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

More generally, Kendall notes that the charismatic side of evangelical faith is much more “mainstream” in the United Kingdom than in U.S. evangelicalism. Indeed, although it might not impress some U.S. cessationists, two recent Archbishops of Canterbury have been “regarded as charismatic” (127).

Kendall’s Critique of Charismatic Excess

Kendall laments the lack of true understanding about salvation found worldwide among many charismatics, as well as among many noncharismatic evangelicals (10). He complains that many evangelicals have been turned off to the Spirit by charismatics who treat them as spiritually second-class “if they do not speak in tongues” (10). Challenging many charismatics’ apparent overemphasis on tongues, he argues that 1 Corinthians clearly shows that not all speak in tongues (144).

In particular, Kendall’s chapter “Strange Fire” (ch. 5, pp. 56-78) offers valuable correction for extremes in the charismatic movement. Here he includes the sort of observations that most of us biblically literate charismatics will agree that John MacArthur got right, yet without MacArthur’s unhelpful cessationist polemic. Kendall rightly rejects the idea of tarring all Pentecostals and charismatics “with one big brush” (71).

Kendall includes the sort of observations that most of us biblically literate charismatics will agree that John MacArthur got right, yet without MacArthur’s unhelpful cessationist polemic.

Kendall warns here against fixating on signs, for example, being more excited about the unexplained appearance of gold dust than about intimacy with the Holy Spirit (58-59). Among his specific targets are “hyper-grace” (75-76), a teaching also recently criticized by Michael Brown, and universalism (76), though I suspect that the latter is more common outside charismatic circles.

He focuses at particular length on prosperity teaching, narrowly defined, and for good reason. Perhaps more than any other, this popular teaching has harmed the charismatic movement and done more to hinder a fair hearing for the original charismatic focus on spiritual gifts. “Arguably the worst development in our generation,” he laments, “is the way the prosperity message has taken over” (64). He complains of preachers soliciting spiritual dependence on themselves (and consequent financing of their ministries) rather than genuinely developing hearers’ faith (64).

Kendall compares moneychangers in the temple (65) and warns against those who make the cross especially about earthly blessings (66, 93). He further contrasts celebrity evangelists with the humble NT apostles (114). He clarifies that his critique is not against sound principles of God’s provision but against an unbiblical focus on prosperity (93). His analogy with the lottery offers at least a partial helpful explanation for why the poor are often attracted to prosperity teachers (93).

Kendall laments the lack of true understanding about salvation found worldwide.

MacArthur might complain because Kendall does not name those whose errors he details, but in some cases the identities are not difficult to guess. It does not take much familiarity with recent scandals to recognize that he is speaking of Todd Bentley on 68-69 and 77. (Kendall also publicly criticized Bentley before his fall.) Although New Testament writers named some obvious challengers they did not name them always (e.g., Gal 2:12; 1 Tim 1:3; Jude 4); sometimes giving opponents free publicity is not helpful. One may note that although Kendall’s book will undoubtedly be widely compared with MacArthur’s, Kendall does not name MacArthur, either.

Kendall does admit he has sometimes criticized prematurely. He initially strongly criticized what others called the Toronto Blessing. When he saw the evidence of God’s deep work in people’s lives, however, he had to publicly acknowledge that he was wrong. He felt as if he had acted just like those who had criticized earlier revivals such as the Great Awakening or the Welsh Revival (160-62).

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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. sites.google.com/site/drckeener

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