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

Kendall suggests that most cessationists do not question charismatics’ integrity in testifying of miracles, but rather their critical faculties, because cessationist critiques focus on “flamboyant healing evangelists” and failures in healing (112). Unfortunately, this focus makes it difficult for them to recognize the genuine miracles that do occur elsewhere. Many Pharisees’ negative response to Jesus’s miracles shows that God does not do miracles that cannot be questioned or doubted by those who wish to challenge them. Likewise, nonwitnesses had to take or leave Peter’s testimony at Pentecost that Jesus had ascended (115). Thus believers who have witnessed miracles often must endure others’ skepticism as a test that stretches our own faith (116; cf. 113).

Some argue for cessationism because of the decline of reported orthodox miracles in some eras of history. Kendall counters that if scholarship became rare in some eras, the same argument would suggest that scholarship was meant to cease for the rest of this age (122).

Despite his irenic tone, Kendall regards cessationism as quenching God’s Spirit.

He observes that strong evidence supports many genuine healings from 1949 to 1951, but that the healings diminished in that revival substantially after that (112-13); he notes others who experienced these from 1952-1954. “The gift of healing can come and go,” he suggests; “Nobody can make God do things” (148). My limited observations during research for my book on miracles also could support the idea of a significant ebb and flow of miracles, shifting from one region to another.

Despite his irenic tone, Kendall regards cessationism as quenching God’s Spirit (1 Thess 5:19; pp. 20, 117-18), even “before He is given an opportunity to show His power” (20). It robs people of some of the experience of grace they could have in this life (55). It kills expectancy (118). It negates the direct relevance of “a great portion of the Bible for today” (120). And far from glorifying God, this doctrine invites many believers to acknowledge continuing demonic activity yet doubt that God’s servants retain authority to cast out demons (122-23).

Kendall suggests that tongues is the gift that most offends noncharismatics, even many continuationists, because it carries a stigma that “challenges our pride” (31). (Sociologically, one might also note that the offense is not surprising; tongues has served historically as a boundary marker demarcating some movements from others.) Yet tongues has proved powerful, for example, in bringing deliverance to large numbers of drug addicts in Hong Kong (141-42, 145). Although excessive zeal about tongues has split churches, he argues, excessive zeal about Calvinism has done the same (140).

Setting the Record Straight about Martin Lloyd-Jones

As pastoral successor and close friend of Martin Lloyd-Jones, Kendall can testify (pace some recent well-meaning claims to the contrary) that Lloyd-Jones was not a cessationist by any means (see e.g., 123). Lloyd-Jones in fact affirmed a subsequent baptism in the Spirit, which he associated with the sealing of the Spirit (35, 43), though it did not need to be associated with tongues (43). He insisted that “The Bible was not given to replace the miraculous but to correct abuses” (119).

Lloyd-Jones believed that “the Holy Spirit spoke directly to him” and he heeded what he believed the Spirit said (120). His “regular publisher would not publish his books on the Holy Spirit” precisely because he affirmed “the immediate and direct witness of the Holy Spirit” and emphasized that the gifts “are available today” (43). I will note later a possible weakness in Lloyd-Jones’s supporting exegesis, but it seems clear that he embraced relational dependence on the Spirit.

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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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