After I had read John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, which I found to be trenchant but true, cutting but compelling, I decided to read Michael Brown’s book, Authentic Fire. It is good to hear both sides of an argument, and it appeared that Dr. Brown was trying to reach some sort of compromise. Of course we cannot always read both sides of an argument, nor is it always wise to do so. Why read atheistic books when we know there is a living God? Why read evolutionary books when we know that God created the world? One may have to read such books for examination purposes, or to understand their position, but for the average Christian it would be a waste of time to study such errors. There are expert creationist scientists who can answer evolutionary scientists. However, in the case of this discussion of charismatic issues I wanted to hear both sides as both men are sincere, scholarly Christians with many books to their names and many followers.
However, as I read Michael Brown’s book I became increasingly disappointed. Anyone with a modicum of discernment and some background knowledge would soon see why if they read the book. But first let me say that Dr. Brown says many good things in his book. This is not surprising as he is an evangelical Christian, and as the Roman Statesman, Pliny the Elder (AD 23-70), said two thousand years ago, “There is no book so bad that some good cannot be got out of it.” We might question that and add, there is no book so good (except The Holy Bible), that we can find nothing to question in it. Why was I disappointed?
First, because although Dr. Brown professes to be against errors, extremes and heresies, he quotes with approval several extreme charismatics whom not only most regular evangelicals, reformed people and non-charismatics in general would condemn and reject, but also that many charismatics themselves criticize or condemn.
For example he approves of the so-called Lakeland Revival led by Todd Bentley, who claimed to be accompanied by an angel named Emma who floated four inches off the ground! He quotes Benny Hinn who is noted for extraordinary statements such as “nine Persons in the Godhead”, a claim he later rejected. I have a video of Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard Brown apparently joking with one another in “tongues”! I will say no more about them but just refer readers to the book, The Confusing World of Benny Hinn by G. Richard Fisher and M. Kurt Goedelman (St. Louis, Personal freedom Outreach, 1997).
He also approves of the late John Wimber. I attended Wimber’s meetings in London. Rev David Watson had been diagnosed with cancer. Wimber prophesied that he would be healed, but he died a few months later. I believe God heals today. But he got that wrong. He also prophesied that revival would break out in London the following Autumn, and that he would report it in the February edition of his magazine. There was no revival, no report, and no repentance or apology. For more details on Wimber see Wimber the Gnostic by John Goodwin, a former colleague of Wimber’s (Cambridge, St. Matthew Publishing, 1997). As Dr. Brown wrote with approval of these and other extremists I began to wonder how bad, how extreme a person has to be before he will denounce them?
The second thing that troubled me is that Michael Brown indulges in special pleading. The dictionary defines “special pleading” as “Unfair or one-sided argument aiming at victory rather than the truth.” Yet in his introduction he claims that he is not out to win an argument!!! Let me illustrate. One way he does this is to gather together the most unlikely people and claim that they are charismatics or in some way support his case. For example he seizes on Oswald Chambers. Why choose Chambers? Because Oswald Chambers testified to having an experience of the Holy Spirit which he called his “baptism in the Spirit.” But he cannot have read much of Oswald Chambers. For example, Chambers, referring to Satan’s temptation of Christ, writes: “Is there not a lure along that road springing up today more than ever? There are miraculous dealings which lure to destruction, the tongues movement, the seeking of signs and wonders.” And he refers to such things as “this wrong road.” [The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, (Grand Rapids, Discovery House Publishers, 2000), p. 612].
Now here is a mistake that many charismatics make. They either assume that no non-charismatic can experience a baptism in the Holy Spirit, or they assume that anyone who testifies to such must be a charismatic. But this is so wrong. There are millions of Christians who have experienced baptisms or fillings of the Holy Spirit who are cessationists as far as the sign or revelatory gifts are concerned. I can best illustrate that by quoting from books by cessationist authors.
Speaking of an experience of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, and referring specifically to Acts chapter four, Edgar Andrews writes: “It is, of course, quite proper to refer to such an effusion as a baptism of the Spirit, for that term can be used of any event in which the Spirit is poured out upon believers.” [E. H. Andrews, The Promise of the Spirit, (Welwyn, Evangelical `press, 1982), p. 133 and many other places]. Again, “And no more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any more dishonouring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the church has no need, and no warrant, to pray any more for the effusion of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the Church asks [for] the Spirit and waits for His communications, the more she receives.” [George Smeaton: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, (London, The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1958), p. 255]. (See also William Edward Biederwolf: Study of the Holy Spirit, (Grand Rapids, Kregel) available from the Metropolitan Tabernacle).
Astonishingly, Brown defends the prosperity gospel, saying that it encourages poor Africans to better themselves! What by sending “seed-faith” donations to wealthy TV evangelists? Come on! This is just one of many examples in his book in which he engages in special pleading.
There are many other reasons why I found Michael Brown’s book disappointing and erroneous, even though he says some good things. Consequently I cannot recommend it, except to people with sufficient knowledge and discernment.