Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition had an interesting suggestion in light of the controversy:
"If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture."I believe it possible to refute MacArthur's bias against the Spirit's gifting's from Scripture, point by point. I've read MacArthur's book Charismatic Chaos at least twice. I've been told that his book Strange Fire is a repackaging of Charismatic Chaos, written over two decades ago. I don't think MacArthur has changed, nor do I think people like me will ever change MacArthur, Phil Johnson, or any other scholarly cessationists. It's not that I believe biblical arguments could not sway them, but few are in a close personal relationship with these men to even try. I cannot name one cessationist with whom I have personally dialogued on these matters who has remained a cessationist.
The Scripture teaches that the gifts of the Spirit, healings, miracles, and other extraordinary acts of the Spirit in and through His people are the normative Christian experience. I have said before "I am a theological continuationist and an experiential cessationist." That's a confession, not a calling. It means I trust in the movement of the Holy Spirit to build His Kingdom and contrary to many self-proclaimed charismatics, "I do not pretend what the Spirit does not intend."
Some might say my confession is an indictment of my ministry. I understand it to be an observation of my ministry. The Spirit moves where He wills. I pray for the expansion of God's Kingdom. I ask for God to reign in power in my life and the lives of those to whom I minister. I periodically see God break through and reveal glimpses of His unshakeable Kingdom in my very comfortable ministry, but I'm also cognizant that real revival presupposes little life, or at the very least, a cognizant cry of God's people for Divine Power. What mitigates against any desire to see the normative expression of the Spirit's power in our midst (healings, miracles, extraordinary gifts, etc...) is the fact that Western Christianity is rich, fat, and happy.
Until we seek His Kingdom first, the Spirit cannot quench our thirst. The Spirit is never limited in power; we are limited in desire. We evangelicals in America are wealthy (look at our fabulous buildings and homes), we are egotistical (everything is about 'so-and-so's' ministry), and we are comfortable, in need of nothing -- including the Holy Spirit. Until we realize how wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked we are, we will never seek "the Kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28)."'You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17).
It's About the Kingdom
Throughout the Old Testament age, the prophets looked forward to the coming Kingdom of God. From the first Divine promise to fallen man in Genesis 3:15 , a promise that One would come and crush Satan's head, to all the promises of God given through the major and minor prophets to God's people, the revelatory word of God led hearers to anticipate the coming Kingdom of God. This coming Kingdom was not to be like the Jewish kingdom of old. According to Daniel 7, it would be a Kingdom for all nations and ethnic groups. The place the King would be born was prophesied (Bethlehem), the manner in which the King would come was foretold (a virgin), and most remarkably of all, the time when the King would come to the earth to inaugurate the everlasting kingdom was specifically declared (Daniel 9). The wise men (magi) from the east came to Jerusalem looking for the Anointed One and asked "Where is He that is born King ...?" because they knew and revered the writings of Daniel. Daniel had lived among the ancient Chaldean magi of the east for over seven decades, he had died in their midst, and was buried among them. The magi knew the King was coming.
Daniel had prophesied in the 6th century BC that four world kingdoms would come before the King
"In the days of those kings (Rome) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed...it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44).So it was, during the days of the Roman Empire, the King of Kings came from heaven, took the form of man at Bethlehem, and inaugurated His eternal kingdom. Throughout the history of this fallen world, men had sought to establish their own kingdoms, but "the stone not cut with human hands" (Daniel 2:34) came to establish His everlasting Kingdom by crushing all earthly kingdoms through the spiritual transformation of wicked men. Mankind had rebelled against their Creator shortly after creation, but rebels can never ultimately revoke the reign of the everlasting Ruler. God's purpose for fallen man was to establish a Kingdom that would crush all earthly kingdoms that held power over fallen men (Daniel 2:44). Jesus the Anointed One, King of Kings, came to earth to fulfill the will of the Father.
In those days when Jesus came and walked the earth, John the Baptist came saying "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). When John introduced the Savior to the world he proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15). The Kingdom of God and the gospel are like peanut butter and jelly between two pieces of bread. You can't separate them. Where the gospel is believed, the Kingdom of God is expanded.
The definition of a Kingdom is "a King with a domain." Though the Scripture says the consummation of the Kingdom will be Christ reigning on this earth with the curse reversed, Jesus Christ inaugurated the Kingdom at His first coming and the domain of His reign is the hearts of sinners who trust in Him. "My kingdom is NOT of this world" (John 18:36), Jesus said, but His Kingdom people are in this world. This is super important, so let's say it again: Jesus came to earth to establish a Kingdom; to reign in the hearts and lives of sinners and transform them.
When one reads the New Testament, it becomes crystal clear that there are signs of Kingdom building. Without commentary, I will simply list five verses of the dozens upon dozens that could be listed about the signs of God's Kingdom work:"Now when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21).
*If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28).
*Jesus sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2).
*Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities--Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. (Luke 8:1-2).
*Go tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me (Matthew 11:4-6).
Proclaiming the good news in Christ is the responsibility of every believer, but without a doubt, when the Spirit of God begins to move in power there are certain signs that accompany the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom. A simple reading of the New Testament indicates that healings, miracles, gifts, words of prophecy and knowledge, and a host of other manifestations of the Spirit's presence are normative. The proclamation of Christ as Lord and Savior of the world is the message of the believer, but the manifestation of the Spirit's anointing in building the Kingdom is the work of our sovereign God.*Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:12-13).
Then, we return to the states to our comfortable churches, wealthy homes, and Western cynicism of the Spirit world. Again, that's just an observation. I think I reserve any indictments toward those who discount the movement of the Spirit because they don't see Him at work in their ministries. I long for the day when the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by Spirit-led manifestations of the expansion of God's Kingdom. Don't get me wrong. We see periodic breakthroughs of God's power at Emmanuel Enid, but I believe the Scripture teaches these manifestations of the Spirit's power should be normative. However, unlike my charismatic friends, I refuse to minister in pretense and shall swear off any attempt to put the Spirit in a box. I shall faithfully exalt Christ in the teaching of the Word, and pray for the movement of the Spirit in power, and keep praying until the cloud I see on the horizon becomes a rain shower. I cannot join my cessationist friends in condemning a belief in the continuation of the gifts and miracles of the Spirit because the Scripture teaches the expansion of God's Kingdom will manifest miracles, gifts, healings and other works of the Spirit as He moves in power upon and within His people.
Anyone who reads the Bible without presuppositions comes away with an expectation that the Holy Spirit moves in power as His people build God's Kingdom. Dr. Alan Streett, author of Heaven on Earth and Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis at Criswell College, calls this The Mars Principle. Suppose an alien from Mars with no theological presuppositions (that means nobody told him what to think in advance) came to earth and picked up the Bible and read the book of Acts. Suppose he became so fascinated with the description of the lives who followed Jesus Christ that he determined to meet some Christians. Do you think the alien would expect the Christians he met to be living life the way followers of Christ he read about in the Bible lived their lives? Of course he would. The Bible would not have narrated their lives for us if the Spirit's work in and through the early followers of Christ were not to be considered normative. I would define The Mars Principle this way: "Normal Christian living is best described in the narratives of New Testament Scriptures."
I believe the day is coming when real, Spirit-led revival and awakening falls on the United States similar to what happened in the book of Acts. I believe men and women will be placed in a position where they need God to provide "daily" bread, a miraculous Kingdom promise to God's Kingdom people, fulfilled time after time in the lives of those Christians in Acts. Maybe the reason we don't see the acts of the Spirit as normative anymore is because we have no need to trust in the Spirit. Maybe we fear the acts of Acts because we love the kingdoms of this world. Most of us can explain everything we do in terms of our ministry, our goals, our plans, and our human efforts, and our government, rather than the Holy Spirit.
When I read the book of Acts I see people who are living in a hostile world, with very little possessions and with no safety net. These early Christians, disliked by the Roman kingdom, were endued with Spirit's power. Christ reigned in their hearts and they trusted nothing other than Him. I make no apology for desiring the acts of Acts because I believe that is normative Christian living. It is faith in an unshakeable Kingdom while living in a kingdom that is shakeable, shaking, or soon to be shaken.
Chinese Christian writer and martyr Watchman Nee, author of the classic work The Normal Christian Life, once wrote "Christianity today is so subnormal that if any Christian began to act like a normal New Testament Christian, he would be considered abnormal."
I long for the day of normal.