Strange Fire Conference #7: Phil Johnson


Posted: 12 Nov 2013

by Dan Phillips

I’ll combine my comments on Phil’s sessions, Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater? and Providence Is Remarkable.

Phil Johnson’s voice is, to my mind, one of the sanest and most helpful on a host of issues related to Charismaticism.

Before I knew there was such a thing as a Phil Johnson, I had been in the movement for the first years of my Christian life, and I’d given it a lot of study and thought. I’d even written a book (as-yet unpublished) on the person, work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which countered such branches of Charismaticism as existed by the 90s. I’d read every book I could get my hands on. Yet what I encountered in Phil’s posts at the original Pyromaniac site expressed the most insightful thinking and lucid, incisive commentary I’d ever read. Phil’s absolute classic, You’re probably a cessationist, too, is a perfect example.

So I wasn’t in any suspense as to whether the time invested in hearing Phil would be well-spent.

In the first session Phil responded at great length to Dr. Michael “I-Denounce-All-Aberrations-Though-I-Can’t-Put-My-Finger-On-Any-Specific-Ones-Just-Now-I’m-Really-Busy” Brown, as well as to the rationale for all Charismatic leaders’ blithe neglect concerning the chicanery and shenanigans with which the movement is riddled. In response to Charismatic leaders’ unintentionally telling plea that they just don’t have enough time to denounce all the false teachers in the movement, Phil appositely pointed to texts such as Titus 1:9. Turns out that denunciation of error is definitional for elders. In the Bible, that is. Go figure.

Phil also responded to the squawks about MacArthur’s earlier observation that some Charismatics are guilty of blaspheming the Spirit. Phil observed that attributing to the Spirit words He hasn’t said and deeds He hasn’t done — the heart and soul of Charismaticism as to its distinctives — is blasphemy, and it is a sin. It is not the blasphemy against the Spirit of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:31, but it is blasphemy, and it does injure the name and majesty of the Third Person of the Trinity. That Charismatic leaders not only merrily tolerate and turn a blind eye to the constant flow, but indeed run cover and develop rationales for it, lowers hopes for locating a healthy infant in the bilge.

Phil noted the Charismatics’ instant impulse to circle the wagons at even the most obvious criticisms, and asked “If you bristle at every critique of your movement, what is your proposal to keep from constantly accumulating filth in your bathtub?”

As an example of the patently obvious, Phil dwelt on the so-called Lakeland Revival, and its ringleader Todd Bentley. He detailed Bentley’s love for violence, braggadocio, and outrageousness, to the exclusion of anything remotely Christlike or Gospel-fragrant. Phil alluded to this post, which sketched out the Biblical framework with which any Christian should approach any claim to revival.

Contrast that post with this post, published less than two weeks later by Charismatic obsessive Adrian Warnock. Trumpet blast? or dithering, fence-straddling equivocation? Which stance was warranted — nay, demanded — by Scripture? You judge, and do not forget as you hear Adrian and others crying over and lamenting the Strange Fire conference. That is a classic example of how the movement polices itself. In the sense of “not.”

Does such dithering suggest a commitment to Scripture as sufficient? or to an unhealthy need to defend virtually any form of charismatic antics at virtually any cost — so long as it’s done in the name of the Spirit?

Phil noted that there is monstrous potential for evil when one imagines that his imaginations are the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He also observed that the claim that God “told” me something when He in fact did not is itself a monstrous evil which leads to disaster, and which in fact was a death-penalty offense in Moses’ time. Yet disgraced “prophet” Paul Cain was endorsed for years by Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, and John Piper. In fact, John Piper still insists that Cain “really prophesied.”

Then there’s Mark Driscoll, who was broadly promoted by John Piper, and who attributes super-porn-o-vision powers to the Spirit of God in the most astonishingly irresponsible rant one can imagine from someone so prized by so many, and who ran cover for apparently unrepentant Charismatic modalist prosperity-gospel preacher T. D. Jakes. Indeed Charismatic leader Driscoll, who has frequently been spotlighted on high-traffic Reformed-type blogs, reportedly includes fellow-Charismatic Jakes among fundamentally-Christian tribal leaders.

Breathtaking. Not in a good way. It is as if Driscoll wanted to underscore the need for the alarm sounded by MacArthur, Johnson, and the others.


Phil’s conclusion is that Charismaticism, as to its distinctives, has produced a century’s worth of dreck and sludge, with nary a tot to be found.

In his talk on providence, Phil alluded to Driscoll’s silly (and unintentionally revealing) linking of sufficientism with Deism, and the notion of some Charismatics that unless we posit God doing constant miracles, we see Him as distant from creation. Phil drew on the rich vein of revelation in Scripture about God’s meticulous sovereignty and His daily control and oversight of absolutely all that happens (cf. Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, etc.). He said that God directs our thoughts and our steps (cf. Prov. 16:1, 9; 20:24). There is (to say the least!) no need to imagine a non-Biblical category of semi-hemi-demi revelation to account for His doings.

Phil observed that Driscoll, despite an odd reputation for being some kind of Reformed pastor, betrays an appalling ignorance of the Reformed emphasis on the doctrine of providence and a failure to grasp what Scripture teaches about God’s immanence. Phil used Matthew 10, with its assurance of God’s control against the background of a perilous mission. He asked what comfort Romans 8:28 is, if we do not see God as actually working in all things.

Phil made the Biblical case that the miraculous is not central. The greatest prophet (according to Jesus) — John the Baptist — did no miracles. Biblical miracles were indubitable, overwhelming, defying any other honest explanation; they were outbursts of Divine power; and they attested God’s prophetic messengers. They weren’t finding a parking spot, or a normal pregnancy and delivery.

Can God put a thought into my head to get something done? Indeed; but when He does, it is a remarkable providence, not a prophecy. God uses everything providentially — including my sin! But a bad idea (or deed) isn’t good nor fraught with divine authority just because God uses it for good.

God is nearer and more involved in our lives than most Charismatics believe and teach.

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