1. What is the book about?
Strange Fire is an analysis of the Pentecostal movement which reveals and emphasises how many of their practices are not simply theologically divergent, but outright unbiblical. The title comes from Leviticus 10 – Nadab and Abihu’s offering to God. Typically, a priest would provide a burnt offering while God would provide a fire. However, Nadab and Abihu offered a ‘strange fire’ which God had not commanded them to offer. God’s punishment against them showed the severity of offering God a form of worship he did not demand.
Macarthur likens this event with the Pentecostal movement, which performs its own distorted versions of the practices of the early church under the pretence of worship . He desires that churches following a false view of the Holy Spirit would instead turn to a true view of the Spirit – the person of the Godhead that glorifies Jesus Christ.
2. What did I learn?
The first thing I learnt was to be wary of claims of supernatural movements or revivals. Where the gospel is not faithfully preached, alternatives appear in the form of supernatural solutions towards temporary problems commonly involving health, finances, and prosperity (Macarthur gives lots of examples in the book). I was reminded to remember that Jesus came to defeat the deepest enemy within ourselves and the world – sin.
Another thing I learnt was who the Holy Spirit is. For Christians that do not know the Spirit well, it is easy to have a view of the Spirit that is informed by sources outside the Bible, such as many Pentecostal churches that claim to have a ‘greater emphasis’ on the Spirit. The problem with these types of views is that they fail to show our true need for the Spirit, because they present signs attractive to the eye as opposed to the regeneration of sinful hearts . Without the Spirit, all people are left in a state of rebellion against God, unwilling to submit to his rule. The Spirit is the person of the Godhead that transforms hearts that are against God towards hearts that love him. His role is not to direct attention and glory towards Himself, but to lead people to a greater comprehension of the love of God.
3. What did I enjoy?
Unlike books that mainly intend to outline practical recommendations or recount personal experiences, I enjoyed this book’s strong reliance on Scripture which grounded the arguments on the nature of the Holy Spirit. Being amazed by having such a transformed view of the Spirit, I felt compelled to check through all the references, finding that most of them were faithful to what the Bible teaches.
4. Why should other people read it?
Many churches of this age justify erroneous church practices, such as speaking in tongues or prophecy, through the claim that their views are ‘Spirit-led’. This unverifiable claim to speaking on behalf of God ruins churches by allowing man-made practices to take precedence over God’s specially revealed plans for the church. Therefore, it is important that Christians are able to spot these problems and direct others to a genuine love for God.
This view of Pentecostalism should, however, be tempered with an understanding of the movement drawn from other sources since Macarthur does draw on some extreme examples to support his arguments. For example, it would be unlikely that large Pentecostal churches in Sydney would advertise mass miracle-healing events. Though this might be one problem with the book, Macarthur is still able to present a compelling argument against the core ideas of Pentecostalism.
Regardless of how culturally relevant or factually accurate this book may be, Strange Fire maintains a strong case against the core ideas of Pentecostalism, a clearly articulated explanation on the nature of the Holy Spirit, and an ominous warning against what heresy may be permeating our churches today.