Book Review: “Strangers to Fire- When Tradition Trumps Scripture”

Last year conservative evangelical Pastor John MacArthur published “Strange Fire” a polemic against charismatic and Pentecostal christians. While MacArthur’s position has been well-known since his book “Charismatic Chaos”, many were surprised by the extreme positions he has since adopted, such as calling the Pentecostal/charismatic movement the biggest deception and worst problem facing the church at this time.

“Strangers to Fire” is a collection of essays by leading theological scholars and is in two sections. The first, smaller, section directly addresses the shortcomings in “Strange Fire”, including its exegetical failings and logical errors. The second, longer, section looks at the scriptural and historical arguments against the doctrine of “cessationism”, the belief that the gifts of the Spirit died out when the apostles died or when the New Testament was completed.

The scriptural arguments against cessationism are quite strong. In fact, nobody who comes to the New Testament without prior instruction would be led to the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for today. It is clear that the expectation in Scripture is that miracles,speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing and so on should continue until Jesus returns.

What I found really illuminating is the post-apostolic era. Several authors list the early Church Fathers (approximate time scale is 100-400 AD) and their writings clearly demonstrating that miracles and healings were common in the church. In two instances cited, christians were punished for their faith by having their tongues ripped out, but God miraculously enabled them to keep talking and praising Him. Other writers from the period speak of the vast majority (or even all) of their converts speaking in tongues as they emerged from baptism.

Because this is a scholarly book many people will find it heavy going. The style of the book, a collection of essays written over several decades, means that there is quite a bit of repetition and some readers might find that annoying. Nevertheless this is an important book that will give pastors and teachers sound resources for critiquing the cessationist position and for encouraging parishioners in their experience of the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Strangers to Fire- When Tradition Trumps Scripture” Edited by Robert W. Graves. Published 2014 The Foundation For Pentecostal Scholarship. ISBN 9780996044509.

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