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R. T. Kendall: Holy Fire, reviewed by Tony Richie

Obviously, if one is a cessationist denying the continuation of biblical charismata for today, then one would assume that whatever branch of Christianity one was part of spiritual gifts would be automatically excluded. This exclusivity aptly describes MacArthur. (This is nothing new. MacArthur has been aggressively attacking Charismatic Christianity for years. See his 1992 Charismatic Chaos.) However, arguably one might start with the latter view that Reformed Christianity is simply not charismatic in nature—whatever one’s views on cessationism in general may be or whatever those non-Reformed/Arminian/Wesleyan-Arminian/Classical Pentecostals may be doing—and therefore insist that spiritual gifts should not be pursued or practiced by Reformed Christians in particular (See R. Scott Clark below). Kendall concerns himself with refuting cessationism in general, that is, he defends and promotes continuationism; but, beyond this point he seems especially anxious to demonstrate that Reformed Christians may be authentically Charismatic Christians as well. In other words, Calvinist theology and Charismatic spirituality are compatible. In Kendall’s own words, “there is no incongruity in holding these views. They are not polar opposites but totally complementary…they not only perfectly cohere but also mutually vindicate and elucidate each other” (p. 104).

In the interest of transparency I must admit that I half agree with MacArthur. Or at least I used to. For years I unwittingly and, now I think, wrongly, assumed that Calvinists and charismatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit were mutually exclusive. As a Wesleyan-Pentecostal, it seemed to me as if the Calvinist theological system is far too rigid for the free-flowing pneumatic liberty often associated with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Yes, I had read Martyn Lloyd-Jones. So I knew there were rare exceptions here and there. But that’s what they were to me: rare and exceptional. The personal testimony of James K.A. Smith helped persuade me otherwise. His Christianity Today article “Teaching a Calvinist to Dance” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/may/25.42.html), charmingly relates his journey of theological and spiritual transformation integrating his Calvinist theology and his Charismatic spirituality. He even appeals to the piety of American Calvinist icon Jonathan Edwards as a historical precedent! And Kendall makes a similar claim in Holy Fire.

Although I had heard previously of charismatic inclinations in contemporary Calvinists such as Grudem and Piper, somehow Smith’s testimony helped me understand that this was not “an exception that proves the rule” kind of scenario. Perhaps it was because I had personally met Jamie at annual meetings of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Or maybe it was because we corresponded a bit by email regarding his dancing article. In any case, I certainly sensed something special. Could it be that the sovereignty and liberty of the Holy Spirit transcend and subsume sectarian theological constructs? Yes! I now believe that the Holy Spirit’s charismatic manifestations are not limited to or restricted by my own Wesleyan-Arminian-Pentecostal conceptual categories—or by those of Calvinism either. Not everyone agrees. For a contrary opinion on Jamie Smith’s classic testimony, see R. Scott Clark’s “Reformed and Pentecostal?” blog at http://heidelblog.net/2013/10/reformed-and-pentecostal/. Nevertheless, I confess that I find Clark quite unconvincing. My own continuationist perspective has been determined on biblical and theological grounds and confirmed on experiential grounds. But Jamie Smith helped open me up to a greater awareness of the depth and scope of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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