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

Kendall began to become Reformed at about the same time. It was Kendall’s unsolicited, unearned experience of grace that began his journey to Calvinism (99, 104). God’s unearned grace is a biblically-based emphasis in Calvinism that all of us, whether Calvinist, Arminian or label-less, should be ready to affirm. Although most Wesleyans I know today appreciate charismatics and spiritual gifts, the Wesleyan circles in which Kendall moved at the time rejected tongues even more than they rejected Calvinism (100). Meanwhile, many Reformed people at the time also questioned visions and prayer in tongues; Kendall had to exercise the courage initially to develop many of his convictions without being able to depend on any single community of believers.

Kendall’s love for Reformed theology runs deep, including in his Oxford dissertation involving the early history of Reformed theology. Here I offer another aside: those who are not Reformed can nevertheless appreciate this movement’s biblical zeal for God’s glory and sovereignty and for careful study of Scripture. Most Reformed thinkers today are not like the “Old Light” fatalistic Calvinists (who simply waited fatalistically for God to save them or use them if he cared to do so), against whom both Jonathan Edwards and nineteenth century revivalists reacted. Indeed, many today are continuationists.

Our pride in our doctrine or particular gifts can separate us from other believers for whom Christ died.

Further, Kendall is also irenic toward those who are not Reformed. He freely quotes Charles (25) and John (74) Wesley, and notes his own predecessor Martin Lloyd-Jones’s favorable citation of the latter (45, 74), despite some disagreements (46). He recognizes that God does not fit into our boxes (xxxiv). Likewise, in the foreword Jack Hayford, who is not Reformed, recognizes and welcomes the work of the Spirit transcending such differences (xxiii-xxiv).

John MacArthur has complained that Reformed continuationists (of whom there are now many) are inconsistent, but Kendall forcefully challenges that perspective in this book. (By MacArthur’s standard, Reformed continuationists might also ask whether MacArthur is consistent enough to be a Reformed dispensationalist, though he is also not alone in that approach.)

Kendall’s Critique of Cessationism

Kendall was asked to “Write a book that will make people hungry for the Holy Spirit” (xxxii), a task that he accomplishes admirably. Kendall is obviously a preacher, and living application is never far from his exegesis (see e.g., his comments about suffering on 22; about fear on 155; and pastoral concern for those who wrongly fear that they have blasphemed the Spirit, 27). I appreciate that he is thoughtful enough to include even some qualifying caveats that take into account even proportionately small groups of likely readers (such as those of us who seek to be Spirit-led scholars, 20).

Nevertheless, his pastorally edifying objective does not prevent him from addressing theological issues, including errors that he sees in both charismatic and Reformed ranks.

Kendall seeks to be irenic even while undertaking an extended critique of cessationism (107-27). “One should never underestimate our cessationist friends’ love  for God, Scripture, sound teaching, and holy living,” he rightly notes (111). Kendall is certainly correct here; whether from cessationists or continuationists, our pride in our doctrine or particular gifts can separate us from other believers for whom Christ died. Most contributions of Warfield and Machen are positive, he argues, but many have followed their theory of cessationism uncritically (118, 122-23). By analogy, he warns that before William Carey many people were cessationist about the Great Commission (118). Further, miracles are reported in earlier Reformed circles (123).

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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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