The Strange Fire Rationalists

I know a ton has already been written about the guys (I say guys intentionally because they didn’t have a single female representative of their position) over at strange fire, but I want to point something out that I think not many people have noticed, namely that these guys look a lot like 18th century deists.

Yes, the Strange Fire guys functionally behave like deists.

Let me explain. In The Reasonableness of Christianity John Locke engages in a project of making the Christian religion palatable to modern sensibilities, so he argues that Christianity (at its core/at the kernel of truth) is very rational. Locke argues that you don’t need to believe all sorts of metaphysical/spiritual claims about Jesus in order to be called a Christian, all you need to do is confess that Jesus is the messiah, who was foretold in the Old Testament prophecies and that his mission was authenticated by miracles.

John locke

So far he doesn’t seem much like the strange fire guys. In fact the strange fire guys would throw a fit if you removed the metaphysical/spiritual claims about Jesus.

Enter Anthony Collins, a disciple of Locke. Locke basically says that Christianity is true if an only if the prophecies are true. The prophecies are not true, therefore Christianity is not true. Collins takes Locke’s claims + enlightenment rationalism to the logical conclusion… Jesus is a good moral teacher (if that….)

Here is my point, Locke and Collins reduce Jesus Divinity to external proofs. Prophecies must be authenticated if Jesus is God. Miracles must be authenticated if Jesus is God. Belief in Jesus divinity is based on a foundation that we don’t have access to (what happened to the testimonium Spiritus Sancti internum?) This my friends is a problem.

So these deists have reduced Jesus miracles to proofs of Jesus divinity; there is nothing about Jesus compassion, there is nothing about the miracles being signs of the kingdom, the miracles being foretastes of the kingdom, or even mention of the fact that other people who were not divine did miracles too….

Enter the Strange Fire guys, specifically Tom Pennington. He argues that:

When we come to the New Testament we discover this same pattern. The primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to confirm his credentials as God’s final and ultimate messenger (John 5:36; 6:14; 7:31; 10:24-26, 37-38). Jesus’ miracles were not primarily a tool for effective evangelism or about alleviating human suffering. The main reason the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to perform miracles was to confirm that he was everything he claimed to be and that he spoke the words of God (Acts 2:22). Jesus gave this same power to the apostles, and their miracles served exactly the same purpose (Acts 14:3; cf. Hebrews 2:3-4). [Challies Blog]

Tom Pennington

Note: Locke says Jesus mission was authenticated by miracles. Note: Pennington says that the primary purpose of miracles was to confirm his credentials as God’s final and ultimate messenger.

Here is the problem: Deists and Strange Fire people have a weird understanding of why Jesus did miracles. They both believe that the only reason miracles are done are for the sake of authentication. In other words miracles are a strong enough foundation for religious beliefs. The Deists and the Strange Fire people have left their overly simplistic foundationalism exposed.

The moral of the story: If you believe that the only reason miracles are done is to prove one is Divine (or speaks Divinely authenticated words) then it makes sense that the gifts have ended. However, that is not what miracles are actually about.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

2 thoughts on “The Strange Fire Rationalists

  1. Not just miracles, miracles that come in accordance with the message the bible proclaimed. But then if the miracles prove that the message is in true accordance with the bible, it seems a little circular. Or at the very least a weaker certainty that they would probably say. “If the testimony of scripture would have been enough, they wouldn’t have needed miracles” is what it seems to say.

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