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

Certainly Kendall does not paint all charismatics with the same brush. He notes that most “Pentecostals and charismatics … are godly and sound” and would prefer solid Bible teaching if it were more widely available (66). He contends that sexual immorality is just as much a problem for noncharismatic conservative evangelicals as it is among charismatic figures (91, 167). He laments the state of “all sorts of churches” in the United States, complaining that most church leaders barely pray privately (78). In this case, too, the divide may be not between charismatics and cessationists but between those genuinely depending on God and those depending on human resources.

Kendall’s Theology of the Spirit

I will not focus here on matters treated above; I will also not elaborate points in Kendall’s theology of the Spirit where all believers or all charismatics agree. Instead I will try to address some distinctive features and contributions of his pneumatology.

Kendall suggests that what is subsequent is a subjective experience of an objective reality.

Many scholars struggle to reconcile Paul’s usual emphasis on Christ’s finished work with the portrayal of subsequent experiences in Acts. If I correctly understand him, Kendall offers an interesting and possibly fruitful synthesis: he suggests that what is subsequent is a subjective experience of an objective reality (41, 133).

Exegetically, Kendall sees an experience of the Spirit subsequent to conversion in both Acts 8 and 19 (135). (Scholars lack unanimity; more scholars, including myself, see it in Acts 8, but exegetes are divided regarding ch. 19.) Yet he also recognizes from Acts 4:8, 31 that believers can be filled multiple times (31-32, 130), as also Martin Lloyd-Jones affirmed (131). D. A. Carson (in his excellent work, Showing the Spirit) and some other exegetes have rightly offered this same point.

Kendall distinguishes between salvation, which may be genuine even without assurance, and the seal of the Spirit, by which God provides irreversible assurance of perseverance (50-51, 55). No one will complain about experiencing assurance, but I must revisit the sealing question in greater detail in the section below on exegetical questions.

Although he affirms the value of prophetic ministry (125), he regards as “presumptuous” prophecies that say, “Thus saith the Lord” or “The Lord told me” (150). Yet Kendall also cites Lloyd-Jones as reporting that “the Holy Spirit spoke directly to him” (120), and reports that in a vision Kendall himself heard the Lord speaking (97). His point may be that while God does speak today, we should acknowledge that our ability to hear him is not, in contrast to the message of the Bible, inerrant.

Everyone should agree that not all leadings of the Spirit merit public certainty.

Regarding limitations of prophecy, Kendall refers the reader (150-51) to Wayne Grudem’s work, which does make a significant and scholarly case for treating OT prophecy differently from NT prophecy. Still, some of the clearest NT examples of prophecy do claim, “This is what the Spirit says” (Acts 21:11; Rev 2—3). Some writers differentiate NT prophecy from postbiblical prophecy. Whether or not readers find such approaches the best way of addressing all the biblical data (I have some reservations), everyone should agree that not all leadings of the Spirit merit public certainty (cf. 1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:22-22).

Kendall’s theology of the Spirit is most of all practical, inviting people to thirst more deeply for the Spirit’s work in their lives. People need to humble themselves, he urges, recognizing their need for the Spirit (23). Some critics, such as MacArthur, might respond that believers need to stand in the reality that we have already received the Spirit. I believe that both approaches convey important, legitimate insights and genuine biblical images; likewise, either can be abused. Whether by “seeking” or “standing,” what is most important is that we recognize our dependence on and continuing relationship with the Spirit whom Jesus has already sent to us.

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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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