Michael Brown Parries, Thrusts, Misses
I apologize for the length of this saga, but it was made necessary by Dr. Brown's relentless false claim that John MacArthur refused his requests for a face-to-face meeting.
ere's a question one reader asked Dr. Michael Brown on the morning of 6 February 2014 at the "Ask Dr. Brown" FaceBook page. Dr. Brown's reply to the question prompted me to point out that he is not being truthful:
Here's the response I posted on that same day:
For the record:
gave Dr. Brown an hour-long interview immediately after the Strange Fire Conference, and he didn't ask me a single question about anything I said in my sessions at the conference. If he knows of any "falsehoods" I'm guilty of, he hasn't mentioned them to me. I doubt he could support that accusation with anything substantial.
Before agreeing to go on the air with him, the only thing I asked of him was to give me 2-3 minutes for a word of personal testimony about why my opposition to charismatic teaching is so fierce. Since his audience probably knows little about me, I thought it would be helpful to explain that I grew up in Tulsa, and my best friend's father was a well-known AOG faith healer. The ending to that story is tragic but significant. Dr. Brown promised he would ask me that question to lead off. But he never even brought it up.
Remember that Brown's main complaint prior to having me on his broadcast was that the Strange Fire Conference "painted with too broad a brush," because—he said—we lumped people like Michael Brown in with the TBN televangelists. But within weeks, Brown himself was appearing on Benny Hinn's TV program to promote books, while using his social media outlets to whitewash Hinn. Now, weeks later, Dr. Brown says figuring out what to make of Benny Hinn, his prosperity preaching, greed, and phony-miracle empire is simply not a priority.
Thus Dr. Brown again substantiates our concern about the way charismatic doctrine undermines discernment—even in the thinking of the most "cautious" continuationists.
(By the way, in one of my seminars at the conference, "Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater?," I made an extended argument explaining why it is impossible to exempt "Reformed Charismatics" and classic Pentecostals like Dr. Brown from every criticism about charismatic chicanery, but Dr. Brown pretended the conference never even addressed that issue. Frankly, I don't think he had bothered to listen to what I actually said at the conference prior to having me on the air.)
So, to speak plainly: My confidence in Dr. Brown as an objective, biblically-minded analyst of charismatic errors and abuses is exactly nil. Furthermore, given his treatment of me when he had me on his radio broadcast—incessant interruptions, self-promotion, and barrage after barrage of questions without pausing to hear any answer—there's no way I would ever encourage John MacArthur to subject himself to that.
With regard to charismatic errors and abuses, it's quite clear that Dr. Brown is not really interested in dialogue or reasonable debate; he simply wants to scold. (Listen to the many sound clips featuring his reactions to Strange Fire, and take note of how many of them consist mainly of him repeating over and over: "Shameful . . . just shameful.")
Dr. Brown's persistence is remarkable, but hardly compelling. Anyone who thinks he really wants to have a substantial, biblically-based discussion with John MacArthur about Strange Fire simply hasn't been listening to Michael Brown.
Besides, Dr. Brown's affiliation with Benny Hinn answers his critique of Strange Fire so eloquently that there's really very little left to talk with him about.
-- Phil Johnson
Later that same day, in the comment-thread under that original post (i.e., on Dr. Brown's own FaceBook page), the following exchange took place:
|Michael Brown: It would take a book to answer ever point here, but nothing I wrote in Authentic Fire has been rebutted, Pastor MacArthur has not renounced his false comments, nor would Phil do so on the air with me, to the absolute shock of many, many listeners, and to the extent he thinks he can write off everything because of my appearing on Benny Hinn's TV show that just illustrates the wrong MO of the Strange Fire camp. For months now, with humility and honesty, I have sought genuine dialogue, offering to meet in private, to speak by phone, to build an understanding for the purpose of relationship -- it's the tone throughout the Authentic Fire book, as any reader can see -- but the Strange Fire side has slammed the door in my face. It's really sad to read this, to be candid and makes me all the more want to pray for the fullness of God's blessings on John MacArthur and Phil Johnson. May Jesus be mightily glorified in them and in me and you!|
February 6, 2014 at 1:00pm
|Phil Johnson: Michael, did you or did you not break the one promise you made to me before I went on your broadcast?|
And now your door-slammed-in-my-face comment paired with the self-congratulatory remarks about your own "humility and honesty" makes it sound as if you cordially approached me or John MacArthur personally, asking for a reasoned face-to-face discussion but we not only refused but were deliberately rude or hostile to you behind the scenes.
You know that is not the case. You haven't made a single attempt to contact me privately since the interview I gave you.
Your very first response to Strange Fire, before the conference even took place, was an angry public blast. That's your right, but if what you were really after was just a civil private discussion, why did you never request it privately? Why have all your challenges to John MacArthur come as public taunts on your radio broadcast or from your Twitter and Facebook accounts? Who on the receiving end of that kind of treatment would not conclude that you are just grandstanding?
You claim to be too busy to figure out whether Benny Hinn is a fraud, yet you seem to have all the time in the world to taunt John MacArthur. Perhaps you can TRY to understand why from my perspective you don't even begin to seem like the even-handed, dispassionate scholar you want your listeners to believe you are.
February 6, 2014 at 2:21pm
|Michael Brown: Phil Johnson, did you not see my two replies, below? I've not heard anything back from you, so perhaps you've been out, but I have replied and I will continue to reach out. You can malign me and my motives and even rewrite the past (but the email exchanges are pretty clear), but I'll not respond in kind. Looking forward to hearing from you -- and please do be sure to re-read my first article on this as well as the last chapter of Authentic Fire. And I'm eager to see the "thoughtful" response to Authentic Fire directly from Pastor MacArthur (as you emphatically promised in writing), as opposed to something you or someone else writes on his behalf. God bless!|
February 6, 2014 at 5:58pm
|Phil Johnson: No, I didn't see them. The last comment I saw from you said, "Pray for Phil and move on," so I figured you meant that. Still, a FaceBook comment follow-up to a public throw-down is hardly a private communication. It's just another example of what I meant by "grandstanding."|
I did re-check my e-mail records, however. Aside from a three- or four-message exchange regarding the confusion surrounding a misunderstanding that happened partly because you did NOT communicate directly with me or John MacArthur's office (before you made an announcement that he would appear on your radio broadcast), the only private correspondence I have from you after the interview I gave you is a letter you wrote one week later to complain that one of my blogposts was "filled with inaccuracies and ad hominem's" [sic].
You mentioned at the end of that message that your listeners were asking daily about whether John MacArthur was going to respond to your (theretofore public) demands for a debate or meeting, and you asked me to keep you posted. It came (like all your communication so far) AFTER you had published several public taunts and beratings, demanding that he go at it with you in some kind of public forum. That's no way to coax any reasonable person onto your radio broadcast, and it's probably not going to inspire any busy person to set aside time to meet with you, either. As I explained to you then, I have a long-standing policy about that, going back some 30 years.
If at any point you truly wanted to contact me privately, you have both my e-mail address and office number. Instead, what you have managed to do is make me despair of having any good fruit come from any attempt to have a rational discussion with you.
February 6, 2014 at 6:42pm
otice especially the sections in large red text, where I was pointing out that Michael Brown had never made a good-faith effort to ask John MacArthur for a meeting. His relentless public complaints about Dr. MacArthur's supposed refusal to meet with him were simply untrue.
And to this day (two full years after the Strange Fire Conference), John MacArthur has never declined to meet with Michael Brown, because in spite of all my urging, all Dr. Brown never did try to communicate with John MacArthur personally.
In fact, more than a year after the above FaceBook exchange, Dr. Brown was still making public complaints—still grandstanding—about his supposed inability to get a meeting with John MacArthur. On 25 August 2015, Dr. Brown wrote an article at Charisma Magazine's website in which he voiced some of these complaints.
Ironically, that same week, while he was writing a barrage of posts and Tweets clamoring for "dialogue," Brown stated on Twitter that he had blocked all messages from me. So I replied directly to him in the comment-thread at Charisma:
I find myself in total agreement with the quotes from John MacArthur that you say you found aggressive and divisive. I think what undermines your whole argument is your inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the pervasive problems of bad doctrine, false prophecies, and golden-calfery that have infected so much of the charismatic movement—from its very inception.
That those problems have always been a native leaven in the charismastic movement is an undeniable fact. So you say you're not interested in talking about the aberrations; you just want to deal with Scripture. But when you yourself have defended questionable aspects of the movement, you haven't been hesitant to cite your experience apart from Scripture. See, for example, this:
And you continually cite the "billions" of charismatics worldwide as if that were proof the movement is blessed by God. Again, that's an extrabiblical argument. In fact, it's clean contrary to what Jesus said about the broad way leading to destruction.
More to the point, the central issue we have raised is biblical: The standard clearly given in God's Word is that when someone prophesies falsely—even once—that's proof he (or she) is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Jeremiah 29:8-9, etc.). And you cannot point to a single charismatic prophet today who has not been guilty of prophesying falsely repeatedly. Many charismatics themselves admit that all their prophets do at times get it wrong; in fact, those who are honest will admit that their predictive prophecies are usually wrong. Charismatics' therefore attempt to justify a notion of "fallible prophecy" that has no biblical basis. That way of looking at prophecy has left terrible confusion and disaster in its wake.
You may claim that's an argument from experience, but it's precisely how Scripture instructs us to judge between true and false prophets. Furthermore, because charismatics have had to concoct a theory about NT prophecy that is nowhere given in the Bible, it is clear that your appeal to the principle of sola Scriptura is nothing more than a feint.
Finally, your claim that John MacArthur has refused to meet with you is simply untrue. If you had made a sincere effort to ask him through normal, private means for a private meeting, I'm quite sure he would have agreed to meet with you privately. I have refused to be the intermediary to set up such a meeting in response to your public taunts. But this idea that you have "privately" and repeatedly approached him and he keeps rudely rebuffing you is simply not true. The fact that you keep making claims like that in public forums only seals my determination not to be the person who helps you further whatever agenda you have in mind.
Besides, it's mind-blowingly hypocritical for someone who routinely blocks critics on Twitter to complain that someone else is being ungracious for refusing to dialogue with you.
arlier that same week (while campaigning against MacArthur's cessationism), Dr. Brown had repeatedly rebuked people on Twitter for criticizing the teachings of Jenn Johnson and Benny Hinn. Lyndon Unger wrote a blogpost analyzing the hypocrisy and incongruity of Dr. Brown's stance. So I responded via this comment at Lyndon's blog:
AUGUST 27, 2015 AT 7:47 PM
Lyndon Unger, you've nailed it again. Dr. Brown routinely scolds people who point out that some of the worst charismatic charlatans are heretics and false teachers. He passively accepts Jenn Johnson's stream-of-consciousness foolishness and Benny Hinn's chicanery, but he has had this two-year itch to "correct" John MacArthur. Anyone who can't see the massive discernment gap underlying that needs to read more Scripture and listen to fewer private prophecies and old wives tales.
The fact that Brown has a kind of fan base among Reformed Baptists troubles me, but it doesn't sway my opinion of him. To exempt him from normal levels of doctrinal scrutiny or show him extreme deference just because he is a useful ally in the culture war is not wise.
In any case, Michael Brown is not being honest when he says John MacArthur has rebuffed his requests for a meeting. MacArthur isn't a web-surfer, so he probably is unaware of Brown's grandstanding on this issue. And Brown's public campaign is not a cause I would ever take up or even bother to call to John MacArthur's attention, because I know from experience that "conversations" with Brown on anything related to the charismatic issue are monumental wastes of time. Furthermore, I have a longstanding policy of NEVER responding to people whose attempts to "dialogue" with John MacArthur begin with public taunts and lots of showboating.
If Brown wants a meeting with MacArthur, let him look up the church address for himself, write directly to John Mac, and ask the same way any normal polite person would. It's not my job to be an intermediary or messenger boy for someone who fancies himself some kind of charismatic Sith Lord.
r. brown replied the following day with a series of Tweets:
|@Phil_Johnson_ I just saw your statement to Lyndon Unger & was shocked to read it. It is filled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations[.] You made clear in numerous emails to me that you were speaking for Pastor Mac in saying he would not meet with me[.] You falsely attribute positions to me & claim that Pastor Mac wasn't aware of my desire to meet or of issues I raised[.] I forgive you for the falsehoods & hope that this was due to poor memory & misreading of posts & tweets. But for the sake of the truth & for the good of the Body, I felt it important to correct these errors. I will not get into a twitter battle with you but I can easily back every word that I posted here. Feel free to email me.
"I will not get into a twitter battle with you" sounds suspiciously like, "Don't bother answering these assertions in the forum where I made them," But it's true that Twitter doesn't allow the amount of text that would be necessary to untangle the web Dr. Brown is weaving here. I have sent my reply to him via private email, but since Dr. Brown seems determined to keep making his allegations publicly, I also need to post the facts here:
You claim you have emails that disprove my assertion that you have been publicly badgering John MacArthur without really making any good-faith effort to contact him directly. Go ahead and look for those emails, because a review of your correspondence with me would be instructive. This is an issue I raised with you at the very beginning of our interaction.
John MacArthur doesn't respond to dares and taunts shouted from the rooftops, but he has never said no to a direct and reasonable request for a private meeting. I tried to give you that message in some of our earliest correspondence. Here is the record of our discussions on this matter:
On 29 July 2013, months before the Strange Fire conference, after posting some early blasts on CharismaNews, you tried to soften your tone with an article titled, "Time to Talk, Not Fight: A Response to John MacArthur's Ministry." A friend posted a link to your article on FaceBook and tagged me, so I responded. This is what prompted your first-ever contact with me:
If I were still blogging, I'd answer with an article titled: "Enough Talk; Let's FightTogether. Let's Agree to Drive the Rank Charlatans and False Prophets from Our Midst." If Michael Brown truly sees the problem MacArthur is concerned about, that's the kind of alliance he ought to be seeking. On the other hand, he is hopelessly naive (and thinking unbiblically) if he thinks a brokering a cease-fire or a moratorium on criticism from concerned cessationists will somehow cure the ills of the charismatic movement.
And frankly, Brown is dissembling if he means to suggest that he has been seeking a private audience with John MacArthur and MacArthur has replied by stiff-arming him. He has made no such request and no attempt to contact MacArthur or say anything to him except in a public Charismatic forum. Ironic, no? MacArthur might well respond: "We ARE talking, aren't we?" As Dr. Brown's own behavior seems to acknowledge, a public forum is a perfectly suitable place for that discussion to take place.
Note especially that second paragraph.
The following day, you replied:
I spotted your comments posted in a few different places, and I posted this in response (the only thing I actually posted after my article in the CharismaNews site): "I'm not planning on getting involved in the comments section here, but my offices have, in fact, reached out to Pastor MacArthur privately, with no response [you can see our email to him on July 12th, for example; I didn't post this bracketed comment publicly, FYI]. I'm disappointed that he would accuse me of dissembling. I have also extended an invitation to Pastor MacArthur to discuss these issues on the air with me if he prefers that setting.
I checked. The email "[your] offices" had sent came from someone else on your staff and was addressed to the Web team who maintain the Grace to You website. So the very next day, I wrote to you:
Other matters have taken me out of the office today, so I apologize for not being able to write a detailed reply directly to your message. I'll try to contact you by e-mail later in the week.
Meanwhile, here's the response I sent to our Webmaster late yesterday when he forwarded me an e-mail someone on your staff had sent to our ministry's feedback address:
Several things about this diminish my respect for Dr. Brown rather than elevating it:
- He claims to be seeking a friendly private dialogue, but he is clearly more determined to pursue his public campaign against cessationists. He is publicly complaining that he has been frustrated in persistent attempts to elicit a private response to his private appeals to dialogue privately with John. This is posturing. And it's not a very honest account of how he has actually "reached out." Notice: the e-mail below is from someone on his staff to firstname.lastname@example.org (a ministry-wide in-box for feedback from radio listeners and web-surfers). The e-mail is basically asking John MacArthur to come on Dr. Brown's radio broadcast to answer charges made in two previous blogposts at Charisma. And this "private" message from a staffer comes almost a month after Dr. Brown started firing those public volleys, two full weeks after the most recent Charisma blast. That hardly qualifies as a good-faith effort to engage John MacArthur in private dialogue.
- He feigns amazement that we question whether he believes heretics and charlatans in the charismatic movement should be exposed and refuted, but he instantly and doggedly defends someone like Cindy Jacobs who has made a career out of false "prophecies," bible-twisting, and inane pronouncements in the Lord's name. Furthermore, on the very blog where Dr. Brown is falsely complaining that John MacArthur has looked the other way at gospel twisters, he is advertising a conference with TD Jakes and Joel Osteen! Perhaps you will excuse me if I don't fall on my face in silent admiration when he claims he has been a diligent critic of heretics in the charismatic camp.
- The email below claims he wishes "to convey his utmost respect and admiration to Mr. MacArthur for his boldness in proclaiming the Gospel without compromiseyet the very accusation he made against John MacArthur in a public forum online is that MacArthur HAS compromised by looking the other way when non-charismatics corrupt the gospel with a false notion of eternal security without perseverance. That charge was entirely untrue and baseless, but Dr. Brown seems to be standing by it. That's hardly the spirit of "respect" that the e-mail writer purports to convey.
None of that engenders respect for Dr. Brown or encourages me to trust that he would deal fairly with John MacArthur as a radio guest. Since the e-mail below came to a generic in-box from someone other than Dr. Brown, given the way Dr. Brown has pursued the exchange, "the venue of [MY] choosing" would be for one of his trusted staff people to correspond with me by e-mail on behalf of our respective bosses, or Dr. Brown can contact me directly if he chooses, and I'll discuss it directly with him. I don't intend to drag John MacArthur into the kind of "dialogue" Dr. Brown seems to want to have.
Incidentally, we've had a long-standing policy of declining to do radio interviews with talk-show hosts who attempt to taunt John MacArthur into coming on the air by blasting him before extending the invitation. In 30 years only two talk-show hosts have ever attempted that strategy, but I have steadfastly enforced that policy, and I'm not going to yield on it now, lest we start an epidemic.
It is, after all, disingenuous to blast someone publicly first, and THEN pretend you want a friendly private dialogue. I don't trust him, and I don't have one-fifth as much respect for him as Fred expressed on the blog.
That's more brusque than any message I would have written to you personally, but it is candid, and you deserve an honest reply. As I said, I'll follow up with a personal e-mail later in the week.
You answered with a couple of very long e-mails laying out many grievances. You persisted with the demand that Dr. MacArthur must come on your radio broadcast, and you accused me of twisting what you were saying about reaching out to him privately. You wrote:
I never gave the impression that I have been involved in a good-faith, private effort to meet with him alone. That was an assumption made on your part, but then you chide me for giving a false impression.
Near the end of that message, you added this:
As for a venue for a meetingit could be behind closed doors with leading theologians on both sides; it could be a debate hosted by a neutral party; it could be on the radio; it could be over a long, private lunch just for personal interaction.
Far from refusing the idea of "a long, private lunch," I simply didn't notice it. I wouldn't have mentioned it to John MacArthur in any case, because I'm not the one who makes his lunch appointments. I had already made clear that the proper protocol for such a request would be by writing directly to him. I did reply briefly to the scolding diatribe that preceded your lunch comment. But I made no attempt to give you a line-by-line or point-by-point reply.
You drew the conclusion that a private meeting with him was out of the question. Your next message said,
Since I never heard back from you after my last email and it appears that the door is shut on a private meeting with Pastor MacArthur, I would appreciate it if you'd be kind enough to send me an advance copy of Strange Fire (I see from online comments that at least some reviewers have already received it).
I made sure you had an advance copy.
In October, on the final day of the Strange Fire Conference, you wrote Frank Turk a message in which you implied that you had exhausted every effort to get a private meeting with John MacArthur. You copied that e-mail to me. It said:
I do have Phil's e-address and we have interacted. At present, however, there has been no willingness to sit down togetherPastor MacArthur, Phil, me, and other charismatic leadersand rather than hash this out publicly, to lovingly challenge each other's views by the Word for the greater common good.
On October 19, I replied,
It's not correct to say that "there has been no willingness to sit down together"; just that we declined to do it on your terms in your timing in a way that would preempt the conference. A private dialogue with you is one thing; "hash[ing] it out publicly" in a media circus arranged by you is quite another. Also, as I believe was explained to you, John MacArthur is currently on an extended sabbatical (interrupted only by the conference), celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. You've been somewhat disingenuous in the way you have portrayed our demurral to your readers and listeners. You make it sound as if we have completely stiff-armed you or shrugged you off. That's simply untrue.
Nonetheless, I'm willing to talk with you live on your radio program Monday.
That is what precipitated the interview I gave you on your broadcast, shortly after the conference. I won't rehash my complaint about the way you handled that.
Some time after that, owing to massive confusion created by Thomas Nelson's publicist, you were led to believe that John MacArthur had agreed to debate you on your radio broadcast. You and I had quite a bit of correspondence that actually ended cordially regarding how such a breakdown in communications had occurred. ([10 Dec 2013, I wrote:] "It's quite clear from the publicist's e-mail what happened: She admits that she took that staffer's non-reply to an e-mail as a yes, which is a very foolish way to set up such an interview. E-mails often get hijacked by spam filters, etc.]") But in the midst of our interaction about that, you rewrote the narrative thussly:
[9 Dec 2013] I have NOT been calling for things on my terms but rather for private, face to face dialogue, or for a public, moderated debate. In all candor, your last line seems disingenuous, actually deflecting from the fact that he has refused ANY contact with me, private or public, on ANYONE's terms.
In point of fact, as far as I can ascertain, even to this very day you have never made a single attempt to correspond with John MacArthur directly, nor have I or anyone else ever refused a private meeting with you. Still, though, more than two years after you began issuing these public challenges, re-reading your demands for moderated debates and radio interviews, it doesn't seem to me that a private meeting was ever your goal. You mentioned "lunch" precisely once and let it pass when I didn't notice. You have hardly been campaigning for private time the way your public statements indicate, and you certainly were not rebuffed on that one occasion, when you buried that single hint about a "long lunch" in a paragraph at the end of a long, scolding e-mail.
My last reply to you on the matter was sent 10 December 2013. It was an explanation of why John MacArthur's office (staff people at the church, not me) would never have agreed to the Nelson publicist's request for an on-air interview with you:
As a matter of policy, I always oppose interviews regarding book releases with talk-shows or book reviewers who have already campaigned against John MacArthur's position before inviting him on the air. That's been a standing policy of mine with every author I have ever worked with, going back prior to my involvement with Grace to You. I'm not going to make an exception now, especially given the ferocity of your campaign against the book.
I'm glad you are writing a book-length response. We'll read it carefully and most likely respond thoroughly. [Note: I did not say "John MacArthur himself promises to respond," as you later tried to claim.] In the meantime, we don't believe (and I doubt you REALLY believe, either) that our differences will be resolved, or the conversation will be advanced, by the kind of interview you did when I was a guest on your broadcast.
Again, I say: If you genuinely wanted a private meeting with John MacArthur, it would have been as simple as sending a personal letter to the church address and asking. But all your public grandstanding, taunts, scoldings, dares, and boasts about "correcting" John MacArthur undermine the claim that a reasoned, biblical dialogue is what you are after.
And this relentless, noisy campaign to give your readers the impression that you have approached John MacArthur privately for a face-to-face meeting only to be stiff-armed by him is yet another thing that inclines me to think you cannot be trusted.