Why You Should Care about the “Strange Fire” Discussion

Well, the “Strange Fire” conference is underway. The twittersphere is lit up like a Christmas tree and the partisan battle lines are drawn deeply in the theological sand. As far as I can tell, you’re likely to fall into one of four positions:

1. Cessationist

2. Continuationist

3. Saddened

4. Could care less

I understand the first three categories. If you’re in group 1 or 2, you likely have biblical reasons for why you are. Hopefully you’ve wrestled with the biblical text, the well-formed thoughts of others–both pro and con, and you’ve landed as best you can on what you think is biblical ground.

I understand the third group, too. You may be in either group, but you’re mainly dejected at the sight of Christian leaders you respect “going at each other” over a vitally important but secondary issue. You’re wondering why it has to be this way. You’re feeling more and more like Rodney King. It’s not that you think Christians can’t or shouldn’t disagree. You perhaps feel Christians shouldn’t disagree this way. Not your heroes.

It seems to me the last group has the weakest position. “I could care less” and “let’s move on already” can’t really be justified by any of the Bible’s teaching. After all, what’s really being debated is how we walk with God. If we could care less about that, then we couldn’t care less about God himself. So this post is really a simple plea to folks tempted toward category 4 to care more. Think more. Feel more. Listen more. Give attention to this debate because in doing so you’ll be giving attention to the ways of God, how you might know Him better, how you might keep in step with His Spirit, and how you might discover the joy of fellowship with Him. I can’t think of a more important topic.

But as we give attention to these presentations and responses of various sorts, it seems we really must keep a few things in mind. Things that, to me at least, indicate that this is no light or laughing matter. An honest discussion on this topic entails a number of uncomfortable admissions. And, perhaps it’s our inability or unwillingness to admit these things that hinder our discussion as much as anything else. We feel the stakes but we don’t want to face the stakes. For some people, this conference forces some difficult admissions, admissions we’d be happier not to concede. But, that, too, is reason to care about the issue and engage prayerfully. Consider what’s at stake.

First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. The outcomes are non-correspondent. The thing can’t be “A” and “not A” at the same time in the same way. Those who are wrong are teaching error. That error impacts the next two things we need to admit.

Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t. Someone walks with God in a way that pleases Him, someone doesn’t. Our view of these things informs our  personal communion with God.

Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well. If we want to apply what we think the Bible teaches regarding gifts, it’s going to have a material impact on who we can actually worship with. It’s like baptism. We will either limit it to professing believers or we will include covenant children. But we can’t do both. Our decision about practicing or not practicing some secondary-but-important issues affects who can belong to our churches and what we’ll do when we gather. We may continue personal friendships (and we should), but we’ll find it difficult to continue corporate fellowship.

Fourth, we have to admit the Bible does not answer the issue compellingly. Or, better, in our fallen reading of the Bible someone–perhaps everyone–is not understanding and applying what we ought. From what I can tell, everyone in this discussion believes the Bible is sufficient for matters of doctrine and devotion. I see people of varying perspectives affirming that. But if the Bible were as clear to everyone as we’d like, we wouldn’t be having the conversation. So, it seems we’ve got to interrogate ourselves about (a) whether we’re reading the Bible with a squint, such that things that ought to be seen lose focus, and/or (b) whether the Bible really intends to tell us all the things we desire on this topic. I believe the Bible is sufficient in all that it says, but perhaps people across the spectrum are tempted to make it say more than it does say.

I read one tweet where a brother called for more “epistemic humility.” That’s a good phrase, I think. We might also call for some more “exegetical humility.” But “epistemic” or “exegetical humility” ought not be confused with “I could care less.” The two are miles apart. One receives God’s revelation as it really is, the word of God; the other waves an unconcerned hand in the face of God’s word and the godly men attempting to hold forth the truth. One takes God’s word seriously; the other tends toward a practical atheism that shuts His voice out. Always better to seek the truth of God’s word, even if we see dimly, than to swear off God’s word and debates about it.

So, whether you’ve watched the live feeds or not, whether you’ve read multiple volumes on the debate or not, I hope you care about these things. I hope you’re following with careful concern to know the truth rather than to vindicate your party. I hope you’re listening with rapt attention because you’re eager to hear God’s voice more clearly and to walk with your Savior more closely. Even the thoughts of folks who get some things wrong can help us to do that if we’re discerning and humble beneath God’s word.

May the Lord bless His Church.