I can see how this book had to be written. Much of the criticism in the book is invited and deserved, and it is a good book for Charismatic leaders to read. Doing so will have these benefits:
1. So that they can counter John MacArthur's arguments scripturally rather than with reference to subjective experience.
2. So they can avoid the excesses, corruption and false teaching highlighted in the book.
3. To encourage leaders to test everything against scripture, avoid pragmatism and an over-reliance on the subjective, and to warn their people against false teaching.
With some exceptions, charismatics have been slow to teach scripture faithfully, slow to practice church discipline and slow to publicly denounce the antics of some 'false teachers'. As a result, they become guilty by association, as 'Charismatic Chaos' proves. Christian leaders should be both teaching the truth and protecting their flocks from false teaching. If more had done this, John McArthur would have found it harder to make the sweeping statements this book is full of.
I would define myself as a Charismatic Evangelical. To me, this really is an appallingly argued book. Here are some of MacArthur's statements, and my response.
"There is no command in the New Testament to seek miracles" (Page 141).
This statement is slightly 'loaded'. We are not just exhorted to seek miracles. We are sought to thirst for the Water of Life, to eagerly desire the greater gifts, to seek healing. What about 1Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1? Don't the 'greater gifts' include healing and miracles (12:28)? What about James 5:14-16? Seeking healing - that's a miracle isn't it?
"...from the day the church was born at Pentecost, no miracle ever occurred in the entire New Testament record except in the presence of an apostle, or one directly commissioned by an apostle".
This is an odd argument. Given that we are reading the Acts of the apostles, it is not surprising. But why did he overlook the miracles in the Galatian church (Galatians 3:5)? And are the Elders in James 5:14 apostles?
John 14:12-13, "Truly, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
There is nothing in the context that speaks of supernatural signs.
So what is Jesus referring to? Giving spiritual life to sinners, according to MacArthur. But then, there is nothing in the context of the passage that says this either.
MacArthur says several times that the frequency of miracles diminishes even within the book (e.g. Page 208).
Again, an odd argument given that the narrative begins by talking about the events in the (large) church in Jerusalem and ends with Paul being sent to Rome. The kind of narrative lends itself to miracles at the start of the book anyway.
MacArthur contrasts how Jesus healed people with charismatics today (p.258-259). He states that Jesus healed with a word or a touch, instantly, totally, everyone etc. Healings today are not like that, he asserts, so they must be false. But wait a minute!
He could not heal many in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). He healed the blind man (Mark 8:22) after 2 attempts. And he attempted to turn people away on occasion (See Mark 7:26f).
These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
`"In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Peter was simply telling those present at Pentecost that they were getting a preliminary glimpse, a projection of the kind of power that the Spirit would release in the Millennial kingdom.
So let me get this right. When we see Jesus face to face, then we get dreams, visions and prophecies. Right? What about 1Corinthians 13:12? And when does Peter actually say that it's just a preliminary glimpse? How is this good exegesis of scripture? When are the last days? They are the period between Pentecost and Christ's return - get the concordance and check me out!
"What happened to miracles, healings, signs and wonders in the nineteen hundred years since the apostles passed from the scene?"
Now I am not a well read scholar. But a simple Google search of the writings of church fathers such as Iraneus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine etc will clearly show that miracles continued. Ecclesiastical History of the English People
- more miracles. Then, amazingly, Spurgeon: A New Biography
. Even Spurgeon successfully prayed for hundreds to be healed. My favourite source though is Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals
. Here we have evidence of spiritual gifts in the ministries of Spurgeon, Finney, Moody, the Hugenots, early Methodists, the early Brethren.
Finally, there is the testimony of large numbers of people to this day. When we have first hand knowledge of people (as I do) who would be dead but for the Lord's intervention through healing as a result of earnest prayer, are we allowed to say, 'Hallelujah'? Or do we patronisingly tell God that he shouldn't be messing with our theological systems?
Clearly there are plenty of charlatans, tricksters, occultists at large, profiting from the vulnerability of needy people. No book of this type would be complete without highlighting this. But this proves nothing. Jeremiah and Micaiah were clearly outnumbered by false prophets. That did not invalidate their ministries. If there was malpractice then, of course there will be today. This in no way progresses his argument.
To those who are secure enough to look at both viewpoints, I appeal to non-Charismatics to read David Pawson's The Normal Christian Birth
. Pawson puts the scriptural case for some of the beliefs of charismatic churches. He does this without endorsing the foolish practices of the people MacArthur talks about, he tackles more scriptural passages than MacArthur does - and in more depth - and he does not resort to some of the negative caricaturing that I believe MacArthur does.
The presence, power and gifts of the Holy Spirit should be specifically asked for and sought (John 7:37-39, 1Corinthians 12:31, 14:1). We need not fear that our loving Father will give his dear children anything freaky or harmful (Luke 11:11-13).