree with Geisler’s analysis of the Shack? I include his review because I think he makes some good points. There are some theological concerns that people should be aware of. However, I think this is important, the Shack is Christian fiction and not a theology text book. If it was written as theology, we should indeed be concerned. I think that William Young in the context makes some very good points. He asks some questions that need to be asked. We might not agree with his answers, but he at least points us in the right direction toward wrestling with where God is in the midst of suffering. I believe that God is using the Shack in a mighty way to get people to reconsider God despite their suffering and disappointments. I will continue to recommend the book. But I will also be prepared to point out areas where the book is soft on biblical truth.