I have found reviews of the Strange Fire conference by Tim Challies to be helpful, even though he is a cessationist and I am not. In a blog posted today, he highlights the problem that some charismatics have had with the conference, given the confidence with which many of the speakers spoke. He says:
I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility.
There is a difference, however, between 100% certainty and having the courage of one's convictions. This borne out when Tim mentions the reactions of many of the conference speakers – in particular john MacArthur – to biblical charismatics, such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper.
MacArthur made it clear that he did not host this conference in order to critique the Wayne Grudems and John Pipers of the world; if these men were representative charismatics, Strange Fire would have been a non-event or, at the least, a very different event.
In that case, MacArthur is trying to have it both ways. He admits that at least two people in the continualist camp are biblically sound, and even describes Piper as a friend. But then he lays down the law that cessationism has to be 100% right, and criticizes the entire charismatic camp, emphasizing that he is allowing for no exceptions. These two lines do not square. The existence of two people, who even MacArthur respects, who differ from his view on this subject, must indicate to MacArthur that there has to be at the very least an element of doubt about his position.
No one doubts that he should put his case strongly. Of course he should say what he believes. But the fact that he has acknowledged the existence of people he respects who differ from him means that he should have tempered his confidence with humility. Failure to do so does indeed equate with arrogance.
One well-known Christian radio talk show has taken to referring to MacArthur as the “Protestant Pope”. That comment is just a joke; but has he started to believe the hype himself? When I was a young Christian in the late 70s, we used to refer to Martyn Lloyd-Jones as the Protestant Pope. But Lloyd-Jones, who I know MacArthur respects, would not have agreed with his cessationist position.
It was Oliver Cromwell who appealed for similar humility from the Church of Scotland, when he said “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” I hope that those who attended and / or spoke at the Strange Fire conference will take that on board. Arrogant and aggressive Facebook comments suggest that they probably won't.