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

In the very center of Holy Fire Kendall gives his personal testimony. As much of my own work tends to affirm the importance of testimony, I paid special attention to this chapter. Kendall’s testimony is inspiring. It’s instructive too. It’s honest but humbling as well. And it has an aura of the holy. It has “holy fire” in it! After reading it one is clear that Kendall isn’t a typical Reformed Christian or a typical Charismatic Christian. However, he certainly is a Reformed Charismatic Christian. When he talks about either or both he is, as the anthropologists say, a participant observer. Kendall isn’t a passive bystander but a passionate participant. And yet he’s no less an astute observer. He’s an insider in both worlds. He’s involved in both realities. In him they’re one. For R.T. Kendall the biblical and historic Christian faith has a Reformed head and a Charismatic heart. Personally, I don’t quite agree with that; but, I do deeply respect and appreciate it in his faith journey and life testimony. Unlike John MacArthur, I don’t doubt that it’s really real.

At this point in his book Kendall tackles cessationism head-on. In spite of the polemical nature of this book, especially its fundamental argument with cessationist views, Kendal remains respectful. He calmly employs Scripture, history, and real life experiences to place the debate in a kinder perspective. Kendall blames the rise of cessationism among Protestants on the overly intellectual nature of the early Reformers and the unstable and eccentric character of charismatic representatives of the time. However, it continues today at least in part due to the fault of flamboyant and downright flakey styles of ministry among many Pentecostals and Charismatics, especially on Christian television programming. Cessationism has also become a dogma for some denominational sectors of Christianity (notably, Reformed and conservative Evangelicals). Kendall describes cessationism as a hypothesis. A hypothesis is not a biblically grounded doctrine but more of an interpretative theoretical grid. A hypothesis shouldn’t be turned into a dogma (ala MacArthur!).

Kendall reminds that it’s the nature of the miraculous, whether speaking of the resurrection of Christ or divine healing today, to leave room for the decision of faith and the internal witness or vindication of the Holy Spirit. That’s a telling point. Does it imply that the same attitude of unbelief may be evident in those who rejected Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament and those who reject the charismata today? That’s too strong. Kendall doesn’t draw that conclusion. Yet it gives cause for pause. There were those who accepted the miraculous in ancient Israelite history but not in contemporary (for them) times (the New Testament age). It seems there are always those willing to acknowledge the miraculous at some other time and place so long as it isn’t here and now! Whether they’re cessationist or deists (a comparison Kendall does make), it’s the same story. At the least, the subtle parallel should encourage cessationists today to use some reserve. No wonder a key verse for Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, and for Kendall, is “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

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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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