I recently finished reading Authentic Fire by Dr. Michael L. Brown. Brown’s book is a response to John MacArthur’s conference and book Strange Fire. Although I wouldn’t classify myself as a classic Pentecostal or Charismatic, I do believe the gifts of the Spirit are for today and are essential to fully equipping believers for the mission of God.
I am a former student of Dr. Michael Brown and have been influenced by his work for the past seventeen years. His ministry has been instrumental in my growth and development as a disciple of Jesus. I believe this book is important for many reasons, but my hope is that this review will be useful to those who are involved in evangelism and global missions work. Our theology, the way we think about God and His ways, affects our methodology- they way we go about our ministry- and thereby our view on the present day gifts of the Holy Spirit has an affect on the fruit of our ministries.
In his classic style, Dr. Brown calls for reformation within the ranks of Charismatic ministries while not giving an inch to the cessationist that desires to throw the proverbial “baby out with the bath water.” Brown demonstrates clearly that he has dealt blows to the excesses of the Charismatic church before; not from the outside throwing stones, but rather as an insider. In this book, Brown jumps from scholar to preacher to debater to historian to revivalist and back again with stunning ease.
He consistently calls Charismatic preachers to get serious with God, stop playing games, and call their people to commitment to Jesus and the Word. He distains much of what he has found on Christian TV, especially when it comes to fund raising tactics. He also calls out Charismatic leaders for what he feels is, many times, a clear lack of discernment. Brown repudiates what he calls the “carnal prosperity message”- meaning that Jesus died on the cross to make us rich.
Brown calls the Spirit filled believer by to his holiness roots, saying “to the extent that Charismatics depart from the holiness roots of our faith and from grounding everything in the Scriptures, scandals can easily abound.” This is probably a main reason Brown also sought to write another recent book he named, Hypergrace.
The book gives Brown’s own commentary on Jonathan Edward’s classic, “Distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God” which is very helpful.
While he acknowledges that “there is a dangerous, carnal prosperity message spreading across America and into the nations, and it must be corrected and stopped,” he also demonstrates a more classical Charismatic position on wealth that believes “God wants to raise up a mentality of provision versus poverty for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
He shares his own personal story of theological wrestling in the section “My Journey to Cessationism” and calls the reader to a true definition of “Sola Scriptura.” With this book, Brown could turn a lot of fence sitting or agnostic Cessationists into Continualists without making them automatically associate with what many call “Charismania” and the “carnal prosperity message.” One author calls these folks “empowered evangelicals.”
He calls for discernment not skepticism and cynicism. Brown’s goal is to draw the reader who differs with him in, rather than driving them away. I found his tone irenic and exemplary. In contrast he demonstrates that MacArthur’s tactics are like “Blowing up an apartment building because there are terrorists inside.”
He makes a compelling case as to why he believes “Strange Fire will back fire.” In one instance he says, “Non-hostile cessationists will begin to connect with many non crazy charismatics, leading to mutual edification, building up the church, and even effective missions and evangelism work.”
This book is a challenge for a new generation to work to clean up the abuses or the past while holding firm to the work of the Spirit and the cry for revival.
I recommend it for both Cessationist, Continualist, and Charismatic alike. It has something to say to each group.
If this conversation interests you, pick up Authentic Fire today.