John MacArthur during his anti-Charismatic Strange Fire conference last month said that he believes fellow Christian theologian John Piper's "openness to modern charismatic gifts is an anomaly" and may inadvertently lend support to an aspect of Christianity he finds unbiblical.
MacArthur, expanding on those comments with evangelical Christian blogger Tim Challies earlier this month, mentioned D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem and Piper as men who he loves as "as co-workers in the ministry of the gospel" but expressed concern that their openness to the charismatic gives the movement weight.
"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," said MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.
MacArthur is a cessationist who believes charismatic gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues ended with Jesus Christ's first century apostles.
In October, the California minister used his Strange Fire conference to speak out against what he considers unbiblical aspects of the charismatic movement, insisting that members of the movement have been attributing to the Holy Spirit things that are ungodly.
While MacArthur and Piper both subscribe to some form of Reformed, or Calvinist theology, the later, like Carson and Grudem, is a continuationist. Piper supports the belief that the Holy Spirit continues today to empower Christians with spiritual gifts.
Piper, through his Desiring God ministry website, has addressed MacArthur's Strange Fire conference, as well as questions from many of his ministry supporters regarding charismatic gifts.
Tony Reinke, a blogger for Piper's DesiringGod.org, explains:
At the conference, Piper was characterized as open to the gifts but not advocating for them or encouraging others to pursue the gifts themselves. This is a misunderstanding, says Piper. "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."
As explained in the post, Piper not only advocates obedience to those New Testament passages, but he himself pursues such spiritual gifts, specifically prophecy, which means for him preaching "under an anointing" from God:
This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to "say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24–25 happens."
The DesiringGod.org post points readers to two video interviews with Piper posted in January of this year in which the theologian answers two questions: What is Speaking Tongues? and What is the Gift of Prophecy in the New Covenant?
Piper explains in the videos that he does not believe that he has ever "authentically spoken in tongues," but has prayed for God to give him the ability, he says in obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31.
While Piper disagrees with MacArthur on the issue of spiritual gifts still being given by the Holy Spirit to Christians today, the two men do agree that there are "abuses and excesses" in the charismatic movement — particularly in cases where experience is given priority and the importance of doctrine is minimized.
"I think that is a huge defect in many charismatic churches," explained Piper. "The fear is this: if you try to study the Bible with a view to assembling a coherent view of doctrine, you are going to quench the Spirit, and you won't have as much vitality in your heart, because the mind and the heart are at odds with each other. That is a mistake, I think, and it is an abuse of experience to make it the enemy of — or the alternative to — doctrine."
The former Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor did not neglect to note his concerns regarding discernment and finance abuses present in the charismatic movement, but noted again that these abuses are not present only in Christian charismatic communities.
"Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, financial abuses, all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches," says Piper.
Piper also cautioned that there was a danger tied to the absence of emotion in some non-charismatic churches, which he suggested "is probably more deadly than the excesses."
He shared that his approach in correcting these abuses was not to "go on a warpath against charismatics," but instead to "spread truth."
"I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find, because what I believe, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth," he said.
Visit DesiringGod.org to read and hear Piper's responses in full regarding John MacArthur's Strange Fire conference, their differing theologies on spiritual gifts, and his take on "charismatic abuses": http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/piper-addresses-strange-fire-and-charismatic-chaos.
Read more about the Strange Fire conference:
MacArthur Responds to Critics Who Believe His Strange Fire Conference Is Divisive, Unloving;
'Strange Fire' Conference: John MacArthur Calls Out Charismatic Movement as 'Unfaithful'