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

Exegetical Questions

Kendall seems far more careful with context than one normally finds in popular works. For example, he rightly recognizes the relational context of grieving the Spirit in Eph 4:30 (19) and the proper contextual meaning of blaspheming the Spirit (26-27). I have already affirmed many points of agreement above.

Yet reviews normally probe possible weaknesses as well as strengths, and as a biblical scholar I am most qualified to address the exegetical questions. Here I will survey first some very minor, perhaps even nitpicky exegetical questions before turning to some potential major ones that could have theological implications. Happily, some of the apparent problems seem to be homiletically developed applications of principles rather than eisegesis.

Sometimes his conclusion does not follow from what he has stated in the context, though he may have addressed these issues elsewhere. For example, he cites verses about the Holy Spirit’s joy (14) without explaining why this explanation of these verses is more cogent than others. (This is not the only way to construe the genitive in 1 Thess 1:6, although he could well be right about experiencing the Spirit’s joy; see Gal 5:22.)

He cites King Saul’s wrongly feeling “compelled” against charismatic feelings of being compelled when they contravene Scripture (60). Although I would agree theologically, I believe the argument works only on the basis of the NIV, not the Hebrew text or other translations that omit associations with feeling here. Elsewhere he suggests that wisdom is the Spirit’s greatest gift because it “heads the list” in 1 Cor 12:8 (145); but then what of 12:28 or Rom 12:6-8, where different gifts head the lists?

Kendall summons us to a trusting relationship with God the Holy Spirit, and invites us to thirst ever more deeply for his work in our lives.

Sometimes he gets more out of narratives than what they firmly teach, for example inferring and expanding on biblically undescribed motivations of Nadab and Abihu in the biblical “strange fire” narrative (62-63, 66-68). Indeed, like many other interpreters, Kendall may make too much elsewhere of the association between the fire metaphor and the Spirit (134, 185-86). Whatever the connection implies in Acts 2, it certainly involves judgment in John the Baptist’s preaching (Matt 3:10-12; Luke 3:9, 16-17), though it is not certain that Kendall rules this out.

Rarely will two interpreters agree on every point. Nevertheless, unlike minor points mentioned above, the following two points appear to be major arguments undergirding Kendall’s emphasis on the subsequent seal of the Spirit. These questions do not rule out a person experiencing assurance in the way that Kendall describes, but they do raise questions about particular uses of these texts, though more in the second case than the first.

Stronger Exegetical Questions

Two potential problems may elicit more protests from critics, although the first of these probably turns out to be merely a homiletical flourish rather than an interpretation. (After all, even discussion of “strange fire” builds on and applies an analogy rather than stopping with exegesis proper. That analogy, however, at least appears closer.)

The first potential major exegetical problem is with how Kendall depicts an individual’s assurance of salvation in terms of God swearing an oath to the individual (48-55). He uses both Heb 6:17-18 and the analogy of God swearing an oath to Abraham. Granted that Jesus secured salvation once for all in Heb 6, does Scripture explicitly apply a separate experience of this divine oath to individual believers’ assurance of salvation?

One might suppose that Kendall believes that each individual believer is able to experience God swearing an oath to them individually. “Have you ever had God swear an oath to you?” he asks (49). The assurance that God has guaranteed one’s perseverance is indeed the most wonderful gift, but is this always experienced as literally “swearing an oath” to one?

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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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