Last month, John MacArthur hosted a conference titled “Strange Fire.” The conference, which was critical, of all things, of continuationism, generated for us a pile of email questions from our listeners, mostly just wanting your general thoughts, Pastor John. Probably the most specific question we received most frequently was related to things said about you publicly at the conference. Allegedly it was said that, while you do have a category for prophecy and tongues today, and that you’re personally open to them, this is “an anomaly” to your overall theology, and you don’t seem exegetically convinced enough to advocate other Christians pursue prophecy and tongues themselves. What are your thoughts when you hear something like that?
MacArthur’s Fruitful Ministry
“MacArthur’s attention to the text and his love of the Bible and his ability to apply it in forceful and relevant ways are incredibly helpful.”
Well, the last thing I want to do is in any way diminish or obstruct John MacArthur’s incredibly fruitful expository ministry. I love John. I love that ministry. I have an app on my phone called Downcast which is for gathering and managing your audio podcasts. I listen to very few people and John MacArthur is one of them. And that is because his attention to the text and his love of the Bible and his ability to apply it in forceful and relevant ways are incredibly helpful to me and I don’t hesitate to tell people: Go there and grow.
So, anything I say by way of disagreement is not in any sense a diminishment of that, and I continue to benefit from John’s ministry to this very hour.
Earnestly Desire the Spiritual Gifts
So what should I say, then, in response to the thought that I suppose he expressed — I didn’t even go check this out, but if you say so — that I don’t seem to be exegetically convinced enough on the gift of prophecy to advocate others pursue these gifts? Well, I think what I should say is this: I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts.” And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1: “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy.” And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39: “Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” I want Christians today to obey those, and I not only advocate obedience to earnestly desiring to prophesy and not forbidding speaking in tongues, but I try to obey those texts every time I preach.
I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak. And here is what I mean — we can talk more about this later if you want to — here is what I mean: “God, while I am preaching, would you so anoint me with the gift to say things agreeable to the Scriptures and subject to the Scripture that are not in my manuscript necessarily or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce, in an extraordinary way, some heart so that 1 Corinthians 14:25 happens where it says: The secrets of the heart are disclosed, and so, falling on their face, they will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”
“I am trying to make judgment calls about proportion of importance, and I am trying to obey those texts.”
That is what I pray for. And I know John doesn’t think that is what the gift of prophecy is and other folks don’t either, but that is my answer. I do have unanswered questions about these things. I won’t go into all of them now. In my effort to prioritize what I preach on — whether I preach on tongues, or preach on prophecy, or other spiritual gifts — my effort to prioritize may be imperfect. But my answer is that I try to live up to what I see in the text and advocate for it as I see it in relation to all the other things that I preach on.
I do have reasons for understanding the gift of prophecy that way that I think are exegetically valid today, but maybe we can save that for another time.
So my answer is: John may think that I would preach on it and teach on it differently if I were really persuaded of it, but all I can say is, I am trying to make judgment calls about proportion of importance and I am trying to obey those texts.