Most are aware of the Strange Fire conference currently underway at John MacArthur’s church in California. It is specifically designed to argue that charismatics, broadly conceived, are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Yes, you read that correctly.
Today, my friend Michael Patton wrote an excellent article that can be read at the blog for Parchment and Pen (www.reclaimingthemind.org). Michael Brown also made an appeal to MacArthur on the Charisma News website. Although I’m tempted to throw in my ten cent’s worth, I defer to J. I. Packer.
J. I. Packer is not your typical cessationist. That he is a cessationist is beyond question. But the wise, gentle, biblical, and loving way in which he responds to those in the charismatic movement is a model of Christian maturity and depth of character.
In one place Packer responds to those who are offended by charismatic phenomena by pointing out that “we are very apt to respond by abusing the whole movement and denying that there is anything of God in it at all. But how silly! And how nasty! This is a reaction of wounded pride and wilful prejudice, and as such is bad thinking in every way” (“Piety on Fire,” in Collected Shorter Writings, 2:104). Yes, it is silly and nasty. Of course, Packer is not endorsing, any more than I would, the fanatical excess of those in the so-called “health and wealth” or “Word of Faith” movements. But to argue that such theological abuse discredits the charismatic world as a whole is worse than silly and nasty; it is . . ., well, the better part of wisdom restrains me from using the words that come to mind!
Again, Packer argues that when we test the charismatic movement by biblical standards and the fruit that it bears “it becomes plain that God is in it. For, whatever threats and perhaps instances of occult and counterfeit spirituality we may think we detect round its periphery (and what movement of revival has ever lacked these things round its periphery?), its main effect everywhere is to promote robust Trinitarian faith, personal fellowship with the divine Saviour and Lord whom we meet in the New Testament, repentance, obedience, and love to fellow-Christians, expressed in ministry of all sorts towards them; plus a zeal for evangelistic outreach which puts the staider sort of churchmen to shame” (“Theological Reflections on the Charismatic Movement,” Collected Shorter Writings, 2:125).
What, then, does Packer conclude?
“Laying aside matters of detail, I believe that God has generated it [the charismatic movement] in order to counter and correct the death-dealing fashions of thought which, starting with theologians and spreading everywhere, for the past century have done damage by demurring at the truth of the trinity, diminishing the deity of Jesus Christ, and for practical purposes discounting the Holy Spirit altogether” (Rediscovering Holiness, 52-53).
Would that God might raise up more men and women like J. I. Packer. He is a model of how to promote dialogue without division. May we all learn from his example of how to humbly and lovingly disagree with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.