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

Kendall on Subjective Experience

Critics will sometimes deem Kendall too subjective, though Kendall is well aware of the dangers of subjectivity (contending from historical sources that many Puritans died without assurance of salvation, 36-38). For instance, in the context of discussing the anointing (1 John 2:27; p. 18), Kendall warns against accepting teaching unless the Spirit attests it to one’s heart (19). Although the Spirit remains with us, he says elsewhere, grieving the Spirit diminishes or causes us to “lose the anointing” (81, 84).

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.

Expounding 1 John 2, John MacArthur has appropriately warned against identifying feelings with the anointing. He observes that he has good days and bad days but always trusts God to speak through his Word. God does touch different personalities in different ways, but I believe there is much value in MacArthur’s warning. Indeed, I suspect that many of us can confirm this warning even from experience. For example, on some occasions when I have felt the least “anointed,” others have been touched and transformed by the Spirit most deeply. That experience helps remind me not to focus on my feeling but to trust God to speak through his message no matter what.

Still, Kendall may be simply emphasizing a subjective experience of what is already objectively true, as in the experience of sealing noted above. When Kendall speaks of “the sense of God that appears to lift from us,” he rightly recognizes that the Spirit does not actually leave us (81). Is this sense primarily a biochemically generated emotional feeling, or should it originate with faith? He might be understood as associating the sense of God with being “calm, happy, at peace” (83).

Yet Kendall might only be thinking of a common byproduct of the Spirit’s activity (such as joy and perhaps peace in Gal 5:22; see p. 90) rather than using feeling as a spiritual thermometer. What matters more than what we feel, he suggests, is that we share the Spirit’s feelings (14); all of us sometimes have fears and we should not follow feelings such as these (155). He may mean consciously walking in light of the knowledge of God’s presence and favor.

Perhaps his illustrations of what he means by the principle provide greater clarity. Kendall associates the departure of the sense of God’s presence directly with wrong attitudes such as anger and impatience (83-85, 90). Particular examples include experiences such as being unable to minister freely until he made peace with his wife after an argument (84-85). His point is biblical and matches the experience of many of us today; disunity in marriage distracts us in prayer (1 Pet 3:7, 12), and unforgiveness, anger and disunity in the body of Christ open doors for the enemy (2 Cor 2:10-11; Eph 4:25-27; 6:14).

We may thus debate semantics, but Kendall’s point is well taken. God’s Spirit is always with his Word and his gift of teaching, and the times of his special blessing and outpouring do not depend on our perfection. Yet we often speak with greater confidence when we are also confident that we are following his will in every way we know. Sorrow and anxiety for the right kinds of reasons need not signal God’s displeasure (Rom 9:2; 2 Cor 7:5-6; 11:28-29; 1 Thess 3:5), but God provides greater than expected joy even in the midst of hardships (Acts 16:25; Phil 1:18) and encourages us to embrace it (4:4-8).

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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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