I read this book in one sitting after reading “Strange Fire” by John MacArthur in two or three sittings (the review of that book is forthcoming). Even though, on balance, I am very critical of this book I do admit that Dr. Brown makes some valid points. He is right, for example, to point out the overly broad brush with which MacArthur painted (though, I do not think MacArthur was criminally broad – just a little too sweeping in some of his comments about modern charismatics).
Even so, Dr. Brown’s book is not a substantial response to Strange Fire (the conference or the book). Perhaps, it would have been more meaty had the author even tried to address the real arguments that MacArthur raised. But he doesn’t, with the exception of a few appeal-to-authority type arguments (e.g., “Dr. Schreiner, a top New Testament scholar, says…”)
In the end, the most devastating arguments MacArthur makes against the modern charismatic movement are not even addressed, and Brown would have been wise to do so if he wanted to truly be taken seriously. For example, MacArthur pointed out that prophecy and tongues have been redefined by the modern charismatic movement in a way that would be unrecognizable to the Apostles. Prophecy, as most modern charismatics define it, is a message from God that can be mixed with error and does not have binding authority. Do we see that in the New Testament? MacArthur demonstrated a clear biblical ‘no’ to that question and Brown ignored this in his response. And the gift of tongues is often defined (and practiced) as a private, untranslatable “language”, used to edify the church, demonstrate the filling of the Spirit or as a private Spirit-filled worship experience. Strange Fire made the case that tongues were never that in the New Testament – but were real foreign languages miraculously spoken by people who had never studied them (Acts 2). Again, Brown chose not to engage. Is that because his own positions are, in fact, biblically untenable?
As an aside, one of my favorite charismatic-reformed pastors is Matt Chandler, and he defines the sign gifts exactly this way in his most recent sermon at the Village Church. (Click here to listen to Chandler on the gifts). He is wrong on this, but he is wrong with considerable style.
While I think Dr. Brown is spot on with a few of his denunciations of MacArthur’s straw-men arguments and sweeping generalizations, this book is not a worthy response to Strange Fire because it fails to engage the more serious arguments. Instead, Brown dismisses them with a pithy quote from a scholar or with no argument at all – and, more importantly, with no exegesis at all, and that is ironic, since he claims that MacArthur handled the Word poorly.
Oh, and Sam Storms writes in his endorsement that “Authentic Fire” is “biblically-robust“. Really? Sam should probably fire the assistant who summarized the book to him.