Thoughts on the Driscoll-MacArthur Debate

I had a great time last week spending a few days in the North Carolina mountains with two of my best friends.  They went fly fishing, I got my hipster on and hung out at Bucks Coffee in Highlands, NC.  We watched a Russel Crowe movie and talked about discipleship.  So yeah, it was a fun time.  But, our fun turned to a sort of frustrated laughter as we drove back to Rock Hill Friday afternoon and I saw my Facebook and Twitter feed explode with how Mark Driscoll had ‘crashed’ the Strange Fire Conference right before he was supposed to lead the Act Like Men conference.

The notion of ‘crashing’ a conference seems overstated.  Driscoll didn’t crash a conference.  All reports indicate he was gracious and Christlike in his interactions.


However, the controversy should not revolve around his one photo and caption where he claims that the security at the conference ‘confiscated’ copies of Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence.  The response from those close to the situation was that the security accepted Driscoll’s ‘gift’ of copies of these books to Grace Church.   So, Driscoll is getting blasted for overblowing and misrepresenting the story.

But, as much as I get tired of Driscoll at points, I think he deserves a break here.  It is possible that this is him misunderstanding what happened or just simply being careless with one tweet/pic.  In all likelihood, it was a joke from Driscoll, and he underestimated the backlash.  If he went back in time, he might handle it differently.  (We all wish that for things we do every single day.)

What concerns me more is what this story represents in the larger debate between Driscollites and MacArthurites on the debate between continuationism and cessationism.

To be transparent, I am basically a cessationist.  The ‘basically’ nuance is that I agree with Richard Gaffin and Vern Poythress that supernatural events may happen today which are analogous to apostolic events.  This more redemptive-historical perspective would differ from MacArthur and other cessationists.

Yet, as a cessationist, I am disappointed with the rhetoric of cessationists like MacArthur.  In reading Tim Challies summary of MacArthur’s opening address at the Strange Fire conference, the following sentences disturbed me greatly:

The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship. It dishonors the Father and Son, but most specifically, the Holy Spirit. Many things are attributed to the Holy Spirit that actually dishonor him. In many places in the charismatic movement they are attributing to the Holy Spirit works that have actually been generated by Satan. Again and again MacArthur stressed the great danger for those who worship God flippantly. It is a tragic and agonizing irony that those who claim to be most devoted to the Holy Spirit are following patterns that blaspheme his name.

Yet the movement itself has brought nothing that enriches true worship. It has made no contribution to biblical clarity, biblical interpretation or sound doctrine. The church had all of these things long before the charismatic movement happened.

People have been saved in charismatic churches, but nothing coming from that movement has been the reason they were saved. Nothing within the movement has strengthened the gospel or preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion and error.

He ended with this challenge: “I will start believing that the truth prevails in the charismatic movement when I see the leaders looking more like Jesus Christ and I see that they really are partakers of the divine nature.”

A few things are obvious from MacArthur’s talk.  First, he doesn’t do a good job defining terms and nuancing the ‘charismatic’ movement.  In reading this summary, I must conclude that Wayne Grudem is lumped with Benny Hinn in this worldwide charismatic movement and that there is this singular charismatic theology (with diversity to be sure).  Second, this address does nothing to persuade ‘charismatic’ Christians who are closer to a Grudem than to a Hinn.  MacArthur is making a point, but is a poor persuader.  Third, MacArthur seems to have little respect for charismatic Christians who might be leaders and pastors.  The final comment indicates such.

The later addresses seemed more positive and persuasive at this conference, but it is difficult to recover from a poor opening (and an even poorer ending).  I’ve never been a big MacArthur guy (mainly because I was reading and listening to other preachers/theologians), so perhaps a MacArthur lover might correct some of my statements.

However, I’m not the biggest fan of Driscoll in his caricature of cessationists.  First, his insistence that you can’t be a ‘new Calvinist’ unless you are a continuationist is a bit narrow.  Second, it is rude and uncareful to claim that cessationism is worldliness.  Finally, the stereotype of cessationists believing in a two-person Godhead and that they necessarily have a deficient view of the Holy Spirit is uncharitable and inaccurate.

I think orthodox continuationists and cessationists can be co-laborers in the kingdom, quit warring over twitter, and cease verbal fire.  The most important functions of the Holy Spirit are: to convict us of sin, to regenerate sinners into Christ, to make us look more like Jesus, to help us understand and apply the Word (illumination), to testify about Jesus, and to gift the body of Christ.  Since tongues and prophecy are modes of exhortation to both believers and unbelievers, it seems that the main function of the Spirit is to gift Christians with exhortation, of which prophecy and tongues are different modes of exhortation to repent and believe (1 Cor 14).

If we all agree with the above paragraph, there shouldn’t be pre-school playground antics in the body of Christ.  We shouldn’t need to accuse continationists of de facto denying sola scriptura, and continuationists shouldn’t claim a monopoly on the Holy Spirit.

I believe cessationists and continuationists can partner in kingdom endeavors…mainly because I am part of a church that shows such a reality.  I preach almost every Sunday to a church that is probably half and half on the issue of spiritual gifts.  I am discipling both continuationists and cessationists.  I’ve had to mediate discussions in small group settings on how the Word and the Spirit relate to each other and on spiritual gifts.  I have leaders in my church who claim to be eyewitnesses of tongues, prophecy, and miraculous signs.  They know my position on the matter.

And Jesus is moving our church on mission and disciples are being made.

I think the secret to our peace and unity is that we agree on the basic doctrine of the Holy Spirit that all orthodox Christians hold to.  We also know the place of the spiritual gifts debate on the spectrum of doctrinal importance (it is important but not essential).  Also, we joke about it.  One friend will joke, “Daniel, you would understand if you…you know…believed in the Holy Spirit.”  We laugh as I joke about how he believes in witchcraft.  🙂

It’s more than possible for passionate and convinced cessationists and continuationists to exist as a family of God on mission together.

Maybe the hindrance to such kingdom collaboration isn’t our theology…it’s our love of the Spirit and for his church.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Driscoll-MacArthur Debate

    1. Oh, okay. Where did MacArthur say this? I must have missed it, as he seems to lump continuationists with the health and wealth types. Maybe his book makes this distinction? Would appreciate a source. Thanks Mark.

      1. Ah, I see that. Sorry I missed that link.

        I read from another report that MacArthur did mention Piper and Grudem…but only in a Q & A. Probably would have been helpful to give a ‘Cara’ like speech of “Here are the 5 lanes of the charismatic highway.”

        Again, I’m a cessationist, but closer to Poythress and Gaffin than MacArthur.

        Also, would have been nice to see a critique of men like Carson and Fee. These are NT scholars who are continuationists and well-respected in Reformed and evangelical circles.

  1. Good post. You strike a good balance. As a former cessationist who is more of a continualist (because I don’t think we can limit how God chooses to work), I agree that the most important thing is the mission of the kingdom. I think we can agree on that and not worry so much about some of the other stuff.

  2. Whenever theological positions are sensationalized, it’s a bad thing. MacArthur and Driscoll both do this, and it is an unhealthy practice. Christian Theology should always be governed by the five cries of the reformation, shaped around Christ centrality, taught in Spirit-filled humility and love, and aimed at gospel affirmation more than angry and oppressive correction. When we sensationalize our own positions and demonize opposing positions, pride and ungodly rancor ensue. Justin Woodall and I both work as ordained pastors at Surfside PCA. Justin is a bow-tie wearing cessationist (like you, Daniel). I am a t-shirt wearing continuationist. We’ve talked through our positions on a number of occasions. We get along fine. He actually has made some compelling arguments, but I resist becoming a cessationist if it means wear a bow-tie. That’s where I draw the line.

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