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

Perhaps not surprisingly, I can see the validity of Kendall’s arguments much more clearly than I can those of MacArthur which Kendall consistently dismantles and debunks. I suspect Kendall and I have a hermeneutics of charity toward Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. We tend to look at it with eyes of love (cp. 1 Co 13). It is innocent until proven guilty. That does not mean we can’t or won’t offer correction. Kendall demonstrates willingness to admit and correct abuses and excesses. And he pulls no punches exposing dangerous teachings like hyper-grace, open theism, or the health and wealth gospel. But one gets the impression from MacArthur that he doesn’t at all wish to correct us in any rehabilitative or therapeutic sense. It seems as if he doesn’t want to help me be a better Pentecostal or Charismatic. He wants to stop me from being Pentecostal or Charismatic. His seems more like a hermeneutics of suspicion. We are guilty until proven innocent. At best, our spiritual experiences signify to him that we’re neurotic. At worst, they signify to him that we’re demonic. He’s wrong. And Kendall calls him on it.

Kendall’s Holy Fire is not aimed at academia. It’s written for a more general or popular Christian audience. Yet because it’s not scholarly dense doesn’t mean it isn’t substantively deep. True enough, he declares that his main purpose in writing this book is to make readers “hungry for the Holy Spirit.” Yet he seeks to accomplish this admirable task through careful scriptural and logical argumentation as well as drawing on a wealth of ministerial experience. In fact, much of this work reads like a good solid and accessible Bible study on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It also has a lot of great history, especially about the piety of the Puritans and giants like Jonathan Edwards. Further, Kendall draws heavily on his personal and professional relationship with the highly esteemed conservative evangelical preacher and pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. All of this adds up to a popular but substantive defense and affirmation of the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit in the contemporary Church.

Along the way, Kendall exposes “strange fire” on both sides of the aisle. He begins with a Bible study of the occurrence of “strange fire” in the priests Nadab and Abhihu (Numbers 3:2-5). Then he examines contemporary occurrences of sinful attitudes and actions among Charismatics and conservative Evangelicals alike. The result is a balanced and passionate appeal for the sensitivity of (not just to) the dove of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Kendall calls for consecrated holy living that does not grieve the Spirit. And he doesn’t refrain from taking on false teaching either. Whether it’s the failure of popular Charismatic revivalists to actually preach the gospel of Jesus Christ dying for our sins and rising again or the fall into universalism by Barthian-influenced Evangelicals, he is fair but fearless. Unlike MacArthur, Kendall sees the benefits of Charismatic Christianity. However, he’s not blind to its pitfalls either.

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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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