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R. T. Kendall: Holy Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener


Holy FireR. T. Kendall, Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2014), 256 pages, ISBN 9781621366041.

In his nine-page foreword, Jack Hayford rightly titles this “a landmark book.” He also rightly highlights Kendall’s work as irenic (pp. xxi-xxii), offering a notable contrast to some works today. I did not intend my review to prove as long as Pastor Hayford’s foreword, but if readers find my review too long I should mention that its most salient features appear toward the beginning.

Word and Spirit

Inevitably, any book about the Holy Spirit, with “Fire” in its title and coming out at this time, will be compared with Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire. Comparison is difficult to avoid even though Kendall himself does not mention MacArthur and was interested in writing such a book three decades ago (xxxii).

Whereas Pastor MacArthur’s Strange Fire offers a polemical Reformed cessationist approach, Pastor Kendall’s work offers instead an irenic Reformed charismatic approach. Lest one misunderstand me, I strongly appreciate MacArthur’s calling the church back to the Scriptures; as a biblical scholar, I have devoted my life to the same calling. I believe, however, that MacArthur’s theological presuppositions regarding the Spirit’s activity have obscured for him some key portions of the Bible. Here Kendall offers a better way.

Kendall’s humble and gracious style invites dialogue, and his central objective is one that all readers should appreciate.

Marcus Yoars of Charisma remarks that Kendall “combines the Word and Spirit to … set the record straight.” This emphasis on bringing together of Word and Spirit (xxxi, 72, 123, 171, 173, 175) is probably the book’s most important overall feature. It is certainly an emphasis that is desperately needed today.

The matter is so important for Kendall that he envisions it in terms of a new movement of the Spirit to come. God has used and will continue to use the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, he says, but we need something beyond the helpful emphasis on the Spirit they have already contributed. Rather, we need the bringing together of Word and Spirit (171-72), the bringing together of the gifts of Pentecostals/charismatics with those of conservative evangelicals (174-75). The Spirit often reminds us of what Jesus has already taught (John 14:26; p. 28), and all prophecy must be tested by Scripture (17). In contrast to the counterproductivity of polarizing polemic, Kendall desires for the entire church the best in both evangelical exegesis and charismatic experience.

Kendall concludes the prologue and, more fully, the book as a whole with a prophecy of the early British Pentecostal figure Smith Wigglesworth: “When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that … the world has ever seen” (xxxi, 176). Certainly this anticipation appeals to me as a charismatic Bible scholar; indeed, I recently cited this message attributed to Wigglesworth in my contributions to volumes in honor of Benny Aker (But These Are Written) and Ron Sider (Following Jesus).

I can think of no better way to frame the overall message of the book than this message with which he frames it. Regardless of any differences on details, I would recommend this book highly because of this most needed emphasis.

A Reformed Charismatic

Kendall has been charismatic for a long time; he recounts being baptized in the Spirit in 1955 (136) and first praying in tongues a few months later. His initial unexpected experience of the Spirit, accompanied by a vision, deeply transformed his life and ministry (97). He experienced subsequent visions (100-2) and prayer in tongues (100, 104). He further recounts the impact that his wife’s healing had on the entire church (126-27).

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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