July 5, 2009 by

Book Review: "Strange Fire, Holy Fire" by Michael J. Klassen

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Categories: books, theological questions

In his book Strange Fire, Holy Fire, author Michael Klassen takes an honest and unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the charismatic movement that has been so much a part of his own background. Drawing from his own experience and the experiences of others for examples, he attempts to “separate the wheat from the chaff” by holding the various beliefs and practices up to the light of Scripture through Biblical scholarship.

In the interest of disclosure, Mike Klassen is a friend of mine. We played on the same worship team at ORU together, and after being out of touch for over 20 years, we re-established contact last fall. So I read an autographed copy of this book, complete with a personal note from Mike inside the cover–which admittedly might make my copy a little more attractive than yours. 🙂 All joking aside, and despite the risk of bias, I purposed to read this book with the same scrutiny as I would any other, with the determination that I would be honest with myself and with my readers about any negatives as well as positives. In fact, I found myself a little reluctant to begin reading–because what if the book sucked and I had to say so on the blog? 🙂

Having said that…I read the book, and if I have to be completely honest….

…I loved this book. (Whew! It didn’t suck!)

Having a long history within the charismatic movement myself, I obviously related to much of what he shares in the book. But even if you don’t share that background, if you read the book, you’ll come away with a better understanding of charismatic belief and practice, how it came about, and where it fits in the greater context of church history. In a conversational manner, Mike goes into some the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic streams (they are not quite the same), and the differences in belief and practice. Also, chapter by chapter, he holds up various elements of the more common beliefs and practices, examines them honestly in the light of Scripture, and reveals where they stand up and where they fall short. He exposes various abuses of the movement and reveals where the original meanings and context of certain Scriptures have been misconstrued at times to draw the wrong conclusions. He discusses the long-term fruit, both good and bad, and validates those elements of the charismatic experience that have stood the test of Scripture and borne good fruit. It’s essentially an insider’s audit of the entire movement, with a healthy amount of scholarship brought in for balance and context.

If there is any criticism I would have, it would be that on one or two occasions I felt that the theological conclusions Mike drew sent the pendulum swinging just a bit too far the other direction, rather than bringing it back to the middle. While successfully deconstructing some commonly held (but incorrect) beliefs and practices, his “re-construction” in the other direction once or twice seemed to me to be equally unsupportable by Scripture. (I won’t give specifics so if you read the book you can draw your own conclusions.) Sometimes when the Scripture doesn’t support one view fully, neither does it fully support the opposite view; in such cases I’m learning to be okay with the mystery of not really knowing how it works. 🙂 So that’s probably why I’d be a bit sensitive to this kind of thing. So much of the problem with our modern theology is that we insist on solid or pat answers, and when those answers are tested and fall short…we would sometimes do better not to replace them with new pat answers.

See…I can be objective. 🙂

Mike says of his own book that he wrote it “for people like me”–people who have experienced wounding in their connection with the charismatic movement, and who need to discern what was bad, and why–as well as what was good about their experience. The book carries a theme of healing throughout, expressing a desire to see people move past their pain and carry with them the great blessings he believes are ultimately part of this move of God. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that not throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a huge thing for me–so I’m sure you can understand why this approach appeals to me. 🙂 That’s what I see Strange Fire, Holy Fire as doing–helping to separate baby from bathwater in this movement, so we can keep what is good and do away with what is bad.

BOTTOM LINE REVIEW: Highly Recommended.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

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